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Erica Galindo
Celebrating Food, Faith and Family
Last edited on: April 4, 2015.

Based on Bill O’Reilly’s book “Killing Jesus,” the miniseries on the National Geographic Channel, “Killing Jesus” released March 29. This television series focuses on human politics and key historical figures at the time of the life and death of Jesus within the context of Jewish and Roman history.

Having screened the series, it is clear that the artistry of this project is outstanding and the history it presents is interesting, but this is not a story of Jesus Christ as the Son of God. This series has a political, historical perspective with emphasis on Jesus’s humanity as Son of Man in the human, political, historical context, albeit with a focus on Jesus’ pure teaching and actions concerning forgiveness and unconditional love in the impure corrupt world of Roman and Jewish leaders.

National Geographic states that the intention of this series is to focus on the secondary political, historic context of Jesus’ life and teaching. They state, “The film will chronicle the life of Jesus of Nazareth through the retelling of the intense political, social and historical conflicts during the Roman Empire that ultimately led to his death. Jesus lived at a time when the Roman Empire dominated the Western world, and he made powerful enemies while preaching a philosophy of peace and love. Today, more than 2.2 billion people follow his teachings, but the intimate historical details of the time usually remain secondary to his story.”

On March 23, in an exclusive interview with Walon Green, writer for this biographical drama “Killing Jesus,” Green has shared his view of the character of Jesus in the miniseries that he based not only on O’Reilly’s book but on the Scriptures and the writings of Josephus and Tacitus, as well as on other historical writers of the time. Green said that in the miniseries many believe that Jesus is the Jewish Messiah.

Walon Green said that Jesus was a devout Jew who was learned in the Scriptures. Green stated that Jesus knew where he was going and was courageously ready for what was ahead. Walon Green thought Jesus’ message of forgiveness, especially on the cross, validated His divinity. Green said that Jesus’ singular message of love and forgiveness has changed all of story, His Story.

Another fascinating aspect of the exclusive March 23 interview with Walon Green concerned the deliberate use of dialects to enhance authenticity. Green has shared that there was a study of the musicality of Jewish dialects that was incorporated into their voices.   Many of the Jewish actors who play the followers of Jesus or commoners of the day use dialects with Jewish musicality and pitch delivery. Roman and Jewish educated leaders use an elevated English, which works well.

Haaz Sleiman (Jesus) works with a makeup artist to have blood drawn on his face; Photo Courtesy of National Geographic.

Haaz Sleiman (Jesus) works with a makeup artist to have blood drawn on his face; Photo Courtesy of National Geographic.

In terms of artistry and believable authenticity, the series is outstanding in other aspects: casting, acting, costumes, lighting, music and more. The cast is ethnically diverse. Lebanese actor, Haaz Sleiman, convincingly portrays Jesus. Among the rest of the believable cast of effective actors are John Rhys-Davies (“The Lord of the Rings,” “Return to the Hiding Place”) as high priest Annas and Kelsey Grammer, as Herod the Great. Recently, Movieguide’s Evy Baeher, who flew to Morocco for the shooting of the series, interviewed Kelsey Grammer for his upcoming role as King Herod the Great, who tries to kill the Baby Jesus when news of the birth of a messiah reaches Herod’s palace.

Grammer said, “I am a Christian, so I have great sense of reverence for this [material]… The enormity of what Jesus did is still lost on us. The Bible, you really have to study it. God is coming through man. That is an extraordinary thing that happens, and I believe it. I think when you pose it on human nature and on these other characters you make the story even more profound… I was listening to a guy in New York a couple of years ago, talking about that moment on the cross, that agony, and that it wouldn’t mean anything if it weren’t true.”

Along with Haaz Sleiman, John Rhys Davies, and Kelsey Grammer, Stephen Moyer plays Pontius Pilate. Rufus Sewell (“Hercules”) portrays high priest Caiaphas,  Emmanuelle Chriqui is Herodia (ex-wife of Herod II and wife of his brother Antipas who manipulates her husband into having John the Baptist beheaded), Eoin Macken is Antipas (tetrarch of Galilee and Perea), and Abhin Galeya is John the Baptist.

Haaz Sleiman (Jesus) and Director Chris Menaul engage is in a passionate discussion about the upcoming scene; Photo Courtesy of National Geographic.

Haaz Sleiman (Jesus) and Director Chris Menaul engage is in a passionate discussion about the upcoming scene; Photo Courtesy of National Geographic.

Although the key human figures of the time are present in this miniseries, what is absent are the key figures of God the Father (there is no descending of the dove at Jesus’ baptism and no voice of the Father, “This is My beloved Son in Whom I am well pleased.”) or of the Holy Spirt (the presence of God’s Holy Spirit is not depicted and the miracles are mostly absent.) This is a depiction of Jesus in His humanity as Son of Man not as Son of God. There is more to His Story. This is only one dimension of His Story.

As in O’Reilly’s previous books and their film treatments, “Killing Jesus” examines a famous assassination with a narrative that focuses on the key players caught up in inevitable conclusions. However, unlike the victims of other assassinations, in this series it is clear that Jesus is not a victim. He gives His life as part of God’s divine plan to pay the ransom for men’s sins.

By Diane Howard, Ph.D.

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