“The Bible” miniseries has truly brought in divine ratings for The History Channel these past few weeks. Despite at least one major road bump (Satan appeared in a black hooded robe and was promptly compared to President Barack Obama), the episodes — which selectively feature certain stories in both the Old and New Testaments — have been well received by millions of viewers every week. But as the series comes to a close Sunday, it’s worth asking – just how accurate was the series, in the end?
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.”
That can lead to some problems with the series; for Enns, there were some clear issues with “The Bible.”
Telling Samson’s story
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.
Jesus again got a preview in the scene where three visitors meet Abraham on their way to destroying the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah. “In the Bible, these three figures are clearly angelic divine figures, but it’s ambiguous,” said Enns. Instead, since one is referred to as “Lord,” the miniseries transformed him into a proto-Jesus, never clearly seen in the show, but highlighted as Christ. “In the Old Testament, that’s completely out of bounds,” said Enns. The other two angels are also problematic: “When the two angels in true ninja fashion take out swords and start swing-kicking, that’s a gratuitous moment.”
Sarah wants to save her son
Sarah running after her husband Abraham and son Isaac as Abraham takes him to be sacrificed to God was “stupid,” said Enns. “It’s what a mother would do, but Sarah is nowhere to be found in that sequence. They turn the scene into an ‘I want to save my boy!’ moment rather than a test of faith.”
Too many Caucasians
Arguably, “The Bible” was more multicultural than many versions have been in the past. But in 2013, the portrayal of characters with Scottish and British accents and clear European looks was just wrong, said Enns. “You have Mary who looks like someone you’d bump into at the water cooler and she speaks wonderful American English,” he said. “It does not do justice to the foreignness of the story.”
Sympathy for the Devil
While not precisely an inaccuracy, Enns gave a thumbs-down to the image of Satan and the resemblance to the president – a comparison he made after watching the episode. “What I thought was if the resemblance was not intentional, someone should have pointed it out,” he said. “It was a very unwise decision to leave it there like that. So many people noticed it immediately that it makes it hard to imagine no one on set did.”
All of that said Enns knows that retelling The Bible is a tricky business. “It’s impossible to please everybody with a show like this,” he said. “You talk about God, you’re going to make enemies, especially with the sacred book.”
The series finale of “The Bible” airs Sunday at 8 p.m. on The History Channel.
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