National Catholic Register

Arts & Entertainment

DVD Picks & Passes

BY Steven D. Greydanus

August 24-30, 2008 Issue | Posted 8/19/08 at 3:48 PM


Jesus: The Lost Years (2007) - Pick

Constantine’s Sword (2007) - Pass

If two best-selling authors make globe-trotting documentaries from their books, touting their personal theories of religious history, does it matter if the docs aren’t necessarily factually reliable, as long as they accomplish their goals? That may depend on the goals.

New on DVD, Jesus: The Lost Years may sound like a Da Vinci Code-style excursion into fabricated esoterica about Jesus journeying throughout Asia learning world-denying Eastern religions.

In reality, it’s a travelogue of Coptic Christian traditions regarding the Holy Family’s sojourn in Egypt.

Based on the book Jesus in Egypt by Paul Perry, Jesus: The Lost Years relies on local legends, apocryphal infancy gospels and reported visions of fifth-century Coptic Patriarch Theophilus of Alexandria to plot a winding course from the ruins of Tel Pasta — where Egyptian idols are said to have fallen before the infant Christ — to the Zeitoun district of Cairo, a site of widely reported and even photographed Marian apparitions in the 1960s.

Perry accepts the traditions he encounters pretty much as is. Even Theophilus’ visions turn out to represent oral tradition, since the first written accounts date to several centuries after his time.

Did the visions really occur as reported? A Coptic cleric assures Perry that, yes, the accounts of the visions were preserved exactly. Well, that settles that.

As a tour of Coptic Christianity and tradition, though, Jesus: The Lost Years has something to offer.

Beautiful icons, stained glass and architecture adorn Perry’s journey, and the portrait of the coexistence of Copts with the Muslim majority is heartening.

Bottom line: For religious travelogues of the Middle East that stick to the biblical and historical facts, Steve Ray’s “Footprints of God” DVD series from Ignatius Press is your eight-course meal.

After that, Jesus: The Lost Years may be worth catching for dessert.

Another documentary new on DVD, Constantine’s Sword offers quite a different dish, tough and bitter — some worth chewing on, but plenty of fat and gristle … and a liberal splash of arsenic.

Based on the book by ex-priest James P. Carroll, Constantine’s Sword traces the horrific history of Christian anti-Semitism.

From the 1096 massacres of the Rhineland Jews to the Roman ghetto on the Tiber created by Paul IV, it’s a sickening account.

Yet, there’s no mention of the condemnations of Jewish mistreatment from Church leaders such as Pope Gregory the Great and Pope Gregory IX.

Carroll claims — falsely — that the cross became an important Christian symbol only in the fourth century, and interviews a lone radical-fringe biblical scholar to claim that the Gospels shift blame for Jesus’ death from the Romans to the Jews, in a manner “completely at odds with history.”

A legitimate critique of Christian anti-Semitism becomes an attack on the faith and the Church, up to and including Pope Benedict.

Content advisory: Jesus: The Lost Years: Uncritical discussion of religious traditions calling for some discernment. Okay family viewing. Constantine’s Sword: Unbalanced discussion of historical and theological issues; an obscenity and sporadic crass language. For mature viewers.