Being a perfectionist, George Stevens did many takes of John Wayne's single line, "Truly, this man was the son of God." A rumor has long persisted that at one stage Stevens pleaded with Wayne to show more emotion, an overwhelming sense of awe. During the next take, Wayne changed the line to, "Aw, truly this man was the son of God."
Max von Sydow said that the hardest part about playing Christ was the expectations people had of him to remain in character at all times. He couldn't smoke between takes, have a drink after work, or be affectionate with his wife on the set.
During filming, the first snowstorm to strike Arizona in decades buried the whole Jerusalem set. Several hundred cast and crew members, including director George Stevens, went out with snow shovels, wheelbarrows, bulldozers, and butane flame throwers to clear the snow from the set. Just as they were done, it snowed again, even harder than before - forcing the production to close and move to Desilu Studios in Hollywood.
During an interview on The Mike Douglas Show (1961), Jamie Farr related the story of how he was so desperate for work when he auditioned for the picture that he prayed to St. Jude, the patron saint of hopeless causes, that he would get the job. He was ironically cast as the apostle Thaddeus, an alternate name for St. Jude (possibly used to avoid confusion with Judas Iscariot).
Joanna Dunham, who played Mary Magdalene, became pregnant during filming. The director worked around this by shooting her from the chest up as much as possible, making her later scenes markedly unlike the earlier ones.
Director George Stevens originally hired 550 Navajos from a local reservation to be Roman legionnaires, but they couldn't stay on the set for very long and eventually went back home to participate in a tribal election. Stevens replaced them with ROTC cadets.
This film was slightly over 30 days in production using the original 3-panel Cinerama process when orders were given to abandon the Cinerama camera in favor of Ultra-Panavision 70; thus ending forever the cumbersome 3-panel Cinerama process in Hollywood. Numerous scenes had to be re-shot in the new single-lens Ultra-Panavision 70 process.