Now preparing for its fourth season of a projected seven, the series The Chosen aims to portray the life of the founder of Christianity as told in the gospels. Faydra Shapiro admits that when she first became aware of the show, she assumed that it would at best be “cheesy” and at worst an all-too-typical “Christian evangelistic tool that ends up making the Jews out to be the bad guys, the dramatic foil for some new message, the ones responsible, the persecutors.” Then the producers asked her to serve as a Jewish adviser for upcoming episodes, and she watched those already aired:
To my complete surprise, The Chosen presents the most intensely Jewish Jesus . . . we’ve ever had. Now look, don’t misunderstand me. As an educated Jew watching it, undoubtedly some of it strikes me as a bit kitschy. Some of it is anachronistic. Some of it is just plain wrong. But all that pales in the face of its value for building understanding between Jews and Christians.
There is an unfortunate tendency for many Jews to think that the New Testament is kind of threatening, that it is foreign, that it has nothing to do with us. That it belongs to “them.” Much of this is no doubt aided by well-meaning Christians seeking to shove it down our throats.
I wish that Jews could understand that the New Testament is thoroughly Jewish—replete with Jewish categories and Jewish practices, Jewish controversies, Jewish scripture, and brimming with Jews—I think we could reclaim some of our own history. Because, let’s face it, if we want to understand something about the Judaism of our ancestors in this specific period, the New Testament has some real value.
The Chosen will, I believe, alter how a whole generation of Christians envisions and connects to the Jewishness of Jesus. And as such, it has the potential to have a radical impact on how Christians encounter their Jewish neighbors, friends, and co-workers. At a time of rapidly rising anti-Semitism in the West, this is no small thing.