Jesus appeared on movie screens four years ago in Mel Gibson's controversial "The Passion of the Christ." Jesus is back at the cinema, but this time Islam—not Christianity—provides the lens.
"Jesus, Spirit of God," from Iranian filmmaker Nader Talebzadeh, played in cinemas in Tehran, Iran, during Ramadan (which fell in October). Now it's being prepped as a 20-episode TV show for distribution across Iran's national television system, according to an Agence France-Presse (AFP) story. The project was funded by Iran's state broadcasting arm, the Islamic Republic of Iran Broadcasting (IRIB).
"Spirit of God" tells the story of Jesus according the Quran, not the Christian Bible. The Quran's account of Jesus mostly follows that given in the Gospels, with one notable exception: The Quran says Judas, not Jesus, was crucified; God took Jesus straight to heaven.
Talebzadeh, mostly known for making documentaries about Iran's war with Iraq in the 1980s, presents that account of Jesus, who is viewed in Islam as one of five great prophets (the others being Abraham, Noah, Moses and Muhammad).
Iranian actor Ahmad Soleimani Nia plays the fair-skinned, blond Jesus in the film (click here for a still from the movie).
For the record, director Talebzadeh did see Gibson's "The Passion of the Christ."
"Gibson's film is a very good film," said Talebzadeh, according to a Middle East Online story. "I mean that it is a well-crafted movie but the story is wrong—it was not like that." The director delivered a copy of the film to Gibson's home in Malibu, but had to leave it with security at the gate. Talebzadeh said he never got a response from Gibson, whose 2004 depiction of Jesus earned close to $400 million in the United States alone.
Middle East Online quoted Talebzadeh as saying, "It is fascinating for Christians to know that Islam gives such devotion to and has so much knowledge about Jesus."
"By making this film," he continued, "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."
Variety reported that "Spirit of God" cost $5 million.
"We want to show the opinions of Islam toward the prophet," Mohammed Reza Abbasian, the managing director for Cima Media Intl., told Variety. "This story came from the Koran without any changes. You could call it Jesus through Islam's lens." Cima Media is the production and sales unit of the IRIB.
In the extended version for television, AFP reports that Talebzadeh will emphasize connections between Jesus and Imam Mahdi, an important figure in Shiite Islam who is said will reappear in the last days and restore harmony on Earth. Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad has said his mission is to make way for Imam Mahdi's reappearance.
Variety also reported that the IRIB is making a $20-million film about the life of Joseph, whose story is familiar to Jews, Muslims and Christians.
Cliff Vaughn is culture editor for EthicsDaily.com.
Watch Nader Talebzadeh talk about the Al-Jazeera network in this YouTube clip.
Read about "The Passion of the Christ."