18 April 2019, The Tablet

Jesus the Jew

Jesus the Jew

Greg Barnett takes on the role of Jesus in the History Channel’s new docudrama
© A&E Television Networks; inset: pa, ian west


So you think you know the Easter story? Simon Sebag Montefiore explains why he believes you should think again

It is a sign of the determination of the makers of the docudrama, Jesus: His Life, to provide a 360-degree appraisal of their chosen subject that they include on screen – among an impressive procession of churchy American talking heads – the award-winning British Jewish historian, Simon Sebag Montefiore. Christianity, after all, has a long history of reluctance – probably too polite a word, but we now hopefully live in more enlightened times – to recognise that an essential fact about Jesus is that he was a Jew.

The potency of his inclusion hasn’t escaped Sebag Montefiore, but there were other reasons, he says, why he signed up to take part in this much-hyped eight-part series that begins on the History Channel on Easter Sunday. “I didn’t really want to do it when they first approached me because I am so busy at the moment, but I thought, actually, I haven’t seen Jesus’ life done in this way before, with the combination of scripted drama and exploration of the history, even when it doesn’t suit the traditional viewpoint.”

The US-made Jesus: His Life picks its way chronologically from Bethlehem to Calvary in Sunday night instalments in the weeks to come, each episode told from the standpoint of one of those around him. The glossily shot dramatic recreations (all the actors are good-looking, though none is a household name, at least on this side of the Atlantic) are interspersed with expert commentators, and it is here that Sebag Montefiore makes his contribution.

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