The Bible Miniseries 2: Interpretation through Characters and Juxtapositions

Continuing with some thoughts and reflections on the "10 hour" miniseries on The Bible, I want to follow up my comments on the portrayal of angels with some comments on certain characters and the depictions of them.

The first I would like to mention is that of John the Baptist. John the Baptist is an extremely important figure in the Gospels. All four Gospels present John as the forerunner of Jesus the Messiah. He is the one who prepares the way, fulfilling prophecies from Malachi 3 and Isaiah 40. Although Luke says that John and Jesus are related, none of the other three Gospels indicate any special relationship between John and Jesus apart from John's baptism of Jesus.

"The Bible" portrays John as the sort of eccentric holy man or prophet that he most likely was. John the Baptist led a renewal movement for the forgiveness of sins out in the wilderness in the provocative location of Israel's entry into the promised land (Joshua 3). What I found compelling about "The Bible's" John the Baptist was that his proclaiming took place as he baptized. The portrayed his hair as unkempt and reciting almost verbatim the prophecies attributed to him in the Gospels as he dunked people under water. There was something about the depiction that made John more authentic, more passionate and concerned about his role as forerunner than the casual reader of the Gospels might sense. It's as if John knew he only had a small window to complete his mission. "The Bible's" portrayal of John includes his imprisonment including Herod Antipas entering into the dungeon and seeming curious about John. John is more forthright about Jesus being the Messiah in this interaction with Herod Antipas than the biblical text states, but John is depicted as proclaiming more of his message in prison, even as he is beheaded. The shocking martyr-like portrayal of John's death and his witness to the person of Jesus captures something of John that can be lost in the pages of the New Testament.

Another intriguing aspect of "The Bible" is the way that certain characters are woven into the narrative in a manner that foreshadows their later importance. This is often done by placing characters in the story where the biblical text does not mention them. For instance, as Moses returns to Egypt to confront Pharoah, he wanders through the brick making/slave labor camp full of Israelites, well, slaving away. Moses is struck by an Egyptian slave driver, and low and behold, Joshua, son of Nun, comes to Moses' aid and lifts him up. Joshua is then portrayed and an early leader helping Moses even in Egypt and at Mt. Sinai. This portrayal makes his command of the people as they defeat Jericho and enter the promised land less jarring and more of a smooth narrative.

A second instance of the raising of a character to prominence is the early appearance of Nicodemus, who actually only appears in the biblical text of the Gospel of John. Yet in "The Bible" he makes his appearance often as one of Jesus' main Pharisee interlocutors. Nicodemus is depicted as being in close relationship with the High Priest, even if he and the high priest do not always see eye to eye. This early antagonistic relationship between Jesus and Nicodemus makes his well-known visit to Jesus at night (John 3) all the more of a contrast, especially with the addition of Jesus' disciples' shock and clear disapproval of Nicodemus' arrival in their midst.

Other aspects of character portrayals in "The Bible" actually raise certain characters to prominence at the expense of other more biblically significant characters. Two instances of this character displacement include Uriah the Hittite and Luke the physician and evangelist. Uriah is portrayed as David's right hand man at the expense of Joab, David's actual right hand man. The reason for this exchange in the miniseries is obvious because of the way David's sin with Bathsheba and his murder of Uriah is emotionally greater since he is stabbing a close associate and friend in the back. In the NT, Barnabas, Silas, and Timothy are left out of the Paul/Acts narratives of "The Bible," and Luke the physician and evangelist is presented as Paul's companion and amanuensis. Luke clearly is a write, but those who in the biblical text have a closer working relationship with Paul are missing. Fewer characters make it "easier" for the TV viewer to keep track of everyone, and these changes to the biblical texts can heighten tensions and conflicts. Some of this is beneficial for drama of it all, but the actual contents of the text of the Bible are, in certain instances, unfortunately bypassed.


Part three on the weakest moments of "The Bible" here.

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