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Movie Poster

Does Jesus Sell?

I had to wait a few days before posting anything about this movie, and I’m not sure the silt has settled yet, but I want to get to it before it’s stale.

The title of this article probably gives a little bit of my sentiment about it away. I was hoping to see a much more relatable Jesus as I had heard so much about ‘The Bible’ and its humanizing of biblical accounts. I was hoping to see a Jesus that wasn’t broody and/or a hippie. I was hoping that maybe the humanity of a man who was inspiring enough to have 12 men drop everything they had ever known to follow him on a hobo’s adventure through Israel and eventually die brutal deaths for his sake, would shine through. Alas, it did not at all. In fact, this movie actually devolved into a MST3K episode for my wife and me, and I’m torn on whether or not that is worth going to confession over.The Jesus character portrayed in this movie is not only not a counter to the previous iterations of hippie-Jesus, but the guy acts like a stoner on top of all the hippie-isms. His disciples, rather than being confounded by advanced spiritual principals that they just haven’t grasped yet, are rightly concerned with his sanity. It seems they might just be around for the miracles alone, and they fall completely flat for it. To boot, the entire framework of the movie is based around ‘passive rebellion,’ which was admittedly what the political climate was at the time, but the way it is presented it washes all the spiritual depth out of the actual teachings of Jesus. The man portrayed is not a man worthy of following, much less one worthy of dying for, and that’s the real rub here. If this was supposed to show the reality of the situation, it certainly did not convince me as to why the disciples would have followed him in the first place. But then, I am a doubting Thomas.The disciples are portrayed moderately well, with Thomas and Judas being the most reasonable among them. These two characters continually challenge Jesus that what he’s doing might not be reasonable (but if he ever explains how it was, we don’t get to see it as the audience.) Peter gets the most screen time, and is admittedly the most balanced between reason and spirituality (which is likely the closest to the real man) out of the lot of them, but the rest seem like groupies. There’s a woman among the twelve, it seems, though we’re never really clear on just who the disciples are because of time constraints in the film process, but she has very little actual content to her character other than saucer eyes.

Beyond this, the film is so horribly affected by the backlash that Mel Gibson’s The Passion received for being anti-semetic, that Ciaphas is the only reasonable character in the entire movie. Pilate has been turned in to a blood thirsty brute (a mashing of later prelates of Palestine who actually were despots with the character of Pilate who seems to have been more of a passive leader) and we see great wisdom in Ciaphas’s desire to sacrifice the ‘minor prophet from Galilee’ in favor of not having Jewish people slaughtered on Passover. I do like the redemptive quality to Judas’s actions here, in that he truly seems to be acting on what he considers the best course for all involved.After the first couple of times when Thomas is told, “that’s not X, it’s Jesus” the MST3K started between my wife and me. Thomas was questioning, and the movie was not doing a good job of answering him. When the Via Dolorosa hit, all pretense of historicity was thrown out, along with any credibility for this flick. Jesus carried a full cross while the thieves (appropriately) carried only the beam. Jesus was clothed in a white garment (that seems to have appeared mystically after his scourging) and not the purple cloak that was the most likely candidate for the dicing soldiers. The gore is reduced from that of some previous movies, but then the kicker: nails through the palms of the hands. The Romans drove them through the wrists. Period. Anything else is imagery.Not only do I recommend that you skip this movie, either as a religious person or not, but I recommend that it be forgotten. Sadly, it completely banks on the fact that Jesus sells.