(picture courtesy of Joe Alblas, History Channel)
At this season of the year, with Easter approaching, we usually have some sensationalized documentaries, or docudramas, meant to suggest things like Jesus was a Gnostic, or Jesus’ family tomb has been found, or Jesus was actually a Marxist revolutionary in disguise, and the like. When an Easter time program comes along that avoids all of those
fallacies and instead simply tries to present the story of the Bible, Christians and Jews alike may be forgiven for breathing a sigh of relief. While the new History Channel special ‘the Bible’ apparently avoids the label offensive, it has already failed to avoid the criticism of trivializing the rich complexity and diversity that we find in the Biblical stories, and for trying to do far too much in just ten hours.
Here is the NY Times review and preview by Neil Genzlinger of the show which debuts Sunday night March 3rd. http://tv.nytimes.com/2013/03/02/arts/television/the-bible-mini-series-on-history-channel.html?nl=todaysheadlines&emc=edit_th_20130302
Here is a brief sample of his critique—
“Mr. Burnett and his wife, Roma Downey, gave themselves a chance to tackle the ultimate make-me-believe-it challenge when they decided to produce “The Bible,” a 10-hour dramatization that begins on Sunday on History. Instead of embracing this challenge, they ducked it, serving up a rickety, often cheesy spectacle that is calculated to play well to a certain segment of the already enlisted choir but risks being ignored or scorned in other quarters.
“The mini-series certainly seems unlikely to be much of a recruitment tool for Christianity, putting the emphasis on moments of suffering rather than messages of joy, and not just when it comes time for the Crucifixion. In this heavy-handed treatment, having Jesus born in a manger is not enough; the arrival also has to occur during what looks like a typhoon. Because why have a moderate amount of hardship when you can have an excess of it?”
The producers are reality TV producers, and so some may just shake their heads and say— what did you expect?
Having provided all this advance warning that this will not measure up to productions like Zeferelli’s Jesus of Nazareth or even the ill-fated but well-filmed Gospel of John production, nevertheless here is where I urge Christians to watch these ten hours. I urge them to use the show as an opportunity to have more in depth discussions with a whole variety of non-church goers about the Bible.
We live in a Biblically illiterate culture which is nonetheless a Jesus haunted culture. Jesus is swear word in 50 states, but the Bible remains for many if not most Americans terra incognita. So perhaps in this Lenten and Easter season we may be thankful for any conversation starter, however cheesy, that may give us a chance to have a richer discussion about the Bible and it’s riches.