The following article, written by one of our critics, Peter T. Chattaway, is a chapter from the new book Re-Viewing the Passion (Palgrave Macmillan). With the one-year anniversary approaching for the release date of The Passion of The Christ (Feb. 25, 2004), we thought this was a good time to run this retrospective.

In orthodox Christian belief, Jesus is both God and man, fully divine and fully human. And it is because God has revealed himself in the form of a particular person who lived in a particular time and a particular place that Christians down through the ages have generally felt free to portray Jesus in icons, passion plays, and other forms of religious art. But except for the most basic and theologically essential points, such works of art generally pass over the particularities of Jesus's life. His humanity, expressed in the mere fact that he can be depicted at all, is often balanced with his divinity by a degree of artistic abstraction: Whether depicting Christ in static paintings or following the stations of the cross according to a set pattern, artists have tended to downplay realistic or naturalistic details to focus on the more eternal truths.

Film, therefore, poses a special challenge for the artist who would dramatize the life of Christ. Traditionally, movies about Jesus have respected his divinity by keeping him at a distance; he has typically been portrayed in objective terms that keep him mystical and otherworldly. But in recent years filmmakers eager to explore the humanity of Jesus have tended to portray him in more subjective terms, through the use of voice-overs, dreams, and other techniques that draw us into the minds of a film's characters; however, in doing so, they have often demystified Jesus ...

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