Jesus of Nazareth

Season 1 Episode 1

Part I

Aired Unknown Apr 03, 1977 on NBC
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Episode Summary

Part I
In Roman-occupied Palestine, a baby boy is born in the town of Bethlehem and is spirited away to Egypt to avoid an edict that directs soldiers to kill all infant males aged two and younger. Given the name of Jesus, he grows up to become an extraordinary but controversial Rabbi, gathering together followers while preaching new interpretations of scripture. He eventually captures the attention of the local religious leaders after allegedly performing miracles and proclaiming to be the messiah.moreless

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  • A modern re-telling of the story of Jesus that breaks from the traditional Hollywood mold a bit...

    When this miniseries first aired back in 1977, a time when the networks were all vying for viewers due to the successes of other miniseries like "Rich Man, Poor Man" in 1976 and "Roots" in 1977 (broadcast just a few months before this on a rival network), there was some skepticism but anticipation as I recall, just based on the advertising for it. This version, to be some 6 hours long but aired in 2, 3-hour blocks with minimal commercials, broke a mini-series mold that by formula, had the extended stories play out during a week in smaller time increments. However this didn't stop the viewers from tuning in, as it was aired during Holy Week on Palm Sunday and Easter Sunday, and was thus right on time for one to immerse oneself into a familiar story during the holidays.

    What stood out as being unique for this treatment was the portrayal of the protagonist Jesus, not as had been done in past extravaganzas, but as an ordinary man who is both burdened by the sins of the world but is anxious to spread the "good news" to all who were willing to listen. Those who would be his disciples were also portrayed as simple working men who happened to stumble upon his acquaintance and are gradually convinced by his words to join him. However the producers were well aware that in order to capture an audience, the "cast of thousands" and an all-star lineup, would still be necessary, and notably, the cast performances are top notch. In fact, nearly all were theatric in presentation except Robert Powell's portrayal, which was much more subdued and natural. But the distinction between his style and the others helped to underscore his pivotal role.

    A main valid critique in the media, was that the producer chose to use the renaissance era European depiction of Jesus with blue eyes (and as a youth, with blond hair) - and all despite a cast of swarthy, brown-eyed Israelites. However Powell's use of his features helped to give the character an ethereal, otherworldly quality that adds a necessary aura around the subject at hand and his character.

    In any case, this miniseries has become a yearly favorite, particularly since the character dialog consists of quite a bit of recitation of actual scriptural material brought to life by the cast's formidable acting. The dramatic monologues of Peter Ustinov's Herod the Great and Michael York's John the Baptist versus the self-effacing monologues from then-unknown Olivia Hussey as Mary and Yorgo Voyagis as Joseph, underscore the dramatic contrasts that appear throughout the miniseries, allowing it to ebb and flow with emotion. Definitely a much-watch.moreless
Anne Bancroft

Anne Bancroft

Mary Magdalene

Guest Star

Ernest Borgnine

Ernest Borgnine

The Centurion

Guest Star

Claudia Cardinale

Claudia Cardinale

The Adulteress

Guest Star

Trivia, Notes, Quotes and Allusions


  • TRIVIA (0)

  • QUOTES (7)

    • John the Baptist: (to his followers in reference to Jesus) He must increase as I must decrease. (soldiers now arrive to take him away) My time is over.

    • Herod: (speaking loudly in the palace foyer) Guilty in the womb! Guilty in the stars! I'll bring down their stars. I'll snuff them out in blood! This is my world. I will not share it with an infant! There's no room for two Kings here. Like a newborn scorpion (suddenly stomps his foot as if crushing an insect) underfoot! You know the mark of a real King? Courage. Even in the face of Jewish prophesy, bits of old parchment, old blind men. Ha! Now go to Bethlehem and make history! Kill!--
      Adviser: But your majesty--
      Herod: (yelling angrily) --Kill! Kill them all! Kill! Kill them all!

    • Herod the Great: (to his advisers) Better the innocent should die then that the guilty should escape.

    • Melchior: (to Mary, Joseph, and the other Kings) This is the King of Israel who will take away all the sins of the world.

    • Herod the Great: No, you can tell great Augustus that he can rest in peace in Rome. There will be no messiahs, true or false, in Palestine while I am alive.

    • Proculus: Majesty, I've heard the word 'messiah'. What exactly is a messiah?
      Herod the Great: Oh, even you have heard that awful word, Proculus.
      Proculus: Is he a prophet or is he something even---
      Herod the Great: ---Well, Rome, even Rome, cannot influence men's dreams and the messiah is a bad dream disguised as a solution to every problem. It's a leveler of scores, a rewarder of righteousness, a scourge for the wrong-doer. It is the bringer of everlasting peace. (laughs)

    • Mary: (while staring at a bright light shining through her window) How can that be? No man has ever touched me. (pauses and then bows her head) Behold, the handmaiden of the Lord. May it be done unto me according to your word.

  • NOTES (7)

    • The total number of viewers of the miniseries Jesus of Nazareth reached 91,000,000 in the U.S. and 21,000,000 in the U.K. during its original airing.

    • The cost of production for Jesus of Nazareth has been estimated to be between $12 - $15 million U.S. dollars.

    • Noted author Anthony Burgess, who wrote the teleplay for Jesus of Nazareth later penned the 1979 novel "Man of Nazareth" based on his teleplay.

    • In 2004, Jesus of Nazareth Production Manager Abdellatif Ben Ammar (now under the name Tarak Ben Ammar), went on to distribute Mel Gibson's similar biblical film The Passion of the Christ through his company "Quinta Distribution".

    • Automaker General Motors eventually pulled its commercial sponsorship of the original broadcast of the miniseries Jesus of Nazareth in response to protests that included a letter-writing campaign spearheaded by the President of Bob Jones University at the time, Bob Jones, III

    • The miniseries Jesus of Nazareth was filmed on location in England, Tunisia, and Morocco.

    • In 1978, Jesus of Nazareth was nominated for 2 Emmy awards - "Outstanding Special - Drama or Comedy" and "Outstanding Performance by a Supporting Actor in a Comedy or Drama Special" for James Farentino in the role of Simon Peter.