We’ve seen a few movies which tried to dramatize the events of the life of Jesus (pbuh) as described within the Christian scriptures, and I’ve almost always been disappointed in them. The one I enjoyed the most is also the one which remained truest to its source material: 2003’s The Gospel of John (starring as Jesus the wonderful Henry Ian Cusick before he became famous as Desmond Hume on the television series Lost). Although still an adaption, it relied entirely upon the Biblical Gospel According to John for its script, saving it from any Hollywood “improvements.”
Most such films seem to be an amalgam of the four canonical gospels (Mel Gibson’s The Passion of the Christ is a notable exception, being based instead on The Dolorous Passion of Our Lord Jesus Christ, a book written by Roman Catholic mystic Anne Catherine Emmerich of Germany) with some non-canonical conjecture thrown in for dramatic interest and to fill in some of the perceived gaps. I’m also always a little thrown when the actor portraying Jesus doesn’t look at all Semitic. (It would really blow Christian minds if it somehow turned out that Jesus looked alot like Osama bin Laden, eh?) The amalgam thing makes sense, because I firmly believe that most Americans’ idea of Jesus is an amalgam of all four canonical gospels along with a metric ton of cultural baggage such as Greeting Card Jesus, All-American Jesus, Hippie Jesus, Republican Jesus, Sensitive New Age Jesus, etc.
Leaving aside the topic of bits added to the Biblical accounts, I found myself thinking today on a part of the Gospel narrative from the book of Matthew which I have never seen make it into a film or even get discussed much:
50 And Jesus cried out again with a loud voice, and yielded up His spirit. 51 And behold, the veil of the temple was torn in two from top to bottom; and the earth shook and the rocks were split. 52 The tombs were opened, and many bodies of the saints who had fallen asleep were raised; 53 and coming out of the tombs after His resurrection they entered the holy city and appeared to many. 54 Now the centurion, and those who were with him keeping guard over Jesus, when they saw the earthquake and the things that were happening, became very frightened and said, “Truly this was the Son of God!”
The Gospel According to Matthew, Chapter 27, Verses 50 through 55 (NASB)
Now, you can’t argue that this wouldn’t make for great cinema – the streets of Jerusalem filled with the resurrected dead, appearing to their friends and families. Tearful reunions, Hosannas, etc. In fact, it’s such a remarkable image that it’s surprising that none of the other gospels thought it worthy of inclusion in their accounts of the events following the Crucifixion.
It could even be argued that such an event – many families seeing their beloved dead alive once again and in the streets of Jerusalem, certainly a major metropolis for its time – should have been so noteworthy that it would have made it into the writings of some historian somewhere. But no. Nothing. No mention in the writings of Josephus, the Jewish historian whose writings are often cited by Christians. No mention anywhere.
What happened to those resurrected dead? Did they live out the rest of their lives with their families, telling everyone about what death had been like? Did “many” families have old family stories about some relative, Uncle Jedediah perhaps, who came back from the dead that one time? What about those saints who came back from the dead to find that their widowed spouse had remarried? Where are these stories? Where are the Jewish religious discussions regarding the status of these resurrected dead – whether they were allowed to marry into a family of Levites, whether they could attend the Temple, what their ritual status was? Would any of these resurrected individuals have gone on to preach the Gospel and travel to many lands, holding up as proof of the Gospel their own resurrection? How many would have been converted by such a spectacle and testimony? And how many traders were in Jerusalem from distant lands at the time and would have gone home with such tales on their lips?
If true, this was not a small, local event witnessed by only a few, as was the raising of Lazarus. This was the resurrection of “many,” who then traveled through a major city and appeared to “many” more. Even without the Jerusalem Post, word would have gotten around about something this big and just plain strange.
As for me, I have no answer for why this episode is not more widely attested, save for the Muslim answer – that God was not hung on a cross and killed by humans. And that the Bible is a not entirely reliable record – historically or theologically. I’m open to hearing other explanations, though.