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Reviews » DVD Video Reviews » From Jesus to Christ - The First Christians
From Jesus to Christ - The First Christians
Paramount // Unrated // August 24, 2004
List Price: $24.99 [Buy now and save at Amazon]
Review by Matthew Millheiser | posted November 16, 2004 | E-mail the Author
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The Program

I suppose if you wanted to trace the roots of liberalism within the Jewish community, no one historical figure could even begin to compare with Jesus. Born into a political climate ripe with religious conservatism, political upheaval, and occupation in the face of the most monumental imperial force the world had ever known, Jesus's radicalism not only flew in the face of traditional religious authority, but also led into a movement that would fundamentally shift the development of Western civilization for millennia. His martyrdom sparked the beginning of a splinter movement within the traditional Jewish ranks, evolving into a religious fervor that conquered an empire. With Emperor Constantine's legitimization of Christianity in the 4th Century, its evolution seemed in and of itself complete. What had started out as a movement, a tiny but influential sect of Judaism became the preeminent religion in the world through its adoption by the Roman Empire.

This is the story of From Jesus To Christ, a four-hour program originally broadcast on PBS. Similar to the recently-reviewed Jesus: The Complete Story, this documentary sets out to examine Christianity from a historical perspective. Specifically, the show traces the development of history, from the life and death a radical rabbi in Judea over two millenia ago into a worldwide religious revolution. Dozens of theologians, historians, and archeologists are interviewed throughout the program to provide an intellectual excavation of historical fact, striving for an erudite rendition of subject-matter often mired in personal conviction and faith, attempting to reconcile the divine Jesus with the historical one.

The first hour of the show involves itself with the Judea of Jesus's time, and how its political climate shaped his life. The two monolithic entities of the era - the Roman Empire and the rabbinical leaders - would leave an indelible mark on his spiritual convictions. Ending with his crucifixion, the documentary continues in the second hour with the origins of the first movements that centered on Jesus's life, death, and teachings, as well as charting the initial developments of what came to be known as the New Testament. The feature discusses the development of the Gospels, and the gradual decay of relations between the occupied Jews and Romans that led into a disastrous revolt, destroying the Great Temple and eventually leading to a diaspora which would last for centuries. Finally, we see the relationship between Christianity and the Roman Empire, a challenging and tenuous association that eventually resulted in the adoption of the religion and worldwide legitimization of what once was a splinter movement of Judaism.

That's really boiling down four hours of pretty compelling material into a quick blurb of a paragraph, but don't let that discourage you this DVD. From Jesus To Christ is a long but involving feature, providing detailed historical context to the development of Christianity. Perhaps it runs a bit too long, but it does attempt to give a thorough examination of its subject matter in a way that is both spiritually faithful and intellectually probing.

The DVD

Video:

From Jesus To Christ  is presented in a widescreen aspect ratio of 1.78:1, and has been anamorphically-enhanced for your widescreen-viewing joy. Almost three-and-a-half hours of video have been stuffed onto a dual-layered disc, and the compression noise on this disc is especially evident. To the non anal-retentive eye this probably will go unnoticed, and perhaps it would not have been cost effective for PBS to release this program as a two-DVD set, but it is there nonetheless. Image detail is adequate, slightly soft at times and lacking in fine detail, but it presents a reasonable image. Colors are rich and stable, although certain scenes seemed somewhat low contrasted. Overall, it's a standard and workmanlike transfer - nothing horrid, but nothing impressive either.

Audio:

The audio is presented in Dolby Digital 2.0. While not an active, aggressive matrix, the soundtrack presented here is quite acceptable. There is some minor surround and LFE activity, and dialog levels demonstrate acceptable clarity without hiss, thinness, or distortion.

Extras:

Save for a page detailing weblinks to the PBS web site, there are no extras on this release.

Final Thoughts

A fine documentary, From Jesus To Christ is worthwhile to anyone who has a passing interest in history. The feature is a bit long-winded at times and perhaps could have been editorially tightened here and there, but it remains a compelling and scholarly look at Christianity's development. Unfortunately the presentation of the source material is merely adequate, and there are no extras to speak of, but given the quality of the documentary From Jesus To Christ is definitely worth an enthusiastic rental.

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