"...they received the word with all readiness of mind, and searched the scriptures daily, whether those things were so." (from Acts 17:11)
Last night I was privileged to attend a special showing of the new film, The Young Messiah, at AMC Theater 10 in Framingham, MA. The film's official release date is today, March 11, 2016. I enjoyed the film, but can only recommend it with great reservations and cautions. I cannot stress enough that The Young Messiah is a work of fiction. Much of its contents really do not "line up" with the teaching of the New Testament.
The Young Messiah is heavily based upon the novel, Christ the Lord: out of Egypt, which was written by Anne Rice. Anne Rice is described on the internet as "an author of gothic fiction, Christian literature, and erotica". She's especially known for her series of novels entitled, The Vampire Chronicles . In a Christianity Today artice I found on-line, Anne Rice states that she drew heavily on the "Apocrypha and Apocrypha gospel" in writing her Christ the Lord: out of Egypt story. I'm sure Anne Rice meant well, but I think she took far too many liberties in imagining the childhood of Jesus Christ.
It is true that Jesus, Mary and Joseph fled into Egypt when Jesus was very, very young, due to the fact that Jesus' life was in danger from the wrath of King Herod the Great. If you check out the second chapter of Matthew's gospel, you'll learn that an angel of the Lord warned Joseph in a dream to take Jesus and Mary to Egypt. Sometime later, after Herod the Great's death, Joseph was instructed in a dream to bring Jesus and Mary back home, and Joseph takes them to settle in Nazareth in Galilee.
In the film, Jesus is a seven-year-old. I'm not sure how long Jesus, Mary and Joseph stayed in Egypt, but I doubt it was that long. I don't know the religious background of Anne Rice, but I'm guessing she is either a Roman Catholic or has been heavily influenced by Catholic teaching. Protestants and Catholics strongly disagree on whether Jesus had brothers and sisters and (frankly) on whether Joseph and Mary ever had normal intimate marital relations or not. In Catholic tradition and belief, they did not.
In Matthew 1:25, it tells us that Joseph and Mary were not physically intimate until after Jesus had been born. It does not state that Mary was a "perpetual virgin" as the Catholic Church believes. Matthew 1:25 is particularly clear in the New International Version, and here's what it says:
"But he did not consummate their marriage until she gave birth to a son. And he gave him the name Jesus."
The Bible also states that Jesus, in fact, had brothers and sisters. Mark 6:3 says:
"Is not this the carpenter,
the son of Mary, the brother of James, and Joses, and of Juda, and
Simon? and are not his sisters here with us? And they were offended at
In Roman Catholic tradition, it's generally believed that these brothers and sisters of Jesus were actually cousins of Jesus. There's also the possibility that one of more of them could have been adopted by Mary and Joseph, but that they would not have been the biological parents. I bring out all of this information because in the film, The Young Messiah, James is actually Jesus' older brother who is his biological cousin. He's with Jesus, Mary and Joseph for the entire time they're in Egypt. And, in the film's story, Joseph and Mary adopt a slave girl who had been severely abused. She becomes a big sister to Jesus.
Jesus also works several miracles as a child in the film. It makes for great drama. In fact, John's gospel teaches that the first miracle Jesus worked was the changing of water into wine at the wedding in Cana. That story is found in the Gospel of John chapter two. In several "gospels" that never made it into the Bible [as the early church fathers deemed them mythological and not credible] Jesus as a child does work miracles. I think the New Testament makes it clear that Jesus did not function in the role of miracle-working Teacher and Messiah until after His baptism by John the Baptist at about the age of thirty. At that time, the Holy Spirit descended upon Him as a dove, and the voice of God announced that He was the Son of God in which His Father was well pleased. (Check out all four gospels to confirm that information.)
I know it may sound as though I'm ready to simply throw The Young Messiah story into a dumpster, but there were aspects of it that I liked. We do know from the final ten verses or so of chapter two in Luke's gospel, that Jesus did separate from Mary and Joseph on a trip to Jerusalem during Passover and that He went into the Temple and astonished the teachers there with what He had to say. There's a scene a bit like that in the movie, although Jesus is seven and not twelve. The boy Jesus in the movie is struggling to figure out why he is different from other children [and from all other humans, for that matter]. In some ways, he's very human, and a kid just like all the other kids. But in some ways, he's nothing like anyone else. I must admit, I wonder what it must have been like for Jesus growing up, and I do think the whole dynamic of the child Jesus trying to come to grips with countless questions about his identity may well be very close to how things really were for Jesus. And, have you ever wondered what it would have been like to parent the Son of God?! One time when I was teaching those verses from the last part of Luke chapter two [about twelve-year-old Jesus in the Tempoe] in an Adult Sunday School class, a woman protested that Jesus was wrong, had disobeyed his parents and should have been taken aside and given a spanking! I replied to her, "Well, if you want to take Jesus into another room and give Jesus a spanking, that's up to you, but I'm going to pass on that one!"
Something else I liked about the movie is that it presented what life must have been like for Jews in Egypt and Palestine at the time of Christ, and that is, horrific and terrible! There are some bloody scenes in the film and the brutality and anti-semeticism of the Romans is brought out live and in living color. It was a very hostile world into which Jesus was born. I think modern Christians often romanticize what Palestine in the time of Christ must have been like. We think of cheery Christmas pagents and even of inspirational Easter plays which briefly feature the crucifixion but highlight Christ's Resurrection. We often don't get the real picture of what the times were like!
The Young Messiah was filmed in Italy. Jesus is played by Adam Greaves-Neal who does a pretty good job with that role. It was directed by Cyrus Nowrasteh. I'm concerned that many who see it will think that's exactly how it was for the child Jesus; that the child Jesus worked miracles, raised the dead, and so forth, long before his adulthood. Bluntly, that's false teaching and to me it's at best sacrilegious and at worst blasphemous. But, if it can be seen and understood strictly as a work of fiction, and if it causes people to seek for the real Jesus Christ and to study the New Testament, then that will be a good thing!