Sunday night, the History Channel debuted the first two episodes of a fictional miniseries called “The Bible.” While the show was entertaining, it was a classic “bait-and-switch” scam, but only if a viewer falsely assumed that a dramatization appearing on the History Channel would be historically or textually accurate.
To be sure, the series presented a marketing dilemma. Evangelicals, whose faith is based on the presupposition that the Bible is historically and factually accurate, are generally hostile to any teachings on the Bible that do not adhere to Evangelical doctrine. Meanwhile, a lot of unbelievers may have had an interest in a series about the Bible, but not if the facts would be overturned in favor of dogmatic claims not adequately grounded in evidence.
The show’s producers, Roma Downey and her husband Mark Burnett, worked around this dilemma by sending two different messages to the public. The mainstream media were fed vague and noble-sounding pablum about how tough a project this was. At the same time, Roma and Burnett reached out through Christian media to Evangelical churches, assuring them that the series would not offend their fundamentalist sensitivities.
The Christian marketing website says,“To help insure the accuracy of the miniseries many Christian scholars served as advisors and hundreds of Christian leaders have given their endorsement for the miniseries.” This would sound encouraging, except that the chosen arbiters of accuracy are all religious leaders whose definition of the truth is dogma-based rather than evidence-based.
Conservative Christian luminaries like pastor Rick Warren, Frank Wright of the ultra-conservative National Religious Broadcasters, Paul Ehselman of Campus Crusade for Christ and many others signed on to endorse the “accuracy” of this presentation of the Bible.
Non-doctrinaire students of the Bible may instead be disgusted by the show’s pandering. The show is designed to be inspiring to believers, but this can only be done by whitewashing the obvious conflicts within the text itself.The holy book’s two contradictory accounts of the creation are skipped over, for instance. Other early Old Testament mythology is also presented as fact.
By the second hour, it is clear the producers had abandoned any attempt at documentary accuracy. One of the most disturbing stories in the Bible is Jehovah’s command to Abraham that he put his own son to human sacrifice. At the last minute, Jehovah changes his mind, and a ram appears to serve as a replacement sacrifice. Not only does the History Channel mistakenly put a lamb in the story, it adds a lot of extraneous and misleading dialog.
Ramses declares himself a god in a battle with Moses that isn’t in the Bible. While it is true that the Pharaohs were considered gods, the narrative here plays more into the Christian myth that all non-Christians consciously or subconsciously wish to put themselves in Jehovah’s place as gods.
Nor is there an indication in the Bible that Moses ever believed he was Egyptian. The book of Exodus shows Moses killing an Egyptian who is beating an Israelite, seemingly with full knowledge of who his people are. He runs into the wilderness, not because he discovers he’s a Hebrew, but because he realizes people have found out about the murder. “The Bible” shows Moses mystified to discover he is a Hebrew, even though he apparently knows he has a Hebrew brother.
The deception inherent in the marketing of this series may have been piously motivated, but the result is the same. It has ended up deceiving viewers of all religious and nonreligious perspectives.