Most Christian-faith-based media is overly saccharine or unrealistic. The Chosen is one of the few pieces of Christian media I’ve not just watched, but thoroughly enjoyed. It focuses on characters rife with their own set of personal issues who are changed by their encounters with Jesus. It portrays a realistic world full of problems we can all relate to. Ironically, it is a breath of fresh air precisely because it has a bit more grit.
I concur. As a believing Christian, if somebody comes along and says “hey do you want to watch this Jesus show/movie?” my honest answer is…not really! I went into the Chosen expecting it to be awful and have been very impressed by the story telling and production quality . You pinpoint part of the problem: in an attempt to be reverent, shows or movies will make it all so pious as to remove anything earthly or real about it. And, surprise surprise, that’s dreadfully boring. Or if there is some grit/problem, there’s a “once saved always saved” bent to it where the problem is fixed and then the movie ends…as of life isn’t full of hardships after baptism/whatever!
I think the second problem for Jesus films is due to the nature of the gospels themselves: outside of the Passion narratives, they are strung together stories with little narrative connection. (I know, I know, it’s more nuanced than that…but the point being that a film director just can’t make a film about the gospels without making it seem like a random string of events with largely different people/places). It is this problem that the Chosen so masterfully addresses: make the focus on the characters in the story, not Jesus, and thereby give a narrative form to what are otherwise brief, well-known stories. The healing at the well, whose brother is made to be a militant apostle, is a great example.
There have also been some flourishes in the show that have indicated some real artistic meditation/thought by the writers, for example when Jesus and John discuss the Torah and John is given the first insights into his eventual theology.
> ... outside of the Passion narratives, they are strung together stories with little narrative connection...
It may seem this way given the style of books we're accustomed to reading in the 21st century, but there are clear narratives to each Gospel, and the events are amazingly well arranged.
You might enjoy a book like Reading the Gospels Wisely.
Thanks for the recommendation! I’ve read NT Wright and Bauckham and others on this topic, but I haven’t heard of Pennington. Will check it out! Wright in particular has really helped me to see each gospel in its own narrative form.
I agree that the gospels do have narrative structure when considered as products of the first century. Perhaps the closest to a “modern” narrative would be John’s gospel, but even that is very difficult to tackle given the heavy theology interwoven throughout. In fact, it was seeing scenes from John’s gospel in The Chosen that really alerted me to the talent of the filmmakers. Seeing them pull of John 3 in a meaningful and natural way was phenomenal, as they avoided the potential for dry/impersonal theology by wrapping it in the deeply personal experience of Nichodemus.
It’s a challenging tightrope to walk: You either have to take a lot of creative liberties about Jesus (for lack of explicit background) or you limit your content to just the source material, and end up with a very limited depiction.
Everyone (or at least every Christian) has their own version of Jesus in their head and when media is produced about him, they correlate that version with their own.
The esoteric philosophical background of Jesus and early Christianity is obscure, but it’s not that complicated. Let me share a quick take—which might be interesting to people on this thread.
To start, as with esoteric Judaism, Islam and Platonism, God is conceived as an ineffable oneness. Not a person in the sky, but a divine perfect ”One god” or principle. Hard to talk about, but many books have been written on the topic. The diversity in the cosmos comes from the emanation of the One; this emanation is known as the logos. The logos is typically translated (very poorly, IMO) as “the word.” The logos, as eternal emanation of the one, is therefore metaphorically conceived as “the son of the father.” Jesus is the logos, or in some interpretations, he is the incarnation of the logos (ie, “the word” made flesh).
What’s important to realize here is that this belief in the one (god the father) and the emanation from the one (the logos) is completely orthodox across Catholicism, eastern orthodox and most Protestant interpretations. I think most Christians and nonChristians would find that surprising.
In Acts 18:24, Paul says that Apollos of Alexandria was able to preach this philosophy without even knowing about Jesus. That’s likely because of the massive influence of Philo of Alexandria (b. 25bce) who wrote extensively about the logos as “the son of god.”
Philo also wrote prolifically about the early preChristian communities around Alexandria, the Therapeutae, which Jesus likely encountered as a child—he also wrote about the Essene sect that most resembles the Judaism of Jesus. I’ve assembled and highlighted some of those texts here. At the end, there is also a text from Pope Benedict that formalizes the connection between Jesus and the Essenes.
I hope some people enjoy this rabbithole. Happy to provide more refs.
I'm hoping that more pre Christian Jewish texts will be found. The dead sea scrolls and similar finds did so much to enrich our knowledge of second temple Judaism, helping to support or undermine existing conjectures.
I read recently an excellent discussion on the Samaritan penteteuch, a masters thesis from 2008 - the first direct to English translation ever done from Samaritan oral language. There are clearly an evolving set pre-masoretic texts in pre Christian antiquity and we can see some of the not-quite MT types being used in the vulgate and others.
I suspect, like how the dead sea scrolls illuminated some factional rivalries in second temple Judaism- if we can find more texts from this period it'll better flesh out when, how, and to what extent Greek philosophy influenced the various sets. there is an old idea that the synthesis of Logos and Judaism occurred in John's gospel but this seems undermined already...
This is such a good point.
'The Passion of Christ' is a great example of something that can be truly emotive for some, but not for others. I found it barely interesting and frankly not sure how much it has to do with Christianity, or rather in a pedantic way. It was nice production design, neat to see 'what it would have looked like' and I'm actually sympathetic to why 'it's good in a way' ... but to me it's all kinds of besides the point.
Populism is perhaps more real in Faith than it is in politics, there are various lowest common denominators that can appeal to broad audiences and suck a lot of wind out of the situation.
I remember being 5 or 6, many years before I became Christian, seeing a depiction of Jesus hanging on the cross. It was grotesque, and fascinating in the “I don’t want to look, but I kind of do” way that is especially appealing to kids. I was shocked and dumbfounded that it was anything someone would have on their house.
Though the Crucifixion is part of Christ’s sacrifice, I continue to find it an odd thing to focus on, especially in the context of the resurrection.
It was interesting to me as someone who's been adjacent to, and by necessity somewhat versed in Christianity, for 20 years, but the need to make the audience sit through all 40 lashes, that felt very hardcore "if the Mass isn't in Latin, it doesn't count" Catholic to me.
I was mainly there for the Aramaic.
I mean considering the extreme amount of creative liberties in the source material which started as an example of the genre of bios which is both biography and propaganda written decades if not centuries after the death of their subject, was then heavily edited (Origen already complained about that in the third century), before being carefully handpicked and arranged by the Roman church as a political tool, a bit more creative liberties would not change much things.
Most critical scholars dont really think the gospels are centuries after the fact anymore, that's a 20th century position that's largely lost support. Atheists love it tho!
I was raised Catholic, am now an atheist, but I'd watch this too. I also highly recommend "Jesus of Nazareth". It's a more traditional telling of the New Testament but the cast and performances are truly outstanding.
There's also The Gospel According to St. Matthew, by Pasolini. It's currently in my to-watch list, but many people claimed it's a step above Zeffirelli's Jesus of Nazareth
I kind of had to laugh about this. The vast majority of European written media over, say, the last two thousand years, is Christian faith based.
I think it would accurately be described as Christian derived (being Western) but, given the exponential growth of published writing over time, I doubt the majority of written media is Christian based. Just my hunch..
Does the grit extend to Jesus himself? That is to say, do we get the Zen monk-style Jesus from modern Western media or do we get the anger-issues Jesus from the Bible?
> That is to say, do we get the Zen monk-style Jesus from modern Western media or do we get the anger-issues Jesus from the Bible?
Both of those are your interpretation of others' interpretations, and I question whether either of those is a widely held view. Personally, I don't see the media as depicting him as zen-like and I definitely don't read him as having anger-issues in the Bible.
Give it another read. He gets pissed off all the time and for the most bizarre reasons, like the time some people he was teaching don't understand his parable and he's asked why he teaches in parables if people have trouble understanding them and he throws a shit-fit.
That time he cursed the fig tree, was used to great humour by a web comic.
"or do we get the anger-issues Jesus from the Bible?"
You're thinking of Yahweh, the Israelite God, who develops into something much more abstract by the time of Jesus who was generally not 'angry'.
I'm fascinated by this view, where do you find support for it in the texts?
To me, and most Christians, it looks like jesis is appropriately angry, sad, happy and generally experiences a full range of human emotions in the gospels.
Bible Jesus is really not angry at all...
Maybe you're thinking of the Old Testament, but there's no Jesus there.
Um... the cleansing of the temple (John 2:13 - 17) comes immediately to mind.
And there's destroying that fig tree.
His reported interactions with the Pharisees aren't exactly a model of calm detachment either.
Unless you’re Mormon (Jesus is God of the Old Testament).
My family started watching 'The Chosen' a while ago, we're hooked.
As a programmer, I identify most closely with the Mathew character.
Agreed! Matthew is such a great character. I relate a lot with him too. I get the same feeling watching the character as I do reading the book of Matthew, which makes me appreciate the gospel even more.
The studio behind The Chosen is hiring engineers. Remote friendly. :) www.angel.com/apply
The best 'faith based' stuff focuses on the content or experience, not Disneyfied characterization of the Bible.
U2 is a Christian band, they make Gospel music. They just stopped saying that back in the 1970's but if you look at their lyrics it becomes immediately obvious. In fact, blatant. Literally their hit song "He Works in Mysterious Ways". They don't even hide it, yet, nobody is really aware.
That to me is mind-blowing: how something can be so obvious, right in front of our eyes, not even denied ... and we don't see it.
Mr. Rogers Neighbourhood is 100% Ministering without apparent Ministering.
'Children of Men' is possibly my favourite film, it's literally a Nativity Story.
... but the last thing on the planet I would ever want to listen to is a 'Christian Band' that calls themselves a 'Christian Band'.
The Last Temptation of Christ was brilliant in this regard. Jesus of Nazareth as a person that didn't really want to be the Christ.
There's a huge difference between The Chosen and LToC -- while both may present a "gritty" and imaginative narrative including fictionalized accounts that are not canon, The Chosen does it in a way that does not contradict anything canonical while LToC depicts a sinfully lustful Christ who abdicates his role as savior by stepping down from the cross. As such, it should come as no surprise that The Chosen is popular and well-received among believers and LToC was widely criticized.
Depends whose canon you're talking about because there is no canonical canon. Kazantzakis was very influenced by Gnosticism which set him at odds with the Orthodox and Catholic versions. Personally I found the story to be the most accessible and human version of the story.
> LToC depicts a sinfully lustful Christ who abdicates his role as savior by stepping down from the cross
It depicted a man tempted to.
Where does the LToC contradict the gospels? They aren't a comprehensive diary of his every thought. You can't say Jesus didn't fantasize about a life with Mary, because that's proving a negative. It's just a proposed fiction to imagine Jesus in a more human way than the vagaries of the canonical gospels. I can see how that would upset some people, but I'd be interested to know where the contradictions exist. It made me really consider the gravity of being the son of god in a way that the gospels simply aren't equipped to deliver.
I think it's wonderful this show is happening, and I'm an atheist. It's also wonderful to see, on this techie platform, people aren't afraid to call themselves a "believing Christian."
I'm going to check The Chosen out. The bulk of Christian movies or Old Testament bible stories are unwatchable, as a lot of people have noted.
I went to Israel four years ago , and there was something really special about actually seeing the Jordan, the Sea of Galilee, Capernaum, the sites of the loaves and fishes, and the Sermon on the Mount. Places I grew up hearing about. (Yes, I know those last two are only the conventionally believed sites, and no one knows for sure.) I've gotten really interested in the rise of Christianity since going there.
Swimming in the Dead Sea was worth doing once. You come out feeling all oily and you have to take a shower. But you can float on your back and raise both arms up in the air, and you don't sink. Getting lost in the Old City and having to ask directions was fun, too. Google Maps was no help.
By the way, I think the best genetic estimate of what Jesus looked like is: what people in Syria and Lebanon look like now. Darker skin than, say, Swedes, but not black.
> It's also wonderful to see, on this techie platform, people aren't afraid to call themselves a "believing Christian."
I am a progressive (not in the current US sense) religionless athiest and I am very glad that people can safely say that they are Christians in this platform.
I highly appreciate this.
I'm pretty sure that you can safely say that you're a Flat Earther, too. No harm will come to you in either case.
Maybe no "harm" but you'll probably draw some ridicule. On some forums, announcing yourself as a Christian will win you an anti-Trump diatribe.
Anyhow, what's wrong with being a Flat Earther?
(Just kidding. We all know it's an oblate spheroid.)
You won’t be disappointed it’s a wonderful show. You can also check out the movie “The Prince of Egypt” if you want more. I love it during Christmas.
I watched an episode and a half last night. Verdict: unsure so far.
It's interesting that the birth of Jesus isn't covered at all at the beginning. And I had to ask myself, "Now, who was Nicodemus, again?"
Nonetheless, it's great that they're trying something different here.
Ya the first episode is not the best. They tried to show what they were doing before Jesus comes but it doesn’t work well. If you can, keep watching, or else try later. It’s not really representative of the rest. In fact next time I will advise people to skip.
Thanks for the update!
I haven't watched The Chosen, but given how people are describing it here, I'm going to strongly recommend Dorothy Sayers' serialized radio play "The Man Born To Be King."
Most adaptations of the Gospels make Judas an evil caricature of a human being. Sayers' Judas strikes disturbingly close to home, leaving one with the thought "There but for the grace of God go I."
Every one of the characters in her adaptation feels plausible and real. Whatever you think about the Gospels' historicity, I think it would be hard to read these plays and not understand why so many people try to follow Jesus, even today.
Speaking of Judas, I think he was pretty great in Jesus Christ Superstar. They definitely managed to portray him as a sympathetic character who was doing what he thought was right.
Thanks for the recommendation! I see you liked to the book- is the radio play available somewhere? Which was better?
It's been quite a few years since I last looked for the radio plays.
IIRC, the tapes of the original productions were lost, possibly mislaid somewhere but more likely destroyed in a BBC archive fire.
I've not personally listened to a performance of these plays (though I will say that "Kings In Judea", the Nativity story, makes a great piece of Christmastime readers' theater, speaking from personal experience).
Looking around the web a bit, it looks like some more recent productions may be available.
I like that it makes Jesus seem like a fun guy.
Here's a guy who socially hangs out with a hooker while passing no judgement, and who's first documented miracle is turning water into wine.
This SOUNDS like a guy you'd want to hang out with.
Wait really? I haven't watched this but I seem to recall some throwing a shit fit at the Last Temptation of Christ for that very reason. I even recall the same thing at Life of Brian, which doesn't even show Jesus except for a very far shot out of focus depicting the service on the mount? I guess times have changed...
The Last Temptation of Christ is, mildly speaking, complete garbage when it comes to theology. It actively subverts the gospels and tries to lower Jesus into the realm of natural man. The film has a few nuggets that might be interesting for those learned in religion, but it serves more as a reflection of Paul Shrader's personal struggles with faith at that point in his life. The latter point isn't all that unusual; Kevin Smith (Dogma) and Trey Parker/Matt Stone (South Park, Book of Mormon (musical)) likewise do the same.
The Chosen takes a reverent interpretation. It makes no apologies for having creative license, the Bible isn't meant to be a screen play after all, but it does so in a manner consistent with the character of Jesus both in the Bible and as believers understand him to be. He is fully human and fully God. He weaves the qualities of both throughout the show with the way he handles emotions, miracles, passing down wisdom, and so forth.
I’d describe The Chosen’s portrayal of Jesus as personable without being irreverent.
> ...and who's first documented miracle is turning water into wine.
Fear not! Some translators believe it meant unfermented grape juice. So no need to doubt a church's anti-alcohol stance.
Aye, growing up in a church that teaches teetotalism I heard people say that ① wine was less alcoholic back then becaue you had to ferment by leaving things out to gather yeast from the air and not from industrially produced active dry yeast powder, and ② what alcohol wine may have contained was then a necessary evil because of pathogens in water before the proliferation of treatment plants.
I'm curious how true ① is, and/or if lack of distillation made wine weaker (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Liquor#Distillation_of_wine makes it sound like the process might have been uncommon knowledge still in the process of refinement).
I wondered at first that Chaim Potok's novel would have so many fans, but this makes more sense.
As a non Christian I have enjoyed talks and writings on Don Knuth on faith and Bible and how it has influenced him and his work. A sample is the Pascal lecture he gave at Waterloo
It's nice that something like this happened without big studios being implied.
Maybe this will inspired others to crowdfund interesting TV series and films. Productions of big studios and TV networks began to be boring and too politically involved to the point that historic truth was satisfied in order to match trendy political movements.
I will almost always support and cheer for a crowdfunded success and this is no different. Congrats and kudos to everyone working on this project.
Anyone know the best way to watch The Chosen? The last time I tried maybe a year ago, I think I was forced to use some sort of custom App and casted to my TV, but the quality was so wretched I couldn’t bear it and stopped watching within a few minutes..
Another commenter  said it's on youtube. 
Ah ok I remember now. I did originally attempt watch it on YT and it was the same “from the livestream” that you linked to, and the quality is indeed (just looked at it now again) very very bad.
I replied to my own comment with some other streaming options, of which, the Peacock one is good quality. Not sure about the Tubi one but it’s bound to be better than the YT stream which is utterly terrible.
Highly relevant for the season.
It is fascinating even for the secular among us to consider the aspects of human history that have resulted in billions of people dedicating their lives to follow Jesus.
The upending of the family structure that ended up converting the Roman Empire after 300 years might be analogous to what the world is starting to experience again (with slow universal demographic collapse except in subsets of practicing religious).
> upending of the family structure that ended up converting the Roman Empire after 300 years
What is that? What happened?
They may be referring to https://www.science.org/content/article/how-early-christian-...
W.r.t. that article, while Christianity does emphasize the value of the individual (Imago Dei), individualism (emphasis on "-ism") is a feature of liberalism and therefore a Christian heresy. Human beings as social animals and individualism is as much of a departure from the human good as collectivism.
Which Jewish family customs do you think Gentiles were opened up to?
Christians can be a fandom, just like Veronica Mars. Surprised it took this long for something to be this successful.
There is a terrible tendency in Christian TV / movies from the US I've seen to hire actors like Dean Cain, Kevin Sorbo and Kirk Cameron. I suspect it's because they're politically correct (In the original Leninist sense) for their target audience - or cheap, or both.
And none of them are renowned for their acting chops.
For most any value of creative "X", "Christian X" is going to be populated by those retreating into the niche because they're emphatically not good enough at "X" to achieve mainstream success, to the point that chasing a built-in but significantly smaller audience looks attractive.
I think there are Christian artists who could make it in the mainstream, but who focus on Christian themes out of devotion/passion, in spite of the smaller audience.
The problem is the amount of liberties Christians will allow in the portrayal of Jesus. This show works around the problem by making it more about his disciples and immediate followers, and how their lives are impacted by him.
I think most mainstream Hollywood studios are not interested in depicting extent religious mythology because it's bound to incur protests from someone or other. So it stays on the margins of the industry with only True Believers willing to tie their career prospects to material that's bound to be so polarizing and opinionated.
> I think most mainstream Hollywood studios are not interested in depicting extent religious mythology because it's bound to incur protests from someone or other.
Why? Maybe it just doesn't sell. The fastest growing religious belief in the US is agnostic (or was as of a year or two ago).
The surprising thing is there hasn’t talk really been anything like this. Christian content is almost universally inauthentic for a variety of reasons.
Does _March of the Penguins_ count?