The Life and Times of Jesus: The First Christmas

Narrator: Armand Assante.

Narrator: Armand Assante.

Gospels reader: Betty Buckley.

Reading from the gospels by Matthew and Luke, examining what is known through archaeology and theology, oral histories, Jewish views and Christian traditions, lovely docu considers Jesus the child, boy and, briefly, man. It’s an intriguing example of how differences can converge.

Filmed on location where much of the action took place, enhanced by shots of magnificent Renaissance paintings, punctuated by remarks by contemporary scholars and clearly explained by Lori J.B. Nelson’s script, the program considers New Testament versions of the Holy Family, looks at dates usually accepted as true, brings up points about the fallacies of many theories.

Doubt is raised about Herod’s role in the slaughter of the innocents — first-century Jewish historian Josephus doesn’t mention it — but the role of the wise men, though placed later than at the time of Jesus’ birth, is satisfactorily confronted.

The conjectures are handled clearly but with restraint, pointing out the miscalculations over Jesus’ birth date by Roman monk Dionysius Exiguus, and describing astronomer-mathematician Joseph Kepler’s 16th-century theory about the Christmas Star, and how early Church officials selected Dec. 25 to coincide with the winter solstice.

Camerawork is good, the editing superior. The mix of original music by Daniel A. Vermette and classic themes is appropriate, but uneven sound mixing blurs a couple of spots.

The Life and Times of Jesus: The First Christmas

(Sun. (19), 9-10 p.m., Learning Channel)

Production: Filmed principally in the Middle East, U.S., Montreal and Paris by Cine Mundo Inc. Prods. and U.S. News & World Report. Exec producer, Stuart Recant; producers, Michellle Faurot, Nicolas Valcor, Alona Abt (Israel); director, Stacey Foiles; writer, Lori J.B. Nelson.

Crew: Camera, Bernard Couture; editor, Christine Denault; sound, Muses, Le Centra Inc.; music, Daniel A. Vermette.

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