Using the Jesus of Nazareth Film to Prepare for Holy Week

The current TV mini-series The Bible is drawing large audiences and mixed reviews from critics. I haven’t watched it yet but plan to tune in especially for the New Testament segments. As always, watch with a critical eye and take note of discrepancies with Scripture (Hollywood likes to embellish!) to point out to those you teach.

In the meantime, a film that has withstood the test of time is Franco Zeffirelli’s Jesus of Nazareth. An excellent segment to show (for intermediate age through adult) in preparation for Holy Week is the 45-minute segment depicting the Way of the Cross, Crucifixion, and Resurrection of Jesus. Several years ago, I put together a viewing guide with teacher talking points, and recently an astute reader brought an error to my attention, which I have since fixed.

If you show this segment, it is a good idea to have the viewing guide in the hands of your learners and to pause the film occasionally to discuss instead of waiting until the end.

Anyway, I’m happy to share this viewing guide with you again.

Jesus of Nazareth Video Viewing/Discussion Guide

1.       Who is the man pacing about the Temple?

  • This is a fictional Jewish temple official – Zerah – who wants to put an end to Jesus and his followers

2.       Why is Jesus carrying his cross this way?

  • Historians/bible scholars believe that criminals carried their crossbar on their shoulders on their way to crucifixion as opposed to carrying the entire cross

3.       Who is this man who catches the eye of Jesus?

  • Nicodemus is a Pharisee who met Jesus earlier and asked him how a man can be born again
  • Nicodemus is the man who, with Joseph of Arimathea, helped to prepare the corpse of Jesus for burial (Jn 19:38-42)

4.       What is the name of the woman who wipes the face of Jesus?

  • Her name is Veronica, a name that means “true image”
  • Veronica  showed great courage to break through the crowds to show compassion to Jesus
  • Tradition says that an impression of Jesus’ face was left on the cloth
  • This scene is depicted in the Stations of the Cross

5.       Why are the letters INRI inscribed above Jesus’ head on the Cross?

  • Pontius Pilate ordered that the title Jesus of Nazareth, King of the Jews be posted above Jesus’ head
  • The letters INRI represent the first letter of each word in Latin
  • Meant to be a form of mockery, it speaks the truth about Jesus

6.       Who are the thieves crucified on each side of Jesus?

  • The “good”  thief is traditionally known as Dismas and the “bad” thief is traditionally known as Gestas
  • Gestas taunts Jesus, Dismas defends Jesus and asks him, “Jesus, remember me, when you come into your kingdom”
  • It is from this exchange that we get the beautiful hymn: Jesus, Remember Me


7.       Who is at the foot of the cross?

  • Mary, the Mother of Jesus stands at the foot of the cross
  • Traditional song, Stabat Mater – “At the cross her station keeping, stood the mournful mother weeping”
  • Mary is joined by some other women including Mary Magdalene and by John the Apostle – this little group is referred to as the Little Company of Mary (sound familiar?) <Little Company of Mary Hospital is several blocks from the parish where I teach!>

8.       What does Jesus says to John?

  • Jesus says, “Behold, your mother.”
  • From this scene, we come to see Mary as the mother of the Church
  • John is the only apostle at the cross…all the others fled

9.       What is it that Jesus cries out from the cross?

  • The Hebrew words, “Eli, Eli, lama sabacthani!”
  • Jesus is praying Psalm 22
  • My God, My God, why have you forsaken me?

10.   What is Nicodemus saying as he looks upon Jesus on the cross?

  • He is quoting Isaiah 53, a prayer about the suffering servant of God
  • Nicodemus comes to understand that to be born again, one has to die to their old self

11.   Who is it that is weeping so bitterly and why would he be weeping?

  • Peter had promised Jesus he would follow him to the end
  • Instead, Peter ended up denying 3 times that he even knew Jesus

12.   When Jesus is taken down from the cross, to whom is he given?

  • Jesus is placed in the arms of his mother, Mary
  • This scene was depicted by Michelangelo in his famous sculpture The Pieta
  • Pieta means pity
  • Displayed at St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome (the Vatican)

13.   Why is Zerah so interested in having the tomb of Jesus guarded?

  • Jewish officials feared that followers of Jesus would steal the body and claim Jesus had been raised from the dead
  • Roman and Jewish guards were placed at the tomb

14.   Who came to the tomb on Sunday morning? Why?

  • Mary Magdalene along with 2 other women
  • It was Jewish custom to anoint the body with oils
  • They encounter a gardener who asks, “why do you seek the living among the dead?”

15.   Where are the Apostles hiding and why are they hiding?

  • They are in the upper room, the same room where the Last Supper had been held
  • The apostles were afraid of being arrested as followers of Jesus
  • Mary Magdalene brings them the news of the Resurrection
  • They doubt (Thomas in particular – “doubting Thomas”)


About Joe Paprocki 2746 Articles
Joe Paprocki, DMin, is National Consultant for Faith Formation at Loyola Press, where, in addition to his traveling/speaking responsibilities, he works on the development team for faith formation curriculum resources including Finding God: Our Response to God’s Gifts and God’s Gift: Reconciliation and Eucharist. Joe has more than 35 years of experience in ministry and has presented keynotes, presentations, and workshops in more than 100 dioceses in North America. Joe is a frequent presenter at national conferences including the Los Angeles Religious Education Congress, the Mid-Atlantic Congress, and the National Conference for Catechetical Leadership. He is the author of numerous books, including the best seller The Catechist’s Toolbox, A Church on the Move, Under the Influence of Jesus, and Called to Be Catholic—a bilingual, foundational supplemental program that helps young people know their faith and grow in their relationship with God. Joe is also the series editor for the Effective Catechetical Leader and blogs about his experiences in faith formation at

10 Comments on Using the Jesus of Nazareth Film to Prepare for Holy Week

  1. Thanks! I’ve printed out 1 with the red and a student copy with the answers deleted.

    Is the error you refer to, the one in the answer to question 9? Jesus is quoting Ps 22, not Ps 51. I still see it here.

    • Thanks, Deborah. Yikes, another error! How did these slip by my readers several years ago when I first posted! Thanks for the eagle eye.

  2. Greetings! I had the same idea as Deborah to print one with answers and one without. However, I wanted your opinion about which technique would be best? I do not have a copy of the movie – yet – but would there be a lot of stopping and starting if I left the guide blank? Our classes are just barely 45 minutes and I am worried that two days on the movie might not be beneficial.

    • Hi Sharon. The segment I describe is itself 45 mins so if you stopped and started, it would go overtime. You could always show the whole segment one week and have the children take notes on the viewing guide as they watch and then use the viewing guide the following week for thorough discussion and perhaps connect it to a Scripture activity.

    • I think 5th graders would be fine with this. A few points may be over their heads but in general, the story as a whole will speak to them. Also, this film is nowhere near as graphic as Mel Gibson’s The Passion of the Christ.

  3. Hi Joe, I have been wondering for years why Zerah is pacing in the temple during the Crucifixion. If he was having second thoughts, he resolved to stick with his plan to discredit Jesus.

    Your thoughts?

    • Hi Gerry. My impression is that he is experiencing anxiousness – worried that things might not be resolved by Jesus’ death as he hopes. Recall that when he (Zerah) arrives at the empty tomb, he says, “This is precisely as I feared.” He then concludes, “Now it begins. It all begins” in reference to what he foresees as the madness of those proclaiming a resurrection.

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