Updated: Mar 31, 2021
To finish our exploration of 12 Bible movie (and now TV) adaptations for Easter and Passover, we look at The Chosen and Jesus: His Life, two recent shows exploring Jesus' life. These adaptations are similar not only because they recently came out (Jesus: His Life released in March and The Chosen just released its first four episodes earlier this week) but also because of how long-form storytelling allows them to adapt the gospels in a way that is distinct from the Bible film adaptations that we looked at yesterday and on Thursday.
Photo from: https://www.imdb.com/title/tt9637536/mediaviewer/rm734160896
Directed by: Dallas Jenkins [The Chosen]; Ashley Pearce and Adrian McDowall [Jesus: His Life]
Starring: Jonathan Roumie (Jesus), Erick Avari (Nicodemus), Shahar Isaac (Peter), Brandon Potter (Quintus), Elizabeth Tabish (“Lilith”), Mike Saad (Matthew) [The Chosen]; Houda Echoufni (Virgin Mary), Greg Barnett (Jesus), John Hopkins (Peter), Cassie Bradley (Mary Magdalene) [Jesus: His Life]
Photo from: https://www.press.thechosen.tv/
Adapting: The Canonical Gospels
Synopsis [The Chosen]
The first episode introduces us to Nicodemus, several of Jesus’ future apostles, and a demon-possessed woman we know as Lilith in the midst of their seemingly hopeless life-struggles in Capernaum, leading up to their first encounters with Jesus.
Synopsis [Jesus: His Life]
In each episode, we approach Jesus through the perspective of an important person connected to him, including Joseph, John the Baptist, Mary, and Caiaphas. The show is a mixture of dramatization and commentary by contemporary scholars and religious leaders from a variety of backgrounds.
A film by its nature has a very limited amount of time and so has to be much more disciplined in what it includes and cuts. Long-form storytelling (i.e. TV shows) has the luxury of exploring a broader cast of characters and showing their change over an extended period of time. As a result, each character can have his or her own fully-realized trajectory, which interweaves and builds on the trajectory of other characters in complex and interesting ways. Jesus: His Life and even more The Chosen (which will unfold over several scenes) are taking advantage of their spacious medium to explore the cast that surrounds Jesus in a way that Bible movie adaptations never could.
Distribution Method [The Chosen]
The Chosen is the first Bible TV adaptation of the binge-watching era. Whereas previous shows have worked on the assumption that they would be watched according to a weekly television schedule, even the advertising surrounding The Chosen suggests to viewers that they binge watch through the episodes. The episodes of the show are designed to flow easily from one to another, so as to encourage viewers to move through them – an effect that, combined with VidAngel offering the first episode for free, is meant to encourage new subscriptions and investments.
The Market [The Chosen]
The Chosen is also remarkable in that it raised more crowdfunding than any other media project in history, over $10 million dollars from 16,000 investors, a feat that was made possible through the recent JOBS Act legislation and VidAngel, a Netflix-esque content platform. The project began with a short pilot based on the nativity story, which served as a proof of concept and captured the interest of Christians looking for a historically and biblically accurate depiction of Jesus’ life.
Expectations of Supporters
Because of its funding method, The Chosen was freed up from having to operate according to the expectations of Hollywood studios, an influence that has often pushed similar Bible TV adaptations to be either subversive of the biblical text or at least more inclusive and politically correct. Of course, this does not mean that supporters haven’t influenced The Chosen, just that those supporters had a very different set of expectations. In particular, it’s clear from the advertising and the show introduction that The Chosen is Bible Art intended to undergird and support the gospel accounts rather than undermining them.
The casting for both The Chosen and Jesus: His Life reflects a growing cultural dissatisfaction with anglicizing Jesus and first century Palestine, as, again, the advertising for both shows has highlighted. Because it is funded by a network and not by private backers, Jesus: His Life takes this impulse for diversity a step further, including in the cast of commentators a diverse grouping of scholars and teachers that range from broadly evangelical to prosperity gospel to mainline. The result of this is not a single interpretation of Jesus but several, some of which have been criticized by Christian leaders as undermining the biblical text.
Photo from: https://www.press.thechosen.tv/
Access to Historical Knowledge
Both shows tout themselves as being historically-informed, and, indeed, if one compares their approach to Mary Magdalene to the zebra-chariot-owning-seven-deadly-sins-possessed prostitute of The King of Kings, the point is made clear. The real complexities of every day life in first century Palestine are painted with detail that evidences how much archaeological and historical knowledge we have gained since last century.
Looking for more content on The Chosen? I'm currently in the process of releasing youth group guides for each episode - check out the other episodes below. You might also want to check out a series of posts I did for older audiences, exploring how The Chosen adapts key biblical characters, as well as some of my content on adaptation and youth ministry.
Exploring the Chosen with Youth [Guides for Youth Leaders]
Episode 1 Guide: Mary Magdalene, Lilith, and the Redeemer
Episode 2 Guide: Mary Magdalene, Nicodemus, and Shabbat
Episode 3 Guide: Depicting Jesus in Art, Film, and TV
Episode 4 Guide: When Jesus Met Simon (Peter)
Episode 5 Guide: Mary, Mother of Jesus
Episode 6 Guide: Jesus, Shmuel, & the Pharisees
Episode 7 Guide: Did Nicodemus Follow Jesus?
Episode 8 Guide: The Woman at the Well, Eden, & Zohara