Movie Thoughts: Joseph of Nazareth

Joseph of Nazareth is a 2000 Italian film directed by Raffaele Mertes and Elisabetta Marchetti and starring Tobias Moretti as Joseph and Stefania Rivi as Mary. Despite being made by Italians, it appears the movie was in English. There were no subtitles, and I didn’t see any clear signs of dubbing. I watched this film on the formed.org website. There are many movies about Mary, but not many about Joseph. I thought it would be nice to see things from Joseph’s perspective. Well, there isn’t a whole lot about Joseph in the Bible.

Some saints have written about Joseph based on private revelation, but there’s not a whole lot of official history on Joseph. Making a whole movie about him is understandably difficult. The writers had to fill in a lot of blanks. As a result, many scenes in the movie are more speculative than actual truth. They could be true, but they could easily be fictional.

Joseph of Nazareth covers everything in the Bible: Joseph’s betrothal to Mary, Mary’s acceptance of God’s plan to conceive Jesus in her womb, Joseph’s intention to quietly divorce Mary after finding her with child, Joseph’s acceptance of God’s plan after hearing from the angel, Jesus’ birth in a manger in Bethlehem, the shepherds and Three Kings adoring Jesus and offering gifts, Herod’s effort to kill the Messiah with the massacre of all young males, Joseph, Mary, and Jesus’ flight to Egypt, their return after Herod’s death, the presentation of Jesus in the temple, and the losing of Jesus and later finding of him in the temple.

As far as the speculative or fictional content, Joseph of Nazareth posits that Nazareth was attacked at some point, resulting in the death of Joseph’s wife as well as brothers and sisters. Joseph took on 3 nephews to raise them in place of their parents. These nephews were Jesus’ “brothers” in the Bible, though they all become adults and left before the birth of Jesus. In the story, Joseph is a master carpenter who is employed by King Herod on several occasions. It is during one of these times as Joseph is leaving for Jerusalem that Mary becomes pregnant with Jesus by the power of the Holy Spirit. When Joseph returns he is understandably upset to find her with child. Another addition to the story is when Joseph, Mary, and the baby Jesus’ are heading to Egypt only to find Herod’s guards preventing young males from leaving. Mary crosses alone while Joseph, carrying the baby Jesus, secretly crosses the rugged mountains before meeting up with Mary on the other side.

I don’t mind fictional content if it fits with the existing story in the Bible; however, I was disappointed to find some of the content in Joseph of Nazareth to not fit with what we believe in the Catholic faith. In disagreement with common Catholic teaching, the film depicted Mary in labor pains. Catholics believe labor pains are one of the effects of original sin. Because Mary was born without sin, even original sin, we believe she gave birth with no pain. The scene in the film doesn’t agree with this. A related example is the movie showing Jesus crying after birth. Catholics generally believe that since Mary felt no pain, Jesus felt no pain either. He probably wouldn’t be crying. He would be at peace with his mother.

In some cases, Joseph of Nazareth didn’t even agree with the Bible. For example, the Bible speaks of the angel visiting Mary, but in the movie there is no angel. Mary hears the words of the angel but sees nothing. I guess this could be one way to interpret the Bible, but it seems natural that if an angel visited Mary, she would see that angel. Another example is how the movie showed Joseph not being with Mary when she gave birth. If Mary was in labor pains, I don’t think Joseph would have left her side. Also, the movie never shows Joseph showing any affection towards Mary. As far as I remember, he never hugged her or said a comforting word the whole film. The Joseph in the film just doesn’t fit the Joseph in the Bible to me.

Lastly, some scenes in the film don’t seem to fit the historical period either. For example, in a few scenes Mary was depicted as traveling on her own. During that time in history, the roads were not safe. Men didn’t travel alone, let alone women, yet a few scenes showed Mary travelling alone by donkey. At the minimum, she would have had Joseph with her, but probably she would have travelled with a caravan for safety. The movie does show this once when Mary and Joseph are leaving Jerusalem and later realize Jesus is not with them. I can remember two other scenes where Mary travelled alone though, most clearly when she visited Elizabeth.

Despite these inaccuracies, Joseph of Nazareth was an entertaining film. It didn’t cost me anything to watch, so it was worth the time I spent watching. I wish it stuck more to the Bible, Catholic traditions, and historical accuracy, but it was better than nothing. I wouldn’t use the film as a source for studying Joseph though. Documentaries and books would probably do a much better job. I think there are more conclusions that can be drawn about Joseph based on the Bible if combined with logical and historical arguments, but nothing of that sort will be found in a drama film.

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