"Killing Jesus," premiering this month on the National Geographic Channel, is based on the best-selling book of the same name by Bill O'Reilly and Martin Dugard. In the television dramatization, the described "great king and warrior" Herod the Great is portrayed by Emmy Award-winning actor Kelsey Grammer — long admired by fans for his television persona Dr. Frasier Crane.
Grammer ("Cheers," "Frasier") was noted as saying during a press event by the Los Angeles Times that Herod "wasn't necessarily evil — he was just a guy who had to do some despicable things to maintain a balance of power."
Though Herod the Great died not long after Jesus' birth, in "Killing Jesus," as well as in the biblical account, the ruler plays a pivotal role in the early life of the god-man worshipped as savior by more than 2.2 billion people around the world.
The Roman-appointed ruler of Judea is presented as a megalomaniac bent on killing the newly-born rival "king of the Jews" in his brief but pivotal appearance in Matthew 2. In his desire to secure power by getting rid of baby Jesus, Herod orders all boys under the age of 2 years old to be killed.
Extra-biblical accounts reveal that Herod the Great was generally despised by the Jewish populace and viewed as a paranoid madman — despite his elaborate construction projects that included the illustrious Second Temple.
"Killing Jesus" has yet to air and The Christian Post does not have access to Emmy Award-winning screenwriter Walon Green's script.
However, the book that inspired the National Geographic Channel's production does paint its own startling portrait of a rather paranoid, and dramatically ill Herod the Great.
Killing Jesus, published in 2013 and still leading the pack of history books in various formats selling on Amazon, presents Herod the Great as "a man of sixty-nine" with "massive girth and incessant medical problems."
The king of Judea's medical issues include an inflamed big toe, gout, lung disease, kidney problems, worms, a heart condition, and sexually transmitted diseases. He is also affected by "a horrible version of gangrene that has caused his genitals to rot, turn black, and become infested with maggots — thus the inability to sit astride, let alone, ride a horse."
In short, Grammer, who has described himself as a "believer," portrays a diseased tyrant.
In addition to Herod the Great, his son, Herod Antipas, the tetrarch of Galilee and Perea, features prominently in "Killing Jesus." Anitpas (played by actor Eoin Macken), according to the biblical account, was accosted by John the Baptist for marrying his brother Philip's wife, and referred to as "that fox" by Jesus during his ministry.
"Killing Jesus" is the third adaption by National Geographic Channel of O'Reilly and Dugard's work. The men previously paired up to write historical accounts of prominent presidents with Killing Kennedy: The End of Camelot and Killing Lincoln: The Shocking Assassination that Changed America Forever. Both titles have sold more than 5.6 million copies in various formats. The "Killing Kennedy" and "Killing Lincoln" productions proved successful for the cable network, with the former earning an Emmy nomination and both works emerging as National Geographic Channel's most-watched programs ever.
Like the book, "Killing Jesus" the movie solely focuses on "the historical story of how Jesus' message and preachings led to his persecution and execution by a group of conspirators who saw him as a threat to their power." O'Reilly and Dugard purposely avoided taking on the spiritual significance of Jesus' life, death and what Christians believe was Christ's resurrection from the dead.
National Geographic Channel explains in a press release:
KILLING JESUS begins in the era of Jesus' birth, with King Herod the Great ruling Judea, but feeling uneasy about potential threats to his power. This uneasiness leads Herod to order the murder of all boys under age 2, but a young Jesus and his family have already escaped.
Moving 26 years into the future, we follow Jesus as he starts to develop and spread his message and begins to amass a following of devout believers. At the same time, new political players, including Herod's son, Antipas, and Roman-appointed ruler Pontius Pilate, find themselves troubled by the growing influence of Jesus, while leaders in the Jewish Temple, Caiaphas and Annas, question his teachings and methods.
To this day, the body of Jesus of Nazareth has never been found.
Jesus is played by Lebanese and Muslim-raised actor Haaz Sleiman ("The Visitor").
Other primary cast members include: Stephen Moyer ("True Blood") as Pontius Pilate; Rufus Sewell ("Hercules") as Caiaphas; Emmanuelle Chriqui ("Entourage") as Herodia; John Rhys Davies ("Indiana Jones") as Annas; Abhin Galeya as John the Baptist; and Stephanie Leonidas ("Defiance") as Salome. See some of the cast in costume in the photo gallery below.
"Killing Jesus" was filmed in Morocco and premieres Palm Sunday, March 29 at 8 p.m. ET on National Geographic Channel in the U.S. The three-hour program will air in 171 countries in 45 languages and also in Spanish on Nat Geo Mundo.
"Killing Jesus" is produced by Scott Free Productions. Scott Free, Ridley Scott, David W. Zucker and Mary Lisio are executive producers along with O'Reilly and Teri Weinberg. For National Geographic Channel, executive producers are Charlie Parsons and Heather Moran. Tim Pastore is NGC president of original programming and production.
Learn more about "Killing Jesus" at the elaborate and interactive website: http://killingjesus.nationalgeographic.com.