The Chosen and the Chosen People
Movies depicting the Gospels are usually not very good. I prefer the book. As a rule, theatrical depictions of the Jesus story are terrible. The acting comes off stiff, the dialogue sounds artificial, and the storytelling stumbles clumsily toward its inevitable destiny on the cross.
Typically, the only people in the cast that look Jewish are the ones playing the Pharisees—always depicted as bad guys draped in prayer shawls. It’s like the anti-Semitic medieval passion plays projected onto the silver screen.
Then comes The Chosen, a streaming-exclusive television dramatization that sets out to, once more, retell the greatest story ever told. With two eight-episode seasons already under his belt, creator and director Dallas Jenkins intends to extend the story over five more seasons. The show has met with rave reviews and enthusiastic viewers—more than 100 million of them.
What makes The Chosen different from all the other dramatizations in the Jesus genre is that it’s not bad. Honestly, it’s really good. The acting is terrific, the dialogue sounds witty and authentic, and the creative storytelling engages the viewer. The episodic format creates ample space for character development and good narrative. It’s clear that the show’s creators did their homework on the details of life in first-century, Roman-occupied Judea and Galilee.
Best of all, the whole production makes a serious effort to depict Jesus and his disciples as Jews within a Jewish context. We see Jesus and his followers observing the Sabbath, reciting traditional blessings, and interacting with their religious environment. Jenkins wanted to get the historical, political, geographical, and cultural details right, and his team has done an admirable job. Even if the Pharisees are still walking around with prayer shawls draped over their heads, at least Jesus and his disciples look like Jews. An Israeli actor plays Simon Peter. Jesus sports ritual tassels on his garment. Sure, it might be nice to see some covered heads and curly sidelocks (anachronistic as they might be), but the entertainment world needs nice hair.
What’s the story behind the Jewish sensibilities in The Chosen? Dallas Jenkins, son of Left Behind co-author Jerry B. Jenkins, has deep roots in a mainstream Evangelical perspective. That’s a world largely unfamiliar with a Jewish reading of the Gospels. I was curious. Who are The Chosen people responsible for the Jewish vibe in the show? Turns out they’re Messianic Jews.
When a Messianic Jewish friend of Jenkins heard about his vision for a TV show, he put him in touch with Los Angeles-based Rabbi Jason Sobel. Jenkins’ Jewish friend wanted to make sure that The Chosen would depict the Jewishness of Jesus and not a blond-haired, blue-eyed, white Christ. Rabbi Sobel, who is ordained through the Union of Messianic Jewish Congregations (UMJC), already had scored some celebrity-level clout. He co-authored a book with Kathie Lee Gifford titled The Rock, the Road, and the Rabbi, which has sold about 700,000 copies. Rabbi Sobel says, “They came to me before they ever raised money, while the show was still a hope and a dream. As they began to write, I took Dallas and a couple of key team members to Israel on a tour.”
First Fruits of Zion