Issue No. 11 14 - 20 Mar 2011

Jesus on Silver Screen


A review of the miracle makerA Review of The Miracle Maker (2000) - by Wong Sze Teen
Last semester, Wong Sze Teen (Dip CS Student) enrolled for the course Jesus on the Silver Screen: Portrayal of Jesus and Christ Figures on Film (Lecturer: Quek Tze-Ming; TS282/MM280; 1.5 credits). She shares with us her review of the stop-motion clay-animation film The Miracle Maker (Derek Hayes, Director; Murray Watts, Screenwriter; Family Home Entertainment, 2000).

Literary dimension
The Jesus story in The Miracle Maker was retold from the perspective of Tamar, the daughter of Jairus, a synagogue official, and the girl whom Jesus raised from the dead in the biblical account. The girl was not named by the Evangelists, but the screenwriter, Murray Watts, has aptly chosen the name of Tamar for her. The opening scene has Jairus visiting the city of Sepphoris together with Tamar in search of a cure for his sick daughter. The gloomy declaration by the doctor that there is no cure for Tamar provides the setting for a spectacular miracle that is to take place. While the opening scene is non-biblical, the rest of the narrative largely reflects the voices of the Evangelists.

As the screenwriter, Watts has to decide which part of the gospel account is to be included in the script and what is to be excluded. While the narrative follows the structure of the Lukan account, Watts has also borrowed the contents of the other three gospel accounts. The nativity of Jesus, including the visit of the shepherds and the presentation of gifts by the magi, and Jesus’ visit to Jerusalem at the age of twelve is narrated in flashbacks. However, the annunciation to Mary and the visitation to her cousin, Elizabeth, are omitted. Indeed, Mary disappears totally from the narrative after a brief conversation with Jesus on the night before he sets off for his Father’s business. The baptism of Jesus together with the proclamation from heaven, and his temptation in the wilderness are presented, but not the transfiguration. Consistent with the movie title, the narrative is full of miracles by Jesus: the deliverance of Mary Magdalene, the healing of the paralytic and the woman with a haemorrhage, and the raising of Tamar and Lazarus. In contrast, the teachings of Jesus are featured less; only the parables of building a house on the rock and the Good Samaritan are included.

As the narrative unfolds, the tension between Jesus and the Jewish establishment begins to build up, as the latter grows increasingly suspicious and wary of his acts, teachings and influence. Jesus’ popularity amongst the people peaks at the raising of Lazarus from the dead. Threatened by the prospect of Jesus leading a movement against the Romans, the Pharisees and the priests convene a meeting to discuss what to do with Jesus. It is Caiaphas’ observation that it is better to have one man die than have the whole nation perish (John 11:50) that sets the resolve to kill Jesus.

The passion narrative is largely intact. The scourging is probably deliberately left out so as not to overwhelm the child audiences. What is notable, in comparison to other Jesus films, is the extensive coverage of the post-resurrection appearances, which largely follow the Johannine account and the Book of Acts. On the whole, Watts has done a pretty neat job in editing and harmonizing the gospel accounts into a coherent and engaging script.

Artistic dimension
The appeal of The Miracle Maker lies in the choice of the medium to retell the Jesus story. The use of clay animation not only captivates the attention of the children, but also brings out a childlike delight and a sense of nostalgia in the adult audiences for a story that has long suffered the loss of newness. The quality of the animation may not match that of productions with computer generated imagery, but the animated expressions of the clay figures certainly do not fail to capture the emotions of the characters that are portrayed. Credit must be given to the team of the Russian puppeteers for creating such life-like figures that make the audience forget that they are looking at clay dolls. The costumes of the clay characters, their features, and physical settings reflect the Middle Eastern world of Jesus’ day. The interlude of traditional hand-drawn animation for flashbacks and other significant events serves to engage the audience continually by breaking the monotony of the narration.

Also noteworthy is the interesting development of the characters. As the narrative unfolds from the perspective of Tamar, the audience too is drawn into the curiosity of the protagonist towards Jesus. Just as Tamar is first attracted to the display of kindness by Jesus towards Mary Magdalene, then his teachings and miracles, the audience too is involuntarily drawn towards Jesus in that sequence. Upon the arrest and crucifixion of Jesus, the audience joins in the perplexity and grief experienced by Tamar and Jesus’ other followers in the story. Peter is portrayed as a fearless and reckless man right from the beginning, whilst Thomas is the ever wistful doubter. Judas’ violent zeal against the Romans explains his disappointment and dilemma when he realises Jesus’ mission may not be in line with his agenda. The Roman centurion’s distant admiration for Jesus when he first meets him turns into confession of his divine sonship at the cross.

Jesus and childrenHistorical dimension
While The Miracle Maker does not raise the question of the Jesus of history, it highlights the Jewish piety and the hierarchy of powers prominent in first century Palestine. The pious exchange of greetings between Jairus and Cleopas is noted in the opening scene. The Pharisees’ zeal for the Torah observance is contrasted with the zeal of the Zealots to overthrow the Romans. There seems to be an anticipation of the Messiah and the coming of the Kingdom of God, though their understanding may be quite different from the teaching of Jesus. The Jewishness of Jesus is a distinctive feature in The Miracle Maker. He is portrayed as a Jew living and working amongst his people in Galilee. He is conversant with the Jewish customs and law, and seeks to follow them.

The establishment’s preoccupation for power and control is displayed in their suspicion of Jesus as his popularity increases. The political play between the Roman rulers and members of the Sanhedrin is also displayed. The Roman rulers are careful not to provoke the Jews into an uprising against them, but at the same time would act swiftly to quash any insurgents. Likewise, the Sanhedrin is keen to maintain the status quo and works on the fears of the Roman rulers by suggesting the prospect of an uprising if Jesus is not exterminated.

Notwithstanding that history may not be a major concern of Watts, he does leave some historical marks in his script. One historical detail is setting the opening scene in Sepphoris, an ancient city situated in Galilee that is excavated by the archaeologists recently. Another historical mark is the choice of locating the scene, i.e. the beginning of Jesus’ ministry, in “Year 90 of the Roman occupation.”

Theological dimension
The divinity and humanity of Jesus are given equal treatment in The Miracle Maker. The proclamation of John the Baptist, the heavenly affirmation, the miracle-workings, and his death, resurrection and ascension all point to his divinity. At various points, Jesus relates to God as his Father and reiterates that his mission is to inaugurate the Kingdom of God. Jesus is portrayed as knowing of his impending death right from the beginning and foretells it to his disciples. The last words “it is finished” uttered by Jesus at the cross suggest that he knows that his mission includes his death. Jesus’ resurrection and ascension affirms both his divinity and messiahship.

Watts has also given much attention in bringing out Jesus’ humanity. Jesus is portrayed as kind and gentle with the people. He has a good sense of humour (evident in his account of the parables) and laughs all the time. He is full of emotions. He grieves deeply at the death of John, shows his compassion for the sick, lashes out at the merchants in the temple, and cries out desperately to the Father in the Garden of Gethsemane.

As much as Watts has endeavoured to present only the voices of the Evangelists, the subjectivity involved in selection of the gospel accounts would inevitably reflect his own bias. Interestingly, the result is a reflection of the Third Quest’s emphasis on Jesus’ Jewishness. All in all, this clay animation is a heart-warming production that is sure to draw many hearts to Jesus.

Faculty News

On Tuesday evenings during March (8.00 - 10.00 p.m.) Dr Satterthwaite will be teaching on the book of Isaiah at Barker Road Methodist Church as part of their Trek Through the Bible programme. This Tuesday he will speak on Isaiah 13-27.

Dr Lai Pak Wah will be conducting a workshop entitled “Christian Spirituality in a Technological Age” at Zion Bishan BP Church on 19 Mar 2011 at 12 pm.

Chapel Summary
April Sim, our alumna, shared her reflections on Ephesians 5:1-2. She sought to address the point that the ideas of God that we entertain are often contrary to the one depicted in Scripture when they are not rooted in life’s experiences. Pointing to Jesus's emphasis on the necessity of putting God’s word into practice and so laying a durable and solid foundation that can withstand challenges in life (Mt. 7:27), she urged us to develop a more integrated and reflective idea of God. In her reflection, she reminded us that our attempt to emulate God occurs in the context of a father-child relationship. It is a relationship based on God’s love for us, instructions to us, and His discipline of us as our Heavenly Father. On our part, we surrender our lives to Him, obey Him, and are transformed by Him (Rom. 12:1-2). April shared snippets of her growing up years with her late father to illustrate the reality of growth in the context of this father-child relationship. Her closing challenge to us was, in her own words: “read not selectively, see not what we want to see, hear not what tickles the ear, be questioning, make our own independent judgment to work out our own conviction and beliefs, and to clarify the reality of Christ in us in order to represent God truly.”
Installation of New Principal: An Invitation

The Council and Faculty of the Biblical Graduate School of Theology have the pleasure of inviting you to attend the installation of Dr Philip Satterthwaite as Principal on 30th March 2011, 8.00 p.m. at Prinsep Street Presbyterian Church, 77 Prinsep Street. The exhortation will be delivered by Rev. Dr Ridge Orr, Moderator of Prinsep Street Presbyterian Church.

There will be a reception with light refreshments from 7.15 p.m. R.S.V.P. by 23rd March 2011 at Tel: 62276815 ext 222 or email: bgst@pacific.net.sg.

The invitation can be found online: http://bgst.edu.sg/media/files/invitation/installation-service.pdf.

Book Corner
2011 March Sale

Course Commencing

Introduction to Church History II:
Six-Continent Christianities (CH102, 3cr);
Mar 15, 22, 29, Apr 5, 12, 19, 26, May 3, 10, 24;
(Tue 7.15-9.45pm)
Venue: Clarus Centre
Lecturer: Dr Lai Pak Wah

Educational Planning & Management (ECF510, 3cr);
Mar 17, 24, 31, Apr 7, 14, 21, 28, May 5, 12, 19;
(Thu 7.15-9.45pm)
Venue: Zion Bishan BP Church, 4 Bishan Street 13
Lecturer: Dr Ng Peh Cheng

Teaching the Westminster Confession of Faith
(TS216, 3cr);(Group Tutorial) by Dr Douglas Milne/
Tutor: Dr Edwin Tay;
Mar 25, Apr 1, 8, 15, 29, May 6, 13, 20;
(Fri 7.15-9.45pm)
Venue: Prinsep St Presbyterian Church, 77 Prinsep Street


Contemporary Issues Facing Counsellors Today
(CO241, 1.5cr);
Mar 28, Apr 4, 11, 18, 25; (Mon 7.15-9.45pm)
Venue: Zion Bishan BP Church, 4 Bishan Street 13
Lecturer: Dr Danny Goh

The course schedule for Semester I, year 2011-2012 is now available.
For more information, please visit our website: http://bgst.edu.sg/courses-and-events

Tentmakers Equipping 'N' Training

Biblical Basis for Tentmaking Mission
Tues. May 24 & 31; 2011 (7.20-10.00pm)
Facilitator: Mrs Leong King Teng

Theology of Work
Tues. Jun 7, 14 & 21; 2011 (7.20-10.00pm)
Facilitator: Dr Toh See Kiat

Understanding Culture & Country Profile Studies
Tues. Jul 5, 12, 19 & 26; 2011 (7.20-10.00pm)
Facilitators: Dr Ng Peh Cheng & Miss Valerie Lim

Religions of Asia
Tues. Aug 2, 16 & 23; 2011 (7.20-10.00pm)
Facilitator: Dr Jeanette Hui

Tentmakers & Ethical Issues
Sat. Oct 8 & 15; 2011 (9.30-11.30am; 12.00-2.00pm)
Facilitator: A Former Singaporean Tentmaker
Venue: 37 Jalan Pemimpin, #06-05 Blk B
Clarus Centre (former Union Industrial Building)

Coping with Stress
Tues. Oct 11, 18 & 25; 2011 (7.20-10.00pm)
Facilitator: Mr Yam Keng Mun

All TENT courses will be held at 37 Jalan Pemimpin, #06-05 Blk B Clarus Centre (former Union Industrial Building)

For more information on TENT courses, please visit our website: http://www.bgst.edu.sg/courses-and-events/tent

Church-Based Lay Training Modules
2011 Modules offered at
Yishun Christian Church (Anglican)

Dynamics of Cell Leadership
Wed. Mar 2, 9, 16, 23 (7.30-9.30pm)
Lecturer: Dr Ng Peh Cheng

What Do We Do With Four Gospels?
Wed. April 27, May 4, 11, 18 (7.30-9.30pm)
Lecturer: Mr Quek Tze-Ming

Reformation Theology: Its Significance & Relevance for Christians Today
Wed. Jul 6, 13, 20, 27 (7.30-9.30pm)
Lecturer: Dr Edwin Tay

The Message of the Song of Songs
Wed. Sep 7, 14, 21, 28 (7.30-9.30pm)
Lecturer: Dr Philip Satterthwaite

2011 Modules offered at
Mt Carmel Bible-Presbyterian Church

Evangelism In A Cross-Cultural Context
Thu. Feb 24, Mar 3, 10, 17 (7.30-9.30pm)
Lecturer: Dr Lai Pak Wah

Dynamics Of Counselling: People Skills To Connect And Support
Thu. April 28, May 5, 12, 19 (7.30-9.30pm)
Lecturer: Mr Yam Keng Mun

The Message of the Song of Songs
Thu. Jul 7, 14, 21, 28 (7.30-9.30pm)
Lecturer: Dr Philip Satterthwaite

Beginnings: Opening the Gospels
Thu. Sep 1, 8, 15, 22 (7.30-9.30pm)
Lecturer: Mr Quek Tze-Ming

For details about the modules & registrations, please visit:

or contact
 Biblical Graduate School of Theology
Tel: 6227 6815 Fax: 6227 6816

Email: cblt-ycca@bgst.edu.sg (Yishun Christian Church)
cblt-mcbpc@bgst.edu.sg (Mt Carmel BP Church)

37 Jalan Pemimpin, #06-05 Block B, Union Industrial Building S(577177).
Tel: 6227-6815 Fax: 6255-3686 Email: bgst@pacific.net.sg
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