SALT LAKE CITY — Six years ago, 100 million people watched a 10-part miniseries on the History Channel called "The Bible," featuring dramatized depictions of Abraham and Isaac, Noah's ark, David and Goliath, the life of Christ and other Biblical stories.
As films like "Son of God" and the miniseries "A.D.: The Bible Continues" followed, executives came to appreciate the value of a religious audience, said Joshua DuBois, former director of faith-based initiatives for President Barack Obama.
"Those series certainly show that there's a desire among the American public and people around the world to engage with the Bible, to engage with these topics, and not necessarily from a critical approach or to tear it down," DuBois said. "The earlier series from (producers) Mark (Burnett) and Roma (Downey) really showed that it’s an approach that people appreciate."
With that success in mind, the History Channel is set to air a new eight-part docudrama on the life of Jesus Christ, titled "Jesus: His Life." The first two episodes premiere back-to-back on Monday, March 25, at 8 ET/PT. Two new episodes will premiere each subsequent week leading up to the finale just before Easter on Sunday, April 21.
"I think this is a massive deal, one of the most important religious programs that have been on-screen, certainly in my lifetime and maybe even longer than that," DuBois said. "It’s a landmark piece because it engages so many folks across the spectrum, advisers, scholars, on the life of Jesus from different walks of life."
"Viewers will see and experience the life of Jesus as never before, through this powerful and thought-provoking portrait of a man who is one of the most influential people in human history," Mary Donahue, senior vice president for programming and development for the History Channel, said in a news release.
Filmed in Morocco, each of the eight episodes is told from the perspective of a different biblical character who knew Christ during his life and ministry, including Joseph, his earthly father; John the Baptist; Mary, his mother; Caiaphas; Judas Iscariot; Pontius Pilate; Mary Magdalene; and Peter, the chief apostle.
As each part of Jesus's life is portrayed on-screen, insights and commentary are woven into the episode by a diverse group of scholars, historians and faith leaders. A list of those interviewed is found at History.com.
Televangelist Joel Osteen, who served as an executive producer on the series, is among the faith leaders who appear in the first episode. In an interview with The Christian Post and online at christianpost.com, Osteen said the series is "less about preaching and more about showing what life was like for people during the time of Christ."
"(The movie) is more about the culture, the setting at that time. I was inspired by that. I learned from that. You know, just putting myself in those people’s shoes. It really took on a different perspective to me," Osteen said in the article. "I thought, ‘Would I have responded like Joseph? Would I have that kind of faith?’ It is an inspiring series and I think people will learn.”
DuBois took part in the series as a behind-the-scenes adviser and helped shape the script. He also served as an on-screen commentator.
"It’s exciting, it’s riveting, there is the entertainment value, but there’s also the underlying scholarship," DuBois said. "I think people will learn a lot and be inspired at the same time."
DuBois said the biggest challenges involved convening such a large group of scholars and "getting it right," he said.
"They want to bring the gospels to life," DuBois said. "It’s a challenge when you are putting ancient text on a contemporary screen, but I think they got it right."
The first episode is told from Joseph's point of view. His faith is tested when he finds out his fiancée Mary is pregnant, yet he vows to love her anyway and protect the baby Jesus from looming danger.
Joseph's story resonates with DuBois, a husband and father of two young children, and he's confident it will also appeal to a vast audience, especially families.
"I think it’s for everyone. I think it’s for people who are religious, who are believers, and who want to understand the color, the context, the imagery, the words and pictures that underline the text they believe in," DuBois said. "But it's also for folks who may not be particularly religious, that want to know more of the scholarship. They will learn a lot and be riveted by the excitement, energy and the stories being told."6 comments on this story
DuBois continued: "This is definitely a family-oriented show. I think it can be a tool of both education and ministry for young people because it's one thing to engage with curriculum that is written down. But when you're watching 'Jesus: His Life,' the characters are on screen, they're moving, you have the context around them, you have the excitement, the energy and the action, that will bring young people. I think moms and dads will enjoy sitting down with their kids to watch this series."
"Jesus: His Life" airs on the History Channel, locally Ch. 10, on Monday evenings at 9 p.m. MT.