Tuesday, March 25, 2008

BBC Passion - Episode 4

If the mark of a good TV drama is that you carry on talking about it long after it's finished, then the BBC's Passion was a good TV drama. Several other people have reviewed the final episode, broadcast on Sunday evening, here are a few thoughts:

The initial thought was of the weirdness of it. Mary, and then the 2 disciples on the road to Emmaus (interestingly shown as bottling it and making up a good story for why they're running away), meet with a strange man with a beard. He doesn't look any more like Jesus than any of the other disicples, but talks and acts like him. Suddenly, as he passes round the bread, he's turned into Joseph Mawle, and it is Jesus. It's a clever way of doing the 'disciples didn't recognise him' thing, but also incredibly confusing. We never see the wounds of Jesus, and with the different actors you're initially led to think that the programme is going to bottle out of a geniunely resurrected Christ. But then there he is. It takes you through some of the confusion and bewilderment the disciples must have felt, which is quite clever. Or weird. Or both.

Other pluses were the rounding out of Joseph of Arimethea, who comes into his own in this episode, and the sense of life carrying on as normal even as the amazing things were happening just outside Jerusalem. I don't know if the soldiers popping off for their breakfast butties and missing the resurrection was an intentional comic touch, but it just made me think of Chris and Ray in Ashes to Ashes.... The disciples remained believable, bickering and slowly starting to melt away, with a very different Peter to the bluff loudmouth he's usually made out to be.

Slightly less satisfactory was the shoehorning of various resurrection appearances into strange places. Peter at the pool of Bethesda has the encounter that the Gospels say happened with Thomas, and then the words spoken to him by Jesus on the beach at Galilee at the end of Johns gospel. Words and phrases keep happening in places where they didn't happen. If you don't know the gospel stories, it probably all makes perfect sense, but if you do know them then there's a lot of mental sorting out to do! I also wondered why the programme needed to do that, and why we couldn't have, for example, the encounter with Thomas as the gospels tell it.

The other thing it lacks, as the first episode did, is power. The disciples aren't sad anymore, but there's no explosion of dynamism or excitement at having Jesus back. The fact that Jesus himself is pretty chilled about the whole business probably affects this, but you're still left wondering how this random rabble turned into the powerhouse that was the early church.

One or two other things didn't sit right: the crucifixion of Jesus in the middle of nowhere, rather than on a main road (the gospels talk about passers by, and a bit of a crowd at the site rather than a small detail of soldiers and 2 women), and why Mary would have thought Jesus was the gardener if the burial site was in the side of a desert cliff, as it was shown here.

The comments bit of the BBC site is very positive about the whole thing, a lot of people saying their faith has been encouraged and strengthened by it. Brilliant, I think on the whole it's been a good telling of the story. Provocative without being predicatable, and yes there are plenty of bones to pick, but you can't argue with the core of what was broadcast, and the fact we get a resurrected Jesus at the end of it.


  1. 'He doesn't look any more like Jesus than any of the other disicples, but talks and acts like him. Suddenly, as he passes round the bread, he's turned into Joseph Mawle, and it is Jesus. It's a clever way of doing the 'disciples didn't recognise him' thing, but also incredibly confusing.'

    Presumably the idea that people could look totally different after rising from the dead is what lead people to believe that Jesus was John the Baptist returned from the dead.

    He looked different, but that is what people expected (at least according to the BBC)

    The disciples were very well aware that people would believe that somebody had risen from the dead, even when such a claim was totallt false.

    Later, they did not even have to produce a resurrected person when claiming that a person had been resurrected.

    And they were still believed!

    I have a debate on the resurrection at http://resurrectiondebate.blogspot.com/

    All are welcome.

    Paul has a presentation of the resurrection in 1 Corinthians 15.

    Paul was writing to converts to Jesus-worship who scoffed at the whole idea of God choosing to raise a corpse.

    Sadly, Paul could not show them the BBC film.

    Or use any of the details from the film.

    No wonder he was reduced to telling people 'For we know that if our earthly dwelling, 1 a tent, should be destroyed, we have a building from God, a dwelling not made with hands'

    If only Paul had been able to see the BBC film....

  2. Judging by the disciples reactions, they didn't expect Jesus to rise from the dead, even though he told them several times. It seems more credible to think that they'd assume people wouldn't believe it. Given that Jesus had just been crucified, it would have been potentially suicidal for them to make up a story about him being risen from the dead. And if the disciples themselves had known the claim to be false, they'd have started squealing the moment Stephen got stoned to death. But they didn't. Several were martyred for their faith in the risen Jesus. If you know it's a con, you bail out before someone kills you.

    I wonder what Paul would have to say to the folk who answered a survey recently to say that they thought Jesus had risen from the dead 'spiritually'. That seems to be a bit of a cop out, either Jesus is risen, wounds and all, or he isn't.

    The film is another way of telling the story, just as Paul did. Paul seems to have done a pretty decent job of communicating the Christian faith across a wide area without the aid of the modern media!

  3. I see.

    All the disciples had to do was tell people that they had been conning them, and they would have been fine.

  4. On the basis of your earlier suggestion, we waited until Monday and watched all four episodes in one sitting - seems to work better that way.

    My thought is that the resurrection appearances were quite deliberately left ambiguous - for example the person Mary meets is never shown as Jesus, and on the Emmaus Road it is a very brief shot. In the other two you don't see any wounds on Jesus. Very much seems to me that they were leaving it open and for the viewer to decide.

    Note that in all the rest of the programme nothing miraculous is ever shown - Jesus and the Disciples care for those at the pool, but nobody is healed, and in the arrest scene a man gets his ear cut off, and Jesus berates the disciples, but there isn't a healing there either.

    As to the pick-and-mix of different Gospel's and rearrangement and changing of things - doesn't the Church do that all the time anyway? Take for example the Maundy Thursday readings in the Lectionary that put a passage about the institution of the Eucharist from Paul against the John account of the Last Supper which has foot washing but nothing at all about bread and wine.

    Accounts of the same events occur at different places, or in different versions in the different Gospels, and we quite often paper over the cracks in order to produce a coherent story - take for example the way we stitch together the Luke and Matthew birth narratives for every Christmas Carol Service.

  5. Steven

    If it was a mass conspiracy by the disciples - very unlikely to start with - then it's very unlikely they'd have all stuck to the lie once people started getting killed for it: Stephen, James etc. But that is exactly what happened. There isn't any evidence, or any psychological plausibility, to saying it was a con trick by the disciples.

  6. Stephen was not even supposed to be an eyewitness.

    Even according to Acts, all he had was a vision of Jesus that nobody else present could see.

    There is no evidence James was killed for preaching a resurrection.

    Even the NT says that preaching a resurrection was not dangerous.

    Paul, who was there, records that Christians were persecuted on the issue of circumcision and were happy to compromise their beliefs to avoid persecution for the cross (NB not resurrection) of Christ.

    I doubt if it was a 'mass' conspiracy by anybody, as the disciples just seem to vanish after Jesus was killed.

    Acts can't find any heroic deaths or deeds for most of them, and Paul never records any evangelising by almost all of them.

    They just packed it all in.

    That is why the author of Matthew spins this by claiming that they were doubters (See Matthew 28:17)

  7. Stephen,
    To see the forerunner, founder, and one of the key leaders of your movement all killed by the powers that be, and yet nobody squeals? A single disciple off-message on the resurrection would have been seized upon - that's all the opponents of Christianity would have needed to kill it off, but there's no suggestion in the sources that any of the disciples said 'sorry guys, we got a bit carried away'.

    Paul was converted travelling to Damascus to persecute the church there. If the disciples packed it all in, how did a church appear 150 miles from Jerusalem?

    Paul's argument is that the resurrection makes Jesus Lord - a title given to Caesar - there was different sorts of persecution from Jews and non-Jews. Peters compromise is with Jewish Christians, and is an internal dispute within the church.

    I'd be interested to hear your thoughts about how the church originally started - if Jesus stayed dead and the disciples scarpered, then I'm struggling to see how it all got going...?

  8. Telling people you have been conning them does not get you off the hook.

    It was not an option available to Joseph Smith, for example.

    Clearly, Peter and Paul had visions of Jesus.

    But what about the others? Why does the author of Matthew claim they doubted?

    Why is there no record of them evangelising?

    And how did anybody convince anybody of a resurrected Jesus, when no resurrected Jesus could be produced?

    And why did converts to Christianity scoff at the very idea of God choosing to raise a corpse?

    Paul tells them Jesus became a

    As for your argument from silence, that means nothing. There are many hints that people were off-message.

    Paul complains about people spreading false stories about Jesus. The Gospel of Matthew says they doubted.

    Mark doesn't even have Jesus appearing to the disciples.

    Acts keeps very quiet about most of these so-called heroes of faith.

    You don't have to be a genius to work out that the early church was spinning away unpleasant facts.

    And Paul says Christians were persecuted on the issue of circumcision.

    Why would non-Jews persecute Christians on the issue of circumcision?

    Unless you are one of these people who think the Romans even noticed that Christianity existed before 100 AD.

    Why would the Romans care about a Christian message of a corpse rising, eating some fish and going to Heaven?

    They were rather more concerned about Jewish claims that the Lord was the Lord, and that Caesar wasn't.

    Christians subversive? They were the people who weren't fighting a war with the Romans?

  9. 'Given that Jesus had just been crucified, it would have been potentially suicidal for them to make up a story about him being risen from the dead. '

    Why was it not suicidal for people to claim that Jesus was John the Baptist raised from the dead?

    If the disciples learned anything from their time with Jesus (and they couldn't grasp what he said about going to Jerusalem and being killed), at least they learned that many people would happily accept false stories about a recently killed prophet rising from the grave.