Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Is the History Channel's "The Bible" Series Inaccurate?

NOTE: There are likely many other purported inaccuracies that might be cited. In the following space, I am simply responding to one particular (theoretically comprehensive) list to which I was provided a link. Thank you in advance for keeping any comments like "Well, but you left out the one where..."  to yourself. I am aware that I probably didn't cover everything. What is more, I am only addressing the purported explicit contradictions to Scripture. That does not include things being left out, skimmed over, or embellished. Those are the sort of things we ought to expect in any movie adaptation of a book. Thanks!

In response to: “Ten Inaccuracies in the Bible Miniseries” by Johnathan Merritt

Purported inaccuracies
IA = Inaccuracy R = Response V = Verdict

1.       IA: The miniseries begins with Noah telling the story of creation and the Fall. That is inaccurate because Moses, not Noah wrote the book of Genesis.

R: Do we really believe that no one until Moses knew the story of creation and the Fall? There was almost assuredly an oral tradition passed down through the generations. Moses wrote to solidify the tradition and remind the people of their heritage. Remember, they had been enslaved for 400 years in a pagan land and heard all sorts of other stories about creation, gods and humanity. Certainly, Noah would have known and shared with his family why God was judging the earth. That is all the miniseries assumed for dramatic effect – and with good reason. 

V: Does not explicitly contradict Scripture

2.       IA: The Angels display martial arts fighting techniques. That is inaccurate because the Bible does not say they fought, and especially doesn’t say that they fought like Jet-Li.

R:  The Bible does speak of angels fighting. Are we 100% certain that they could not use martial arts like moves? Where in the Bible does it tell us that?  Is it reasonable to think that they might have been fighting in Sodom and Gommorah? It is at least possible since they sought refuge at Lot’s house. The miniseries does include the blinding of the men, but works on the assumption that might not have been the end of the struggle to escape. Is that a reasonable assumption? Only in the movies do people get punched one time or lose their eyesight and then simply fall down, never to fight again. In real life, we know that a mob could still put up a fight, even with their eyesight gone. Furthermore, the men who were blinded do not represent all of the people in the cities of Sodom and Gommorah. Could there have been an armed struggle? Sure. Could they have used supernatural fighting moves? Sure.

V: Does not explicitly contradict Scripture

3.       IA: After God stops Abraham from sacrificing his son, the animal that is caught in the thicket is a lamb. That is inaccurate because the Bible says it was a ram.

R:  What was the sacrifice supposed to represent? The answer is Christ. God does not allow Abraham to sacrifice his only son, but provides another sacrifice. This foreshadows when God would actually go through with the sacrifice of His own son – the ultimate and final sacrifice. What saves the people from the angel of death in Exodus – the blood of a lamb. What is Jesus called by John the Baptist on two occasions? Answer – The lamb of God. What is Jesus portrayed as in the book of Revelation – the lamb who was slain.  Granted, the Bible does say it was a ram. But it seems like the miniseries wanted to make sure people understood the symbolism and foreshadowing. Even with most people’s ignorance of ancient Jewish symbolism, most people have heard about Jesus called the lamb of God. It seems fair to assume that the producers of the miniseries wanted to make sure that no one missed the significance of the foreshadowing.

V: Technically contradicts the letter of Scripture but remains true to (and accentuates) the message of Scripture as a whole.

4.       IA: When David sneaks up on Saul in the cave, Saul was urinating.  This is inaccurate because the Hebrew word used for “relieved himself” clearly connotes defecation.

R: This has got to be the silliest one of the whole bunch. Saul was relieving himself. Does it really take away from the truth of the Bible that he is portrayed as going #1 instead of #2?

V: Does not contradict English translations of the Scripture. May contradict the letter of the original Hebrew Scripture but has absolutely no affect on the truth of the story in question or Scripture as a whole.

5.       IA: Jeremiah escapes from Jerusalem unscathed. Daniel and his friends are captured during the siege of Jerusalem. The first is inaccurate because the Bible clearly says that Jeremiah was captured and later released. The second is inaccurate because Daniel and his friends were not deported until a decade after the siege of Jerusalem.

R: The miniseries shows Jeremiah riding away from the ruined Jersualem on a donkey. Then the narrator says that he escaped alive. So what is the problem? Are we assuming that nothing happened in between the scene where the city was being destroyed and when he was overlooking the ruined city? Is that how movies work – perfectly linear with no time gaps or fast forwarding? Of course not. As for Daniel and friends, the exact time of their capture may be somewhat misleading, but it makes it clear that they were taking into Babylonian captivity. What should they have done instead? Cut away for a second and add the subtitle “10 years later” and then proceed with a scene of them being captured and taken away? That just seems superfluous. They were taken into Babylonian captivity.

V: Does contradict the exact time frame described in Scripture, but does not in any way compromise the story or compromise the message of Scripture as a whole.

6.       IA: Daniel is thrown into the lion’s den by Cyrus King of Persia. This is inaccurate because the Bible says that Darius was reigning at the time.

R: What we have in Daniel is a bit of a historical mystery at present. We know that Cyrus was already King of Persia when “Darius the Mede” or, the King of the Medes, comes on the scene. To date, there are no historical records of Darius the Mede that have been discovered. Some Bible scholars argue that Darius the Mede was simply a title that Cyrus himself adopted. In that case, Daniel 6:28 would be translated – “So Daniel prospered during the reign of Darius, that is, the reign of Cyrus.” Other scholars believe that Darius was one of Cyrus’ generals. In any case, the miniseries seem to be working with what we can know for certain from the biblical text. That is, Cyrus was King when the Babylonians were overthrown in 539 BC. What is more, Cyrus was God’s instrument for ending the Jewish exile. The miniseries makes these points explicitly clear.

V: Does not explicitly contradict Scripture

7.       IA: Mary rides a donkey from Nazareth to Bethlehem with only Joseph for company. That is inaccurate because the Bible never mentions a donkey and it could be assumed that their families traveled with them.

R: Really? The Bible doesn’t say there was a donkey, so there must not have been a donkey? That is really reaching for a contradiction. The Bible also does not say that they traveled in a caravan with their families. So why should we overthrow the image of Joseph and Mary traveling alone for an assumption that is also not in the Bible?

V: Does not explicitly contradict Scripture

8.       IA: The “Wise Men” arrive just after the birth of Jesus at the same time as the shepherds. This is inaccurate because it seems from a particular reading of Matthew 2 that they did not visit until Jesus was a little bit older – a “child” rather than an “infant”.

R:  Fair enough. But this really should not fall into the category of “contradictions in the Bible miniseries” as much as “contradictions in the portrayal of the Christmas story throughout history”.

V: Seems like a contradiction based on a particular reading of Matt 2.  If so, this has been a common error made throughout Christian history in portraying the Nativity. In any case, it does not take away from the story or compromise the message of Scripture as a whole.

9.       IA:  John the Baptist is executed because his preaching is causing trouble for Herod Antipas. This is inaccurate because in the Bible, Herod does not have a problem with John’s preaching. He only arrests John for speaking out against his marriage. Even then, he is not executed. It is only at the request of Herod’s wife and step-daughter that John is eventually decapitated.

R: Granted, the miniseries takes the quick route to John’s execution and leaves out a great deal of the details. Even so, this is what we are used to seeing in movie adaptations of books. We do not get everything in real time or with every detail filled in. The miniseries implies but does not explicitly say that John was arrested and decapitated ONLY for his preaching. It does not rule out other possible reasons.

V: Does not explicitly contradict, but may implicitly contradict Scripture

10.   IA: Satan takes Jesus to the top of a cliff and tempts him to jump. This is inaccurate because in the Bible, Satan takes Jesus to the top of the Temple.

R:  Agreed. That is inaccurate.

V: Does contradict the letter of Scripture. However, it does not take away from the story or compromise the message of Scripture as a whole.

No comments:

Post a Comment