Morgan Freeman searches for divinity in Israel

New season of National Geographic show 'The Story of God' touches down in Bethlehem, Megiddo and Jerusalem.

Morgan Freeman visits the ancient Megiddo church last year.  (photo credit: MARIA BOHE/NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC)
Morgan Freeman visits the ancient Megiddo church last year.
It’s been more than three years since Morgan Freeman began traveling the world in search of God, and he’s still looking.
The third season of The Story of God, Freeman’s National Geographic series, premiered last week in the US, and unsurprisingly, the actor and TV host is spending some time in the Holy Land.
Each episode addresses a different aspect of Freeman’s search and exploration of the Divine, and takes him around the world, including to sites in Italy, Nepal, Turkey, France, Ethiopia and more.
“There is one role that follows me wherever I go, you can say it’s omnipresent. It’s having played God,” says Freeman at the outset of the show’s second episode, which is set to air Tuesday evening in the US. “I think what resonates with people is that God would appear among us, but not with some angelic halo, more as an ordinary person, a janitor, a carpenter.”
Freeman, who has long been identified with the role of the divine that he embodied in the films Bruce Almighty and Evan Almighty, begins his search for the human embodiment of God in Bethlehem’s Manger Square. But for Freeman, viewing Jesus’s purported birthplace isn’t quite enough.
“I’m eager to understand,” he said, “when Jesus the preacher, Jesus the rabbi, came to be seen as Divine Jesus.”
To that end, Freeman and his team traveled 140 km. (87 miles) north to Tel Megiddo, to the archaeological site that houses what is said to be one of the oldest churches in the world. The remains were discovered in 2005, during the expansion of the high-security Megiddo Prison. Freeman is accompanied to the site by two Israeli police officers, since the ancient church – dating to the third century – is on the prison grounds.
At that site, explains Dr. Yonatan Moss, is potentially the only existing proof “that early Christians thought Jesus was God.” The surviving mosaic on the floor of what was once a temple reads, “This table was dedicated to the God Jesus Christ.”
Freeman was in Israel in November filming for this season, and was spotted by paparazzi at sites around the country. Earlier this year, the actor and narrator became the face of the Israeli air conditioner company Tadiran, in an ad where he joked about being the voice of God. Some women’s groups were unhappy with Tadiran for hiring Freeman, who was accused last year by eight women of unwanted verbal and physical advances in the workplace. At the time, National Geographic halted production before resuming several months later, after its investigation found “no incidents of concern during any of our work with Mr. Freeman.”
The third season’s first episode saw Freeman exploring the notion of the Devil, or Satan. That journey took him to a monastery outside Jericho, near the site where the Bible says Jesus fasted for 40 days and 40 nights and was tempted by Satan.
In the final chapter of the six-episode run, Freeman will return to Jerusalem, when he explores the idea of commandments across religions. For that episode, Freeman met with an archeologist at the Israel Museum to examine the Dead Sea Scrolls.
“It seems to me, we yearn for God to walk among us because we need a living example of what it means to be divine,” Freeman says at the close of the second episode. “A God in human form can show us the way through hard times, help us make tough choices, show us how to love and respect one another, when it seems the hardest thing to do. Just because we’re mortal, doesn’t mean we can’t strive to live as God would.”   
‘The Story of God’ with Morgan Freeman will air in the US on the National Geographic channel on Tuesdays at 9 p.m. In Israel, the show’s third season will premiere April 21 on National Geographic and air Sundays at 10:50 p.m.