A.D. The Bible Continues — season one, episode nine

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Season 1, Episode 9 — ‘Saul’s Return’
Acts 9:20-27

Editing Acts, redux. The ninth episode of A.D. The Bible Continues, like a couple of the episodes that preceded it, dwells on just a few verses from the book of Acts.

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A.D. The Bible Continues — season one, episode three

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Season 1, Episode 3 — ‘The Spirit Arrives’
Acts 2-4

Editing Acts. The third episode of A.D. The Bible Continues is the first one that takes place entirely within the timeframe of the book of Acts, and it zips through the first few chapters so quickly that the final scenes are taken from Acts 4.

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No, Noah is not Gnostic. (Say that ten times fast!)

Thanks to a lengthy blog post by Brian Mattson, a theologian with the the Center for Cultural Leadership in California, the latest meme to work its way into public discussion of Darren Aronofsky’s Noah is that the film is somehow Gnostic, and that it presents a worldview in which God is really Satan and vice versa.

Is there anything to Mattson’s claims? Not really, and here’s why.

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Bible movie of the week: Slaves of Babylon (1953)

By now you may have figured out that I’m using the “Bible Movie of the Week” series as an excuse, or opportunity, to focus on some of the more obscure films out there, rather than the blockbusters that everyone knows and loves (most of which I have already written about at some length anyway). And so today I come to Slaves of Babylon (1953), a sort of adaptation of the Book of Daniel that I had barely even heard about until very recently.

In fact, I only bothered to go looking for this film a few weeks ago, after I had written a post about the Persian King Cyrus, who is celebrated in the Old Testament (Isaiah even calls him “the Lord’s Messiah”) for letting the Jews return to Jerusalem following their exile in Babylon. Cyrus might not be the most prominent of biblical figures, but he did play a significant role within the history of the Jewish people, and it seems a shame that there haven’t been more than a couple of films about him.

Slaves of Babylon is one of those films. While it dramatizes some of the better-known stories from the Book of Daniel, it also revolves around a mostly made-up story in which Cyrus becomes king of Persia with help from one of Daniel’s followers. I say “mostly made-up” because it seems the film’s depiction of Cyrus’s early life is derived in part from a legend passed down to us by the Greek historian Herodotus. So basically, Slaves of Babylon represents a pop-cultural attempt to bridge religious and secular history — and those are the kinds of films I find particularly interesting, whatever their aesthetic merits may or may not be. (Another example would be the 1985 mini-series A.D.: Anno Domini, which alternated between the Book of Acts and the lives of the Caesars, with a bit of Josephus thrown in for good measure.)

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Cyrus the Great — a Persian king ready for his close-up?

Last week, the LA Weekly posted an item about the Cyrus Cylinder, an ancient Persian artifact that is currently touring American museums.

The blog post notes that the Cylinder is widely regarded as the first known declaration of human rights, and it goes on to suggest that Americans of Iranian descent will be “eager for the opportunity to remember and embrace a noble part of their identity that’s not yet been desecrated by Hollywood (we’re looking at you, 300)”.

This got me thinking: how often has Cyrus been depicted in film? (300 took place about 50 years after his death, during the reign of Xerxes.) To what extent has his role in history — as one of the more enlightened conquerors of ancient times — been recognized on the big screen, or on the small screen for that matter?

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The Bible / What works and what doesn’t in the ambitious mini-series

It’s common these days for each new episode of a TV series to begin with a montage that sums up all the relevant plot points from previous episodes. So it was only natural that, when the History Channel aired its five-part mini-series The Bible over the month of March, all but one of the episodes began with narrator Keith David intoning, in his deep baritone voice, “Previously, on The Bible…”

All of the show’s strengths and weaknesses are captured in that one phrase. Produced by Mark Burnett (a TV mogul best known for unscripted “reality” shows like Survivor and The Apprentice) and his wife Roma Downey (who once starred in Touched by an Angel), the mini-series rushes through the whole Bible, from Genesis to Revelation, in ten hours — though it’s more like seven, once you bracket off the commercial breaks — and it zips through the stories so quickly that you barely notice when they are compressed even further in those opening sequences. But the mini-series also makes a point of emphasizing the continuity between Bible stories in a way that is quite rare among Bible films, and in a way that sometimes allows individual stories to shed light profitably on others.

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