By giving Jesus and his disciples clear and discernable personalities, The Chosen rises above the traditional (some would say “wooden”) Christian adaptations of the gospel story to offer viewers a thoroughly engrossing series. Of course, this means creative licenses are taken when fleshing out the gospel characters. But the most intriguing character to get a refined personality is, of course, Jesus (Jonathan Roumie) himself. The Chosen picks through the gospels with a fine-toothed comb to find every trace of his personality and attempts to pull those thin threads into a cohesive whole. Consider, by way of example, Jesus’s interaction with the Pharisees in Matthew 12. The Pharisees see his disciples picking and eating heads of grain on the Sabbath and confront him for breaking the Law of Moses. In his response, Jesus leads with, “Have you not read what David did when he and his companions were hungry?” (Mt. 12:3). Theological points aside, look at the texture of Jesus’s response—asking Pharisees whether they have read about David! And this is not the only time in the gospels he poses this question to the same group. Obviously, the Pharisees have read about David—they are the religious leaders of the day. The question demonstrates the man’s cutting sense of irony, itself a form of humor. And this sense of humor is on full display in The Chosen. The ultimate result is a portrayal of Jesus that is actually quite believable. This is not to say that all other portrayals are faulty, because they certainly aren’t. However, where most other mainstream portrayals of Jesus lean into the ambiguity of his personality as depicted in the biblical canon (thereby make him seem distant or aloof), The Chosen gives him well-defined, multi-dimensional personality traits and marches forward with the story. The attention to context, both historical and immediate (for the characters), sets The Chosen apart from the usual Christian media fare. Yet these creative licenses, sure to provoke the ire of some, are what make The Chosen work as good contemporary television in ways that other adaptations, like History’s 2013 The Bible miniseries, simply cannot. If nothing else, The Chosen is worth viewing for Christians simply to see Jesus portrayed in a way that is achingly human. The show never shies away from his divinity but recognizes that this would be the most difficult characteristic of the man for his fellow humans to grasp. Rather than distance him and render him aloof as a result, the show leans into his human qualities to present a Christ who experiences real and complex human emotions; a Christ who is keenly aware of the fate that awaits him but is nonetheless capable of enjoying himself and others along the way.
This Postmodern Realities episode is a conversation with Journal author Cole Burgett about his online-exclusive article, “King Laugh: Jesus of Nazareth In the Chosen ( A Series Review of The Chosen)”.
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