I remember hearing about The Bible when it first aired and getting very excited. I knew the History Channel had started making some really high-quality original content, and I heard a lot of hype about the miniseries. I really wanted to watch it, but the broadcast time was awful. 7:00 pm on a Sunday is not a good time to air something that’s directed toward a Christian crowd. Still, the show did really well and broke a lot of records on television as well as when it was released on DVD. I finally got the Blu-ray set for Christmas so I could see what all the fuss was about.
I think it’s important when analyzing The Bible to keep in mind what Roma Downey and Mark Burnett were trying to do with it. They were inspired to create The Bible after watching The Ten Commandments with their kids and realizing how dated it was. They wanted to make a cinematic version of the Bible that would appeal to modern audiences. They took the Bible at face value and tried to tell the stories in a compelling way in order to encourage Christians, bring wayward believers back into the fold, and expose people to the stories of the Bible who have never heard them before. I believe that, at least as far as these goals are concerned, The Bible was a huge success.
First off, the show is simply beautiful. It’s very obvious that this is a professional production with experienced actors, directors, producers, and the like. The Bible was shot in Morocco, and all the sets, costumes, and characters look stunning and realistic. The creators made great use of modern technologies like CGI to bring some of the larger-than-life aspects of the stories (such as Noah’s ark and the Jewish temple) to life, and it looks absolutely gorgeous. The Bible is cinematically on par with—if not above and beyond—anything else anyone is making right now, and that really helps broaden its appeal beyond just a Christian audience.
The Bible looks great and reached a lot of people, but is it accurate? At the opening of every episode, there is a message that says, “This program is an adaptation of Bible stories that changed our world. It endeavors to stay true to the spirit of the book.” I think the wording here is important. They are striving to stay true to “the spirit” of the Bible, not necessarily to the details. Good or bad, when a book is turned into a movie (or a miniseries), some things get changed. Some details are left out while others are emphasized, added, or rearranged. The producers involved several Bible scholars throughout the creation of the show to make sure they weren’t straying too far, and overall, I think The Bible succeeds in its goal of staying true to the spirit of the Bible. But I do have some concerns about a few of the changes that were made.
First of all, I’ll say that I appreciated their overall approach to the Bible. The show presents the Bible as a grand narrative. It is a cohesive story with major themes that builds to the coming of the Messiah, Jesus. The show’s creators went to great lengths to structure the show in the same way and to approach the Bible stories as historical facts. In this sense, it’s a great introduction to the overall story of the Bible for someone who doesn’t know much about it, and it’s a nice way for people who are familiar with the Bible to experience the stories in a refreshing way.
But the stories in The Bible are all slightly different from their book counterparts. As I said before, this is just a side effect of taking a book, even a sacred book, and trying to adapt it for the screen, and it’s not always a bad thing. I didn’t see anything in the show that was sacreligious or heretical. I did feel like some of the changes may have been deliberate, though, especially when it comes to Peter. I know Peter is a major character in the New Testament, but his role was emphasized even more in The Bible. Peter is portrayed as the first of Jesus’ disciples in the show, which is simply not how the story goes in the Bible. One of the very few direct quotes from the Bible in the whole miniseries is where Jesus tells Peter, “You are Peter, and on this rock I shall build My church.” I sensed a bit of a Catholic bias in all this, which makes sense because Roma Downey is a Roman Catholic herself. I don’t think the show creators were trying to misrepresent or misuse the Bible, and the good that the show has done certainly certainly outweighs any bad caused by indescrepencies between the Bible and the show, but some of the changes did give me reason for caution.
I think The Bible is a great series that is definitely worth watching. It’s basically a ten-hour highlight reel of the Bible that tells some of the major stories in a modern, compelling way. It brings the Bible stories to life in a way that I think would be a great encouragement to any Christian who watches it. It’s also a wonderful introduction for people unfamiliar with the Bible (and who may not be willing to actually read the Bible), and hopefully it will spark their interest in the book itself. That said, I hope that people who watch The Bible will also take the time to read the texts of the stories that they’re watching on the show. Ultimately, the show should always point back to the holy book that inspired it. I think the true impact of The Bible miniseries will lie in its ability to lead people to God’s word and the peace, love, and forgiveness that one can find through it.
The Bible miniseries aired on The History Channel in March 2013 and is now available on Blu-ray and DVD. A two-hour film called Son of God will be released in February telling the story of Jesus through footage and deleted scenes from The Bible miniseries. A follow-up miniseries titled A.D., centered around the lives of the disciples after Jesus’ ascension, has been greenlit by NBC and will air in Spring 2015.