A small religious war between ultra-fundamentalist Protestants and more mainstream Christian and Jewish religious leaders is heating up over a made-for-TV film called "Jesus of Nazareth," scheduled to run on NBC on Palm Sunday and Easter.
Criticism of the film by the Rev. Dr. Bob Jones III, president of the fundamentalist-oriented college in Greenville, S.C., which bears his grandfather's name, has caused General Motors to cancel plans to sponsor the telecast.
Jones, who has not seen the film, condemned it on the basis of a review in Modern Screen magazine and published interviews with the film producer, Franco Zeffirelli.
Jones faulted the film for its failure to portray the divinity of Jesus and for not showing the miracles of Christ walking on water and turning water into wine.
Nelson Price, United Methodist communications executive in New York, who hasn't seen the film either, issed a statement on Monday, defending NBC's right to show the film and scolding Jones for his attempt at prior censorship.
The Rev. Dr. Paul Stevens, Southern Baptist Conventon television executive, wrote NBC a letter saying he hadn't seen the film either but warning that if the Jones charges were true then "the result will be a reaction unlike any that has been heretofore experienced."
Stevens indicated in his letter to NBC president Herbert S. Schlosser that he would make no judgment until he saw the film, but then he released his letter through his church's public relations office.
Stevens was one of a score of Protestant and Catholic leaders who asw the full film at a six-and-a-half hours special screening in New York yesterday. He could not be reached after ward for comment.
NBC Vice President Robert Kanmire said NBC has received "several hundred" letters of complaint about the film from persons who have not seen it.
In his denunciation of the unseen film, Jones urged a boycott of General Motors products, saying: "Those who know the Lord Jesus Christ as their personal lord and saviour will, I am sure, make their protest known both verbally and by spending their automobile dollars."
Rabbi Marc Tanenbaum, interriligioys affairs director for the American Jewish Committee, and a consultant for the film, yesterday said he questioned "the ethical responsibility" of a clergyman who would judge a film without seeing it.