The scenes between John the Baptist, Herod, Herodias, and Salome are supposedly based more on Oscar Wilde's play "Salome", than on the Bible, though Salome's grisly behavior as depicted by Wilde is not shown.
Jeffrey Hunter was jokingly referred to as "I Was a Teenage Jesus" for his youthful appearance. In reality, he was 35 years old at the time of filming, much closer to Jesus' real age at the time of the story (33 years) than was usual in previous Hollywood treatments. Movie audiences were accustomed to more mature actors portraying Jesus.
Hurd Hatfield (Pontius Pilate) and Viveca Lindfors (Claudia) had appeared together in the original Broadway stage production of "Anastasia". Lindfors played Anna Anderson and Hatfield played Prince Paul.
This film's narrator, Orson Welles, would later narrate a portion of another Biblical work, The New Media Bible: Book of Genesis (1979). Before narrating this Biblical epic about the King of kings, Welles had earlier portrayed a king himself in another Biblical epic, David and Goliath (1960). Welles would even portray a director directing a Biblical epic in Ro.Go.Pa.G. (1963), when he ironically had earlier directed himself in his own scenes in "David e Golia".
After its theatrical run, the film was sold directly to local television stations instead of to the "big three" networks. Even now, the film has still not been shown by NBC, ABC, or CBS - only by local affiliates of the three networks and on cable television.
Franz Planer, the original Director of Photography, suffered a heatstroke during principal photography of the Sermon on the Mount sequence in Spain. This became one of his last films and he passed away only a few years later.
Nicholas Ray considered Keith Michell, Christopher Plummer and Peter Cushing for the role of Christ before signing Jeffery Hunter. He also expressed an interest in hiring Max Von Sydow for the role - Von Sydow, of course, did play play Christ only a few years later in "The Greatest Story Ever Told".
The film began life as a very personal project for director John Farrow, who had recently made "John Paul Jones" for producer Samuel Bronston. Farrow, an ardent convert to Roman Catholicism and quite possibly the only Hollywood director ever to be made a Papal Knight, called the project "The Sword And The Cross" and planned to use only the words of the Bible for dialogue. His script was deemed impossible to film and producer Bronston elected to proceed without him. Farrow never directed a film again.