Koch Vision // 2004 // 88 Minutes // Not Rated
Reviewed by Judge David Johnson // February 9th, 2005
An exploration of the journey to modern day Christianity.
ABC News presents this 85 minute documentary about the life of the apostle Paul and the seeds of Christianity. Peter Jennings is your guide through the gospels and the epistles (and several points beyond), and all around the Holy Land. The program explores the character of Paul and his relationship to the explosive growth of the religion he played such a pivotal role in spreading, as well as his connection with the Man himself.
Jennings hits upon all the contentious points of Paul's life and ministry: his miraculous conversion on the role to Damascus, the question of how close his message was to that of Jesus, his relationship to the apostles, his relationship to the Jews, his relationship to the Gentiles, and even his looks. That's right -- the ugly little apostle even has his awkward appearance critiqued by the cadre of scholars ABC parades out.
The main thrust of the show is that modern-day Christianity as we know it would not exist without Paul. Throughout the narrative, Jennings and the experts discuss the impact Paul had on Christian orthodoxy as well as his interaction with the apostles, and eventually arrive at the conclusion that Paul was almost as important to the religion as Jesus was.
One thing I can say for sure: The Search for Paul is no knee-jerk shill for Christianity. Jennings and crew do not shy away from the controversial elements of the religion's history or of Paul's biography. Hey, no problem with that.
What did bug me was the tendency towards hyperbole of some of the scholars. In some instances, these guys paraphrase stories from scripture with overly dramatic panache. For example, the subject of Paul's tenuous dinner date with Peter in Antioch comes up, and one guy launches into an off-Broadway production of his exegesis. It's hard to take him seriously.
Also, while I can appreciate the incorporation of controversial and alternative approaches to the history of Christianity, some inclusions -- and the lack of critical responses -- left me wanting.
The striking instance is the discussion of the Gnostic The Gospel of Thomas, with several scholars of Gnosticism interviewed. Granted, this wasn't a lengthy segment, but ABC News definitely didn't treat Gnosticism as the heresy it is considered in mainstream Christianity. In Jennings's reporting he briefly mentions that the Gospel of Thomas can be traced to the first century, which sounds credible; however, he fails to mention the hundred year gap most leading Biblical scholars place between the Gnostic and synoptic gospels. Whatever your take on or inclination to the veracity of either Biblical claim, it would have been fair for ABC to present the orthodox response.
These contextual gripes aside, the documentary can be commended for an overall substantive and detailed tour of Paul's life. The style of the show, though, was pretty friggin' weird. Instead of the largely embraced slow pan-and-scan of paintings and illustrations that most historical documentaries use, The Search for Paul employs an MTV-like strobe effect that's stupid and distracting. And to top it off, you get some modern rock background music! Rock on!
The Search for Paul is presented in a full screen transfer with 2.0 Dolby Digital sound. Two text-only geography guides and scholar biographies and a picture gallery are the bonuses.
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Scales of Justice
Studio: Koch Vision
* Full Frame
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo (English)
Running Time: 88 Minutes
Release Year: 2004
MPAA Rating: Not Rated
* Scholar Biographies
* Interactive Maps
* Photo Gallery