So last night the History Channel docudrama “The Bible” premiered. It was overall a hard episode (actually two episodes) since it covered the time of Creation (covered by Noah retelling Gen 1-3 on an Ark filled with terror and worry) all the way to the story of Rahab and the beginning of the conquest of the Promised Land. It was very interesting what the writers chose to cover and what they chose to not cover.
The chapters of the Scriptures which are covered in these first two hours are: Genesis 1, 9, 12, 13, 14, 18, 19, 21, 22. Exodus 1, 2, 3, 4, 7, 11, 12, 14, 20. Joshua 1, 2.
First, some hopeful thoughts. I am hopeful that people may actually ask their pastors about this more or even get back into the Scriptures after seeing this to get “the rest of the story” so to speak. Face it, if you are going to cover thousands of years of human history in a matter of two hours, there are going to be some real gaps (like Jacob or Joseph) and very shallow stories (Abraham and the covenants with God). It is simply impossible to cover such a vast amount of material in a good way in that amount of time.
That being said, in my article on this last week I warned about the Board of Advisors for this project. In particular it included Joel Osteen and Rick Warren. The fingerprints of these two men and their theology come through in this (as it should if they were the Biblical advisors for it). Osteen’s reward and glory theology certainly came through in the story of Abraham, who is really depicted as a self-interested, greedy for gain kind of man who is put to tests and ultimately rewarded for his works. The great covenants of God are boiled down to rewards for Abraham’s actions. No mention of Abraham being asleep during any of them. Rick Warren also promotes this “LawFULL” attitude of the Scriptures. Remember the Law contains that which we do, and this series is certainly focusing on the Law in that respect. I even had to chuckle as the word “purpose” showed up on the program, a hat-tip to Warren’s works on that word?
Accuracy? This series claims to have stayed true to the spirit of the text. If so, they miss a lot of the Spirit of the text. The accounts of Scripture do not describe Noah and his family being worried and anxious on the ark, nor does it describe the rainbow being shown while they are still on it. This is more than just a picky point – as what is missed by just showing the rainbow over a ark still afloat is God’s gracious words and promises to Noah. The sign of the covenant is missed. Instead the description of the Noah segment involves “Noah endures God’s wrath”. That is part and parcel of how the series depicts man and God. It often sides with man doing something and downplays God. For instance, the Nile river turning to blood involves Moses apparently being crafty and leaving out God’s voice. The same is true of the crossing of the Red Sea, which is again depicted as Moses waiting at the shore (no cover of pillar of cloud or fire) and somehow coming up with the idea to strike the Red Sea to make it part. Instead of showing how God spoke and commanded things to be done, a lot of scenes just depict a human character coming up with something to do. This is also true in their depiction of how the Law is given (or found in the case of the movie) on Mt. Sinai.
Artistic license is one thing, but there seems to be other things at work in this series. For instance, in the account of Gen 22 (Abraham offering Isaac), the servants are not involved and instead Sarah is, and the mount to offer Isaac is in the backyard instead of being three days away. This whole chapter is very poorly represented and shows what I called “Christlessness” in my cautionary article. First, the distance of three days is not noted (instead it is within running distance for Sarah, who somehow knows that Abraham is going to kill Isaac). The two young servants that go with Abraham and Isaac are not included, and so Abraham’s faith-filled words of telling the servants to stay and that he and his son will return (Gen 22:5) are forgotten. These words reflect Abraham’s faith in the promise of God that through Isaac there will be One offspring who will come and be a blessing to the rest of the world (missed opportunity to bring Jesus into the picture). Abraham also fails in the movie to say that “God will provide for Himself the Lamb” which is a clearly foreshadowing of Jesus (possible a text that John the Baptist preaches on in John 1?). Not only that, the animal provided by God at the moment of Abraham’s sacrifice of Isaac is not a ram as the text says (which also helps us understand that Abraham is not just thinking about the here and now in this chapter, a ram is not a lamb). This is another opportunity to proclaim the central message of the Scriptures – salvation of humanity by Jesus, which is left out.
One of the opening descriptions of this series really captures the problem of the series – it is centered on man. The opening said these things about the Bible: it “helps define who we are, the choices we make, how we live, how we love, how we struggle and overcome.” In other words, the Bible is not about Jesus (Gospel), it is about us and how we are to be (LAW). That is a very dangerous and erring view of the purpose of Sacred Scripture.
As I mentioned above, in the many missing accounts (again too much ground to cover in two hours) it is notable that the accounts of God speaking and working are left out. In particular the account of the giving of circumcision is left out. This also fits with their description of what they think this Bible is all about (human beings doing stuff). As circumcision is a sign of the covenant to be believed, it does foreshadow the Church’s sacraments today, so leaving it out is a key choice in the theological bias of the writers. A similar argument could be made for the leaving out of things like the manna from heaven and water from the Rock, both are left out and with that opportunities to highlight Jesus.
Here are some other random thoughts about the first couple episodes:
Abraham comes off as a kind of a selfish man looking for his own good
The show did use the word “Lord” for when Abraham greeting the three messengers who came to him (good)
The entire account of Sodom is a mess compared to the account of Genesis 19
The angels who go to Sodom are depicted as sort of like ninjas who fight by the sword and can cause men’s eyes to bleed by looking at them a certain way.
Sodom is depicted as a place of mainly heterosexual depravity
Abraham and Sarah are both named that way right away, taking away God’s role in renaming them and promising them things
The ten plagues are done in a matter of a minute (or less)
The Passover is first announced that God will kill even the Israelites, which is then reversed when they ask about it
Moses is hardly depicted as a humble servant of the Lord, saying things like “with your power I will set my people free”
The Exodus is treated very poorly without any of the struggles of the wilderness nor examples of God’s provision and grace
Throughout the episodes the phrase “must trust in God” is used as a rallying cry, but in the end comes off as nothing more than a proclamation of Law in which the people will be rewarded for their work of trusting in God.
The chief problem I find in this series is the troubling view of Scripture (man centered, works and reward focused view). The other problem of this “biting off more than can be chewed in a two hour episode” hopefully is better handled when thousands of years of human history is not condensed into two hours. I think this second problem may be cured in future episodes, but the first and chief problem will still remain. So my final suggestion – READ THE BOOK, it is better than the movie.