The film received excellent reviews at the time of its original release. After Vitagraph Studios acquired Kalem, the film was re-released in February 1919.
Herbert Reynolds has shown how Olcott used James Tissot’s illustrations for his The Life of our Saviour Jesus Christ (1896-1897) as the basis for numerous shots in the film. The head of Kalem, Frank J. Marion, presented a copy to the troupe as they departed for the Middle East.
According to Turner Classic Movies, the film cost $35,000 to produce (roughly between $1,600,000 and $3,300,000 adjusted to 2007 dollars); another source says that Olcott spent $100,000 of his own money on the project. Although the film’s profits eventually amounted to almost $1 million (roughly $46,000,000 to $95,000,000), the Kalem directors refused to increase Olcott’s basic salary and he resigned.
In later years, Louis B. Mayer, head of Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, would say this was the premiere film for his movie theater in Haverhill, Massachusetts and a major boost for him in the movie business. However, most sources place the release date of this film as 1912, long after the opening of Mayer’s theater.
At around 5,000 feet it was one of the longer films to be released to date, although the Kinemacolor documentary With Our King and Queen Through India released in February 1912 ran to 16,000 feet; and another religious film The Miracle (the first full-colour feature film) – was released in the UK at 7,000 feet in December 1912.
By Sidney Olcott (YouTube) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons