The Two Bibles: The History Channel and the Real One

The Two Bibles: The History Channel and the Real One

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The debut of the History Channel’s much anticipated 10 hour series “The Bible” created a lot of excitement among churches and Bible readers. The two producers in many ways embody the dual identity of the production. Roma Downey, of Touched by and Angel fame, imparts a welcome vibe of respect for the story. No debunking here! On the other hand, her husband Mark Burnett, gave us  Survivor and Celebrity Apprentice, among others, and so we expect, well, “reality” however that’s defined. The series BIble-Titlepublicity stressed the desire simply to portray the story, without a lot of interpretive overlay. The producers also claimed to have consulted a wide range of clergy and scholars. Unfortunately, the most conspicuously touted consult was with Joel Osteen, which led to some howls and giggles in many circles. But in fact, a large cross-section of clergy from many traditions appear in the consultant list.

I was not able to find on the History Channel’s website any list of the consultants, but gleaning through articles in the New York Times and (gulp) Wikipedia produced a pretty good list of names.  Also included in the consultation process were, reputedly, Joshua Garroway, a rabbi holding a PhD in New Testament studies from Yale who serves as professor of NT on the faculty of Hebrew Union College, a prestigious school located in Cincinnati, OH. Craig Evans, another NT scholar with an impressive vita of publications and an extensive list of appearances on the National Geographic Channel, the Discovery Channel, and the History Channel. All the scholarly consultants I could locate held PhD’s from outstanding universities and most were young. Of the five I found, three were women. Surpisingly, none were trained in Old Testament scholarship. Given the historical and cultural richness of the OT, I found that puzzling and in the first episode, the lack of OT expertise showed painfully!

So…how was it? I confess here at the start, I was disappointed. I expected a production of much richer texture than what we got. The general look of the production was, to use a scholarly term, “cheesy.” That was distressing. But more puzzling to me were some serious errors in the story itself, especially given the PR that this was so heavily researched.

Right from the start, Noah on the ark is reciting the creation story to a young girl. But in the Bible, there are no children, male or female, on the ark. Just Noah, Mrs. Noah, the three sons and their wives. No kids (see Gen. 7:7; 2 Peter 2:5). And then, we get the fall of humanity happening…between Days 6 and 7 of the creation! I originally criticized this part of the program, but now I’m told in Ms. Benton’s comment below that a rabbinic tradition is the inspiration for that part of the storyline. It does not make it biblically accurate, but it does indicate the producers’ concern to find some background to flesh out the narrative. I only wish they’d gotten someone with specialized training in the languages, literature, culture, archaeology and theology of the Old Testament since half the program (and about three quarters of the Bible) is concerned with the OT. But I remain grateful for the illumination offered in the comment and glad to see seriousness in the producers’ efforts at that point.

As for the fall, I laughed also when Eve is eating the fruit, mercifully not portrayed as an apple, and we see a snake coiled on The Biblea tree nearby. But Gen. 3:14 has traditionally been taken to imply the serpent had legs, or at least, didn’t move like a snake, until God cursed it to move about on its belly. I will at least say that Downey and Burnett give us an Adam and Eve who are very attractive and very naked, though for some reason, dirty. Apparently lipstick was also part of the pre-fall women’s regimen.

The Abraham story fills the remainder of the first hour. Aspects of it are refreshing and interesting, but nowhere do we see signs of the kind of cultural and historical research that would have brought the story to life, and at times details are missing that are vital to the theological narrative, which Downey and Burnett stated was important to them. So they omit the vital line in the binding of Isaac that shows Abraham’s faith, when he speaks to his servant at the foot of the mountain, “…I and the boy will go worship and we will return to you…” That “we” is vital. But the movie shows no servant, just Abraham and Isaac. Also, Mt. Moriah, the scene of the offering, is portrayed as off in a howling, barren wilderness. But traditionally it is located at Jerusalem, which was a Jebusite town in the  Middle Bronze Age, not a desolate wilderness. And oh yes: did anyone notice the WHITE CAMELS? I missed it until Angie kept asking me were ancient camels white. Duh. Now, there is some debate over the domestication of the camel, but I know very few archaeologists or historians who think that lots of people were caravanning with camels in the Middle Bronze Age. And if they were, I doubt very much that they were snowy-white. Judges 5:10 in some translations refers to “white donkeys” but white camels? That’s odd.

The narratives surrounding Lot raised another problem for me. The Bible narrates plenty of violence. It’s not a book for the faint hearted. But Downey and Burnett work in violence, of the corniest kind, in places where it’s not only absent from the Bible, it’s also gratuitous. The one place the violence works is Abraham’s raid on the kings of the east (Gen. 14) to rescue Lot. I confess I’ve never seen that portrayed and they were not shy about portraying Abraham as a tribal war leader.

It’s the extra violence I found puzzling. We have the angels entering Sodom. Now, for some reason, whenever God or angels appear in this show, I instinctively think of the ring-wraiths in Lord of the Rings. Never quite shook that. Anyway, the Bible says they camped openly in the town square and planned to spend the night there, with Lot almost forcing them to come home with him. D&B have the angels injured and pleading for asylum, with Lot taking them in. When the mob besieges Lot’s house, the Bible simply states that the angels blinded them, allowing Lot & Co. to leave the city. D&B have the eyes of the attackers bleeding, but not all the city is blinded, so the angels walk outside and proceed to slaughter the residents of Sodom. It looks like a scene from a bad martial arts movie. On the other hand, if you had your children with you to watch the new Bible movie made by that sweet woman from Touched by an Angel, you’d be having second thoughts just then. A good friend of mine with two school-aged daughters wisely decided to watch Tangled Sunday evening. Good move.

Though eager to show violence, D&B hold back on sex, which is probably a good thing given the salacious though brief, look we get at Eve’s cleavage. The intention of homosexual rape expressed by  the Sodomite mob is totally absent from the Sodom sequence, likely either a nod to a family audience or a bit of political correctness, and fortunately, the viewer is spared the sequel to the escape from Sodom. Apparently, from this scene, Sodom was destroyed for very bad booty dancing. Which might be just, after all…

For some reason, the movie leaps from Abraham straight to Moses, so we get no story of Jacob wrestling, Jacob reproducing, Isaac fondling Rebekah, or anything about Joseph. From how they handle the Moses segment, they might have had a limited eye-liner budget so had to leave out the long Egypt sequence involving Joseph! This is a mercy, since the Egypt scenes are awful. Everyone is fat, for example, even Pharaoh. But we know the Pharaoh’s were typically quite fit specimens. Ramesses Bible_MosesII, for example, when ambushed by the Hittites at Kadesh just a few years after the Exodus, mounts his chariot and alone, charges the Hittite line. The Pharaoh’s are depicted driving a chariot, reins tied around their waist, firing arrows at targets or at enemies. The Pharaoh of the exodus was a young, vigorous man ready to embark on a career of international imperialism and diplomacy, not a fat mobster surrounded by sycophants. The mummy of Ramesses II shows us he was a tall, square-jawed, red-headed man, his hair still intact after 3200 years!

Side Note: Why, oh why, in every movie, is the “angel of death” portrayed as a kind of mist wafting through the town? I mean, what a great place for D&B to bring in their Ninja-Angels and buckle some serious swash! But no, it’s the same old death-mist.

I’ll say up front: I like D&B’s Moses. He’s not Charlton Heston’s majestic, slow statesman. He’s got a goofy streak that I willie_nelson personally found appealing. He looks like Willie Nelson, too, not a plus for everyone. Here I need to point out a few Moses-Movie clichés that are perpetuated here. The big one is that Moses and his “brother” were somehow rivals. The problem is that they normally take (rightly) Ramesses II as the pharaoh of the exodus and thus Seti I as Moses’ adoptive dad. But here’s the problem. Ramesses II ruled for 67 years after becoming pharaoh in 1279 BC. Moses was already 40 when he fled to the wilderness, and was 80 years old when he returned. The Bible indicates the exodus pharaoh was new to the throne when Moses confronted him, not an octogenarian. But if the Pharaoh of the exodus was Moses’ peer and rival, then we’d be watching a kind of “Clash of the Geezers” in Exodus. This is a problem for any proposed pharaoh of the exodus, not just Ramesses II. The Bible appears to telescope the generations of the pharaohs. The king of Egypt who sought Moses’ life must have died decades earlier, and a generation or two of kings passed. If Moses was 80 in 1279 (or so) B.C. then he left Egypt in 1319 B.C. (or so) during the reign of Haremhab…and it gets ugly from there!

So…movie writers: NO SIBLING RIVALRY IN THE MOSES STORY! I know it adds a lot of fun storyline material, but it wasn’t there, didn’t happen. Do your homework. At least nobody in this movie shakes their head dismissively in big-brother mode, saying “Moses, Moses, Moses…”

D&B  do the sea crossing very much in the traditional mode. I have seen one movie that tries the “traipsing across the swamp” version, and whatever the historical merits might be, for movie footage it’s pitiful. The scene is a clear homage to rodCecil B. DeMille, but for fun, we also see a nod to  Prince of Egypt as Moses wades out into the water and plants his staff in the water. At least they make no attempt to perpetuate the silly idea that there were 2.5 MILLION Israelites, something that mars the Prince of Egypt scene that jerks one back and forth between gazillions of Israelites and little touching vingettes of individuals. The group depicted by D&B is the right size for a substantial segment of Egypt’s forced labor population, but small enough to escape through the sea in a single night. Of course, the Bible’s story of an entire night in which a pillar of fire kept the Egyptians back and a wind blowing all through the night to dry up the sea is just plain gone.

The segment on the giving of the law seems sketchy and rushed. We have no context for the arrival at Sinai, no sense of the need to found a people, a nation, no context of a covenant confederating this band into a new community. We have no depiction of the complaining in the wilderness the rebellion, the death of the exodus generation, nor of the deaths of Aaron and Moses, as far as I could tell. No last words of Moses (i.e. Deuteronomy moment).

And now, the moment you’ve been waiting for, the ultimate geek moment! There is one mistake in this movie that, though not tragic for most viewers, signaled to me the absence of any specialist in Old Testament studies from this project and is my almost-never-fail litmus test for how seriously the producers pursue authenticity.

But that will have to wait. This article is already too long!


44 Responses

  1. Well, you ended on the correct statement, “This article is already too long!” I’m not sure how in 10 hrs they could possibly add all you wish would be in this program. I too saw where Joel Osteen had someting to do with this which is one of the reasons I chose not to watch. The other reason I didn’t watch is because I knew I would sit there and be critical of the show because of all the theological things wrong with. I will watch it at some point and I will use it as a teaching time. If this show can get people who would never pick up a Bible watch and maybe even go to a Bible to check out more of the story, well then wouldn’t that be great? As a theologian I would think that would excite you!

    1. Rob,
      My aim in posting was not simply to be critical. After 25 years of teaching at a large seminary, I have hundreds of former students who from time to time seek out my comment on a wide range of topics. I had many in the week running up to the series opener asking what I thought of the idea, did I think they would do a good job, etc. I also would have reacted differently had there not been such a blatant exploitation of Christian viewers– is who the series really seemed to be about, judging from the advertisements! The repeated claim that they were seeking accuracy, seeking just to be true to the biblical narrative, means they set a standard. I didn’t go to Prince of Egypt, by contrast, expecting accuracy because such was not touted about the show. But D&B made such a point of striving for accuracy, I felt that point needed some push-back. In the US, we get the media we deserve. If we don’t give feedback, don’t offer replies when error is out there, then we deserve to have poor stuff. I do hope people read the “real” Bible. I also fear that when it turns out different from the History Channel, they’ll stick to cable. By the way…they could include more accurate stuff by not inserting all the needless violence that isn’t in the Bible in the first place.

      1. I’m sorry that my tone was critical and seemed to attack; I don’t even know you. I’m just tired of people trying to promote Christianity and the Bible in a positive way to millions who might otherwise not be reached, only to be picked apart. I understand accuracy; I understand Biblical translation. But please, at least give people an open door through which they can seek God and His Truth without having to worry about perfection. And, by the way, why do you assume that I’m a man??

  2. I agree with you Dr. Stone. There were a few acceptable places in this first episode. But in many places I went looking for some crackers or go along with the cheese. I have read Dr. Richter’s book, and am now teaching it as a study in my congregation, and have been spoiled for this series. I’m not sure if I want to watch any more or not.

  3. Hello…this is TELEVISION, not seminary! It was written for normal, ordinary -even (gasp!) non-Christian- viewers, not a bunch of nitpicking, whining, arrogant, judgmental, haughty “experts”. If you can do better, have at it; from your long-winded diatribe above, I doubt that you’d have many viewers or converts.

    1. Even more reason why it needs to be theologically accurate. As a preaching theologian, I know that half my congregation has no knowledge of historical or theological accuracy, and I am at pains to change their view, For non-Christians, accuracy is even more important…even if it *is* television.

  4. Mr. Trumbo
    I make no apology offering a review of the program. Media does not get a free pass in America. They made claims for accuracy. So those claims can be tested, and in fact they come up embarrassingly short. I had to chuckle over your characterization. It doesn’t matter if someone is arrogant, whiney, or whatever…the question is are they RIGHT. And my post isn’t a diatribe, but a collection of small answers I gave to questions people e-mailed me, texted, or contacted me on Facebook while I was watching it. I’m not a television producer, and if I made a TV show, I’m sure they’d be ready to criticize my work. They in turn have offered an interpretation of the Bible, one that is more violent than the Bible already is! We already have problems with people attacking the violence in the Bible; do we need more? When they interpret the Bible, that’s my area of expertise, and I exercise my right to speak. As for converts, I only seek conversation, not converts, and for your conversation, I thank you.

  5. I do apologize for the assumption you were a man. In my experience, the kind of attack you expressed has been more frequently from men than women. I generally find women much more reasonable and willing to entertain the conversation. The point was not perfection, but adequacy, living up to the hype. If they’d stressed creative license, that they were presenting at many points an interpretation, I’d have been okay. But they cite a cloud of experts of their own, none of which were Old Testament scholars, and call in a bunch of clergy, all to say this show is amazing. Well…it wasn’t. I worry also that when the Bible doesn’t offer the slick and appealing, nice and easy package that a television show offers, they’ll choose television instead. My whole career of 25 years of teaching the Old Testament in the classroom, in Sunday School classes, on college campuses and in family camps, and on the living room floor with my children, has been all about giving people “open doors” to the Bible. But…I want the door to lead into the right rooms.

  6. Dr. Stone, I really enjoyed reading your blog and your analysis of The Bible series. It is so nice to see it with a Biblical Scholar’s opinion and understanding of the things the producers may have missed.

    I did wonder though, with regards to D&B using a Rabbi, if maybe some of the production was infused with Mishnaic/Midrashic influence? The Rabbi Professor at Jerusalem University College taught his students that one idea of the fall, Avot D’Rabbi Natan’s account, was that it did happen between the 6th and 7th day and that the first sabbath was celebrated outside of the Garden. According to Midrash, once Adam sins he thinks the world is ending due to the world growing dark (the sun going down) and the next morning, with the sun rise, he becomes exceedingly happy. He made a sacrificial offering to God, celebrated with the angels, and wrote “a psalm for the Sabbath day” (thought to be Psalm 92). Not that this makes it Biblically accurate or that the produces should not have done more homework, but something I think could explain some of the odd misinterpretation. At least in that scene, if not in others.

    1. That is so awesome! Thank you for sharing that information. I agree, it doesn’t make for biblical accuracy, but it does indicate they gained that aspect of the story from a serious source. I will make an edit to the article because this is too good to leave in a comment. Thanks again!

  7. Dr. Stone,

    I appreciate and agree with your commentary! Did it irk you as much as it did me that the substitute sacrifice for Isaac was a lamb and not a ram?

    And which of the ninja-angels was Michael and which was Gabriel? Or was I the only one that read into that?

    In Christ,

  8. Thanks for the very enjoyable read (e.g., “clash of the geezers”–LOL). I also could see the beginning of a potential cumulative case scenario for PC that will be determined by evidence from future episodes.

    But I really wanted to tell you that John Huston’s film, “The Bible,” with George C. “Patton” Scott as Abraham, also has a nice portrayal of Abraham’s raid on the kings of the east (Gen 14) to rescue Lot. Well worth a viewing!

    1. I actually think I’ve seen that movie many years back and recall Patton…uh…Scott’s performance.

  9. Why would having the animal be a lamb instead of a ram, (as I know it states in the Bible), irk anyone or really make a huge difference? It’s like saying Abraham took 300 men to rescue Lot.. when if you would read the Bible it states Abraham took 318 men…but to try and relate the story, especially to many unbelievers, does it really make a huge difference? Now understand, I am not saying details do not matter, but on the same hand, if the essence of the story has not changed, does it matter, So, what huge difference did it make having a lamb instead of a ram? My point would be, if you want something with every detail included, try a Theology Class at a Seminary, but if a series is being produced by people who are just trying to get the world to pause and take a look at the Bible,…..I think the Bible Series did that. The main thing is to get people to the Savior and help them see that He loves them and that He offers salvation to them; I can’t picture someone who turned in to the Bible series, wanting to find out more about the Bible saying “wait, wasn’t that suppose to be a ram, instead of a lamb in the story of Abraham and Isaac?…..I don’t know if I should watch anymore of this show…!” Some people who would never darken a door way of a church most likely tuned in the other night….for that, I am glad and pray that they will seek more.

    1. I should point out that you said “try a Theology Class at a Seminary.” I am a professor at a seminary, and this blog is sponsored by a seminary…and many or most of my readers are alumni and friends of the school, so in some ways I am complimented! I am definitely coming at this as a seminary professor committed to full biblical integrity and also as one who teaches the Bible at many levels. I have never found inaccuracy or carelessness to serve the ministry of God’s word. No doubt God works around our imperfections, but that does not mean we should not strive for the very best level of presentation possible.

      1. Well first of all, I did say “try a Theology Class at a Seminary” which you took as a compliment, but my point was not to compliment you but to point out that the Bible series was not, I repeat, was not made for a Seminary Class, so as a professor at a Seminary, you should realize this was not made for seminary students, unless to allow everyone at the seminary to point out all the flaws of the film. Even mistakes can serve a purpose too I guess. I too have some experience from a Seminary in that I have one degree in Church Planting and Evangelism from Liberty University and am half way through my next Seminary degree in Christian Studies from Union University. My son, who also has two Seminary degrees of which one was a M.Div., seemed to like the series just fine because no doubt while very intelligent in Biblical studies, realizes that the Bible series was not made to use for Seminary courses but rather to gain the world’s attention towards God, especially since the series was scheduled to air and end at the higest attended church service of the year, Easter. So if someone shows up at our Church Plant on Easter mentioning the Bible Series you can definitely know that I would welcome them and not point out all the flaws you mentioned. I would just be glad they were in church; we can worry about making sure they understand everything later. I am reading a book right now by Andy Stanley which is titled “Deep and Wide;” in the book Andy makes sure that we strive to have a church that is for the “unchurched” not just for the “churched.” By this he wants us to make sure we allow people who are lost to feel welcome and made to feel they can start out at their level and know that we can help them to the next level. Sometimes this will happen overnight but most often it takes some time. One story Andy relates in his book is when a group that was celebrating “gay-pride” week was conducting a parade which passed right by his Dad’s church which incidently was right across the street from another church. Andy pointed out that one church handed out bottled water while the other wanted to totally avoid contact with the group altogether. Which one do you think Jesus would approve of? By giving water does that mean the one church approved of sin? Of course not, but they showed the love of Christ a lot more than the other church who wanted to point out the flaws of the parading group. And I’m sure the group in the parade felt much more apt to try the church who handed out bottled water, if they ever went to church. So I have already had people say something to me about the Bible series and I tell them I am glad they watched it; I figure I can help them know the exact details later rather than take away the possible opening I have with them. I think people are looking for general answers not the absolute exact details of every Bible story. When they are curious we need to capitalize on that and work on “discipleship” afterwards. I have one man in our church that first thought you had to be saved over and over again, every time you sin, which of course is not true. I made him feel at ease with his curious questions and his “understanding” but since have now taught him the truth of which he proudly stated he had learned just before he was baptized. He learned but it just took a little time; I did not feel that it was crucial to point out he was wrong as soon as I heard how he believed. You stated “I have never found inaccuracy or carelessness to serve the ministry of God’s word.” I would disagree with this, not that we make all the mistakes we can while preaching and teaching God’s Word, but I disagree with your statement expressing God can’t use something in that God can make good things come out of “bad things” or “inaccuracies” or “carelessness” because His grace is not limited to human frailty. Many times, our feeble attempts are blessed not because of our perfection but because of our heartfelt intent. And just for a final thought, I don’t think “Isaac fondling Rebekah” should have been shown as you suggested or was suprised to find was left out. How would this have helped gain the general public’s approval of the Bible? This would not have made the Bible series better. I, for one, am glad they didn’t show it, for though that was in the Bible, we may have had more criticism for the series than even what you offered. In short, the Bible series is not made to help students in seminary classes, so I do not expect to see it anytime soon in the classes I am taking, however, the general public may just find it to be enough to make them seek out more about the Bible. If it does that, it has accomplished God’s will despite all the “inaccuracies” or “carelessness” that you say were in the series. Since God chose the weak and foolish to confound the wise, who knows.. He may just be able to use this series althought filled with all the “errors” you think it holds.

        1. Brother Moser,
          I’m quite aware that you were not complimenting me when you said “try a seminary class.” The bitter edge in your words was quite clear. I was trying to use a soft answer to turn away wrath and remind you that I’m s seminary professor, I write for a seminary sponsored blog, so that’s the perspective I’m coming from. You seem very preoccupied with degrees and how many a person might have. I’m really more interested in faithfulness to the factual record of scripture than I am in counting degrees. On the matter of how bad a Bible-oriented movie can be and still make the Bible attractive to people who haven’t started reading it, I’m sure different people have different thresholds where they think the wheels come off. Obviously we differ, and I thank you for sharing your views. I’ve seen your church’s website and thank God for your ministry.

  10. Speaking of accuracy issues, in my eyes, the brotherly rivalry was the least of the issues rather than the flat out disrespect for the scriptural account this series showed in the Moses story. Moses was a reluctant servant. The man with the stammering tongue. The man who didn’t want to go to Pharoah. The burning bush moment missed the mark completely. We didn’t even get to hear the famous words “I am that I am”. And, Moses did not come away from the moment with this burning look in his eye (completely hollywood-ized) as one man against the world. ‘Lets go kick Pharoah’s butt’ He didn’t want to go.

    And when Moses meets with the elders…he speaks about meeting Pharoah “Oh, he will want to see me.” Uh, no. Moses was a reluctant servant. Not a Bruce Willis meets Egypt moment. I have grown used to seeing some liberties taken in retelling some biblical story in movie form. Sure, we don’t know all the facts and details. But, I think the Bible gives us enough story that we can construct a meaningful moving picture without taking the liberties to the extreme that this series has done.

    1. For the subject matter of my blog, i.e. research and accuracy, which was a huge part of the hype for the series, the lamb/ram thing is important. It’s a clear point in the text and they missed it. I’ve also commented on the absence of OT scholars from the consultant pool, to the degree I’ve been able to find out. Many of these errors are not even research errors but are errors of biblical illiteracy! My children could spot most of them. So our concern is that there was enormous, full-blown Hollywood hype backing this thing, and now they give us production that often looks cheesy, has some very noticeable errors of simple fact, and inserts things, like needless violence, that make it that much harder to commend the Bible to others who are already concerned that the Bible is a violent book. Also, we all have things that concern or don’t concern us. The commenter was concerned about this. He’s presumably one of the customers D&B want to have watching their show. Good marketers should be aware of that.

  11. Dr. Stone,
    I appreciate your blog and think it is especially important in the Biblically illiterate world in which we live.
    Enjoyed being with your in-laws when they were here in Wichita last October for a pastor’s Day of Renewal.

    Brent Van Hook
    ATS classes of ’97 (M.DIV) and ’06 (D.MIN)

  12. I hope you do this for every episode (at least for every OT episode). I have not seen the program but I doubt very much that your setting the historical record straight will make this using any less enjoyable.

  13. The question is: Which is better, to give a false view of the Bible, its people and events in hopes of attracting unbelievers to church or the salvation message or present the Bible truthfully and honestly without the eisegesis, exaggerations and modern thought thrown in to create ‘drama’?

    i have a hard time thinking that Dr. Evans accepted and approved of ninja angels who could get hurt.

  14. One quick note. I am reading the companion novel for The Bible series. The “girl” you refer to on the ark is in fact meant to represent one of Noah’s daughter-in-laws. As others have said, details may be sketchy and/or inaccurate but the producers have also stated they took “artistic liberties” with the series. At the end of the day, their goal was to introduce the Bible in a way that those who have never heard the Word might be intrigued enough to go searching for more. I applaud their effort and intend to watch the rest of the series.

    1. The identity of the girl was certainly not clear in the program. I also simply don’t buy the proposition that to make the Bible more appealing somehow excuses inaccuracies and carelessness. Nothing excuses the insertion of extraneous, gratuitous violence, for example. In a world where the Bible is already thought to be too violent a book, how does adding even more violence make it more appealing? And what if the appeal created is for a “Bible” that isn’t the one they really need to read? I enjoyed the first installment, but I still maintain their hype stressed research, accuracy, and adherence to the biblical narrative. I saw far too many lapses on all three.

  15. Thanks for your review. I was too underwhelmed after twenty minutes of the show to keep watching.

    I’m waiting for a Bible movie that consults someone who is an expert on ancient dyes and textiles. Wouldn’t it be great if a production company actually used the dyes available in the ancient world?

    For the sake of accuracy, I would point out that Garroway (I believe) teaches at HUC’s Los Angeles campus, and not at the main campus in Cincinnati.

  16. I did a search on the web to see if anyone else picked up on the discrepancies that I noticed…especially Noah’s Ark with children and the innacurate protrayal of Lot in Sodom and Gomorrah.

    Thank you!

  17. I’m surprised to see that you are a seminary professor, very concerned about the accuracy of this presentation, and yet you have fallen into the same error which plagues so many in the church. You lament, “Why, oh why, in every movie, is the “angel of death” portrayed as a kind of mist wafting through the town? … it’s the same old death-mist” as if the problem is merely the imitation of Cecil B. DeMille’s dramatization of the Passover. But you fail to recognize and correct the fundamental error that there was NO “angel of death” at all! Exodus 11:4; 12:12, 23, 27, 29 make it absolutely clear that it was YHWH Himself who killed the firstborn of Egypt, not an angel.

    Yes, it is important for us to identify portrayals of Scripture which contradict what the Word of God tell us. We need to handle our Holy Book with reverence and care. But is it really important to complain about lipstick and the color of the camels? Let us vigorously defend the Truth which has been entrusted to us, and allow the Hollywood foibles which do not directly contradict the Scriptures to pass by unscathed. It makes the essence of our true complaint more clear, while not appearing to be petty about the things which do not matter at all.

    1. Whatever it was, and often the “angel of Yahweh” is a kind of personification of Yahweh, my complaint was that it’s always portrayed as a death-mist. Since the Bible is silent about the tangible form, if any, taken by God’s power in this instance, I’d hope to see some creativity in the imagery. It’s puzzling to me that these movies will employ lots of creativity when the Bible is pretty definite, and then fall into hackneyed cliches when the Bible is more open-ended and capable of being portrayed various ways.

  18. When I saw the title of your blog I groaned inwardly because I get tired of Christians constantly nitpicking the biblical accuracy of everything coming out of Hollywood. But after reading it and your explanation of answering their claims of accuracy I am pretty much in agreement with your review. I always EXPECT Hollywood to take some creative license so my biggest concern is usually the quality of the production unless the inaccuracy is just too egregious to overlook. I didn’t think the “docudrama” format worked well at all. It made the story very choppy and the cheesy acting and directing made it even worse. I was very disappointed in it because I thought the trailers for it were fairly compelling. One thing I noticed that you didn’t mention in your blog was Sarah. Wasn’t she supposed to have been a woman of incomparable beauty who was snatched up by a couple of rulers when Abraham passed her off as only his sister? The History Channel’s Sarah was…a little rough around the edges to put it nicely.

    1. OTOH, by the time we got to Abraham and Sarah, they were supposed to be incredibly old. If one believes the Bible, which I don’t always. I thought the Sarah represented was more realistic.

      Also, the Noah segment was pretty accurate. There were no “children” aboard, only Noah, his wife, his sons and their wives. Let’s not forget that back then ( and still today in some places) 14 or 15 was “a young woman of marriageable age), as was Mary, Jesus’ mother. I have a friend from Iran who was married at 15. We call that a child now, but it wasn’t then.

      1. I disagree with your first sentence. When we get to “Abraham,” or more accurately Abram, in the show he is being called by God to leave Ur. This is earlier on in their life. It was after this that twice he tries to pass her off as only his sister because of her great beauty that Pharaoh and Abimelek, king of Gerar, BOTH are smitten by her. Yes, by the time she became pregnant she was old and Abraham suffered from erectile dysfunction (according to her) but their story spans MANY years between Abram’s call, the promise and the birth of Isaac.

        1. Yes, the story spans many more years..even so, we got a scrunch of Sarai and Hagar, and then Sarah was pregnant (and by this time they were Abraham and Sarah). But I don’t believe the Sarai/Sarah of the Bible was nearly as old as the story paints her, so the Sarah in the miniseries, to me, looked about like she should.

    2. I don’t know about incomparable beauty but she seems, at a rather advanced age, to have attracted the attention of the ruler of Egypt.

  19. Rev. Fran Ora’s first reply reminded me of another question I had regarding this article. Why do we assume there were no children on the Ark just because the Bible doesn’t mention them? When the Bible says Jesus fed the 5000 my understanding is that number did not include women and children so the actual number must have been higher. I find it somewhat difficult to believe that, unless they were all newlyweds, there weren’t children born to Noah’s sons by the time of the flood. Any thoughts on this?

    1. Agreed. I think we need to be careful not to take what’s written too literally. At least one of the biblical versions of the feeding of the 5000 say “5000 men”. Yet we also have a small boy who provides loaves and fishes. I sincerely doubt it was only 5000 men.

    2. The main reason is that the text itemizes the passengers on the ark and does not list any children, and in the disembarkation from the ark, we get no description of children in the narrative to follow, until the genealogies start. Also-and this depends on how important you think NT references are for fixing the plain sense of the OT–the NT lists the number of people on the ark as 8.

      1. …and as I also noted, since wives were as young as 13 or 14 in that culture (and often are today, in fact) – by western modern definition there were children on the ark. They were not considered children at the time, they were considered adults ready to be married and start a family.

        1. The claim that girls married at 13 or 14 gets talked about a lot, but it’s one of those fun things to try to dig back and actually find the primary source for. Like so many other common points that get bounced around, like the rope tied around the priests ankle to drag him out of the sanctuary in case God’s glory zapped him…it can be hard to find the actual basis of it.

  20. Thank you for everyone’s comments. I agree we have “different thresholds where we think the wheels are coming off.” I watched the second showing of The Bible with my grandkids and saw their enthusiasm and listened to their questions. In several of the scenes mentioned by Dr. Stone and others, I have been nodding my head. There are certain “hot spots” that disappoint. I intend to watch the whole series and suspect there will be more places that give me pause. There seems to be an element of the richness and intimacy of God’s wisdom that is missing, and yet I appreciate the lack of religiosity in portraying the heros of the Bible. I, like you, struggle with truth and error and what all that means. We are losing a generation of kids as we contend for the Faith in our dying congregations. Every day brings healthy (hopefully) tension in these matters as we seek the direction of the Holy Sprit in the way we should go. I appreciate the discussions. Thank you for taking the time.

    1. I’m going to go out on a limb and say that I expect the New Testament episodes will be much, much better. I honestly think they didn’t care that much about the Old Testament and scrimped on the research, writing and production. It’s just too sloppy. But with no OT specialists that I could identify, but 5, count ’em, FIVE, New Testament specialists, surely that part will be much better.

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