First Christians are focus of PBS Christmas season TV series

(Photo: REUTERS / Ammar Awad)Father Pierbattista Pizzaballa (C), custodian of the Holy Land, ceremonially launches the beginning of the Christmas season at the Church of the Nativity, the site revered as the birthplace of Jesus, in the West Bank city of Bethlehem November 24, 2012.

The first Christians will be the focus of a two-part PBS TV series being rebroadcast on Frontline on December 24 and 31.

"From Jesus to Christ: The First Christians" tells the epic story of the rise of Christianity and it is to broadcast at from 10 p.m. to midnight on EST each night of the nights it shown.

Frontline is a public affairs television program that produces and broadcasts in-depth documentaries at WGBH-TV in Boston, Massachusetts and is distributed through the Public Broadcasting Service (PBS) in the United States.

The series is produced by Marilyn Mellowes and directed by William Cran, presenting a secular account of the rise of Christianity.

The four hours two-part series, broacast first in 2009, explores the life and death of Jesus, and the men and women whose belief, conviction, and martyrdom created Christianity.

PBS says it draws upon historical evidence and the series challenges familiar assumptions and conventional notions about Christian origins.

"Archaeological finds have yielded new understandings of Jesus' class and social status; fresh interpretations have transformed earlier ideas about the identity of the early Christians and their communities," says Frontline on its website.

The four-hour series uses on-camera interviews with 12 including New Testament theologians, archaeologists, and historians.

The first program looks at how the Gospel accounts came to be written, struggles between differing Christian sects, and how Rome emerged as the center of the early Church.


Henry Herx writes in Catholic News Service, "Drawing on the input of 12 New Testament scholars, this four-hour series tries to avoid the oversimplifications and slippery generalizations that have generated controversy in the public arena."

Herx, the former director of the Office for Film & Broadcasting of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, say that such research can be prone to misunderstanding as its results "are often provisional rather than definitive" and can be left out or worked on as new discoveries occur.

The first section of the series deals fully with the Jewish world in which Jesus was born, which Herx says is useful in reading the Gospel accounts of his life.

"What is central in the historical context is the subjection of Judea to Roman rule and the rise of political rebels and messianic sects looking for a new kingdom to replace the old," he says.

"The series will, however, antagonize those who take a strictly literal view of the Gospel accounts and surely irritate most historians by using the clunky B.C.E. (Before the Common Era) to replace the common usage and historically correct B.C. (Before Christ)."

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