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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