Sunday, July 4, 2010

Ben Hur and the King of Kings


Jewish date:  22 Tammuz 5770 (Parashath Maṭṭoth-Mas‘e).

Today’s holidays:  The Three Weeks (Judaism), Fourteenth Sunday of Ordinary Time (Roman Catholicism), Feast Day of St. Elizabeth Montgomery (Church of the SubGenius).

Topic 1:  I am getting back to creating content rather than merely echoing other people’s content.  Given that this is the Three Weeks, a very unpleasant time of year, I am taking the opportunity to do a very unpleasant task:  going through my collection of Gospel-based films.  This is also appropriate since I am still working on the Gospels in the original Koinē Greek.  (OK, there is some question whether the original language may at least in part have been Aramaic, but all the canonical Gospels have come down to us in Koinē and translations from the Koinē.  Thus I am learning Koinē and not relying on translations.)  And while I have what I am watching fresh in mind, I intend to comment on them.

When adapting anything for video, there are always questions of how to present and interpret the original material, and ideas of the adapters inevitably are going to find their way into the adaptation.  Considering the diversity of varieties of Christianity today, it is no wonder that Gospel-based films take a number of different approaches to the same material.

Ben-HurBen Hur (1959):  This is an unusual Gospel-based film since the story is mostly not from the Gospels but rather, so to speak, written around the Gospels.  The plot centers around the Jewish prince Judah ben Hur, who spends most of the story seeking revenge against Messala, a Roman friend who betrays him for political gains, and eventually finds redemption through believing in Jesus.  Of the story of Jesus, there is something of the preaching and a lot of the Crucifixion.  Balthazar (one of the Three Wise Men) and Pontius Pilate both appear as characters.  Truly unusual for a Gospel film and breaking with the unanimous consensus of the Gospels, Ben Hur completely rejects blaming the Jews for the Crucifixion, but rather depicts Jews believing in Jesus at the Crucifixion and being healed.  This film is also noteworthy for a complete lack of research into Judaism and the resulting inability for the people who made this film to get the details right.

King of KingsKing of Kings (1961):  King of Kings takes a very different approach from Ben Hur; rather than write around the Gospels, it tries to build upon the Gospels and get into the minds of some of the characters, though not Jesus so much.  Jesus is a rather stiff and dull figure, depicted as never doing wrong and always imperturbable.  Much emphasis is put on John the Baptist and how Herod Antipas and company deal with him.  John the Baptist is made a visionary leader of nonviolent protest, railing against Herodian immorality to the point where he claims that Salome should repent for her mother’s sin.  (Salome is the product of an illegitimate marriage.  The idea that one is inherently sinful is purely Christian and not Jewish.)  Salome is written as rotten to the core and manipulative, and she is incorrectly depicted as taking advantage of Herod Antipas’s lust for her to make him kill John the Baptist.  (The Gospels claim it was her mother’s idea to have John the Baptist beheaded.)  Having his character filled out to proportions far beyond anything in the Gospels in Barabbas, a violent revolutionary leader and would-be Messiah would stands out in contrast to the peaceful Jesus.  Blame for Jesus’s death is put primarily on the Romans and secondarily on the Priests.  No sign of research into Judaism is evidenced.

Next up (assuming I manage to get through it today, YHWH willing):  The Greatest Story Ever Told (1965).

Topic 2:  For today’s religious humor, a clear play on Genesis 1: “In teh beginning,”:


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