Did History Channel’s “The Bible” get it wrong?

posted at 10:01 am on March 31, 2013 by Jazz Shaw

I’m one of those people who have been tuning in every week to watch The Bible on History Channel. And there are apparently plenty of “those people out there, since the series has been one of the highest rated shows in the network’s history, even beating out the prime time lineups of the major alphabet networks in some cases. I’ve found it both familiar and intriguing and the only complaints I’ve had about it were rather superficial, certainly not rising to the level of turning me off from watching. But how good of a job has Mark Burnett done in bringing the actual Bible to the small screen?

According to at least one Biblical scholar, it’s a pretty good show but it has problems.

Telling the story of The Bible is a tricky business, said biblical scholar Dr. Peter E. Enns, who teaches Biblical Studies at Pennsylvania’s Eastern University. But it was clear, he notes, that series creators Mark Burnett and Roma Downey had an agenda – and that every episode they told had one goal: To get to the climax of Jesus’s life and death.

“They were focusing on the final stage of the Bible story, which is Christ’s appearance,” he said. “It’s all a buildup to that. They take a celebrity approach to The Bible, and highlight the figures people know and present them in ways that make it seem that when you get to Jesus, you’ll feel that this was how it was meant to be all along.”

Dr. Enns has a few specific items from the show to critique, which I’d like to touch on below, but the above paragraph seems to be his overarching gripe with the series. In his view, the show rushed through centuries of history shaping events, treating them as little more than a special effects laden telling of Bible School tales, intent upon getting to the “meat of the story” dealing with Jesus Christ’s adult life.

In some ways you can sympathize with Burnett on that score, since there’s an awful lot to cover in a limited series of two hour shows, but members of the Jewish faith in particular might have felt that the Old Testament stories merited a bit more screen time. Looking deeper, as noted in some of the specific complaints, Dr. Enns seemed to pick up on a bit of extra “flavor” in the telling of some of the earlier tales, imposing parallels to the life of Jesus and making it seem as if they were all prelude to the big event.

Take, for example, his analysis of the story of Samson.

Samson is a “minor character in the Bible,” said Enns, but gets a lot of screen time in the series. Why? He’s a precursor to Christ, said Enns: He gave his life for the community, is unjustly treated, chained and blinded. “We’re seeing Jesus in preview form,” he said.

I’m not sure how much of a “minor character” Sampson is, given his role toward the end of the time that the Children of God were given unto the Philistines. (He was also one of the earliest examples of a guy who was hounded to distraction by his wife, leading to his eventual downfall, but that’s another story.) But he certainly did suffer at the end.

And he awoke out of his sleep, and said, I will go out as at other times, and shake myself free. But he knew not that Jehovah was departed from him. And the Philistines laid hold on him, and put out his eyes; and they brought him down to Gaza, and bound him with fetters of brass; and he did grind in the prison-house.

If Dr. Enns is complaining that Samson is being made out as too much of a prelude to Jesus, I suppose I’ll have to take him at his word, but I didn’t react that way when first seeing it.

Some of his other complaints were less based in scripture than in production values and decisions. He notes, as I did on Twitter during the show, that there were a pretty large number of white people with British accents, but it’s a TV show designed for an English speaking audience. And actors traditionally cross many demographic lines from their physical appearance if the portrayal is good. He also touches on the “Satan looks like Obama” complaint, but I certainly didn’t notice it when the show aired, so I pretty much discounted that one.

All in all, I can sympathize with some of Dr. Enn’s issues, but none of them have stopped me from enjoying the show. I plan on watching the conclusion of it tonight, so please don’t put any spoilers in the comments. ;-)

EDIT: (Jazz) Sorry… I didn’t spell Samson correctly.

Happy Easter.


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