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Smithsonian’s ‘The Real Jesus of Nazareth’ Has Problems With Faith

Robert-Powell-Real-Jesus-Nazareth-Smithsonian-FFBAnyone who’s watched any number of cable documentaries about Jesus and Christianity knows to take them with a grain of salt. Or a shaker. Or a bowl.

Airing Easter Sunday and Monday, April 16 and 17 (8 p.m. ET/PT, both nights), Smithsonian Channel’s “The Real Jesus of Nazareth” is no different. Coinciding with the 40th anniversary of Franco Zeffirelli’s outstanding 1977 miniseries “Jesus of Nazareth,” it sends that show’s star, Robert Powell, on a quest to find the historical Jesus.

Like most of these documentaries, scholars rather than clergy discuss Jesus, and here, it’s a mixed bag.

Dr. Candida Moss — also seen in CNN’s well-done “Finding Jesus” — is a Catholic, and one scholar whose general tone does not exhibit overt skepticism, although she keeps her personal beliefs out of her comments. That’s too bad, because a scholar who’s actually a sincere believer is a rare creature in secular documentaries on Christianity.

Other scholars discussing Jesus include Dr. Bart Ehrman, a former Christian who now describes himself as an atheist; and Dr. Helen Bond, whose personal religious beliefs I was unable to verify. But in both cases, there’s a obvious skepticism about Christ’s divinity in their comments, and both are careful to avoid giving credence to any supernatural claims. This may just be a scholarly discipline, but especially in the case of Ehrman, it comes off as dismissal and even disdain.

In contrast, Powell is charming throughout, respectful and curious and kind. He’s a long-married father of two (he wed just before filming “Jesus of Nazareth”) and has continued to work steadily in British TV and film.

In a 1977 interview conducted on the set of the miniseries, Powell said:

Robert, whom American audiences have also seen in the films ‘Mahler’ and ‘Tommy’ explained it to me this way: “There was an aspect of Christianity that always distressed me. The meaning of Christianity is so simple, but its tenets are complicated. This is what put me off. Before I began this film, I had no particular interest in religion and absolutely no opinion of Christ.

“Now, I do believe in Christ and His divinity, even though I do not necessarily go to church. Prior to being cast in the part, my knowledge of Christ was limited to Sunday school teachings and religious stories, all on a rather immature level. I knew this would never be enough for me as an actor, to work with in developing a character. So I read the Bible through thoroughly, which I’d not done before, taking it apart and analyzing it. I also consulted works of reference and commentaries on the Bible because I wanted to obtain other people’s ideas as well.

“An actor has to be objective when interpreting a part. Nonetheless, after playing Christ for all these months, it would be difficult not to really believe in him.” Concluded Robert.

Overall, “The Real Jesus of Nazareth” is no worse than any of these sorts of documentaries, and better than some. But bolstering faith is not its intention, nor will it likely be a result of watching it. But, it is lovely to see Powell, now 72. reminiscing about the role for which he will always be best known.

He’s the best thing about “The Real Jesus of Nazareth,” but if you want to have a faith-filled family experience for Easter, I’d recommend just skipping this and watching “Jesus of Nazareth,” available for streaming on Amazon and iTunes.

It’s also on YouTube:

Images: Courtesy Smithsonian Channel

Learn more about Family Theater Productions’ upcoming, new and vintage productions as well as our Hollywood Outreach Programs; and, of course, you’ll find us on Facebook. Visit our YouTube and Ustream Channels for our contemporary and classic productions.

Struggling to Explain Easter to Small Children?

Baby-crucifixLent is nearly over and we are in the Holiest Week of the Year, but I have to admit that I’m still struggling to properly prepare my preschool-age children for Easter, which we will celebrate this Sunday.

For elementary-school kids, there are many great traditions that may begin with “giving something up” for Lent to honor the sacrifice of Jesus’ 40-day fast in the desert, and may end with making “Resurrection Eggs” to help visualize the story of Jesus dying for our sins and rising on Easter Sunday.

But if your children are not quite old enough to understand the concepts of sacrifice or death, explaining Easter can feel somewhat challenging.

However, letting my kids believe that Easter is just about chocolate and a bunny has not been sitting right with me. As parents, we’re often averse to talking about death with our little ones. We feel it’s too heavy for them to understand. We’re worried about scaring them. But as I contemplated this challenge, I realized that the story of Easter is actually a wonderful way to introduce my kids to the concept of death and to teach them about everlasting life as well. In fact, because of Jesus’ sacrifice, there is nothing for them to fear.

Thankfully, I found several books on Amazon to help convey the story of Easter to young children. Some of them are Prime eligible, so they’ll arrive in just a couple days. Some of them are available for immediate download:

Lily’s Easter Party: The Story of the Resurrection Eggs

The Week That Led To Easter

Benjamin’s Box: The Story of the Resurrection Eggs

The Berenstain Bears and the Easter Story

The Resurrection

God Gave Us Easter

This evening, we’re going to read one of the downloadable titles. Every night this week, we’ll make an Easter book part of our bedtime routine.

When we go to Mass this Sunday, they will no doubt have a deeper understanding of why we’re celebrating—and that will make the Easter baskets, the egg hunts and the chocolate treats all the more special.

Korbi is a former full-time TV blogger, writing for sites such as E! Online and Yahoo!. She is now a full-time mom of twin boys. In her free time, she moonlights as a Marriage, Family & Individual Therapist.

Images: Courtesy Laura Zambrana

Learn more about Family Theater Productions’ upcoming, new and vintage productions as well as our Hollywood Outreach Programs; and, of course, you’ll find us on Facebook. Visit our YouTube and Ustream Channels for our contemporary and classic productions.

Easter Sunday: James Dean Proclaims the Resurrection in ‘Hill Number One’ on EWTN

James-Dean-Hill-Number-OneEverybody’s got to start somewhere, and for screen legend James Dean, that was Family Theater Productions.

One advantage of being founded in 1947 is that we’ve gotten to work with some of the biggest stars of Hollywood’s Golden Age — from Bing Crosby to Gregory Peck to Maureen O’Hara to Jimmy Durante.

On March 25, 1951, when the Korean War was in full swing, we released a TV special called “Hill Number One” (click here to watch). The reluctance of a group of American G.I.s to take one more hill on Easter Sunday provides the backdrop for an unusual retelling of the Passion, and that first hill, Golgotha, also known as Calvary.

Hill Number One 1

The cast includes Roddy McDowall as Pvt. Huntington (The Professor), Ruth Hussey as the Virgin Mary, Leif Erickson as Pilate, Joan Leslie as Claudia Procles, Jeanne Cagney (sister of James Cagney) as Mary Magdalene, Gene Lockhart as Matthew. and a very young James Dean — in his first speaking role — as John.

Hill-Number-One-James-Dean

 

As described at the IMDB:

A respectful interpretation of what might have happened among Jesus’s followers in the three days before Crucifixion. The story is told in the modern context of an US Army company stationed in Korea during the Korean War.

As the Catholic chaplain (Gordon Oliver) tells the tale of the Crucifixion and Resurrection, the scene switches to Jerusalem. When the action returns to Korea, the chaplain finishes his talk with an exhortation to listen to Mary and pray always — and use the rosary.

He says, “Of course, the beads don’t tell it to me; I tell it to the beads. That’s what meditation is. That’s what prayer is.”

Father-Patrick-Peyton

It’s a fitting addition, since FTP’s founder, Servant of God Father Patrick Peyton, C.S.C. (above) — who produced the special  — was deeply devoted to Mary and to the rosary, earning the nickname “The Rosary Priest.” He appears at the end to speak about the thing dearest to his heart, getting families to pray the rosary together.

Click here to learn about his life and the cause for his sainthood.

As it did last Easter, “Hill Number One” airs Easter Sunday, April 16, on EWTN, at 11 p.m. ET/8 p.m. PT.

The DVD of “Hill Number One” can be bought from the online store of Holy Cross Family Ministries, the parent organization of Family Theater, or from Amazon.com. It can also be streamed on Amazon Prime Video,

Among the comments at Amazon, from “Chief”:

Just as I was walking out the door on my way to Church this past Easter my wife was channel surfing and this movie caught my eye. I was unable to watch it and of course by the time I returned from Mass it had ended. So the next day I looked it up on Amazon ordered it and to my delight it was available, delivered before the expected delivery date and in the condition stated. The movie is corny but the message is timeless and needed now more than ever in this country. This will become a staple for my Easter time movie watching in addition to Jesus of Nazareth.

Last but not least, a peek at James Dean:

Images: Family Theater Productions

Learn more about Family Theater Productions’ upcoming, new and vintage productions as well as our Hollywood Outreach Programs; and, of course, you’ll find us on Facebook. Visit our YouTube and Ustream Channels for our contemporary and classic productions.

Norbertine Web Series ‘City of Saints’ Premieres With ‘The Good Thief’

City-of-Saints-Episode-1In the Catholic world of Southern California, the white-robed Norbertine Fathers of St. Michael’s Abbey are well-known — now the world gets to meet them.

On April 10, “The Good Thief,” the first episode of “City of Saints,” a seven-part series of short Web videos, premiered on CityofSaints.com. It traces the story of a troubled young man whose encounter with one of the Norbertine priests changed his life, comparing it to the story of St. Dismas, the “good thief” who was crucified alongside Christ.

Click here to watch; the page also offers background information on Father Norbert Wood, the Norbertine priest featured in the episode, and St. Dismas.

Father-Norbert-City-of-Saints

 

St. Michael’s Abbey is in Silverado, California, in the heart of Orange County. The Norbertines operate a boys’ boarding school at the abbey, administer parishes in Orange and Los Angeles Counties, release chant CDs — and now, star in a new Web series.

Asked what a Norbertine is, here’s Father Norbert’s reply:

A priest whose life is anchored in the Mysteries of the Altar and who bathes there every day in the fountain flowing from the Savior’s open Heart.

A priest who begins anew every day to walk the path of conversion and who seeks to love and serve with a generous heart like St. Augustine and St. Norbert.

A priest who hungers and thirsts for the Lord and for the salvation of His people and who renews that hunger and thirst each day in prayer.

Here are the upcoming episodes:

City-of-Saints-Norbertines-1

 

City-of-Saints-Norbertines-2

Image: Courtesy Norbertine Fathers of St. Michael’s Abbey

Learn more about Family Theater Productions’ upcoming, new and vintage productions as well as our Hollywood Outreach Programs; and, of course, you’ll find us on Facebook. Visit our YouTube and Ustream Channels for our contemporary and classic productions.

 

UPDATED: 5 for First Friday: Family-Friendly Viewing for April

TumbleLeaf-Spring-a-Ling-FFBIt’s the First Friday of the month, so we’re spotlighting some family-friendly viewing options for April. Take a look …

“Tumble Leaf Spring-a-ling Surprise”: The series — which received four Daytime Emmy Award nominations this year, including Outstanding Pre-School Children’s Animated Program– is streaming a new special on Amazon Prime this month.

“Tumble Leaf Spring-a-ling Surprise” follows Bloom the Bunny and his friends as they hunt for their lost eggs. Along the way, they find signs of the season of spring are everywhere. It’s a fun and colorful journey, in stop-motion animation, which can be interactive as well when your little ones begin to spot lost eggs on-screen before the characters do. It’s also a nice way to get them ready for an Easter egg hunt of their own if you plan on having one.

UPDATE 4/12/2017:

To celebrate the beginning of spring, Amazon Original Special Tumble Leaf Spring-A-Ling Surprise will be free to stream on Prime Video in the US beginning Friday, April 14 at 12 a.m. PST and ending Sunday, April 16 at 11:59 p.m. PST; no Prime membership required.

Check out the trailer:

“Finding Jesus: Faith, Fact, Forgery ”: The second season of the well-done CNN miniseries debuted last month and concludes on Sunday, April 9, using scientific technology and archaeological research to learn more about the life of Jesus. Though you might feel suspicious of this subject matter being tackled by a major news organization, there’s nothing to fear here. A number of theologians, scholars and historians contribute to the episodes in a respectful way.

Of course, no scientific fact can replace what faith already accomplishes, but the episodes are interesting if you’re into history, ancient artifacts and Bible stories. If you have older children, this series may help to pique their interest in the church. The topics explored this season include the childhood home of Jesus, the tombs of King Herod and Lazarus, the bones of Peter and relics related to Thomas. Watch Sunday at 9PM ET on CNN and preview the series online at CNN.com.

Click here to see a clip from Sunday’s finale, which explores the tradition that St. Thomas brought Christianity to India.

“An American Tail”: The 1986 animated family film comes to Netflix this month along with “An American Tail: Fievel Goes West” and “An American Tail: The Mystery of the Night Monster.” It’s been more than thirty years, but the story of Fievel Mousekewitz and his family as they emigrate from Russia to the U.S. in search of freedom still holds up. Just tell your kids it’s the “Finding Nemo” from your childhood.

Here’s a peek:

“The Secret Life of Pets”: Last summer’s computer-animated hit feature, following a Jack Russell Terrier named Max whose life is turned upside down when his owner adopts a stray dog named Duke, comes to Netflix on April 22, and is another great option for family movie night. For siblings, there may even be a good lesson on teamwork and sticking together in there.

“Easter From King’s”: BBC Worldwide launched their subscription-based, video-on-demand service called BritBox this past month, which is making a whole lot of British programming available to American audiences for the first time. The cost for BritBox is $6.99 a month, but you can take advantage of a 7-day free trial as new users. If you’re looking for some music to play during your family’s Easter dinner, you may consider Kings College Choral Scholars, at King’s College at Cambridge. Featuring hymns and readings, it is a rare look into an Anglican Easter service abroad which includes one of the most prestigious choirs in the world.

Or, you can watch it here.

Also, don’t forget the Solemn Mass of Palm Sunday from the Vatican, available on EWTN.

Korbi is a former full-time TV blogger, writing for sites such as E! Online and Yahoo!. She is now a full-time mom of twin boys. In her free time, she moonlights as a Marriage, Family & Individual Therapist.

Image: Courtesy Amazon Prime

Learn more about Family Theater Productions’ upcoming, new and vintage productions as well as our Hollywood Outreach Programs; and, of course, you’ll find us on Facebook. Visit our YouTube and Ustream Channels for our contemporary and classic productions.