The Bible On TV

John the Baptist preaches that Christ is the life and light of men.

John preaches that Christ is the life and light of men.

Being as I am still living in the dark ages (I may have been the last person on the planet to get a cell phone), I don’t have cable TV and therefore don’t get the History Channel. As a result, I can’t see for myself what I think of The Bible, the five-part, ten-hour series produced by Mark Burnett and Roma Downey.

However, I am finding talk about the series quite interesting. The ratings dipped some in week two but still outstripped the competition. Apparently some 30 million viewers have tuned in over the three-week period.

Never mind that the reviews have been tepid (see for example the one in the LA Times). One accusation is that the shows are quite violent, another that they are sensationalized.

Since I haven’t seen the TV production, I can’t offer an opinion. I can say that the stories in the Bible are quite violent. That’s a reflection of Man’s nature and God’s judgment. We don’t often think about all the people who died in the flood, for example, since the Biblical story focuses on the eight people who were saved. But to render the story accurately, the film version would have to show the loss of life along with the saving of life.

David faced Goliath in the middle of a war, so it would be logical to expect that segment to be fairly bloody. In fact Biblical times were quite violent. Even New Testament times.

The Roman rule was oppressive and insurrections were put down mercilessly–I was reminded of this when I read Tosca Lee’s Iscariot. I don’t know how peaceful the Burnett-Downey production will make it appear, but we know the Pharisees tried to stone Jesus once, that they did stone Stephen, that an adulteress would have been stoned had not Jesus answered her accusers as He did, and that He wasn’t the only person crucified. No, the Pax Romana was earned by the blood of the oppressed.

As far as the criticism that the shows are overdone and sensationalized, I suppose I’d have to see them to decide for myself if I agree or disagree. The irritating thing is that all the talk today is about the actor playing Satan looking like President Obama. I much prefer conversation about substantive issues, not some “Jesus in the smudge on the window” type imagination.

Some people, interestingly, criticize the TV series because they actually are criticizing God. Here’s a sample:

I won’t go into detail except to point out that I’ve never understood why God found it necessary to kill children and livestock. I almost understand the notion that adults were all sinners deserving of death (presuming the validity behind all that), but even the Catholics have the concept of the Age of Reason, before which children aren’t held responsible for sin because they’re innocent of responsibility for poor decision-making.

But what about the poor livestock?! With this story, as with God’s later plagues on Egypt, I’ve never understood why an infinitely wise God would punish soulless, conscious-less animals for their masters’ wrongdoings. Cattle are just wandering around . . . waiting to be slaughtered. Is their very existence a crime against God? If not, then why drown them all?

In reality, I prefer that to the jabs at the particular races of the actors or at the quality of the script. At least then the people are actually interacting with the text. The biggest problem I see with dramatizations of the Bible, and, in fact, with Biblical fiction, is that people will believe the modern interpretation over the Biblical record. That’s how we “know” there were three wisemen or that the shepherds say a really bright star.

Daniel019It appears that all this talk about casting President Obama in the role of Satan has detracted from some of the best of the series–the refusal of Daniel’s friends to worship a false God and being rescued from the fiery furnace meant to destroy them, John the Baptist, and the first appearance of Jesus. My guess is that “Satan” made his appearance in the temptations of Christ in the wilderness. How sad that the focus became so skewered.

So what do you all think? Are you watching The Bible? Why or why not? What do you think about it? What are they doing right? What could be better?

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8 Comments

  1. I don’t have a mobile phone or get any kind of pay TV. It may be some time before it is possible for me to see this series. But we do know that visual media have the power to impress themselves as “truth” in the minds of viewers. My wife is an ancient history teacher and hates all sorts of historical movies because of their distortions.

    • Ken, I wouldn’t have a cell phone now except for the generosity of my brother!

      You make a good point when you mention your wife’s observation–not just Biblical history is distorted in films based on history. I often walk out with that very thought–how much of what I saw was fact and hows much fiction. Obviously dialogue and such, but the cause and effect movies inevitably show. I wouldn’t worry about it if viewers went to work to research the truth, or even remained skeptical, but too often what’s on the screen, big or small, gets treated as if it is unquestionable the truth.

      So I wonder if that’s a good thing when it comes to The Bible.

      Becky

  2. The irritating thing is that all the talk today is about the actor playing Satan looking like President Obama.

    Not that silly media trends = the Devil’s direct work. But it is intriguing that evidently Satan just loves to distract from Jesus by shouting out:

    “UH-oh! Watch out, look over there! It’s SATAN!”

    Strange, isn’t it.

    • Wow! Good point, Stephen. Agree, media doesn’t equal the devil’s work, but he uses what he can. And, yes, he wants, above all, to keep people from thinking seriously about God and Jesus and the gospel.

      So, it does make sense that there is such a distracting furor over this.

      Becky

  3. Hi Rebecca,

    While it’s true that I criticized God in my post, it’s also true that I criticized the series on its own merits (or lack thereof).

    For example, my first criticisms regard the series’ depiction of Adam and Eve as white and clean-shaven. This isn’t a criticism of God at all, for, as far as I know, and as I stated in the post, I’m unaware of anything in the Bible establishing Adam and Eve’s ethnicities or grooming habits.

    Funny, though, that you seem to be unconcerned with the series’ casting or script quality. Assuming the Bible to be historically accurate, wouldn’t you want the series to be accurate to the Bible?

    I agree with you on the non-issue of the Satan/Obama controversy. Even if the producers were intending to link the two, per the First Amendment, it’s absolutely their right to do so.

    Best,

    Anton.

    • Anton, thanks for stopping by.

      Yes, you did offer criticism of the storytelling vehicle, but I was glad you were able to go further than that.

      Yes, I do care for historical accuracy, and I agree with you that the production itself is open for critique. While the producers made no pretense that they were giving a full, accurate rendition of the Bible–a documentary, if you will–they are still subject to scrutiny regarding how well they told the story.

      I thought your point about a beardless Adam was well made, but I’m not sure it’s necessary to point out that there were only handsome or beautiful people portraying the characters (not sure if that was in your article or elsewhere). Actors as a lot seem to be a little more obsessed with their looks than others, so I don’t know how easy it is to find “ugly actors.” ;-)

      As for the race issue, the fact is, even if Eden was in Africa, the race of the first humans seems indeterminate, so whichever race the producers chose, it’s hard to say they went wrong, I think. It’s also odd, to me, to then fault them for being racially inclusive for casting an Asian as an angel. I don’t remember the last TV series I watched in which these kinds of discussions surfaced.

      The Obama thing was simply over the top and very irritating. They might as well have said Jesus looked like Tim Tebow with long hair. Ugh! But that people are focused on such a thing makes me wonder how engaging the storytelling was.

      Maybe someday I’ll get to see it.

      Becky

      • “Actors as a lot seem to be a little more obsessed with their looks”

        That’s mostly American actors. If a series is made in Europe they do ugly really, really well.

      • Hi Becky,

        While the producers may not have explicitly stated that they were being 100% accurate in their depiction of the Bible, they made enough noise about its importance of being taught in schools that I feel it’s a safe assumption that their intention, then, would be to be accurate in the Bible’s depiction. Otherwise, what were they intending to teach children?

        You’re right, I didn’t make the point that A&E are pretty. While the point may be true (though it doesn’t seem to be), it’s irrelevant to the content of the series.

        Actually, the “race,” if we can even call it that, is pretty clear. We know through genetic evidence that melanin levels in humans dropped after our emigration from Africa. Melanin is the chemical that gives skin its levels of brown, and given that skin color is the primary basis for race determination, we know that race as it’s currently considered didn’t change until after we left Africa. Thus, if A&E were the first humans, and given Africa’s climate, their skin was dark.

        For me, racial inclusion isn’t nor shouldn’t be the goal of the series. It claims to be based on the Bible, which in turn is claimed to be the inerrant word of God. If this is true, then any depiction of the Bible, especially by those who claim to cherish it, should be as accurate as possible. Thus, while diversity in casting is an admirable thing, it isn’t necessarily accurate in this case. Unless the Bible states that A&E were white or that angels are of various ethnicities, they shouldn’t be depicted as such.

        I agree with you on the Obama thing. After seeing the pictures, it looks like Satan is physically similar, but, as I said before, even if that is the case, it’s the producers’ show to do with what they please.

        Best,

        Anton.


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