from jesus to christ - the first christians

Press Reactions

From Atlanta Constitution
By Phil Kloer

"The First Christians is so historically rigorous that it has no choice but to forswear dramatic re-creations, which would be both cheesy and probably inaccurate. There is little left, therefore, for visuals. So we get an awful lot of talking heads, along with some shots of Judean hills and Roman artifacts. The density of the subject matter coupled with the boring visuals mean that the viewer will have to supply his or her own motivation to watch rather than wait to be pulled in. It's not easy, but it is worthwhile. Grade: B"

From Entertainment Weekly
By Ken Tucker

"In the reverse of what we expect from TV, Jesus is exciting not for interplay of ideas: As the show cuts from one biblical expert to another, it's like getting a crash course in the New Testament by watching a bunch of smart people throw us their best curve balls. The highest compliment I can pay one of its featured scholars, John Dominic Crossan, is to say that his witty, incisive, yet knotty observation made me seek out his books. And one biblical professor and minister, Allen D. Callahan, has the warm presence and soundbite savvy of a budding TV personality: Give him his own show and I'll watch \whatever he chooses to sermonize upon."

"...Indeed, the Jesus that emerges in From Jesus to Christ--that of a questing commoner, 'down there in the mud of human history,' as Crossan so vividly puts it--seems to me the sort of fellow who would welcome the controversy that ABC has so assiduously avoided, that South Park courts, and that PBS too often fails to even attempt. FRONTLINE is an exception, and exceptional. From Jesus to Christ: A-

From Orlando Sentinel
By Hal Boedeker

"The four-hour FRONTLINE documentary...has already stirred controversy. Some scholars have faulted the program for downplaying the Resurrection and ignoring evangelical viewpoints. Consequently many Christians may want to pass. For them, faith requires no explanations or supporting evidence. But other viewers could be riveted by FRONTLINE's efforts to put early Christianity in historical and social contexts. Religious documentaries are, after all, rarities in prime time."

"...Even more breathtaking is From Jesus to Christ with its striking visuals of statues, ruins and landscapes. To powerful effect, the programs weaves in Scriptures and uses a model of the Temple that King Herod helped rebuild at Jerusalem. The program has lined up eloquent, lively scholars and drawn on new historical evidence. "

From The New York Times
By Walter Goodman

"Using archeological findings, elaborate models, liturgical music and scenes of the places where it all happened, they offer a searching if still mysterious portrait of Jesus and the man, along with an account of the teachings that grew up around His words and the ascendance of the religion that rose from them."
"...This absorbing series is a testament to scholarly fascination with the development of Christianity and awe for its triumph. There is nothing here of the televangelists' appeal to miracles, but this work is a revelation of what television can be."

From Newark Star Ledger
By Matt Zoller Seitz

"From Jesus to Christ: The First Christians ....takes on a number of weighty issues and treats them seriously, putting religious tales in historical context without ignoring matters of the spirit."
"...Despite the presence of so much complicated and controversial material, the series is even-tempered, well organized and easy to follow, even for lay people; for example, the screen flashes the chapter and verse in the lower right hand corner, almost like a network ID tag. Those seeking an example of how rationality and religion can bring out the best in each other need look no further."

From Charlotte Observer
By Steve Rabey

"The tone of the series is respectful, if not always reverential. And as its title suggests, a distinction is made between the historical person named Jesus and the Christ, who is seen as a more complex and abstract figure resulting from centuries of theology and tradition."

"...Throughout the series, ancient history is brought to lif through beautiful film footage, ancient works of art, and models of first-century cites and buildings.

But what really drives these programs are the insightful comments from series consultant White, director of the religious-studies program at the University of Texas at Austin, and 11 other scholars."

"...The scholar's concise (and carefully edited) comments are a far cry from the polysyllabic prose often associated with subjects like ancient history. "

"...One thing you can't find in the series or the Web site are the voices of evangelical scholars who would differ with some of the series' conclusions. For example, the series argues that some New Testament Gospels were written half a century or more after Jesus' death, while conservative scholars say they were written much earlier and that the Christian tradition didn't change all that much over time.

From Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
By Tony Norman

As a document that provides literary and historical context to a 2,000-year-old mystery that began in Judea, From Jesus to Christ is first-rate."

"...Still, it would be far too glib to characterize this thoughtful and incisive documentary as a skeptic's free-for-all. It's more like an upper-level seminar on what cutting edge New Testament scholars believe about the social/political/spiritual milieu the early Christians found themselves in.

And while none of the marquee name scholars like John Dominic Crossan or Elaine Pagels will ever be confused with the Sunday school teachers of your youth, refreshing new faces in biblical scholarship like Allen Callahan and Paula Fredricksen add a dimension of humanity to the picture of Jesus without stripping away too much divinity in the process."

""...This documentary is remarkable for not only its production and accessible erudition, but for the questions it leaves unanswered and unasked for the sake of scholarly peace. How do you get these many biblical scholars talking on the same questions without significant points of disagreement? Perhaps it was a matter of judicious editing in pursuit of an agenda. Even agendas can make good television.

But come on, FRONTLINE. It is a little suspicious when 12 Bible scholars are in tighter agreement than the four gospels."

From Minneapolis Star Tribune
By Noel Holston

"Scrutinizing the facts of Jesus' life isn't as far afield from FRONTLINE's usual mission as it might seem. PBS' investigative-journalism series has been known to dabble in history. In 1989, for example, FRONTLINE attempted to settle long-standing disagreements over who really wrote the plays credited to William Shakespeare.
From Jesus to a lot more ambitious than The Shakespeare Mystery and, alas a lot less engaging. Much of the first night is as dry as a Dead Sea scroll.....The problem is mainly FRONTLINE's determinedly purist approach. Not religious purism--journalistic purism."

From San Francisco Chronicle
By Don Lattin

"If you're wondering what Jesus has to do with Passover, consider this show required viewing. Jesus and his disciples were thoroughly immersed in the Jewish life of ancient Israel, and an understanding of the rise of Christianity is impossible without an appreciation of Judaism, paganism and the Roman Empire.

From Jesus to Christ features 12 apostles of academia--Bible scholars chosen for their ability to cut to the heart of the debate about the historical Jesus and present the latest archaeological and biblical research in clear, enlivened voices."

"...Viewer who believe that the gospel stories of the New Testament are literally true and historically accurate may be troubled by some of the revelations in From Jesus to Christ. But most people, Christians and non-Christians alike, will come away informed, and perhaps even inspired, by the depth of understanding and the respect these scholars have for Jesus and the dedication of his first followers."

From The Denver Post
By Giselle M. Massi

"If Judeo-Christian religious history is not of compelling interest then you might find FRONTLINE 's new four-hour series, From Jesus to Christ: The First Christians dry as a Catholic holy wafer and as slow to swallow.

But if your are on a spiritual explorer's path, questioning how we got to the hostile climate of religious intolerance, the intriguing material covered over two nights is an especially important addition to understanding this country's biblical roots."

symposium . jesus' many faces . a portrait of jesus' world . storytellers . first christians . why did christianity succeed?
maps, archaeology & sources . discussion . bible history quiz . behind the scenes
teachers' guide . viewers' guide . press reaction .  tapes, transcripts & events

published april 1998

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