Shuck and Jive

Friday, April 01, 2011

Jesus On Film

I am in Salem, Oregon hanging out with the Jesus Seminar.

Wednesday featured L. Michael White. He offered an excellent presentation on Paul and the Corinthians.

Yesterday, Shelly Matthews challenged the Jesus Seminar with the insights and commitments of feminist scholarship.

Last night, filmmaker Paul Verhoeven (Robocop, Basic Instinct) presented his book on Jesus. He is an interesting guy.

He is not a scholar but has participated in the work of the Jesus Seminar since the mid 80s with the goal of making a film on the historical Jesus. So after all this time he doesn't know how to make a movie on Jesus. Yet he has been on a quest to find Jesus for himself. His new book,
Jesus of Nazareth, is his own portrait of that work. The book doesn't meet scholarly criteria, but it is a fun read.

I was thinking about his inability to make a film about Jesus. On one level, it isn't hard to see why. The historical Jesus appears in shards and fragments. Nothing connects these fragments, except one's own fiction.

His inability to make a Jesus movie perhaps reflects our contemporary struggle to find a meaning for humanity (for which Jesus is a cipher?) when the old mythology crumbles about us. Jesus dying on the cross for sins, rising from the dead, and hanging out in heaven until he gets his assignment to come back again and what all has become meaningless, but we have no myth to place these shards of Jesus' remains.

Let me put it to you.

I am sure you have seen a lot of Jesus movies. Except for Jesus of Montreal, most are pretty lame. How would you make a movie about the historical Jesus? What would the plot be? What is his character? Is it a tragedy or a comedy? Is it even possible?

Today, Friday, the Jesus Seminar on Christian Origins meets to discuss the topic of Corinth. Betsey Robinson of Vanderbilt is going to provide an overview of Ancient Corinth and three papers will be presented on issues surrounding Corinth.

Later this afternoon, we will have a discussion on the possibility of a "God Seminar" (who knows where that conversation could go) and then tonight, it is an "Evening with Elisabeth Schussler Fiorenza." I am looking forward especially to that.

I have been asked to serve on a task force regarding making Jesus Seminar insights available to an on-line public. Ideas?


  1. What about "Last Temptation..." Not without its issues, but lame its not.

  2. Hi John:

    1. On the internet question: I'd like to see them post as many articles and lecture videos as they can. Ideally some for free, but as an incentive, let Westar members get access to them all.

    2. Regarding Corinth and Christian origins: can you please ask one of the scholars, "Who invented the Lord's Supper?" Was it started by Paul, as recorded in 1st Corinthians, and then the Gospel writers copied Paul? Or was it really instituted by Jesus (in spite of the seeming oddity of asking Jews to 'drink my blood', and the contradictions between John and the synoptics)?

  3. Interesting idea. Most movies about Jesus are extremely lame. I'm thinking of "John From Cincinnati," that wretched series HBO tried about the California surfers. Their Jesus ended up being this nebulous character who had maybe one line every episode.

    Then again, that's better than the Jesus of "Forrest Gump," which was a feather floating in the breeze.

    I think "Last Temptation of Christ" was made to be inflammatory. Of course I don't think a lot of people realize it was based on a book. I guess I'm showing my age, but if I'm going to have a favorite Jesus movie it's going to be Godspell. Maybe I'm just fond of it because it's a hallmark of my youth.

  4. Jesus seminar insights available to the public???? Ever heard of Gaia and my blog -- Liberal Christian Commentary???

    Regarding Michael SC's question, I have submitted an article to the 4thR regarding this; also in the current issue there is an article on this which my article will refute -- if it is published.

    The JS hasn't yet taken on John, but they have taken on Paul. See The Authentic Letters of Paul, available from Westar, or from Amazon.

  5. Consider Pasolini's "Gospel according to St. Matthew." It films the gospel as literally as possible, and is successful and compelling, probably, because Pasolini himself was no Christian, but saw the material as a powerful story.

  6. I really liked "Last temptation".

    Specially the scene where Jesus meets Paul. And the John the Baptist scene.

    The premise was fantastic. Jesus on the cross gets to live his life out if he chooses to come down, and living his full life out, realizes his folly, and goes back to the cross.

    The universe was at a crossroads. So to speak.

  7. "The Last Temptation." at least the book was written as a Freudian study of Jesus.

    As to the theology around the cross and the resurrection, these are not historical, in the historicist sense but rather interpretation of those events. We know that the crucifixion is a historical event. I use the word event to describe the resurrection even though it cannot be historically proven as a matter of faith.

    Elizabeth Fiorenza? Wow a world renowned theologian!

  8. I did enjoy:
    Last Temptation
    Life of Brian
    JC Superstar
    Jesus of Montreal

    I have not seen Passolini's film.

    But none (with the exception of Jesus of Montreal) is based on the historical Jesus. Although some get closer.

    @michael That is exactly what I want to see as well. We need to make the Jesus Seminar website a teaching resource tool.

    I didn't get a chance to ask the question about the supper. I will have to check on that...

    @Sea Yes, thanks! Do check out her website.

    @Beale My lovely directed her highschoolers through Godspell recently. I was surprised how well they did it and how interesting it was.

    @Bob It was great to see and hear Schussler-Fiorenza.

  9. One more Jesus film to see: Greaser's Palace with Robert Downey, Sr. as Jesus in the Old West.

    A weird cult film. Robert Downey, Jr. is in it too when he was a little kid.

    The Holy Ghost wears a sheet.