The Gospel of John (2/10)
2003 by Tony Medley
one point in The Gospel of John one of the Chief Priests says
about Jesus (Henry Ian Cusick), “If we don’t do something about this
man he’ll continue to perform miracles and more people will follow him
and the Romans will tear down our Temple.”
What? Even though
this is a pretty accurate telling of what John writes, this might be
history’s first recorded non-sequitor.
Far be it from me to question the veracity of The Great
Evangelist, “the one whom Jesus favored,” but, let’s face it, how
could John know what one of the Chief Priests said during a private
consultation? Clearly, he couldn’t.
It looks to me like something someone inserted to avoid
irritating the Romans, who had the power at the time this Gospel was
written (approximately 96 A.D.), which was after the destruction of
Jerusalem and the Temple, and the Jewish nation no longer existed.
Priest makes about as much sense as Jesus does in this retelling of what
we usually think of as the fourth book of the New Testament (the first
three being Matthew, Mark, and Luke).
In fact, this Jesus reminds me a lot of Brian from Monty
Python’s Life of Brian (1979), which many conservative
Christians considered blasphemous, but I thought was funny.
preaching to multitudes, Jesus wanders around here accosting people in
the streets, and what he says, considering that he’s not preaching,
sounds like platitudes that you have to strain to make sense of,
especially when you consider that the people to whom he is speaking are
not exactly the intellectually elite of history. Jesus was talking from
the vantage of having the equivalent of a Ph.D. in theology (being God
and all) and the people he encounters in this film on the streets are
arguably illiterate. In fact, about all that distinguishes this Jesus
from a Santa Monica homeless person is that Jesus isn’t pushing a
junk-filled Ralph’s shopping cart.
If Jesus says,
“I’m telling you the truth” once he says it a hundred times.
It seems that every time he says anything he starts out with,
“I’m telling you the truth.”
Whenever I hear anyone say “I’m telling you the truth,” I
figure he’s lying. I
wonder if all those zero century Jews thought the same if Jesus really
said this. The filmmakers
claim the script is a faithful “word for word” transition from the
American Bible Society’s Good News Bible (which I haven’t
read). I have read other versions of the Bible, however, and I can’t
remember Jesus ever saying, “I’m telling you the truth.”
He said, “Verily I say to you” a lot.
But “I’m telling you the truth?”
Not in my Bible. According to historians, John wrote this Gospel
in Greek. If translators centuries ago translated what was written in
Greek into “verily I say to you,” how could the translators of the Good
News Bible translate the same words into “I’m telling you the
truth?” Maybe the modern translators think that it’s more modern
lingo. But this type of discrepancy calls into question the integrity of
all biblical translations.
does is preach anything meaningful to the people.
In three hours about all he ever says to anyone other than the
Twelve Apostles is “I am He,” meaning He’s God. While John’s
Gospel does concentrate on Christ’s Divinity, in this movie His claim
of divinity is about His only message. In three hours I heard very little about love and charity and
kindness, which is what the Jesus in my Bible was really about. All this
Jesus does is wander around the street ticking people off. Watching this
movie, it’s amazing he wasn’t killed much sooner by an angry mob.
here is that by using John’s Gospel as a script, the filmmakers ignore
the fact that the Gospel was not written as a play or a film, but as
Scripture, to be read, to be inspirational.
Although the first three books, Matthew, Mark, and Luke, are
commonly called the Synoptic Gospels, that is, they are similar in form,
content, and style, and meant to be read in conjunction with one
another, as opposed to John, which is not a part of the Synoptic
Gospels, it still seems to me that John must be read in conjunction with
the Synoptic Gospels, which show Jesus as a compassionate teacher of
love and charity. But by limiting the story to John, ignoring the
Synoptic Gospels, and trying to remain faithful to a word for word
rendition of John alone, it not only presents an inaccurate picture of
Jesus, it loses its effect as a drama, causing it to appear stilted and
unrealistic. Ergo, its similarity to Brian.
not to absolve the filmmakers of clumsiness. At one point when He’s
thinking about raising Lazarus from the dead, the narrator (Christopher
Plummer) says that Jesus was touched (the King James Version says,
simply, “Jesus wept”) and, presto! a tear rolls down Jesus’ face.
One tear! Is that
“weeping?” One tear? We don’t actually see it start in his eye,
however, so I got the feeling that just before the scene, someone said,
“Makeup!” and a gal with an eye dropper went over to Jesus and gave
him his tear.
And the music!
It sounded so saccharine and maudlin it occurred to me they must
have used the organ sheet music for Cecil B. DeMille’s silent Ten
Commandments (1923) to provide background for some of this Jesus’
claims of divinity, which seem to be his only raison d’etre.
Priests are nothing more than caricatures of bad guys. They reminded me
of the oafish, corny bad guys in Eisenstein’s soviet polemic, Alexander
And how about
those Apostles! These guys would be more suited to starting up a pastel dress
factory than heroic missionaries who could create Christianity.
If this was the way they really were they would have been called
The Twelve Wimps. This St.
Peter (Daniel Kash), heretofore thought of as sort of a cross between
Ernest Hemingway and Spencer Tracy (gruff but gentle and compassionate),
gives timidity a bad name. This guy is more a leaf than a rock.
this isn’t the way I picture Jesus and his Apostles.
I think Jesus oozed charisma, like Jack Kennedy. He was somebody
people instantly liked and were drawn to. The Jesus we see here looks
like he should be institutionalized.
Instead of preaching to groups of people, he wanders around the
street, mouthing his truths to anyone in the street who will listen.
This guy would be a good candidate for a straight jacket. If
Jesus were this abrasive he couldn’t start a car, much less a
would have us believe that they got a group of “experts” together to
advise them, calling them the Theological Advisory Committee, to ensure
historical accuracy. These
people are never identified, but if they think this is an accurate
telling of the life of Jesus, they must be out of their collective
minds. “Historically correct” is what they claim.
They might have used the words of John as reported in the Good
News Bible, but to think that the street people of year 33 were all
this well spoken is ludicrous. To
think that they were this clean is ludicrous. To think that they were
all so knowledgeable is ludicrous. To think that the Apostles were such
wimpy jerks is ludicrous.
(Diana Barryman)! My
understanding has always been that Mary was around 15 years old when she
bore Jesus. That would make
her 45 when Jesus started his public life, which is when this film
starts. But the woman in
this film looks a lot older than 45 to me. I wonder why they picked such
a plain woman to play Mary.
It’s not all
bad, however. John’s
Gospel contains some of the most beautiful language ever written and
it’s inspiring to hear it spoken again. Like, “I am the Good
Shepherd. I know mine and
mine know Me.” And “…
the Father is in Me and I in Him.” And “In the beginning was the
Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.” And on and on.
Speaking as a writer these words are inspirational in and of themselves.
They bring tears to my eyes when I hear them and write them.
to The Word in the spoken word, the failure of the filmmakers to
translate this into film mode and include the compassion of Jesus shown
in the Synoptic Gospels gives a particularly unflattering and
unenlightening picture of Jesus. Despite the beautiful language, it’s
a tedious three hours.