A document is discovered that appears to be an ancient eyewitness account of the life of Jesus Christ. A public relations executive is hired to publicize this document as a new version of ...
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A document is discovered that appears to be an ancient eyewitness account of the life of Jesus Christ. A public relations executive is hired to publicize this document as a new version of the Bible, but he finds himself enmeshed in controversy and intrigue. Written by
This review is not of the full mini-series but of its greatly reduced version which was issued as a video. I had the old video sitting around for many years and decided I should finally watch it because of its obviously interesting content. I did not bother to check the running time and was amazed when it went on and on, lasting more than three hours (188 minutes). But even then I could tell that it had been savagely edited down, with whole chunks torn out, as there were so many discontinuities, sudden changes, character motivations and development lacking, and so on. I estimated it must have lost at least half an hour. But when I later checked the IMDb listing I saw that it was a cut down version of an eight-hour mini-series (480 minutes). That means that nearly five hours had been cut out. No wonder so much of the story made no sense! It had originally been shown on television in four two-hour episodes. So that is the first thing to make clear. Many of the actors billed for the film barely appear at all, such as John McEnery and Roland Culver. Others are completely eliminated from the video version, such as Nehemiah Persoff, who played a monk on Mount Athos (in the cut version the footage shot at Mount Athos, which must have been fascinating and rare, has been cut out entirely). The story is based on a best-selling novel by Irving Wallace, of the same title. The subject matter could not be more fascinating and relevant. However, the film is so badly made that it was a wasted effort. The main thing wrong with it was the catastrophic miscasting of David Janssen as the lead actor. His miscasting must go down in cinema history as one of the worst examples of bad judgement on the part of any director and producer that anyone could ever think of. He blunders and blusters his way through the story with his gruff, rude, and abrasive manner as if he were a hard-boiled detective investigating a murder in a crime thriller in Los Angeles. Nothing could be less suited to this particular film. What a terrible loss of a chance to bring a subject like this to public attention! The story concerns the discovery of a new gospel, a Gospel according to James. The New Testament was written in Greek, and the Gnostic gospels survive mostly in Coptic translations of the Greek, but in the story, the text discovered in the ruins of Ostia Antiqua, the ancient port of Rome, is an autograph manuscript on papyrus written in Aramaic. (No other biblical text survives in an Aramaic manuscript today, even though Aramaic was the language actually spoken by Jesus and his circle.) The James of this gospel is the brother of Jesus, and his tale says that Jesus did not die when he was crucified, but survived after being taken down from the cross. He went on living and preaching, including at Rome, for many years. The film contradicts itself, at one point saying he lived to be 52 and at another point saying he lived to be 54. Then he was crucified again and this time he really did die. James describes witnessing his miraculous ascent to Heaven. This may sound like really wild fiction, but I should point out that the Gospel of Judas was only published for the first time in 2006, and it is merely the latest in a series of previously unknown gospels discovered since 1947. (Most of these are part of the huge collection known as the Nag Hammadi Texts, of which I have a complete collection of the volumes with both Coptic and English on facing pages.) It is well known to biblical scholars that at the time of the Emperor Constantine there were about 200 gospels, or purported gospels, about Jesus, and that for simplicity's sake in constructing his new state religion, he and his associates and successors burnt all but the four which they kept for canonical purposes, and which are now in the New Testament. The oldest surviving gospel, which was discovered in Coptic in Egypt, is believed to be the Gospel of Thomas. It consists entirely of sayings of Jesus (including many previously unknown ones) and contains no story line at all. As far as the New Testament goes, one needs to point out that more than 5,000 manuscripts of it survive, each slightly different from the others, and that there are more than 200,000 textual variations known to scholars. Simple believers are never told about this, because it causes problems, as in matters of religion the slightest textual variation can have huge consequences, and hence these are mostly suppressed. There are other problems where Jesus is concerned. For instance, Nazareth did not exist in his day, and the 'Jesus of Nazareth' of the canonical Bible was invented as a substitute designation to replace 'Jesus the Nazarene' (Iesos Nazarenos), in order to prevent people asking the embarrassing question: What is a Nazarene? Nazarene comes from the Aramaic word 'nazar', which means truth. (This word does not exist in Hebrew.) In other words, many liberties were taken with Christian texts centuries after the time of Jesus, and the reports in some of the 'lost' and some of the surviving Jewish texts as well that Jesus did not actually die when he was crucified have also been suppressed. Wallace cleverly revives this tradition in his story. The mysteries concerning Christianity are not merely divine ones, there are many earthly ones which are inconvenient to all concerned. Wallace really stirred things up, but this unsatisfactory film did little justice to the subject matter, as it is such a mess, and the lead protagonist, David Janssen, is so appallingly offensive and oafish. There were many good performances in the film, but they could not save it, and also, one really does need the full intact version.
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