Everett Collection

A star is born, as touted by this promotional poster for an early silent film. Long after the wise men had followed a star to Bethlehem to find Jesus, filmmakers cast Jesus as the star of their movies in an effort to legitimize the new medium. The first film to do so, The Passion, was produced by the Lumière brothers in 1897, a mere two years after the brothers opened the first movie theater. At least 16 silent films, including Thomas Edison’s 1898 movie The Passion Play of Oberammergau, recounted Jesus’ death. Various New Testament stories and scenes were incorporated into other early films, but these films merely exploited biblical settings and were not concerned with being true to the biblical text. Not until 1913, when the Kalem Company released From the Manger to the Cross, was Jesus’ life the subject of a full-length feature. The movie was the first, as the poster reads (compare with The Passion Play of Oberammergau), to include shots of “authentic locations in Palestine and Egypt.” It was the company’s greatest commercial success.