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Reviews » DVD Video Reviews » Jesus: The Complete Story
Jesus: The Complete Story
Warner Bros. // Unrated // August 31, 2004
List Price: $19.98 [Buy now and save at Amazon]
Review by Matthew Millheiser | posted November 3, 2004 | E-mail the Author
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The Program

I suppose no discussion of a program like Jesus: The Complete Story could be initiated without a declaration (or renunciation) of religious identity by said reviewer. Actually, that statement isn't entirely true. One could make a completely objective analysis of a religion program without muss or fuss, but since the pervasiveness and sensitivity of the subject-matter can potentially erupt in torrential swells of self-righteous indignation, it is perhaps preferable to get a sense of from exactly where the reviewer is originating. It's like trying to review The Passion of the Christ - too much of your appreciation of the film comes from your emotional and spiritual response to Christ's suffering, no matter how "above the fray" one tries to remain.

I am in no way a religious person at all; I was raised in the Jewish faith but came from both Jewish and Catholic families. Growing up, I didn't really know too much about Jesus except for what was known in popular culture: that he was a Jewish rabbi who lived 2,000 years ago and that, for hundreds of millions of worshippers worldwide, he was the savior of mankind, the son of God, whose suffering, crucifixion, and resurrection paved the way for man's redemption. Oh, and that he inspired some of the greatest art the world has ever known, and that every year on his birthday everybody else gets cool stuff. My overall point here - and yes, there is one - is that my knowledge of Jesus is, outside of a study of the New Testament in a college Humanities class, is pretty minimal.

But I'm not here to discuss or debate theology, religious history, or crass consumerism at the expense of spiritual contemplation and fulfillment. Instead, I'm here to discuss actual history... or, perhaps better put, historical evidence. What Jesus: The Complete Story attempts to do is give historical context and actualization to Jesus' exploits in the Gospels. Produced for the BBC, this miniseries ran in three fifty-minute installments and presents historical evidence, architectural evaluations, scientific, medical, and forensic analysis, computer modeling, and other similar-minded techniques that lend credence to the actual existence of Jesus thousands of years ago.

Volume One covers "The Early Years", where we learn about how Jewish historian Josephus provided some of the earliest historical evidence of Jesus' existence. The discovery of the Dead Sea scrolls provided stark details about what life was like in Jesus' time. We see that there is a network of caves and grottoes underneath the Church of the Nativity, which seems to support the notion that it was built directly over Jesus' birthplace. The program examines how life in present-day Nazareth is remarkably similar to its existence 2,000 years ago, and how the Star of Bethlehem may have been an actual astrological event instead of an astronomical one, and how difficult (but not impossible) it would have been for the wise men to procure frankincense and myrrh.

Volume Two covers "The Mission", which goes deeper into the Judea of Jesus' era. The program visits ruins, old towns mentioned in the New Testament, and the possible homes of both St. Peter and Jesus. It examines the development of Jesus' eventual collision course with the religious authority in Jerusalem , the lifestyle of the Hebrew priests, and how the settings for many chronicled events actually existed. There are living descendents of the Samaritans living today in Israel , whose acrimonious split from the Jewish mainstream thousands of years ago is echoed in the fable of the Good Samaritan. We also learn how Jesus may have established his doctrine of non-violence, and learn about the cultural implications (and general outrage) that would have ensued through Jesus' entrance into Jerusalem through the East Gate... while riding a donkey!

Finally, Volume Three is entitled "The Final Days", which focuses upon Jesus' action in the period right before and up to his execution. Clearly he knew the risks inherent going against the conservative religious establishment, yet he launched a campaign that placed him in direct opposition with mainstream leaders. It provides a religious context to the proceedings, explaining how the Last Supper was a Passover seder, or dinner service that celebrates the Exodus of the Hebrews from Egypt, and how this holy night would have been a politically volatile time for Jesus. There is even evidence presented that supports Jesus' sweating of blood, an event chronicled in the Gospels detailing his anguish in Gethsemane (the condition is called hematidrosis, and has been documented in prisoners awaiting execution.) Forensic testing was also used to support the notion that Jesus was nailed through the hands, rather than through the wrists as previously supposed (due to the weight of the body.)

Jesus: The Complete Story is actually a rather misleading title. This is not, by any means, a complete story of Jesus. What Jesus: The Complete Story actually presents is a rather informative and entertaining look at the historical evidence behind Jesus' existence. For Jesus newbies like me, you won't get a fully fleshed retelling of Jesus' actual story. Instead, this is an erudite historical look at life in Jesus' time, and at whether or not historical, scientific, and architectural accounts support the story told in the New Testament. I only wish that the retelling had been slightly less choppy and presented in a more chronological manner. While the overall arc of the three episodes provides a general sweep (The Beginning, The Middle, The End), the events presented in each volume tend to skip around a bit. Still, for the religious faithful and for those who enjoy history, Jesus: The Complete Story presents a compelling and informative program.

The DVD

Video:

Jesus: The Complete Story is presented in a widescreen aspect ratio of 1.78:1, and has been anamorphically-enhanced for your widescreen viewing pleasure. It's a smooth, compression free transfer, with some reasonable (if not finely detailed) sharpness levels, stable colors, and only a smidgeon of shimmering and edge-enhancement visible throughout the program. Overall, the video quality looks quite good.

Audio:

The audio is presented in a standard Dolby Digital 2.0 soundtrack. There's nothing too much to report here, other than dialog and narration are both delivered crisply and with bright clarity, and orchestrations sound sufficiently rich and dynamic.

Extras:

There is a single preview trailer for BBC America, but otherwise there are no extras on this disc.

Final Thoughts

Not a complete retelling of the New Testament, or even an actual "story" in and of itself, Jesus: The Complete Story presents a historical look that presents credible and suggestive evidence of Jesus' actual existence on Earth. If nothing else, this miniseries will make you want to hop an El Al Flight and head to Israel to discover many of these historical sites and landscapes for yourself (Israel, if nothing else, is an endless treasure trove for history lovers and religious faithful alike, and I've seen few things quite as awe-inspiring and magnificent as Jerusalem's Old City at sundown.) While there are no supplements on this disc, the presentation is quite nice and the material itself is compelling enough to merit a Recommendation.

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