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Jesus is seen ministering at the healing pool in the TV show Living in the Time of Jesus.
TORONTO — Most Christians know the famous stories from the Gospel, such as Jesus overturning the moneychangers' tables in the temple, Jesus restoring a blind man's sight and soldiers arresting Jesus.
But few Christians know the day-to-day lives of people who lived in first century Judea. Now a three-part documentary based on iconic events from the New Testament sheds new light on the ins and outs of everyday life over 2,000 years ago.
"Sometimes in a big painting, like a Rembrandt or whatever, everybody is looking at the main action," said Simcha Jacobovici, producer and executive producer of the documentary, Living in the Time of Jesus.
"If you're actually standing next to a painting in a museum, sometimes your eye wanders to little details that you don't normally think about in the corners of the frame."
In much the same way, the documentary allows viewers to witness life in biblical times by zooming beyond the main action into the finer points that few have ever bothered to view.
The documentary series airs on Vision TV, from April 11-13 (8 p.m. MT). The three episodes are Making a Living, Healing the Sick, and Crime and Punishment.
Produced in a documentary format, scenes are dramatized with actors and then fast forward to the modern day. The host is Arne Kislenko, associate professor of history at Ryerson University. He and experts take a modern look at ancient practices. Kislenko gets his hands dirty doing the jobs of ancient carpenters, shepherds and camel-riding merchants.
"If we talk about flogging in the Roman world, he gets flogged. Our host is with an expert in ancient food, and he cooks the food, tastes the food. Or he's with a doctor and they practise ancient medicine, and they put leeches on him," said Jacobovici.
Research teams were formed to track down experts on obscure subjects such as Judean food, ancient farming methods, Roman law and Temple rituals of the era.
The research, said Jacobovici, involved asking "simple, kid-level questions that were difficult to find the answers to."
Most Christians know the big stories, especially the crucifixion. But what did people eat? What clothes did they wear? What cures were available in the days before penicillin? Those questions are answered against the backdrop of some of the greatest human dramas.
"Jesus gets arrested at Gethsemane and we all know that story. But who were the cops? Who were they working for? What did they get paid? Was that a good job in those days? We really tried to figure out the day-to-day texture of that world," said Jacobovici.
The researchers were intrigued by the idea that among Jesus' 12 disciples, at least four of them were fishermen. They sought to understand why that particular occupation was common among his disciples. Were they poorer than everybody else? Were they more spiritual? The research team discovered that fishing was big business in Galilee, and that fishermen were upper class citizens.
"It's not just learning a bunch of factoids — it actually changes the way you see or hear the story. All of the small details come to life, like going from black and white to colour," said Jacobovici.
Especially as Easter approaches, Jacobovici said that Christians are a prime audience for this documentary but it will also appeal to other demographics, including history buffs and young people.
"It's not a bunch of guys sitting around a table arguing theology. That wouldn't appeal, say, to a younger audience. But seeing a guy have leeches put on him, or a guy being covered head to toe in Dead Sea mud — which is used then and now for healing — that's cool," said Jacobovici.
Associated Producers Ltd., a Toronto-based documentary filmmaker, produced Living in the Time of Jesus, in association with Vision TV in Canada and the National Geographic Channel in the U.S.