Everybody’s buzzing ’bout The Bible (As Seen on TV)

THE BIBLE—As Seen on TV. Those six words capture what faith-and-film writer Edward McNulty describes as a “spectacular new series”—great for individual viewing and small-group discussion—if we watch with a bit of skepticism.

UPDATE FOR MONDAY APRIL 1, 2013: Don’t miss McNulty’s fourth column on The Bible series—just in time to catch the fourth part of the series on the Lifetime network tonight. Today, McNulty writes: “I can say that this series has really hit its stride.”

The Final Week: The New Testament portions are “far superior” to earlier episodes.

For Week 4: Highlights of the TV epic now focusing on the life of Jesus.
For Week 3:
Here is McNulty’s analysis of Week 3 in the History Channel epic.
For Week 2:
Here is McNulty’s analysis of Week 2 in the series.
For Part 1:
Continue reading—this article (below) is McNulty’s series overview and look at Part 1.

McNulty and ReadTheSpirit are not alone in reporting on this phenomenon. The Bible is truly—”show biz.” Executive Producer Mark Burnett is the man behind Survivor, The Voice and Celebrity Apprentice. Best-selling pastor Rick Warren is publicly promoting the series. The New York Times’ Neil Genzlinger, like McNulty, gives the series a mixed review. More important than Genzlinger’s text was the buzz behind it: The Times splashed full-color coverage across the front page of its Arts section.

Here is Edward McNulty’s original overview and invitation to our readers …

‘The Bible’ As Seen on TV:
Spectacle, Skepticism and
A Great Opportunity for Congregations

By Edward McNulty

PHOTOS FROM ‘THE BIBLE’: Top shows Jesus walking on water from an unusual perspective. Here is Moses during the Exodus period of the story. Below is Samson and his mother. Photos by Joe Alblas, released for public use with the series.AN AMBITIOUS and spectacular new series, The Bible, begins on the History Channel this Sunday, March 3. The 10-hour series covers highlights of the Old and New Testaments, beginning with stories from Genesis (Abraham is prominent here), the saga of King David, the life, death and resurrection of Jesus, and the beginning of the work of the apostle Paul’s ministry.

My review today is based on seeing portions, but not all, of the series. My advice to viewers is this: There is much to admire—but you will want to take some parts of this drama with a grain of salt.

Today, I invite you to bookmark this article and come back periodically to add your comments. I’d like to know what you think and I’m sure many other readers will welcome your thoughts. I will update my own thoughts and questions as we go through the series. This is a great time to invite friends to view with you.

SUNDAYS on HISTORY: Each episode debuts in prime time on Sunday nights, but “History” repeats itself, so this series is easy to watch or record.
MONDAYS on LIFETIME: Both the History Channel and Lifetime are owned by A&E Networks—so each episode also will air Monday nights in prime time on Lifetime.
DVD SET: The Bible series has not yet been released on DVD, but is available for pre-order.


SACRIFICE OF ABRAHAM: This sequence is very well done and brings out the drama of the father’s agony over carrying out what he perceives to be the will of God—as well as the boy’s puzzlement and fear over what his father is doing. Added to this is the cutaway to mother Sarah, becoming aware of her husband’s intention and rushing frantically up the mountain to stop the terrible proceedings. Viewers are likely to gain a deeper appreciation of the humanity of the biblical characters.

This portion of the series is a great discussion-starter with friends: What do you think about this epic story that is a sacred junction point in Jewish, Christian and Muslim traditions? What does your particular tradition say about Abraham? (Versions of this story can be quite different, even within a single faith.) Today, tell us what you think in a comment, below.

THE SAGA OF MOSES: The other major story in the first week’s two-hour presentation is that of Moses. I appreciate the special effects in this sequence, although some viewers may wonder why the voice from the bush doesn’t tell Moses to take off his shoes. That’s what I mean about skepticism. This is a made-for-TV version of the Bible, not the Bible itself. I also like the flashback sequences we see from Egypt, where the young Moses kills a man.

Like Abraham, Moses is a patriarch spanning all three Abrahamic faiths. If you have a chance to discuss this series with a diverse circle of friends, Moses is another good choice for starting the conversation. You may be surprised by the perspectives you will hear on this figure you thought you knew so well.

WEEK 2—SAMSON and DAVID & GOLIATH: Adventure lovers will appreciate the stories of Samson and David and Goliath. Especially intriguing is the choice of black actors in portraying Sampson and his mother. Once again, remember my advice: Enjoy the series but take some details with a grain of salt. For example, on his way to meet the huge Philistine champion, David recites Psalm 23. Not historically accurate—but certainly a nice dramatic touch.

WEEKS 3, 4 and 5—LIFE OF JESUS: This History Channel series lines up nicely with the current Western and the later Eastern Lenten seasons this year. The stories of Jesus coincide with the conclusion of Western Lent. Eastern Christians will have just started their Great Lent. So, from East to West, this series becomes a welcome opportunity for congregations.

While some characters, such as Samson, are cast in innovative ways for this production—the actor playing Jesus is the usual Euro-American actor. Obviously, Jesus was Jewish and of Middle Eastern descent. The actor playing Jesus this time is Diogo Morgado, born in Portugal and currently a very popular TV star across Spain, Portugal and Brazil. Nevertheless, Morgado gives us a dramatically satisfying portrayal of a strong leader. One interesting touch in the Jesus episodes is the inclusion of Mary Magdalene with Jesus’s followers in the boat during the walking-on-water scene. That is historically justifiable, since women were a close part of Jesus’s inner circle, and it may please many TV viewers to see her in such a prominent role.


The series website is packed with helpful features. Look for the Questions to Reflect Upon and other materials. Clearly, producers Mark Burnett and his wife Roma Downey are hoping millions of us will discuss these stories. It is good to see the History Channel getting back to its original purpose—the entertaining presentation of history.

Where to find more from Edward McNulty …

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