It used to be that telling stories around the edges of faith was what faithful people did. Jews call this midrash, or aggadah: the tales that extend the stories of Torah and other scriptures, that fill the gaps between the lines. It is here, not in the holy writ, that Abraham smashed idols, that Lilith was Adam’s first wife, that the hand of Pharoah’s daughter miraculously stretched to reach baby Moses as he floated down the Nile.
Early Christians told stories too, prodigiously. They fleshed out many stories about Jesus only alluded to in the canon, like the descent into hell we refer to in the Apostles’ Creed and wonderful details of his childhood. In the Renaissance, St. Ignatius Loyola taught his followers to practice imaginative self-immersion, filling enough gaps in the sparse scriptural narratives to feel like they were there. From Pentecost to the verses of Dante, Christians made the faith their own by riffing on it.
All this is to underscore my surprise that the major creative achievement of American evangelicalism in recent years—with a Catholic in the starring role—is essentially midrashic.
“The Chosen” is a TV show about Jesus, told through the lives of his followers and others caught up in his ministry. Jesus himself and his Red Letter lines appear only briefly, while the Gospels’ tiny snippets about his followers explode into the foreground. Why was Simon Peter fishing when Jesus found him, and what were the women disciples doing all day while the Gospel accounts were ignoring them? Why did the disciples argue so much? The answers require conjuring a lot of stories.
The show has bypassed conventional studios with the most successful media crowdfunding campaign in history, which included both donations and equity investment. It follows a long tradition of Christians pioneering cooperative economies, going back to the Book of Acts. In this and other ways, “The Chosen” directs our focus outward—to the enabling role of the audience, in addition to the lives of the disciples.
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Nathan Schneider, a contributing writer for America, is a reporter and professor of media studies at the University of Colorado Boulder.
With thanks to America and Nathan Schneider, where this article originally appeared.
Watch The Chosen on the free app: https://thechosen.tv/app