Tuesday, December 11, 2018

The Young Messiah: A Film Rendering Religious Meaning as Distinct

The 2016 film, The Young Messiah, admits to being an imagined year in Jesus’s childhood. To be sure, history and even Biblical passages are drawn on, but the genre of the film is fiction. This label seems too harsh, for Josephus, an ancient Jewish historian, mentions Jesus, “the so-called Christ, and his brother James." Josephus was not a believer; he did not believe that Jesus Christ was (or is) the Son of God. So, given Josephus's intent to record history rather than write scriptures or, more specifically, faith narratives, scholars can conclude that at least one historical mention is made of Jesus and his brother as having lived. To be sure, the historian could have been wrong; he may have heard secondhand that Jesus and James did exist, and the teller might have had an agenda unknown to the historian. Even so, Jesus and James are mentioned in one historical account, just as the Hebrews having been in Egypt is mentioned on a historical tablet. We must be careful to distinguish these records from that which is in faith narratives concerning Jesus and Moses. We simply do not know whether that material has any bearing on the historical, as no historical accounts are (as of yet) extant. 
Very little from Jesus's childhood is in the Gospels, so the screenwriter had to use imagination to fill out the gaping holes. Crucially, they were filled with content consistent with, though not in, the Gospels. In other words, the film contains religious meanfulness that is admittedly from imagination in large part, and yet that meaningfulness is strong even so, and can be readily associated with Jesus's ministry. In other words, the film enables the viewer to see that religious meaningfulness need not be from faith narratives directly, and, furthermore, that they need not be conflated with historical accounts--something even the writers of faith and of history would not have done. How, then, can we override their intents, which are clear from their writings. Even today, theologians, for instance, do not regard themselves as historians, and vice versa.
In short, a distinctive religious meaningfulness can be separated from the domain of history without any loss, and history need not be used as a crutch. Human imagine, so informed as it will by both, can produce valid religious meaning. 

The full essay is at "The Young Messiah."