I received an email, earlier this week, from a friend, urging me to promote and watch The Bible, a mini series that premiered on the History Channel last night. Initially, I was going to ignore it, particularly since we don’t have access to the History Channel. If the buzz about the show was hot enough, we would find it on DVD or watch it later on the internet. But, yesterday afternoon an invitation came to watch it with a friend, so off we went.
I was disappointed on a number of fronts.
The producer of the series, Mark Burnett, quoted in USA Today says “By telling these emotionally connected, big stories, hopefully millions of people will reopen their Bibles,” he goes on to state “If you know the Bible, you’ll enjoy seeing the stories come to life. If you’ve never read the Bible, I think you’ll love the stories,”. There is truth in both the statements, but I’m not sure it.s the truth he was looking for.
As we watched last night, we did indeed reopen our Bibles. It wasn’t because we were so excited about the story we were seeing, it was to somehow verify the things we were seeing were actually there. I some cases they were, but somewhat obscure, in others it would appear the writers of the program started with the biblical story, closed the book, and then said “how could we make this better?”
The seeming need to portray gratuitous violence is a good example of the odd way stories were chosen. Abraham’s story is generally one of peace. He lives in the promised land as a nomad, he even buys, at his own insistence, a piece of ground to bury his wife. There is one instance of violence recorded in the Hebrew Bible, the rescue of Lot. This little story doesn’t have a lot to do with the main story line except to give an indication of how large and strong Abraham’s community had become. It did, however, offer an opportunity for sword play, blood, gore, and adrenalin flow.
Later, the program depicts a couple of ninja angels fighting their way out of Sodom (I can’t find a reference for that one), a sword fight between the young Moses and Pharaoh’s son (extra biblical), and in the final scenes of the first episode, a sword fight between the two spies and the residents of Jericho (their presence was suspected, but I don’t remember dead bodies in their wake). Is this violence just inserted to keep the male in me engaged? It could be, but by highlighting the violence, God’s work, and power, are diminished.
Choosing episodes which can draw the excitement oriented audience also means other, more important parts of the story need to be left on the cutting room floor to make the show fit into ten episodes. All of Jacob story, along with the migration to Egypt, and care God gave the people through Joseph, is missing. We just suddenly, inexplicably, begin a new scene in Egypt four or five hundred years after the preceding scene. When Moses comes down from the mountain with the tablets of stone, I am expecting the story of the Golden Calf, but instead, we suddenly jump ahead fourty years to Joshua and the city of Jericho. Anyone, not familiar with these stories would have been lost trying to connect the dots.
Another area of disappointing choice made by the writers is in their depiction of women. God’s redemption has often come through women, seen as the weaker part of the ancient society. We do see Eve take the fruit, cause the fall, however, the roles of Sarah, Hagar, Miriam, and Rahab are diminished to the point, in some cases, of being unnamed. We don’t even get to meet Rebekah,
I’ve made it sound like the show was all bad, and that’s not true. It was cool to sit and watch someone else’s visualization of the well known stories of the Bible and compare it to the one in my own mind. The task is a daunting one when all of us have images burned into our minds by Sunday School teachers of how the promised land must look and feel, what the plagues were like, and how beautiful Sarah was.
The Bible is trying to tell me a story that I already know intimately, can picture vividly, have grown into, and unfortunately they just won’t be able to get it right, but they did manage to achieve one of their goals, they did get me to open my Bible again if only to try to figure out what they were thinking.