Last week’s episode of The Bible ended on a cliffhanger. Jesus recruited the first of his disciples, Simon Peter, as if he were heading up the Fellowship of the Ring. The implication was that once the team is in place his Ministry will have officially begun. Well, The Bible decided not to show him recruiting anybody else — except for the tax collector, Matthew — in its fourth two-hour installment, the night of Palm Sunday. It took us on a whirlwind tour of Jesus' greatest hits, a rapid succession of miracles, then showed how it all came crashing down because of a measly 30 pieces of silver — and the temptation of Obama Satan. Yes, Obama Satan returned! But for a blink-or-miss-it cameo as the Pharisees’ troops closed in on Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane. You’d think History might have cut him out after the furor last week, but no. He lives. He glowers. And he will tempt you all with the sweet sinfulness of socialism.
Except that it was actually Jesus who was preaching the socialist message in the Bible (and The Bible). He gave people free healthcare by making the lame walk and the blind see. He even healed lepers, people who definitely don’t have insurance! He also started going around saying that he could forgive sins — a big no-no for the Pharisees who believed that only God can forgive sins and that rigid adherence to Talmudic law is the only way to please God. Jesus then really pissed them off by welcoming a tax collector, Matthew, into his fold. His “Parable of the Pharisee and the Tax Collector,” about a rabbi who prays bombastically for everyone to hear in his temple and a tax collector who prays humbly and never even raises his eyes toward heaven, is pretty much Jesus’ critique, some 2000 years in advance, of televangelism. Self-consciously parlaying your faith into the pursuit of fame is pretty crass. Or, as He would put it, “Anyone who praises himself will be humbled, and anyone who humbles himself will be praised.” Maybe Mark Burnett should have thought of that before he cast his wife Roma Downey as Mother Mary.
It’s a testament to just how sexless The Bible is that we don’t ever get a sense of Mary Magdalene’s life of whoredom before encountering Jesus. She’s just there, already a part of Jesus’ flock when the episode opened. I mean, come on! One of the many, many cool things about Jesus is that he was friends with hookers! I’m not saying I was looking for full-on Barbara Hershey in The Last Temptation of Christ action. It’s just that Jesus’ association with her reveals so much about his acceptance of all people, even those traditionally ostracized. We got none of that here. And just a week after we were denied a sexy dance from Salome! Also, what was up with this sexless Mary Magdalene’s British accent?
We got some big helicopter shots of Jesus and the disciples walking single-file, Fellowship-style, across the Judean landscape. One by one, Burnett rattled off Jesus’ greatest moments: the Sermon on the Mount, asking the men who want to stone an adulteress who among them is without sin, walking on water to rescue a doubting Peter from stormy CGI waves. And, of course, his greatest act of socialism: creating an endless supply of fish and bread to feed the unwashed masses. When he returned to Nazareth to read from the Torah on Shabbat, he declared that he had fulfilled the prophecy of the Messiah. From the look on Roma Downey’s face as Old Mary, you knew that he had ruffled so many feathers because of this that it was just one step further toward his demise.
NEXT: Pontius Pilate is about as much of a bamf as he could be without being portrayed by Ving Rhames.
Speaking of the forces in Jerusalem that would conspire against him, we got our first glimpse of Pontius Pilate. Only Ving Rhames’ Pilate in Djesus Uncrossed could possibly out-badass this guy. He even fights gladiators with sword and shield just so he can hone his skill! When a rebellion broke out among the Jews because Temple funds were being appropriated by the Romans to build an aqueduct, he had the rebels slaughtered. With anyone who’s anyone in Judaism converging on Jerusalem for Passover, it could be a powderkeg. The Sanhedrin, the high council of Pharisees, wanted to tread very lightly as far as the Romans were concerned. Could this Jesus be inciting a rebellion of his own that could lead to even more bloodshed? Sanhedrin member Nicodemus was concerned, its leader, Caiphas, less so. “Nothing important ever came from Galilee,” he said. Famous last words.
Jesus resurrected Lazarus, then hopped a donkey for a one-way trip to Jerusalem. Once at the city gates he was hailed with palm fronds. Rebel leader Barabbas stopped Jesus to say a version of “This is my town, muhf***a.” Or, sorry, Muhf***a. Jesus made it clear, though, that he wasn’t here to encourage any kind of revolt. That meant he was stuck between a rock and a hard place: the Romans and Sanhedrin will think he’s a threat, the rebels will think he’s a collaborator. He’ll need to call upon his disciples in the midst of all this. Hopefully they're a unified front and not easily lured by the intoxicating power of silver.
Jesus made even more enemies, and really started to make the Romans and Sanhedrin think he’s a threat, by bringing his socialist agenda to Herod’s Temple. He overturned the tables of the money changers who had set up business there, declared you can’t serve God and money, and delivered the immortal screed against the 1%, “It’s easier for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle than a rich man to enter the Kingdom of God.” Call it Occupy Herod’s Temple. He then said, to a child and in a vaguely menacing tone, “Do you see all these great buildings? Not one stone—not one stone—will be left standing.” At the time it seemed like a threat, but he was really alluding to how the Romans would destroy the Temple within the next 30 years. Still, this kinda made people think he was the first century equivalent of Bane.
Caiaphas was losing his s*** at this point. Luckily for him, he was able to appeal to Judas’ love of silver to get a personal audience with Jesus. And by “personal audience” we mean have the Messiah sent before him in chains. Caiaphas now really believed that this one “peasant” had to die, in order to preserve the future of “God’s nation.” The funny thing about calling Jesus a “peasant” is that, yes, he was a carpenter, but people forget he was also descended from the House of David, meaning that he really did have royal blood, in addition to divine blood, in his veins. Shame Caiaphas didn’t know that.
It was time to break challah for the Passover seder known as the Last Supper. Judas was mulling over his actions, while Jesus promoted symbolic cannibalism via the First Communion. Afterwards, Jesus went to pray in Gethsemane and Judas saw Obama Satan in the streets. There was some nice crosscutting between Christ’s prayer in the garden, the Pharisees' prayer, and also a prayer led by a Vestal Virgin in a Roman Temple. Caiaphas’ soldiers attacked Jesus and the disciples where they prayed and Peter even cut off one centurion’s ear with his sword. Jesus promptly healed the guy’s ear then told Peter, “He who lives by the sword, shall die by the sword.” He’s a pacifist too! We keep finding out this Jesus is more of a hippie than we ever thought.
In chains, Jesus was taken to the Sanhedrin, where they pronounced him guilty of blasphemy and incitement and sentenced him to death. Meaning that they’d have to turn him over to Pilate, because only the Romans could carry out the death penalty. Harsh stuff. But I do applaud this version for showing what a terrible bind Caiaphas was in. One false move, and the Romans would kill everyone. Better to play it safe by offering up this one guy as a sacrifice, even if he was the Messiah. And in his own way, Caiphas played a role in the divine plan that had been ordained since before Jesus’ birth. Jesus had to die not only to show everyone how to live but to convey the promise of everlasting life. Obama Satan would have won if Jesus had recanted his message and avoided his suffering. The hard path, the path of suffering, was the righteous path in the end.
So this week’s episode of The Bible definitely toned down the crazy as opposed to the Old Testament stuff. Next week, we’ve got History Channel’s riff on The Passion of the Christ. Stay tuned.
Follow Christian Blauvelt on Twitter @Ctblauvelt
[Photo Credit: History Channel]
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The Crusades were a series of religious wars in which the Christians tried to reclaim Jerusalem from the Muslims who had conquered the Middle East in the 7th century. With the battle cry of "God wills it! " thousands of Europeans answered the call and were able to retake the fabled Holy City in the 11th century. Kingdom of Heaven begins in 1186 between the Second and Third Crusades. A fragile peace prevails mostly through the efforts of Jerusalem's enlightened Christian king Baldwin IV (Edward Norton) and the military restraint of the legendary Muslim leader Saladin (Ghassan Massoud). But it's difficult to maintain the peace. There are extremists within the Christian brigades--known as the Knights Templar--who want to wipe every Muslim off the face of the Earth. On top of that King Baldwin's health is failing. Once he's gone war is sure to follow. If ever there was a need for a hero this is the time. Enter the young French blacksmith Balian (Orlando Bloom) who is in deep despair over the loss of his family. He joins the Crusades after the father he never knew Godfrey (Liam Neeson) comes back from Jerusalem and convinces him it's a quest worth fighting for. As Godfrey passes his sword to his son he also passes on that sacred knightly oath: to protect the helpless safeguard the peace and work toward harmony between religions and cultures so that a kingdom of heaven can flourish on earth. No pressure or anything though.
Orlando Bloom carries his first major motion picture very well easily handling the chores of being such a gallant conscientious and morally upstanding knight. As Balian the Troy costar plays the gamut. He broods over his lost wife and child has father-son epiphanies upholds his knightly duties on a regular basis falls in love with a beautiful but troubled princess and finally bravely defends the Holy City from the encroaching Muslim army thus becoming a legend. Not bad for a day's work eh? There are even times especially toward the end when Balian is standing before the denizens of Jerusalem urging them to fight when you swear you can see a little of Bloom's The Lord of the Rings alter-elf Legolas creep in. The supporting cast also does an adequate job painting a picture of some trying times. Chief among them: Jeremy Irons as King Baldwin's right-hand man Tiberias; Marton Csokas (The Bourne Supremacy) as the evil leader of the Knights Templar; Massoud as the great warrior Saladin; and lovely Eva Green (The Dreamers) as Princess Sibylla King Baldwin's sister who captures our hero's heart but makes some bad choices with dire consequences.
Even if these sword-and-armor epics are all blending together you've got to give props to the directors who make them. These films are massive undertakings and Kingdom of
Heaven with the expert Ridley Scott at the helm is no exception. The Oscar-winning director of course has had his fair share of recreating history first with the classic Gladiator and then with the contemporary Black Hawk Down. But in recreating the Crusades Scott faces his toughest challenge to date and takes on the responsibility very seriously. He is painstakingly meticulous with details even as he is building a 12th-century Jerusalem or corralling 2 000 heavily costumed extras for the colossal climactic battle sequences. And it is always a good thing when a historical film can teach you something you may not have known like what the heck the Crusades were really all about. No Kingdom's biggest obstacle is timing. While it certainly has more substance than Alexander it is not nearly as intense and stirring as The Lord of the Rings trilogy or the granddaddy of them all Braveheart. Too many of its ilk has come before and the concept has unfortunately worn thin.
Documentary portrait of Jerusalem presented through the eyes of the people who live there. Also shows rites performed at the city's most venerated shrines: the Western Wall, the Dome of the Rock and the Church of the Holy Sepulchre.