From the Caravan Journals: Our guide in Israel was a local man named David. He never said where he was born, but it was clear that English was not his first language. He knew the way to all the important sites and to a few out-of-the-way spots where we were made to feel we were among the few who were privileged to visit. It’s an old tour guide trick. Often, matters of religion would arise from his commentaries. When someone in the group would ask for a theological clarification, he always gave the same answer, “It depends on what domination you belong.”
Hollywood has paid little attention to Jewish life in the Holy Land in the gap between the last stories of the Old Testament and the birth of Christ. Only Salome (1953) goes the distance in depicting Jewish consternation at the rumored coming of the Messiah. After the Romans destroyed Jerusalem’s Second Temple in 70 CE, the Jews made their tragic last stand at Masada. See the 1981 movie, Masada, with Peter O’Toole.
Jesus Christ lived and died in the small geographical area surrounding Jerusalem. Movies depicting his short lifespan fall into three general categories. First are the early 20th century films, which are highly reverential and reflect the role of the Catholic Church as protector of public faith and morality. Second are the epic films such as King of Kings (1927/61), which in its two versions sets the standard for picturing the power of Christianity against the backdrop of Roman domination. Within this category is a popular sub-genre of films that depict encounters between common citizens and Christ. Best-known of these are Ben-Hur and The Robe. Finally, there are the millennial films that take a skewed look at the teachings of the Church. Not all of these pictures are irreverent; some are simply seeking to spread the word with a lighter and more inclusive touch.
There are some who say that Christianity brought the Western Roman Empire down, but an argument of equal force can be made for the barbarians from the North. In the East, it was the power of Islam that later displaced Roman dominance. A long view from the Moon, however, would suggest that all of these forces and many more rode on the inevitability of change. Humanity, it seems, wants to exercise its own power rather than having power exercised upon it.
In Rome, Jesus Christ became the populist hero of the people’s resistance to repressive government. His democratizing message, a legacy of ancient Greece and Republican Rome, became a worldwide ministry. As Rome fell, Christianity flourished. In the early fourth century CE, Emperor Constantine (d. 337 CE) gave the Empire to Christ – see the movie Constantine and the Cross (1962). Temples trembled around the Mediterranean. The first Saint Peter’s Cathedral was built by Constantine on top of the Circus of Nero and Caligula, scene of the crucifixion of Saint Peter. It was now the Common Era.