A Jew's Take on Jesus Movies

BiblememeAcculturated‘s R.J. Moeller has penned an excellent commentary on faith-based films in light of the Christian controversy surrounding Noah:

…no one who doesn’t already believe in God will go see Son of God. And many who do believe in God and who do go see it are, like me, plopping down $14 or $15 purely from a sense of solidarity with the well-intentioned creators of such projects. There are other, better “Jesus movies.” A dramatic reading of some of the more risqué and exciting parts of the Bible by the likes of Morgan Freeman would interest me more than sitting through Son of God again.

And while neither option likely interests your secular, non-religious co-worker, neighbor, or relative, all of them will go see something like Darren Aronofsky’s Noah. This is why I, as a Christian, am infinitely more excited about Noah than any other “faith-based” film in a long time – regardless of the theology or worldview found in it. I can actually talk to my non-Christian friends about it because they will actually pay U.S. currency (or BitCoin) to go see it.

…what I am suggesting is that while we work to inspire and equip new generations of artists who share our values to boldly venture into the pop-culture fray, we must not miss opportunities to introduce our worldview into the cultural conversation. … Art has the power to transcend and speak to the soul. But it must be able to meet people on their level before pointing them upward.

Upon first read I knew Moeller went out on a limb with his commentary, precisely because what he says is the truth. And truth doesn’t always gel with religious dogma; I’m a Jew, I should know. One advantage I do have over my Christian brothers when it comes to faith is that my Jewish culture encourages — and is built on — wrestling with God’s word. These matches stray far from the polite scenarios common to gentile Christian faith. However, they have resulted in a similarity between us, in that they have developed and sustained a religious culture that reveres commentary as much as the actual Word of God.


I have no clue who this guy is, but I’m guessing he collects his royalty checks in British pounds, not Israeli shekels.

“Jesus movies,” as Moeller (and I) like to call them, are based on Passion Plays, a tradition dating back to the medieval era in which the liturgy of the Christian Church was performed for the illiterate masses during the holidays. Is it any wonder that the ancient tradition has lost mass appeal? We are no longer illiterate, nor are we forced to submit to a state-mandated religion. Moeller is right; it is not the content that turns away audiences, but its outmoded delivery. If a filmmaker dared to make a “Jesus movie” that embraced the Hebrew reality of Jesus’s life, audiences would be amazed. Both the Christian and Jewish establishments would be horrified, of course, and probably scream louder than the folks who think Aronofsky’s Noah is an environmentalist sham, but at least the film wouldn’t star yet another blonde British dude preaching Romanized Church doctrine on the steps of the Second Temple.

But that would require speaking to the Bible on its own level, not as it has been interpreted and re-interpreted into religious and political safe space, but within the historical and geographic context in which it was written. Moeller argues that Noah will attract more audiences precisely because it has not been sanitized to suit the denominational crowd; so it should be with all Bible epics. That is how audiences will see and understand that all scriptural stories are not mere myths, but historical accounts that continue to express a worldview relevant to cultural conversation. Instead of censoring that conversation in fear of disagreement, all those who lay claim to the inheritance of the Bible should embrace the opportunity to converse. Unless, of course, we too want to share in the legacy of the secular PC police who stifle independent thinking with legalistic behavior marketed under the guise of morality.

Our God doesn’t live on a mountain in the sky, set apart and surrounded by heavenly beings. That is Zeus and he is dead. Our God walked in the garden with Adam and Eve, dined with Abraham in the desert, and passed in front of Moses. And despite what some theologians would like us to believe, God does not change, which means that He is here, now, on our level, but not one of us; better than us. Better than we could possibly imagine, but if we’re brave enough to drop religious tradition and encounter Him and His Word, we might just be able to try.