The moving picture,” said Alexander Kluge in Die Zeit, “has shrunk to a commodity whose essence lies in the announcement: Now comes the great, brutal, poignant, bold, never-before-attempted cinematic wonder, and then nothing comes.” But something came with the premiere of The Greatest Story Ever Told, and once more it was made plain that Hollywood can turn out films that do not need to pander to man’s innate depravity.

Producer-director George Stevens had the greatest possible person as a subject; he also had the most difficult job of filming that person’s life in such a way as to capture its meaning as well as to record the facts of history.

Everyone familiar with the life of Jesus Christ has inbuilt opinions and judgments that are religious in nature. Any effort by others to change these images meets resistance. Stevens manages to overcome such resistances, from those who think the person of Jesus Christ should not be depicted in a film to those who would allow trivialities to overshadow the substance.

Beginning with the prologue of John’s Gospel and the statement that Jesus Christ is God, the film moves from the birth of the Saviour to his ascension. The miraculous element is clearly portrayed in Jesus’ raising of Lazarus from the dead, the resurrection of Jesus Christ himself, and the various incidental statements of his miracles such as changing water into wine, walking on water, and feeding the five thousand.

In a way that is generally faithful to the Scriptures, the main components of Jesus’ life are brought into focus: the ministry of John the Baptist, Jesus’ precursor; Jesus’ baptism and temptation; his public ministry and sayings; his increasing involvement ...

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