Friday, July 13, 2012

Paul Verhoeven's Jesus Film--Get Ready!

Paul Verhoeven is well-known in the movie industry.  He is the director of Robocop (1987), Total Recall (1990), and Basic Instinct (1992).  Perhaps less well-known to movie-goers is his long time interest in historical Jesus studies.  He was a fellow of the Jesus Seminar--the only fellow on the list who did not hold a degree in biblical studies.  On the back cover of the Jesus Seminar's book The Gospel of Mark: Red Letter Edition (Polebridge Press, 1990) he writes:
I started reading the Gospels when I was twenty.  I'm fifty-two now, and all these years I've been trying to figure out who Jesus was: what really did do, what he really did say.  The publication of Red Letter Mark is a major event in the quest for the historical Jesus.  
Five years ago, I decided to make a movie about Jesus.  But not just any movie.  I determined to base my script on the words and deeds of Jesus that scholars accept as "authentic."  It is superfluous to make another movie about Jesus that dwells in the realms of mythology, fairy tale, and legend.  This is the reason I engaged the Jesus Seminar as my consultant. 
That was back in 1991.  Well it seems that his movie is going to finally be made.  The details can be found over at and The Playlist.  Verhoeven published a book on Jesus (Jesus of Nazareth) which will serve as the basis of his movie.

The movie is sure to cause controversy.  Verhoeven takes the view that Mary was raped by a Roman soldier named Pantera and that Jesus is the offspring from this forced union.  Of course, all the miracles of Jesus are denied although Jesus is presented as an exorcist casting out demons--psychosomatically induced cures, I'm guessing.  Verhoeven's Jesus is a thoroughly naturalistic figure without any sense of supernaturnalism.

What will be of interest is how the evangelical community responds to this movie.  In 1988 Martin Scorsese's The Last Temptation of Christ was vilified by evangelicals and boycotts were the strategy of choice.  This simply ramped up the publicity for the film.  In 2003 Dan Brown published The Da Vinci Code which was followed by the movie in 2006.  This time the evangelical community more wisely responded to the errors.  A small cottage industry of books responding to and refuting the claims about Jesus and Christianity developed.  Among the better responses that I read were Ben Witherington's The Gospel Code (IVP, 2004) and Darrell Bock's Breaking the Da Vinci Code (Nelson, 2004).  This approach strengthened the church apologetically without creating an emotional environment of hysteria.  The church should be confident and informed about Jesus.  If the world wants to talk about Jesus--even if foolishly and blasphemously--the church should be ready to talk to this issue in a reasoned and effective manner.  The non-miraculous, naturalized "Jesuses" always fall flat in comparison to the real Jesus of history as found in the canonical gospels.

If Verhoeven's movie is done well--and all indications point this way--then Jesus will once again be a topic in the national conversation for a time.  We should prepare to respond well and thus honor the One who has the name above all names.