Jesus (1979 film)

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Directed by Peter Sykes
John Krish
John Heyman (uncredited)
Produced by John Heyman
Richard F. Dalton
Written by Barnet Bain
Luke (book)
Starring Brian Deacon
Yosef Shiloach
Rivka Neumann
Narrated by Alexander Scourby
Music by Nachium Heiman
Distributed by Inspirational Films
Warner Bros.
Release dates October 19, 1979 (US)
Running time 115 min.
Country United Kingdom
United States
Language English
Budget $6 million

JESUS (alternatively called The Jesus Film), is a 1979 motion picture which depicts the life of Jesus Christ according primarily to the Gospel of Luke in the Bible. It was co-directed by Australian Peter Sykes, Britons John Heyman and John Krish and filmed in Israel.


The film's origins date back to 1945 when a young businessman named Bill Bright wanted to privately finance a film about the life of Jesus Christ[1] that was entertaining, biblically accurate, and which could be translated into non-English languages. Rather than making a film at that time, Bright went on to found a Christian ministry to reach college students called Campus Crusade for Christ in 1951.

In 1976, with Campus Crusade's influence spreading beyond college campuses to sports, the marketplace and other aspects of society, Bright turned his attention once again to filmmaking. Hollywood's German-born British producer John Heyman approached Bright to fund a project to put the entire Bible on film. The project would eventually be scaled back to just one book of the Bible, the Gospel of Luke, and be financed primarily by Campus Crusade supporters Bunker and Caroline Hunt[2] for a sum of $6 million.

A team of 500 scholars and leaders from secular and Christian organizations began to research historical elements for a film about Jesus. Filming took place over the course of several months throughout the Middle East.

Jesus was produced by John Heyman, a German-born British producer. British Shakespearean actor Brian Deacon was hired to play the critical role of Jesus himself. The part of Mary was played by Rivka Neumann, and the part of Joseph by Yosef Shiloach, and the part of Mary Magdalene was played by Talia Shapira. Former Jesus Film Project director Paul Eshleman, who was on location during much of the principal photography and even had a small non-speaking role as a Roman soldier on horseback, revealed in the DVD's audio commentary[3] that Deacon (the son of a Catholic mother and a Protestant father), was so committed to the film and its message that he read several Bible translations a day in order to make certain that he properly presented Christ's teachings. Because Deacon developed pneumonia during principal photography, doubles were used in certain scenes.

Some locations mentioned in the Bible, such as the Jordan River and what is believed to have been the home of Simon the Tanner, were used in the film.[citation needed]

After each day's filming was completed, the footage was sent to a panel of biblical scholars for review.[citation needed]

Instead of creating a parallel story for the film or embellishing the biblical account, as is the case with other biblical films such as The Ten Commandments or The Greatest Story Ever Told, the filmmakers chose to adhere as closely as possible to the Gospel of Luke. At the end of the film it states that the Good News Bible (Today's English Version) was used for the filming. Most of the film's dialogue comes from Luke, which was chosen after John Heyman sought advice from clergy and scholars. Many responded that the screenplay should be based on just one Gospel, and that Luke should be used because of its completeness.[citation needed]

Jesus was released by Warner Bros. in the United States. It was not a financial success, losing approximately $2 million. While praising its "meticulous attention to authenticity", critics panned Jesus for being "painfully monotonous"[4][5] and "little more than an illustrated gospel, with nothing in the way of historical and social context."[5] The Los Angeles Times called it a "...dull Sunday-School treatment of the life of Christ, meticulously but unimaginatively culled from Luke 3-24."[6]

Producer John Heyman was also not pleased with the high pitched accents of the Israeli cast members and decided to have all of the voices dubbed over. The only voice who wasn't dubbed over was Brian Deacon's.

Foreign language versions[edit]

In 1981, Bill Bright created the Jesus Film Project organization with the goal of accurately translating Jesus into other languages and showing them around the world.

The first translation was done for the Tagalog-speaking people of the Philippines. The organization works with thousands of missionaries around the world to show the film, sometimes to audiences who have never seen a motion picture.

The Mandarin Chinese version of the film is widely distributed in China by the government-linked China Christian Council's Amity Foundation in Nanjing, both on VCDs and DVD.

Distribution in the United States has included direct mail campaigns sponsored by churches to deliver a copy of the film to every address in select zip codes across the country. In 2004, the organization made the film available for viewing on its website in over 300 languages. Both Jesus and The Story of Jesus for Children are available in DVD and VHS formats. Audio dramatizations in a number of languages are also available.

In the 2000s the film was translated into the Indonesian language. The film was also translated and dubbed into the Lakota language. In 2007, The JESUS Film project celebrated the release of the 1,000th translation[7] and their continued work helps assure the film's status as the world's most translated film.

New versions[edit]

To make the film more relevant for younger viewers, new footage for The Story of Jesus for Children was filmed in 1999. It was then interwoven into an edited version of the original film Jesus and released in 2000.

In 2001, a new opening sequence depicting the creation of man, the expulsion from Eden, Abraham's aborted sacrifice of his son, and the prophesies of Isaiah was filmed to show, as Paul Eshleman states in the audio commentary, how Jesus' life fits into the span of history.

In 2002, a special edition of Jesus commemorating the September 11 attacks was distributed in the VHS format. It contains introductions by New York City firefighters and police officers and has a running time of 83 minutes.

In 2007, another film made for women was released named Magdalena: Released from Shame using the same actor portraying Jesus.

An edited DVD version of Jesus was also packaged with Jesus: Fact or Fiction, which was produced in 2003 by Inspirational Films. This features a section called the "Journey of Spiritual Discovery." Biblical scholars, historians, philosophers, authors and ministers answer specific questions relating to God, Jesus, Christianity, the archaeological, scientific, and historical accuracy of the Bible, and testimony from many Christian men and women. Viewers can browse the numerous topics individually, or they can watch the film and, when prompted by a "discovery glass" icon, can access relevant comments. After they are finished, the viewer is returned to the scene they were watching.

To celebrate the 35th anniversary of the film's release, a new DVD and Blu-ray version was released[8] complete with a new musical score and sound effects. Once again all of the voices in the film are dubbed over by unknown British voice actors. Brian Deacon returns to do the voice over for Jesus.


According to The New York Times,[9] Jesus is likely the most-watched motion picture of all time.[10][11] The Jesus Film Project states[12] that Jesus has been viewed billions of times. It has been translated into over 1,220[13] different languages and dialects.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Come Help Change the World, by Bill Bright, page 143
  2. ^ Come Help Change the World, by Bill Bright, pages 144-145
  3. ^ DVD audio commentary
  4. ^ Shaila Dewan (2005-08-16). "Putting Jesus in Every Mailbox". New York Times. 
  5. ^ a b Tom Buckley (1980-03-28). "Film:"Jesus" at Embassy; according to Luke". New York Times. 
  6. ^ Kevin Thomas (1979-11-02). "A Sunday-School Treatment of 'Jesus'". L.A. Times. p. H30. 
  7. ^ Michael, Ireland. "Most-translated film in history reaches another major milestone". ASSIST News Service. Retrieved 26 May 2014. 
  8. ^
  9. ^ Franklin Foer (2004-02-08). "Baptism by celluloid". New York Times. 
  10. ^ The New York Times, July 22, 2003, page 1AR "1979 Bible Film is the Most-Watched Movie of All Time"
  11. ^ Giles Wilson (2003-07-21). "The most watched film in history". BBC News. 
  12. ^ "Jesus Film Project's statistics page". Campus Crusade for Christ International. 
  13. ^ "Language List". Campus Crusade for Christ International. Retrieved 26 May 2014. 

External links[edit]