Martin Scorsese to make TV show about birth of Christianity

And he’s going to use the Apocrypha

A TV series about the birth of Christianity is being planned by The Last Temptation of Christ duo of director Martin Scorsese and screenwriter Paul Schrader.

The Apostles and Apocrypha is a “three-year series about the origins of Christianity”, according to Schrader in The New Yorker.

Right at the end of an interview last week about Schrader’s views on making feature films in the age of online streaming, The New Yorker’s Richard Brody asked the Oscar-nominated writer if he would work directly for a streaming service (such as Netflix).

“Yeah. Well, Scorsese and I are planning something, and it is . . . it would be a three-year series about the origins of Christianity,” revealed Schrader, who also collaborated with Oscar-winner Scorsese on Taxi Driver, Raging Bull and Bringing out the Dead.

“People sort of know the New Testament, but nobody knows the Apocrypha” – Paul Schrader

Little detail was provided but Schrader confirmed it will be dramatised show, not a documentary. “It’s based on the Apostles and on the Apocrypha … Because people sort of know the New Testament, but nobody knows the Apocrypha.”

Schrader might be overstating that last point as the Apocrypha does remain part of the biblical canon for some Christians, including the Catholic Church.

The Apocrypha is a collection of works written between 200 BC and 400 AD, books such as Tobit, Judith, 1st and 2nd Maccabees, and additional chapters of the Old Testament’s Esther and Daniel. The Council of Rome in 382 accepted the apocryphal books as part of the Bible’s canon, which held for more than a millennium. The Protestant Reformation of the 16th Century and the onset of printed Bibles sparked a re-assessment, with apocryphal books segmented into their own section before being progressively dropped from Protestant Bibles.

The principal reasons for their being rejected as scripture is doubts about divine inspiration, and content within them which contradicts other biblical teaching.

In Schrader’s opinion, the source material for The Apostles and Apocrypha is not all legitimate anyway. “Back in the first century, there was no New Testament, there’s just these stories. And some were true, and some weren’t, and some were forgeries,” said Schrader.

It remains to be seen how Schrader and Scorsese will determine or present the fact, fiction and forgeries of early Christian writings. The potential for controversy is ripe, if their condemned and celebrated Last Temptation of Christ is anything to go by. Based on a novel that did not claim to be gospel truth, the 1988 movie was applauded by some for its earthy treatment of Jesus’s humanity. However, this embellished tribute drew ferocious opposition from Christian groups, particularly to a dream sequence where Jesus marries Mary Magdalene and makes love with her. Accusations of blasphemy and calls for boycott erupted.

Schrader grew up in a “strict Calvinist family”, while Scorsese was raised Catholic and even trained for one year to be a priest. He has described himself as “after many years of thinking about other things, dabbling here and there, I am most comfortable as a Catholic.”

Both artists have routinely returned to themes of shame, guilt, sin, self-sacrifice and the burden of belief in God. Schrader’s most recent directorial work, First Reformed, centred on a Dutch Reformed pastor (Ethan Hawke) having a faith crisis. One of Scorsese’s notable recent movies was Silence, a bold and reverent ode to Portugese missionaries executed in Japan – for their faith – during the 17th century.

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