They say middle children are often ignored, compared to the ones who came before and after them. The same could be said of middle patriarchs, too.
The title speaks of beginnings, but the film itself marked the end of an era. The post-war Bible-movie craze began with Samson and Delilah in 1949, and it arguably reached its peak with the 1959 remake of Ben-Hur. But the genre petered out over the next several years, and The Bible: In the Beginning…, released in 1966, was pretty much the last major Bible film to be produced by a Hollywood studio for the next couple of decades.
The problem was not that the film was a flop, per se, but that it cost so much to make. According to Wikipedia, The Bible was the top-grossing movie of its year, with a domestic take of $34 million. But roughly half of that money would have stayed with the theatres, and the film is said to have cost as much as $18 million — and that probably doesn’t count the cost of prints and advertising. So whether the film made its money back would seem to depend on how well it performed overseas.
In any case, I recently revisited this film and noticed a few things that I thought were worth noting here. (See also my recent post on Abraham and the Three Visitors, which discusses one scene from this film that I don’t get into here.)
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: God and Abraham “stand” together and discuss the fate of Sodom while the other men make their way to that city, and 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.