‘Bible’ series bungles

‘Bible’ series bungles

March 25
21:34 2013

I haven’t been watching much of the History Channel’s new show “The Bible.”

Personally, I’ve had enough of the strange solution created by mixing religion and pop culture. Seeing the series’ widespread criticism it seems I was right to turn away, but what I can’t understand is why anyone thought “The Bible” would be anything different.

The common complaints have many specific contexts, but they fall into three general categories.

1.) It’s racist—everybody is white.

Common knowlege dictates that because the Bible takes place in the Middle East, everybody should be black and Arab. That’s the skin color in that part of the world. Whites didn’t really get there until Rome came in the first century B.C., but in “The Bible” everybody is white.

To lampshade and exacerbate the insult, Lonyo Engele and Liang Yang, the primary minority cast members who are black and Asian respectively, were cast as angels, making them not actually human. There is one major human black character in Samson, played by Nonso Azonie, but they gave him a hunger for white women such that racially tenuous themes spring up around him as well.

Color me shocked. Nearly every painting ever made of Jesus of Nazareth features him in full Caucasian mode. Before “The Bible,” his most famous on-screen portrayals included the pasty Jim Caviezel and Christian Bale.

Paintings and popular portrayals of all other biblical figures follow similarly. Everyone knows biblical characters were Arab, but Western culture decided to ignore that a long time ago.

It’s art imitating life—the Bible says God made us in his image, and Western artists have remade him in theirs. This goes back thousands of years. Why expect anything else now?

2.) It’s sexist—many of the Old Testament’s strong women have vanished.

Moses’ wife, Zipporah, who saved her husband’s life with a circumcision before he freed the Israelites, is completely absent despite prominent roles in “The Ten Commandments,” which producers Roma Downey and Mark Burnett say inspired the series and the more recent movie “Prince of Egypt.” I can’t find anything on Esther, one of the few New Testament figures who worked to prevent mass death instead of causing it.

But Bathsheba, who is primarily known for her role in King David’s fall from grace, features in two episodes.

Delilah, who betrayed Samson, is there. Really, the only positive female figure is the Virgin Mary and she kind of has to be in it because of Jesus.

But does that surprise anyone? The Bible is a modern source for the subjugation of women, from the stoning of adulterers in the Middle East to the insistance that the husband be the head of the household in some American families.

Zipporah and Esther are less celebrated than their male peers in modern culture already, did anyone think “The Bible” would try and change that?

3.) It’s historically inaccurate—the genocides are all muted.

“My God has a historical tendency to order the murder of women and children and you should join me in worshipping him,” said the worst missionary ever.

God’s crimes against humanity aren’t good selling points, and most interpretations of Christian history soften them up. Going back to something as classic as “Veggie Tales,” these parts of The Bible are typically glossed over in pop media.

Again, why would anyone think “The Bible” would be any different?

The truth is, this series isn’t very accurate to the Christian holy book, and was never meant to be. Producers have even announced a book based on the series, because it doesn’t step on the real Bible’s toes.

But the series is quite accurate to how that holy book is typically cut up and fed to the masses. And if Christians want to get it to the masses, they really need to—the shortest versions are more than 1,000 wafer-thin pages.

But if you really want to understand it, that’s what you have to do. Read it. It may not be the source of all knowledge, but it is the most influential work in human history. We shouldn’t expect anything more from pop culture, but we should strive to understand it ourselves.

So don’t watch “The Bible,” or any other cliff note version of a holy book intended to satisfy a broad audience. If you’re curious about a holy text, try actually reading it.

Joshua Knopp is a pre-journalism sophomore. He can be reached at hillbutton@gmail.com.

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