“The Christian Traveler” sounds like a Travel Channel show for believers, but it’s the most recent collection from Questar Entertainment and Reader’s Digest, bundled films pertaining to Biblical sites that first aired on TV. Four of these do feel like travel shows, while two focus on biblical heroes and coincidentally talk about the land, and one takes an “Unsolved Mysteries” approach. There’s some overlapping, as you might expect from a bundle of shows that were intended as stand-alones, but for the most part the 660-minute total run time feels like time well spent.
“The Gates of Jerusalem”
This entry was an episode from the “Mysteries of the Bible III” TV series, which aired in 1998. It’s narrated by Richard Kiley (who first sang and recorded “The Impossible Dream”), and there’s plenty of footage of Old Jerusalem plus a primer on the gates and their associations (who can/should enter where). Kiley is shown on-camera at first and then recedes into the background as the voiceover narrator who tells us about Jerusalem’s rich history and all the sacred sites associated with both Christian and Muslim beliefs. On this and other installments in this boxed set, there’s a blend of current travel footage, maps, and re-enactments. There are lots of fascinating details, including the story of how Ottoman Empire ruler Suleiman the Magnificent built the current outer wall and restored many of the crumbling religious sites within the city.
“The Apostle Paul”
Part of the Heroes of the Bible series, this installment focuses on the Christians’ greatest persecutor–Saul–who converted to Christianity and became Paul, an early facilitator of an international Christian church and Christianity’s biggest booster. Talk about a 180! Paul traveled far and wide to spread the Gospel, and beginning in Tarsus, Turkey, his place of birth, we follow his path, which includes Jerusalem, Antioch, Philippi, Athens, Corinth, Ephesus, and Rome. Narrated by Ben Kingsley.
“Where Jesus Walked”
This film by Eric Forsberg aired on TV in 1995, and once you get past an extremely cheesy opening it settles into another informative and pictorial documentary. Film footage of modern-day sites where Jesus trod some 2000 years ago is once again augmented by re-enactments and maps. We see Bethlehem, Nazareth, Capernaum, Caesarea, Galilee, and the places where Jesus delivered the Beatitudes and performed the miracle of the fishes and loaves of bread, among other things. There are shots of Roman ruins, a look at the rock that is said to be the one Jesus used to climb upon the donkey he rode into Jerusalem, and the best segment of all, a look at the Via Dolorosa–the way of the cross, the path Jesus trod while carrying the cross. It’s now an eclectic marketplace that still retains an air of spirituality.
“Journey through the Bible Lands”
This low-budget 45-minute documentary from Dan Neira aired in 1997. It’s a more no-nonsense look at the sites tourists would visit, focusing on Sinai, Negen, Hebron, and Bethlehem, among others, the latter fascinating because of its Church of the Nativity marking the spot where Mary and Joseph found rest in a stable. Non-Jesus sites are also included, among them the Red Sea and Masada, where the Jews made their stand against the Romans.
“The Exodus Revealed”
Written and directed by Wayne P. Allen, this 54-minute documentary aired on TV in 2001 as part of the “Ancient Mysteries” series. I personally found it the most fascinating and also the best quality, in terms of audio and video. Taking pages from the Bible and then using logic and geography to try to ascertain where the crossing might have taken place, researchers are led to the Gulf of Aqaba, which might have been the Red Sea in the time of Moses. If 600 of Pharaoh’s chariots perished, as the Bible reports, then there would be some archaeological evidence, the scientists reason. And darned if they don’t find coral formations that seem to have attached to objects that are consistent with pictographs of four-spoke chariot wheels from the time.
“Helena: First Pilgrim to the Holy Land”
Another in the “Heroes of the Bible” series narrated by Ben Kingsley, this 2003 direct-to-video film follows Helena on her journey to retrace the footsteps of Jesus in the Holy Land and deliver on her promise to build churches to honor Him.
The best of the bunch are “The Exodus Revealed,” “The Gates of Jerusalem,” and “Journey through the Bible Lands,” in that order.
Except for the “Exodus” segment, the video is pretty rough, with indistinct edges and considerable noise. But you can still see what you need to see, and once your eyes adjust there’s no problem watching these episodes.
The audio is a nothing-special Dolby Digital Mono, that delivers the dialogue and not much more.
One stand-out bonus feature is a full-color 12-page Guide to Sacred Sites which includes a map of the land where Jesus walked, another of Jerusalem in the time of Jesus (which shows the locations of Gethsemane, Herod’s palace, the tomb of Joseph of Arimathea, etc.) and features 16 city-sites described in terms of what they have to offer pilgrims. It’s a handsome, useful booklet. Other than that, the only other bonus features are a bonus program on “The Apostle Paul” disc on “First Martyrs in Rome,” and a bevy of bonus features on the “Exodus” disc: Who was the Pharaoh of the Exodus? Where Are the Ten Commandments? From Egypt to Mount Sinai, Cecil B. DeMille’s Exodus, and a Timeline from Joseph to the Birth of Jesus. They’re brief, but quite good–especially the one about the Pharaoh who may have been the one to tangle with Moses.
The video-audio quality is a little rough, but these shows should appeal to anyone curious about the match-up between what they’ve read in the Bible and the places that exist to confirm them. “The Christian Traveler” covers all the landmarks, too, including rocks used by Jesus and Abraham and the final resting places of major biblical figures.