Bible Mini-Series from the History Channel

March 4, 2013 at 8:02 AM 6 comments

Maybe it’s just me and my high expectations, but when I read about a mini-series on History Channel, I don’t hold out much hope.  However, many I spoke with were expecting it to be great, so I watched the entire two hours of the first episode.

My first question…why are there so many white-looking people as main characters?  You would think that people in the Middle East are all very light-skinned.  They also all have gorgeous teeth!  As if that is not enough, it appears that most of the people in the Middle East during the time of Noah through Abraham and beyond spoke with a decided British accent.  Even the first Pharaoh we see when Moses was a young man (and apparently had no idea of his actual roots) appeared to be Caucasian.

Obviously, more important than these things is whether or not the integrity of Scripture is intact and unfortunately, it leaves something to be desired.  I’ll get to that in a moment.

Most of the characters are very difficult to relate to.  For the most part, they are decent actors who say their lines and obviously found their marks for the cameras.  There is also action as well, but overall, the characters created by the actors are not that engaging.  They tend to be skin deep and that’s about it, though they obviously tried to present a more than one-dimensional character.

The actor who portrays Abraham is just “okay” and is given to venting his spleen a lot when things don’t go right, but he also tries desperately to hang onto his “faith” in God.  Unfortunately for the mini-series, the Bible really does not portray Abraham as someone who had great difficulty believing in God.  That may have been a problem for Abraham, but we simply don’t know.  Yet “The Bible” mini-series seems to believe that their portrayal of Abraham is accurate, when there is really nothing to compare it with outside of Scripture.

It is the same with Moses; another very light-skinned Middle Easterner (though the younger Moses has more of a Middle Eastern look to him).  He’s an okay actor, but really not believable and appears to be in some kind of trance most of the time.  He says his lines and I’m sure he does what the director expects of him, but he just doesn’t do it for me.  I’m not comparing him with Charlton Heston either.

Over all, I give “The Bible,” episode one, a grade of C-, for so-so.  They took way too many liberties and because of that, the accuracy of the Bible record is missing.  If a person does not believe the Bible, that’s up to them.  All I’m saying is that let’s keep it real as far as the actual biblical text goes.

Neil Genzlinger had this to say, of which I concur:  “The feelings behind the series may be sincere — Ms. Downey has said that she and her husband “felt called to do this” — but the approach here actually shows a lack of faith in the power of the biblical stories. The real Bible is a layered, often lyrical epic in which personal journeys are intertwined with collective ones, and human failings bump up against human strivings.” [1]  This seems true enough to me and I also fault the producers for what Genzlinger calls a “lack of faith” with respect to the epic storyline of the Bible.  Remember, I’m not talking about whether a person believes or does not believe the Bible for the purposes of creating a mini-series.  What matters is that the biblical text should be allowed to speak for itself as it has been written.  It’s really that simple.

Again, Genzlinger notes (accurately, in my opinion), “Mr. Burnett and Ms. Downey, their actors (Ms. Downey herself is one) and especially their adapters don’t have nearly the skill to translate such a thing to the small screen in a way that does justice to its complexity. The best they can do is a black-and-white simplification in which villains often come across as laughable caricatures because the creators are so eager to make sure that everyone realizes that they’re villains.” [2]

There are some ridiculous aspects to the mini-series.  In the biblical text when Abraham goes off with Isaac to worship the Lord, he travels a three-day journey (cf. Genesis 22:4).  Yet, in the mini-series, Sarah “realizes” what Abraham is going to do (sacrifice Isaac) and runs a short distance from the camp and behold, there is Abraham!  Sorry, that’s not true according to the Bible.  Sarah had no inkling and she would not have been able to get to the place in ten minutes of running.

More importantly, the biblical text implies that Abraham knew that either God would provide another sacrifice or that God would raise Isaac from the dead after he sacrificed him.  This is based on Abraham’s own words in Genesis 22:5 which clearly states, “He said to his servants, ‘Stay here with the donkey while I and the boy go over there. We will worship and then we will come back to you‘.”  I’ve emphasized the last sentence indicating that Abraham had great faith in God; that God would somehow provide.  We don’t get this at all from the mini-series.  In fact, God often appears to be a tyrant that should not be questioned (in spite of the “breathy” actor whose voice is used to portray God).

In another instance, during the scenes where God has decided to destroy Sodom (and Gomorrah, though not mentioned), there are not only some things left out, but some things added that, in my opinion, do tremendous injustice to the biblical text.

Of course, we knew there would be no reference to homosexuality.  It wouldn’t do to anger the gay and lesbian community.  Besides, it’s not politically correct to do that today.  Politically correct is simply a nice-sounding phrase that hides the fact that it is really “cultural Marxism,” but that’s for another article.

So there was no mention of homosexuality (literally sodomy).  Instead, walking into Sodom is a good deal like walking into a carnival that’s happening on the wrong side of the tracks, or in the worst part of a city.  Fire-breathing people, jugglers, muggers, gang bangers, not-nice-people, and the rest are out in force.  It’s Any City, USA.  So, we’re to believe that God destroyed Sodom (and Gomorrah) for that?

But aside from that, another problem has to do with the angels that God sent to get Lot and his family out of the way so the twin cities could be destroyed.  These two angels are absolutely pathetic!  As we see Lot, who scurries into his home with his wife and two young daughters one evening, we hear “Help us!” repeated several times.  We then learn that it is the angels who are in need of help; one of which has been beaten and is bloody about the face.  So much for thinking of how great it is to have a guardian angel.  These angels actually need human beings to come to their rescue!  It’s ridiculous.  (Again, whether a person believes the veracity of Scripture or not, the stories should not be changed so that they have little resemblance to the originals.)

But, never fear…Underdog…oh wait, sorry.  Eventually, when push comes to shove, the angels look to the heavens and the men of the city that are trying to attack them (why they want to attack them is never explained at all – did they have money?  Were the men of Sodom just meanies? What exactly was the problem?), and cause the men of the city to go blind.  Let’s face it, in this example of “evil” Sodom, God would have had to destroy most cities today for the same problems.  Chicago, NYC, and DC would have gone up in flames decades ago.

The angels then run, leading Lot and family out of Sodom.  Of course, they are waylaid in the process and one of the angels takes out his two swords and goes mano-a-mano with the townsmen.  Eventually, the other angel takes a swipe or two and voila! They are free!  I also find it interesting that the one angel who is a master swordsman is also Asian.  The fact that he uses martial arts to deftly off his opponents is not lost on me.  It seems almost way too obvious and stereotypical.

I’ll emphasize it again; whether you believe the actual text of Scripture is beside the point here (though of course, I hope you do believe it).  If someone is going to produce a mini-series about the Bible, why go “off book” and create your own story line when the Bible already has a very rich one?  It makes no sense to me.  In fact, I think it’s ridiculous, especially if part of your argument is that people in general are not well-informed when it comes to the Bible.  We already know that, so how is changing the Bible’s story going to help that?  It isn’t.

The story of Moses is also interesting, though not that accurate at all either.  It’s frustrating to watch these movies or mini-series only to see how much some producer decides that he or she can write a story much better than the one written in Scripture!  In fact, to me, it’s a form of demagoguery.  It’s as if the producers said “Look, we know we can write a more interesting story than the one that is recorded in the Bible, so let’s get to it!” Wrong.

The actor who portrayed Moses did a good enough job.  As I said, he said his lines and found his mark each time.  The problem with him (aside from his severely light-skin, which was far lighter than the younger actor who played the young Moses in the Pharaoh’s court) was that he lacked any reality.  He did not make Moses come alive for me.

Where does the Bible say that when Moses first stood before Pharaoh, Pharaoh had him beaten?  Nothing of the sort happened, according to the Bible.  Moreover, in the mini-series, Moses is somewhat sneaky and duplicitous, at one point standing on the edge of the Nile across from Pharaoh while turning the Nile to blood.  Yes, Pharaoh knows who is responsible, but it is clear from Scripture that Moses went before Pharaoh each and every time.

On another occasion, after the Hebrews were released, they come to the Red Sea.  God – through Moses – splits the Red Sea and the Bible said they went across on dry ground (cf. Exodus 14:22 and Hebrews 11:29).  That was dry ground.  Yet, in the series, the children of Israel got soaked!  Also, they were not called “Israelites” by the Egyptians.  They were referred to as Hebrews.

Aside from these inaccuracies, I realize that these are biblical characters.  That alone makes them larger than life.  Maybe they should be left alone because it seems to me that the many movies that have been made about biblical characters often comes up woefully short, with just a few exceptions.  I can think of Jeffrey Hunter’s portrayal of Jesus, which was very good, though in the end, Jeffery Hunter was a white guy, but an olive-skinned one at that.  Then there’s Max Von Sydow’s portrayal of Jesus.  Again, not bad.

George C. Scott as Abraham?  Yuck.  Jon Voight as Noah with Mary Steengurgen as his wife?  Double yuck.  Some things are best left alone.

Too many projects related to the Bible seem to go off on these tangents where producers seem far more interested in trying to recreate pathos and do so by changing biblical dialogue.  It’s annoying to watch and it teaches people nothing about the true nature of the Bible.

Genzlinger has a number of cogent points related to the series and I would encourage you to read his review in its entirety at the link below.  Regarding the mini-series and its lack of cohesiveness, he likens what the producers have done to creating a “Bible’s greatest hits approach” and states, “This doesn’t serve the source material — so rich in interconnections across time — very well, and it doesn’t make for very involving television. Abraham, Moses, David, Daniel and the other great biblical figures aren’t really developed in a way that illuminates them or makes them linger in our minds; they are simply called forth to perform a set piece or two. It’s like a trip through a Christian theme park. ‘Next stop on the tour, ladies and gentlemen: the Noah’s ark tableau, followed by the Daniel in the lion’s den diorama’.” [3]

While the mini-series may spark some conversation between saved and unsaved, I’m not sure I’ll be able to watch successive episodes because this one seemed to drag on and on.  With all the changes and resultant inaccuracies, it made for a difficult time for me.  It’s almost as if neither actors or producers “got it” at all and as Genzlinger said, wound up creating something that is very cheesy and rickety.

[1] http://tv.nytimes.com/2013/03/02/arts/television/the-bible-mini-series-on-history-channel.html?_r=0

[2] Ibid

[3] Ibid

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6 Comments

  • 1. Lester  |  March 5, 2013 at 7:57 AM

    It would seem that the producers are not being politically correct in using nothing but light skinned actors. As for them portraying God as a tyrant, that’s a Gnostic impression. If one studies the reasons for the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah, they will find that violence in every area of life in those cities was the main reason. Homosexuality is a symptom of a much deeper disease. Egypt, Babylon and Rome were filled with abhorrent sexual practices as is every nation of the world today. Ease of living, money and time on hand with no real moral compass leads to destruction. I really miss the grandiose productions of Cecil B Demille and others that produced such deeper works like The Robe, Moses, Greatest Story every told and many more. At least someone is trying to keep the story going but to bad it’s watered down.

    • 2. modres  |  March 7, 2013 at 6:18 AM

      There are a lot of inaccuracies in the series and it didn’t have to be that way either. As I stated, whether a person believes the Bible as written or not, the producers could have simply remained true to the text, but chose to go off book because they thought their additions would be superior.

  • 3. Charles Huss  |  March 4, 2013 at 2:57 PM

    I agree with much of what you say but I assumed that the Angels who saved Lot pretended to need help as a way to find out if there were ten rightous men in the city.

    • 4. modres  |  March 4, 2013 at 3:10 PM

      Hi Charles,

      Thanks for your comments.

      I am under the impression God already knew if there were at least ten righteous men in the city and this is why He decided to destroy it, but you have an interesting point and I thank you for sharing it.

      By the way, I note you are a cat lover! I don’t normally do this, but I left your link – badcatchris.com – in your response in case other cat lovers come along and want to enjoy your photos and your stories.

      I can relate to your loss of Tiger. In the past year and a half, we have lost two cats. One died very quickly one morning after a blood clot became detached and got lodged in his hind quarters. His best friend (another of our cats) went into mourning and one day left and never returned.

      Like you, I understand just how difficult it is when we lose a pet. People who don’t own pets don’t get it, but I’ve cried whenever we’ve lost one. It is very difficult, but I can always see myself with a cat or two as I get older. They really add to life.

      I never really appreciated cats at all until I married my wife who had one. I always thoughts dogs were smarter and I realized a while ago that I was wrong about that. We have six cats now, most of them rescues. I wish people would get their animals spayed or neutered. They are great pets and their unique personalities are something.

      Thanks again for writing, Chris. 🙂

      • 5. Charles Huss  |  March 8, 2013 at 12:00 PM

        Thanks for your great reply and I am also sorry about the loss of your cats. I try to focus on the fact that we helped these animals have a good life while they were with us.

      • 6. modres  |  March 8, 2013 at 12:32 PM

        Exactly, Charles! This is why we have rescued so many of them. They deserve to be brought up in loving homes.


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