Wednesday, March 20, 2013

My Take On "The Bible" Series-Parts 5 and 6

Last week I reviewed "The Bible" Series-Parts 1-4.  Click here to read the previous post.

Explanatory note-I've noticed some of the reviews on this series call it a five part series because it shown in five two-hour episodes. For the purposes of these articles, I'm considering each hour as one part.  In this case, the two-hour episode shown last Sunday contained parts 5 and 6.



The Good

  • Part 5 - Last week, I mentioned that I thought Part 4 was the most biblically accurate section of the series so far.  I actually enjoyed Part 5 even more.  Even though the events were compressed in places, I felt that this was also more accurate than the first few episodes.  I loved the fact that they told the little-known but fascinating story of King Zedekiah, who would ignore Jeremiah's plea to return to God and would pay for it in a gruesome way.  The scene in which his sons were killed in front of him and then his eyes gouged out by the Babylonian conquerer was hard to watch, but it's exactly what happened according to 2 Kings 25:7.  I also enjoyed the Daniel section.  Daniel is one of my favorite Bible characters, and I think the producers of "The Bible" made him the compelling figure that he actually was.  Daniel is a fantastic model of integrity who held on to his Jewish beliefs even in the face of unimaginable pressure to conform to Babylonian ways.  The Daniel in this series retained those admirable qualities.  I really enjoyed the Fiery Furnace scene within the Daniel sequence.  In this scene, three friends of Daniel, Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, stand tall in the midst of a sea of Babylonians who had bowed down to the king's idol.  I just felt like cheering when I saw their courageous defiance!  Then, when they are cast into the fire because of King Nebuchadnezzar's rage, a pre-incarnate Jesus is shown in the midst of them.  At the conclusion of this scene, the threw Jewish heroes come out unscathed.   While we don't know where Daniel was when the three men were thrown into the fiery furnace, I thought it was interesting to imagine that he could have been there and witnessed the whole thing.  Later, I was especially moved by the Lion's Den section, when Daniel refused to pray in secret in order to avoid persecution, but would instead openly pray in defiance of the king's decree.  The scene in which Daniel is saved from being a night-time snack for some hungry lions was really well-done.
  • Part 6 - First of all, I thought they did a good job of transitioning from the Old Testament to the New Testament, by talking about the Roman occupation and the Jews' cry for a Messiah.  To move through five hundred years of history in a couple of minutes would be almost impossible to do well, but they got the essential facts right in setting the stage for the coming of the Messiah.  I felt that the Birth of Christ narrative was largely successful.  This is one story that is so very familiar, yet I thought that they did it in a new and fresh way.  The Herod character was appropriately vile, and they even included some extra-biblical yet historically-correct scenes such as the one in which Herod killed his own son.  (However, this probably happened years before Christ's birth.) Another extra-biblical detail that they added that worked well to me was the one in which they showed the many victims of crucifixion in Galilee.  It really put the cruelty of the Roman oppressors on display, preparing the viewers for another more momentous crucifixion to come.  In this scene, they show the Child Jesus looking at the crucifixion victim as His mother tries to shelter him from the gruesome sight.   This was very moving to me.  It's very likely that He observed this horrible practice even as a child, and you have to wonder what He thought as He peered into His future life. I also thought the Baptism of Christ scene was well done (with the exception below). However, I think my favorite scene in the whole series so far was the Temptations of Christ.  The cinematography was amazing, as they showed Jesus from a birds-eye view wandering through the wilderness parched and famished,  then swept down to see Him encounter a very wicked-looking Satan.   The way they transitioned from one temptation to the next was really neat as they showed Jesus being whisked away from one venue to another .  However, what brought me to tears was the offer Satan gave to Jesus to be king of all the kingdoms of the world if He would only bow down and worship him.   In this scene, Jesus is shown looking at two paths, one in which he sees an earthly crown being placed on his head, and the other in which the crown of thorns is being pressed on His brow.  Then He views Himself being anointed as king with a sceptor, contrasted with another scene in which crucifixion nails are driven into his hands. Thank God He chose the nails and the crown of thorns!  At the climax of this scene, Jesus defiantly commands Satan, "Get behind Me!", whereupon the devil promptly vanishes.  I don't think that's the last we'll see of this bad guy in the series!

The Bad-

  • Part 5 - I really have only a few small issues with this episode.  In the Zedekiah section, the only thing that I would note as not positive is actually a missed opportunity from way back in Part 2, which is the Moses section.  What Zedekiah and the Jews in Jerusalem experienced in the months-long siege of Jerusalem was actually prophesied centuries before in Deuteronomy 28.  In this section, Moses by the inspiration of God actually tells the Jews as they stand on the edge of Canaan that if they forsake God, then there would come a day that they would experience a siege and would stoop so low as to eat their own children!   I would also point out that later, in the Fiery Furnace scene, the fire definitely wasn't as hot as the one in described in Daniel 3:22.  In this bible passage, the furnace was so hot that it killed the men who threw the three Hebrews into the fire!  I will also note that Daniel should have appeared much older in the last section, as he would probably have been in his nineties when he faced the lions.  Another comment-In the book of Daniel, the Persian king who threw Daniel in the lion's den was Darius, rather than Cyrus.  I understand that there is actually no record of a Persian king named Darius.  My study bible speculates that Darius could have been an alternate name for Cyrus, so it could be that the king Daniel dealt with was in fact Cyrus the Great.  Finally, we have no record that Daniel was around when the Jews began to migrate back to Palestine, as is portrayed in the movie.
  • Part 6 - First of all, it's very unlikely that the Magi arrived the night of Jesus' birth.  In fact, the scripture records in Matthew 2 that they arrived at the house where Joseph and Mary were staying, indicating to me that they had moved from the stable to a more suitable place in Bethlehem by the time the Wise Men arrived.  Also, Herod actually sent the Wise Men to Bethlehem to search Him out, though he intended to use the information he gleaned from them for evil intent.  In the end, the Magi were warned in a dream to not return to Pharaoh, so they left without going back through Jerusalem..  Also, although I thought the Baptism of Christ scene was well-done, it is unfortunate that they chose not to include the blessing of the Father on Jesus (Matthew 3:13-17).  The biggest faux pas of Part 6 to me was in the very last scene.   This actually was two scenes, one of Peter's encounter with Jesus' on the Sea of Galilee juxtaposed with another scene of Herod Antipas' interrogation of John the Baptist in prison.  The scene with Peter differed with scripture in that both Mark and Matthew speak of Christ's encounter not only with Peter, but also with his brother Andrew and the sons of Zebedee, James and John. However, this didn't bother me as much as the Herod/John the Baptist scene. This is a made-up scene which is not true to scripture at all.  I find the Biblical version (Mark:6: 17-29) much more compelling, and I wished they had used it.  
Conclusion- While the first three parts were largely a disappointment to me, the last three, including Part 4 on Saul and David as well as these two parts, are a huge improvement.  Yes, there are discrepancies even  in these later episodes from the biblical account.  It seems that when the producers are given the choice of being Biblically down-the-line or making a dramatic statement, they often choose the latter.  Some may differ with me, but I would give them some leeway on this.  I heard Jim Daly of Focus on the Family make the point that this is a paraphrase, not a literal translation, and that is certainly true. However, in my opinion the best scenes in this production are the ones that stay true to the bible, but do it in a creative way.  In any event, I'll be watching this Sunday night!
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My Take On "The Bible" Series-Parts 7 and 8


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