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Enough of the ‘Great Unwashed’

Most ‘Bible movies’ are, with a few notable exceptions, sorry evangelists for the Christian faith. Those loosely based on the New Testament generally portray a fey, willowy, Anglo-Saxon Jesus wafting limpidly around an arid landscape, occasionally uttering ‘sound bites’ randomly culled from the Gospels.

The only redeeming aspect of this type of Bible movie is that they are sometimes good for a laugh. My favourite example of the genre is The Robe which features a muscle-bound Victor Mature rolling around in the sand of Hollywood’s take on a Roman gladiatorial arena, wrestling a stuffed lion, fresh from the taxidermist’s workshop.

Apparently, the movie’s director originally planned to film Mature wrestling a real, live lion. ‘There’s no danger, Victor.’ he reportedly assured the anxious star, ‘His teeth and claws have been pulled.’

‘Who wants to be gummed to death?’ growled Mature.

Movies based on the Old Testament are usually even less true to the text, albeit rather more muscular than the New Testament variety. Sadly, what promised to be the most hilarious of all the Bible epics never got off the ground. Its working title was Jesus Christ and the Twelve Thousand Apostles.

The project was abandoned when the producer (the redoubtable Sam Goldwyn, I believe) was gently informed that there were only twelve Apostles. It seems he considered a mere twelve Apostles just a tad too modest for a big screen epic.

However, the recently released Risen is a movie that fails to fit this traditional mould. It is the story of a Roman army officer who has been ordered to search for Jesus’ body, presumed stolen from the tomb by his disciples. It is well shot, well acted, and entirely believable.

It is probably ungracious to cavil, but I do wish movie-makers would stop portraying Jesus and the Apostles as horny-handed sons of toil. Most of them were decidedly middle class.

Jesus’ family worked in wood, one of the most expensive commodities in the Holy Land at the time. And, there’s evidence to suggest they were building contractors at Sepphoris, one of the wealthiest cities of the Decapolis.

Jesus was so elegantly dressed, the soldiers who crucified him cast lots for his coat, rather than tear it in half. Peter, James, and John were partners in a fishing fleet and Matthew was a tax farmer, which meant he was very rich, indeed—almost certainly a millionaire.

They were well-educated, fluent in at least three languages, possibly four (Hebrew, Aramaic, Greek and (probably) Latin). Being Jews, they bathed regularly. Enough of the ‘Great Unwashed’ already! GPH✠

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