The Bible on The History Channel

I watched the first episode of this miniseries last night with cautious optimism.  The producers wanted to take the Bible as history seriously and involved some good Christian scholars.  The Biblical events are portrayed as history, which I'm glad for, but my overall impressions was, "Meh."  It lacked the overarching theme of what God is up to.  It seemed more like a Sunday School movie than real life.  Still, I think it's worth watching.

It's a quality movie.  The special effects are good.  I acknowledge that it's a gargantuan task to select from the massive amount of material in the Bible to include in a miniseries.  Some of the scenes are quite dramatic to see come to life – like Abraham's sacrifice of Isaac.  But it just seems to miss the Big Picture that pulls the events together in one narrative.

The major event that kicks off the story is the call of Abraham, which is a voice in the wind.  Why would Abraham believe he heard from God rather than imagined it?  They left out the dramatic covenant God made with Abraham appearing as smoking incense and going between the halves of the bull while Abraham watched.  And the purpose of the covenant with Abraham is lost – that through this nation all the nations of the world would be blessed.  It leaves the impression that the goal is to get Abraham some descendants and Israel some land.  If the literal words of the text weren't enough to communicate this, they have a narrator that could accomplish this meta-narrative.

Likewise, when Israel is delivered from Egypt, their songs of praise are left out.  These events should leave us thinking 'How great is this God!"  And unless you know that from the Bible already, I doubt you'd think it from watching.  The Passover was curiously edited.  Moses tells the Israelites to prepare for the angel of death, but doesn't tell them the details to prepare to leave.  They cross the Red Sea and get drenched, but the text says that they crossed on dry land, which magnifies the nature of the miracle. It may be more dramatic that they get splashed, but if you're going to do the text, why change that detail?  It just bugged me. 

I think it was a significant mistake to skip Joseph's story because it tells why Israel ended up in slavery and conveys the Big Picture message that God was in charge protecting His people.  Instead, they did the Sodom and Gomorrah story, which makes it unsuitable for young children and at the same time didn't convey the depth of depravity.  After Isaac's sacrifice, next thing you know the Israelites are slaves in Egypt needing deliverance.

So while I acknowledge that selecting the events to include is difficult, I think they made some choices that undermine the overall effectiveness of the series for those who aren't already familiar with the Bible.

The musical score really bugged me.  It lent an air of overdramatization, which makes it seem less real life.  One of the things I thought was effective in "The Passion of the Christ" was the way the scenes with his family and disciples were very ordinary, real life.  While I think the acting conveyed that these were ordinary people involved with a God doing extraordinary things, the music gave it an unreal sense. It would have been much better with a less dramatic score.

I guess the bottom line is that while I thought it was interesting to see the Biblical events brought to life in good quality, I was left unmoved.  I think the result of such a portrayal should be, "How great is our God!"  And I didn't feel that because I think the film fails to communicate the significance of what God is doing other than doing some pretty awesome miracles.

Still, I think it's worth watching for Christians.  I would caution letting young children watch it.  And perhaps it would be a starting point of discussion with non-Christians.  There are more episodes to go, so maybe the Big Picture will become clearer.  And I hope and expect that it will continue to portray the Bible as history.  In that last point, I think it is successful.  And I appreciate the respect the producers have shown for what the Bible claims to be: a history of God at work.


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Melinda Penner