A Weblog Dedicated to the Discussion of the Christian Faith and 21st Century Life

A Weblog Dedicated to the Discussion of the Christian Faith and 21st Century Life
I do not seek to understand that I may believe, but I believe in order to understand. For this also I believe, –that unless I believed, I should not understand.-- St. Anselm of Canterbury (1033-1109)

Monday, March 18, 2013

The Bible on The History Channel-- Some Thoughts-- Part 3

It has become obvious to me that there is a disconnect between what most biblical scholars and pastors expect of the History Channel's presentation of "The Bible" and what the faithful laity who sit in the pews anticipate. In reading various blogs and in my interactions on social media, it is clear that the scholars and the pastors are more critically negative of the mini-series than the laity. It is probably an oversimplification to say this, but it may be the case that the former expect too much and the latter expect too little-- or more accurately-- the former are more interested a competent portrayal of the larger biblical narrative while the latter enjoy watching the stories they know from the printed page come to life on the TV screen. Whatever all the reasons, the "professional" readers of Scripture are likely frustrated that the biblical witness has not been subjected to more rigor in how the narrative is portrayed while the "devotional" readers of the Bible are probably irritated with those who want to rain on their parade in continual criticism of the mini-series.

As one whose life is spent in the seminary classroom and in the pulpit and church Bible studies, I understand both perspectives. In general, I found part one of "The Bible" to be fairly well portrayed while the second part was more often than not, a head-scratcher. In watching part three I found the first part of the movie in finishing the Old Testament to be somewhat baffling while the end of the movie left me hopeful as the ministry of Jesus was initially portrayed.

Part two ended with the reign of King David. Part 3 began some 400 years later with a long divided kingdom of Israel with King Zedekiah ruling over an about to be overthrown southern kingdom of Judah with Jeremiah predicting its destruction. Again, I keep hammering on this, but the great problem in attempting to portray the full scope of the biblical narrative in a way that the full scope makes sense as a whole is that it simply cannot be done in ten hours without doing serious damage to understanding how all the diverse parts of the narrative fit together into something that is at least somewhat coherent. Without King Solomon there is no understanding of what led the Israelite kingdom to divide in the first place. I know that a narrator is inserted into the script every now and then to try to bridge that gap. Sometimes it has worked fairly well, at other times it has not been helpful.

My problem here is with this fragmented treatment of the Old Testament, one should wonder at the end of the movie why the Old Testament was necessary at all? The First Testament comprises about 75% of the entire Bible and yet the History Channel series give 50% of its time to it. The sixth of the ten hours was spent on Jesus and I think it is safe to assume that the next two hours will be devoted entirely to Jesus with the last two hours (I am speculating) will be given to the early church (the Book of Acts with some epistles somehow sprinkled in). My great problem here is that the Old Testament is indispensably critical in and of itself, and it is also necessary in understanding the context of the ministry of Jesus. It's has become clear to me that is not how the Old Testament is being displayed-- not intentionally-- but by default. In its portrayal, the Old Testament looks more like a preface that is a necessary inconvenience.

I want to be clear-- my criticisms are not specifically directed at the makers of this mini-series; rather what I am questioning is the ability to pull off a project of this size in ten hours. Sometimes the whole story of anything cannot be told in an abbreviated amount of time, so perhaps it is best to focus on a part of the story only. The Lectionary does that every Sunday in worship.

I know this is not much of a review of part three in and of itself. There were portions of the movie I found compelling. I particularly liked the scene where Mary was in labor with Jesus while Herod was frantically paranoid in finding this newborn king who threatened his throne. It was very powerful.

So, we press on... part 4 next Sunday night. I hope the Duke Blue Devils aren't playing in the tournament at the same time. That would put me on the horns of a real dilemma.

No comments: