My own spirituality here in my old age is rather complex. I’ve left Catholicism and Christianity behind. But I haven’t left God behind (or at least I hope that God hasn’t left me behind!). I can’t say that I have a strong “belief” in God, but I really want there to be a God. So maybe my belief is riddled with doubt, but my faith is still in play. I tried Zen and Buddhism, and I love the meditation. But I missed God too much.
Well, so that’s God from my perspective. What about Jesus? OK, I’ve been studying the historic Jesus scholars since the 1990s, and I’m convinced that Jesus wasn’t born through a miracle and escaped death through a miracle. I don’t see Jesus as “The Christ”. I don’t hold to the Nicene Creed. But I’m still hooked on Jesus, I’m still searching for him. It’s still clear to me that Jesus, in a non-miraculous way, was “God soaked”. The miracle came after his death, in that history never forgot him, but made him one of the best known historical figures ever.
Right now I’m reading the late Maurice Casey’s tome on the life and times of Jesus, “Jesus of Nazareth, An Independent Historian’s Account of his Life and Teachings”. This book is NOT easy to read, the going is slow. But Prof. Casey is going out of his way to tell you not only what he can about Jesus, but he details and justifies almost all of his logic and sources. I’m not even half way through his book yet, but I’m learning a lot not only about Jesus but about his followers and how their remembrances about his came to us today in the New Testament.
So between what Dr. Casey is providing to my own “picture” of Jesus and what has been left in the past by the likes of other great scholars such as E.P. Sanders, Dale Allison, Gerd Theissen and Paula Freidreksen (with honorable mentions to the late great John P. Meier and the still-very-much-with-us Dr. Bart Ehrman), I can get a very comprehensive picture of Jesus and his surroundings, including the powerful government and religious institutions that he interacted with (and which eventually killed him).
The only problem with that picture is that it’s static, it’s flat. Most of the scholars miss the fact that Jesus was a very dynamic preacher who attracted the loyalty of large group of his peers. He must have been very charismatic. And more, he must have reflected something real, something good in the world. Unfortunately, the scholars miss this.
As to The Chosen, however — this is where The Chosen shines. I must admit that Dallas Jenkins and his fellow producers do take historical accuracy and realism very seriously, as they say they do. The Jesus of The Chosen, along with his followers, do do certain things that I recognize from the scholarly books as practices that rural Jews from the villages where Jesus preached would typically do. This is minutia not noticed by most viewers, but I see it and I appreciate their concern for historical accuracy. (One example, Matthew may well have been the only disciple who wrote notes about Jesus during his ministry, given that Matthew may have been the only one with the ability to write — which was necessary to his job as a tax collector).
HOWEVER, Dallas & Company do not hesitate to throw aside the historians when drama and plot requires it. For example, they make a lot of use of stories from John’s Gospel, and all of the fourth Gospel is considered unreliable by Prof. Casey and many other Jesus scholars. Also, for drama they have Roman soldiers and an administrator in Capernaum — sorry, that is very unlikely. That part of Galilee was still run for the Romans by Herod Antipas at the time. Various scholars have said that Roman troops regularly stationed in Capernaum is unlikely. Herod would have forces and tax collectors in that part of the world. The Romans were several hills away up in Syria. It adds a lot of drama to the plot to have duplicitous Romans watching Jesus, casting down the shadow of what was soon to come in Jerusalem. But it is not historically accurate as per all of the Jesus scholars that I follow.
BUT — what The Chosen gets right is the HUMAN factor of Jesus, his magnetism, the hope that he brought so many, the feeling of restored faith in the goodness of the world. The scholars don’t dwell on that. The Chosen does.
And actually, the scholars should pay more attention to this. Most of them don’t dwell much on why Jesus attracted such a strong movement, why his followers would not give up on him even after death, and why Jesus was remembered by history against all odds. The Chosen is to be praised for capturing that with a Jesus who seems to be real, a Jesus with some human features and not a pious, next-worldly Jesus who really should be called “Mister Christ”. The Chosen helps you to imagine that the whole Jesus phenomenon was centered around a human being, not a God-in-disguise. But this human being had an extraordinary capacity to reflect God’s love and goodness. This was a prophet, but a prophet of all prophets. This was a man that gained not just respect and obedience from his followers, but gained their love.
So I complain about the many compromises and short-cuts that Dallas and Company take relative to the best historical evidence that the scholars now have regarding the life and times of Jesus. Their Jesus is still a Jesus that will be miraculous enough, Christ enough, to satisfy most any observant Catholic or Baptist. The Chosen Jesus is still playing too fast and loose with the “Son of Man” moniker, that is a very complex and subtle historical issue. It’s still a matter of controversy amidst the scholars, but on The Chosen, no problem, Jesus is The Son of Man, which is short for Christ in Training.
Also, the Chosen gives us an Apocalypse-Light Jesus, so as to not upset any modern Christians who don’t put a lot of emphasis on awaiting the Second Coming (in my years as a Catholic, I hardly ever heard it discussed by priests or catechism teachers). The best scholars, IMHO, are “Apocalypse-Heavy”, they conclude that Jesus really did believe that God was going to change the world very quickly, not in the distant future. And Jesus’ followers kept that view alive for many years. But most Main-line Protestants and Catholics today hardly ever talk about it. All of that “Kingdom of God” stuff was metaphorical to them, about forming a community of sharing and equality that Jesus would have liked. The scholars certainly admit that Jesus was indeed forming a community of goodness, but not as an end unto itself but as a catalyst to spark the imminent coming of the Kingdom on a world-wide basis, which only God could have done.
But nevertheless — the Chosen shows us what the Historical Jesus must have been like in terms of how he dealt with followers and the communities they interacted with on a day-to-day basis. The Chosen shows the strong response of love and loyalty that Jesus inspired from many people. That is something that the scholars and their books mostly miss. But it is necessary to answer a question that the scholars should be concerned with — i.e., why wasn’t Jesus forgotten like all of the other religious preachers who offered their views and visions to others? Why did Jesus change the world (even though not through a set of events that he would have envisioned) and write his name indelibly into history, whereas a figure like “Honi the Circle Drawer” didn’t?
So don’t go to Dallas Jenkins for accurate historical information (although give him credit for what he does get right). But don’t go to the scholars for the personality factors and dynamics that made Jesus famous. Go to THE CHOSEN for that!