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THE EXECUTION OF JESUS

Review by Michael Jacobson

Hosts:  Richard Kiley, Jean Simmons
Executive Producer:  Bram Roos
Audio:  Dolby Digital Stereo
Video:  Full Frame 1.33:1
Studio:  A&E/History Channel
Features:  None
Length:  50 Minutes
Release Date:  April 20, 2004

“Where I go, ye cannot follow.”

Film **

For the millions of moviegoers worldwide who have experienced The Passion of the Christ, they saw a powerful, emotional account of arguably history’s most pivotal event.  They are the ones most likely to be surprised at how cool and clinical The Execution of Jesus comes across.

As a chapter from A&E’s excellent Mysteries of the Bible series, this presentation is filled with history, passages of scripture, artistic depictions and a look at the world today in the places where Jesus walked, taught, healed, and eventually suffered, died and rose again.  From a purely scholarly point of view, this is an intelligent examination of the last days of the man whose message would impact the world.

But from a spiritual point of view, the sterile factual approach is a bit off-putting.  The program is filled with modern day scholars and professors who discuss the historical Jesus, but it is clear many of them do not accept the version of Jesus that is presented in the New Testament.  There are comments along the lines of “he didn’t know what he was doing” or “he didn’t know he was about to die” or “he never claimed to be” the Son of Man, the Son of God, the Messiah, or any other title bestowed upon him by the Gospels.

Therein lies two crucial problems with the presentation.  One, those who follow the Christian faith and who are therefore the most likely audience for The Execution of Jesus won’t be warmed by the frequent dismissals of what the Bible has to tell us about him.  And two, these scholars are left fumbling before our eyes because once they have dismissed Jesus the way the New Testament presents him, they have no other way of trying to explain who he was, why he did what he did or how to discuss his message since his message includes the very claims they are trying to put away.  Imagine someone not believing that Abraham Lincoln was ever president of the United States and then trying to come up with explanations as to how he raised an army against half the nation, freed the slaves, gave a memorable speech at Gettysburg or so forth.

It would be impossible.  Mysteries of the Bible has always tried to bring a modern scholarly approach to the texts of the Old and New Testaments, and the frequent historical and archaeological detail is usually fascinating and help bring the texts to life.  Here, I think they just interviewed some of the wrong people, and their message contradicting the message of Jesus makes the entire project kind of collapse in on itself.  There are a few men of faith who aver the message of Jesus, but the conflicting points of view end up yielding little of substance to enhance the telling of the event that ended up as history’s median point.

Obviously the resurrection is deal breaker of a point.  Dismiss that, and you've rendered the whole passion of Jesus as meaningless.  Take that away and you've removed the keystone that causes the whole message, meaning and movement of Christianity to fall away.  These scholars do that, and are then left trying bring purpose and enlightenment to the very subject they've stripped it away from.  It's a self-defeating exercise if there ever was one.

Certain aspects of the presentation are very worthwhile, though.  You’ll get to witness modern Christians walking the very path Jesus walked to Calvary, see the stone believed to be where Jesus prayed in Gethsemane, see the church built by the emperor Constantine on what is believed to be the very site of Jesus’ crucifixion, and even a modern day discovery of an ancient coffin in Jerusalem marked with the name of Caiphas, the high priest who called for Jesus’ death.

That kind of material is what makes A&E’s popular series excel.  In this particular episode, there is just too little faith displayed which leads to an uneven examination of the mystery. 

Video **

This made-for-television offering is satisfactory.  The old paintings bring a sense of vibrancy and color; but the videotaped footage shows some source limitations here and there (a bit of grain, lack of strong detail).  Nothing distracting, but nothing to get excited about, either.

Audio **

Likewise, the stereo audio presentation is serviceable but little more.  No dynamic range is existent or really necessary.  The voices of Richard Kiley and Jean Simmons sound clean and clear.

Features (zero stars)

Nothing.

Summary:

For those who believe in the divinity of Jesus of Nazareth, no explanation is needed about his message or passion.  For those who don’t, no amount of scholarly servitude will ever produce an answer that will reconcile all parts of Jesus’ life, teachings and execution.  This presentation is the proof of that…despite some great modern historical context, it offers little to either believers or non-believers.