Recently, I had the opportunity to partake in a marathon viewing of all ten episodes of 2013’s The Bible miniseries. It was a beautiful production! The sets and costumes were gorgeous. With a few exceptions, the characters and settings leapt at me from the pages of the history books as much as the Bible. The creators had definitely done their research.
The acting was also superb. The cast is primarily comprised of theatre actors (mostly British) and thus the characters seemed to emote and enunciate much more than one would expect of them, but that was the fault of the medium, not the actors. They were working on a biblical epic and had little room for character development. No sooner have they been introduced that they are disappearing again in favour of the next important figure. As an audience, we are treated to a parade of interesting characters, all interpreted with much more nuance than we remember from Sunday School, but they seem to pass by on the screen. The writers chose to squeeze the entire Old Testament into six episodes.
As a result, the only character we really get to spend much time with is Jesus, and the writers spend much of this time rushing us through the Gospels. By the end of the story, it is clear just how much the story is being rushed – it is oversimplified, the ending is mushed together, and the mistakes are obvious. It is a poor finish to what began very well, much like a figure skater taking a tumble at the end of a beautiful routine.
Unfortunately, this series was not really meant for me. This miniseries is aimed at a) Christians who know little about their biblical history, or about history in general; b) Christians who like seeing the stories that they have read and/or heard translated onto the television; and c) non-Christians with little understanding of the Bible and the story of Jesus, but who are interested in learning more. With that in mind, I think The Bible fits its audience perfectly. It educates and entertains.
I was quite taken with the depiction of the Old Testament. Despite a slow start in the first episode, the Exodus, the Battle of Jericho, Samson & Delilah, King David, and the Babylonian exile were all beautifully done. All of them could have been their own film. (In fact, I wish they would extend those episodes into films. We are overdue for good Biblical cinema.) On the other hand, I wish they had taken the time to depict more of the Old Testament, including more about the wandering in the desert, the era of kings and prophets, and post-Babylonian exile – although that last one is starting to fall into the realm of books that were excised from the Protestant Bible.
On the other hand, starting with Daniel and then into the episodes of the New Testament, the writers started to throw details to the wind in order for everything to fit together into a nice, neat timeline. For example, in the Bible, Daniel was actually thrown into the lion’s den by King Darius, not King Cyrus. One was a Babylonian who was afraid of losing his throne – thus much more willing to treat any kind of disobedience harshly. The other was a Persian conquering hero who was more than willing to let the Jewish people return to Jerusalem if it meant they would be loyal to him. Also, by the time of Cyrus, Daniel was extremely elderly and there is even uncertainty as to whether he was still alive.
As for the New Testament, the life of Jesusis rightly given the most airtime, but as a result, the timeline for it gets very compressed, particularly when discussing His ministry and then the Acts of the Apostles. I knew too much of those stories to be impressed by this depiction. I kept wanting more and receiving less. The same producers are going to re-package the story of Jesus into a film, Son of God, and I hope that they do Him justice. I do still look forward to seeing that film.
Ultimately, I was most impressed by the casual, dialogue-based scenes. These scenes are where the characters shine through as relatable humans rather than caricatures or paintings. My favourite (although non-canonical) scene was still Jesus’s first meeting with Peter. Jesus is just as I would expect Him: wholesome, determined, quirky, and in possession of a strong sense of humour.
I strongly recommend this series to the three categories of viewers that I mention above. I also recommend it to those who are sceptical of Christianity. This series is not meant to change your mind. It means to tell a story.
And tell a story, it definitely does!