Tuesday, June 26, 2012

The Paul Verhoeven Jesus Film is to go ahead

For over eight years, I have been posting here on the NT Blog about the Paul Verhoeven Jesus film. Back in 2004 I was already wondering Whatever happened to the Paul Verhoeven Jesus Film Project, something that has been discussed since Verhoeven attended meetings of the Jesus Seminar in the 90s.

The story received some renewed interest when in 2008 Verhoeven published his own book on Jesus which looked like it might become the basis for the renewal of the film project.

Well, now comes the confirmation that the film is going to go ahead after all.  It's going to be made by Muse Productions who are headlining the news on their website, with a picture of Verhoeven's book and the following note:
MUSE’s Chris Hanley will back director Paul Verhoeven’s (Robocop, Total Recall, Basic Instinct, co-writer of Pulp Fiction) new film based on his book ‘Jesus of Navareth.’ The project is the product of two decades of research by Verhoeven. Hollywood Deadline and Indiewire picked up the news, check their articles out here and here.
Roger Avary is to script the film and already there are some preparing for a fight, not least because it may feature the line that Mary was raped by the Roman soldier Panthera, a story that features in Verhoeven's book and which is derived from Origen's quotation of Celsus in Contra Celsum.  (Celsus was a pagan critic of Christianity writing in the mid second century whose work the third century Origen is refuting).  Mike Fleming writes in Deadline:
Verhoeven’s take on the life of Jesus Christ discounts all the miracles that inform the New Testament. That includes the virgin birth and the resurrection. Verhoeven doesn’t believe any of them happened. I wrote about Verhoeven’s ambitions in spring 2011, as he and his reps at ICM first tried to find funding — no small feat given some of the theories he put forth in the book.The most controversial: that Jesus might have been the product of his mother being raped by a Roman soldier, which Verhoeven said was commonplace at the time, and that Jesus was a radical prophet who performed exorcisms and was convinced he would find the kingdom of Heaven on earth, and did not know he would be sentenced to die on the cross by Pontius Pilate.
There's no doubt that it would be controversial to put this particular tradition in the film.  I still remember Christians picketing cinema's when Scorsese's Last Temptation of Christ came out in 1987 because it depicted Jesus hallucinating about having sex with Mary Magdalene ( a scene most of the critics misunderstood).

I remember the BBC getting into hot water for even reporting the Roman soldier tradition in a documentary called The Virgin Mary that I was on in 2002 (see further Mary).  The difficulty is that the vast majority of Christians have not heard about this piece of gossip that goes back at least to the second century and possibly also to the first.

My guess is that Verhoeven will find a way to represent the tradition without committing to it in order to avoid appearing deliberately sacrilegious.  It is worth remembering, though, that Scorsese used the controversy that his film stirred up in 1988 to provide a lot of free publicity.

This is a story that I will be watching with interest.


Jens Knudsen (Sili) said...

"The difficulty is that the vast majority of Christians have not heard about ..."

You can put almost anything at the end of that sentence and it will still be true.


Anonymous said...

The problem with the hisorical method of research is that it opens the door for any whacko theory and gives it credibility because some mention of it, no matter how false, has been found in ancient documents.
Verhoeven's film is not depicting the historical Jesus, it is focusing upon his invention of a man and calling him the historical Jesus.
Perspective is not truth, variations are not truth and interpretation is not truth. So yes, christians will get upset because the unbeliever is mocking and lying about their Saviour showing no repsect for their beliefs and central figure.
One reason unbelievers pick on Jesus so much is that they know christians will not kill them.

Jim Deardorff said...

"Sili said...
'The difficulty is that the vast majority of Christians have not heard about ...'
You can put almost anything at the end of that sentence and it will still be true."

Doesn’t that hold true also for many NT scholars? The particular difficulty I have in mind is:
Around 1st century CE many Jews were apparently still awaiting the fulfillment of Isaiah’s prophecy of the coming of a messiah who would be named Immanuel and be of the root of Jesse -- John the Baptist appears to have been one. After the crucifixion, other important leaders also believed that Isaiah’s Immanuel prophecy had been fulfilled in the figure of Jesus: Paul (Rom 15:12), the writer of Matthew, and still later Justin Martyr, then Irenaeus. Hence, they didn’t believe that the prophecy had been unknowingly fulfilled back in the days of King Ahaz, as do some or many present scholars.

a) Why are most NT scholars unaware that this late-fulfillment belief of the people and early writers of that era is what matters, not what a modern consensus would wish for?

b) But the main difficulty is, how could anyone (including scholars) have been so dumb as to believe “Jesus” was considered to be the fulfillment of the prophecy unless he had been named “Immanuel” at birth, contra Matthew 1:25? How can NT scholars ignore this major problem? “Immanuel” was to be his name, not just a symbolic characterization; most Jewish names ending in “el” incorporate a meaning. Even Irenaeus spoke of “Immanuel born of the virgin” as if it had been a name given at birth.

c) How could Paul have been so knowledgeable of the Scriptures and believed in a Messiah, and that “Jesus” was Isaiah’s “root of Jesse,” without ever citing Isaiah’s 7:14 passage or mentioning the name “Immanuel”? How can NT scholars be unaware of this problem? Paul and others should have been celebrating Immanuel as the fulfillment of the prophecy, rather than avoiding mention of the name “Immanuel.”

d) Except for Matthew’s brief mention of the name, avoidance of the name “Immanuel” persisted into mid- and even late-2nd century. How could NT scholars be unaware that this is a grave problem? And even Justin, then Irenaeus, dwelled entirely on the “virgin” aspect of the prophecy as vindication of its fulfillment, while essentially ignoring the Immanuel versus Jesus issue.

e) A related problem of unawareness: Why did it take about a half century after Paul’s preachings before the name “Jesus” first appeared in the literature (by 1 Clement)?

Perhaps some PhD student will dispel this unawareness and show us how to connect the dots on this problem.

half and half said...

Dear Professor Goodacre,

New commenter here. Thank you for providing a non-hysterical (in either direction) summary of the Paul Verhoven Jesus film. I was curious to learn more about its approach and greatly appreciate your effort to treat all NT Blog subjects, controversial or not, with historical integrity and even-handedness.

Deary theologyarcheology,

Please spare the world your historically absurd statement that "One reason unbelievers pick on Jesus so much is that they know christians will not kill them". I know from eyewitness testimony that this is not true. And no I am not referring to an ancient source like Origen, but to my still-living mother, who barely escaped with her life from a firebombed Budapest synagogue as a teenager, only to be surrounded by an angry Christian crowd outside who spat on her and other fleeing worshipers and pelted them with rocks chanting "Die Jews, you killed our Christ".

Anonymous said...

@half and half---Who said they were christians? I donot see anywhere in the the NT where Christ or the Biblical authors commanded Jesus' followers to attack and kill others.

@Jim D.-- It sounds like you are being a literalist here and ignore the fact that people are often addressed by different names. In your point c--why does Paul have to use the name Immanuel? Can you point to a biblical passage commanding that all His followers must call him by that name?

Your point e-- Who said it took 50 years? Last I heard, not every book, manuscript orletter survive so it wold be hard to say that the name wasn't used prior to 1 Clement.

half and half said...


Since you directed a question to me, I will answer it, but if it doesn't satisfy you,to be fair to this blog, perhaps we should continue our discussion on your blog, since I already know (blogespherically, where you live).

1) How do I know they were Christians? Easy, they self-identified as such, claiming Christ as their Savior ("You killed Our Christ"). If you believe in salvation by faith, you can't reasonably expect more of them. The pastor at the bible-believing church I attend says that if someone says to him that they are a Christian, i.e.,that they have accepted Christ as their Savior,that they have repented, etc.even he can't see what is truly in their hearts and know whether they are lying to him or not. For you to wonder otherwise about a group of people sixty years ago is pure speculation. As Paul was quite adamant, even saved Christians will continue to sin as "flesh is weak". If you believe that Paul's Epistles are the words of God, then you have to accept that saved people are capable of all kinds of sin, including bigotry and violence without an explicit NT command to murder unbelievers, just as saved people are capable of adultery without an explicit NT command to stray from the bounds of marriage.

2. My real point (I admit perhaps sharply made)was to take you to task for your broadside attack on historical research of the type that this Blog draws on regularly to understand the Bible better. Evangelical Christian biblical scholars and evangelical Christian pastors who believe the Bible is inerrant make liberal use of historical materials (yes, including archeology) to deepen their understanding.

My mother's story is 100% true and your response validates the concern that was implied in my first message that with the position you espoused on the historical method, it matters not to you whether or not something actually happened in the time of Origen, the time of my mother's traumatic experience, five minutes ago or at whether something happened at all. With the approach you appear to espouse, if a proven fact varies from your absolutist and arbitrary definition of "truth", you have to discard it as not fitting the conclusion you have reached before considering the facts. I think that even people with views as far apart as Lee Stroebel and Bart Ehrmann could agree that this is not a path to wisdom in Biblical matters.

I don't mean to be unfair to you and don't know whether or not this is how you live your faith, but this is the logical conclusion of what you said.

Finally, I want to apologize for my unfortunate typo which caused my message to address you as "Deary". I admit I am a lousy typist and I admit your post struck a nerve in me. However I had no intent to be rude.


Jim Deardorff said...

Mark, is it OK to pursue theologyarchaeology’s questions a bit (re NT scholars’ unawareness)?

Theo, re my c) and your question why Paul had to use the name Immanuel, nothing says he had to. But why didn’t he want to? Like you infer, Paul could have called him by different names, and “Immanuel,” as the prophesied messiah, was the very name that would most explicitly lend Isaiah’s support to the “Christ” title Paul gave to Jesus. And Paul appreciated Isaiah. So “Immanuel” should have been number 1 on Paul’s list of alternate names for “Jesus,” since no one told him not to use that name. But he never used “Immanuel” once while using “Jesus” some 96 times in his first four epistles. So the key question remains, Why did Paul never use the name “Immanuel” for his Savior?

Was it because Paul’s theology centered around God’s forgiveness of sins, and “Jesus” fit that theme better than “God with us”?

Or was it because YHWH had tended to displace “El” as the preferred name for God, therefore Paul preferred Yeshua over Immanuel?

Or was it because the man’s name had actually been “Immanuel” at birth, and Paul, having been the arch persecutor of Immanuel’s disciples, if not of Immanuel himself, had hated Immanuel with a passion for a few years before his conversion. He did not want to think of the detested name “Immanuel” every time he prayed to his new Savior. So he referred to him as “Jesus” instead.

Re e), I’d be grateful if you or others would inform me if you think of a writing earlier than Clement’s (outside of the Epistles), which refers tothe Jesus. (By my reckoning Matthew and the other Gospels came out later than 95 CE .)

Jens Knudsen (Sili) said...

"One reason unbelievers pick on Jesus so much is that they know christians will not kill them."

Ooooh. Lovely bit of sideways fatwa envy there.

As for the charity of Christians, I suspect the family of George Tiller might disagree with you.

(Actually, they probably wouldn't. They're good Christians, themselves, and he was gunned down coming out of church.)

Anonymous said...

@half and half--Just because someone claims to be a christian doesn't mean they are. Jesus said 'by their fruits ye shall know them' and 'if you love me keep my commandments'. In the scenario offered I do not see those people as christian.

When one is a christian they are to do things God's way. God's kingdom, God's rules. So if they are liberal with historical material, you need to check their owrk against what God wants them to do.

@JimD-- I think youare hung up over a very minute point. God wrote the Bible and basically told Paul which name to use. Luke 1:31 explicitly says to name him Jesus so why do you have a problem with Paul's usage of that name?

The gospels have been traced back to the 40-50s-60s and your reckoning seems to be a bit high.

Jim Deardorff said...

The Gospel of Luke was written decades after Paul’s time, so Paul didn’t read Luke 1:31.

But the point that’s gotten lost is that:
A) Paul was aware of Isaiah’s prophecy and believed it had been fulfilled.

B) The prophecy was not fulfilled if Christ had been named “Jesus” instead of “Immanuel” at birth.

C) Hence, those who call him Jesus and believe Isaiah’s Immanuel prophecy was fulfilled, suffer a gross contradiction, which NT scholars seem unaware of.

Besides Paul, the writer of Matthew, Justin and Irenaeus are also guilty of this contradiction.

One solution is that he was named Immanuel at birth, not “Jesus.”

Anonymous said...

@Jim D.-- You are under the impression that that information was not revealed until long aafter Paul's demise. Since Paul knew the apostles he would have had that information long before Luke did.

Plus since the Holy Spirit played an active role in writing the Bible Paul would know which name to use in his letters.

In regards to your Immanuel problem, I think you are hung up on a minute and unimportant point. Maybe Dr. Richard Bucher can answer your problem for you. He tals about Jesus' name in the article The Meaning of Immanuel, God With Us