This time was supposed to be different.
Earlier this week I was invited to see the Chicago premier of the Son of God film, directed by Mark Burnett and Roma Downey. They achieved great success with The Bible miniseries on the History Channel.
I was excited. As someone dedicated to building bridges between Jews and Christians, I hoped this film would help and educate. I was wrong. Here’s why:
- This time was supposed to be different: Different from Mel Gibson’s horrific violent film of a decade ago. Free of the anti-Semitism and Jewish caricatures of a decade ago: Did it succeed? NO. Even as the Anti-Defamation league signed off on the film, it persists in displaying anti-Jewish stereotypes.
- The Laughing Jewish High Priest at Jesus’ execution: Every movie and every story needs a villain. Filmmakers decided to make the Jewish High Priest Caiaphas the villain. That’s not how historians recount what happened: It was Pontius Pilate who was the true villain, and the film does not show that.
- Jesus was Jewish, and this is not shown well in the film: In fact, even as the film tries to convey a Christian message, it does so sporadically and out of context; anyone who is not already a believer would have a hard time discerning any spiritual message.
- A big missed opportunity: Every filmmaker makes choice. I do not expect this film to be perfect or to be something I show in a class. Yet, Burnett and Downey constantly choose the outrageous over the plausible, the exclusive over the inclusive.
They could have done much better. Since many churches, especially here in Chicago, are sending big groups to the film, it is all the more disappointing to have missed a chance for deeper learning and repair of the religious divide in America.
Question: Have You Seen the Film? What Do You Think?