Tuesday, January 15, 2008

Iranian Movie Presents "Islamic Jesus"

Do Christianity and Islam have anything in common when it comes to Jesus? A new movie, produced in Iran and funded by state broadcasting, is making the case.

Nader Talebzadeh is director of "Jesus, the Spirit of God," winner of an award at the 2007 Religion Today Film Festival in Italy. He says his film is the first to give an Islamic view of Jesus Christ. Iranian actor Ahmad Soleimani Nia plays the role of Jesus.

According to AFP:

Talebzadeh insists (the movie) aims to bridge differences between Christianity and Islam, despite the stark divergence from Christian doctrine about Christ's final hours on earth.

"It is fascinating for Christians to know that Islam gives such devotion to and has so much knowledge about Jesus," Talebzadeh told AFP.

"By making this film I wanted to make a bridge between Christianity and Islam, to open the door for dialogue since there is much common ground between Islam and Christianity," he said.

In these days, where religious conviction is fueling violence, dialogue between religions is a good thing. If people of different faiths can respectfully talk with one another, it humanizes each side, breaks down suspicions, and paves the way for living together in peace.

So to have a dialogue-- via film-- between Muslims and Christians about Jesus is a positive development. In fact, Jesus welcomes the scrutiny, for he asks, "Who do people say that I am?"

In the spirit of dialogue, let's consider what the earliest accounts of Jesus say-- the Gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John. All of them were composed within 30-60 years after Jesus' earthly life. Here's what they testify:

Jesus was a Jew. This is an obvious fact, but it's significant to mention here because we're talking about a film financed by the state of Iran, led by Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, who regularly espouses the destruction of Israel. Does anyone believe that Jesus desires the complete obliteration of the Jewish state? It just so happens, "Jesus, the Spirit of God" asserts a central belief of President Ahmadinejad-- that when Jesus returns to earth, he'll be accompanied by the Imam Mahdi.

Jesus was crucified, buried, and raised again on the third day. The AFP articles says the movie, "faithfully follows the traditional tale of Jesus as recounted in the New Testament Gospels, a narrative reproduced in the Koran and accepted by Muslims." But when it comes to the last few hours of Jesus' life-- particularly, his crucifixion, the film switches sources and goes to the Koran, where it is said that Jesus was never crucified, but taken up into heaven. Question: The film thinks the Gospels are a reliable source for Jesus' life. Why then, when it comes to the final hours of Jesus' life, does the film suddenly switch from a first century source (the Gospels) to a much later seventh century source (the Koran)? The earliest and best historical documents of Jesus' life-- the Gospels-- say Jesus was crucified, buried, and raised to life on the third day. The Gospels are so convinced of these facts that they each devote a significant portion of their book reporting these events! The final few hours of Jesus' life isn't a minor difference of division between Christians and Muslims. It's the major difference, for we believe the crucifixion of Jesus was necessary in order for God to forgive the sins of humanity-- again, another early Christian belief (see 1 Corinthians 15).

Jesus is God in human form. Again, this a major difference in belief between Christians and Muslims. In Mark 2:1-12, Jesus claims the right to forgive sins, something only God can do. In Mark 14:57-65, Jesus says that he is the Son of Man who sits at God's right hand and comes on the clouds of heaven, something only God does. The religious leaders clearly understood Jesus' claim. They accused him of blasphemy and sentenced him to death. In John 8:58, Jesus says, "Before Abraham was born, I am." Jesus claims to be a prophet not on par with Abraham, but greater, for he always existed-- again, a characteristic of God. Christians do not worship three gods. We worship one God who has revealed Himself in three ways-- Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.

The movie, "Jesus: the Spirit of God" seeks to show what Christians and Muslims have in common about Jesus. However, the differences between the two religions are vast. Still, art that makes Jesus its subject-- particularly film making-- is a great way to start a dialogue and answer Jesus' question, "Who do you say that I am?"

No comments: