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The Bible and Pop Culture

How has Jesus’ life been depicted in movies?

The life of Jesus makes for great drama. This is attested by the numerous film versions made of his life, including the aforementioned King of Kings and The Greatest Story Ever Told. One noteworthy version is Jesus of Nazareth (1977). Director Franco Zeffirelli already had the now-classic films Romeo and Juliet and The Taming of the Shrew under his belt when he made this made-for-TV miniseries. Zeffirelli’s depiction of Jesus’ life is noteworthy for its faithfulness to the way events are described in the Bible, and for its authentic-looking setting and costumes (although some criticize the casting of a blue-eyed man to play Jesus). The movie had a star-studded cast, including Laurence Olivier, Ernest Borgnine, Anne Bancroft, and Christopher Plummer.

Another noteworthy version is The Passion of the Christ (2004). Produced and directed by Mel Gibson, this film garnered three Oscar nominations. This movie deals with the last several hours of Jesus’ life. When it was first released, the movie created a furor. Some people loved it because in it they saw a tribute to Jesus. Some people hated it because they saw anti-Semitic bigotry it. In a 2007 list compiled by Entertainment Weekly, this movie ranked as the most controversial movie of all time.

Strictly speaking, The Last Temptation of Christ (1988) is not based on the Bible, but on the novel, The Last Temptation of Christ by Nikos Kazantzakis. Directed by Martin Scorcese, the film sparked controversy due to what some saw as its blasphemous content. Some people objected especially to the scene where Jesus imagined what his life might have been like had he lived as a “normal” man with a wife and children. Like Jesus of Nazareth, The Last Temptation of Christ had a cast filled with Hollywood luminaries. Willem Dafoe played Jesus, and Barbara Hershey played Mary Magdalene. Entertainment Weekly ranked this movie the sixth most controversial movie of all time.


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