The Christ Child

The Church has just put out a new video on its You Tube Channel: The Christ Child: A Nativity Story #LightTheWorld, available here . On Facebook Daniel McClellan had high praise for it, so I thought I would check it out.

And I had to agree, I thought the short film was simply outstanding.

There are usually a bunch of clunky things that mar efforts such as this, but the team went out of their way to avoid those common problems. From the very beginning you can see this is a serious-minded effort, as the actors playing Joseph and Mary look plausibly Middle Eastern, and Joseph’s hair and beard are appropriate to that time and place.

The biggest hurdle these kinds of films have to being taken seriously is having the actors walking around speaking King James English. Whenever I see that, for me the actors may as well be waling around in bathrobes and towels on their heads, as all believability is lost. Amazingly, the Missionary Department signed off on having the actors speak untranslated Aramaic. There is not a lick of English in the short film, and that makes all the difference in the world.

David Calabro was the Aramaic consultant on the film, meaning he had to come up with the wording and teach the actors how to say it naturally, and all involved did a terrific job. (You may recognize David’s name from all the suggestions he made in Royal Skousen’s  analysis of BoM textual variants volumes.)

At one point Mary sings baby Jesus a lullaby, and it is quite lovely. That wasn’t originally in the script; the producers asked for it at the last minute. David recalls this from his journal:

I looked this up in my journal to get the details right. Here is what I wrote: “On Friday, we again started in the evening and filmed until the early morning…For one scene in which Mary holds the baby, the people from the Missionary Department requested a change in which Mary sings to the baby a lullaby in Hebrew using the words from Psalm 27:1 (in keeping with the theme of the Light the World campaign). It was somewhat humorous, since I had been joking with Brooklyn that they had added a last-minute monologue for her to learn in Aramaic, and then it turned out that they actually had added that—and not only that, but with music!”

A lot  of the stuff that people usually get wrong about this narrative was portrayed correctly here. Bonneville Communications/the Missionary Department obviously went out of their way to give an historically accurate portrayal.

This wasn’t a documentary, so there were a few things that weren’t quite historical but still appropriate dramatic choices for how they wanted to tell the story. The house in Bethlehem was implausibly large, but that worked artistically to illustrate the bustle and chaos going in th home and to make it clear that the kataluma (the upper room, not a public inn as so often misundertood) was simply not going to work for the delivery. They don’t try to portray the interview of the magi with Herod, which in my view was absolutely the right artistic choice for so short a film.

A couple of other things I noted: they represent the angel appearing to the shepherds with a bright light. I thought that was an excellent choice; having a human floating in the air would have seemed cheesy to me. And I loved that the sign in the heavens wasn’t a really bright star; the sign was of astrological significance to the magoi.

So if you haven’t seen it yet, I would encourage you to give it a watch. And this is one you can comfortably share with your friends. Take a bow, Missionary Department, for a job well done.

 

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Comments

  1. I loved it, too. It was tender having recently had a baby boy. My only complaint is that Mary did not look tired enough after childbirth. But every woman is different.

  2. Lee Williams says:

    I thought this was a true leap forward for Church media. Deep, tender and REAL. My one minor complaint is that the score is a bit too epic and overbearing for the first third of the piece, but someone settled down the violins soon after. Well done!

  3. This sounds like a fine production, but I wonder if the church will ever take the next step and accept the infancy narratives as mostly myths intended by Matthew and Luke to parallel stories from the Old Testament and teach us about the coming mission of the Savior.

    Luke appears to have manufactured an Augustinian census (“all the world to be taxed”)—something that Augustus does not appear to have ever done during his long reign—in order to juxtapose him with Christ.

    Augustus’ years in power were some of the most peaceful and prosperous of the Roman empire, so much so that he was deified by his admirers (something, not surprisingly, he actively promoted). An example of this adoration—something Luke, given his Greek/gentile heritage was likely aware of—is a monument erected in Augustus’ honor around 10 B.C., a monument that still stands in Rome today. He was hailed by his subjects as “the savior of the whole world” and the inscription on this monument reads: “The birthday of the god [Augustus] marked the beginning of the good news for the world.”

    Luke contrives an Augustinian census to contradict that assertion, showing that, paradoxically, the edict of Augustus served to provide a setting for the arrival of the true Savior of the world, the Prince of Peace and bringer of good news of eternal value.

    Maybe someday will come to realize how scriptural literalism/scriptural infallibility circumscribes our understanding the scriptures.

  4. Loved that the shepherds’ visit to the newborn babe included women and children and that the magoi appeared at the correct time.

  5. Kevin Barney says:

    Eric, yeah, I wouldn’t expect the church to bail on the census any time soon. I explode problems with it here: https://bycommonconsent.com/2007/12/22/the-census/

  6. Kevin Barney says:

    *explore

  7. Eric Facer says:

    Thanks for the link, Kevin. I had not seen that post of yours before (pre-dates my following BCC).

    I’m a big fan of Raymond Brown’s work in this area. His magnus opus, “The Birth of the Messiah,” is my go-to reference on these topics. And his shorter works, “A Coming Christ in Advent” and the aptly titled, “An Adult Christ at Christmas,” are gems.

  8. I agree that it is a well-done, thoughtful, and reverent film. My complaint is that the slow pace will turn off a lot of viewers, especially since it doesn’t really add anything to the story that the audience won’t already know by heart. And if they’re not already familiar, viewers will be completely lost.

  9. I like it more each time I watch it. Mary and Joseph are real people with emotions. I love their reactions when others acknowledge the child that THEY knew was special. I agree that it feels kind of long, but I think that the end is the best part. The earnestness of the wise men and their reaction to finding Jesus (who is the most PRECIOUS toddler) brought tears to my eyes. I wish I could kneel on the floor with them.

  10. It’s cool that John Foss, who plays Jesus in the Bible videos, wrote and directed this film. He would certainly know the challenge of pulling off a depiction using KJV English.

  11. I thought the film was beautiful. My only point of discomfort was the young boy Jesus’ hair. The haircut was way too perfect for the time and place. The child himself, however, was amazingly calm and focused for one so young.

  12. Loved it, too. One small detail I loved was the inclusion of the people who welcomed Mary and Joseph in Bethlehem like family or old friends (which makes sense, I think, in the context of the story). In particular, the subtle depiction of a midwife or other older woman (or relative?) at the birth moved me greatly and unexpectedly.

    It may be a purely selfish validation of my own prejudices and preferences, but as someone who wants to believe in a world where people more often good and kind than not, I love the idea that they were not turned away at the inn—it was simply clear that it wasn’t a viable choice. And that when that reality became obvious, there were people there to help and support them. I thought it was beautiful.

  13. Just Wondering says:

    Is anyone familiar with “Stone Manger?” This mid-length telling of the circumstances surrounding Jesus’s birth by BYU professor Jeffrey Chadwick answers some of the questions that have puzzled me for years as I studied the story from Matthew and Luke. Chadwick has lived several years in Israel, works as an archeologist, and has extensively studied Jewish culture and history. He does take some interpretive license and may be a little too sure of his conclusions, but for me many of his ideas resonate. He gives plausible reasons as to why Mary and Joseph went to Bethlehem in the first place. It wasn’t that everyone had to go to their ancestral home. Can you imagine the chaos of everyone traveling and trying to find places to stay. Getting a census count under circumstances like that is not very probable or accurate. That’s just one question Chadwick addresses. Go to Amazon and check out “Stone Manger: The Untold Story of the First Christmas.”

  14. I too appreciated the inclusion of a shepherdess as well as a midwife in the film. Before we go too far congratulating these brethren’s care in retelling this birth story, I wish they had consulted a midwife, or even a woman. (Steam is coming from my ears as I think about this omission.)

    Joseph would not have been present at the birth. His inclusion speaks to western sentiments (where fathers have recently begun participating in births) but would clash with various cultures worldwide. I also worry about Catholic interpretation of this missionary tool, as a male viewing the birth and touching Mary throughout the film in a familiar way would not align with their narrative of a strictly virgin birth. Furthermore, Jewish purification rituals and time frames would have applied- even to travelers. The midwives (plural women) would have been a matronly coaches not a single silent servant woman. Mary would most certainly not have been in the lithotomy position (laying on her back- knees bent ), but squatting or in a combination of several other positions such as standing (would that have been empowering!) or on all fours, etc. And in the long moments of quiet smiling and starring, could she not have nursed him? And while I appreciate the missionary department giving Mary some lines (singing the lullaby) why is it that we always shy away from Mary’s Magnificat? I appreciated the stone manger, Middle-eastern (not Renaissance) clothing, Aramaic, and hiring of non-Scandinavian actors/actresses. But for telling a story about birth, we could have put a little more effort into women’s history.

  15. Can we just go ahead and start portraying the wise men as Nephi and Samuel already? And come up with some reason why those particular shepherds received the message of the birth? Otherwise what sense does this story make? Random shepherds and pagan astrologers called to witness the birth of the Savior? Gimme a break.

  16. Lee Williams: “My one minor complaint is that the score is a bit too epic and overbearing for the first third of the piece, but someone settled down the violins soon after.”

    Ha! I was thinking the same thing.

  17. Steven Anthony Melessa says:

    To be learned is good If.

  18. “I wish they had consulted a midwife, or even a woman. (Steam is coming from my ears as I think about this omission.)”

    Quite the assumption there…

  19. @Just Wondering , I agree with your positive opinion of Professor Chadwick’s book “Stone Manger.” Has some very plausible evidence and explanations of the more likely circumstances of the Nativity. It’s a quick read and also very inexpensive, $2-3 in Kindle version I believe.
    Kevin thanks for this review. The quality of LDS productions lately have been impressive in my opinion, for example the Book of Mormon videos.

  20. Since the COB won’t do what Eric and Barney mentioned about the baby Jesus account, I wish they would have made Mary younger and with more natural, thicker eyebrows (seriously, what’s with them giving women perfectly tweezed eyebrows and hair, even in the temple video?). Make toddler Jesus darker and less white. Show Mary nursing. Remove Joseph from the birth bc even in the US, men weren’t allowed to be in delivery until 1970s. Glad they made everyone less white. Glad they included women as witnesses.

  21. Left Field says:

    As far as I can tell, the video doesn’t depict the actual delivery. Mary appears to be in labor with Joseph nearby, when a midwife is seen approaching. Then it cuts away and then cuts back after the delivery. We can’t tell whether or not Joseph left when the midwife entered, but it wouldn’t seem right for him to have already left her alone before the midwife arrived. We don’t know what position Mary was in for the delivery. I’m a bit skeptical of the idea that teams of multiple midwives would had to have been on call at short notice for every woman passing through town, but I acknowledge that anyone who knows something about midwifery in that time and place knows more than I do. In any case, since the whole process isn’t depicted, we can’t tell from the video if there were others who assisted. The midwife is on screen for a couple of seconds and has no lines, but we can’t assume she was “silent” throughout labor and delivery.

    I did notice that Mary’s manicured eyebrows seemed a little out of place. However, that doesn’t bother me in the temple films, since the officiators are enacting a ritual, not recreating historical events.

  22. Left Field,
    You are right, they did cut away during the labor, but I perceived Joseph holding her hand in the early stages of labor, encouraging her and helping her lie on her back was eluding to a birth story. We don’t see him leave.

    While sometimes only one midwife might be in attendance, it was common (prior to modern medical practices) in most cultures for several women (including women in the family who had experience with childbirth and younger women needing to learn, neighbors, friends, etc.) to gather and help with meal preparations, rituals and prayers, cleaning, encouragement, patient care, experience-sharing, problem-solving, message-running, resource-fetching, and potential funerary support (not uncommon). I don’t think it’s possible to harmonize historical information with the biblical text and the familiar interpretation of the Christmas story. In the video, a few of the myths were broken (3 wise men, wooden manger, etc.) Perhaps it’s enough for now.

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