- Year: December 2006
- Director: Catherine Hardwicke
- Genre: Drama
- Rating: G
- Length: 1 Hr 40 min
- Stars: Keisha Castle-Hughes (Mary), Oscar Isaac (Joseph), Shohreh Aghdashloo (Elizabeth), and Ciaran Hinds (Herod).
- Award Winner: Heartland International Film Festival 2007 (“Truly Moving Picture”); Movie Guide Award 2007 (“Most Inspiring Movie”); Grace Award (“Most inspiring performance in a movie” – Oscar Isaac)
Travel Tip: Bethlehem
Travel Tip: Jerusalem
Authentic Nativity Scenario
No elaborate Medieval or Flemish Christmas scene; this film is as authentic a biblical scenario as one can get in the 21st century. The film diligently portrays the 2000 year old biblical setting in Palestine as accurately as possible. Watching the film after two recent trips to Israel, I was surprised to learn that it was shot in parts of Italy and Morocco. Cinematography is brilliant; costumes, props and sets were meticulously designed and chosen. Acting is superb and convincing.
The film is epic in scope while providing an intimate portrayal of this historical family. It is a wonderful family film which incorporates themes of hope, faith, love and commitment as well as historical insight that is both biblical and political.
Middle East Political Refugees
Seeing it when it first came out in 2006, it seemed a perfect film to watch this year on Christmas Eve when COVID has caused us to re-frame our holiday traditions and for me, to set my focus on the Reason for the Season: the First Christmas and the people in its story. It was also a good reminder of the political unrest continuing today in the Middle East; and the realization that, in fact, this little family was experiencing first-hand the life of political refugees.
Arm Chair Travel to Israel
In the midst of utter turmoil of the cruel Roman rule of Palestine in the 1st century BC, families struggled to survive. Into this scene, God chose a young woman to bring His Son as Savior into the world. Her faith, and that of the man who would become her husband, were severely put to the test. The film is about their physical and spiritual journey from Nazareth to Bethlehem, when the Baby, as prophesied, would be born.
Scenes in the film are not only authentic to biblical times, but also countryside such as one can see today in Israel. This picture is part of the olive trees seen today in Shepherd’s Field outside of Bethlehem; it is a common scene in the film.
This movie is not about art, but it is filled with culture. One can witness the culture of the collectivist middle eastern society much as it was in biblical times. Jewish–and middle eastern–traditions in general, are still carried out and can be experienced by the visitor in Israel today.
Travel on foot
As a visitor to Israel, I was greatly impacted on how far Jesus and His disciples walked to get from place to place.
Today’s 20 minute bus ride would have been a full day’s journey for them–up and down the hilly terrain. Mary and Joseph traveled over 100 miles from their home town of Nazareth to get to Bethlehem for the Roman census. What would be a two hour bus ride for us today could easily have taken several weeks for a couple on foot with a pregnant woman riding on a donkey, up and down the hills on rough terrain.
Sea of Galilee
For the traveler to Israel today, one can easily envision the movie scenes of Mary and Joseph walking along the Sea of Galilee en-route to Bethlehem. I can imagine the long discussions they shared as they anticipated what their future together might involve.
Their trek from Nazareth to Bethlehem also included dangerous travel on the hilly and often treacherous Palestinian countryside. Scenes of terrain such as this, shown in the film, can be experienced in Israel today.
Narrow, winding streets of the Old City today are much like they were when they were encountered by the tired, travel-weary couple over 2000 years ago.
The Temple Mount
The views of Jerusalem on the hilltop and site of the Temple Mount such as Mary and Joseph saw, are scenes today’s traveler will also experience. Although today Herod’s Temple has been replaced by the Islamic Dome on the Rock as the focal point of the city.
For today’s visitor to Jerusalem, the scenes in the film will provide a background on how things might have looked during the time of Jesus. I recommend a visit to the scale model of Old Jerusalem during Herodian times for wonderful perspective. It is in the courtyard of the Israel Museum next to the Shrine of the Book. imj.org.il/en
King Herod the Great
King Herod the Great, effectively played by Ciaran Hinds, portrays the insanely jealous, power-hungry ruler who feared not only the Jews, but also Rome. His torturous reign produced the cruelest of times for his Jewish subjects.
It is as evident today as it was during the birth of Christ. Bethlehem is not the quaint little village on a hillside as seen in the movie; it is a place where, other than for their tourist dollars, neither the Jew nor the Christian is welcome today. It is, in many ways, much as it was 2000 years ago when Mary and Joseph encountered a poor reception by Bethlehem’s hospitality service. Israel is a divided country with Bethlehem on the “other” side, so to speak.
Keisha Castle-Hughes (Mary) and Oscar Isaac (Joseph) are convincing in their roles as individuals and as a new couple faced with unique challenges, tests of faith, and the prospect of raising the Son of God.
This film confirms my desire to encourage anyone and everyone to travel to Israel if they have the opportunity. There are groups for everyone and generally quite reasonably priced. YEAH Educational Tours has always used Quest Travel Group out of Atlanta, GA. They are a Christian group with staff family members living in Israel to assist you in person on the ground when you get there. (Tell them Cher with YEAH sent you!)
Travel to Israel right now, as to most of the world, is very restrictive, so check on travel guidelines before you plan any in-person visit. Meanwhile, you can Arm Chair Travel by watching this film!
TRAVEL TIP: Is Bethlehem on your Wish List? Many travelers to Israel today are not able to visit this ancient city. If this is something on your “wish list,” check with your tour company for their input. Most will work with you. Evidently having the bus driver and guide of different faiths has helped get groups through the check points, we were told. (i.e. Muslim bus driver, Christian tour guide).