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43 of 71 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars A disappointing amalgam of half-cooked speculations, June 27, 2005
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This review is from: From Jesus to Christ - The First Christians (DVD)
I purchased this DVD with great anticipation, expecting a first-rate documentary not unlike many others that PBS has produced (and for which I applaud PBS) in the past. However, I was disappointed at the lack of scholarship--the documentary is riddled with unsupported, if not problematic, speculations. It's Geraldo on tranquilizers--okay, maybe not that bad.

The documentary tries deperately to exaggerate the significance of their relatively obscure (interesting, nonetheless) archaelogical finds by manufacturing fantastic hypotheses and scenarios surrounding the discoveries. The documentary expects its viewers to buy into their speculations using "expert" opinions as its primary source of authentication.

One such example is how the producer (whose film credits include the great work of erudition "Julia!: America's Favorite Chef") submits a recent discovery of a Roman commerce center near Nazareth (hometown of Jesus) as an evidence(?) that Jesus was a man shaped by wealth and people skills he acquired by pandering to the upper crust of the Roman elite. The line of thinking goes something like this: 1) Roman civilization was magnificent; 2) in order to navigate through it, one learns to be savvy (there was wealth to be obtained only by savvy artisans/carpenters who learn how to hobnob with the rich and the powerful); 3) we recently found this Roman cultural/commerce center near Nazareth; 4) Jesus must have worked here, catering to the wealthy Romans 5) Therefore, he must have been wealthy and savvy with his Roman clients, both aspects of which helped him become a popular figure among the Jews. Hmmm....

This is just one of many problematic line of presentation in the documentary. An alternate description of the documentary could read: "The experts try to explain the 'phenomenon' of how a plain mortal called Jesus attained a status of deity (i.e., Christ) in the minds of the early believers." They basically attribute the rise of Christianity under Roman oppression to something of a "perfect storm" of all sorts of the sociopolitical factors. What about the oppression? -- well, according to these experts, the early Christians could not have been tortured that much because the Roman society was "civilized and tolerant." Also, they make statements like "there aren't as many Christian martyrs who were killed in stadiums as commonly believed..." without substantiating what the actual numbers might be. So be prepared to throw your history lessons out the window. And for unsubstantiated claims for which they could not find expert testimony, the producer tries to sneak them past the viewer (or cover them up) by using narration of a soothing voice while distracting the viewer with a majestic image of a religious relic or a picturesque landscape (e.g., "many experts believe that Jesus was actually born in Nazareth and not in Bethlehem"--this is all they say on the subject after a long drawn-out discussion on what year he may have been born).

Stylistically, I found the pace of the documentary slow. I think the whole thing (4 hours!) could have been packaged into 2 hours because much of time is spent in background music. It was a chore getting to the end.

I give the documentary two stars (I'm one of those people who have hard time believing people who give five stars to everything)--I'm being generous because as a student of history, I actually find the archaeological discoveries and many of the historical backgrounds interesting. I did not care for the speculations, however. The documentary tries to tout itself as a showcase of revolutionary discoveries that would cause its viewers (secular or religious) to rethink their understanding of Jesus, but on this topic I would stick to the wealth of established archaelogical/historical evidences that have been unearthed and archived by the actual experts and the scholars.
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Showing 1-2 of 2 posts in this discussion
Initial post: Dec 22, 2009 4:00:45 PM PST
Last edited by the author on Dec 22, 2009 4:01:41 PM PST
J. SHARP says:
I had the same problem with the speculation, especially the Nazareth extrapolations. It is the equivalent of an anthropologist 2000 years from now saying, "Person X lived in Seattle, Washington in the late 20th century. Microsoft Corporation was headquartered in Seattle. Therefore Person X in all likelihood worked at Microsoft and knew Bill Gates personally." Much of the program was interesting but those types of leaps, taken frequently throughout the show, were knee-slappingly ridiculous and totally undermined its credibility.

Posted on Jul 12, 2011 5:38:44 PM PDT
Last edited by the author on Jul 12, 2011 5:39:27 PM PDT
P. Anderson says:
Agree with you both. I just started watching it and when I got to that section about Nazareth, I was perplexed--considering the level of scholarship supposedly involved. It sounded half-baked, even for a non-academic like me. It gave me low expectations for the integrity of the rest of the series.
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