Jesus (1979 film)

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Jump to navigation Jump to search
Home release poster
Directed byPeter Sykes
John Krish
Produced byJohn Heyman
Screenplay byBarnet Fishbein
StarringBrian Deacon
Rivka Neumann
Yosef Shiloach
Narrated byAlexander Scourby
Music byNachum Heiman
Genesis Project[1]
Distributed byInspirational Films
Warner Bros.
Release date
October 19, 1979 (US)
Running time
115 min.
CountryUnited States[2]
Budget$6 million

Jesus (alternatively called The Jesus Film) is a 1979 biblical drama film that depicts the life of Jesus Christ. It was produced by John Heyman and directed by Peter Sykes and John Krish. It primarily uses the Gospel of Luke as the basis for the story. It was filmed on location in Israel. The film was financed primarily by Campus Crusade for Christ with a budget of $6 million.


The cast consists of many people. Below are some of the main cast:


In 1976, the British Jewish film and television producer John Heyman approached Campus Crusade for Christ President Bill Bright to fund his Genesis Project to put the entire Bible on film and to obtain financing for his feature-length film on Jesus. After meeting Heyman, Bright asked the-then campus ministry director Paul Eshleman to consult with the filmmaker. Eshleman was pleased with Heyman's short film on the first two chapters of the Gospel of Luke and convince Bright to endorse the project despite objections from other Campus Crusade leaders who objected to a non-Christian making a film about the Bible.[3]

After failing to canvass funding from Hollywood studios, the Jesus film would be financed primarily by Campus Crusade supporters Bunker and Caroline Hunt for a sum of $6 million.[4][5][6]

Filming took place throughout the Middle East and Israel over the course of several months. Former Jesus Film Project director Paul Eshleman, who was on location during much of the principal photography, revealed in the DVD's audio commentary that Brian Deacon, who portrayed Jesus, 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.[7] Because Deacon developed pneumonia during principal photography, doubles were used in certain scenes.

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 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]

Heyman's original cut of the Jesus film ran for more than four hours. However, in consultation with Bright and Eshleman, he edited a shorter version for Campus Crusade.[8]


Jesus was released by Warner Bros. in the United States. To promote the film, Paul Eshleman worked with both evangelical and Catholic churches to arrange group trips and discounts. Four million viewers reportedly watch the Jesus film in late 1979 and 1980. However, though the film was popular with Christian audiences, it failed to attract mainstream audiences. It was not a financial success and left John Heyman's Genesis Project US$4 million in debt.[9]


While praising its "meticulous attention to authenticity", critics criticized Jesus for being "painfully monotonous"[10][11] and "little more than an illustrated gospel, with nothing in the way of historical and social context."[11] The Los Angeles Times called it a "...dull Sunday-School treatment of the life of Christ, meticulously but unimaginatively culled from Luke 3-24."[12]

Despite Bright's endorsement of the Jesus film, Heyman's relationship with his former Campus Crusade collaborators deteriorated due to his perception that the latter overlooked his contributions to the film. Heyman also objected to Campus Crusade making multiple different versions of his film. When Campus Crusade produced a shorter version The Story of Jesus for Children, which included new footage, Heyman sued Crusade on the grounds that the new version damaged his reputation. Though the dispute was settled by the parties out of court, relations between Heyman and Campus Crusade remained poor.[13]

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. It is the only film that has been dubbed into more than 1000 languages of the world. As of now, more than 1600 languages spoken all over the world have the Jesus film, including in all major international languages.

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 humans, 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.

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 Christians. 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 in August 2015,[14] complete with a new musical score and sound effects. Once again all of the voices in the film were dubbed over by unknown British voice actors. Brian Deacon returns to do the voice-over for Jesus.


According to The New York Times,[15] Jesus is sometimes described as the most-watched motion picture of all time.[16][17]

Project leaders claim that it has been viewed over 5 billion times by over 3 billion people.[18] This claim has been greeted with skepticism by an evangelical leader. Vinay Samuel, former executive director of the International Fellowship of Evangelical Mission Theologians, has said: "These numbers are, to say the least, not gathered in a social-scientific way" and that "They have no way of knowing this".[18]

See also[edit]

Further reading[edit]

  • Stanley, Jeffrey L.; Walsh, Richard (October 11, 2007). Jesus, the Gospels, and Cinematic Imagination: A Handbook to Jesus on DVD. Louisville, Kentucky: Westminster John Knox Press. ISBN 9780664230319.
  • Turner, John G. (2008). Bill Bright and Campus Crusade for Christ : the renewal of evangelicalism in postwar America. Chapel Hill, NC: The University of North Carolina Press. p. 181-187. ISBN 978-0-8078-3185-4.


  1. ^ "Jesus (1979)". American Film Institute. Retrieved 5 July 2018.
  2. ^ "Film: Jesus". LUMIERE. Retrieved 5 July 2018.
  3. ^ Turner, 2008 & 181-182.
  4. ^ Come Help Change the World, by Bill Bright, pages 144-145
  5. ^ Jesus, the Gospels, and Cinematic Imagination Jeffrey Lloyd Staley, Richard G. Walsh - 2007 0664230318 "By 1978 Heyman had secured additional funding for his project and with Peter Sykes and John Krisch as directors, the decision was made to finish the Gospel of Luke. "
  6. ^ Turner & 2008 182.
  7. ^ DVD audio commentary
  8. ^ Turner & 2008 183.
  9. ^ Turner, 2008 & 183-184.
  10. ^ Shaila Dewan (2005-08-16). "Putting Jesus in Every Mailbox". New York Times.
  11. ^ a b Tom Buckley (1980-03-28). "Film:"Jesus" at Embassy; according to Luke". New York Times.
  12. ^ Kevin Thomas (1979-11-02). "A Sunday-School Treatment of 'Jesus'". L.A. Times. p. H30.
  13. ^ Turner & 2008 184.
  14. ^ "The JESUS Film HD". The JESUS Film. Retrieved 5 July 2018.
  15. ^ Franklin Foer (2004-02-08). "Baptism by celluloid". New York Times.
  16. ^ The New York Times, July 22, 2003, page 1AR "1979 Bible Film is the Most-Watched Movie of All Time"
  17. ^ Giles Wilson (2003-07-21). "The most watched film in history". BBC News.
  18. ^ a b Franklin Foer (February 8, 2004). "'The Passion's' Precedent: The Most-Watched Film Ever?". New York Times. Retrieved July 21, 2011.

External links[edit]