I grit my teeth as I read the press release, which begins with an ugly example of that kudzu vine of modern English, the dangling participle (yes, I'm an obnoxious grammar-policing snob; I'll readily admit that the curmudgeonly Eats, Shoots & Leaves is my favorite modern bestseller). But that doesn't lessen its impact:
"CENTURY CITY, Calif. Wednesday, September 1, 2004Setting an industry record on its way to becoming the #1 selling drama of all time, #1 selling independent film of all time, #1 selling R-rated film of all time and #1 selling non-English language film of all time, consumers across America have purchased more than 4.1 million copies of Mel Gibson's epic The Passion of the Christ on DVD in just one day."
Again, I'm not sure how "consumers across America" can "become the #1 selling drama," etc. But this I do know: 2,000 years later, the imaginative power of Jesus' life and death still reverberates around the worldmotivating, challenging, and best of all changing millions of people.
Apart from the stunning sales results of Gibson's movie, other signs show us that a new fascination with the details of Jesus' life and death is sweeping up not only the faithful but curious bystanders, as well.
This new interest in the person of Jesus has also spurred interest in his closest associates: Mary the mother of Jesus, Mary Magdalene, John the Baptist, Judas, Peter, James John, and others.
Several of these intimates of Jesus are now attracting a level of fascination, not to say speculation, unparalleled in recent history.
Protestant church historian Timothy George is among those who have reported recently that more and more Protestants (and others outside the Roman Catholic and Orthodox folds) are devoting new interest to the biblical figure of Mary, the mother of Jesus. This renaissance of Marian curiosity has led Christian History & Biography to dedicate our current issue to the topic: Issue #83: Mary in the Imagination of the Church.
In this issue, Dr. George expands on the reasons why this interest is a healthy one for Protestants who have too often relegated Mary to a bit part in the annual Christmas pageant.
Mary Magdalene of course plays a starring role in the multi-million-selling Da Vinci Code, a quasi-historical anti-Christian argument in the form of a potboiler novel. The historical miscues of this volume have created a mini-industry among those who know enough to help set the record straight.
With the recent discovery of a cave representing what appears to have been Byzantine cult of John the Baptist or perhaps, as its dreamy-eyed discoverers suggest, even the bug-eating prophet's own erstwhile domicile, John the Baptist is now joining the widening circle of Jesus' associates enjoying a renaissance in the public imagination. (Yes, I know "locusts" may not have been actual bugs. But "bug-eating prophet" just has an irresistible ring to it.)
The still-rough-around-the-edges rock-opera !Hero (Lynne Truss of Eats, Shoots & Leaves could provide a few well-chosen words about that faddishly misplaced exclamation mark) features one of the most compelling on-stage Judases I've seen.
Now we await only the blockbuster movies of the lives of Peter, James, and John to complete the imaginative sweep of Jesus' inner circle.
Seriously, Mel Gibson's success with The Passion of the Christ and Dan Brown's with his novel make it certain that we have not seen the last novel, movie, or musical based on Jesus' life. And each of these will have their own take on his closest associates.
Meanwhile, however, if you are looking for a quick guide to what we can know historically about the intimates of our Lord, I want to recommend Stephen M. Miller's informative "Select Circle," in our Issue 59: The Life & Times of Jesus of Nazareth.
It's worth getting to know these people better. After all, any friend of Jesus ought to be a friend of ours, too.
Chris Armstrong is managing editor for Christian History & Biography magazine. More Christian history, including a list of events that occurred this week in the church's past, is available at ChristianHistory.net. Subscriptions to the quarterly print magazine are also available.
Copyright © 2004 Christianity Today. Click for reprint information.
A God's-Eye View of Gutenberg | The rise, fall, and redemption of the Father of the Information Age. (Aug. 27, 2004)
Revisiting the Pagan Olympic Games | New scholarship on the ancient Olympics reminds Christians why Emperor Theodosius outlawed the event so many centuries ago. (Aug. 20, 2004)
The 'Assumed' Fate of Jesus' Mother | Roman Catholics celebrate the Feast of the Assumption on Sunday. What's "up" with that? (Aug. 13, 2004)
Is Speaking Truth a Hate Crime? | Hate laws making their way through U.S. and British governments highlight the need for peaceful yet critical Christian witness. A 12th-century abbot leads the way. (Aug. 06, 2004)
The Amish Come Knocking | UPN's Amish In the City shows us our modern selves in a mirror that is positively medieval (July 30, 2004)
All of Christian History in 6 Hours | This audio tour de force is strong meat for a mature Christian audience. (July 23, 2004)
The Prohibition of Gay Marriage | We can learn from the defeat of American Christian activism's greatest legislative victory. (July 16, 2004)
Hey, John Kerry, WWFFD? | "What Would the Founding Fathers Do" about the application of Christian principles to American politics? A few cautionary words. (July 09, 2004)
Testify! | A glimpse inside the world of "holiness testimony," through the story of an ex-slave woman evangelist. (July 02, 2004)
To Spank or Not to Spank? | A 6th-century abbot and a group of 17th-century Calvinist "divines" weigh in on the issue (June 24, 2004)