Review: New History Jesus series ‘scholarly,’ but ‘not devotional’
Through my work writing reviews at CatholicDigest.com I am often times sent links to videos or DVDs to preview. So are very good and some are, to be charitable, OK. This review is for the new History channel four-part series about Jesus called, appropriately, Jesus: His Life. I would love to tell you I watched all the episodes but I was offered just the first one, which is called Joseph and is told from the point of view of Joseph, Jesus’ foster father.
The future episodes will be told from the point of view of other pivotal players in the Bible including Mary, Peter, and Judas to name a few. The series has the involvement of secular historians and religious scholars and I can attest that the research seems incredibly detailed. The episodes have acted out scenes from Scripture interspersed with comments from historians, religious leaders, and secular authors. One must remember that this series is on the History channel and not CatholicTV or EWTN, so the content and the point of view is scholarly, not devotional.
That said, I found many moments in the episode, which stirred something inside me that felt a lot like, pious faith. I also learned some interesting information about the places and people involved in our Scripture that I believe brings home the point that these are not just people that appear on a page in the Bible, they were indeed real, historically proven individuals who lived in a well researched and validated time in history.
For me it was another moment of clarity, a moment where a truly secular history program allowed my imagination to be awakened.
Is this for every Catholic? That’s the real question, is it not? And my answer is no. Why I feel that way is complicated. But it begins and ends with scholars, good and respected scholars, who look at the Bible from a certain viewpoint that is not a lens of faith but in my opinion is a lens of secular biblical archeology and anthropology. I expect that from the History channel, that is their job after all, but this series with its emphatic denials of certain biblical truths and events might cause hurt for some devout people and so that is why I say it is not for everyone.
The episode I screened had some well acted scenes along with really accurate and beautiful settings. I also like the way the show was filmed with big swooping shots of Mary and Joseph walking through the desert to Egypt and other similar shots.
For this Christian, though the scenes that are truly powerful and moving, are when Mary returns from Elizabeth’s home and tells Joseph she is pregnant with Jesus. For me watching those moments put a real presence to Joseph who is notoriously quiet in the Bible. In this episode he is not and it is really well done. I would recommend it just for those scenes alone; I found them truly moving and real.
I really cannot wait to see the next episodes of this series; I found it fascinating from an intellectual level and entertaining from a dramatic point of view. I give the producers credit for the original way of telling the story we all know so well.
The series premieres at 8 p.m. EDT March 25 on History.