I had been asked several times in the past week if I was planning to watch the new miniseries on the History Channel called The Bible, produced by Mark Burnett and Roma Downey. I had watched the previews for the program and was actually looking forward to seeing how well or how poorly they would handle Scripture. So for those of you who asked and any others who might check this out, here are some of my initial thoughts on the program.
Anytime you attempt to portray biblical characters or events on film (the same is true with writing about the Bible like I do), you run a huge risk of misleading people if you aren’t 100% accurate. Of course, with film-making, like writing historical fiction, you take artistic liberties, but the goal should be to stay as accurate as possible. James 3:1 offers a warning to those who teach because they will be held to a high standard, and while Burnett and Downey may not wish to be seen as Bible teachers, their miniseries necessarily puts them in that position.
Obviously, the production was not a Hollywood blockbuster film with tens of millions of dollars to pay for top actors and top of the line special effects, but the acting and effects were pretty good for a made-for-television series. Also, from what I had seen from Burnett and Downey in interviews, it seems as though they had good intentions in making this program. I think that they really wanted to portray things accurately, but I suspected (and now have had that suspicion confirmed) that they would get several things wrong by following common misconceptions people have about Scripture. For example, the preview for an upcoming episode shows David as a fairly small man when he fought Goliath, and if you’ve read some of my other work, you know that is not how the Bible portrays him.
Very early on, they briefly portrayed Adam and Eve in the garden, as Noah narrated the creation events to his family on the Ark. Surprisingly, the forbidden fruit was not an apple! It’s about time somebody gets that right on film since the Bible never states it was an apple—it was the fruit from the tree of knowledge of good and evil.
The Ark was shown as a large vessel, rather than the typical “bath tub” type Ark that is ready to burst at the seams with all the animals. Although I doubt it was as leaky as the program showed it, and Noah’s kids were far too young in the program. Also, the Flood itself was shown as a global event, rather than the popular portrayal of just a regional event.
Finally, it was interesting to see some of the biblical accounts brought to life. I do think it will spark an interest in some people to compare what they watched with the Bible. So if God uses this production to direct people to His Word, then that is a huge positive.
The actors portraying Adam, Eve, Noah, Abraham, and others were very light-skinned. Although the Bible doesn’t tell us what shade their skin was, it makes the most sense that Adam and Eve, and probably Noah too, were middle brown. This would provide an explanation for the various skin tones we see today, but if they were all “white,” then the darker skin shades would not exist.
The program had a vast amount of stars in the background while the earth was being created, yet the Bible tells us that the earth was made on the first day and the stars on the fourth day. The animals being created during the creation week looked identical to today’s creatures (obviously since they filmed modern animals), but this does not take into account the vast amount of “speciation” that has taken place since creation (and since the Flood). That is, God created the original “kinds” of animals with the genetic variability to give rise to the various species and breeds we see today. So the original “kinds” would likely have looked different. This was the same with the animals on the Ark. For example, the program had zebras on the Ark, but zebras are part of the horse kind, so Noah simply needed two horses on the Ark, but these horses probably displayed characteristics of all the various “horses” today (whether zebra, donkey, ponies, horses, etc.).
Perhaps the decision was made so the program would be suitable for younger children, but the sin of the people of Sodom was downplayed. The people demanded that Lot turn over the two angels, but the film gave the impression that it was because the people wanted to kill them instead of rape them. This may have been done to not upset the homosexual community as well. Either way, it gave a false impression of what took place in Sodom, even though it did show the city as being rather promiscuous. Also, the Bible doesn’t say anything about the angels kicking butt with swords, but they did blind the people, and Sodom was much farther away from Abraham than portrayed in the film.
In the retelling of Abraham and Isaac, Sarah freaked out when she realized Abraham had not brought a lamb for the offering. This was likely done to heighten the drama, but there is no indication of this in Scripture. We don’t know if Abraham informed her of what he was about to do. Based on what he told his servants in Genesis 22:5, my guess is that he did not tell her, and there really would be no reason for her to suspect that he was planning to sacrifice Isaac. Also, Sarah was able to run to the place of sacrifice within a few minutes, but the Bible reveals that Abraham journeyed for three days before reaching that spot in the land of Moriah.
Finally, the account of the Exodus was greatly compressed so multiple events were skipped. The amount of Israelites leaving Egypt was vastly greater than shown on film. Of course, the producers probably could not have brought in tens of thousands of extras to do this properly, but in the wide shots of the group, it would have been very easy to add in tens of thousands of CGI people to give the right impression.
There were some other strengths and weaknesses in the film, and I’m sure that if I watch it again, I’ll pick up some more. But I wanted to offer some quick reflections on the film since so many people had asked me about it. As with any production about the Bible, or even anything you read about the Bible (like this post), please take the time to compare what you watch or read with Scripture. Just like the filmmakers for this miniseries, I can make mistakes too, so please do your homework in checking things with Scripture, since it is God’s infallible Word.