Bible movie of the week: The Bible: In the Beginning… (1966)

The title speaks of beginnings, but the film itself marked the end of an era. The post-war Bible-movie craze — which began with Samson and Delilah (1949) and arguably peaked with Ben-Hur (1959) and its record 11 Academy Awards — petered out over the next several years, and The Bible: In the Beginning… (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. Reliable box-office figures are harder to find, the further back you go in time, but according to Wikipedia, at least, The Bible was the top-grossing film of 1966, with a domestic gross of $34 million. Then again, 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.)

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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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