Wednesday, March 27, 2013

My Take On "The Bible" Series-Parts 7 and 8

 Last week, I reviewed Parts 5 and 6 of "The Bible".  Click here to read that review or here for my review of Parts 1-4.

The Good
  • Part 7-This hour encapsulates the bulk of Jesus' three-and-a-half year ministry from it's inception until right before Holy Week.  On a broad note, I really like the way that Jesus is portrayed by Diogo Morgado.  He does a admirable job portraying Jesus as a man who is warm and inviting, revolutionary in his teachings, and utterly opposed to the religious rulers of His day.  In the opening scene of this hour, they set up the vivid contrast between the Pharisees, who were the predominate religious sect of the time and who advocated for a strict adherence to the law as a method of national salvation, and Jesus, who would preach the revolutionary concept of following God according to the spirit of the law rather than the letter. Jesus healing of the paralytic man (you can read the gospel account here.), incenses the Pharisees and exposes their cheap view of God for what it is. I also really like the way they portray the calling of Mathew, the tax collector.  In this scene Jesus tells the story of the parable of the Pharisee and the Tax Collector (you can read Luke's version here) as an illustration of God's love for those who follow the spirit of the law rather than the letter, then calls Matthew to follow Him.  Although these two incidents are told at different points in the scripture, I thought it did no harm to meld them together, and actually made an effective point.  
  • Part 8-This hour tells the story of Passion Week up until Jesus' farcical trial  held before Caiaphas.  I would mention here that "The Bible" series makes several extra-biblical but helpful references to give context to Jesus' ministry, including in it's portrayal of Pontius Pilate.  Josephus tells the story of the Aqueduct riots (you can read his account here.), which is recounted in this episode.  This detail really   helps us see Pilate for the bloodthirsty man that he we.  My wife and I both enjoyed the Last Supper scene.  It was moving to see Christ grab a piece of unleavened bread, tear it and share it with His disciples, then, as they are eating it, to say, "This is my body..."  I also loved the effective way that they told the story of Christ at Gethsemane, as they juxtaposed Jesus' agonizing prayer in the garden with Caiaphas and the other priests' rote but heartless evening prayers.  Finally, the trial before Caiaphas is hard to watch, yet well-done, setting us up for the agony of Good Friday. 
The Bad
  • Part 7-In "The Bible", Mary Magdalene is portrayed as one of the disciples.  She was indeed, and so were several other women. Although Mary was not one of the twelve (as the series
    seems to imply by putting her with the guys all the time), she was in fact with Jesus almost all the time.  However, the series provides no context for how she became a disciple, and it would have been helpful if they they had told how she had been set free from demons to become a follower of Jesus.  One of the ways that Jesus was a revolutionary was the way that He had respect for women and including many of them in His ministry.  I would have loved it if they had included the lesser-known story of one of His followers named Joanna, who was actually the wife of Herod's steward! (Check out this passage in Luke for more on Jesus' female followers)  Also, I thought the scene of Lazarus' resurrection could have been done far better.  My daughter was incensed at the sloppy way that this was done, and I have to agree.  The raising of Lazarus' was the culmination of Jesus ministry, and is told in detail in John 11.  It deserved a fuller and more accurate account than was done in the series.  In the series, there is no real context for the raising of Lazarus.  They show Jesus enter the cave where Lazarus' body has been for four days, puts his hands on Lazarus' unwrapped head and tell him to get up.  In the real account, Jesus does not go into the cave and calls out in a loud voice for Lazarus to come forth, which he does to the astonishment of the crowd.  I find that the scriptural account is much more compelling than the one shown in the series.

  • Part 8-I really enjoyed this portrayal of Passion Week, and have few criticisms.  I have to say I have mixed feelings about including Jesus' encounter with Nicodemus here. Now, any student of the four gospels knows that the different events are recounted in various order, as ancient narratives did not follow the strict chronological sequence that modern biographies tend to do.  However, the only account of Nicodemus meeting with Jesus is in John 3, which was clearly at the beginning of Jesus' ministry rather than at the end.  That being said, I understand why they placed this here, as they flashed back and forth between Nicodemus the Pharisee going to Jesus and Judas (the apostate) follower of Jesus going to Caiaphas.  This was actually quite effective, yet not true to scripture in the letter.  Overall, I think it fits the spirit of the Scriptures. (So I don't want to be found the Pharisee and quibble about minutia!)
Overall-With a few exceptions, I really enjoyed this episode and the creative way that they portrayed Jesus.  He was truly a revolutionary and did indeed "change the world," and I believe they captured the essence of His ministry well.  You know that something is done well when you don't want it to end but want to see more, and I definitely didn't want it to stop where it did.  That's really the mark of a good program. I'm looking forward to Sunday night to see the amazing story of Easter!

Click here to read my review of Parts 9 and 10.

Want to read more?  Here's links to some of my more popular posts:
A Man Of A Different Spirit
Reflections On 30 Years of Marriage-Part 1
Obama's Record-Where We Are After Four Years (written right before the election)
Hosea and the 2012 Election (written right after the election)

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

Want to read more?  Here's links to some of my more popular posts:
A Man Of A Different Spirit
Reflections On 30 Years of Marriage-Part 1
Obama's Record-Where We Are After Four Years (written right before the election)
Hosea and the 2012 Election (written right after the election)

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

My Take On "The Bible" Series-Parts 1-4

 After having watched some clips and reading a few reviews, I was really looking forward to watching "The Bible" Series on The History Channel this month. I was really encouraged by some of the interviews that I had seen by it's creators, Mark Burnett and Roma Downey on their reverence for the Bible and their desire to tell the story of the holy scriptures in an authentic way.  However, after having watched Parts 1-4, my opinion is decidedly mixed.

The Good:
  • Part 1-I thought the idea of Noah in the ark recounting the story of creation was very effective.  I also thought the scene with Abraham and the three angels was largely authentic.  Also, I thought the scene of  Abraham with the one Angel left behind, who many believe to be the pre-Incarnate Christ, was done well.  In the movie, they intersperse Abraham's dialogue with the Angel with scenes from within Sodom.  To me this was a creative way of telling the story.
  • Part 2-Probably the most Biblically-based part in this section was the story of the Passover.  They told the story of how the Jews were to slaughter lambs and place the blood over the doorposts of their dwellings, thereby instituting the first Passover.  This would protect them from the death angel as it passed by.
  • Part 3-I thought the scene with Joshua's encounter with the Commander of the Lord's Army interspersed with scenes from the fall of Jericho largely worked.  Later, in the Samson section, the last scene in which Samson pulls down the temple around him was well-done. His mother finding him in the rubble, although not part of scripture, was moving.
  • Part 4-To me this was the best section so far.  Most people don't know the story of King Saul.  By and large, I thought this story was told well.  Saul was a man whose started out well, but his pride and his unwillingness to obey God's commands became his downfall.  I was pleasantly surprised  at how this was summarized in the movie.  Although the narrative was compressed, they authentically told of Saul's unwillingness to destroy the Amalekites and his subsequent removal as king.  In the David section, I loved the fact that they included little-known details, including the taking of Jerusalem through the water tunnels.  The story of David and Bathsheba was well done, including the scene in which Nathan confronts David and the resultant punishment for his behavior.
  • The cinematography is great! The sets largely have an authentic feel and the use of the Moroccan landscape works well.  They really did a first-class job in the special effects as well.
The Bad:

  • There were many troubling errors throughout the series.  I get that they had to compress the
    narrative in places.  I would give them that mulligan due to time constraints.  And I'm not too troubled by a certain amount of artistic license.  Even in previous Bible depictions, such as Cecil B. Demille's "The Ten Commandments", there are contrived scenes of what might have happened that don't violate the spirit of the text.  However, in some cases, "The Bible" series strays far from the original in important details.
  • Part 1-Though much of this section strayed from the Biblical narrative, the Sodom scene was the worst.  It seems to me that they tried to make this politically correct.  You would never know by watching this scene that Sodom became infamous because of rampant homosexuality.  The angels were shown cowering in Lot's house, then later coming out and zapping the townspeople with blindness.  In the movie, Lot is kind of heroic in sheltering the angels. In the Book, Lot doesn't show very many admirable characteristics.  He hesitates and equivocates and finally is drug out of Sodom by the angels.  Also, I never pictured these angels as Ninja warriors as it shows them in the movie.  That didn't exactly work!
  • Part 2-First of all, I was amazed that they completely left out the stories of Jacob and Joseph.  I understand that they were extremely limited on time, but even a passing reference would have connected the stories of Abraham and Moses.  Someone unfamiliar with the Biblical account would have no idea of how the children of Israel got to Egypt or even why they nation was called Israel!  Moving on, while the story of the plagues was done creatively, my biggest problem with this section came after Israel crossed the Red Sea.  One of the main themes of the Old Testament, which is also  referenced many times in the New Testament, is the failure of the Israelites in the desert to obey the voice of God.  Their wilderness test would foreshadow future tests that Israel would fail time and again.  All of this pointed to the need for a Savior who redeem them (and us) from sin and it's consequences.  In "The Bible" Series, the only section from the forty years of wandering in the wilderness was in the giving of the law.  Amazingly, they left out Israel's disobedience in making the Golden Calf at Sinai and their subsequent disobedience in refusing to enter Canaan at Kadesh-barnea.  The result of this would be that they were doomed to tour the Sinai desert for a generation.  These are not petty grievances.  This is really the central theme of the Old Testament.   I would hope that someone watching "The Bible" Series would search these things out, but it would have been so much better if they could have made these central themes plainer.
  • Part 3-The most egregious error to me in this section (and one that would be repeated in part 4) was that the Ark of the Covenant was just sitting out in the open in a tent.  God took pains in the scripture to ensure that the Holy Ark was only to be seen by the High Priest, and then only once a year.  It was never to be viewed by the everyday Jew.  The only time it was ever out in the open was when it was captured by the Phillistines. Later on in part 3, Samson is portrayed as a man who truly wants to do God's will but stumbles in the process.  This is actually very different from the Biblical Samson.  In the Bible, Samson is a man who has great talent and strength from God, but continually fails because his heart is set on himself, not on his Maker. 
  • Part 4-Although this section to me seemed the most authentic, the scene of the anointing of David was a real missed opportunity.  In the series, Samuel finds David in the meadow and anoints him there, to be king after Saul dies.  The real story is so much more compelling!  In the Bible, Samuel goes to the house of Jesse because God tells him that one of Jesse's sons is to be the new king.  Jesse puts his first seven sons in front of Samuel one-by-one, but the prophet refuses each one.  Finally, Jesse tells Samuel that he has one more son out in the field tending the sheep.  Obviously, Jesse never even considered that David could be the one Samuel would pick. But that's exactly what happens.  Samuel chooses the least son, and he becomes Israel's greatest king-that is, until David's Son, the King of Kings, would come.

Conclusion-Well, this was an ambitious project, and I'm glad they attempted it.  The fact that the ratings have been through the roof shows how that people today are truly spiritually hungry.  I think it also shows that folks intuitively know that the Bible has something to offer that they're missing in their day-to-day lives.  I would hope that this would spur a new-found interest in the Biblical account, which is times better than anything Hollywood has yet to come up with.  All-in-all, I'm looking forward to the rest of the series!

To read "My Take On "The Bible"-Parts 5 and 6", click here

Want to read more?  Here's links to some of my more popular posts:
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Reflections On 30 Years of Marriage-Part 1

Thursday, March 7, 2013

Kathy Nall RN

My wife Kathy just completed her nursing degree, and as of this week is now officially an RN!  I created this slideshow for her party in December that gives the story of her life-and our life-in pictures.   I'm thankful for her and her perseverance in achieving this goal!  I love you, Honey!

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