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TV Series Review: The Chosen

The Chosen is a television drama streaming on its own app. The team behind The Chosen aims to bring the stories of the gospels of Jesus to the public in a free and accessible way, using character development, backstories and dialogue to support the truth and message of the Scriptures. It is the first multi-season series based on the life of Jesus of Nazareth and season one was the highest crowd-funded TV series or film project of all time.

Creator/Director: Dallas Jenkins

Production Company: Loaves & Fishes Production; Angel Studios

Season 1: Released 2019

Genre: Biblical Fiction; Historical fiction, Christian history

Season One sets the atmosphere of Galilee in the time of Jesus, giving context to the Hebrew culture and the pressures of Roman occupation and religious authorities. It also ties Old Testament prophecies into the telling of New Testament stories. Season One takes us from the beginning of Jesus’ ministry to the story of the woman at the well.

The Chosen does a wonderful job of bringing the stories of Jesus to life and developing the characters of Peter, Matthew, and Nicodemus; you can see their struggles and spiritual growth.

The Chosen minimizes the women’s roles, showing them as either as immoral or having a minor role without multi-dimensional development. Season One shows only one woman who becomes a disciple travelling with Jesus, Mary Magdalene. She is portrayed as being orphaned young, sexually abused, incoherent and depressed from demon possessed. Travelling as the only woman with several men she is shown as a reformed prostitute unconcerned with her reputation. The mother of Jesus is in the episode at the wedding of Cana but does not become a disciple and will not show up again with the disciples until Season 2. The Chosen invents the fictional character of Ramah, as a friend for the apostle Thomas. The Chosen misses the opportunity to portray the many non-fictional biblical women or to show their spiritual development.

*spoilers ahead*

Episode 1: I have Called you by Name

Pro: Develops the story of Peter and his financial struggles, and Nicodemus and his spiritual struggles.

Cons: The creators perpetuate the traditional, unbiblical view of Mary Magdalene as a prostitute in the Red Quarter called Lilith, a name that literally means “night monster”. The Bible does not portray Mary Magdalene as a woman of the night but as a woman healed of seven demons who financially supports Jesus.

Episode 2: Shabbat

Pros: Excellent portrayal of how the Sabbath was historically observed by the Jews of various classes. Wonderful development of Matthew’s character as an outcast due to being a tax collector.

Con: It is not clear how Mary Magdalene comes to own a large home to host a Sabbath dinner, and how she knows the several people to come to dinner as her guests. Zohara, Nicodemus’ wife, is shown as highly materialistic leading her husband away from seeking God. No other roles for women in this episode.

Episode 3: Jesus Loves the Little Children

Pros: Shows Jesus before he begins his ministry, befriending children, shown as loving

Cons: Misses opportunity to develop characters of women in Nazareth, such as his mother or Mary of Clopas. To depict Jesus before he begins his ministry, it is interesting that The Chosen uses this fictional story, rather than a biblical story such as the temptation in the desert or the baptism of Jesus.

Episode 4: The Rock on Which it is Built

Pros: Jesus provides a miraculous catch of fish and Peter admits his faults and begins to change his ways and follow Jesus. Peter’s wife, Eden, is portrayed as a strong woman of faith, following the laws of Moses and her family duties. Eden admonishes Peter for not being faithful and teaches him to observe their faith. However, she is seen as a bit of a nag to Peter and he comes to spiritual realizations on his own. Excellent development of the characters of Matthew, Nicodemus, and the Romans.

Cons: The Bible shows Zebedee staying in his fishing boat when his sons, James and John, are called to follow Jesus and the Chosen shows him as being supportive of his sons leaving fishing to follow Jesus. The Bible shows Salome, Zebedee's wife, as a faithful disciple and follower, while The Chosen shows Salome only as an excellent cook. Unclear why he is shown in the best light while she is shown in the weakest interpretation. The show misses the opportunity to develop the character of Salome or other women in Capernaum.

Episode 5: The Wedding Gift

Pros: Wonderful depiction of Hebrew wedding in Cana; I like the comparison of Jesus at age twelve in the temple and Jesus as an adult asked to make wine for the wedding, both times with the ancient Jewish quote “if not now, when”. Not sure if the writers realized this quote was also used by Emma Watson in kicking off her "HeforShe" campaign for gender equality. Jesus’ mother Mary is shown as having faith in Jesus and his calling. The Chosen introduces a fictional woman named Ramah as a friend and co-worker of Thomas who becomes an apostle.

Cons: Very unlikely that Mary Magdalene would have travelled unchaperoned as the sole woman with several men. The Bible says there were "many women" who followed Jesus, named and unnamed, yet these are excluded from The Chosen. There is little to explain why Mary of Nazareth feels responsible for the wedding being hosted by her friend or responsible for its wine shortage.

Episode 6: Indescribable Compassion

Pros: Showing Jesus healing a leper and healing a paralytic. I appreciate that this episode has a multi-racial cast and includes a role for a black woman in bringing the paralytic to Jesus and a role for Mary Magdalene in arranging the meeting for Nicodemus and Jesus.

Cons: The wife of Nicodemus is portrayed as pulling her husband away from faithfulness. Women are either causing men to sin or they have a minor role; their characters are not developed.

Episode 7: Invitations

Pros: Matthew and Nicodemus each make a big decision to support Jesus; I loved the quote in this episode, "Get used to different". Jesus says this to Peter in explaining why he called a tax collector to be a disciple. To me, this quote shows that Jesus is countering the traditional religious leaders of that time and of today.

Cons: Very few women; "Get used to different" does not seem to apply to including women. Nicodemus’s wife and Matthew’s mother are both portrayed as unsupportive women with no spiritual understanding;

Episode 8: I Am He

Pros: Jesus shows compassion for Peter’s marriage and family and respect for Photina and for all Samaritans; Episode shows Photina’s intelligence, her scriptural knowledge, and her spiritual realization that Jesus is the Messiah she has been waiting for. I loved it when the woman says she will tell everyone and Jesus says "I was counting on it". This quote shows Jesus authorized the Samaritan woman to be a disciple and apostle.

Cons: The Bible explains Jesus is returning from Jerusalem via Samaria to escape being caught by the religious authorities after healing many at the Passover festival; in contrast, the Chosen shows Jesus going to Jerusalem via Samaria and staying an extra two days, which would make him late for the Passover festival. Prior to leaving Capernaum, The Chosen shows Jesus healing Peter's mother-in-law to relieve Peter's duties while minimizing the faith or impact on Peter's wife or mother.

The episode says everyone rejected Photina except Jesus; yet everyone in Sychar respects Photina enough to listen to her tell them about Jesus. The Bible shows Photina living with a man other than her husband (after being divorced) while The Chosen portrays Photina as more immoral, living with a man other than her husband while she remains married. Photina is depicted as causing men to be sinful tomcats and requesting a divorce, even though that was not legal in that era. Highly unlikely a woman had the nerve and education to write up a certificate of divorce. In this episode, Photina wants a divorce while her husband, Neriah, is shown as ailing but wealthy and he refuses to divorce. However, in S2E1 Neriah is healthy and he and Photina invite Jesus and his disciples to stay the night. There is no explanation of why Photina no longer wants a divorce, how she breaks up with the man she is living with or reconciles with Neriah.

As I said at the outset, The Chosen does a wonderful job developing the characters and motivations of Jesus, Peter, Matthew, and Nicodemus. In my view, however, the women's roles are often maligned, belittled, or forgotten.

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