"The object of all good literature is to purge the soul of its petty troubles." ~ P.G. Wodehouse

Thursday, July 11, 2013

The Bible Miniseries: Angels

Not long ago now, I watched the "10 hour" miniseries on The Bible. Thankfully I didn't have to sit through the almost three hours of commercials to do so. And once you figure in all of the repetitive "previously on 'The Bible'" bits, it may only be 6+ hours.

Regardless of its length, The Bible was an ambitious project that was well received, and it will probably continue to be well received. However, any project of this size and breadth will have its positive and negative aspects. Thankfully, the miniseries was more positive than negative. They made some interesting choices on what to film, and stories were woven together in thought provoking ways that brought about fresh interpretation. Yet there were other instances where the scene or script fell flat in dramatically disappointing ways.

One aspect that I was most impressed with was the portrayal of the angels. I have done some research on angels in Second Temple Judaism, and the portrayal of angels in Jewish literature of that time period is definitely not glowing white, ethereal beings. The Bible miniseries captured the powerful, warrior aspects of these messengers of God. The Sodom and Gomorrah scenes may have been a bit too much "ninja warrior," but the rugged, Ranger from the North figures proclaiming sometimes cryptic, revelatory messages struck the right tone. The nod toward the angelic wings with the dull metallic rings was another nice touch, although it seemed odd that almost every angel had to remove his hood in a sort-of-Obi Wan/Gandalf the Grey manner before they spoke.

In two instances, the miniseries implicitly portrays an angel as Jesus. Of the three angels who visit Abraham (Gen 18), the face of one of the angels who remains with Abraham and speaks with him is never clearly shown. The viewer who has paid attention to the foreshadowing clips and promotional hype notices that the figure has the same voice as Jesus. This "angel" is also the angel who stops Abraham from sacrificing Isaac, although from a distance and not physically "staying his hand."

The understanding that Jesus appears in the Old Testament as the angel of the Lord has a long pedigree and is held by quite a few people. Part of the reason for this is the fact that in the Bible and extant Jewish literature it is not always clear whether the Lord or the angel of the Lord is speaking to the human recipients of the revelation. If the angel of the Lord is speaking to them and they call him "Lord," it would seem that the speakers (Moses at the burning bush, Samson's parents, etc.) are speaking with a divine being that is not an angel. Thus, the angel must be Jesus, the second person of the Trinity. I do not discount the possibility that the angel of the Lord could be Jesus, but I do not think it is the most likely possibility. "Angel" means messenger, and revealing messages is the primary function of angels. The angel of the Lord is therefore the messenger of the Lord. If Abraham, Moses, or others speak to the messenger of the Lord, they are actually speaking to the Lord through the angel. It is not necessary that the angel be a divine being that is part of the Godhead. (All of this terminology reads much later Christian reflection and theology into the OT anyway.) When they appear, the angels make communication between humans and God possible. To speak to the angel is to speak to the Lord which is why I think that it less likely that Abraham spoke with Jesus in Genesis 18 as portrayed in "The Bible."

There are more comments I would like to make about "The Bible," but I will save those for another time.
[Two other comments can be read here and here.]