Monday, October 15, 2012

Preaching to the Choir: "The Star of Bethlehem" (2007)

I guarantee the amount you enjoy this film is related to the amount of faith you have in its subject.

Aping Al Gore's monumentally successful "An Inconvenient Truth," lawyer Frederick A. Larson also presents a slide show about a subject. That subject is whether or not the star of Bethlehem, which brought the three (or so) wise men from the east to celebrate the birth of Jesus Christ was real. Larson does not have Gore's live audiences, so he presents his findings in a library to a small gathering.

Larson is the first to tell us he is not an astronomer. He is a lawyer. He started doing research on a whim, after refusing a neighborhood boy's efforts to decorate his lawn with non-Christian Christmas decorations. Larson wanted to display the star, and began to do a little research. Well, thank goodness for the age of the computer. Larson began to read the Bible very closely, not for theology but for time clues about what was seen in the sky back then, and when. Using computer software, he is able to reconstruct what was seen then, and eventually rule out hypotheses such as comets and exploding stars. Taking the Book of Matthew as his word-for-word starting point, Larson is able not only to explain the star, but also what was going on in the sky when Jesus was crucified as well.

The documentary is not a bunch of talking heads and questionable Biblical scholars. Larson gives his talk, which never bored, and then illustrated his findings with his animated vistas of the night sky. Intercut with his lecture is footage of Larson reenacting his moments of discovery, all put to a very impressive soundtrack by Julie Davison Larson.

Most documentaries I see on the Bible fall into two camps. One has the frothing evangelist foreseeing the end of the world unless I send them money, and the other has liberal scholars explaining away miracles dismissively through science, making one wonder what drew them to study the Bible in the first place. The most ridiculous instance of this was a show where one learned university professor claimed the only way the Virgin Mary could have give birth to Jesus was because she was a hermaphrodite...I literally laughed out loud, then wiped that channel off my remote.

Larson and the film makers here are a little different. The project is very short (barely an hour), but is also very earnest in their beliefs. Larson is not damning anyone to an eternity in pools of fire for not believing, but he does not look down his nose at the other theories that are presented about the star. He takes the facts he has, interprets them, and presents what he finds- which is very convincing. He is easy to listen to, and passionate about what he found, talking honestly about how he surprised even himself with what he learned.

To put it simply, if you are an atheist, you are not going to believe Larson's presentation. But if you are a practicing or lapsed Christian, looking to expand your knowledge of the Gospel aside from yet another Bible study program, you might want to give "The Star of Bethlehem" a spin. (* * * *) out of five stars.