Filmmaker Rob Orlando has one piece of advice when it comes to reading the Bible: Follow the money.
By: Bob Smietana, The Tennessean
Orlando, a Princeton, N.J.-based filmmaker, will be in Nashville Thursday to screen “A Polite Bribe,” a new documentary about the Apostle Paul, who wrote most of the New Testament.
The filmmaker claims that Paul tried to bribe Jesus’ earliest followers into accepting him as a real apostle.
But the bribe backfired, he said, and nearly got Paul killed in the process.
“The film uncovers a little-known fact of history — that there was a bribe between the apostles that allowed Christianity to be born,” said Orlando. “It’s a story about power struggles and ethnicity.”
Green Hills screening
The 82-minute film, which will be shown at 7 p.m. at the Regal Cinemas in Green Hills, features interviews with about 30 scholars, including Amy-Jill Levine of Vanderbilt Divinity School, interspersed with animation portraying key events in the life of Paul.
Orlando and Gerd Ludemann, a New Testament professor from Germany who is a visiting scholar at Vanderbilt, will host a question-and-answer session after the screening.
The filmmaker said he came up with the title “A Polite Bribe” after reading one of Ludemann’s books.
The film is based on events recounted in several of Paul’s New Testament letters as well as an incident in the book of Acts, where Paul is nearly killed by a mob.
The filmmaker says that in the early church there was a dispute between Paul and Jesus’ other disciples. Paul wanted to recruit Gentiles into the new faith, while the other disciples wanted Christians to still practice Jewish customs.
He believes that Paul collected money from Gentile churches and then offered that money to the other disciples to appease them.
The New Testament depicts the money as a charitable donation to help the poor, but Orlando doesn’t buy that story.
“It wasn’t just a happy collection — ‘Let’s just go help the poor,’ ” he said. “What he wants is for the other disciples to say, ‘He is one of us.’ ”
Ludemann said many people have an idealistic picture of early Christianity, where all the disciples followed Jesus’ command to love one another.
“That is a myth,” he said.
Instead, he said, the early church leaders were flawed human beings who were divided by ethnic conflict between Jews and non-Jews.
Ludemann said he hopes the film will get people to think less about Jesus and more about Paul when it comes to understanding Christianity.
Jesus, he said, left no primary sources, and the New Testament gospels were written long after he died.
Life of influence
By contrast, the Bible contains at least seven letters written by Paul, which date back to when the faith was starting.
“There would have been no Christianity without Paul,” he said.
Orlando hopes viewers will come away from the film with a better appreciation of Paul.
He said the apostle is one of the most influential people in Western history but few people know the details of his life.
That life was mostly tragic, Orlando said.
He points to the story in Acts 21, where a mob attacks Paul and nearly kills him. Paul is rescued by Roman soldiers but then is sent to prison, where he eventually dies.
None of the other disciples even come to visit him, said Orlando.
“He thought that the whole Jesus movement was dead and that he was rejected,” he said. “He was only successful after he was dead. He is the one that blasted the religion out to the world. Everyone knows Jesus now because Paul told them.”
After the Nashville screening, the film will be shown in Charlotte, Chicago and New York. Copies can be pre-ordered at apolitebribe.com.