From Text to Screen: Reception of “The Bible” Series

Written by Austin Schumacher; Media by Michael Trieb.

One of the most-hyped programs to air on television in the last few years, The Bible series on the History channel has once again brought the study of Judeo-Christianity into the limelight.  As some have said, “Not since Mel Gibson’s The Passion of the Christ has a production concerning religious content received such a positive reception from the curious public.”  Indeed, that particular film was certainly a heavy-hitter when it comes to placing Jesus’s death into the entertainment spotlight and persists even today to be one of the better films of the era, not just for Christians who appreciate the content, but also from a movie-maker’s perspective.  Here was finally one time when the crucifixion was displayed in all its bloody, gory glory.  The Bible also seems to have pushed some of those boundaries when it comes to television violence, especially when one considers how much the Bible emphasizes peace as opposed to violence.

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One of the concerns surrounding this show is the pace.  Obviously, there is so much content to cover that a mere 5-episode series seems to be a very daring undertaking.  Those responsible for writing and producing have been forced to pick apart the text to try to find those points that are most effective in sharing this incredible narrative.  How well they did is up to personal views and theories.  In fact, feel free to comment on here what you think about what they covered… and what they didn’t.

Jesus and his disciples
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Still, this particular issue is not the only problem that the crew of The Bible has faced.  Within these tales lie many opportunities for violence as the wars and battles of Israel, not to mention the crucifixion of Jesus, lie within its pages.  I myself have heard many people express some concern about how much of that is getting shown on the screen.  Now, whether it’s necessary or not is a point of contention among even many of the Christians I have talked to about the series.  While some people may consider that a rather non-issue, there does remain the whole ordeal concerning the casting of Satan in the series.  Accused of choosing an actor that looks like our current President, Barak Obama, were the producers trying to say something?  They, of course, deny any connection, and it has been shown that the actor they chose was at least one with considerable experience, and may have simply fit the part.  The executive producers, Mark Burnett and Roma Downey, stated that the accusation is “Utter nonsense” and explained the situation this way.

“The actor who played Satan . . . is a highly acclaimed Moroccan actor. He has previously played parts in several Biblical epics — including Satanic characters — long before Barack Obama was elected as our President.”

Satan and President Obama
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However, how did the show hold up artistically?  Here again, we have some disagreement among reviewers.  Some people hold it as an extremely well-presented piece even moving some people to tears with its finale, and the ratings that it achieved seem to show that it was at least well-received by the public.  Other critics, however, argue that it is “Worse than Reality Television.”  Other commentators have mused that “Faith-based programming is entirely absent from network television, and movies that don’t treat religious people as hypocrites or human punch lines seem to rarely make their way into the local cinema.”  The Bible, however, does seem to break the barriers of this critique and, indeed, does have many wondering whether it might not open the door to more religious programming on television.  So, in the end, was The Bible simply an educational bit on the history of a profoundly influential story, or is it the beginning of a new genre of religious shows on the big screen?


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