Jesus (1979 film)

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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.

Plot summary[edit]

Jesus begins with the narrator explaining that the story is based on the Gospel of Luke as narrated by Luke to Theophilus. During the days of Emperor Augustus and King Herod the Great, Mary is visited by the angel Gabriel who tells her that she will give birth to Jesus, the Son of God. Later, Mary visits Elizabeth, the mother of John the Baptist, who tells her that she is the most blessed of women and that her child is blessed.

When the Romans hold a census, Mary travels with her husband Joseph to his hometown of Bethlehem to register. There, Jesus is born in a manger. An angel visits a group of shepherds, proclaiming that the Messiah has been born. A week later, Mary and Joseph travel to Jerusalem to present Jesus at the Temple. There, they are greeted by Simeon, who blesses Jesus as the Christ. Mary and Joseph then return to their hometown of Nazareth.

At the age of twelve, Jesus becomes separated from his parents during a Passover trip to Jerusalem. They find him among the religious leaders and teachers. When Mary asks about his whereabouts, Jesus tells them that he was in His Father's house. Years later, during the reign of Emperor Tiberius and King Herod Antipas, John the Baptist begins his preaching ministry. He baptizes Jesus in the Jordan River and the Holy Spirit descends upon Jesus. Jesus is subsequently tempted in the wilderness by Satan but withstands the Devil's trials.

Later, Jesus preaches that he is the Messiah that Isaiah prophesied and narrowly escapes being killed by the angry crowd. Traveling to Capernaum, Jesus recruits the disciples Peter, James, and John after helping them to find a large haul of fish. During his preaching ministry, Jesus resurrects the daughter of Jairus. Jesus then recruits twelve apostles from among His disciples including Matthew and Judas Iscariot. Jesus' followers also include several women including Mary Magdalene, Joanna, and Susanna.

The film covers several of Jesus' teachings and messages including the parable of the Pharisee and the tax collector, the Beatitudes, the Golden Rule, loving your enemy, and the Parable of the Sower. While visiting the home of the Pharisee Simon, a sinful woman anoints Jesus' feet, prompting Jesus to forgive her sins.

Jesus and his disciples later travel across the Sea of Galilee where he calms the storm. At Gerasa, Jesus exorcises a demon-possessed man and the demons enter a herd of swine. At Bethsaida, Jesus feeds five thousand with five loaves and two pieces of fish. Later, Jesus and his disciples travel up a mountain where Jesus encounters the prophets Moses and Elijah and is transfigured.

As Jesus' preaching and healing ministry grows, he reaches out to the sinners and outcasts including prostitutes and tax collectors, earning the ire of the Pharisees and religious teachers. When Jesus heals a sick woman, a Pharisee chastises him for healing on the Sabbath. Jesus calls him a hypocrite and tells him that he would untie his ox to give it straw or water on the Sabbath. Jesus also befriends the tax collector Zaccheus, convincing him to repay people he has extorted. While preaching the Parable of the Good Samaritan, Jesus befriends a little girl and tells his disciples not to forbid the little children from coming to Him.

Jesus and his disciples later travel to Jerusalem to fulfill his mission to die for the sins of humanity. Jesus draws the attention of the Pharisees, Jewish religious leaders, and Romans after he drives the merchants out of the Temple. In Jerusalem, Jesus praises a widow for offering her livelihood of two copper coins. He also teaches the Parable of the Tenants and to pay taxes to Caesar. At the Last Supper, Jesus warns his disciples of his impending betrayal and death. Judas conspires with the religious leaders to betray Jesus.

At the Garden of Gethsemane, Jesus is betrayed by Judas and captured by the Jewish authorities. Peter denies knowing Jesus three times before the cock crows. The following day, Jesus is condemned by the religious leaders. He is then brought before by Pontius Pilate, who sends him to Herod. While Pilate exonerates Jesus of wrongdoing, the Jesus leaders and crowd demand Jesus' death. Pilate releases Barabbas and reluctantly condemns Jesus to crucifixion.

After being scourged, Jesus is forced to carry his cross through the streets. When he collapses from exhaustion, Simon of Cyrene is obliged to carry his cross. When a woman serves him water, Jesus tells her not to weep for him but for themselves and their children. At Golgotha, Jesus is crucified besides two robbers, one of whom recognizes him as the Messiah. following Jesus' death at noon, the sky is plunged into darkness and the curtain of the Temple is ripped through the middle.

Joseph of Arimathea buries Jesus in a tomb. Jesus rises from the dead on the third day. He later appears to his disciples and followers, reassuring that his death and resurrection is in accordance with Bible prophecy. Before ascending back to Heaven, Jesus tells them that all power and authority has been given to Him and commands them to go and make disciples of all nations.


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.

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