The Bible

Abraham ready to kill Isaac

So, are you watching the new mini-series about the Bible on the History Channel?

Lots of people are – apparently many more than are watching this season’s edition of American Idol.  Until last weekend, I hadn’t seen any of it.  The Bible, that is.

But I often feel pressured by these things, as though I should pay attention, as though my job really requires it.

First, there was Dan Brown’s The Da Vinci Code, an entertaining novel with a far-fetched premise.  And then there was Mel Gibson’s The Passion of the Christ with its gruesome depiction of Jesus’ last hours.  I ended up leading discussions in my church’s adult education about both of them, mostly because both of them led to troubling questions about theological issues.  Knowing that people were bothered by both of them was reassuring.

After seeing a little of The Bible and hearing no questions from anyone, I’m a little worried.  I may need to raise a couple of my own.

First, with five two-hour episodes, taking viewers from Genesis to Revelation, there’s bound to be quite a lot of the story that gets left out.  And that was my impression after watching the mini-series’ take on the life of Moses.  I’ll say this much: the story keeps moving.  And with its generous use of computer-generated special effects, it has the look and feel at times of an action movie.

But what about the parts of the Bible that aren’t narrative?  What about the Psalms, for example, or the prophets (major and minor)?  Don’t we miss something important when those parts are left out?

Here’s another question that deserves some exploration.  For centuries the church has been word-centered.  We have relied on the biblical text to tell us everything we need to know about God and God’s actions in the world.  We train our clergy to interpret this text and proclaim it.  We encourage believers to read it and meditate on it.

What happens when the word becomes image?  Let’s say that the creators Roma Downey and Mark Burnett get it mostly right.  Let’s say that their casting choices convey the right messages (let’s leave aside for a moment that Satan bears an uncanny resemblance to President Obama and that it’s a little creepy for Burnett to cast his wife as the blessed Virgin Mary).  Let’s even say that they understand very well the moods and complexities conveyed in scripture.

Still.  Isn’t this mini-series only one way of imagining the events described in the Bible?  Aren’t there other ways of imagining those same events?  Does Leonard da Vinci, for example, tell us in his painting everything there is to know about the last supper – or are there other paintings that offer equally important insights to that event?

One last thought.  If this mini-series is helpful for some in making scripture come alive, then I’m happy for them.  If this mini-series draws new attention to the Bible, then that’s good too.

It’s always good to be thoughtful about what we read and watch.

(And by the way, that photo above is from the mini-series: Abraham is about ready to sacrifice his son Isaac, which is even more troubling on screen than in the text.)

About Doug

I have been a writer ever since fifth grade when I won second prize in a “prose and poetry” contest. I am also a Presbyterian pastor, and for several years toward the end of my career I lived and worked in Zürich, Switzerland. I am now retired and live just north of Holland, Michigan, along the lake.


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3 Responses to The Bible

  1. Miss Mandana Sharifi March 27, 2013 at 6:44 am #

    Dear Doug, I concur. Any media coverage of The Bible whether it be in whole or part, is a good thing to give one a refresher course or one who is not an avid ready the opportunity to know at least parts of the Bible as interpreted by the directors.

    Always thru Faith,

    Mandana :0)

    • Doug March 27, 2013 at 6:51 am #

      Hi, Mandana. I’m not sure I’d go so far as to say “any coverage,” but generally speaking it’s tough to be against something that prompts attention and discussion. My worry of course continues to be that this particular portrayal will be taken as an accurate or complete understanding of The Bible, which I don’t think it is. Thanks for the thoughtful response!

  2. Gail Bair March 27, 2013 at 11:49 am #

    Good Day Pastor,

    I must say I do agree with you and your take on the series.

    I will add I am watching this with people that are not prone to church. Raised in Belgium and Africa.

    Belgium they went to Catholic School and in Africa had priests visit via donkey dressed in muslim robing with sandals. I must say it has been a hard sell (if that is proper…use witness) for them to come around and open up slowly. . .regarding their belief and faith.

    This presentation has made an impact and they call me to watch with them. I DO FILL IN the missing gaps and parts to be made clearer. So far so good. A slow process and no hard witnessing (sell) for the reality of Christ and Believer.

    I am not adapt at writing
    regarding this type of subject. I did want you to know that you were right in that some people will be stirred by this.

    Takes all different ways to understanding…….

    Enjoy your Celebration of this Season of our LORD.

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