Director Adam Anders of ‘Glee’ fame teamed up with ‘High School Musical’ screenwriter Peter Barsocchini for creating the musical family adventure film ‘Journey to Bethlehem.’ The Sony Pictures Affirm Film provides a creative twist to the greatest story ever told by recounting the events that led to the birth of Jesus Christ and the origins of Christmas. The movie follows Mary and Joseph in their journey from Nazareth to Bethlehem and their attempts to shelter their divine child from the merciless King Herod.
It stars Milo Manheim and Fiona Palomo as the lead pair, with Antonio Banderas assuming the role of the relentless villain. The musical is also projected as a romantic comedy with love and light and the kind of hurdles Joseph and Mary need to face when the Virgin Mary is impregnated by the Holy Spirit and given the responsibility to give birth to the Son of God. While this Nativity story is widely associated with Christmas and has been depicted in many ways through plays, art forms, and stories told to children, let’s explore how much of the true story of the birth of Jesus has been incorporated in ‘Journey to Bethlehem.’
How True is Journey to Bethlehem?
‘Journey to Bethlehem’ draws inspiration from the popular Christmas stories about the birth of Jesus Christ. The retelling of these stories usually includes three wise kings, shepherds who heard from an angel, a vengeful King Herod who didn’t shy away from killing innocent children to find baby Jesus, and the divine experiences of Joseph and Mary, who were both entrusted with ensuring that baby Jesus was given all the safety and care they could offer.
These stories for children don’t mention that all the information about the birth of Christ that has been gleaned from the Holy Bible is not presented in a linear manner. We can mostly rely on the accounts of two evangelists or witnesses among four who wrote about Jesus’ life about 70 years after his birth – Matthew and Luke – who agree in the New Testament that Mary was a virgin when she gave birth to Jesus in Bethlehem. The other details mentioned by them aren’t exactly contradictory but highlight different instances from the time of Jesus’ birth that have helped shape the stories in popular culture now.
Matthew’s account discusses how an angel appeared to Joseph in a dream at a time when he felt very conflicted about Mary being pregnant with a child. The angel assured Joseph about the presence of the Holy Spirit in her, which made him feel more confident about his relationship with Mary and the child. This is in parts depicted in the movie as well since Joseph initially hesitates about Mary’s child, but without any angel in his dream, Mary asks him to trust her. Matthew also discusses the three wise men or the three kings who approached the king of Judea, Herod, about a new king of Jews born in Judea’s Bethlehem. These wise men also make an appearance in the musical, who, according to the original story, follow a bright star in the sky that leads them to Jesus.
Matthew also mentions Herod’s cruelty, due to which he was willing to massacre innocent children, including his own, in his search for Jesus and to prevent any other king from taking over his throne. This leads to Mary and Joseph fleeing to Egypt for their child’s safety from Bethlehem. Hints of this incident have also been depicted in the film, where it becomes clear that Mary and Joseph are afraid of Herod and what he will do to them and their child if they are found.
None of these details is mentioned in Luke’s account, who focuses more on the incident where an angel appeared in front of shepherds watching their flock at night and informed them about a savior in the city of David who will be found resting in a manger, which is a trough for feeding farm animals. Mary and Joseph did not find any inn or a crib at the time Jesus was conceived. Luke’s account also mentions that Jesus was named after a suggestion from the angel Gabriel, who appeared to the Virgin Mary. This part has also been covered in the film, although giving it a dramatized depiction, moments before Jesus is about to be born.
Therefore, for Matthew, the birth of Jesus is associated more with the coming of a savior, like Moses, to help free the people of Israel by showing how through dreams, Joseph managed to protect Jesus and only came back to Nazareth after the king was dead. But for Luke, this story was about a new David, who was Joseph’s father, with many references to Bethlehem as the city of David. The story of Nativity, as told to the children, on the other hand, seems more of a compilation of these two accounts to present a chronology of everything that happened when Jesus was born. Clearly, while the musical draws heavily from all the accounts in the Bible, it has still taken many liberties to tell the story in a very different way that would appeal more to today’s audiences.
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