Mark Burnett and Roma Downey have made headlines numerous times over the past few months with their epic series “The Bible” on the History Channel. TheBlaze has covered the show in detail, most recently providing an look inside a fascinating Bible exhibit that accompanies it. Tonight, the five-part series comes to a close, appropriately concluding with Jesus’ death and resurrection.
While the series has been monumentally successful, some critics have pointed to historical inaccuracies they believe are present. Now, before critics of the show get too excited over these claims, there’s much to consider. The exclusions and changes, it appears, were intentional — and were employed mainly to assist in understanding of complex story lines and to help guide comprehension of the overall narrative.
Leading up to the show’s premiere, Burnett and Downey were clear that the five-part program invoked some creative licensing. But creative methods of telling the story and historical inaccuracy in the overall message are two very different animals.
Considering the massive difficulties inherent in telling the Bible’s many stories over a 10-hour period and also taking into account the need to make the show visually appealing, putting the project together was certainly a monumental task that required some tweaks throughout.
While the overarching themes are spot-on in terms of their accuracy, some have pointed out a few of the finer elements that may not be historically on-point. Writer Jonathan Merritt chose 10 of these alleged inconsistencies and highlighted them on his Religion News Service blog. Here are the just five of the issues he mentioned:
1) Noah’s Recap of the Creation Story: Anyone who knows the Bible (the book) well is aware that some of the first scenes in “The Bible” (television show) invoked the aforementioned creative licensing, particularly the scene featuring Noah recapping mankind’s creation.
Debate over when the creation story was written is nothing new, but it’s likely that Noah wouldn’t have known the details (thus, sharing them would have been an impossibility, according to many experts). Merritt writes about the scene:
Noah recounts the creation narrative as it appears in Genesis, but there’s one problem: the story was not written until later. Conservative Christian scholars believe this story was drafted by Moses many centuries after Noah’s flood; more liberal scholars claim it was penned even later.
2) The Lamb Shown During Abraham’s Sacrifice: Merritt also notes that the animal shown in the scene depicting Abraham’s sacrifice (you know, the scenario in which the Biblical character almost took his son Isaac’s life) isn’t quite accurate. In the Bible, the animal was a ram and not a lamb.
However, it’s possible Burnett and Downey were playing on the idiom and concept of a “sacrificial lamb,” a notion that could help people who are not as well-versed in the Bible better understand the scene. And Merritt also posits that it’s possible that the lamb was simply “more aesthetically pleasing.”
This story is found in Genesis 22:13 in the Bible. It reads, “Abraham looked up and there in a thicket he saw a ram caught by its horns. He went over and took the ram and sacrificed it as a burnt offering instead of his son.”
3) Angels in a Fight Scene: A third added element to the televised version of the Bible is when God sends angels to rescue Lott and his family in Sodom. While these spirit beings are shown valiantly defending their friends, Merritt notes that the Bible doesn’t talk about weapons or fighting.
The holy book’s version is obviously more benign and less exciting, but the television depiction has some added action elements. In the end, though, it doesn’t change the meaning or outcome of the story.
4) Saul’s “Bathroom” Scene: King Saul is seen urinating in a cave in one of “The Bible’s” episodes. As he is going to the bathroom, David sneaks up and cuts off a portion of his robe. Merritt claims that, in Hebrew, it was clear that the Bible (the book) said that Saul was defecating.
While showing the king urinating was essentially not true to the story, it’s obvious which act would be more understandable and palatable to viewers.
5) Jesus’ Birth: TheBlaze has told you before about how tradition and pop culture have transformed the story surrounding Jesus’ birth. In the end, misconceptions about what actually unfolded have come to fruition.
As we noted in December, we can’t be sure there were only three wise men who came to visit Jesus — and we have no idea how young Christ was when they finally arrived. In “The Bible” series, too, some of the misconceptions were reinforced (as per Merritt):
The television show riffs on the popular version with the pregnant Mary riding to Bethlehem on a donkey pulled by Joseph. The Bible never mentions a donkey, and it almost certain that they would have travelled there in a caravan with their family and friends in tow (Luke 2).
Watch the nativity scene below:
Here, too, it can again be explained that the show’s creators likely wanted to keep with tradition and assist those without extensive Bible knowledge in following along with the plot. By using familiar images based on Western pop culture and tradition, this process was likely more seamless.
In the end, these are all minor changes that take nothing away from the overarching meaning of the story.
Be sure to read Merritt’s full list of 10 inconsistencies, as presented on his RNS blog. While these amendments added some fascinating visual elements, they didn’t change the Bible’s stories and commandments. Endorsements from the nation’s most prominent faith leaders corroborates the notion that the series is theological sound.
As stated, both Burnett and Downey have addressed some of these elements in the past. They have also run their work past theologians and Bible experts to ensure that their telling of the story is accurate.
“There is no shortage of people who know the Bible – chapter and verse – better than we do,” Burnett explained about the project. “That’s why we worked from the beginning with scholars, theologians and pastors of varying denominational stripes.”
He also added, “With [expert] help and guidance and the expertise of our team of writers, we pray we have captured the heart of the biblical stories that move and inspire so many.”
Downey, too, noted that she and her husband hope that they captured “the essence and inspiration of the Scriptures” they love. The producers’ love for the Christian Bible and the stories within it has been obvious throughout their promotion of the series.
“This is a book thousands of pages long, written across centuries — and the more you study the stories, the more you realize the awe-inspiring, complex genius that went into weaving them all together,” Downey said. “Remember, this is the book that inspired the greatest writers and artists across all history – Rembrandt, Michelangelo, Raphael, Caravaggio, Shakespeare – the list is endless.”
Here’s a preview of tonight’s final episode (watch it at 8 p.m. ET on the History Channel):
Also, be sure to read about the real-life miracles that apparently took place on the set of “The Bible.”
(H/T: Jonathan Merritt)
Editor’s note — We’ll be discussing this story and all the day’s news during our live BlazeCast from 12pm-1pm ET…including your questions, comments & live chat:
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