Everybody seems to be talking about the TV mini-series “The Bible.” I have to confess I always dread this time of the media’s “liturgical year” (if we are approaching Easter, let’s cash in on the season). But given my role as a religion professor, I feel obligated to watch and critique the latest movie or TV mini-series, even though I expect to be disappointed. In the case of this season’s “Bible” mini-series, I am more than disappointed. I am repulsed.
The first episode, “Beginnings,” starts off fairly well by having Noah recount the story of creation from Genesis 1. The visual images of birds, animals, and sea creatures are stunning. Unfortunately, the series quickly degenerates into a retelling of some of the more violent stories from Genesis and Exodus, and the second episode, “Homeland,” continues the theme of God’s violent protection of “his” people as it skips through the books of Joshua, Judges, and 1 and 2 Samuel. It will likely entertain viewers accustomed to action-packed movies that focus on the violent battle between good and evil. “Evil” appears in the garden of Eden embodied in a dark, hooded, menacing figure who reminded me of a Sith Lord from Star Wars. Even God’s messengers get into the action. Two angels, hooded and armed, demonstrate some dazzling moves with their swords as they guide Lot and his family to safety. One of the angels actually has two swords strapped on his back and deftly swings both swords at the same time, killing people right and left. The movie emphasizes that it’s all about “us vs. them.” Samson calls out to the Philistines, “My God wants me to destroy you all.” Women are given supporting roles as bearers of children (Sarah, Hagar, Samson’s mother) or prostitutes (Rahab is the prostitute with the heart of gold, while Delilah is the seductive, deceitful whore). Connections with other peoples are quickly dropped or glossed over (Hagar and Ishmael disappear with no comment upon their futures.) Things that don’t fit the Christian perspective of the film-makers are omitted (Aaron, the priest, is replaced by Joshua, the warrior.) Some viewers may feel good because they are watching something ostensibly religious. If they want to know about the Bible, I suggest they would do better to read the book. If they like violence, enemy-hatred, sexism, and racism, they can find that on just about every other channel. This is a Super-hero version of the Bible, which some people may love, because it’s action-packed, and the good guys always beat up on the bad guys, but it’s not the Bible I know and love.