THE SON OF GOD MOVIE
This is almost the year of American biblical/religious movie and Feb 28th marks the premiere of the much hyped Son of God film, an enlargement and adaptation of the made for TV Bible Series. Hollywood is offering a film on a child’s alleged trip to heaven for Easter, a film on the Rapture in June, and even a disaster movie type film on Noah at I’m not sure what date – I’ve seen more than one.
I would like to recommend Son of God more than I feel able. From clips I’ve seen it looks to have some good elements, good settings and even a quite effective Jesus actor in the Portuguese Diogo Morgado who is getting called variously ‘the Latin Jesus’ and ‘Hot Jesus’ – for my article on Jesus images and actors and the Easter’s Heaven is for Real film see http://wp.me/p2v96G-lH – but I still find the task of appreciation a hard one.
I never managed to get through the TV series for sheer annoyance at the silly, unnecessary, incongruous distortions, the weird Asian angels of Sodom, the difficult young Moses and much more, oddities upon which this film seems unlikely to improve notably. (Son of God will even lack the fairly crucial element of Jesus’ temptation prior to the ministry because the actor taking the role of the devil is felt to look too like Obama to be comfortably included! That a black actor was even chosen to play the devil – a figure biblically said to be able to appear as an angel of light – is part of the eccentricity of the production that alienated me from the original Bible series whose purpose was never clear). Morgado has been telling TV audiences he is getting strong reactions from atheists who feel impelled to look at life more closely, doubtless a good thing but not quite the same as pursuing religious belief. Morgado himself speaks of the gospels as showing us “the greatest love story”, one that helps to make us kinder; we needn’t argue with that idea provided we recall the gospels were specifically written to encourage belief that Jesus “is the Messiah, the Son of God” (Joh 20:31).
The official trailer is problematic from the distortion of its first scenes. In these Jesus wades out towards the boat of a Peter whom he asks does he want help which Peter doesn’t. Jesus intends to give assistance anyway (though he’s helpless enough to need pulling into a boat in another clip) a boat which he is in effect impounding to do what he intends, which is to go fishing. Peter insists there are not fish to obtain, but Jesus casts for fish anyway and a huge haul is made. Peter blankly and almost rudely asks Jesus, “how did this happen?”. He also almost sullenly asks Jesus what they are “to do”. Jesus’ discipleship call to Peter is then not as per the gospels to fish for men/souls but “to change the world”. The gruff Peter apparently warms to this.
This sequence appears to place the miracle of the fish attributed to the post resurrection Jesus in which Jesus tells the disciples, not just Peter, to cast for fish and which they, not Jesus bring up (Joh 21: 4-8), to the call of Peter by the lake at the beginning of the ministry where no such miracle is involved (Matt 4:18-20). There is in any case nothing authentic about even the feel of things in the portrayal. From the first Jesus was, and inevitably so, respected by the disciples as at least Master and Rabbi. There would therefore be nothing like a near modern rudeness towards Jesus, nor would Jesus be likely to be merely casual, lolling quizzically at the back of a boat. Anything miraculous he might do wouldn’t be queried like so many conjuring tricks. Either his miracles came for God or the devil. Jesus’ miracles meant to the disciples he was the Promised One but so did his teachings which it was said had authority not like those of the disputing rabbis. It is however the miracles rather than the teachings which get emphasized, ten of them the length of the movie.
What the script is presenting is a species of modern, democratized paraphrase of the text with re-adjustments to the story. The treatment is so oblivious to the kind of respect in which Jesus was held by his followers as at least a rabbi and son of David and then to the likely ‘presence’ Jesus himself would have conveyed, that in the late scenes it still shows Jesus dressed in peasant garb as opposed to the precious purple robe with its regal implications for which the centurions dice at the crucifixion. Throughout the film, I gather, Mary Magdalene is presented as though an additional disciple to the twelve which, despite her undoubted importance, she was not and could not have been given existing customs.
The real miracle about the Son of God movie is just how taken in by it evangelicals and fundamentalists are though otherwise and normally they are insistent upon the authority of a literal, inerrant word of God in the Bible. As indicated, there is some serious infidelity to the given facts, words and general feeling of the gospels in this film; but those ever strange evangelicals (who leave one reeling with what they have just encouraged and approved in Uganda), seeing an opportunity to have religion in the news and reach the masses with the Word suddenly lack critical sense in relation to what they are promoting. But evangelicals are now also being joined by Catholic bishops who feel that seeing the film will help bring the gospels to life for people. Maybe it will, but I suggest the priests haven’t been doing too good a job at any bringing to life and teaching basic facts where Christianity is concerned if they need this film’s errors to assist them!
In the final analysis Americans are people of the trend and as this film is associated with sufficiently successful and known “names” in especially Hollywood it can pass even if the producers who call themselves Christians are effectively New Agers one of whom, Roma Downey admits to get far and high on the teachings EckartToller, an anything but Christian, indeed almost an anti-Christian guru. I am allowed to feel rather disgusted by all this effectively Rick Warrenesque religion as someone who from outside America and unknown, though qualified, either can’t reckon to get a theologian or religious journalist to reply to me – unless perhaps to get insulted because I offer some alternative, original reading of a scriptural verse. There is something repulsive about the way modern American Christianity works. It has been contaminated by the values and methods of big business even if and when it isn’t doing big business and the attitudes are often those of what St Paul condemns as “menpleasers” in the old King James language that American churches would do as well to ditch for good.
As to the timing of all this, interestingly enough Son of God appears within days of exactly 10 years from the premiere of The Passion of the Christ. Late February is a good or at least suitable time to issue anything on Jesus as in relation to his natus – which can be known, but the menpleasers are too conventional, too careful of their reputations or tenures to even look at it – the sun is near or on Jesus’ Uranus in Pisces and fortunately, helpfully trine his Neptune/Venus. And Neptune as any astrologer knows is at one octave about any films. What however may be more significant this time is that Mars is transiting in late Libra and due soon to make an apparent retrograde in the sign. This means that there are and will be aspects made to the asteroids for Jesus and Christ and the other Jesus names/titles which fall in super conjunction in late Libra. Mars here can be aggressive promotion and/or controversy, and these we have already.
Truth to tell, these days when society is being increasingly subject to Islamization and inter-faith concerns, it is controversial to place the stress on the story of Jesus as Son of God, the status the Koran denies he has and which is cited on the Al-Aqsa mosque built over or near the historic Temple area (that modern Islam increasingly denies ever existed). The title “Son of God” needs explaining today, but I don’t see the film or its advocates as helping to do this. It is not to deny the doctrine of sonship as either present in the Bible and true in itself to point out that for early Christians the title did not have the same degree of privilege it has obtained for moderns and Americans.
For the first Christians Jesus the Son was also the Logos (the Word), the Sophia (the Wisdom), “the Angel of the Lord” finally manifested in flesh, the Messiah, the King of Kings, and to the extent he was the Sophia he was at least by implication a kind of Daughter as well a Son of God. Today “the Offspring” or “Face” of God” might better summarize the meaning and feeling of original formulations. The main point is that Jesus is the representative of God and the principle of mediation with the God whom no one might see and live. Prior to Jesus Judaism reached God through priests, or, if more personally and directly as in the Psalms, (many of these accorded prophetic status) it was in light of the coming Messiah who would be a kind of chief priest for contacting God.
If advocates of the film keep trumpeting around the Son of God title without taking it as the opportunity it could be today for describing its real meanings, it will only seem like the film and its promotion constitute more blind insensitivity, even a kind of anti-feminist move against the spiritual possibilities of women. Understanding the role and need for mediation with God does not affect just theology but psychology as I will stress in some material I will be putting out in a few weeks on McCleary’s Alternatives in relation to the poet Rilke.
PS Re THE ALLEGED “EROTIC” QUALITY of the ‘SON OF GOD’ MOVIE
I see that here in Australia the ABC has been debating whether Morgado’s Son of God Jesus doesn’t seem a bit too “sexy” and in a way that even gives a different tone to a statement like the Last Supper’s “this is my body”. (One could well debate whether the almost immediate popular impact of the film doesn’t owe something to the audience feeling attracted to this Jesus figure no matter what he says or does according to this film’s rather trendy rendition of the gospels!). I have already expressed opinions about images of Jesus in art and film in the article at http://wp.me/p2v96G-lH not mentioning any possible erotic dimensions as I shall now briefly do. I have been critical of Son of God as a movie, but if an element of unfamiliar ‘erotic’ appeal is associated with it, this might be my least complaint against it.
Certainly the film seems to offer almost the opposite to the most ethereal and ‘divine’ Jesus performance which was given by Robert Powell in Zefirelli’s Jesus of Nazareth.If however I were to judge from the data I regularly use for Jesus, I feel it would be almost impossible Christ would not convey some kind of erotic power (albeit not in any merely blatant fashion). Born with Venus in the sex sign Scorpio conjunct dreamy, glamorous and today films-associated Neptune itself in turn conjunct asteroid Eros, it would be impossible not to exude some kind of probably mysterious(Scorpio) charm or lure. Also the natal Mars, again in Scorpio, and strong is also conjunct Jupiter. (At one of the first lectures I ever gave on my data for Jesus someone observed the pattern looked like someone who might seem quite sexually charged).
The mentioned article on imagery explains what was almost certainly culturally understood and intended by the biblical prophetic statement regarding the Messiah “he has no beauty that we should desire him” and it certainly does not imply ugliness or mere plainness. I have also theorized on good grounds in my Solomon’s Tantric Song http://bit.ly/12t7gEHv how and why Jesus could even be thought of as among other things the Eros of God. As to the statement “this is my body”, while obviously it does not by itself prove any theories regarding a gay Jesus, I have always suggested it could well belong with such speculations because such extreme statements must be uttered, even just humanly, with appropriate conviction, and it is the gay rather than the heterosexual male who is more inclined to display or somehow affirm the body as the self itself.
It is possible to get into a lot of trivial, silly talk on this subject, but I still think it’s not inappropriate to think of Jesus as somehow conveying an erotic energy though I wouldn’t perceive it as quite like Morgado’s Capricornian spontaneous expression of that. Handsome Capricorns like the hetero Elvis Presley and the gay Ricky Martin do convey sex, or even a kind crowd seduction, rather strongly in the mode of the Pan archetype which is not exactly the kind of energy mode one associates with Jesus even given an erotic input. So again there’s right and wrong in the signals given by the film, though I still think Morgado overall does a good job presenting a quite good and roundedJesus image within a film which supplies plenty of scope to criticism otherwise. Any Jesus role is a tour de force for casting and acting alike. One needs something transcendent and suggestive of the divine, but also sufficiently human to be, let’s say, even if not positively erotic, still embraceable.