Steve Goble

Choose life. (Deuteronomy 30:19)

The Adventures Of Jesus Christ Across The Eighth Dimension!
As film/TV versions of the easter story go, this one was quite hard to get into.

Partly because, as is curiously the way with easter adaptations, little or no time is taken to introduce us to the characters – it seems assumed that we already know who they are, and Jesus’ back-story.

Partly it was hard to get into because of such polarised regional UK accents, and endless famous faces to break the illusion and distract.

But mostly it was hard to get into because it was made by the BBC, and, well, they just can’t get anything right.

Even before transmission it had been made in six half-hour instalments, with the intention of being stripped across the six nights of easter week. By the time we got to see it, it had been spliced down into four, of varying lengths, to show on varying weeknights at any time where they would fit. When Jesus gets thrown into a dungeon only to be released a minute later, you can’t help but glance at a clock to confirm that, yes, this event was originally intended to be a cliffhanger, but had now become just padding.

But back to the start.

Right from the opening scene – in which Jesus buys a colt instead of predicting where they will find one – the writer seems embarrassed of Jesus and of what four different written records say about him. Sure enough, apart from the resurrection, all Jesus’ miracles have been removed from this account. There's a throwaway line writing off his miracles before the story's start as possibly illusions, but that really is it. Consequently, Jesus is shown comforting sick people, but not trying to heal any of them.

And I can understand why they did that – like it or not, Jesus is more believable without the miracles.

The thing is though, without the miracles, Caiaphas’ worries that Jesus might cause trouble make little sense – he’s just the latest harmless oddball to make claims about God.

Compare that with the guy in the Bible.

In the temple courts he found men selling cattle, sheep and doves, and others sitting at tables exchanging money. So he made a whip out of cords, and drove all from the temple area, both sheep and cattle; he scattered the coins of the money changers and overturned their tables.

- John 2:14-15 (NIV)

Here he raises his voice a bit, and overturns three tables, but without the whip thing and the driving everyone and their cattle out thing, he’s just not much of a threat to Caiaphas or anyone. (I accept that it's disputed whether the above extract is an account from his last days or earlier)

The irony is that the writer has gone on the record on the BBC website as saying that he didn't want to tell the Jesus story in a vacuum, and yet by removing something as central as Jesus' miracles, that's exactly what he has accidentally done.

While this does arguably add injustice to Jesus' crucifixion, it also makes it harder to empathise with the decisions Caiaphas has to make.

The public nature of the crucifixion (there’s a “large crowd” following in Luke) has for a long time struck me as one of the most important aspects of Jesus’ death. It happened in front of so many witnesses that there’s just no wriggling out of the account. You can’t say it was someone else – too many people were there. You can’t say he was only unconscious – again, there were too many witnesses.

For some reason, not even the disciples are present in this version, and as for why a few of them arrive at the moment when they do, well I guess that’s another missing scene. It’s a shame, because there is some very good character motivation at other times, particularly the amount of arguing Jesus does with the disciples, and Judas’ whole inner turmoil. But those are just characterisation. When it comes to motivation to drive the story, well I think that should matter too.

The scene when Jesus encounters a group of streetwise prostitutes is probably in hindsight a source of regret to all concerned, so I'll just pass over that.


It took a bit of doing, but the series won me over. The good things were so good that they overcame many more bad ones. Despite a modest budget, confusing editing and the uneven mixture of realism and cinematic gloss (including hundreds of petals being poured on Jesus in slow-motion with just the one landing on him in the cutaway), this was a version that firmly aimed at telling the human aspect of easter.

And, as such, Jesus himself was an odd beast. Almost accidentally so.

He seems fairly empty-headed, but that just makes him ordinary. His biblical dialogue is mixed in with forgivably shallower new stuff, (“That’s not what I said”) but that too is great because again it makes him more real. He’s aware of the prophesies about himself, and deliberately plays up to them, as he would have had to have done.

But once he gets arrested the whole thing really takes off.

This Jesus really doesn’t want to go to the cross, hides it from those persecuting him, and then loses his faith in God at the end when it’s all too late. Unfortunately the words with which he expresses that - “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” – well, the way he said them, it was as if he genuinely meant them. I infer therefore that this Jesus didn’t know they were also the opening words of Psalm 22. Both the psalmist and Jesus ultimately choose to reclaim their faith afterwards, so maybe there was actually a subtext there.

In summary, there’s so much that is wrong with this series, yet against the apparent embarrassment of the production team, (an inherent problem with non-Christian productions) it accidentally created a Jesus much more like the one I think I know. This is truly an example of a character and a story that is so good, it just can’t be told badly even when there is this much going against it.

The bottom line is that we really get to see Jesus' oft-unrecognised humanity in this.

Because of that alone, if I had to recommend a film or TV version of the Jesus story to anyone, then this is definitely the one I would pick.

And when Jesus had cried out again in a loud voice, he gave up his spirit.

At that moment the curtain of the temple was torn in two from top to bottom. The earth shook and the rocks split. The tombs broke open and the bodies of many holy people who had died were raised to life. They came out of the tombs, and after Jesus' resurrection they went into the holy city and appeared to many people.

- Matthew 27:50-53 (NIV)

Stop that – it’s silly.

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