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Series / Jesus of Nazareth

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"Now it begins. It all begins."

Jesus of Nazareth is an Anglo-Italian mini-series made in 1977 about the life of Jesus. Co-written and directed by Franco Zeffirelli and produced by Sir Lew Grade, it stars Robert Powell in the titular role and has an exceptionally strong supporting cast making up the rest of 1st-century Judea. Zeffirelli made the project after he was asked directly by Pope Paul VI to make a film about the life of Jesus from his birth to the crucifixion and all the way to his resurrection. In order to make a more accurate film, various religious authorities were consulted besides the Vatican, including the Leo Baeck Rabbinical College in London and the Koranic School in Meknes, Morocco.

Jesus of Nazareth is shown on television in several countries around the world at least once every year.


  • Actually Pretty Funny: When Peter sets off his first Motive Rant, Jesus has a lot of fun, and it shows.
  • Adaptation Expansion: The miniseries expands upon the Zealots, the main anti-Roman La Résistance organization of 1st-century Judea. One major subplot has them trying to co-opt John the Baptist (and later Jesus) to their cause and incite Jews to declare open revolt. Simon and Judas are both members who infiltrate Jesus's inner circle for that purpose, though the former fully commits. Barabbas is also an active member who interacted with Jesus a few times. The subplot culminates in a failed assassination attempt on Herod Antipas, for which Amos, leader of Simon and Judas's cell, and several of his comrades were immediately executed.
  • Adipose Rex: Herod the Great, played by Peter Ustinov.
  • Affably Evil: King Herod the Great, initially. His son Antipas seems to have traces of this, screaming at John the Baptist not to force him to have him executed.
  • All of the Other Reindeer: Until she met Jesus, Mary Magdelene was given a hard time by the townspeople, including a band of juvenile delinquents, for being a prostitute.
  • Always with You: Jesus directly responds to Peter's Please, Don't Leave Me speech, assuring him that he will always be there for him and the rest of his fellow disciples until the end of time.
  • Ascended Extra:
    • The Roman centurion played by Ernest Borgnine, whose servant Jesus heals, also appears at the crucifixion.
    • Both Joseph of Arimathea and Nicodemus (James Mason and Laurence Olivier, respectively) appear more often than they do in the Gospels.
  • Aside Glance: Doubles with Leaning on the Fourth Wall, when Joseph and Mary exchange marital oaths early in the movie. One of the witnesses looks straight into the camera at one point with the following words (while showing a broad smile):
  • Beauty Equals Goodness: Mary (Olivia Hussey) does not appear to age until during Jesus' crucifixion.
  • Bible Times: Of course, but with the additional bonus of multiple scenes which highlight life as it was back in 1st-century Judea, the result of extensive research.
  • Blind Seer: Herod the Great has one in his palace.
  • Canon Foreigner: Ian Holm's Zerah does not feature in any of the Gospels but instead was made up for the series in order to give Judas motivation to betray Jesus.
  • Cold Ham: Caiaphas does not say much in his two scenes, but his slow Shatneresque delivery and moments of quiet anguish definitely have a trace of this.
  • Composite Character:
    • Both Roman centurions who appear in the Gospels (the one with the ill servant and the one who stands at the foot of the cross) are made into the same character.
    • Mary Magdalene is equated with the unnamed sinful woman (who anoints Jesus with perfume, washes his feet with her tears and dries it with her hair) as seen in Catholic tradition.
  • Deadpan Snarker: Zera. Both snarky and pretty deadpan to boot.
  • Death by Adaptation: There is a scene that shows Joseph dying despite the fact that this is not mentioned in the Gospels. It's generally accepted by scholars that Joseph must have died in Jesus's youth, though, since the Gospels never mention him again after Jesus's childhood.
  • Demanding Their Head: The story of the Beheading of John the Baptist is depicted in the miniseries. Salome dances, King Herod promises her whatever she wants, and, at the behest of her mother, she requests the head of John the Baptist. Herod obeys and executes John the Baptist.
  • Driven to Suicide: Judas hangs himself after he realizes he has led Jesus to his death.
  • Dying Moment of Awesome: It is about Jesus, so what did you expect?
  • Facepalm: Even here. Judas does a double one when Jesus insults pretty much the entire Sanhedrin with his "The Reason You Suck" Speech in part two. And then there is Pontius Pilate, who seems to facepalm quite a lot when he rubs his forehead, pondering how to ever govern such people.
  • Finger-Tenting: Zerah does this in the scene where he tells Judas how much the Sanhedrin knows about Jesus' ministry.
  • Game Changer: Much of the miniseries focuses on the impact of Jesus's ministry in 1st-century Judea.
  • The Ghost: Tiberius Caesar, who is mentioned many times throughout the mini-series, but is not actually seen.
  • Ghost Extras: There were literally thousands in this mini-series.
  • Gory Discretion Shot: When Jesus is flogged by the Romans.
  • Heel–Faith Turn: Unlike his fellow Zealots who wish to co-opt Jesus's message to their ends, Simon becomes convinced that he was never meant to incite a revolution with arms, but that of hearts.
  • Heroic BSoD: After Jesus dies, Peter is briefly shown weeping in regret over unintentionally fulfilling Jesus's prophecy about him denying him thrice before daybreak.
  • If You Kill Him, You Will Be Just Like Him!: Jesus warns Barrabas that if he responds to the Romans' violence with violence, they'd be no different.
  • Invisible to Normals: The Angels, to mortals. During the Annunciation scene Mary's mother is woken up when her daughter knocks some pots over, and sees what appears to be Mary talking to herself, since we only hear her side of the conversation with (what we presume to be) Gabriel.
  • Jewish Complaining:
    • In a movie set in first century Palestine. In this case, a farmer who has ordered Joseph to make him a new plow, who fits the trope as a Funny Background Event while the child Jesus climbs a ladder to get closer to the skies.
    • Peter, who sets off his Establishing Character Moment as a man who has a lot to complain about.
  • Large Ham:
    • John the baptist. Michael York runs on scenery chewing most of the time. He only quiets down when he meets Jesus. His bellowing even disturbs king Herod´s exquisite banquet and has to be shut down by loud music.
    • Herod the Great has some moments as well.
  • Oh, Crap!: When Antipas is asked to deliver the head of the Baptist, his face drops and he descends into meaningless sobbing and babbling.
  • Occult Blue Eyes: Perhaps the most notable thing about Powell's Jesus are his extremely clear blue eyes. He also barely blinks. He does blink once, and it's a "look away and you'll miss it" type thing. This technique was deliberate on the part of the director; he wanted to add an air of divinity to the character by calling attention to the actor's gorgeous eyes.
  • Omniglot: In this iteration, Judas is a linguist whose pre-apostle career was translating documents.
  • Out of Focus: After the execution of the failed assassins, Herod Antipas is out of the story, his scriptural audience with Jesus omitted from the series
  • Pietà Plagiarism: Rubbing off the "plagiarism" part of the trope, as it is meant to show the real thing: Mary holding the dead Jesus in her arms post Crucifixion.
  • Please, Don't Leave Me: Peter's pleas to Jesus at the very end of the movie:
    "Please, stay with us, Lord, for the night cometh, and the day is far spent."
  • Punch-Clock Villain: Pontius Pilate.
  • Reasonable Authority Figure: Both Pilate & Quintilius are reluctant to sentence Jesus to death, given he has not broken any Roman rules. Pilate even gives the crowd the choice between having either Jesus or Barabbas released. Caiaphas too, at the hearing before the Sanhedrin, is explicit that his intention is to understand Jesus's mission, rather than to treat him like a criminal. Averted in the case of Zerah: when he first meets Jesus, he appears to meet this, but then turns out to be the main villain.
  • "The Reason You Suck" Speech: Jesus does this to the scribes and Pharisees in the Temple when he has his Unstoppable Rage moment towards the end third part of the mini-series.
  • Rule of Symbolism: The "Five breads and two fishes" scene. Note that Mary Magdalene is one of the many receiving from the bread basket. When she visibly breaks down crying after her first bite, we know this is not ordinary bread, but serves as a foreshadowing to the last supper. Mary visibly changes clothes after this incident as well.
  • Shown Their Work: To ensure the accuracy of the setting with regards to 1st-century Judea, the production team also consulted Jewish and Muslim scholars.
  • This Is Gonna Suck: Zerah's reaction at the end upon discovering that Jesus's grave is empty (despite heavy Roman security), realizing that this could be the beginning of drastic changes in Judea.
  • Token Good Teammate:
    • Ernest Borgnine's centurion for the Romans
    • Nicodemus and Joseph of Arimathea for the Sanhedrin.
  • Unstoppable Rage: Jesus rants at the Pharisees in the Temple and later destroys the moneychangers' tables on the Temple grounds.
  • Villain Respect: Habakkuk, the lead priest who throughout the series has been one of Jesus' harshest critics - marvels that even as he is being crucified, Jesus still quotes the Scriptures.
  • Well-Intentioned Extremist: Judas's portrayal in the miniseries — he sincerely believes that Jesus will lead an open revolt against the Romans (unlike Simon, a fellow Zealot-turned-disciple, who believes Jesus meant something else) and only betrays him to the Sanhedrin to force him to explain himself. It doesn't go well.
  • You Are Not Alone: Peter when he tells Jesus that he will stick by and protect him no matter what happens.
  • Your Terrorists Are Our Freedom Fighters: The Zealots.