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The Bible Miniseries on
The History Channel
A Review of Episode One
By Gary F. Zeolla
The Bible is to be a five-part (ten hour) miniseries on The History Channel. The first episode aired Sunday, March 3, 2013, with following episodes scheduled to be aired on subsequent Sundays. I first heard about it on "TV Watch" on my iGoogle page. As soon as I saw it, I thought that there is no way the series will not actually follow the Bible. I say that as every time secular TV does a show about the Bible, it's never faithful to the Bible.
And sure enough, as I read the review, it stated, "Thusly begins this cheesefest miniseries, which, according to the opening crawl, ‘endeavors to stay true to the spirit of the book.' It doesn't. My old picture Bible was more faithful." So that set me up to not have high hopes for the miniseries. In fact, I wasn't even going to watch it. But there was a lot of hype about it, and Christians seemed to be excited about it. And in fact, some 14 million people ended up watching the first episode.
And I can understand the excitement. To have a secular network do a series on the Bible would seem like a good thing. It has the possibility of exposing the Bible to potentially millions of people who have never read the Bible. And no matter how accurate or inaccurate the series is, if it inspires people to read the Bible for themselves, then that is a very good thing.
However, I am a stickler for accuracy. I just feel like if you're going to make a movie or TV series about the Bible it should be faithful to what the Bible teaches. To expose people to a distorted view of the Bible I simply don't consider beneficial. It can be hard to "unlearn" inaccuracies that get implanted into someone's head. So how accurate is this History Channel production? This article will answer that question by reviewing episode one titled “Beginnings.”
Note: Unless otherwise indicated, all Scripture quotations are from my Analytical-Literal Translation of the Old Testament: Volume One: The Torah. Copyright © 2012 by Gary F. Zeolla (www.Zeolla.org).
Very quickly in watching episode one, it became obvious what the
biggest problem was going to be with the series: it was going to try to cover
too much ground. The Bible is a long book, and to try to boil it down to just
ten hours requires skipping over whole chunks of it.
The series opens with Noah in the ark floating upon the floodwaters. But they never actually said that's what it was. Noah wasn't named, and no other aspects of the flood story were depicted. So if I hadn't known what it was supposed to be, I probably would have thought it was just some unnamed guy in a ship in the middle of the ocean.
Noah was relating to his sons the story of creation, citing the seven days of creation. Then very quickly Adam and Eve were shown, and the eating of the forbidden fruit, and Cain striking Abel. And that was it as far as the first eleven chapters of Genesis goes. Most off all, the very important covenant the LORD makes with Noah as record in Genesis 9 is completely left out.
And to mention one inaccuracy about the story of Noah was the shape and size of the ark. It was pictured as a modestly sized boat with a pointed bow and stern. But the ark as described in Scripture is a large barge, a rectangle (Gen 6:14-15). It was designed to just float upon the water, not to pass through the water, so no pointed bow was necessary.
Abraham and Lot
Some of the more important parts of the story of Abraham were
depicted, starting with his calling and his leaving his homeland with his wife,
his nephew Lot, and others. But even at this time they were referring to Abraham
and Sarah. But Biblical, initially, their names were Abram and Sarai (Gen
11:29). The LORD changed their names to Abraham and Sarah much later. This
change of name is important, as Abram means "exalted father" while Abraham
means, "father of a multitude." The later was the LORD's promise to Abraham,
that he would be "a father of many nations" (Gen 17:5,15).
Then they showed the separation of Lot and Abram and Lot going to Sodom. The scene of the LORD and two angels coming to Abram was then depicted. They tell Abram that Sodom is going to be destroyed, and Abram pleads with the LORD to spare it if fifty, forty, or even just ten righteous are found. And the LORD agrees. That was well-depicted.
But then we come to destruction of Sodom as recorded in Genesis 19, and the inaccuracies of the show abound. First, the angels enter the city and plead with Lot to take them into his house. But Biblically, it is the other way around. Lot pleads with the angels to come into his house (vv. 1-3).
Once in his house, the men of the city begin banging on Lot's door, and lot tries pushing them away. But it is never made clear in the show what the men want. But in the Bible, they are saying, "Where are the men, the ones going in to you this night? Bring them out to us that we may be with them [sexually]" (v. 5). I guess having a bunch of homosexuals wanting to gang rape two visitors to their city was just too "politically incorrect" for the show to depict.
The angels strike the men with blindness, which is Biblical (v. 11). But then, they depict the angels as fighting their way out of the city with Lot, his wife, and his two daughters. The angels are depicted as fighting with a sword in each hand, jumping around Ninja style, striking down the men of the city. But that whole scene has no Biblical basis whatsoever.
Also, what is left out is Lot pleading with his sons-in-laws to come with them (v.14). But then, Lot's daughters are depicted as being little girls, way too young to be married.
Lot, his wife, and daughters are depicted as fleeing from the city, with Lot's wife looking back and being turned into a pillar of salt. That is accurate. (v.26). But they failed to include the angel's prior warning to Lot and his family not to look back (v. 17), so the turning of Lot's into a pillar of salt made no sense.
As they are fleeing, they show what looked like balls of fire coming down upon Sodom. And that ends the story. The aftermath of the destruction, Lot's fleeing to Zoar and then into the mountains and his sin with his daughters is omitted (vv.23-36). But maybe that's for the best as the latter is a rather sordid scene.
The story then goes back to Abram. And there is quite a bit of detail. Sarai being barren and thus giving her female-servant Hagar to Abraham to sleep with is depicted (Gen 16:1-5). But the pregnant Hagar fleeing from Sarah but being turned back by an angel is left out (Gen 16:6-10). They just show her giving birth to Ishmael, and then jump to fourteen years later, when the LORD promises Abram that Sarai will have a son. It is here that the LORD changes their names to Abraham and Sarah (Gen 17:15,16).
Sarah is depicting as hearing about having a son and laughing, the LORD hears her and tells her to call her son Isaac, which means "laughter." But in fact, it was Abraham who first laughed, and it was he that was told to name his son Isaac (Gen 17:17-19). It is at the next appearance of God to Abraham that Sarah hears the promise of a son and laughs (Gen 18:12).
In any case, Isaac is born. And Sarah is depicted as being upset about Ishmael, and wants to ensure with Abraham that Isaac will be his sole heir, not Ishmael. To that Abraham agrees. But the whole scene of Hagar fleeing with Ishmael is left out (Gen 21:8-21).
Then Abraham being called by the LORD to sacrifice Isaac is depicted (Gen 22). He and the child travel a distance. Isaac asks where the lamb is for the sacrifice, and Abraham replies that the LORD will provide the sacrifice. Abraham then fights with the child to bind him. He then lays Isaac on some wood and lifts up the knife with agony. But just as he begins his strike down, an angel calls to him, and Abraham misses Isaac, striking the knife into the wood instead. Abraham then sees a lamb stuck in the thicket and takes it for a sacrifice.
That is all well depicted. But one little point is it was a ram not a lamb caught in the thicket (Gen 22:13). But more importantly, what is omitted is what the LORD says afterwards, "I have sworn an oath by Myself, says the LORD, because you did this thing, and on My account did not spare your beloved son, surely blessing I will bless you, and multiplying I will multiply your seed as the stars of heaven, and as the sand by the shore of the sea, and your seed will inherit the cities of their enemies. And in your seed will all the nations of the earth be blessed, because you obeyed My voice" (Gen 22:17-18).
And then that's it as far as the Book of Genesis goes. The next 28 chapters are completely skipped. The narrator just says that Isaac fathered Jacob and Jacob went into Egypt due to a famine. But there are many important stories in those 28 chapters, such as the life stories of Isaac, Jacob, and Joseph. But probably the most important point left out is the formation of the twelve tribes of Israel via the twelve sons of Jacob. Those twelve tribes are referred to constantly in the rest of the Torah and throughout the Historical Books of the Old Testament.
Moses and the Exodus
The episode then jumps to the grown Moses in the court of
Pharaoh fighting with his brother. The brother gets upset when he gets cut, and
criticizes Moses for not really being his brother. There is no such scene in the
Bible. But it is used to show flashbacks of the Hebrew babies being cast into
the water and Moses being placed in a basket. But if I didn't already know what
that was all about, I would have been confused as the whole thing is rushed.
The episode never actually had Moses being told he was a Hebrew just that he was a son of a slave. But Moses now knowing this walks among the Hebrew slaves and sees them being whipped into servitude by the Egyptian taskmasters. He then gets angry and picks up a stone and strikes dead one of the taskmasters.
That is all basically Biblical, except for one part. When he kills the Egyptian it is depicted as being in the middle of a crowd and thus Moses flees immediately. But in fact, before killing the Egyptian, Moses looked around to be sure no one was around. It wasn't until the next day that he finds out that others know what happens and he flees from Egypt (Exod 2:11-15).
Moses' time in Midian and his marriage to Zipporah and the birth of his son Gershom is skipped (Exod 2:16-22). But the important scene of the LORD appearing to Moses in the burning bush is depicted, but very quickly. Most of the important details of the conversation between the LORD and Moses are left out (Exod 3). There is also no mention of the "signs" that the LORD gives to Moses to give to the Hebrews and to Pharaoh as proof that God has really spoken to him, and there is no mention of Aaron being appointed as spokesman for Moses (Exod 4).
Moses returns to Egypt and goes to the Hebrews and declares that God has sent him to deliver them. They seem agreeable to the proposition, without much objection. Initially, that is true (Exod 4:29-31). But the grumbling of the Hebrews later when Pharaoh does not immediately release them is completely left out.
When Moses goes to Pharaoh, his step-brother is now Pharaoh. But there is no Biblical basis to that idea. Moses declares to Pharaoh, "Let my people go!" This sentence is repeated by Moses several times in the show. That might sound Biblical, but it's not. What Moses really said was, "Thus says the LORD God of Israel: ‘'Let My people go'" (Exod 5:1; NKJV). This difference is important. The way the show depicted it, it makes it sound like "my people" are Moses' people. But in fact, the people are the LORD's people. That is why "My" is capitalized in the NKJV.
Since Moses wasn't given the sign of his staff turning into a serpent, the whole scene of him doing so before Pharaoh is omitted. The ten plagues are then depicted by first showing Pharaoh bathing in the river and Moses striking the water and it gradually turning to blood with Pharaoh still in it. It's true that turning the water into blood was the first plague (Exod 12:17-22). But there is no mention in the Bible that Pharaoh was bathing in it at the time. That is just added for dramatic effect.
The next eight plagues are then depicted in rapid fashion simply by showing pictures of frogs, locust, and the like. There is no depiction of the actual destruction and agonies that they caused. If I didn't know those pictures were of subsequent plagues, I wouldn't have known what it was all about.
Then comes the LORD's declaration that He will kill the firstborn of the land. But the show didn't make it clear that it was only the firstborn that were to die. It just said that "death" was coming upon the land. The Hebrews are depicted as being fearful the death will strike them. And Moses initially makes it sound like that will be the case, but he then says there is a way to prevent the death from striking them. None of that is Biblical.
But what is Biblical is showing the Hebrews killing the lambs and spreading the blood on the lintels of their doors (Exod 12:7). That is important. But what is omitted is the Hebrews eating the lambs and the rest of the first Passover meal (Exod 12:9). But the Passover meal is essential to the Jewish religion and is referred to often later in the Bible.
The firstborn are killed and Pharaoh is shown holding his dead son and telling Moses to leave with his people. The people flee. But then Pharaoh changes his mind and chases after them with his army.
Moses and the people come to the Red Sea, although it is never called that in the show. The people grumble, which is Biblical (Exod 14:11). Moses then raises his staff, the Red Sea divides, the people cross over on dry land, and the Egyptian army follows and is swallowed by the returning water. That is all
But what is left out is that the people spent the whole night waiting for the parting of the waters, while the pillar of fire separated them and the Egyptian army (Exod 14:19-20). In fact the whole fact of the people being led by a pillar of cloud by day and a pillar of fire by night is omitted (Exod 13:21-22).
And that's it as far as the story of the Exodus goes. Omitted is the forming of the golden calf and the whole of the wilderness wanderings. The episode ends with Moses holding two tablets of stone, but they are not identified as the Ten Commandments. Joshua is introduced and the Israelites are ready to start the conquest of the Promised Land.
God vs. the LORD
One last point is worth mentioning. Throughout the episode, the term "God" is used. And yes, the Bible does use that term quite often. But more often, the term "the LORD" is used, as a translation of the Hebrew proper name for God, "Yahweh." That is important as "God" is a general term used for not just the one true God, but for the many false gods of the ancient and modern world. The term "the LORD" refers to the one true God, the God of Israel. So it is more specific.
I'm know I'm probably in the minority. Probably most Christians
watching the first episode of "The Bible" enjoyed it. But then, my dad told me
he wasn't thrilled with it, so I'm not totally alone. And probably most people
watching the episode didn't catch the many inaccuracies or notice the many
omissions. But then, just a few months ago, I finished translating
The Torah, so I am
very familiar with what it says. And in my translating, I was a stickler for
being as accurate as possible, so accuracy when it comes to the Bible is very
important to me.
I am just about finished translating the Historical Books of the Old Testament, and I translated the New Testament quite a while ago, so if I keep watching this series it will be with a critical eye. And I can only hope and pray that the remaining episodes are better done than the first one. Maybe when they get to the New Testament, they will slow things down some and not skip so many things and show more detail on important events. At the very least, as I said, hopefully this series will inspire people to read the Bible for themselves. If it does, then it will be worthwhile.
For a follow-up to this article, see The Bible Miniseries on The History Channel: A Review of Episode Two.
Analytical-Literal Translation of the Old Testament
Volume One - The Torah
The above article was first published in the
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It was posted on this Web site March 6, 2013.
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