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Scholars affirm Jesus' divinity in new documentary

Published: Monday, Feb. 21 2011 7:00 a.m. MST

I'll blame the documentary “Messiah: Behold the Lamb of God” for making me break my new year resolution to go to bed early.

After the DVDs came in the mail, for several days I couldn't sleep before I sunk hours into the insights that saturate the feature from BYU Broadcasting. It has a little room for improvement, but “Messiah” is high on my list of productions to watch again.

This seven-episode documentary explores Jesus' existence, from premortal life to Second Coming, with the help of Mormon scholars, mostly faculty at Brigham Young University. The main point of the documentary is to show that Jesus is the Son of God, despite what modern historians say.

The concept behind the documentary was born after Kent Brown, professor of ancient scripture, watched “From Jesus to Christ,” a PBS documentary that portrays Jesus as a Jewish rabbi whose followers later ascribed divinity to him. Brown had a “visceral” reaction to that concept, “Messiah” director Sterling Van Wagenen said in a short film about the documentary.

“Messiah” brings together dozens of scholars to talk about the life of Jesus. Some of the interviews are filmed on a sound stage at the LDS Motion Picture Studio, while others speak at Biblical sites in Israel. Some of them dissect the Greek text of New Testament manuscripts, while others compare and contrast New Testament and Book of Mormon scriptures. Most of them reference a spiritual confirmation and a personal belief in what they are teaching.

The production has appealing visual effects and illustrations that kept the show interesting and also helped me understand the geography of the New Testament story. Perhaps its most valuable element is the analysis of sacred texts and archeology that helped me understand the scriptures in a new way. “Messiah” helped me understand the Sermon on the Mount, the crucifixion, the resurrection and the apostasy more deeply than I had before. By surrounding the story with cultural context, the scholars bring life to the story and the doctrine of the New Testament.

The production is not without its weaknesses. The few boring moments are not too long nor overbearing. Several of the scenes depict hosts having scripted conversations with each other, and this was not pulled off convincingly. (They're scholars, not actors.) At a few points, scholars read several verses in Greek, and the Greek letters are shown on the screen. This might be helpful for someone schooled in classical languages, but it might be a little confusing to the average viewer.

Overall, “Messiah: Behold the Lamb of God” provides an intellectual and spiritual feast seven hours in length. You can watch episodes of the documentary on BYU Broadcasting's website, but if you buy the DVD on DeseretBook.com, you also get 10 bonus segments of scholarly commentary.

Bryan Gentry lives in Lynchburg, Va., where he writes for a daily newspaper. He is a native of North Carolina and a graduate of Southern Virginia University. He blogs at bryangentry.wordpress.com.

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