Did Jesus Really Rise From the Dead? (2008) - Pick

The Face [Jesus in Art] (2001) - Pick

Picturing Mary (2007) - Pick

In this era of the New Atheism, Ignatius Press’s new documentary DVD Did Jesus Really Rise From the Dead? offers a timely, helpful crash course in the apologetics of Easter.

Blending footage from the Holy Land and low-key dramatizations with interviews featuring a lineup of Catholic and non-Catholic scholars, the film covers the major naturalistic theories regarding the Resurrection story. Included are the “swoon theory,” the “hallucination theory,” the “stolen body” theory, the “wrong tomb” theory and others.

The documentary also discusses recent controversies regarding the “James ossuary,” a first-century bone box claimed to belong to a “James son of Joseph, brother of Jesus,” and the Talpiot Tomb, discovered in 1980 and recently hyped by James Cameron’s Discovery Channel documentary The Lost Tomb of Jesus as the burial place of Jesus.

Interviewed experts include Jesuit scholars Father Mitch Pacwa and Father Ronald Tacelli, Scripture scholars Craig Blomberg, Craig Evans, Tim Gray and Ben Witherington III, religion professors Gary Habermas and Edward Sri, and authors Johnnette Benkovic and Roy Schoeman. (Influential scholar N.T. Wright, author of The Resurrection of the Son of God, is cited but not interviewed.)

The presentation is sometimes distracting, with uneven dramatizations and unnecessary graphical flourishes. (I’m tempted to dub such post-production fidgeting “EWTN-itis.” Just because you can animate text and graphics doesn’t mean you should; sometimes less is more.) The substance, though, is what matters, and the experts deliver, effectively skewering the fallacies of the alternate explanations and making the case for the reasonableness of faith in the Resurrection.

Also worthwhile Easter documentary viewing: The Face [Jesus in Art] and its follow-up Picturing Mary, both co-produced by PBS and the U.S. bishops’ Catholic Communication Campaign.

Of the two, The Face is the more in-depth, a visually sumptuous, spiritually rewarding two-hour pilgrimage from the earliest catacomb art, to the development of distinctively Christian art forms such as the patristic wall mosaics and Eastern iconography, to the lavish art of the Renaissance and beyond.

A segment on Christ’s sufferings in art provides a helpful counterpoint to recent historically uninformed critiques of Gibson’s The Passion of the Christ. (Coincidentally, Gibson is one of The Face’s narrators.)

More a postscript than a real sequel, Picturing Mary offers a 60-minute exploration of representations of the Blessed Virgin. Although only half as long as The Face and without the same in-depth commentary, Picturing Mary is a valuable travelogue of Marian art.

The Church’s sacred art is part of her repository of sacred Tradition, preserving and expressing the deposit of faith in a unique and indispensable way. Together, The Face and Picturing Mary offer rich and rewarding access to this priceless treasure.

Content advisory

Did Jesus Really Rise From the Dead? Detailed discussion of the physiology of crucifixion; naturalistic explanations of the Resurrection accounts; brief dramatization of scourging. Fine for older kids. The Face [Jesus in Art]: A few graphic painted depictions of the Passion. Picturing Mary: Nothing objectionable.