Readers of this blog probably know that I am not the biggest fan of the BBC, in particular the way it is funded. However, I must give credit where credit is due and praise their most recent historical drama in association with HBO, The Passion. Unlike the film of a similar name, it was not gratuitously violent and concentrated on the theology and teachings of Christianity in an accessible manner. Purists may be unhappy with some of the editing of the words and happenings, but I found two things in particular made this interpretation praiseworthy. Firstly, it highlighted the difficult line the High Priest Caiaphas had to tread in ensuring the Jewish protectorate was true to its roots while keeping the occupying Romans happy. It is easy to criticise the High Priest in hindsight, as it is to criticise the modern state of Israel who I am not a huge fan of either, but the truth is nearly all leaders of the Jews in history have found themselves in the unenviable position of having to make difficult compromises between their ancient traditions and their contemporary situation in order to keep the peace. I was also particularly moved by the way the drama portrayed the way Jesus appeared to his disciples after the resurrection, outwardly different but recognisable by his teachings and actions. There are many right-wingers who claim the BBC is biased against Christianity, and while this may be arguable in its political coverage, shows like this and Songs of Praise demonstrate that this itself is a biased view.
However, just to prove quality public service broadcasting does not have to be paid for via a license fee, Channel 4 had another excellent documentary by the Midland's own Dr Robert Beckford, this time on the 12 disciples. He explored alternative histories of Jesus's closest followers to those often expounded by the traditional church, in particular my own tradition of Catholicism. For example, it is well known that St Thomas founded a Church in India that exists to this day, but the programme looked at how the Portuguese under direction of the Pope tried to suppress this ancient version of Christianity because it was not European based. It also looked at how St James was reinvented as a Spanish patriot to become a figurehead for the Christians in their fight against the Moors, and how women may well have been treated as equals in the early church. It is a loss for the West Midlands that Dr Beckford no longer works at the University of Birmingham, nor has a show on Radio WM, as I believe his rational documentaries based on emerging historical evidence are exactly what our religion needs to stand up to the irrational faith-based fundamentalist movements that are gaining so much traction in the current climate.