“The Bible” in Ten Hours

March 1, 2013

As an educator, sometimes curriculum writer, Bible teacher, and Presbyterian pastor, I am always on the lookout for new ways to bring the Story alive. “Bringing the Word to Life” is more than a blog title, it is my calling and life purpose. So when I heard that Survivor producer Mark Burnett and “angel” Roma Downey were releasing a five-episode television miniseries The Bible, gratitude and skepticism vied for the upper hand. Do I dare hope that we might get a truly authentic version of the Bible’s story on the History Channel?

Let me declare my skepticism openly at the beginning. Popularizing the Bible under the title “docudrama” always puts my guard up. Be it a PBS program or the History Channel in this case, faithfulness to the biblical material is often trumped by entertainment value and liberal speculation. So I have decided to keep a close eye on The Bible as it unfolds in the next few weeks, if for no other reason than to evaluate the quality of the presentation and the accuracy of its narrative for future use in my classrooms.

I am grateful, though, that in this case the producers are Bible-believing Christians who took on the project precisely to help viewers experience the biblical narrative and be emotionally challenged by its message. “We’re trying to tell the story of God’s love for his people,” said Downey in a Huffington Post interview. “We saw this as an opportunity to engage people in new and exciting ways to consider these stories and re-experience them.” They have enlisted the help of biblical scholars and historians, pastors and publicists to get the widest audience possible. Filmed in Morocco and utilizing special effects, the film project was a huge commitment, and suspense gathers around whether the financial gamble pays off.

In the absence of program details in advance of Sunday’s premiere—other than the obligatory trailer for the series—I am entertained by curiosity of what is included and left out in the series.

The question is tantalizing, a good dinner discussion topic: if you had only ten hours to tell the Story covered by the Bible, what would you include and what would you leave out? I remember in the mid-1980s, working on the Serendipity Bible, the seemingly impossible task was to pick only 100 Bible stories for expanded treatment as full-page discussion sessions. It seems Burnett’s and Downey’s assignment was far more difficult, and viewers will have to judge whether they picked a representative sample that does the biblical material justice.

[I am also reminded of one of my favorite Stanford professors, Donald Knuth, a world-class mathematician and faithful Lutheran Christian. He volunteered to teach a one-year Bible overview for his congregation. He’s a mischievous guy as mathematicians go, so he figured “the best way to get the overall gist of a large body of material is to take random samples of each of its parts.” He decided “arbitrarily” to examine chapter 3, verse 16, of every book of the Bible (with exceptions for the books with fewer than three chapters). The result was a 66-week Bible overview, out of which his beautiful book 3:16 was born. He commissioned calligraphers from all over the world to render each of the Scripture verses, and then wrote a three-page chapter on each: an overview of that book of the Bible, the context of the particular verse, and its meaning then and application now. That’s one way to cover the material!]

It would appear that the Burnett/Downey narrative The Bible begins not at the beginning, that is, with Creation and Adam and Eve. My blog readers know how much I believe “It All Started in the Garden,” so the choice to begin with the story of Noah is almost a deal-breaker from the start. It is, however, somewhat of a compromise position for the producers, given how often even Bible curriculum such as Kerygma picks up the story with the Exodus, the formation of God’s people into a nation. At least starting with Noah, one must consider how things degenerated to flood-worthy so quickly. Maybe we can hope for flashbacks to Eden.

In anticipation, then, of a unique and reportedly high quality production on the Scriptures, here are the features I will be observing with each episode:

• Which biblical “clips” are chosen this week? Are they important enough to the narrative to justify their inclusion?

• Are the links between them true to the story and authentic theologically?

• How faithful are the “facts” conveyed this week to the biblical text? Cite examples.

• Were there any glaring inaccuracies, questionable interpretations, or other mistakes made? [It is a movie, so our question has to allow for some ‘poetic license’ and imaginary dialogue; but is it true to the story?]

• How does each clip depict God? What is your overall impression of the representation of God this week?  

• Does the presentation foster faith? frustrate faith? romanticize faith? deal honestly with faith? Cite examples. [This is a fair question, since it goes to the purpose the producers sought to achieve.]

May my skepticism be completely overridden by gratitude, and yours, too. We can make the most of this opportunity by reflecting thoughtfully and discussing enthusiastically a subject important not only for Christians but for all people, especially skeptical Americans. If The Bible indeed proves to be a helpful conversation starter, we will owe Burnett and Downey a debt.

 

 

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7 Responses to ““The Bible” in Ten Hours”


  1. […] “The Bible”in ten hours – Mary Nageli […]

  2. rickcarter Says:

    Mary, I think you’re going to be disappointed. Here is the brief review (pan) in Saturday’s Philadelphia Inquirer.

    “History misses the mark entirely with the forgettable Cecil B. DeMille retread The Bible, a five-part mini-series cocreated by reality-TV mogul Mark Burnett. Each two-hour episode dramatizes a pair of famous biblical tales from Noah’s flood to Jesus’ crucifixion. There’s no character work here, no interesting reinterpretations of a classic text, no inspired acting. Just cardboard characters surrounded by CGI frippery. Give it a miss.”

    I think the problem in presenting the Bible on the screen is that God’s revelation is both word and deed. Hollywood wants only action. But it is the reflection and interpretation surrounding the action that makes the deeds meaningful.

    What would I do? Well, for instance, if I were to portray the Jews being hauled off to exile, certainly a memorable scene Hollywood would love, I would follow that with scenes of Babylonian Jews singing psalms of lament, and Jeremiah composing lamentations. And it should be preceded by prophets forewarning the nation and its kings.

    The same issue arises with the New Testament. Does the story end with the resurrection of Jesus? Hardly. But conveying the letters of the New Testament. . . Well, one would probably have to create imagined scenarios in the early churches (scene 1 — Joel Ostien look-alike portrays a Corinthian super-apostle), in which the churches gather to read and respond to the apostles’ written correctives. Yeah, it would be tough.

  3. Alan Wilkerson Says:

    I’m with you on the wait to see attitude but I’ve been disappointed too many times before to hold out for too much of an orthodox treatment.

    On another subject altogether… that’s a GREAT commercial just what I needed on this Monday morning.

    Alan Wilkerson
    Portland,OR.


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