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March 5, 2016 by William H. Scarle, Jr. 813-835-0129

Unlike most Hollywood portrayals of the resurrection of Jesus, which leave us with the notion that something wonderful happened, Kevin Reynolds’ “Risen” gives us a picture of hard reality that the forces of society simply have to deal with.

The genre of “Risen” is historical fiction, as was “Ben-Hur,” “Quo Vadis,” and “The Robe.” The character of Clavius, a military tribune of Rome, is created to fill in what was certainly the political and religious context in Jerusalem at the time of Jesus’ crucifixion and resurrection.  He is a hardnosed Roman soldier who is given the responsibility to see that Jesus is dead, buried and stays buried in the light of rumors of a prophecy of his rising from the dead.

Clavius is diligent in his assignment.  Jesus is buried in the tomb of Joseph of Arimathea which is then sealed with Roman efficiency and patrolled by Roman guards.  Pontius Pilate is informed that the deed is done on Friday evening.

However, on Sunday Clavius has the unpleasant duty of informing Pilate that the tomb has been opened and the body of Jesus, Yeshua in Hebrew, is gone.  The story told by the guards is that Jesus’ Disciples stole the body.  Clavius’s assignment is to find the body, get it back into the tomb and make sure it stays there.

The genius of this plot line is that it pictures the resurrection from the point of view of unbelievers.  Clavius seeks out the Disciples in an effort to discover where they hid the body of Jesus.  He picks through the gruesome burial pit where all the victims of crucifixion are discarded.  He reports to Pilate his lack of success.

The historical detail is carefully researched and presented.  The biblical material is also rendered faithfully with a few exceptions.  Jesus ascends in the Galilee rather than in Jerusalem.  The Upper Room is reduced to the first floor.  However, these are probably due to production problems and do not detract from the main story line.

This is a film that will take the viewer into the historical reality we read about in our Bibles.  It presents the resurrection as an inescapable historical fact that demanded a response from both the Roman and religious worlds of first century Israel.

I have purposely avoided reporting on the conclusion of the film’s story.  However, I am hopeful that Sony/Columbia will continue the narrative in a follow-up film on the events of Pentecost.  If they keep the same director and are as careful about their sources as in this film I think it would by worthwhile.

This is a film that is worth a family outing during this Lenten season.  There are a few scenes that are somewhat violent.  The Roman world was often cruel.  However, with this caution it is a worthwhile venture.

(Bill Scarle can be contacted at  END-whs