The confrontation between Moses and Pharaoh set the tone for History Channel’s “The Bible” when Moses demands Pharaoh to let God’s people go. Pharaoh snaps back with derision, “You mean the invisible God who deserted his people?” He reminds Moses that he is god and makes the point, that the god Pharaoh has provided for his people and runs an Empire including Jewish slaves. The debate is the nature of God and as Moses is about to teach Pharaoh, God works in mysterious ways misunderstood by humans. For Pharaoh, it is about the here and now, about the acquisition of power but Moses’ God is much more and the one theme that Bible message repeats, it is God’s providing love and hope for humanity always hurting.
As a Hollywood production, the characters do not talk the exact words of the bible; there are missing stories and even within the stories that are portrayed; there are missing portions. The spirit is provided along with the action. As one critic noticed there are a few angels playing ninja along with Israelis but anyone familiar with the Bible knows that action, sex and violence are integral parts of the stories. Characters portrayed become human and that is what makes the stories and the miniseries effective. Abraham believed in God’s promise, whereas Sarah doubts how she could become pregnant since she is old. The story of Abraham shows the complexity of the characters and stories. For example, Sarah first entices Abraham to have a child with the servant Hagar and then later have Hagar and her son removed from the camp as she viewed Hagar’s son Ismael as a threat to Isaac’s inheritance. There are those moments in which biblical characters act so human such as Lot deserting Abraham despite the numerous times Abraham saved his life. Good deeds don’t always go rewarded.
The story of Samuel represent the turn of Israel from a confederation of tribes ruled by Judges to a King running a Kingdom. Samuel warns his fellow Israelites that a King will take their sons for war and their share of wealth for his own but Samuel was made aware that his own sons could not rule in his stead due to their corruption. Samuel views the turn to the monarchy to rejection of God and his rule. This represents a significant turn for the Israelites for they witness how other kingdoms ruled by Kings enjoy stability but the big fear for Samuel is that the King would seek to replace God as opposed to becoming a servant.
David himself is reminded of his own limitations of power as he orders Uriah to the front as he steals his wife. David’s son born as result would die as punishment and the prophet point to David, he is not God but like all of Israel, a mere servant of God. He also told that he would not build the temple to hold the Arc of covenant. There is a price to be paid for disobedience to God and one of those will be slavery to other Empires.
As the Old Testament moves into the birth of Jesus and the New Testament, we see what happens when Israelites move away from God and how God allows his people to return back to Jerusalem after years of exile. The conclusion of the Old Testament is the story of Daniel and how God uses the Persian King Darius in allowing the Jewish people to return back to Jerusalem. The Old Testament is the fulfillment of the promise that God made to Abraham, that he will be the father of a nation.
The second half of the Bible is the story of Jesus but in the background is the power of Rome and Roman subjugation of the Jewish people. Pontius Pilate is portrayed as a vicious Roman prefect, interested in keeping the Jewish people in their place and how the Jewish people desire a new King to drive the Romans out. Jesus’ conflict is educating his followers on the true nature of his mission while many of his Jewish followers view him as the Messiah who will bring a true military kingdom and Israel back to its status similar to the days of King David and Solomon. The mini-series underscores the Jewish people’s desire to be free of Roman rule and adds an interesting twist to Jewish leaders’ opposition to Jesus. For many of the Pharisees, Jesus is guilty of blasphemy but many others feared that Jesus’ rise could bring an equal reaction from Roman authorities. The Jewish leaders find themselves not sure of what Jesus mission truly is but know the Romans may interpret it as a potential rival to Roman rule. And the Romans were vicious with those who opposed Roman rule, so could Jesus bring upon a violent uprising that results in the death of thousands of Jews.
The famous Jesus quote “Render those things that belong to Caesar to Caesar and render those things that belong to God to God,” is one of the most subversive quotes of the Bible. A Pharisee attempts to trap Jesus but Jesus merely deflects the question by asking whose figure was on the coin. Jesus delivers a message that is damaging to both the Pharisee and the Roman authorities. By noting that there are things that belong to God, he is telling the Romans that there is an authority higher than Caesar. And his confrontation with Pilate when Pilate ask the question, “what is truth?” Jesus’ confrontation with Pilate represents Christians confrontation with the world then and now. Pilate views himself as having the ultimate authority of life and death over his subjects in Palestine but in reality, it is God who holds the ultimate power. Throughout the world today, Christians still remain the most persecuted faith in the world and often at odds with authority. In China or even in many Muslim worlds where jihadists are in power or coming to power; many Christians are feeling the full brunt of authority. Empires come and go but for Christians, the power of Christ is forever.
In the concluding episode, the mini-series takes us to the Crucifixion and the Resurrection before moving on to the period following the Crucifixion including the conversion of Paul. Paul is the final lesson of the mini-series where one of Jesus’ followers most ruthless pursuer becomes one of his most rabid followers. There are some interesting nuances in the story as Burnett and Downey actually include Mary Magdalene as part of Jesus entourage and the story inclusion of the political aspect throughout both the Old and New Testament adds realism to the story and puts it into context. They successfully combine the historical with the sacred.
#The Bible, #RomaDowney, #HistoryChannel.
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