Tuesday, April 2, 2013

Review of the miniseries "The Bible"

I watched most of the miniseries The Bible on the History Channel. I meant to watch all of it, but forgot about it the first night. So I made plans to watch it the next week. I didn't know, however, that they were repeating episode 1 before episode 2. Somehow I found out about that late and saw the last twenty minutes or so of the first episode, and then the entire miniseries over the next weeks.

I enjoyed the series, but don't know how to characterize it. Is it documentary? Fiction? Something else? Obviously to fit the Bible into ten hours of programming, including commercials, requires severe editing. I'm sure I would have chosen some different things to include, and maybe excluded some of what they put in. But that would be being picky. Even if it had been twenty hours of programming, I probably wouldn't have agreed with everything.

A filmmaker clearly needs to add things to what the Bible says to change words on paper to images on a screen, so no problems with how they did it. For the most part they did an excellent job. I thought they especially did a good job showing how the Jewish leaders reacted to this new problem coming out of Galilee, and how they interacted with Pilate. The Bible gives us few words about this, so we have to add to it to make a movie. I think those responsible did it well.

They also have to create scenes with scenery. Since the Bible tells us little about what various places looked like, we can only guess. Style of clothing, type of buildings, vegetation, habits of the populace. All of these must be created from sources other than the Bible. Except as I will mention below, I thought they movie did well with this.

Here are a few specific criticisms.
  1. Almost every scene showed a desert land, brown and tan colored and devoid of vegetation. The only exception I can think of was the scenes in the garden of Gethsemane. What happened to the western arc of the fertile crescent I learned about in grade school and junior high? What happened to the land flowing with milk and honey described in the Old Testament? Sorry, folks, but I just don't believe it. At the time the Jews first took possession of their inheritance it was all a garden. I know climates can change over time, but I don't believe that, by Jesus' time, it had become a desert. There are desert lands south of Israel, and perhaps east as well. But Israel itself? I haven't been there, but I just don't believe it. Those who have been there tell me a different story.
  2. Quite a few things that happened at night were shown in daytime scenes. I didn't catalogue these as I saw them, and right now specific examples don't come to mind. I remember noting them, however, as the miniseries unfolded.
  3. Many legends of church history were included. These non-biblical vignettes are fairly well established in church lore, but are not established by the Bible record. Such as Saint Veronica wiping the face of Jesus as he slowly trudged to Calvary.
  4. The life of King Saul, predecessor of King David, was the main Old Testament story I thought was poorly done. I would have to see it again and take some notes to be able to expand on this comment, but I remember that was my reaction at the time I watched that part of the miniseries.
I did not, as I sat watching the miniseries, make a running list of all I saw wrong with it—or all I saw right. All in all it was good. Will I watch it again? For sure I will try to see the part I missed. I may watch it all again, as opportunities arise and as it is convenient.

That brings me down to: Is it fiction or nonfiction? I think it is something in between, what they now call creative non-fiction. It is close enough to the biblical record to be considered nonfiction, but has enough things added, enough interpretation, to not be able to call it documentary or pure nonfiction.


Susan said...

Interesting thoughts! I only saw about 4 hours total -- my thoughts -- from when I visited Israel, I *did* think the land was basically desert looking. That's been about 16 years ago, though -- I ought to pull out my photos to refresh my memory. I immediately commented that the actor portraying Satan was a dead ringer for Obama, before that charge was leveled in the media. I felt that the whole thing was well done overall too. I really can't give too many complaints since in this day and age it seems so rare to see anything so wholesome and God forbid, Christian, on TV.

David A. Todd said...

Friends of mine from the Gaza strip told me how the Sinai peninsula is desert and remained desert all the years Egypt controlled it. But when Israel captured it and occupied it for many years, they made the land productive through irrigation and good husbandry. It would be interesting to see it now, since it's been back in Egyptian control for a couple of decades.