Jesus Is Real – And So Are His Disciples: Review of Season 1 of The Chosen

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The Chosen is a superb historical drama television series about the life and ministry of Jesus of Nazareth. Season 1 was released in 2019. The series was created, directed, and co-written by an American filmmaker, Dallas Jenkins. It is a magical series – appealing to anyone who is interested in how life was lived in Jesus’s time.

Set in Galilee and Judea, the story is about the beginning of the earthly ministry of Jesus, starting in A.D. 26. The Chosen is based on the true stories of the Gospels. However, some of the timeline and locations have been altered, and fictional characters have been added. Naturally, much of the dialogue has been invented, as well. But the historical context and artistic flourishes in the series have been designed by the creators of The Chosen to support the truth of the Scriptures.

In essence, The Chosen is an intimate and personal portrait of Jesus as seen through the eyes of his apostles and those who encounter him. And the genius of The Chosen is that it builds the story of Jesus’s ministry around the portraits and lives of his disciples as well as others who come in contact with him like Mary Magdalene, Nicodemus, and other Pharisees.

For example, the first episode of Season 1 is primarily the story of Mary Magdalene in the town of Capernaum. As the story unfolds, we are led to understand that she has been raped by a Roman soldier and has fallen into a life of prostitution. She has also gone off the deep end and is possessed by demons. The great rabbi and Pharisaic leader Nicodemus happens to be visiting Capernaum, and his followers request that he venture into the “Red Quarter” and try to heal Mary. Nicodemus bravely ventures where no Pharisee would normally dare go to try to exorcise the demons from Lilith, as Mary is then called. Nicodemus (played brilliantly by Erick Avari) tries and fails. Mary then encounters Jesus and is miraculously healed. And being restored to her former self, she assumes her original name of Mary rather than Lilith, which she was called when she was working in the Red Quarter. It is a spellbinding scene.

The Chosen is incredibly popular. There have apparently been more than 400 million views of The Chosen seen by 100 million people worldwide. It has been translated into dozens of languages, too. Why?  One of the main reasons is that The Chosen takes the viewer into the everyday lives of Jesus and his disciples. During Jesus’s three-year ministry, he and his disciples were nomads, traveling from town to town, through Judea and Samaria, and south from Galilee to Jerusalem and back again. The Chosen shows this band of brothers and sisters camping out each night, chopping wood, building fires, and gathering food. It also shows the disciples quarrelling and bickering, as they surely did, coming from widely different backgrounds and perspectives. They are real people with flaws – not idealized saints.

The Chosen was filmed in Texas and Utah in settings which appear as Jewish villages did 2,000 years ago. There are no glass windows so many of the indoor scenes are shot in dark rooms, and the plates, bowls, and cups are made of crockery. The Chosen reinforces the Biblical account in the four Gospels in remarkable ways.

The first episode also introduces Matthew, the tax collector, who is an outcast in Jewish society, considered a traitor for his collaboration with the Romans. Matthew (played by Paras Patel) is socially awkward (and appears to be on the spectrum of autism), but he is a whiz at figures. The Roman magistrate, Praetor Quintus, and the centurion who reports to him, Gaius, value Matthew greatly, because of his brilliance with numbers and his ability to gather such a rich harvest of taxes from the local Jewish citizens. The portrayal of Matthew in this way is a brilliant touch, as he oddly becomes one of the protagonists of the series and a favorite of the viewers.

Another subplot in Episode 1 has to do with Simon (later to be known as Peter) and his brother, Andrew — both fishermen who are greatly in arrears with their taxes to Rome. In order not to lose his house and boat as payment for back taxes, Simon makes a deal with Praetor Quintus to spy on his fellow Jewish fishermen, who are illegally fishing on the Sabbath.  Andrew considers this deal by Simon to be a betrayal, but thankfully, Simon ultimately chooses not go through with it.

In Episode 2, Simon is saved from financial ruin by the miraculous catch of fish they get when Jesus instructs them to “put out into the deep” (as described in Luke 5) and they catch what the Gospel account calls “a great number of fish.” The catching of a boatload of fish is an incredibly well-done scene, bringing life and plausible context to the Gospel account. And this, of course, is the moment when Jesus asks Simon to “follow him” and “become a fisher of men.”

The first season has eight episodes, which highlight many of the miracles which Jesus performs in the early days of his ministry. There is a marvelous scene in which Jesus rescues the bride’s family in the wedding at Cana by turning water into exquisite wine and leads Doubting Thomas to become one of his disciples. Another powerful episode portrays Jesus healing a leper and later the paralytic who is lowered through the roof of the house to be brought before Jesus.

One of the most compelling episodes in Season 1 deals with Nicodemus meeting with Jesus at night. It is a beautiful portrayal of Chapter 3 of John’s Gospel, from which the famous passage of John 3:16 comes: “For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish, but have eternal life.” And another moving episode which can bring tears to your eyes is the famous Gospel story where Jesus encounters the woman at the well in Samaria, as laid out in the fourth chapel of the Gospel of John.

One of the great strengths of The Chosen is the superb acting of Jonathan Roumie, a believing Catholic in real life, who plays Jesus. And Elizabeth Tabish’s role of Mary Magdalene is a tour de force, as is Paras Patel who plays Matthew. The actors portraying Simon Peter (Shahar Isaac), his wife (Lara Silva, who plays the character called Eden in the series), and the two Roman officers (Brandon Potter and Kirk Woller) are also outstanding.

In order to present a historically accurate portrayal of the true stories of the Gospels, the directors and writers of The Chosen have assembled a panel of experts to advise them. The panel consists of a Catholic priest, an Evangelical Protestant professor of Biblical studies, and a Messianic Jewish rabbi.

Another remarkable feature of The Chosen is that the series was not funded by a small group of well-heeled investors. It was crowdfunded. The first season of The Chosen raised more than $10 million from sixteen thousand donors — a near miracle in the crowdfunding world. It is the most money raised by crowdfunding in media history. Now there is The Chosen non-profit, which enables people to give money to the series to produce future episodes and receive a charitable gift tax deduction. One can only marvel at the genius of Dallas Jenkins and his team in creating the vision of The Chosen and then managing to bring it to life.

The first two seasons of The Chosen can be seen for free on Amazon Prime, Netflix, and Peacock. There is also a Chosen app that can be downloaded to view Season 3.  DVDs of the first two seasons can also be bought.

Do yourself a favor and watch the first episode in Season 1 of The Chosen. It will be close to impossible for you not to watch the next two seasons!

Thankfully, seven seasons are ultimately planned. Can hardly wait.


Robert H. Bradley is Chairman of Bradley, Foster & Sargent Inc., a $6.2 billion wealth management firm that has offices in Hartford, Connecticut and Wellesley, Massachusetts. Read other articles by him here.


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