The Bible (yes or no?)

Last Sunday evening, the History Channel premiered week one in a mini-series entitled The Bible.  Here is the promo:

From Executive Producers Roma Downey and Mark Burnett comes The Bible – an epic 10-part miniseries retelling stories from the Scriptures for a whole new generation. Breathtaking in scope and scale, The Bible features powerful performances, exotic locales and dazzling visual effects that breathe spectacular life into the dramatic tales of faith and courage from Genesis through Revelation. This historic television event is sure to entertain and inspire the whole family.

I watched the premier with much excitement on Sunday.  I’ve also crowd sourced some feedback from people who also watched.  I’ve had a few people ask me about it.  I’ve also read some reviews, both positive and negative.

Here’s what I’ve learned so far:

  • Some people are excited whenever the bible, or bible stories, make their way into mainstream entertainment outlets, like The History Channel.  They do not think critically about how the stories are told, if they are accurate to the original text, and so on.  They say, “It’s the bible, it’s on TV, that’s good.”
  • Other people are equally excited about the bible stories being the subject matter of a TV mini-series on a mainstream channel.  They recognize some inconsistencies or differences or even biases, perhaps, in the telling of the stories, but overall any representation of the bible on TV is better than none.  They are reluctant to critique any story on the bible too deeply.
  • Still other people are looking for something to dislike.  They figure that if hollywood is involved, it will likely follow predictable ratings formulas (ramp up the sex and violence, for example) and likely tell the story from the perspective of the dominant culture and religion of the primary viewing audience (i.e. the story is told from a Western Christian perspective, not a middle Eastern Jewish or Muslim perspective).

Some questions:

  • Do you think people know the bible well enough to recognize when TV scripts wander away from the text when telling the story?
  • Do you think it is helpful or hurtful when, for the sake of run time, stories are shortened?  
  • If The Bible mini-series hits the high points of  the biblical story, what does that say about the low points?  Is there material missing that would inform the high points and change their meaning?
  • Put another way, when it comes to the bible, is it OK for anything to be left on the cutting room floor?
  • Is a series like this helpful or hurtful when it comes to interfaith dialog?  If Jewish, Muslim and Middle Eastern perspectives and meanings are left out, does it seem like a move by Western Christians to gain hegemonic control over the story?

My take:

  • I enjoyed the first episode.
  • I was a little disturbed by the violence.  I don’t think it was added to the story, but it was shot and emphasized in a way more consistent with Braveheart.
  • The scene in Sodom when the Asian angel takes out two swords and kills 40 men in the style of a ninja warrior is not in the text and was a blatant racist stereotype.
  • I liked how they put a human face on the story of Abraham, Sara, Hagar, Ishmael and Isaac. To me this is perhaps one of the most painful stories in the Bible.
  • However, the way they told Abraham’s story left me more conflicted on him as a person.  I loved his faith and willingness to risk at some points, but at others he seemed perfectly willing to hide behind God.
  • I do think Jewish perspectives would have been helpful.
  • It is important NOT to take The Bible mini-series as THE Bible.  Discernment is necessary.
  • If you are interested in such things, try to determine the ideological perspective of the mini-series.   What hermeneutical lens are they looking through as they interpret the meaning of the stories?  Do they exegete the stories well or reading meaning into the text that isn’t there?

I will keep watching the series.  I’ll be really curious how they approach the New Testament and Revelation.  If the picture of Jesus on the promo literature is any indication, we are going to get a Western, Hollywood, Jesus, not  Jewish one.  Lets hope that is not the case.   If you watched it, what did you think?


One thought on “The Bible (yes or no?)

  1. The story in the film is obviously different from my mental image of the story. I’ll watch skeptically.

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