Jesus: A life in historical context

Jesus: A life in historical context
A submission by: Stuart Fletcher
Student No.1988091
For: Master of Arts - Digital Documentary, at Cardiff University (JOMEC) 30th October 2020
Reading time: 3.04 min.

Programme Synopsis:
This documentary seeks to demonstrate how the Gospel writers used physical space to reinforce their story of Jesus. It weaves between a series of contrasting sequences, beginning with the recognition that our modern society is fundamentally the same as that which existed in Jesus’ day. The honouring of relatives, philanthropists and politicians through the naming of a child, ship, train, building, street or city occurred as often in ancient times as it does today. To the first-century Jew, this was a taboo. The exaltation of the self gave way to the vices of greed, selfishness and pride. The resulting statues, plaques and portraits paved the way to idolatry. In contrast, the divesting of your excess brought a form of equality and was at the heart of Jesus' message.
Dr Leen Ritmeyer, a leading authority on the excavations in Jerusalem, highlights King Herod's use of monumental stone in the temple and the disciples' amazement upon seeing them. The size and weight of each stone would have been a visual confirmation of power. Herod, himself, had a benefactor - Augustus. Herod honoured the first Roman emperor with the building and naming of three major cities. Herod also crowned their citadels with temples dedicated to Augustus. Unlike their Greco-Roman counterparts, these temples had large platform spaces for audience participation in worship. Ritmeyer describes how the temple space guided the worshiper up towards Augustus' image.
However, while Herod's development of cult centres brought economic growth and prosperity, it also produced religious tension and socioeconomic pressures. These tensions prevailed, culminating in Jewish revolt and the Roman destruction of Jerusalem in 70 CE.
If the divine order of Caesar was found within the city, then the God of Jesus was found in the chaos of the wilderness. Archaeologist Sue Rollin highlights the seismic volatility of the Jordan Rift Valley. The region within which Jesus' activities were undertaken. Rollin points to the 6th Century Madaba Map for its agricultural and commercial productivity. But it also shows it was still untamed enough to have wild animals roaming freely. It is from the Madaba Map where we gain confirmation for the location of Jesus' baptism. Rustom Mkhjian, Director of archaeological works, guides us through the evidence of six centuries of worship at the site. However, confirming the traditions demonstrated here are not without their problems.
What is acknowledged by the historian, John Henson, is that both the activities of John the Baptist and Jesus were gaining interest. Many people were coming to hear their anti-establishment message, but this created the possibility for revolt. Johns arrest is the likely trigger for Jesus' return to Galilee.
In Galilee, the contrast between the orderly cityscape and the chaotically laid out villages, built of rocks robbed from the surrounding fields, is highlighted. This rudimentary architecture agrees with the descriptions gathered from the Gospel stories. Throughout the documentary, the contemporary writings of Flavius Josephus provide an additional source of information. He describes how King Herod's son Philip, promotes Bethsaida to the status of a city by building a temple and honorifically renaming it Julias. Bethsaida is never once referred to by its honorific name in the Gospels, yet it is the place where Jesus undertook many of his miracles. Henson highlights, however, that the earliest Gospel, Mark, states that these events happened away from the city. It suggests the tensions between the Emperor cult and Judaism were at play.
Jesus' avoidance of the authorities had pushed him further away from the centre of power. For his message to have any impact, it would require a journey to Jerusalem. The penultimate sequence explores the events leading up to Jesus' death. The physical geography of The Healing of a Blind Man demonstrates a movement away from the temple. It suggests Jesus viewed it as corrupt. The turning over of the money changers tables shows opposition to the cartel controlling its practice. Bishop Dominic Walker outlines Jesus' objections to it. In so doing, it paves the way to a theory regarding Jesus' trial. Ritmeyer recounts the story of Peter's denial of Jesus. He demonstrates how the physical plan of an excavated house, found in the Jewish quarter of Jerusalem, supports the possibility that the events outlined are correct.
The documentary concludes with the reminder that we live in an idolising world where economic and military power prevails and neglect in society often results in public expressions of displeasure. Jesus’ utopian vision is a goal yet to be achieved.

  • Stuart Fletcher
  • Stuart Fletcher
  • Stuart Fletcher
  • Dr Leen Ritmeyer
    Key Cast
  • Sue Rollin
    Key Cast
  • Rustom Mkhjian
    Key Cast
  • John Henson
    Key Cast
  • Bishop Dominic Walker
    Key Cast
  • Stuart Fletcher
    Video Editing and Post Production
  • Project Type:
    Documentary, Student
  • Genres:
    History, Religion, Archaeology
  • Runtime:
    29 minutes 25 seconds
  • Completion Date:
    October 31, 2020
  • Production Budget:
    7,000 GBP
  • Country of Origin:
    United Kingdom
  • Country of Filming:
    Israel, Jordan, United Kingdom
  • Language:
  • Shooting Format:
  • Aspect Ratio:
  • Film Color:
  • First-time Filmmaker:
  • Student Project:
    Yes - Cardiff University
Director - Stuart Fletcher