“The Bible” History Channel Series: A Review

I didn’t plan to review this series, as I really didn’t expect much from it, but after several requests, here we go!

Screen Shot 2013-03-04 at 10.28.04 AM

I’ll do a quick review on the good, the bad, and the ugly:

The Good:

Screen Shot 2013-03-04 at 10.32.10 AM

Hey, they took a shot. To have any mention of the Bible in our culture has the opportunity to be a good thing.

Screen Shot 2013-03-04 at 10.32.30 AM

The imagery and special effects of some of the major biblical events is stunningly good. I can see these being used as illustrations for years to come.  The ark on the water, the burning bush, parting the Red Sea.. all really really well done.

Screen Shot 2013-03-04 at 10.28.23 AM

The Bad:

Let’s be honest, we knew the History Channel wasn’t going to break out a full blown presentation of the Gospel here.  I figured, at best, we’d get a series of “Bible Stories” which would walk the line between “inspired word of God” and “cool myths”.  I wasn’t wrong.  I figured any controversial issues (the cause for Sodom’s destruction anyone?) would be avoided or minimized.

What we got were man-centered “tales” where the hero of each story was the man involved; Moses and Abraham in this episode. Again, exactly what one would expect.

There were also some glaring inaccuracies; Abram being called Abraham too early in the narrative, extra-textual dialogue, Ninja-Angels that fought their way through the crowd like something from a John Woo film.. I don’t agree with the license taken, but I understand it.

What I don’t get, is that with the time, money, and resources they had available, they don’t appear to give  what I would expect as a bare minimum.. what I have seen those who absolutely reject the Bible as divinely inspired do… get the theme right.  Even if you viewed the Bible as a complete work of ancient mythology, how do you miss the entire theme?

If the writers of this series produced “Saving Private Ryan”, it would have been told as the story of a bunch of guys on a boat ride to Europe who then ran around the woods shooting at each other.  They simply missed the context, the “meta-narrative” if  you will.

The Bible is first and foremost a story of redemption. God redeeming a people to Himself throughout history, and the players involved in that unfolding story.  To completely miss the theme of redemption in the Biblical narrative is absurd.  And as I notice the themes removed from various stories (such as the way the sacrifice of Isaac was portrayed), I’m afraid it’s not unintentional.

Screen Shot 2013-03-04 at 10.46.45 AM

The Ugly:

Here’s the rub; The Bible is a book of God’s redemption of a fallen people. The entire message of the gospel (I cringe to think how they’ll handle that) is that fallen man needed the direct, gracious, intervention of God to be saved.  To avoid that theme is not only missing the entire point, but makes this series more damaging than good.

I disagree with those who say that this “opens the door for dialog”, or that it give people “an introduction” to the Bible.  This presentation of the Bible as a set of heroic individuals actually hinders future gospel presentation as it confuses the categories.  If one already “knows the story”, why would they feel a need to hear it form someone else?

As I wrote to a friend last night, Men are saved by:

“Repentance and faith in Christ as the holy spirit works through proclamation of the gospel. No gospel, no go. Generic “God talk” or inaccurate retelling of “bible stories” does nothing for the unregenerate. Possibly even less than nothing as they feel they’ve “heard it”.”

So, I’ll continue to watch, though I probably won’t have my kids watch it with me. They’ll get their presentation of the Bible from me as I catechize them each evening, from their Pastors,  and from their Sunday School teachers.  While I appreciate the effort, the History Channel is wholly unqualified to weigh here.

Swing and a miss.

Marc

32 thoughts on ““The Bible” History Channel Series: A Review”

  1. Marc, I love your blog. Absolutely. And this is my first comment here, and I’m treading VERY lightly…’

    Your review of “The Bible” on History Channel has one small hole which I think skews you in one not-so-favorable direction. I believe you have what Chip Heath and Dan Heath call “the curse of knowledge,” which simply states that, because you know something to be true, you assume that everyone else should also recognize that same truth. Unfortunately it causes us to make assumptions about how others think.

    Example: you wrote: “To completely miss the theme of redemption in the Biblical narrative is absurd.” To which I would respond, absurd TO YOU. (And possibly to me and other bible-believing Christ-followers.) But I don’t think it’s at all absurd to the unbelieving (or “marginally-believing”) folks at all. The bible is probably a lot of things to a lot of people; it’s often very confusing to them. When the Spirit illuminates it for us, it comes together, and focuses us upon a rich and beautiful story of God’s redemption of His people and creation. But if you’re not starting in the same place, with the same worldview, etc., I don’t think it’s at all absurd to come to a different conclusion.

    I personally am encouraged when others simply come to the conclusion that the Bible might actually be true! With folks like that, we’ll get to the metanarrative later; for now, I rejoice that they are open to the truth in the story at all.

    1. John,

      Thanks for the feedback. I understand what you’re saying, and certainly believe the necessity of the Holy Spirit’s work in opening scripture to us.
      My point is that even with a group of pastoral “advisors” on this series, they’ve somehow missed the theme of the “book” (not even debating inspiration or inerrancy here). Perhaps the “take away” from this article is engaging others around us who may be watching the series with the even more “epic” story of redemption.

      Thanks again!

      Marc

      1. I totally agree with John. To leave out the stories of Isaac, Jacob and Joseph totally missed the mark in showing what kind of people we really are and why we need God’s redemption. The 40 years in the wilderness was consumed with constant complaining by the Israelites and punishment from God and also showed how He continued to provide for them by giving them manna. The temple was never addressed or the Egyptians giving away their gold and silver to God’s people in order to build it. The Ark of the Covenant wasn’t explained either. I know there are time constraints, but to leave these things out, leaves out pictures of the coming Messiah and He is the one people in this day and age need to look to, certainly not Moses. Speaking of Moses, the scenes where he was dragged in and out by Pharoah’s guards are not in the Bible either. Moses wasn’t beaten by them in the Bible. I was totally taken aback by Sarah looking for Abraham and Isaac when they were on the moutain–not recoreded in His word as well. I don’t agree with taking liberties with the Bible. God warns against this and His word stands on it’s own–it doesn’t need embellishments.

    2. I felt as if I were simply watching a detached series of events, with no context in which the events took place. I saw very little depth to the characters- who all seemed a bit maniacal and melodramatic to me. I feel like the creators could have taken a lot less creative license with certain points, and instead used that time to get to the heart of the matter- which they didn’t do. They portrayed (in my opinion) men who mindlessly obeyed the voice of God, simply because God told them to, or because their father(s) told them to. What I didn’t see was the obedience out of love (for God), the grace (of God), Redemption, or forgiveness. I felt like when the series of unfortunate events ended (the actions of men), there was no follow through or conclusion with why these series of events were important for us as Christians.
      To their credit, I can appreciate how difficult it would be like to have to limit the Bible to ten hours of video; however, I do know they wasted a lot of time, effort, and money in areas that could have been avoided in what I can only imagine was an effort to add a little Hollywood drama to a story that everyone already knows the ending to.
      I did not appreciate, however, is the fact that they blatantly made up parts of the story. In the first episode, the ninja angels who fought their way out of Sodom were a bit much for me. They may have added visual interest for an unbeliever- but otherwise I do not follow the logic. Not only does the Bible mention none of this, but the wicked had already been blinded. And why does an angel, who can blind men with mere thought, suddenly need- or just decide- to fight their way out of the city by sword? It was little things like this that made the story almost ridiculous to me. And I am saddened by it.

  2. Yes, given their general tendency to complicate the simple elements of history and simplify the complicated elements, the History Channel is more often than not the Channel For People with History PhDs and MAs who wish to pontificate on x subject with no real consequence for inaccuracy. I’m shocked at the number of times the “historians” paint over history with the brush of modern culture and views when it provides a convenient explanation.

    A real turn-off was the recent Rise and Fall of Rome series I was watching on Military History. They claimed that the first council of Nicaea was in response to “many factions” of Christians in the West who couldn’t keep from beating one another in the streets because of their differences (comparing it to denominational squabbling today).

    They ignored that this was the clash with the first great heresy: Arianism, and that these clashes were often between aristocrats (the military officers and aristocracy were Arian in rebellion to the new and un-hip Emperor’s faith and were the original hipsters) and plebeians (the legionnaire and average citizen were quite pleased with the result of Christianity). Arianism was found to be about as Christian as gnosticism (with common themes). To give them equal weight as a Christian “denomination” takes a profound ignorance of religion that we can only thank our modern schools for supplying. And this was at a time when there was one true and Catholic faith in the pre-schismatic church.

    I can only pray that nobody watches the History Channel with the goal of actually receiving some substantive education.

  3. Thank you for your thoughtful review of The Bible. For clarification, this miniseries is not made by the History Channel, but by a husband and wife team (Mark Burnett and Roma Downey- a devout Catholic). The History Channel agreed to air their 10 hour miniseries. They could have gone to another cable channel to air this. In an interview, Roma stated that the Bible to her is literal, not allegorical (as the host insisted) and she wanted to show the story of God’s redemption through Jesus Christ from the beginning to the end of the Bible (Gen to Rev). I do agree that their liberal interpretations and inaccuracies of the stories are comical at best. I am looking forward to your upcoming insightful reviews of the rest of the series!

    1. This is the problem when people interpret the Bible without referencing the author’s intent and the context in which it was written. There are many devout Christians that believe they have the license to interpret the word of God without going first to it’s source and authority. The Catholic Church. Roma may claim to be a devout Catholic, but her actions and words in public life do not represent the Church, only her own.

  4. You’ve completely missed the point of the miniseries. It is to show history. Not to get people saved. There is no altar call at the end of it. To focus on the point of the Bible as Christians know it would be a miniseries for TBN. Not the HISTORY channel.

    1. I completely disagree. I would have more respect for a purely historical view (which denied miracles or inspiration) than I do something that is being positioned as the Biblical narrative.
      If this were a purely historical documentary, it’s even more of a mess as it has repeatedly abandoned the written account.

  5. Thank you for this review. I have to say I am alarmed at the number of churches who are encouraging people to watch this series, as if truth should be found on the history channel instead of in consistently sitting under sound teaching in a local congregation. Evangelism? It is meant to be personal.

  6. I really enjoyed your blog and it was exactly what my husband and I were discussing while watching it. After hearing a major endorsement on a Christian radio broadcast, I was anticipating something more accurate. Not a word for word live ‘translation’, but expanding on it like a pastor would. Instead, they took a lot of poetic license to make it more of an action series and it really cheapens what the actual Bible narrative is. I get the fact that they had to pick and choose quick clips to try to produce then entire Bible series in 10 hours, but I just felt that it does not line up with the text at all in many instances. I probably wouldn’t have expected so much had I not heard a major Christian network broadcast stating that they read the Bible on the set and the producers themselves said that they were going off of the original narrative. Just not sure why you wouldn’t take the extra time to do it right if that was the objective! (and it was, per the producers) I also felt the production aspect was weak. They talked about going to get clothing from that area of the world to make it realistic, but many of the actors speak with British accents (definitely not from that region). And when watching the Samson preview, the first thing I noted was the fresh blood on his face. After losing his eyes, he was imprisoned long enough that his hair would have grown out while he was a grinder in prison. Thus, I’m guessing he wouldn’t have had fresh blood on his face during this scene. And he had one arm on each pillar when he prayed for God’s strength to come upon him in the Bible, He was not running back and forth between two pillars straining himself. So, just don’t see it as a great thing from an accurate perspective and feel like the producers who were reading the Bible should have figured some of this out. It may be great for someone who has never read the Bible, but for someone who is familiar with I would have to say that hands down… the Book is better!

  7. After my wife and me viewed the first episode, my wife and I will not be watching any further episodes. This was a poorly written script and if you have ever actually read the Bible; you would be lost in the poorly portrayed details of each story and some made up facts (such as one of the Angels to save Lot and his family was an Asian ninja). This miniseries series so far is horrible.

  8. The History channel’s The Bible is the worst movie/miniseries that I have ever had the displeasure to see. After my wife and I viewed the first episode, my wife and I will not be watching any further episodes. My wife and I made it up to the part of Mosses return to Egypt. Never did the movie state that the Pharaoh had ordered the death of every first born Jewish boy and how Mosses was able to escape the fate of his death. The movie failed to explain so many things that were left out of the story and then added additional material that is not in the Bible. We found this miniseries insulting to the actual Bible and the Old Testament. Not to mention to tell parts of the story out of context to the actual Bible. We found this miniseries insulting to our religion. What are the shadow people on the mountain that are supposed to represent God’s speaking? So factually inaccurate to the actual Bible. This miniseries series so far is horrible and we have no intentions of viewing any further episodes. On the other hand, the History channel’s Vikings was very good and my wife and I would encourage friends to view it

    1. I agree with the writer’s review of the first episode. A disservice. I became so offended that I started texting my frustration 1/2 way thru to friends /family.

      To leave out the story of Isaac, Jacob, Joseph? They ARE the Nation of Isreal. A vital part of the Old Testament.

      If one wanted to draw people with this series….Follow the script, it’s magnificent and its stood the test of time.

  9. So, every commenter could have done a much better job? Then why haven’t you?
    I know my Bible front to back (having reached elderly status) AND having grown up as a PK, in the Pentecostal Church. I too saw all (or at least most of the flaws) but tried to keep my prayers for ALL the watchers, and pray that some would become interested enough to pursue the idea of a GOD who actually cares/cared enough to send his SON to save us.. As for the “ninjas” it tickled me.. Remember, nobody truly KNOWS what an “angel” looks like. And they couldn’t be all that beautiful, with one of them commanding the “shepherds” to “fear not”. Please remember this program “IS” for mass comsumption. Roma and her husband should be commended for at least trying. Remember if it brings back but ONE “sheep” the Kingdom of Heaven will rejoice..
    GreatGrandmother in SC.

  10. You know guys, My God can talk through a donkey…..he certainly can talk through someone’s attempt at protraying His Word….

  11. After reading so many comments here, there is nothing more than I can add to it but a question:

    Why do we expect anything different from Hollywood?

    Some of us may fail to realize that film is for the purpose of entertainment. It is not concerned with accuracy and it truly is for the consumption of the masses. So…what does Mark Burnett and his wife do…they make is palatable for all. It is unfortunate and sad but a reality in mass marketing of doctrine.

    Janelle

  12. I haven’t taken the time to go through each addition here yet… bit I will. This presentation was supposed to be the ultimate Bible TV Presentation according to a review that had Joel Osteen and His wife, Roma Downwy and Her Husband, and some other popular TV Pastor who said it was the best Bible Movie presentation ever and that it was a game changer. I thought,”Wow, I’ve gotta see this!”

    Well, to make a long story short…what we’re they referring to? This make the Word of God say what you want presentation? Kung Fu angels? David being pounded by the prophet in a garden, Samuel pushing the temple down the day after, a sheep caught in a thicket instead of a ram, John The Baptist being ridden by Herod, Nebuchadnezar in shackles instead of eating grass in the fields, Moses touching the waters sheepishly across the river while Pharaoh frolics in the water, and more stabbings in slow motion than we need to see? There is much more…. My point is “Why this glowing recommendation” from supposed men of God when accuracy is taking such a beating? Is someone worried about losing a tithe?

    I guess my beef is that if the Jeswish prople and their scribes were so lenient with the copying of the scriptures as this movie is in portraying them we would be in a world of trouble. But God… He is not a man that he should have to cater to an audience.

    Thank You Jesus!

    1. Glenn,

      I think what we’ve got is a rewrite. The theme in this version is based upon Rick Warrens “Purpose Driven” theology. The themes of fall, redemption, grace have been replaced by “leadership”, and “purpose”. Chris Rosebrough has done great work discussing this on his podcast and blog.

  13. America was once promised that its battle strategy against a group of terrorists who attacked the United States and those who harbored them would be full of so much shock and awe that the enemy would surrender almost immediately…

    This “retelling” of God’s Word makes me feel like running from the general public in surrender as those who are “experts” and “leaders” in the Christian community make absurd claims about it. Now the general public, who has little to no knowledge of God’s Word, will believe that this tripe is “the gospel”.

    I do not consider many of those who have given a glowing review of this work to be worthy of listening to, but by some of them I was truly shocked. After the corrupted version of the “father sacrificing his son” bit (not even ANY allusion to Messianic prophecy at all), I was wondering if it was time to start passing out the millstones to those who hold sway over much of the general public’s “spiritual ear” as well as some of the Christian brotherhood. It is almost like telling the story of Einstein without mentioning that he actually came up with mathematical formulas for his works while all the brightest math professors around the globe are saying, “This is the most accurate and entertaining story of Einstein you will ever witness!” Really?

    I am awed by the fact that Christians are “thankful” that a “dialog” just might get started… How would that interchange start out? “Yep, I now know that all that miraculous junk in that there Bible is just a bunch of bunk! I saw in the movie that it was all just regular folk. Why do y’all still try to push that load of crap on us when your experts say it ain’t so?” or “Honestly, you can drop all the nonsense that I was told as a child in Sunday school class. We have gained enough knowledge to finally exchange all the absurd supernatural events with perfectly natural ones, or drop them altogether as they are not needed for the enlightened minds of today. I do believe the experts would have caught that during production. I mean, the list of Christian scholars who advised on and promoted this miniseries was pretty extensive wasn’t it? Were they all wrong?”

    I am not Catholic, so maybe that is where I get lost in what this version of God’s history is trying to get at. But I do remember another famous Catholic who got a heck of a lot closer in his movie “The Passion of the Christ”… He was at least bold enough to ignore political correctness and just have his actors lay the story out as it was written (at least his embellishments did not detract from the central focus of God’s Word).

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *