Saturday, March 30, 2013

"The Bible" (2013 version)

Every Sunday evening this month, like many of you June and I have watched “The Bible,” the 10-hour mini-series on the History channel. As one who has been reading the Bible regularly for more than 65 years, it has been interesting to see how the story of the Bible is depicted in this new production by Mark Burnett and Roma Downey, a husband and wife team. 

Some of you know Ms. Downey (b. 1960), who is said to be a devout Catholic, as Monica, the kind-hearted angel on the successful American TV series “Touched by an Angel.” In “The Bible” she plays the role of Mary, the mother of Jesus, during the time of Jesus’ public ministry.
The first episode of the mini-series was telecast on March 3 and was seen by 13.1 million viewers, the largest cable television audience of 2013 to date. The second installment continued "to deliver blockbuster ratings" for the network, attracting 10.8 million viewers.
In spite of its large viewing audience, there has been criticism of “The Bible” both from religious conservatives and liberals. The greatest support for the mini-series has clearly come from the right.
Still, some “Bible-believing Baptists” I was with recently complained about factual errors being portrayed in the new movie. And they were right: there have been some things that were clearly biblically inaccurate, which is not good for a program on the History channel. (Several errors are given here.)
There are other parts, especially at the beginning of the first segment, that are true to the biblical narrative but also questionable as history from a broader (scientific) viewpoint. As one who is not a fundamentalist, one of my main criticisms of “The Bible” is its presentation of all the Bible stories as literally true.
Most moderate and progressive Christians understand some parts of the Bible to have symbolic or metaphorical meaning rather than being literally true. But that way of interpreting the Bible doesn’t lend itself to graphic action scenes, such as are prevalent in “The Bible.”
Part of my criticism of what I have seen so far, which is 4/5 of the whole series, is regarding the amount of violence portrayed. Certainly any close reading of the Bible reveals a lot of violence over the three and a half millennium covered by the Bible. But the amount of violence in “The Bible” is a vastly larger percentage than that which actually occurred during those 3,500 years.
To be honest, if I were not a Christian and if I had not read the Bible throughout out my lifetime, I think that perhaps I would be more repelled by the first three segments of “The Bible” than attracted to the Bible by it. I wonder what those who are not Christian believers think.
The fourth segment, which aired on Palm Sunday night, was quite well done, though, and presented what seemed to me to be a very appealing Jesus.
Of crucial importance is how the series ends tomorrow, on Easter night. That last segment will deal with the crucifixion, resurrection and ascension of Jesus Christ. For me, and doubtlessly for a lot of Christians, the final evaluation of “The Bible” will depend greatly on how those pivotal events are portrayed.
In spite of some misgivings about the mini-series on the Bible, I encourage you, if possible, to watch the conclusion on Sunday evening. And whether you watch it or not, let me take this means to wish you a Happy Easter!


  1. Leroy, I don't need to watch the conclusion. I read the book! HaHaHa.. :D

    I look forward to the day when someone gives us an excellent movie version of Jesus (or even the whole Bible) that is true to history and nature.

    Happy Easter to you, too!

  2. Thanks as always Leroy for your insights. I was struck as well by the excessive violence. It seems to me to have been trapped by American culture's violence appetite seen in movies and TV. While the Old Testament lacks the emphasis of the New Testament's Prince of Peace, we know his influence now, though follow it so little.

  3. The last time I reset my tuner, I found about two dozen over-the-air channels, which is far more television than i have time to watch, so I have no cable and did not see the mini-series. Having confessed that, let me say in defense of the mini-series that virtually no movie is as good as the book, and visually impressive things like violence are easier to film successfully than quiet scenes and conversations. A few years ago my family did make the annual treks to see the installments of LOTR (Lord of the Rings), with similar complaints. Yet we eagerly awaited each installment.

    The Bible is so huge and convoluted, it is amazing whenever anyone tries to tackle the whole library of well over a thousand pages of densely written material. Movies usually find a much smaller focus, and leave the big story in the background. Think Scarlett O'Hara and the Civil War. The life of Christ has had many and varied movie versions, from musicals like "Godspell" and "Jesus Christ Superstar" to meditations like "The Last Temptation of Christ" and parables based on the life of Christ like "The Chronicles of Narnia" and the even The Who's rock opera, "Tommy." Even in these, the focus changes, with "Godspell" tackling the whole book of Matthew, while "Superstar" looks only at the passion week, and "Temptation" narrows down to inside Jesus' mind during the crucifixion. "Narnia" and "Tommy" step away from the direct story, so that one can easily watch the movies without ever thinking about the parallelism. The huge variety of these movies point to the strength, and the weakness, of movies. They are delightful vehicles for exploring the questions and mysteries around a subject. They may not be so good at exactly getting the subject right. And they are not books, which is why lovers of a book almost always find the movie version something of a blasphemy!

  4. I just saw that 11.7 million viewers are said to have watched the two-hour conclusion of "The Bible" on Easter Sunday.