Classics and Religious Studies, Department of


Date of this Version

March 2004


Published in the Journal of Religion & Society 6 (2004), a cross-disciplinary, electronic journal published by the Rabbi Myer and Dorothy Kripke Center for the Study of Religion and Society at Creighton University.


From a special issue on Mel Gibson's The Passion of the Christ:

All contemporary moviegoers are aware of the difficulties of adapting a book, the written word, to film, a medium that relies on visual and aural sensations to convey its meaning. How often do we hear the following comments about a film: “the book was different,” or “the book was better,” or, most damning of all, “they changed the book!” When the book is an ancient book, such as a gospel from the New Testament, the problem is compounded by the fact that the book is for us an alien document. It is alien because it is removed from us by time, by language, by geography, and by ensuing history. All four of the New Testament gospels were written by the end of the first century CE, over nineteen hundred years ago. They were written in Greek, in different parts of the eastern Mediterranean. And we tend to read them through the lens of history, a history in which Jews and Christians are separate religious groups, and Christians dominate the western world. So the problems involved in making an “authentic” film from the gospels should be immediately obvious.

I have attempted today to paint a picture of the world of Jesus and his disciples that reflects the variety of the multifaceted communities in which they lived and which they would have encountered. This picture constantly changes and expands as our knowledge base changes and expands; therefore no one source is adequate for portraying a realistic version of the life of Jesus.

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