Friday, May 25, 2012

Thoughts on Being in an LDS Bible Video

That’s me on the right in the picture above. This is a cropped screen shot from the most recently released clip in the series, “The Life of Jesus Christ Bible Videos,” produced by the LDS Church. This particular clip is titled, “Jesus Declares He Is the Messiah,” and you can view it on the series website (scriptural passage attached), on YouTube, and below.

There’s a lot to be said about this little clip. I’ll start with the most superficial things, and move to deeper topics.

Beginning at the least important issue, yes, that’s really my voice speaking Hebrew at the beginning of the clip, just as it's me playing the rabbi at the front of the ancient synagogue. I was in David Rabi’s Hebrew classes at Bryn Mawr College back in the later Seventies. (He is now both a Ph.D. and a rabbi—yes, Rabbi Rabi—and he was a much finer teacher than I was a student. Don’t blame him for my mistakes or delivery, please. And if anyone can get a word through to him, please give him my best!)

This was all filmed out at the now-barely-year-old LDS Film Studios site out in Goshen, Utah, where they have built a magnificent set that can be made to look like a variety of ancient sites in the Old and New Worlds. Our little synagogue was set up in a mere side room, magnificent though it was with its upstairs gallery and all. During filming, I was impressed with the high production values and professionalism evident throughout the experience. And yet this was clearly an LDS production, rather than a Hollywood one; when one crew member sought one of the lead actors, this answer was perfectly acceptable: “Oh, he’s off praying; he’ll be back in a moment.”

The scriptural incident being portrayed here is, of course, from the New Testament, Luke 4:15-30. The clip begins in the synagogue with me reading from the Hebrew Bible, the book of Isaiah, specifically Isaiah 60:21-22. The King James Version renders this into English as follows:

21 Thy people also shall be all righteous: they shall inherit the land for ever, the branch of my planting, the work of my hands, that I may be glorified.

22 A little one shall become a thousand, and a small one a strong nation: I the Lord will hasten it in his time.

 Jesus then goes on from there, reading the first verse and a half of Isaiah chapter 61. (Strictly speaking, the account in Luke quotes the ancient Greek translation of the Jewish scriptures, the Septuagint, where the wording differs slightly from the Hebrew as we have it today).

The portion of scripture that I read in the clip actually means a lot to me. Another way to translate the first phrase—v’amekh kulam tzaddiqim—is, “and your people shall all be Saints.”  That’s a mighty big responsibility no matter how you translate it, and one that flies in the face of the spirit of our times.

It’s also intriguing to me to read v. 22 as a reference to the (Latter-day) Saints as well. While wearing my writer’s hat, I’ve been busy analyzing LDS growth patterns for my forthcoming book, The Future of Mormonism; we have become a numerous people, and we seem bound to become a truly huge one.

But the main event, as it were, is neither my minute in the video sun, nor my poor showoff of my college Hebrew. The real message of this video is that, in this incident, Jesus unequivocally declared himself to be the chosen Messiah, the veritable anointed one, the Christ.

Oddly, this is not the most popular message among some Christians today. There are some who say that Jesus never really declared himself the Messiah. For others, it seems almost an embarrassment in our multicultural world to take such an “exclusivist” stance (for, indeed, if Jesus is the Messiah, this gives him a privileged position among the spiritual leaders of the world, to say the very least).

It is my position, and the LDS Church’s position, that Jesus did indeed declare himself to be the Messiah. That certainly seems to be integral to all the New Testament Gospel accounts; without the central claim that Jesus is the Messiah, the Gospel narratives fall into pieces, a few moving stories here and there, told to no overall purpose.

Even in this brief clip, the account of Luke portrays Jesus’ message as one that is meant for all peoples; certainly the reference to Naaman the Syrian—a Gentile if ever there were—gets that point across. Christianity as a whole has a long way to go to show respect to the other religions of the world—all those centuries of literally demonizing of other faiths, even today, is something ultimately unChristian—but there is no denying that ultimately Christianity is indeed built around the bold declaration that Jesus is the Christ, and the only such.

I find it particularly ironic that this bold declaration is being heralded by the Latter-day Saints, whom so many others claim are not Christians at all. The point of these videos is primarily for the edification of LDS Church members, but I would think that at least indirectly the videos make the point clear that we are indeed centered upon Christ. (I dwell on this point at length in another of my books forthcoming this summer, What Mormons Believe.)

I am deeply honored to have had the opportunity to be a part of this production. I hope that this and the other videos in this series edify the Saints, and give all people pause to consider the central claim of the Christian message, that God lives and Jesus is His Christ.

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Copyright © 2012 Mark E. Koltko-Rivera. All Rights Reserved.


  1. thanks for the info, it was inspiring

  2. Thank you! I love all the Bible Videos. I am actually looking on the internet to find out who the actors are. In specific Jesus, and the apostles Peter and John. I think it's a shame that they are not mentioned anywhere. This is not a movie, so I understand why maybe that has not been brought out. Could you help me with that maybe? I am just interested in who they are. Thank you in advance!
    Catherina - from The Netherlands

  3. The part of Jesus was played by John Foss.

  4. I believe the actor portraying Peter is Nathan Mitchell, the man who portrayed Joseph Smith in the Restoration.

  5. Excellent work. These are beautiful, moving films.

  6. My dad and I have been analyzing these films to a great extent. Specifically we've been watching the video of Jesus Christ and His apostles when the Savior rebukes Peter and calls Him Satan. Every time we watch it we see new meaning from the music, the faces, even the positioning of the order of Apostles. We are very interested to know who is present at these sets helping direct? Are there ever general authorities present? Do they preview the scripts and screenplay? We are extremely interested in knowing. Thank you kindly for your blog and sharing.

    1. Hendie Boy: Thank you very much for your interest in these films.

      The only person directing the films is the Director, a Latter-day Saint with a great deal of professional experience, and a great spirit. I saw no General Authorities present at any time during my segment, and I seriously doubt that any of them visit the set on any kind of assignment basis. My sense of the situation, from some side remarks I heard during the process, is that all scripts have to pass through approval. Since the dialogue is completely scriptural, I can't imagine this is a problem. I also suspect that the director passes versions of the scenes past some form of GA approval, but I have no direct proof of that.

      Keep watching this series! It is really great.

  7. Thank you for your posts and sharing these special experiences with us. The spirit is present in the viewing and sharing these videos. There is so much to learn from watching the positioning of the apostles at certain scenes, the music, the way Christ says things. There is so much. I am extremely interested to kmow of the presence of general authorities or their interactions with the directors and screen writers. I would be very very interested in knowing. Thank you so much.

  8. Hendie Boy: Thanks again for your interest in these films (and this blog!). I would have no direct knowledge of anything involving the interaction of the Brethren with the Director or the screenwriters--sorry! You might want to write the people out at LDS Films in Provo, Utah (formerly the BYU Film Studios). I regret that I have no contact information handy.

  9. And I am VERY thankful to not be able to hear Jesus and the leading characters with an American accent. Very important!
    Most of the characters looked and sounded like they were from the Middle East and not just members of the church from Utah dressed up in robe. Well done.
    These are really good quality films and bring with them a powerful spirit. Thank you so much.


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