On Monday night, something remarkable is going to take place in the capital of Syria. More than 1,100 senior Syrian government officials, journalists, business leaders and religious leaders — Muslim, Catholic and evangelical Christian — will attend the gala premiere of a major motion picture entitled Damascus, written, produced and directed by entirely Arab Christians. The film, part documentary and part narrative drama, tells the story of how Saul of Tarsus — one of the first prominent persecutors of Christ-followers in the Holy Land — himself became a follower of Jesus during a miraculous encounter with Jesus on the road to Damascus and eventually became known as the Apostle Paul, going on to write much of the New Testament.
It is unheard of in the Middle East to have a major Christian film about the events of the New Testament debut in a Muslim-majority country run by the secular Ba’ath Party, much less have the premiere supported and attended by senior government officials. That’s what makes the Damascus docu-drama project so extraordinary. What’s more, the film is hosted and narrated by one of the most well-known Syrian TV newscasters who explains the historic events of the life of Paul in the very places where those events occurred. Numerous events in Paul’s life are then dramatized using famous Syrian Muslim actors playing the part of Jews and Jewish followers of Jesus.
After the premiere, the film is expected to be launched throughout Syria and the rest of the Muslim world. Sources indicate senior Catholic leaders in the Vatican recently reviewed the film and were favorable.
The remarkable film debut comes at a sensitive time for Syrian officials who are feeling quite isolated from the West. U.S. and European leaders have been sharply critical of President Bashar al-Assad’s government on a number of fronts, for supporting Hezbollah’s war against Israel, supporting Hamas’ war against Israel, forming a strategic alliance with Iran, buying billions of dollars worth of advanced weapons systems from Russia, and building a nuclear facility with the help of North Korea (a facility that was bombed and destroyed by an Israel airstrike several years ago). Syria’s government has never been controlled by Radical Islamic jihadists. Still, it has long stifled activities by Arab Christians to teach about their faith. It is not clear what the Assad government’s motives are for both allowing and supporting the release of the Damascus film. But it is an encouraging development indeed.