Reviewed by: David Criswell, Ph.D.
Is it okay to make up fictional stories about Jesus Christ, the Son of God? Is it okay to put fictional words in His mouth?
What does the title Messiah mean?
Was Jesus Christ only a legend? Answer
Is Jesus Christ a man, or is he God? Answer
If Jesus is God, how could he die? If Jesus died on the cross, then how can he be alive today? Answer
Was Jesus Christ God, manifest in human form? Answer
Is Jesus Christ really God? Answer
If Jesus was the Son of God, why did He call Himself the Son of Man? Answer
Could Christ have sinned? Answer
The virgin birth
Isn't the virgin birth of Jesus Christ mythological and scientifically impossible? Answer
|Featuring:||Sean Bean … Severus
Adam Greaves-Neal … Jesus
Vincent Walsh … Joseph
Sara Lazzaro … Mary
David Bradley … Old Rabbi
Jonathan Bailey … Herod
Lee Boardman … Roman Squad Leader
David Burke … Blind Rabbi
Rory Keenan … The Demon
Christian McKay … Cleopas
Isabelle Adriani … Seleni
|Director:||Cyrus Nowrasteh—“The Stoning of Soraya M.” (2008), “The Day Reagan Was Shot” (2001—TV)|
“The Young Messiah” is an enigma of a “Christian” film. It has earned high praise from many Christian reviews including Ted Baehr’s MovieGuide and Focus on the Family, yet it is based on the book Christ the Lord: Out of Egypt written by Anne Rice who became famous for her Vampire erotica novels and who recently called herself a “secular humanist.” Now in fairness, Ben Hur was also written by an unbeliever and omits the Resurrection of Christ. Moreover, Anne Rice was a Catholic at the time she wrote the books. In fact, to this day her real religious beliefs are enigmatic, for she claimed inspiration from Gnostic gospels when writing the book, later renounced Catholicism and organized religion for its opposition to gay marriage, called herself a secular humanist, but recently professed her love for Jesus while promoting the film. So what are we to make of “The Young Messiah”? Let me begin with full disclosure that I have not read the book. I do not know how much of the novel was altered to appeal more to mainstream Christian audiences, and I do not know how much gnosticism found its way into her book. My review is strictly based on the film.
“The Young Messiah” is about Jesus as a seven year old child. It is a completely fictional account which claims to be consistent with Biblical and historical research. It begins with a seven year old Jesus in Egypt who is attacked by bullies. When one of the boys accidentally dies, Jesus is blamed. Jesus then resurrects the boy, only to be accused of witchcraft. As Mary, Joseph, Jesus, his uncle Cleopas, and cousin James begin the journey back to Nazareth following the death of Herod, they are hunted by a Roman soldier named Severus who is still trying to find and kill the child he missed in Bethlehem years earlier.
In the film, Jesus does not know who He is and does not understand the “powers” that He possesses. He is seeking answers, but Joseph and Mary are reluctant to tell Him, since He is but a child. Now, as I have done with similar films, it is best to break the film down into its entertainment value, historical value, and Biblical accuracy, as well as other causes of concern for parents, so let’s begin.
While many Christians are praising the film, I frankly found the film only slightly entertaining. It was technically well done, with fine acting and cinematography, but the pace makes the film somewhat boring, and there is no way to get around the fact that the film is terribly predictable. Obviously, we never for a half a second believe that Severus (admirably played by Sean Bean) will actually kill Jesus. There is zero suspense in the subplot of the assassination of Jesus, and it contains several historical and Biblical blunders. The main story of Jesus seeking to understand who He is also lacks heart (ignoring, for the time being, the Biblical problems). Only Cleopas (played by Christian McKay) brings any charm, wit, or charisma to the family. The rest plays out as interesting, but contrived. If the film were about the baby Buddha or a young Saint Jerome, it is unlikely that it would find an audience at all, for the film is simply not that strong. The appeal is of Jesus Himself and our own curiosity as to what our Savior was like as a child, but beyond this premise itself, the film lacks heart and soul.
For a movie which boasts of being “rooted in history” there are several major blunders, as well as numerous smaller and less mportant ones. The most glaring historical blunder is supposed to be the climax of the film when Severus casually wanders into the Temple of Jerusalem! Later, many soldiers storm into the Temple, and there is little more than a skirmish. In fact, while Gentiles were allowed in the “outer courtyard” of the Temple, no Gentile was ever permitted to step foot inside the Temple itself. Had a Roman soldier stepped foot in the Temple, it would literally have started a riot. Indeed, many riots were started over far less.
Another glaring inaccuracy is the fact that the film portrays Jesus as having lived in Egypt for seven years before the death of Herod the Great. However, we know that Herod died in 4 B.C. Traditional dating has Jesus born December 25, 5 B.C., indicating that they were only hiding in Egypt for a few months to a year at most. Nevertheless, there are those who believe Jesus was born earlier. Some say as early as 7 B.C., but no one believes Jesus was born in 11 B.C. He would have been in his mid-forties when He died, despite the Bible clearly describing His ministry as beginning when He was in His early 30s (Luke 3:23). Is this a big deal? Perhaps not, but it does beg the question as to how “rooted in history” the film is. Would a Roman centurion really be taking orders from Herod Archelaus? Why do the hair styles of the Jews look medieval?
Now I concede that. with the glaring exception of Severus in the Temple. many of these points do not effect the entertainment value of the film, and most “Biblical” films have even less historical accuracy. “Prince of Egypt” is one of my favorite movies, but portrays the Exodus in the wrong time, with the wrong Pharaoh, with Moses as a forty year old at the time of the Exodus, and many other historical and Biblical errors, so I will not condemn “The Young Messiah” for such historical blunders. Biblical accuracy, however, is a far more important standard. Let us look at that.
First, I must state from the outset that “The Young Messiah” is not a blasphemous film, but neither is it truly consistent with Biblical teachings. The most obvious is the fact that Jesus does not know who He is. He does not understand His powers, and does not realize that He is the Son of God. While some Christians have pointed to Luke 2:52 to imply that Jesus naturally had to grow and learn like all other children, there is a profound difference in Jesus needing to develop His human brain, and in His consciousness and soul. John 1:14 makes clear that “the Word became flesh and dwelled among us.” How could God not know who He was? How could Jesus’s consciousness be unaware? True, He was living in the body of a child and his brain needed to develop as with all children, but, at His core, He would surely have known who He was and what His purpose was, yet at the end of the movie the young Jesus professes that He does not know why He is here and that He is just to experience everything.
This teaching was doubtless borrowed from the heretical false gospel entitled The Infancy Gospel of Thomas which Anne Rice openly admitted to having used as a source material. But this is not the only part of her book borrowed from this phony “gospel.” There is a scene in the film where Jesus is wrongly accused of having murdered a kid who was bullying Him. When Jesus resurrects the child, the boy immediately attacks Jesus! This scene is wrong on so many levels. Never mind that the Bible seems to imply that Jesus changing water into wine was His first miracle (John 2:3-11), the action of the resurrected boy feels more like demon possession than the gratitude of a resurrected boy. The story itself seems inspired by the same The Infancy Gospelof Thomas in which Jesus cursed to death a young boy who had bothered Him.
Interestingly enough, Jesus is not the only one portrayed inaccurately. Satan plays a prominent role in the film as a sort of ghost who is constantly haunting the young Jesus, and yet Satan does not seem to know who Jesus is either. Satan only knows that Jesus is important, but does not realize how important. In one scene, Satan (who is portrayed as a blond haired, blue eyed man) takes Jesus to a mountain top overlooking Jerusalem and tempts the young Jesus, much as Satan tempted Jesus in Matthew 4. It is worth noting that in the Bible it is stated that Satan’s wrath is great because he knows his time is short (Revelation 12:12). Far too many films portray history as a chess match between God and Satan, as if Satan thinks he can win, but Satan knew he was doomed the day he fell from Heaven. That is why his purpose is not to “win” but to drag as many of us down to Hell with him as possible. It is jealousy and pride that made Satan fall, and those are the very same traits that make him so hateful and vindictive. His fate was sealed long ago. The Cross sealed that fate, but Satan is no fool.
Now there are other lesser Biblical inaccuracies (Mary was only 14 when she got married? 17 maybe, but not 14), but as I have pointed out, I have given great leeway to films like “Prince of Egypt,” so should I not give the same benefit of the doubt to “The Young Messiah”? Yes and no. The depiction of the devil is all too popular, if inaccurate, but forgivable. The portrayal of the young Jesus performing many miracles is also inaccurate, but forgivable. What is less so is the subtle (and therefore more dangerous) inspiration from The Infancy Gospel of Thomas including the myth that Jesus did not know why He was on Earth or who He truly was. Evangelicals all agree that Jesus was 100% human and therefore suffered the same human frailties as us all, but He was also 100% God and therefore His consciousness would surely have known His own identity and purpose in life. It is worthwhile to ponder at what a young Jesus was like, and it is for that reason Luke included anecdotes related to him by Mary in his gospel (Luke 2:40-52), but any speculation must be Biblically based and not based on conjecture by gnostic or mystic gospels. It is clear that Anne Rice’s story borrows heavily from the mystical view of Jesus rather than the Biblical one.
Concerns for Parents
Ignoring the Biblical issues, there are concerns for young children. While there is little direct graphic violence, there are scenes where we see many people crucified or killed by the sword. In one scene Jesus, Joseph, and Mary must walk down a road where people were crucified all along the roadside (which was done by Romans to scare the populous into submission). Many such scenes do take place, but the most disturbing scene is of an attempted rape. A man grabs a woman and throws her down to the ground, where he attempts to rape her. It is at this point that I saw a family get up and leave the theater (I saw the film with a Baptist church group). Thus, families should be warned that the film does contain scenes of violence which, while not graphic, are disturbing and not appropriate for young children.
“The Young Messiah” is earning praise from some Christian audiences, but I feel that much of this praise is simply because we have been hungry for Christian films. “The Young Messiah” is a film that is mostly respectful of the Christian tradition and does not deny that Jesus was the Son of God or that Mary was a virgin, and thus has filled a void which many Christians have been seeking, but I would recommend the movie “Risen” for those audiences. While not wholly accurate itself, and also speculative of history, it is more consistent with the Bible and history than “The Young Messiah,” more uplifting, and more exciting. I feel that “The Young Messiah” is being overrated by Christian critics. Now, there have been films that I enjoyed much better upon second viewing. Is this one of those films? Only time will tell, but I cannot whole heartedly recommend the movie. I will not discourage Christian families from seeing it, but neither will I encourage them.
Is it a blasphemous film, like “Noah”? No. Is it a Biblical film? Sadly, no. Go see “Risen” instead and save this film for DVD, if at all. If you do choose to go see it, please make sure your children understand that when God became man, He did not cease to be God. He knew who He was, but He was subject to the same infirmities, sorrows, and trials as every human being. He understands our sufferings and temptations, because He Himself suffered and was tempted (Hebrews 2:18).
Violence: Moderate to heavy / Profanity: Minor—“d*mn” (1) / Sex/Nudity: Moderate—Herod’s belly dancer, references to prostitution, bare-chested and bare-legged men, rape
See list of Relevant Issues—questions-and-answers.