Starring no less than seven Academy Award® winners, the 1977 miniseries Jesus of Nazareth was a global television event – one of the most celebrated TV biographies of Jesus ever made. Now, 40 years later, the actor who portrayed the Son of God, Robert Powell, is returning to the Holy Land to seek out clues to the real historical figure who inspired Christianity. THE REAL JESUS OF NAZARETH, a new four-part series, will premiere on Easter Sunday, April 16 at 8 p.m. ET/PT on Smithsonian Channel.
Jesus of Nazareth featured a cast of blockbuster stars, including Anne Bancroft, Ian McShane, Sir Laurence Olivier and James Earl Jones, but for his lead character, legendary Italian filmmaker Franco Zeffirelli chose the relatively unknown British actor –Robert Powell – who gave a performance for the ages. Since then, the series has become an Easter and Christmas television tradition for many – more than 90 million people have watched the series in the U.S. alone. Now, this new four-part series will draw parallels between the scripted depiction of the biblical story and the real history behind it by breaking down the life of Jesus and the world he lived in – a world ripe for a radical message that would change history.
“It’s gloriously conceivable that even if he didn’t live here, he walked here, and I find that unbelievably exciting,” says Powell, visiting a first-century house in Jesus’ hometown of Nazareth.
THE REAL JESUS OF NAZARETH combines scenes from the landmark series with Powell’s journey throughout modern Israel, where he meets archaeologists and scholars who help him reconstruct the story of the man who changed history and inspired billions. Returning to the Holy Land to investigate the life and times of the real historical figure who inspired Christianity, Powell takes viewers through the life of Jesus – what his childhood looked like, the teachings that spawned a religion, and eventually his final days on Earth.
The first hour – THE REAL JESUS OF NAZARETH: THE LOST YEARS – explores Jesus’ early years around Nazareth and Bethlehem, most of which are not covered in the Bible. As he journeys through the Holy Land, Powell catches references to the young Jesus – from his famous birth, to the 12-year-old child debating scripture in the temple in Jerusalem, to his mysterious lost years, where he disappears from history before reappearing in the gospels around the age of 30. Powell walks where Jesus conceivably walked and travels to Nazareth, Bethlehem, Sepphoris and Jerusalem, consulting with leading historians, archaeologists and theologians to uncover what life was like as a Jew in first-century Judea.
The subsequent episodes of THE REAL JESUS OF NAZARETH are:
THE REAL JESUS OF NAZARETH: THE MINISTRY BEGINS
Premieres Sunday, April 16 at 9 p.m. ET
THE MINISTRY BEGINS highlights Jesus’ baptism by John the Baptist, the first event in Jesus’ life that is reported in all four gospels. Powell looks to uncover how Jesus might have developed the message – radical for its time – that would form the basis of the future Christian religion. Powell travels into the Judaean desert where Jesus fasted for 40 days, and then follows the ancient routes to Galilee where Jesus taught after his exile from Nazareth.
THE REAL JESUS OF NAZARETH: FROM GALILEE TO JERUSALEM
Premieres Monday, April 17 at 8 p.m. ET
In the third hour in the series, FROM GALILEE TO JERUSALEM, Powell travels to Capernaum, a fishing village where Jesus expanded his ministry, where he learns more from historians about the people who chose to follow Jesus, including his disciples. He then goes to the Mount of Beatitudes where Jesus delivered the Sermon on the Mount, the cornerstone of Christian ethics. Powell follows in Jesus’ footsteps to Jerusalem, where after speaking with historians, rabbis and archaeologists, he uncovers a radical new idea about Jesus’ final confrontation with the Jewish authorities before his arrest.
THE REAL JESUS OF NAZARETH: THE FINAL DAYS
Premieres Monday, April 17 at 9 p.m. ET
The fourth installment, THE FINAL DAYS, chronicles the last moments of Jesus’ life, following his entry into Jerusalem for the Jewish festival of Passover. Powell learns that Jesus’ claim to be the messiah was what caused him to be sent before Pontius Pilate, and Powell gets a chance to stand on the exact steps from where Pilate would have sent Jesus to be crucified. After meeting with professors to demonstrate how different the reality of crucifixion would have been from the traditional depictions, Powell returns to Jerusalem one final time to explore a traditional tomb and discover how the apostles’ belief in the resurrection of Jesus — as described in all four gospels — would become be the catalyst for a new religion: Christianity.