Abraham and the Three Visitors: five filmed interpretations

Fred Clark posted an item last night in which he expressed surprise that the story of Abraham and the three visitors in Genesis 18 is a lot stranger than he had thought. For one thing, Abraham and the visitors eat a meal that mixes meat and dairy, and would therefore be regarded as non-kosher by many of Abraham’s descendants. But, more crucially, Clark notes that one of the three visitors — who are often called “angels” — seems to be God himself. A walking, talking, eating God.

Personally, I’m surprised that Clark is surprised by that last bit, partly because it has always seemed clear to me that one of the three visitors is God himself. It’s certainly implicit in the text itself — not least because, after God finishes “standing” with Abraham and discussing the fate of Sodom with him, only two of the three visitors arrive in Sodom itself. Presumably God himself was the third visitor.

But beyond the text itself, nearly every single dramatized version of this story that I have seen has suggested that there was something different about one of the three visitors. So I had always assumed that that was a standard interpretation of the text, if not the standard interpretation of the text.

Here is how five different films and TV shows have dealt with this story.

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Review: The Bible Collection (dir. various, 1993-1995)

Abraham, Warner Alliance, 1993, dir. Joseph Sargent.
Jacob, Warner Alliance, 1994, dir. Peter Hall.
Joseph, Warner Alliance, 1995, dir. Roger Young.

BIBLE MOVIES refer so often to “the God of our fathers” it’s surprising at first to discover just how little attention films have paid to the patriarchs.

There are several reasons for this. Most biblical life stories are made up of disconnected episodes that do not easily conform to the structure of a two- or three-hour film. Attempts to be “historically accurate” with Genesis falter since no one knows when these stories occurred; scholars have dated Abraham to anywhere between the 23rd and 14th centuries BC.

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