I don’t have cable – so I don’t watch a lot of The History Channel. I do respect some of the programming that comes out of the channel, but my limited exposure to its “documentaries” on Biblical/Christian topics has raised serious concerns about their accuracy and fairness in dealing with this subject matter. That said, when I initially heard about The Bible mini-series coming out on The History Channel I wasn’t particularly interested – expecting more of the usual. But then YouVersion, an extremely popular bible web / smartphone application began pushing it – and I have respect for the folks at YouVersion and LifeChurch…and the accolades began to roll in from there – I received promotional emails from Christian Book Distributors (CBD) and Christian Cinema and apparently Rick Warren and Jim Daly (Focus on the Family) among others jumped on board as well – Warren even acting in an active consultant role to the mini-series.
So, when friends offered to host us to watch The Bible miniseries I said yes and settled in for the first two hours. The food and company was great – but the mini-series, well, I was unimpressed. I’ll keep watching b/c I want to continue to see how they unfold the story and also b/c the conversation we have during the show is profitable and entertaining – but I’m not continuing b/c I am enamored with the show nor do I expect to be (though I’d love to be surprised!).
When I heard about a mini-series covering the Bible one of my first thoughts was, “How are they going to tie it together?” The Bible was written over hundreds of years, covering a time span of thousands, and contains numerous stories of varying character. This is probably the greatest failing and the greatest success of the mini-series thus far. It was a bit too ambitious to attempt to undertake the entire Bible all at once, and at the same time they did manage to stitch the narrative thus far together. I’m most impressed by the way they recounted some stories within stories – e.g. the story of Creation being told by Noah in the midst of the flood.
But attempting to tackle so many stories so quickly results in one huge downfall: you never become emotionally connected to the characters…and by the end of the first two hours I walked away thinking, “If I didn’t know the God portrayed in the Bible…I’d think this God is a real jerk.” Now I’m hoping that they will bring everything together and show in retrospect how God was working in all these situations – but at this point it feels too slipshod to be redeemable and I am afraid folks will walk away thinking that the God of the Old Testament at least was a sadist.
Due to the pace of the narrative the characters are exceptionally flat. Eve is just the means by which Adam is persuaded to eat the forbidden fruit. Lot’s wife is a nag, manipulative, and selfish. Sarah is hesitant and self-centered. Abraham is crazily following this strange God.
Lets Kill More People
There are so many great stories surrounding Abraham and Sarah, but so much time is wasted on a relatively minor incident in which Abraham rescues Lot from enemy armies. While large portions of the narrative (and character development) are skipped over, there is plenty of time to watch Abraham and his servants hack the enemy to pieces.
Later we’ll see the same thing when the angels enter into Sodom and Gomorrah to rescue Lot’s family. In an entirely extra-biblical take, the angel’s fight their way out of the city. Now, I’m not complaining about the extra-biblical aspect, but that this supplants much more important narrative – especially character-development narrative.
Biblical or Extra…But What?
Another item that really frustrated me was the way in which the film mixed the biblical with the non-biblical. Now, I’m not a strict, “thou must use the KJV and must stick exactly to the storyline” kind of guy, but I felt that the melding of the biblical with the fictional was strangely done. There are many parts where the speech is directly from the Scriptures, but then there are other parts that are entirely invented – especially the scenes with the angels in Sodom and Gomorrah. I’m okay with ninja angels, but, shouldn’t the rest of the film reflect a similar aesthetic? It doesn’t, so it feels choppy – part bible quoting, part ninja.
The last issue I’d like to raise is the cast. Some are okay, but many seem obviously out of place and I can’t understand the choice. I don’t mean their acting is poor, but rather why so many secondary characters obviously overweight and out-of-shape? This was a time when food was oftentimes scarce. I found this especially disconcerting in combat scenes when soft, round-faced men were portrayed as elite warriors.
I watched the first two episodes of Vikings, History Channel’s other new series which is running immediately after the Bible – and here I saw a production of the quality I would have liked to have seen in The Bible mini-series. The character development is present, the actors are realistic, though the story is much darker and the gore more explicit.
It reminds me of the film Gettysburg and its successor Gods and Generals. While Gettysburg was a multi-hour epic covering a span of three days, Gods and Generals attempted to cover two years in a shorter film. Gettysburg is a classic, Gods and Generals is forgotten. Why? Mainly b/c the lack of character development and story which occurs when you try to compress a story so greatly.
- Jaweed Kaleem. ‘The Bible,’ 10-Hour History Channel Series from Roma Downey and Mark Burnett, To Premiere Sunday. Huffington Post, 3/1/13.
- Gabriel Salguero. History Channel Premiere: Why I Support ‘The Bible’. The Washington Post, 3/4/13.
- Joel Hoffman. The Bible Isn’t the History You Think It Is. Huffington Post, 3/4/13. – Hoffman is a liberal biblical scholar and is displeased with the mini-series more literal take on the Scriptures, I personally am more conservative and take a more literal interpretation seriously.