The Nativity Story

Covering the 2006 movie "The Nativity Story," about the story of Mary and Joseph
and their journey together as they bring the Messiah into the world.

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Thursday, November 30, 2006

"Nativity" seeks same "Passion" audience

‘Nativity’ hopes to catch ‘Passion’ crowd
Film about Jesus’ birth brought together an odd cast of actors, filmmakers
The Associated Press
Updated: 5:58 p.m. ET Nov 28, 2006

LOS ANGELES - Mel Gibson showed the world the mercilessly bloody end of Jesus Christ’s mortal life in “The Passion of the Christ.” Now the makers of “The Nativity Story” offer Christ’s sweet, humble beginnings in a stable — which, remarkably, Hollywood has not focused on before.

“It surprised all of us that someone hadn’t beaten us to the punch,” said Marty Bowen, who quit his job as a talent agent to produce the movie with longtime friend Wyck Godfrey.

“I think a lot of times in Hollywood, the right idea comes along at the right time, and it becomes in retrospect, ‘Wow, why didn’t I think of that?”’ Godfrey said.

The story of Christ’s birth in Bethlehem has been depicted many times in film and television, but generally as only the beginning of the saga such as in the miniseries “Jesus of Nazareth,” or as a backdrop for another tale such as the animated Christmas special “The Little Drummer Boy.”

“The Nativity Story,” opening Friday, takes the scant accounts of Christ’s birth in the New Testament and fleshes the story out to a simple but evocative drama.

Screenwriter Mike Rich hit on the idea in December two years ago, when both Time and Newsweek arrived in the mail bearing cover stories on the Nativity.

“It wasn’t like I saw those covers and went, ‘Aha! This is what I need to write,”’ Rich said. “I read both of the articles, and I was kind of struck by the fact that we rarely look at that story from a character standpoint. When we put out our little Nativity sets, they’re kind of inanimate objects.”

Strange bedfellows
An unlikely cast of actors and filmmakers bring “The Nativity Story” to the screen.

Rich’s screenplay credits are highlighted by the sports flicks “The Rookie” and “Radio.”

Australian actress Keisha Castle-Hughes, an Academy Award nominee for “Whale Rider,” had to overcome her thick Kiwi accent to play the Virgin Mary. Guatamalan-American actor Oscar Isaac plays Jesus’ stepdad Joseph, while Iranian-born Shohreh Aghdashloo co-stars as Mary’s cousin Elizabeth, mother of John the Baptist.

Director Catherine Hardwicke previously made “Lords of Dogtown,” about the youths who pioneered extreme skateboarding styles, and the acclaimed independent hit “thirteen,” the story of a teenage girl caught up in a pal’s life of drugs and petty crime.

To Hardwicke, the idea of directing “The Nativity Story” did not seem the right fit — until she read the script and thought about the possibilities of chronicling the world’s most notable birth on a very personal level.

“It is a movie about probably the most famous teenager ever, who’s got her issues and obstacles, too,” Hardwicke said.

“The film is about this young woman’s spiritual journey,” Aghdashloo said. “It’s about Joseph’s pure love for this woman. It’s not an easy thing for a man to share his wife with God.”

“The Nativity Story” has it all: Mary and Joseph’s journey to Bethlehem, King Herod’s order to slay the first-born over his paranoia about prophecies of a new king, the angel Gabriel’s appearance to shepherds in the field, the trek of the Three Magi from the East.

Capturing ‘The Passion’s’ audience
Though not dreamed up as a bookend to Gibson’s “The Passion of the Christ,” the filmmakers and distributor New Line Cinema hope they can capture a solid chunk of the audience that made that film such an unlikely blockbuster.

With classy production values and straightforward drama, “The Nativity Story” stands apart from a holiday-movie season crowded with lighter Christmas offerings such as the comedies “Deck the Halls” and “The Santa Clause 3: The Escape Clause.”

The tale of the first Christmas has a ready-made audience, producer Bowen said.

“There are faith-based movies being made, but usually for micro-budgets, and usually designed to reach a very specific niche market,” Bowen said. “Our argument to New Line was: Well, if 200 million Americans who consider themselves Christians are a niche, then that’s a niche that maybe you should consider working with.”

“The Nativity Story” lacks Gibson’s star power or the religious firestorm that preceded the movie over Jewish leaders’ fears that it could stoke anti-Semitism. But unlike Gibson’s film, whose savage scourging and crucifixion scenes brought a restrictive R rating, the PG-rated “Nativity Story” can play to all audiences, including family crowds.

Director Hardwicke, who started as a production designer, said Gibson set a standard for authenticity and historical detail that she tried to match. Though far softer than the horrors depicted in “The Passion of the Christ,” “The Nativity Story” does carry a tactile sense of the struggles Mary and Joseph underwent on their journey.

“By the end, it does mean something. It’s not just little action figures you put together in your manger scene on nice comfortable hay. It’s real animal crap in there and real sores on their hands and feet that are bleeding,” Isaac said. “It cost them something to travel to Bethlehem.”

The film’s depiction of Christ’s birth in a lowly stable is gentle, inspiring and beatific — just the thing to remind audiences preparing for the Christmas frenzy about where the holiday came from.

“There’s a line in the script, ‘the greatest of kings born in the most humble of places,”’ Hardwicke said. “That’s revolutionary. It’s saying the power is not a physical power. It’s not riches, it’s not money, it’s not control of governments and nations. It’s a deeper power, spirituality. ...

“It’s revolutionary even now. We can’t even grasp that now. We think we need all the trappings and physical things to be happy, but that’s not necessarily the case.”

© 2006 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

Wednesday, November 29, 2006

Joseph is "Nativity's" real achievement

Stepping Out of the Wings
The real achievement of 'The Nativity Story' is its portrayal of Joseph.
David Neff posted 11/29/2006 08:50AM

When news about The Nativity Story (opening Dec. 1) first started circulating, the welcomest bit of information was that Keisha Castle-Hughes (Whale Rider) would play the Virgin Mary. What a stroke of casting genius, I thought. The winsome Castle-Hughes had the right combination of age, appearance, and camera-friendly charisma.

But what is most memorable about The Nativity Story is not its portrayal of Mary (though Castle-Hughes plays her part admirably). The movie's real achievement is its narrative exposition of what Matthew meant when he wrote that Joseph was a "just man" (KJV). My Greek lexicon singles out Matthew 1:19 to suggest that here "good" or "honest" would be preferred translations. In any case, he was a man of virtue.

Mike Rich's (Radio, The Rookie, Finding Forrester) script imagines for us how Joseph might have put his virtue into practice.

Played by Oscar Isaac—a 2005 graduate of the Juilliard School and a hot young actor in both film and theater—Joseph is self-sacrificing. One telling invention of the screenplay occurs when Mary's father Joaquim cannot pay his full tax, and the Roman enforcers take his donkey as partial payment. (This is a tragedy because Joaquim needs the donkey to make a living.) The generous Joseph buys Joaquim's donkey back from a Roman who is going to kill it. (A donkey is no use to a warrior.) Joseph gives the donkey to Mary to return to her father.

Castle-Hughes's Mary is ambivalent, confused. She has nothing against Joseph, but she is hardly excited about the idea of spending her life with the man her parents have decided she will marry. She and her friends have been playfully flirting with another boy, but Joseph is the one her father has chosen for her. Now, in rescuing the donkey, Joseph proves his exceptional kindness.

Later, when Mary becomes pregnant, Joseph chooses to share her shame. At every turn, whether dealing with the disapproving stares of the Nazarenes, the dangers on the road to Bethlehem, or the threat of an impending birth without a birthplace—Joseph is shown to be the watchful protector of his wife and her unborn son. The movie's best moment, and also its most humorous, occurs when the longsuffering Joseph leads Mary and the donkey past disapproving neighbors as they leave Nazareth for Bethlehem. "They're really gong to miss us," he quips, deflecting their censoriousness and lifting Mary's spirits in a single stroke.

In one telling scene along the long trek to Bethlehem, Joseph and Mary eat their daily bread ration. Then we see Joseph slipping part of his share to the famished donkey. This is Joseph as Francis of Assisi, loving people and beasts alike.

Precarious Existence

Life for the people and beasts of The Nativity Story is portrayed realistically, at least in the first leg of the story. Life is precarious. Existence is fragile. One never knows when crops might fail or Roman tax collectors might seize your assets.

The rough texture of the characters' clothing is palpable on the big screen. Mary does not wear the refined veil of the painterly tradition.

The rhythms of agricultural life—treading the winepress, picking olives, harvesting grain—frame the storytelling. Faith and its rituals also play an important role. Prayer, teaching children their prophetic heritage, circumcising and naming newborn males—these things fit naturally into the rhythms of life.

This realism is the result of screenwriter Rich's careful research and the commitment from director Catherine Hardwicke to make the movie as true to first-century life as possible.

Unfortunately, that makes the film's departures from history even more jolting. The magi are portrayed as three kings (rather than simply members of a Persian priestly elite), and their arrival is choreographed to match that of the adoring shepherds. But almost all biblical scholars place the arrival of the magi somewhere between one and two years after Jesus' birth.

Rich told CT Movies' Mark Moring that he wanted to tell the story of the "quintessential Nativity scene." So the movie narrates the story of the magi and their journey in parallel with the events that move Mary and Joseph toward Bethlehem and the birth of Jesus. For literary reasons, the two story lines peak at the same point. But Matthew and Luke report these stories separately; the Bible is not bound by romantic literary conventions.

Love Conquers History

Yet it is romantic conventions in which The Nativity Story deals. When does Mary's growing appreciation of Joseph's kindness turn to affection? After Joseph rescues Mary from a water snake, and he is resting by the riverbank, Mary takes Joseph's travel-blistered feet in her hands and bathes them tenderly. At this moment, Mary seems to stop tolerating this man of boundless good intentions and start loving him back.

The Nativity Story is a love story. And a love story demands a happy ending. But neither Matthew nor Luke is recording a love story. For them, the infancy narratives are an important part of authenticating Jesus' messiahship as foretold in the Hebrew Scriptures. The visions of the angelic messengers are correlated to birth announcements made to Sarah and Manoah's wife. Mary and Elizabeth's unexpected pregnancies, each miraculous in its own way, are correlated to the conceptions of Isaac, Samson, and Samuel. The fulfilling of ancient prophecies, the repetition of paradigmatic moments in Hebrew history, and the impenetrable genealogies are integral to the Gospel writers' purposes. The ecstatic utterances of Mary, Zechariah, and Simeon parallel the song of Hannah. The homage of the magi and the escape to Egypt have more prophetic than dramatic significance. All these things are evidence of who Jesus is and is to be.

For the Gospel writers, then, the Jesus story does not climax in the stable. It climaxes in the Cross. Thus, the horrendous slaughter of Bethlehem's children is not out of place in Matthew. Nor is it primarily an atrocity perpetrated by a vain and unstable tyrant. It is, rather, an attack on God's anointed.

But since The Nativity Story of necessity focuses on the birth narratives alone, and because it chooses to explore the personal dynamics of two young adults caught up in the greatest moment in history, it cannot do what the Gospels do. It consequently shies away from giving full weight to Herod's satanic massacre of Bethlehem's babies. Matthew responds to Herod's wickedness by quoting the weeping prophet Jeremiah: "A voice was heard in Ramah, weeping and loud lamentation, Rachel weeping for her children; she refused to be comforted. …" For the Gospel writer, there is no resolution: "She refused to be comforted, because they are no more." I have no doubt that the historical Joseph and Mary lived with the specter of that bloodshed for the rest of their days. This film, on the other hand, runs from the horror and quickly reverts into "Silent Night"-happy ending mode.The shift from the realism of Mary and Joseph's life in Nazareth to the romantic iconography of the Nativity scene seems to be a surrender to the romantic structure of the plot. The gritty reality of village life in first-century Palestine is abandoned in favor of Christmas-card sentimentality, with wise men, shepherds, animals, and the holy family posing as if they were ceramic figurines on your mantelpiece.

Such departures from realism do not doom The Nativity Story any more than fanciful scenes with the angel Clarence doom It's a Wonderful Life. The Nativity Story is not boldly realistic like The Passion of the Christ. It is, however, a heart-warming reconstruction of the growing and tender relationship of history's most famous couple. And unlike The Passion, it has the promise of a long life on DVD, as it becomes a family favorite to watch Christmas after Christmas.

David Neff is editor of Christianity Today and executive editor of Christian History & Biography. For complete coverage of The Nativity Story, go to

Copyright © 2006 Christianity Today. Click for reprint information.

Tuesday, November 28, 2006

CT Movies interviews Catherine Hardwicke (director)

Another thorough interview has been posted by Mark Moring of Christianity Today Movies:

'The Human Part of the Story'
Catherine Hardwicke has always loved the Christmas story, but never really considered the human side of those famous icons surrounding the manger—till she was asked to direct The Nativity Story.
by Mark Moring posted 11/28/2006

Before this year, Catherine Hardwicke had directed two films—Thirteen, an intense depiction of a seventh-grade girl rebelling against her single mom and getting into all sorts of trouble, and Lords of Dogtown, an edgy drama about skateboarders in the 1970s. Both films featured sex, drugs, and plenty of profanity.

So, when veteran producer Wyck Godfrey went looking for a director to bring the story of the Virgin Mary and the birth of Christ to the big screen, guess who topped his list?


"Catherine has had great success capturing the lives of young people in particular, and the conflict and crisis and pain of being that age and growing up," Godfrey says. "The idea of her bringing that point of view to biblical times is very interesting."

Hardwicke thought so too, and signed on to direct The Nativity Story, which opens worldwide on Friday, Dec. 1. The film covers a little over a year leading up to the birth of Jesus, focusing primarily on Mary (played by Keisha Castle-Hughes) and Joseph (Oscar Isaac), and with concurrent subplots inside Herod's palace and following the journey of the magi.

When CT Movies visited the set in Italy in May, Hardwicke, 51, joked that The Nativity Story sort of completed her "teen trilogy" of movies. When we caught up with her again recently on a media day in Los Angeles, we wanted to explore, among other things, how the making of Thirteen—which she directed and co-wrote—prepared her for directing this assignment.

Thirteen was a very personal film for Hardwicke, based primarily on her friendship with a neighbor's daughter who almost literally changed overnight from a sweet, innocent preteen to an angry, rebellious seventh grader obsessed with beauty and boys. Hardwicke remained friends with that girl, Nikki Reed, trying to steer her to good choices, and the relationship ultimately ended up as a working partnership: Reed co-wrote and co-stars in Thirteen, which received widespread critical acclaim and positioned Hardwicke as a director to watch.

And now she's "befriended" another young teen—while doing her research on the Virgin Mary—and tried to bring the revered icon to life, in a very real and believable way, in The Nativity Story.

The following conversation is primarily drawn from our exclusive interview with Hardwicke, and is supplemented by a few comments she made in a roundtable discussion with several journalists.

How did your friendship with Nikki Reed and making Thirteen—getting into the heads of young teenage girls—prepare you for making this movie?

Catherine Hardwicke: Good question, and nobody's ever asked me that before. Nikki was my friend, and I've known her and both of her parents through the traumatic process of divorce and all kinds of things. I think that is what made me want to make this movie, because when I finished reading the script and started researching Mary, who would have been 13 or 14 at the time, I thought, What if Nikki or one of her friends received this calling? You're trying to figure out so many things in your life at that age. Knowing Nikki really made it real and personal for me, and exciting to try and explore that.

What was it like watching Nikki suddenly change from a sweet little girl to a rebellious 13-year-old?

Hardwicke: I couldn't believe it. I had been out of town for about six months, and when I came back, Nikki was a new person. She literally woke up at 4:30 in the morning, and spent two hours on her hair and make-up till she looked just like J-Lo—in 7th grade. I thought, What's happening to girls, and what pressures are on them that feel they have to look as good as that girl in a magazine to be anybody?

I started hanging out with Nikki's friends, trying to become more involved and understand what's going on with kids. What are the pressures? All of the advertising: 3,000 images a day are hitting kids. And then there's maybe one voice of the mom: You know, honey, you're beautiful on the inside. Well, it's hard to hear that kind of message. I think that's what really compelled me to be interested in teenagers and what they're going through these days, which is really a difficult thing to navigate.

So how'd you bring that knowledge to your portrayal of Mary in this film?

Hardwicke: We wanted her to feel accessible to a young teenager, so she wouldn't seem so far away from their life that it had no meaning for them. I wanted them to see Mary as a girl, as a teenager at first, not perfectly pious from the very first moment. So you see Mary going through stuff with her parents where they say, "You're going to marry this guy, and these are the rules you have to follow." Her father is telling her that she's not to have sex with Joseph for a year—and Joseph is standing right there. That's very personal and startling, and you can imagine how that would make a person feel.

And then Mary sort of stalks out of the house. Was that meant to indicate Mary's rebellion against her parents, or just that she was upset or overwhelmed?

Hardwicke: I think all of it. I think it's something Keisha just felt and went with. It was as if so much information is coming at you, and it all happened so fast.

Joseph is just a background character in other movies, but he's very much in the foreground here. What do you like about that?

Hardwicke: That's the human part of the story, that there was this relationship. The Bible says that Joseph was a righteous man. But go beyond that sentence: What was in his mind? What was in his heart? What soul searching did he do? He loved Mary, and yet that was a hard thing to see this woman pregnant. And he knew he wasn't the father. The Bible also says Joseph considered divorcing Mary quietly. Well, what did that look like? What torment did he go through, struggling with his religion, his beliefs, his love for this woman, his love for God. I mean, so much comes from that sentence. And that's what we tried to show, the best we could to imagine it.

Was it a balancing act for you to try to portray Mary as a real person and yet maintain reverence for Mary the icon?

Hardwicke: It's amazing that somehow Mary's heart and soul provide comfort for so many people, who have such love and reverence for her. Yes, we wanted her to feel like a real person, but of course, you wouldn't want to see her doing something that would make us cringe. In the beginning of the film, you see her playing in the fields with the other kids, and you see another girl flirting with a boy—but I didn't want to have Mary flirting with a boy. That didn't feel right; that would have crossed the line.

Keisha played Mary with a beautiful serenity and an inner peace and strength that even when these problems came upon her and people were doubting her, she still said that line we use in the movie, "There's a will for this child that is greater than what people may say." She said it with such dignity and grace that it made me feel, That's what Mary would be like.

The film does not show the "heavenly host" of angels from Luke 2:13-14. How come?

Hardwicke: We don't portray a visual multitude of angels, but we do have an oral multitude—you hear a whole choir singing. We have one angel appear, and then we have the beautiful choir of heavenly hosts singing.

We had thought of different ways to portray it visually, but visual effects have become almost a convention of sci-fi movies. I didn't want people to start thinking, Oh, I saw that effect in Batman 2 or in Contact or something. I don't want viewers to lose the thread of where we were 2000 years ago. So I think I thought simpler was better—that you can hear the multitude singing, but not see them.

Several people associated with this film have said that in some ways it's been a spiritual experience. What about for you?

Hardwicke: Definitely. I've just seen my little Nativity scene from my childhood come to life. I've always loved this story, but I didn't ever think so deeply about it. I didn't get inside … till now.

Before this, I didn't even think the first little simple thing—that this must have been difficult for Mary. I didn't see her as a human. I didn't even think of what Joseph must have gone through. So taking this story that I've loved my whole life, and really trying to go inside the words of the Bible has meant a lot.

There were moments making the film, especially when the Magi come over the hill and see the Nativity setting, and one of them says, "The greatest of kings, born in the most humble of places." As a director, you ask the actor, "What would you feel at this moment?"

It was so striking; you see these men dressed in their gold and finery, and they were probably expecting a palace with riches, a baby born in an amazing place. But you see the baby right there on the straw. It's so powerful, the idea that God would send his Son to this most humble place, and for all people. It really brought it home for me.

You had to make this movie in record time. How much stress did you feel in these 10 months?

Hardwicke: It was a very ambitious schedule, but somehow we pretty much stuck with it. There were many days where I had to find the strength beyond what you think is there. And as a director, you cannot take no for an answer. If people tell you, "This isn't possible, you're not going to finish," you cannot accept no, and you just have to say, "I think there's a way you could do that." You just have to think of another way around every single problem.

How will you avoid the temptation to watch this movie down the road and think, Man, if only I had more time, I might have … Is that just something any director is going to do?

Hardwicke: I think you do. You think, If I had a little bit more time with Keisha I could have asked her to try it this way or that way. But then, the idea that it's finished and done, that's a relief too.

So, what do you think of the finished product?

Hardwicke: I really like it. I'm pretty proud of it. I feel a lot when I see the film, and I hope others do too.

What's your biggest hope for this film?

Hardwicke: Well, there's a lot of really good movies with a lot of big stars that come out in December. And there's a lot of hustle in December where people are running around buying as many presents as they can. But I hope people can carve out a little time to go see this, and I hope they could have the experience where they try to think about the first Christmas and what it means, to have a little bit of peace and to contemplate on that. That's what I hope that people find in it.

And what if it becomes a Christmas classic, a DVD that a lot of people will own and pull out every December—or maybe a holiday staple on network TV?

Hardwicke: That would be pretty cool. If Rudolph and Charlie Brown get their own special; you'd think may the birth of Christ should get one too.

© Christianity Today International. Click for reprint information.

"Nativity" takes a new approach

'Nativity': Old story gets youthful slant
Updated 11/27/2006 8:36 AM ET
By Anthony Breznican, USA TODAY

The Vatican probably won't be putting Catherine Hardwicke's teenagers-on-the-edge drama Thirteen on its Netflix list any time soon. And the kind of reckless skater boys featured in her film Lords of Dogtown aren't the kind to line up at the box office for a Bible movie. But Hardwicke's latest film tries to fuse those disparate sensibilities — the pious and the rebellious — in the biblical account of the birth of Jesus in The Nativity Story, opening Friday.

The director, 51, says she thought it was a mistake when the script was sent to her last year. "At first I was shocked. I thought, 'Nativity? This can't be the real Nativity story,' but it was, and done in a very reverent manner," she says.

Her two previous films dealt with the brutality of youth, lives fraught with doubt, pressure, anger, sexuality, violence and confusion. She is not regarded as someone who makes soft-focus, feel-good movies.

"As I researched it more, I learned how old Mary was — or how young, I should say. Mary might have been only 13 years old," Hardwicke says. "It started drawing me in. It is such a tender, amazing age, and of course it's an age I've been fascinated with in my other films. So my mind was swirling with the idea of someone that young dealing with these issues."

Religious moviegoers have been getting psyched for the film, and The Nativity Story premiered Sunday night before an audience of thousands in the Vatican's Pope Paul VI auditorium. (Current Pope Benedict XVI did not attend.) A number of cardinals attended the premiere, along with local dignitaries, says Rolf Mittweg, chief of worldwide distribution and marketing for New Line Cinema, which released the movie. Mittweg says the film was greeted with applause Sunday night — and with flashbulbs from the audience when the Christ child appeared onscreen.

Despite the warm reception, it has an obstacle to overcome: The actress playing Mary, a young, unwed pregnant woman 2,000 years ago, is herself pregnant and unwed. Keisha Castle-Hughes, best known for her Oscar-nominated performance in Whale Rider, announced in October she was pregnant at age 16.

No religious leader has made a statement about it, but online chatter about the movie has focused on her pregnancy. Some argue her personal life has no bearing on the film's story, while others praise her for keeping the child. News reports suggested Pope Benedict skipped the movie because of her pregnancy, but church officials say he was simply busy. Castle-Hughes, who is shooting another film in Australia, was not there, either.

She has been missing from nearly all publicity for The Nativity Story, which New Line says was by mutual agreement so she could focus on her pregnancy. Her spokeswoman, Megan Moss, says Castle-Hughes was available for some interviews, but the actress did not respond to a request in time for this article.

Oscar Isaac, who plays Joseph, says, "My sense so far speaking to people is that they are understanding. They're taking the high road and being compassionate, not condemning her." If those uncomfortable with her choices understand the themes of the movie and the lessons of Christ, he adds, "They'll know to treat her in a more righteous way."

History behind the story

The birth of Jesus has been romanticized in countless Christmas pageants over time, but this version of The Nativity Story tries to highlight that Mary and Joseph were not celebrated in their time. Mary would have been an unwed teenage mother, seen as having betrayed her betrothed, Joseph. She lived in a time of brutal Roman occupation, when Herod was taxing and tormenting the Jewish people to the breaking point. "There was such a longing for a messiah because times were bad," says screenwriter Mike Rich (Finding Forrester, The Rookie).

There is theological value in underlining the less-flattering historical elements of the time, says William Fulco, an expert in religion and ancient languages who worked on the film. He also advised Mel Gibson on the blockbuster The Passion of the Christ. "The nature of the incarnation is enmeshed in human society," he says. "To have the cute little sheep and shepherd boy with the glowing face and beating drum shows a certain shame of the human condition, and I think that's a pity."

Jesus' birth is only mentioned in the Gospels of Luke and Matthew, and the details are not always in sync. Rich's screenplay combines those texts, plus some imagined elements. "I tried to read between the lines of the biblical accounts to find out what were the doubts, the fears," Rich says. "And that's where you find where the faith came from."

A sequence of dialogue that's not found in the Bible but is in the movie has Mary and Joseph sitting by a river in the midst of their wearying journey to Bethlehem. She asks him if he's scared, and he says, "Yes." Mary says she is, too.

Isaac says doubt is what makes faith remarkable. He says it humanizes the mystical elements of the story. "I'm playing a guy who has to share the woman he loves with God. That's a strange psychological thing to wrap your mind around. The Bible describes Joseph as righteous. How do you play that? Do you stand up a little straighter, deepen your voice? I realized I had an incorrect understanding of what righteous meant. For him, righteousness is love and humility."

This young, selfless Joseph comes off as ... kind of a stud. Hardwicke says with a laugh, "So many women told me that they want a Joseph. We don't see that many movies where you have a guy who's a good, strong man like he is."

A Maori Mary

Another unique approach to The Nativity Story was casting actors of various backgrounds. Castle-Hughes is part Maori, the Polynesian people native to New Zealand. Isaac, of Guatemalan heritage, was cast as Joseph. And Shohreh Aghdashloo, a Muslim actress from Iran (24, House of Sand and Fog), plays Mary's much older cousin, Elizabeth, who becomes the mother of John the Baptist. "That's loaded with symbolism," says Fulco. The diversity "is a particularly nice thing about this film."

Toby Emmerich, production chief of New Line Cinema, says he hopes it crosses over to secular and non-Christian audiences, too. He's Jewish, and emphasized a little-regarded fact — that this is entirely a Jewish story. "I read the script and I cried, and I'm not a Christian."

A debt to 'Passion'

Though Hardwicke would love to bring in the young, secular audience, the key to box-office success rests with the religious moviegoers who made Passion such a hit. "This film could not have been possible without The Passion," Fulco says. "Before that film, people thought a movie would fail because of a religious theme."

Lamar Keener, publisher of the Christian Examiner, says he doubts The Nativity Story will reach Passion levels, but many churches are renting theaters for this film and acting as ticket brokers for the faithful. Evangelical Christians are "very excited about the movie because they understand it's very biblically accurate," he says.

The Vatican screening was a kind of blessing from the Roman Catholic Church, regardless of the pope's absence. And more than 100 churches of various denominations will host preview screenings tonight, an event New Line estimates will draw 50,000 people.

In San Diego, the Baptist mega-church Shadow Mountain Community is selling tickets to the congregation for three shows the day before the movie officially opens. Other churches are doing the same.

So what effect has Castle-Hughes' pregnancy really had? Keener says there is uneasiness about it, but not enough to turn people off the movie. "It's unfortunate, because we don't condone premarital sex or having a child outside of marriage," he says. "That doesn't make it right or good, but she's not evil, either."

Sunday, November 26, 2006

First-Hand Review of the Vatican Premiere of "Nativity!"

Here is a thoughtful review from the first-hand account of an attendee of the "Nativity" Premiere at the Vatican, held this evening at 5:30 pm. Many thanks for this exclusive review!

Slideshow of images and audio from the Premiere

Listen here to "The Nativity Story" Vatican Premiere:

It was a great night for us seven-thousand strong who had the priveledge of jamming Pope Paul VI Hall for the long awaited premiere of ‘The Nativity Story’ because it was everything we expected and a lot more!

First, let me start by saying how well organized the event was and how particularily hard the ‘Fondazione Pro Musica e Arte Sacra’ worked to promote it. The fact that there were people still trying to get into the already packed auditorium, attests to the remarkable job done by the promoters here in Rome.

Security was tight given the recent tensions Pope Benedict has had to face in light of the controversial medieval citation and his impending trip to Turkey. Everyone was checked similarily to the procedure you would find in an airport. Beneath the great Bernini Colonnade surrounding the outer Piazza of St. Peter’s Basilica, people had to walk through the sensor machine and any bags were put through the x-ray conveyor.

An anxious and curious walk to the Hall followed, in which the film would be shown for free, if I may add, to the fortunate crowds who made it in. Two-thousand of the seven had reserved seats as they belonged to groups and so they were assured a viewing. On each seat there was a program and an envelope in which one could make a donation for the school they would be building as a result, in Galilee, for children of all faiths. This was a wonderful gesture in keeping with the main theme of the film—the great poverty and helplessness of salvation history’s three most iconic figures—yet each gently aided by a divinely-willed protection and blessing.

At 5:30pm, there were still some people up and about, yet an elegantly dressed man walked up to the microphone and introduced Archbishop John P. Foley who has been the Catholic Church’s president of the Pontifical Council for Social Communications since 1984.

The Archbishop, with a very calm and heavily accented Italian, first asked for a show of hands of all those people who spoke it. About 80 percent raised their hands. Then he asked who spoke English. About 50 percent raised there hands. That’s about 70 percent of Italians who don’t speak a word of English (that’s some of my disappointment for this premiere being translated into Italian coming out… don’t mind me!). Given the 50 percent, he said a few words in English at the end, basically thanking various protagonists in the endeavor and above all, the director Catherine Hardwicke, screenwriter Mike Rich, all the actors, mentioning those present, Oscar Isaac and Shohreh Aghdashloo. Each of the four stood as their names were read, turned and looked at all the people, smiled and bowed. I particularly found Oscar Isaac’s acknowledgment fascinating since he did it in sets of three quick bows, almost like the sign of the cross, with a huge smile! Perhaps it’s how they do it in Guatemala and definitely how they don’t in Miami! A special thanks went to them ‘for being courageous in a time where it is now hard to say Merry Christmas’ to somebody.

The Archbishop then introduced Gigi Proietti, a well-known and—judging from the applause at his intro—highly regarded Italian actor, singer and duplicator (does voice-overs in films translated to the Italian) who impassonately read the respective Gospels wherein the infancy narratives of Christ are to be found. I must admit, he gave me goose bumps!

Immediately after the applause, lights went out, and any previous rustling about fell into dead silence as light rays from the distant camera began to flow onto the normal cinema-sized big screen.

Now I must say, in this review I could give you all the fine details, and they were fine in all senses of that word, but that would be mean. Let me just say, there was something awefully similar to ‘The Passion’ at the onset, in the way the camera pans from above the clouds onto a moonlit Jerusalem! And from the beginning, you could sense that you were in for a marvellous work of art. In the end, you might even agree with me and call it a masterpiece.

A lot of energy went into detail. The clothes, the sets, the personalities of key figures, the cultures of that time all of it meticulously brought back to life before our eyes. A lot of this is covered in the clips provided at the official website: I’m trying to stay away from what’s already been said in other reviews.

The three Kings are just having a ball! They too are shown to have differing characters, and not merely the men drawn to God born in a stable. They also tease each other and try to make their journey amusing while at the same time appreciating what was unfolding before them. Let me just say, it’s ingenious the way they interpreted their calculations of the stars. The gifts they brought and the way that they presented them (gestures, tone in voice and facial expressions) convey that although they were foreign to Judaism, they nevertheless had deep insight into the Person of Jesus. Each of the three gifts meant something different as we all know, and were telling of the Child’s messianic nature.

Joseph too provides us with a giggle or two. From what you’ve most probably already seen in the clips, you know that he’s going to provide us with some humour throughout the film including him speaking to things other than human and angelic!

The large audience was extremely silent up until the sudden emotional and heartfelt applause at the birth of Jesus. Joseph holds him up and weeps of joy. The mystically deep soundtrack was expressive of the all-important moment, as were the rays streaming down on that one town in Judea. This is fascinating. Usually at a premiere, every main actor receives an applause upon their first appearance within the picture. This was not the case here. Rather, it was Baby Jesus who got the first of the only two loud applauses throughout the film! The other came at a ‘Hallmark’ cinematographic shot zooming out of the manger scene where shepherds, kings and animals were adoring. The audience seemed to be saying, ‘Wow, what a beautiful and artistic version of the manger scene!’ So the cinematography, and the tones of colour which inundated the entire film have been on par to ‘The Passion’ quality wise, and those were undoubtedly some of the best we’ve ever scene as attested to by many critics in their praise of Caleb Deschanel’s work that made Mel Gibson’s work look like a classic painting.

The couple of hours or so were absorbed quite quickly. You ended up wishing the film went on with the rest of the ‘story’. But you realize that the goal has been accomplished—an effective and provocative re-telling of the birth of Christ in all its wonder using today’s cinematic means.

I’ll conclude by stating how much I wished I could have met and, for what it would have been worth, thanked the cast and crew present for their awesome and energetic work, but it was so crammed that the only way you could move, was towards the door and out. I did manage to get some pictures, though not of these four, but of the Auditorium and the people in general.

My final word: You will love this film sure to be one of those you’d revisit at the appropriate time, and perhaps even at those times when you will need a little extra hope to keep you going that extra mile, as Mary and Joseph did.

Footage from the Premiere

Saturday, November 25, 2006

Behind-the-Scenes Report from Consultant Sr. Rose

The Nativity Story: The Making of the Movie
By Rose Pacatte, F.S.P.
A movie to be released this month offers a new perspective on the familiar Christmas story. Our media critic interviewed the screenwriter, director and several actors on the set in Italy.

Genesis of a Script Getting the Location Right A Day on the Set of The Nativity Story Learning to Ride a Donkey Getting Inside the Characters

IF YOU ASK first-time film producer Marty Bowen what he would most like to see happen as a result of New Line Cinema’s The Nativity Story, he will say quite candidly and with characteristic enthusiasm: “I would like even the nonbeliever who sees it to be touched. I would like it to be a film my sister will take her kids to see, and one that her children will take their kids to see one day. I hope it will be a classic that theaters will show every year because of its authenticity, because we have tried to avoid the clichés of biblical films, tried to humanize the characters and revere them at the same time. They have, after all, earned the right to be on a pedestal.”

The Nativity Story, released on 7,000 screens worldwide on December 1, tells the story of the year before Jesus’ birth until the slaughter of the innocents in Bethlehem, plus the flight of the Holy Family into Egypt to escape Herod’s wrath.

The film’s focus is on the spiritual and actual journeys of Mary of Nazareth in particular, and imagines the role of Joseph, the foster father of Jesus, as well as those of Elizabeth, Anna and Joachim, in ways that provide insight into God’s amazing intervention in their lives. Unlike some of the one-dimensional low-budget Bible movies of the past or the obligatory Christmas play at church, however endearing, The Nativity Story hopes to allow us to experience the characters’ emotions and the difficulties they face in the context of their time and place.

Last May I was invited to visit the set of The Nativity Story being shot at that time in Matera, Italy. (Filming later moved to Morocco.) Our group of Christian journalists, representing Catholic and Protestant media, became pilgrims to a movie set where a journey from a different time, yet one for all ages, was being filmed.

Matera in May is dry and hot. Archaeologists believe that the first people to populate Italy built their homes, which were more like caverns, directly into the stone mountain in the old part of this city. These dwellings, and the area, are called “Sassi.” The unique look of Sassi suggests how the ancient city of Jerusalem may have looked and has attracted filmmakers such as Mel Gibson (The Passion of the Christ, 2004) and Pier Paolo Pasolini (The Gospel According to Matthew, 1964).

As we prepare for Christmas, I invite you to visit the set of The Nativity Story, seeing it through the lens of a Catholic film reviewer and someone who loves great storytelling. This article is based on reading two versions of the script, my trip to the set and interviews there, as well as information from follow-up phone conversations. Last August I saw a six-minute trailer for a film that was still being edited.

Genesis of a Script

The Nativity Story was written by Mike Rich, a former radio news announcer in Portland, Oregon. His previous medium-budget films, Finding Forrester (2000), The Rookie (2002) and Radio (2003), had all done well at the box office, but Rich wanted to move outside the sports genre for his next feature. “As a screenwriter, I love stories about ordinary people who do extraordinary things; this is my consistent theme as a cinematic storyteller. And I had always wanted to write The Nativity Story, which is about ordinary people who did extraordinary things,” he tells me in an interview.

In December 2004, both Newsweek and Time ran cover articles about Christ’s birth. This sparked Rich’s interest in taking a different approach to the Christmas story. Early in 2005, his father, Jack, passed away at the age of 67. This event, says Rich, made him feel that he could take on a subject of such magnitude “ write more spiritually about things that matter, because my father was always a strong supporter of my writing and the stories I was trying to tell. He was a great father, who held a very special place in his heart for the Christmas season.”

Rich belongs to the Southwest Bible Church near Portland, Oregon. His wife, Grace, and their three children, Jessica, Caitlan and Michael, are Catholics and active members of St. Cecilia Parish in Beaverton.

When Rich began researching his topic, he knew that the primary source material was very limited, mostly Chapters 1 and 2 of the Gospels of Matthew and Luke. Over the 11 months he prepared to write the script, what he calls the “nuts and bolts” phase of screenwriting, he consulted the works of Jewish scholars, as well as books by Raymond Brown (Birth of the Messiah), Peter Richardson (Herod: King of the Jews and Friend of the Romans) and John Meier (A Marginal Jew), all Catholic biblical scholars.

“I felt a little trepidation as I approached the actual writing,” Rich admits. “If I kept only to the Gospels, I would have a 20-minute movie. So I decided to tell the story of Mary’s journey from the perspective of character. I realized it would take some speculation and visualization to do this, and at the same time I was committed to staying completely true to the story and faithful to its tone.

“I wanted to write during the Advent season so I could be immersed in its spirit,” Rich tells me over the phone. “Shortly after Thanksgiving in 2005, I made my way through my home office—there is barely a path to get from the door to my desk because it is surrounded with research and junk,” he says with a laugh—“with a sense of peace and purpose. This is not always the case, because scripts are difficult to write. But I began each day by playing Amy Grant’s song ‘Breath of Heaven,’ what she calls ‘Mary’s Song,’ about Mary contemplating the wondrous thing that had happened to her. I also surrounded myself with figurines from the crèche to visualize what I wanted to write.”

Rich typically writes no more than five hours a day. He spends the rest of the day formulating the next day’s scenes. He takes a very disciplined approach to writing. Many people are surprised to learn that most screenwriters write no more than four pages a day—four minutes in film time. A two-hour movie is based on a 120-page script.

Rich usually finishes the first draft of his scripts in about five weeks; revising takes 12 or 14 weeks. The Nativity Story came together in about six weeks, however, and he notes, “The usual angst was not there.” New Line Cinema accepted the script on January 6, 2006, but they wanted this movie to be released 10 months later.

Getting the Location Right

Producers Marty Bowen and Wyck Godfrey were longtime friends, Godfrey already a producer and Bowen a talent agent. Bowen, in fact, was Mike Rich’s agent. When Bowen asked Godfrey if he’d be interested in producing The Nativity Story, Godfrey replied, “I’d quit my job to make that movie.” They both did.

Bowen, a practicing Catholic, grew up in Ft. Worth, Texas. Later his family lived in Tokyo, where he attended St. Mary’s International School.

Director Catherine Hardwicke, whose breakout 2003 film, Thirteen, was nominated for numerous awards (including a Golden Globe and an Oscar), began her professional career as an architect, and then became an art director and production designer. That background served her well on pre-production details for the set of The Nativity Story.

Hardwicke and a crew traveled to Israel to visit and study Nazareth Village for two days. Nazareth Village, built in the 1990s (, is an authentic re-creation, based on archaeological and literary sources, of the first-century village where Jesus grew up. Hardwicke’s team studied the details of the town and then traveled to southern Italy to re-create it. Three people from Nazareth Village came to the site in Italy to make sure that the construction crew got the details right. Nearby they reconstructed Bethlehem, using natural rock formations as the backdrop.

“The reason I agreed to direct The Nativity Story,” explains Hardwicke, “is because of the way the screenwriter, Mike Rich, got inside the heart and soul of the characters, this kind of miracle that happened so long ago. How do you get inside a leap of faith? I wanted to do that.”

Oscar Isaac is the only actor from the United States in the film; other actors hail from New Zealand, Italy, Iran, Morocco, Israel, Northern Ireland, Canada, Sudan, England, Trinidad and other countries. Other cast members include Academy Award-nominated actress Shohreh Aghdashloo (House of Sand and Fog) as Elizabeth, Ciarán Hinds (Munich) as Herod, Shaun Toub (Crash) as Joachim and Hiam Abbass (Munich, Paradise Now) as Anna.

A Day on the Set of The Nativity Story

Last May 21, I left Los Angeles on a very early flight. Our group assembled in Rome the next day and flew to Bari.

On the set, the temperature kept climbing under the burning sun and cloudless sky. The storyboard showing a sketch of each shot (even though the director might not stick to it entirely) stood outside the tent, near a corral of noisy sheep. “Lights! Camera! Action!” became “Attenzione! [Get ready!] Motore! [Rolling and turn off your cell phones!] Silenzio! [Silence!]”

The trip’s highlight was talking with Mike Rich and his wife, Grace, plus Marty Bowen and Wyck Godfrey in between takes. Their passion and enthusiasm for the film were obvious from the moment we arrived. Bowen admitted that he was making this movie because of The Passion of the Christ (parts of which were filmed nearby). “Mel Gibson,” says Bowen, “gave us a platform from which to tell this story, so ‘Thank you, Mel.’ Moviemaking is a business and an art form. I’m glad to be making my living right now telling the story of the birth of Jesus rather than, say, a film about murders, though it’s not to say I won’t ever make films about different subjects.”

Rich agrees that Gibson’s The Passion of the Christ influenced him as well when writing the script: “When Jesus falls in the film, carrying the cross, and Mary has a flashback to Jesus being in danger as a small child, and her maternal instincts kicked in to save him, I felt that was completely true to their relationship; this was a Mary I could believe. I knew then that I wanted to risk taking a speculative approach to developing the characters of Mary, Joseph, Anna, Joachim and Elizabeth.”

Over lunch, the director, Catherine Hardwicke, tells us she is a “Texas Presbyterian.” She thinks, “God challenges our faith every day, just like he challenged the people in this film. You can feel the risk Mary is taking when she says, ‘There is a will for this child greater than my fear of what they may do.’ I don’t want to make a sugarcoated version of the nativity story. I hope that people will get excited about this film, and that it will help unite people from around the world; I hope people will be drawn to faith.

“This is my third film,” Hardwicke says, “and the third film about adolescents. I hope this will say to them, ‘Try to follow your heart; hold on to your faith.’”

She continues, “Presbyterians don’t really get into the cult of Mary. But she is this model of patience, beauty and love. Women from all over the world take their inspiration from her....Joseph stands by Mary when no one else does; he is a great role model.”

Learning to Ride a Donkey

It was Hardwicke’s idea to cast Academy Award-nominated Keisha Castle-Hughes (Whale Rider), then 15, as Mary. Hardwicke was impressed by the actress’s quiet, reserved personality, by how seriously she took her role in Whale Rider and by the fact that she projects a maturity beyond her years.

She and Oscar Isaac joined us as we were finishing lunch. Keisha said that she was at school when the call came for her to play the part of Mary, and she accepted right away. Castle-Hughes admits that it wasn’t until she was on the plane to Italy and writing in her diary that she realized the enormity of the role she had been given.

“I told myself, ‘I can’t believe I am playing this part. We don’t really know who they were or what they looked like, and we have to become these people now for people all over the world.’ never think that she was 13 and had a child. She was just a girl, playing with her friends, then suddenly she has this huge become the mother of the world.

“My grandparents are Catholic,” Castle-Hughes tells us, “so we grew up knowing about the Church, but my parents leave us kind of free. Of course, Christmas is very important in our home.” The actress’s mother had been with her for a month during pre-production but had recently returned to New Zealand to give birth to her fifth child. (In October, it was announced that Keisha and her boyfriend are expecting next spring.)

Castle-Hughes makes us all laugh when she tells us that she is “not a huge animal fan”—and this after she had to ride on a whale! “For The Nativity Story I had to learn how to milk a goat and talk at the same time and that was a little hard....and ride—and stay on—a donkey!”

As part of pre-production, Keisha had to work with an accent coach. Two experts developed an accent that all the actors used.

Oscar Isaac, 26, is a Julliard-trained stage actor playing in his first major film role. “It’s an honor,” he says quietly as he finishes lunch, still in costume and seeming to be in the role of Joseph, “to be part of a biblical film, to be one of these walking icons, to experience what their daily life was like and get into how they thought.”

Isaac may well be one of cinema’s rising stars. His reverent and deeply felt interpretation of Joseph, the most silent man in sacred Scripture, is perfectly tuned and a refreshing surprise. After seeing the six-minute trailer in late August, I found Isaac authentic, warm and convincing in the role. (Read a full review of The Nativity Story.)

When we headed out to “Nazareth,” Bowen and Rich led us on foot, enabling us to approach the town by passing the watchtower, the wheat field and vineyard. They showed us how the well actually worked. We also saw a “molded” olive tree, that is, a manufactured prop that was used in the Garden of Gethsemane sequence in The Passion of the Christ and donated to the city of Matera. In addition, we also visited Mary’s house.

By agreement with the local government, the re-creations of Nazareth and Bethlehem will be torn down and the environment returned to its natural state once filming is completed.

The film’s Bethlehem was a totally different architectural style since the stables in those days were probably natural caves or hewn from rock. The crew constructed a new ridge below the existing one, and from the access road it was impossible to tell the difference.

We returned to Rome that evening. My next morning’s flight to Los Angeles concluded the fastest trip to Italy I had ever taken.

Getting Inside the Characters

The Nativity Story is not event-based. Rather, it is the Infancy Narratives of Matthew and Luke blended, with the timeline compressed. Through this, the inner, spiritual journeys of the characters emerge. These are manifested during their real journeys: those of Gabriel from heaven to Nazareth, of Mary from Nazareth to Ain Karem to see her cousin Elizabeth, Joseph and Mary from Nazareth to Bethlehem, the shepherds to the grotto, the Magi to the stable and the Holy Family from Bethlehem to Egypt.

The Nativity Story, a film on the move, may well become an enduring Christmas classic.

Rose Pacatte, F.S.P., writes St. Anthony Messenger’s “Eye on Entertainment” column. Sister Rose is also the author of The Nativity Story: A Film Study Guide for Catholics and editor of The Nativity Story: Contemplating Mary’s Journeys of Faith, both available from Pauline Books & Media,

BeliefNet reviews "Nativity"

Ancient Faith, Modern Life
Frederica Mathewes-Green

Faithful Rendition of 'The Nativity Story'
The new film about Mary, Joseph, and the birth of Jesus is fresh authentic, and safe--perhaps to a fault.

The curiosity of the Christmas season has got to be "The Nativity Story," a film which presents the story of the Virgin Mary, her betrothal to Joseph, and the birth of Jesus Christ with an utterly straight face. If you thought Hollywood was incapable of approaching Christians without a cattle prod, you'll be shocked at how circumspect this movie is.

"The Passion of the Christ" had earlier been a shock to Hollywood. Perhaps they had envisioned the conservative Christian audience as too tiny or too ignorant to fool with; perhaps they had envisioned the Christian-bashing audience as including everyone worth including. But the long lines for Mel Gibson's strong medicine, back in the spring of 2004, astounded everybody. And it turned out that Christian money is just as green as everybody else's.

But is something deeper going on? The film's producers insisted to the New York Times that they have had enough of the "cynical, youth-oriented, disposable entertainment you saw Friday and forget by Saturday," as Wyck Godrey put it. The kind of films he wants to make now will be "about something and stick with you." And producer Marty Bowen says he wants to make "movies I'd be proud of making. Movies my mother would go to." He adds, "I'd rather be corny than cynical. I'd rather make a movie that's patriotic than partisan."

Those are surprising and refreshing words, and they wouldn't have been heard a few years ago. But it may take a little longer to discover a way of producing films undergirded with such convictions that also have a bit of a spark. There is nothing in this film to offend devout Christians (parents note, however, a PG rating for some glimpses of crucifixion)--but solemnity rolls through it all like molasses. As the film opens with golden letters scrolling over a background of stormy clouds, and an unseen choir sings "Veni, Veni, Emmanuel," you have the distinct feeling that you've traveled back in time. No, not to first-century Palestine--to 1965, and a showing of "The Greatest Story Ever Told."

I can't help thinking that a different female lead could have made all the difference. Keisha Castle-Hughes starred as a young Maori destined to rule her tribe in "Whale Rider" (2002); for that role, she became, at 13, the youngest actress ever nominated for an Oscar. Perhaps her sturdy indomitability suited that character better than it does this one. Here, she just seems disengaged. Some astounding and even terrifying things are happening to Mary, but Castle-Hughes looks like her mind is somewhere else.

This results in the unusual situation that the male actors surrounding the film's center are more emotionally engaging than the female lead. Newcomer Oscar Isaac is very appealing as Joseph, and he conveys tenderness and shy young love without sacrificing a bit of masculinity. Shaun Toub is wonderful as her father Joachim, and Stanley Townsend is eye-catching as a hearty Zacharias. The three wise men (Eriq Ebouaney, Nadim Sawalha, and Stefan Kalipha) are lavishly arrayed and personable, and their interaction provides a bit of (somewhat stretched) comic relief.

A big actor in a small part steals the screen when Mary and Joseph stop for rest on their way to Bethlehem. A wind-battered old shepherd (Ted Rusoff) invites them to warm themselves by his fire. His lines are kind of hokey--something about his father telling him that each person is given a gift. Yes, dads say things like that. Particularly dads in the 1980s. But Rusoff is notably alive on the screen, and delightful to watch. So there he is on one side, and there's beautiful Oscar Isaac on the other, and in the middle sits Keisha Castle-Hughes, her face like a hard little pebble.

Later on, the old shepherd comes to see the newborn infant Jesus. He approaches with awe, on the brink of tears. You'd think this would be a good moment for Mary to smile and reach out toward him, and perhaps with moistened eyes say softly, "He is for all mankind. We are each given a gift." But Castle-Hughes stares blankly as he hobbles forward--if anything, slightly annoyed--and delivers the line like a mailman. Then she checks her cell for text messages (or would, if they existed then).

Shoreh Aghdashloo is warm and wonderful as Elizabeth, and Hiam Abass is effective as Anna. Ciaran Hinds is a bit overcooked as Herod, but maybe it's the lighting. (Interesting to see how many nationalities are represented among the cast. Much of the world's population, it seems, could pass for Semitic. It's blue-eyed blonds who are odd-man-out.)

The strongest character in the movie is under the actors' feet: The Italian countryside, standing in for ancient Israel (just as it did in "The Passion of the Christ") teaches in a way no words can how very hard life is in a rocky desert land. The journey Mary and Joseph make from Nazareth to Bethlehem, one hundred miles, begins to look like a superhuman feat. Our European fantasies of the Holy Land are corrected, for example, by seeing Jesus born among animals sheltering in a cave, not in a cozy wooden stable.

Judging by the quantity of sniffles during closing credits, "The Nativity Story" hits a lot of viewers squarely in the heart. It's a respectful and historically authentic film, and those two assets are rare enough to promise success, both on opening weekend and down the years. If this is the beginning of a trend toward movies that are not "cynical" and "disposable," I'm all for it. And I hope eventually we'll find a way to do it that is fresh and authentic, and not merely safe.

Friday, November 24, 2006

Peter Chattaway Reviews "Nativity"

Filmmakers seek to inspire audiences with The Nativity Story
By Peter T. Chattaway

LOS ANGELES, CA -- It has been nearly three years since The Passion of the Christ proved there was an audience for biblical movies with a strong Christian theme. Now, Hollywood is finally beginning to catch up -- and what better way to follow a film about the death of Jesus than to make a film about his birth?

The Nativity Story
, which comes to theatres December 1, is directed by Catherine Hardwicke, a former production designer who made her directorial debut three years ago on Thirteen, an Oscar-nominated, R-rated film about the troubled relationship between a teenaged girl and her single mother. Hardwicke followed this with Lords of Dogtown, a dynamic look at several legendary skateboarders in the 1970s.

Sex, drugs, and rock'n'roll were all prominent features of Hardwicke's first two films, so it might seem like a stretch that she would then go on to tackle a rather pious account of the virginal conception of Christ. But the film does star 16-year-old New Zealander Keisha Castle-Hughes, who became the youngest best-actress Oscar nominee in history two years ago for her performance in Whale Rider; and Hardwicke says the new film actually fits quite nicely with her previous youth-oriented movies.

"This movie is about the most famous teenager in history," says Hardwicke to a handful of journalists at the Four Seasons hotel in Beverly Hills. The Virgin Mary, she says, "had maybe the biggest obstacles that she had to face and the most extraordinary challenges. So in a way you could say it's part of my teen trilogy."

Hardwicke says she was intrigued by the opportunity the film gave her to get behind the familiar icons, and to portray Mary and Joseph -- here depicted as a man in his mid-20s -- as ordinary people, albeit people who lived within a very different culture from ours. For example, Mary's betrothal to Joseph is imposed on her by her parents; and Mary, who feels no love for Joseph, doesn't know how to respond. And then the townsfolk are scandalized when they learn that Mary is pregnant.

"Two thousand years ago, how similar is that to teenage life now?" asks Hardwicke. "I mean, there are still struggles with the parents, but of course Mary had this extraordinary situation, being told that she would bear the Son of God, and then having people looking down on her, not believing her, [and treating her like an] outcast. How did she find faith in herself and inner strength to overcome this?

"So I felt there was some kind of continuity, and I tried to do similar things, to really take you back to Nazareth, and to take you back into real-life, real-person, real situations that you could relate to. If you're a guy, how would you feel if your fiancee that you love so dearly comes back home and she's pregnant, and you know you're not the father, and she says it's going to be the Son of God? I mean," she adds with a laugh, "that's a tough one for any man to get his head around, y'know?"

Whereas Mel Gibson's movie was very masculine, Hardwicke's is more feminine; The Passion of the Christ is full of scenes in which men beat up other men, but The Nativity Story takes time out to show Mary and her kinswoman Elizabeth, mother of John the Baptist, feeling the movements of the babies in each other's wombs. "That's kind of girly, huh?" Hardwicke laughs. "That's kind of the chick flick part of it."

She says she wanted to be as true to the material as she could, and not get too distracted by modern debates over the place of women in religion -- but if this part of the gospel story happens to cast women in a positive light, then so much the better. "Of course, Mary has inspired women all over the world for two thousand or more years," says Hardwicke, "so I think that, yes, I wanted to portray them with strength and dignity and beauty and continue inspiring people by these women."

Shohreh Aghdashloo, the Iranian actress who plays Elizabeth, says she modelled her own performance after a woman in her own life that she had found very inspiring -- namely her grandmother -- but she says she did this unconsciously, at first. "When I was doing this research [into the character of Elizabeth], I also kept writing, creating stories about her background," she says. "I assume that she's coming from a very good tribe and she loves Zechariah and they had been married, and I usually write and try to come up with adjectives, to try to portray my character."

Aghdashloo, who was nominated for an Oscar for her performance as Ben Kingsley's wife in House of Sand and Fog, says she found herself writing words like "selfless," "giving," "kind," "generous" and "with a heart full of love for humanity," and "all of a sudden it dawned on me. 'Wait a minute, my grandmother was like this.'"

Aghdashloo, who was raised Muslim, calls herself "a student of all religions" and says she was influenced in this by her grandmother, who studied the Torah and kept a copy of the Bible in Farsi. So she tried to honour both her grandmother and the biblical Elizabeth by "combining" the two women in her performance.

The film's biggest discovery is Oscar Isaac, the Guatemala-born, Miami-raised actor who plays Joseph. He says the screenplay -- by Mike Rich (The Rookie), a practising Christian himself -- was so "reverential" that the key to his performance was to make Joseph as human as possible, "to make him flesh and blood."

Isaac notes that Joseph is drawn to Mary because of her virtue and out of a love that goes deeper than what we see in most films. He also notes that Joseph continues to wrestle with his emotions -- including his initial feeling of betrayal when he learns that Mary is pregnant -- long after he has made the decision to do God's will.

"It was very difficult for me to stay in the room, you know," he says. "In rehearsal, I would go out and have to kick things, and I had to basically find out why does he stay. And again, the idea of love -- you can say that's a love that comes from God. That's that Corinthians love, that seeks not itself in return; it's meek, it's humble. As a young man, what I had to connect with, was that feeling of love for someone."

Isaac insists there is nothing "irreverential" about his portrayal of Joseph's spiritual struggle; if anything, he says it makes the character's strengths stand out all the more. "I think that just shows his power more, that he was able to feel everything that we feel, but overcome it -- and I don't think I could!"

Isaac says he grew up in a charismatic, non-denominational Christian home and has since "kind of gone through my own journey, much as Joseph has, figuring out if you're hearing God correctly." But he says his family is rooting for him and this film. "My dad said that if he went to church and saw my picture with candles around it, he wouldn't be too happy," says Isaac with a laugh. "It would freak him out a little bit. No, he's so excited. They think it has meaning, that this is my first film."

Infuze Reviews "Nativity"

The Nativity Story
directed by Catherine Hardwicke
disappointing in every possible way

Perhaps the comparisons are unfair, but they are obviously going to be applied anyway. The Nativity Story is Hollywood's natural follow-up to The Passion of the Christ. After all, if the death made that much money, then the birth should be worth at least a high percentage of that.

But even more so, the birth of Jesus presents such a compelling narrative complete with endless possibilities for tension, drama and beautiful possibilities for storytelling in the battle of good vs. evil: the struggle of a teen peasant girl from Nazareth with insane claims as to the father of her child; the slaughter of all male children in Bethlehem; the rigors of the journey for Joseph and Mary or the magi. The entire event is scandalous from beginning to end.

Unfortunately for the viewer, there are no such elements to be found in The Nativity Story, which takes its cue more from the cheesy light-up display a few houses down from my own than it does from the Biblical text. The movie lacks emotion of any kind, keeps the story at a safe, family-friendly level, and is even incorrect in major details of the narrative.

For example, there are three wise men here and all are present at the manger scene at the time of Jesus' birth. The idea of there being three magi is not found in any of the gospels and it's only perpetuated by myth (most likely because of the three gifts listed). The magi also didn't visit Jesus until most likely around his second birthday. Such anomalies were not present in The Passion because it had a director dead-set on being true to detail, no matter how the audience would take it.

Director Catherine Hardwicke had different things in mind apparently, as the obvious idea was to create a watered-down holiday movie that would appeal to the masses. But to do so strips the story of its power. Each scene is devoid of believable levels of fear, sorrow, joy or excitement, even though the scenes we know so well should be filled with extreme levels of each of those.

What makes it all even more amazing is that it shouldn't have turned out this way. Hardwicke is best known as the director behind the gritty Thirteen and both Keisha Castle-Hughes and Shohreh Aghdashloo - Mary and Elizabeth respectively - have ventured into Oscar territory. It seemed that Mary would truly be afraid and that drama would be intense. Instead, it's given the same sheer and gloss that most obvious Christian products are known for.

The Passion was honest and raw and, because of this, it connected on a level that few films can lay claim to. The Nativity Story possessed the same ability but refused to let the story tell itself, instead shooting for 'warm' and 'fuzzy' rather than 'awesome' and 'inspiring.'

It is not the worst film I have seen this year. Nor was it a complete waste of time. But The Nativity Story is easily the most disappointing movie of 2006.

Wednesday, November 22, 2006

"Nativity" seeks to bring humanity to the story

Humanity Beneath the Halo
'The Nativity Story' Seeks to Connect With Its Audience With More Human Portrayals of Mary and Joseph

Nov. 22, 2006 — - How do you make a movie about the birth of Jesus that connects with today's audiences? How do you make Mary and Joseph more than saintly icons?

That was the challenge that the creators of "The Nativity Story" took on in telling this best-known holiday season story.

Mike Rich, a veteran Hollywood screenwriter for movies such as "Finding Forrester," "Radio" and "The Rookie," is also a man of faith who felt that what had been missing from this story was a sense of who these people were. "It's always been told almost from a purely chronologically standpoint -- that certain events happened," he said. "And we don't look at the individuals. We don't put a human face on these people."

Catherine Hardwicke, director of "Thirteen" and "Lords of Dogtown," brought her vision to directing the film. "It's more personal. I think it's more human," she said. "The humanity beneath the halos is what we were going for. Epic intimacy."

The Most Famous Teenager in History

Hardwicke's previous movies portrayed a frank and sometimes disturbing picture of American teenagers, and the struggles and challenges unique to their age. At first glance, this background may not have made her the obvious choice to direct "The Nativity Story," but Hardwicke is quick to point out that the film is about the most famous teenager in history.

"Mary, according to most scholars, was 13 or 14 years old at the time," she said. "I thought what if the girls I know, kids I know today, would experience something this powerful and daunting and amazing and challenging? How would they deal with it?"

How indeed. For Oscar Isaac, a Hollywood newcomer from The Juilliard School, who plays Joseph in "The Nativity Story," the only word to describe his character in the Bible is "righteous." "How do you play righteous?" Isaac said. "What I held on to was he is a man who is utterly and completely in love with this woman when he looks at her. You could say that's a godly love. It's a humble love. But it's love."

Mary is played by Keisha Castle-Hughes, the 16-year-old New Zealand actress who was nominated in 2004 for her first role in "Whale Rider."

"It's a story of a young girl in a difficult situation and how she responds to that," Rich said. "How she has to go through this aspect of this emotion of fear to awe to willingness to acceptance. It was a great range of emotions."

Not Without Controversy

"The Nativity Story" has not escaped controversy, however. Castle-Hughes is now pregnant, preparing to become a teenage mother just as Mary was. The father is her 19-year-old boyfriend of three years. "She made a brave choice," Hardwicke said. "And she knew that the world would be talking about her or wondering about her. She made a brave choice. That this was the right thing to do, to bring this child into the world and I think that is to be respected and loved."

The goodwill of the Christian audience is critical to the success of this movie because that audience has been shown to be potentially enormous and therefore profitable.

Mel Gibson's "The Passion of the Christ," despite the allegations of anti-Semitism that surrounded it, grossed $600 million worldwide. According to screenwriter Rich, while "The Passion of the Christ" may have opened some doors to producing films with religious themes, that's not all that is needed to draw people to the theater. "I don't think they are going to be led to a film such as ours simply because it has a spiritual message," he said. "The responsibility, I think, as filmmakers we have is you have to make a good film and if you don't make a good film, it's not going to happen."

Biblical Movies Reflect Their Time

Hollywood tapping the Bible for inspiration is not new. But each generation gets the Bible movies that reflect its time. In the 1950s, the Bible-based movies were epic in scope and reverential in nature. Then came the 1970s, with its counterculture emphasis in films such as "Godspell" and "Jesus Christ Superstar." In "The Nativity Story," it is the relationships, the intimacy, and inner revelations that speak to today's audience.

"I think it's a reminder in a world that can be so polarized when it comes to religious ideas and ideology that humility is what opens people's hearts," Isaac said. "These were real people with real problems, yet they were still able to overcome those things because they were humble."

"The Nativity Story" will be the first movie to have its world premiere at the Vatican on Nov. 26, and opens nationwide in the United States on Dec. 1.

For Hardwicke, in addition to box-office success, there is a simpler goal as well. "I hope they feel the love that we felt as we made it and the spirit of the very beginnings, of the first Christmas," she said. "I hope they feel it like we felt it."

Copyright © 2006 ABC News Internet Ventures

Tuesday, November 21, 2006

Paraclete Press publishes book about "The Real Mary"

Paraclete Press is publishing a 176-page hardcover book called "The Real Mary: Why Evangelical Christians Can Embrace the Mother of Jesus" by Scot McKnight. About the book:

The real Mary was an unwed, pregnant teenage girl in first century Palestine. She was a woman of courage, humility, spirit, and resolve, and her response to the angel Gabriel shifted the tectonic plates of history.

Join popular Biblical scholar Scot McKnight as he explores the contours of Mary’s life, from the moment she learned of God’s plan for the Messiah, to the culmination of Christ’s ministry on earth. McKnight dismantles the myths and also challenges our prejudices. He introduces us to a woman who is a model for faith, and who points us to her son.

If you go to the Paraclete Press homepage, you can view the information for a discount if you pre-0rder the book before December 3rd, 2006.

If you are interested in reading an excerpt from the book, you can read the first 2 chapters here.

A correlating study guide
is also available for download.

Click here
to hear an interview with the author, Scot McKnight. (for Windows Media Player)

In addition: pastors, professors, college and seminary students, and Christians across the U.S. will be hosting forums on Sunday, December 3 to discuss who Mary was, centering around The Real Mary by Scot McKnight, as well as the movie "The Nativity Story," which releases on December 1 on 8000 screens across the country. If you are interested in learning more about how you could be involved in hosting a forum, please contact
My Review:
Scot McKnight starts off his book addressing the question why a Protestant scholar would write about Mary, giving several reasons, including wanting to tell the real story of Mary as she has gotten lost in the many theological controversies surrounding her; to challenge the unreal view that the Church has had about Mary over the years; to explore her ordinary, yet extraordinary qualities; and to branch into a realm that has largely been uncharted regarding the Protestant/Evangelical position about Mary—in terms of what they believe about her, rather than what they do not.

In the subsequent 10 chapters (Part I) McKnight writes about the various characteristics of the real Mary, starting with her trait as a woman of Faith. He lays the foundation about the Torah society that Mary would have lived in, and that despite all the things that could happen to her by accepting God’s offer to bear the Messiah—including the possibilities of enduring the “bitter waters” test (from Numbers 5), being exposed to public humiliation at a conspicuous location, or at worst, facing death by stoning. In addition, she had to face how her family and Joseph would react to the news, as well as if she did survive to bear the Child, to deal with Jesus’ treatment by being considered an illegitimate Son and perhaps being left as a single mother if Joseph divorced her. Her act of saying “May it be” to Gabriel, consenting to God’s plan, was that of courageous faith and trusting that God would protect her as He has other Biblical women in years past.

Mary was also a woman of Justice. In her well-known song, the Magnificat, we find what some consider subversive verses as she proclaims that the humble will lifted up and the rich brought down. Mary understood Gabriel’s words meant that her Son would fulfill the Davidic Kingdom, and thus expected God’s justice to come with the new King. Her words would have also meant much to anyone in Israel under the oppression of the rules of Rome and King Herod, hoping for a physical salvation as much as a spiritual one. Her statements in the Magnificat show her to be much gutsier than the meek Mary as she is often portrayed. She was as hopeful for the Messiah as anyone, reminiscent of Isaiah 11, and trusted in God’s promises that He had fulfilled and would continue to fulfill.

McKnight goes on to discuss Mary as a woman of Danger. McKnight says this because of Mary’s confidence that her Son would be King, not Herod or Caesar Augustus. Looking at her Magnificat, it could be considered subversive to the Roman Empire. When the birth of Jesus was announced, there were terms that were associated with Augustus, including his being the Son of God (adopted son of Julius Caesar), his bringing the Pax Romana (Roman Peace) to the Empire as its savior, and his rising to the throne was the Good News. Having these terms applied to her Son and Mary’s proclamation of them could bring about her death for treason, which did actually happen to Jesus. Mary was the first to spread the Gospel (Good News) about Jesus. When the Bible says that Mary pondered everything that had happened to her in her heart, she didn’t just reflect on memories, she was contemplating them in order to narrate and to interpret them.

This made Mary a woman of Witness. She witnessed to the promises of her Son, and viewed His coming as the Messiah that most Jews anticipated—overthrowing Israel’s enemies and inhabiting an earthly throne in peace. She witnessed the reality of Gabriel’s announcement when Jesus was born in real flesh; when the Magi came unexpectedly with their gifts; and when the Star appeared to lead the Magi to Jesus; all of which pointed to the Davidic throne that she saw her Son inhabiting as King. Everything surrounding the birth of Jesus was witnessed by Mary as she contemplated the kind of Savior Jesus was to be.

However, this conquering view of the Messiah changed when she became a woman of Sorrow, when she first went to the Temple to dedicate Jesus and purify herself after the birth. There she encounters the elderly priest Simeon, who speaks of Jesus’ bringing peace, comfort, and redemption to Israel, but he also illustrates a different type of Messiah that Mary (and other Jews) were likely expecting at that time of oppression—a political liberator of their people. Jesus would bring the triumph instead through sorrow and suffering, and that the sword would bring suffering to her as well. This caused her to ponder about the idea Who her Son would be, perhaps not quite the conquering ruler she may have imagined.

Mary was also a woman of Wonder. When Mary, Joseph, Jesus, and family went to Jerusalem every year for the Passover celebration, they perhaps wondered how Jesus was to liberate Israel from Rome much like when the Hebrews wanted freedom from being slaves in Egypt. During one particular Passover visit to Jerusalem, when Jesus was 12 (likely his bar mitzvah age), He was conducting Himself as an adult by staying in the Temple and was “lost” from the caravan going back to Nazareth, much to the horror of His parents. As Mary and Joseph went back and after a day’s searching found Him in the Temple, Mary expressed to Him their terrifying fear of losing Him and asked Him why He treated them this way. Jesus’ response was nothing more likely than shocking to what Mary expected in return, causing her to again rethink what kind of Messiah her Son was going to be, and realizing He knew that God—not Joseph—was His Father. His statement that His Father’s business was above being with His parents caused Mary to wonder. In addition, Jesus position of listening and teaching—at age 12—also would have caused Mary to wonder and to realize that she would have to follow her Son as well as He served a different Father in a different House.

Mary was also a woman of Surrender. Not only did she surrender to God at the very beginning of Jesus’ conception, she had to learn to surrender to Jesus as well, especially when His ministry started and He needed to honor God before His family. This first came into play when Jesus and Mary were attending the wedding at Cana, and Mary came to Jesus with the observation that the wine had run out, putting the family’s honor at risk. However, this also conflicted with God’s timing that Jesus sensed He was to fulfill, and in their exchange, He essentially asked Mary to honor (and to surrender) Him by allowing Him to do what He needed to do in His own way in accordance with the Father’s will, which she did, shown in her words for the servants to do whatever Jesus told them to do. She had to surrender to her own Son in order to honor God.

A trait of Mary that we don’t often consider is that she was a woman of Ambivalence. Mary and her family must have been ambivalent about Jesus as a family member and Jesus as the Messiah when He began his ministry, especially in light of their understanding from the Old Testament Messianic prophecies. Jews expected the Messiah to be like Moses, to be greater than the prophets, to be a Davidic King, and to be wise, as well as to conquer enemies and to establish peace. However, Jesus didn’t act like this Messiah, and seemed like an ordinary man to his townspeople. He appeared to challenge well-known Jewish traditions and laws (mixing with sinners, breaking Sabbath laws, etc.) and generally offended the Jewish leaders—not what Messiahs were supposed to do. Eventually, Jesus’ family—including Mary—considered Him “out of His mind” and even went with her other children to Capernaum to confront Him about this. Jesus’ response that everyone who does God’s will is His family, right in front of His own mother and siblings, establishing a new family of God. Hearing this, and other references to conflict within a family by following Jesus, Mary would have to decide whether Jesus was the Messiah she had hoped for and to follow Him. It appeared that she did shift her view of who the Messiah would be and joined the new family of Jesus, since she was next recorded as present at His crucifixion and later with the disciples at Pentecost as the Holy Spirit empowered them for ministry.

Lastly, Mary is a woman of Faithfulness, as shown by her appearance at Jesus’ Crucifixion with other women disciples. Despite the circumstances, she held firm that God was in control and stood by her Son. She remained faithful to Jesus as He remained faithful to her even from the cross, entrusting her to His disciple John, presumably because His family did not yet believe in Him as Messiah and John did. Jesus honored her both as His mother and a member of His new family in the Kingdom of God. At the cross, Mary had to come to terms with the fulfillment of Jesus’ messianic vocation—His sacrifice for man’s sins—even if it was something she would not have expected, since Jewish teaching & literature didn’t teach of a sacrificial Messiah. Having to change her Messianic view as the events unfolded at the end of Jesus’ life would have taken considerable faithfulness. This was all rewarded with the Resurrection and with her presence at Pentecost.

In part II, from chapters 11-13, McKnight explores the characteristics of Mary in the Church and how they match up with the real Mary of the Gospels. He first talks about how Mary was a woman of Influence, particularly through the teachings of Jesus and the writings of his half-brother and disciple James. Both of them, including Jesus, would have grown up with the influence of their parents. Jesus’ teachings about caring for the poor, downtrodden, widows and orphans, etc. are very similar to the statements in Mary’s Magnificat. Mary’s influence was also great in the early church, being with the disciples at Pentecost, and she was also influential in the New Testament, within 217 verses in which she plays some part.

Mary has also been a woman of Controversy, particularly between the Roman Catholic and Protestant churches. McKnight begins by looking at the main doctrine that Catholics and Protestants agree upon: the supernatural conception of Jesus. Regarding Mary, however, Protestants generally rely on the Bible alone, while Catholics consider both the Bible and centuries of tradition to form what they believe. McKnight highlights major early Catholic beliefs about Mary: that she was sinless, that she was the mother of God, that she was perpetually virgin. Later developments in the Catholic church’s beliefs about Mary included her immaculate conception, her Assumption into heaven, her role as Mediatrix, and devotion to her. He goes into detail about these doctrines to make them clearer to the reader, and also discusses some of the Protestant responses to them.

Part III, the last chapter, is where McKnight discusses about embracing the real Mary. She was, lastly, a woman to Remember. Over the years, especially since the Reformation, Protestants have distanced themselves from giving Mary her due. McKnight suggests five themes of faith on which to focus in honoring Mary: faith leads to Jesus; faith is uniquely personal; faith is real; faith develops; and faith is courageous and dangerous.

Ending the book, McKnight includes Appendices for reference and further study:
Appendix 1: Old Testament Parallels in The Magnificat
Appendix 2: Suggestions for Reflecting on Mary

McKnight writes a compelling book that causes us to look at the Mary of the New Testament, challenging ideas that we may have accumulated about her through tradition and hearsay. He addresses each of his chapters with scholarly expertise, writing in a way that neither condescends to nor transcends beyond his readers’ intelligence. Throughout the book, McKnight uses both Scripture as well as extrabiblical sources to illustrate his points. His focus of the book is to allow Protestants to look at who Mary really was and to encourage them not push a very important figure in the Bible away just because their Catholic brethren give her much more attention. McKnight also knowledgably addresses the Catholic beliefs and traditions about Mary, quoting Catholic scholars, fathers, and catechesis for support. His challenge is for Protestants to honor Mary more than she has been in recent years and to use her example to help point people to Christ.