The story received some renewed interest when in 2008 Verhoeven published his own book on Jesus which looked like it might become the basis for the renewal of the film project.
Well, now comes the confirmation that the film is going to go ahead after all. It's going to be made by Muse Productions who are headlining the news on their website, with a picture of Verhoeven's book and the following note:
MUSE’s Chris Hanley will back director Paul Verhoeven’s (Robocop, Total Recall, Basic Instinct, co-writer of Pulp Fiction) new film based on his book ‘Jesus of Navareth.’ The project is the product of two decades of research by Verhoeven. Hollywood Deadline and Indiewire picked up the news, check their articles out here and here.Roger Avary is to script the film and already there are some preparing for a fight, not least because it may feature the line that Mary was raped by the Roman soldier Panthera, a story that features in Verhoeven's book and which is derived from Origen's quotation of Celsus in Contra Celsum. (Celsus was a pagan critic of Christianity writing in the mid second century whose work the third century Origen is refuting). Mike Fleming writes in Deadline:
Verhoeven’s take on the life of Jesus Christ discounts all the miracles that inform the New Testament. That includes the virgin birth and the resurrection. Verhoeven doesn’t believe any of them happened. I wrote about Verhoeven’s ambitions in spring 2011, as he and his reps at ICM first tried to find funding — no small feat given some of the theories he put forth in the book.The most controversial: that Jesus might have been the product of his mother being raped by a Roman soldier, which Verhoeven said was commonplace at the time, and that Jesus was a radical prophet who performed exorcisms and was convinced he would find the kingdom of Heaven on earth, and did not know he would be sentenced to die on the cross by Pontius Pilate.There's no doubt that it would be controversial to put this particular tradition in the film. I still remember Christians picketing cinema's when Scorsese's Last Temptation of Christ came out in 1987 because it depicted Jesus hallucinating about having sex with Mary Magdalene ( a scene most of the critics misunderstood).
I remember the BBC getting into hot water for even reporting the Roman soldier tradition in a documentary called The Virgin Mary that I was on in 2002 (see further Mary). The difficulty is that the vast majority of Christians have not heard about this piece of gossip that goes back at least to the second century and possibly also to the first.
My guess is that Verhoeven will find a way to represent the tradition without committing to it in order to avoid appearing deliberately sacrilegious. It is worth remembering, though, that Scorsese used the controversy that his film stirred up in 1988 to provide a lot of free publicity.
This is a story that I will be watching with interest.