Episode 5 "Survival"
Part 3 of the miniseries on The Bible contains the fifth and final hour devoted to the Old Testament and also the first hour of dealing with the New. The previous hour had ended with David’s life, with only an honorable mention made of Solomon. His glorious reign is not mentioned; neither is the division of the kingdom after his death. Nothing is said of Rehoboam and Jeroboam, nor his putting the two golden calves in Dan and Bethel. The northern kingdom is never heard of again. The series is silent about Ahab and Jezebel, the time period of Elijah and Elisha. None of the southern kings are noticed, either (Asa, Jehoshaphat, Hezekiah, Manasseh, Josiah). Any reference to the Assyrian Captivity is absent. The viewer is instead taken to just prior to the Babylonian Captivity and King Zedekiah, who is described as the 21st king of Israel.
Zedekiah was, in fact, the 19th king over the southern kingdom, following three kings of the united kingdom (Saul, David, and Solomon), which obviously would make him the 22nd king—unless they did not count Saul since he was of Benjamin rather than Judah, but if so, they are the only ones we know who count the kings in that manner. No reference work calls Zedekiah the 21st king.
Jeremiah and Zedekiah do speak to each other, but the conversation they had alone is not shown. Jeremiah tells the king to surrender or die, and he is beat up. The producers did get one part correct—Zedekiah and his sons do escape through a secret passage and are caught. His sons are killed before his eyes, and then his eyes are put out. Daniel and his three friends are taken alive, but Jeremiah is said to escape. In actuality, Jeremiah was set free by the conquering Babylonians and was given the choice to do whatever he wanted. He chose to stay with a remnant of Israel, who decided, against the counsel of God, to go into Egypt. None of those things, however, were referenced; instead the focus of attention now becomes Babylon.
When Daniel interprets Nebuchadnezzar’s dream, he only mentions Babylon and the kingdom of God. Nothing is said of Medo-Persia, Greece, or Rome. When Hananiah, Mishael, and Azariah (whose Babylonian names are Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego) told Daniel they could not bow down to the king’s golden idol, he tried to talk them out of it, saying, “Don’t do this; he’ll kill you.” Really? One does not expect this behavior from one of the most faithful men of God who ever lived. The reason he is not required to bow down is that he is considered part of the king’s party (thus exempt from the command). The image stands above them, and apparently the fiery furnace is below this observation deck. Daniel does, however, try to talk the king out of punishing them, claiming, “They will serve you faithfully, all their lives, as I will, but they will only worship God.”
This fiery furnace bore no resemblance to the one described in the Scriptures. Rather than being thrown into a furnace seven times hotter than normal from above, they are made to walk into it; then the fire is lit. God appears in the furnace, and the three lads come to no harm. King Nebuchadnezzar cannot believe it. He puts his hand forth toward the fire and brings it back burned. While this serves to show that the fire is real and that it was a miracle that the young men were not consumed in flames, it is not the way the event occurred. Afterward, the people of Judah are told to arise. All other captives apparently had no objection to worshiping the image.
In the Scriptures, Nebuchadnezzar becomes a wild beast that forages in the fields, but in this version he is imprisoned in chains and seems to die as a raving madman. Daniel laments that he is unable to help the Jews and says they will need to rely on the next king. Actually, King Nebuchadnezzar’s sanity was restored. Cyrus and Daniel Cyrus is let into the city of Babylon without a fight. It is stated that the Babylonians knew they didn’t stand a chance. Had those producing this miniseries read Daniel 5, they would have known that the kingdom of Babylon fell the night that Daniel interpreted the writing on the wall for Belshazzar, who did not welcome a new king to take charge from him, but rather he was slain (Dan. 5: 30). The king that conquered Babylon (and he did so by diverting the water that flowed into the city so his soldiers could enter surreptitiously) was Darius the Mede. It is in the reign of Darius that Daniel is thrown into the lion’s den; Cyrus is only mentioned at the close of Daniel 6 (v. 28). Trying to persuade Cyrus that he should let Israel return to their land, Daniel says, “There’s a prophet here in Babylon—Isaiah…” and then he points to the prophecy of Isaiah (44:28 or 45:1) saying that Cyrus will let them go. The only problem is that Isaiah had died 100 years earlier, having preached from about 740-700 B.C. (This event occurs about 536 B.C.)
When Daniel is taken to the den of lions, it is by his enemies; no king comes to wish him well, but he does show up the next morning. Only two lions were visible, for some reason, we always envisioned more than two. This segment ends with Cyrus granting leave to Israel to return to their land. But nothing is mentioned of Ezra, Nehemiah, or Esther, the rebuilding of the temple, or the rebuilding of the walls of Jerusalem. As the Jews leave the city, Daniel speaks some sort of prophecy which ties together certain elements that have no connection to one another. The Old Testament five hours now comes to an end, and now the viewer will see how they handle the New Testament.
Episode 6 "Hope"
Rome and Herod
As the New Testament era begins, the narrator comments that Israel suffered under the Romans like never before. Hmm. Does that include when they lived a life made bitter with hard bondage under Egypt? Was the government of Rome worse than being conquered by Babylon, in which thousands were killed and others were taken captive? Of this sorrowful event Jeremiah wrote his Lamentations. Was it worse than life under Antiochus Epiphanes, who offered a sow on the altar in Jerusalem, thus causing rebellion to erupt? To be sure, Rome was despised and hated, and probably at times their ruthlessness rivaled some of these other occasions, but it would be a stretch to say that it was worse.
Although the Bible does not mention it, Herod the Great allegedly put an eagle (the symbol of Rome) above the Jewish temple, which caused great offense. Some men are killed while trying to remove it. Herod seems like another contender for Monday Night Raw on the USA network. He is totally self-absorbed, which likely is an accurate portrayal. He seldom speaks without bellowing.
Mary is greeted by an angel in the midst of a skirmish between Jewish zealots and Rome. Their conversation is not lengthy. Soon she begins showing, and Joseph spurns her. She asks him to believe her and to trust her—that she had not been with a man. He rejects her pleas, saying, “Mary, God doesn’t do this to people like us.” Interesting. However, after an angel speaks to him, he defends her and rescues her from a crowd that was on the verge of stoning her. Nothing is reported concerning her visit to see Elizabeth, who was about to give birth to John the Baptizer.
Herod only consults the priests after the wise men leave. Predictably, the wise men come to Mary and Joseph in the stable on the night Jesus was born rather than when they were living in a house some time later (Matt. 2:11). Instead of being warned by an angel to leave Bethlehem for Egypt, Joseph sees a vision of Rome coming, and they leave. The narrator says, “And one child escapes.” Technically, that is true, but it was due to God’s intervention. The soldiers do come and kill the remaining children.
One final event occurs with Herod. He has his oldest son brought in, and he is put to death before the wicked king himself dies. The Jews stage a rebellion, sensing an opportune moment, but it fails, and about 2,000 are crucified in Galilee. This event concludes this section of history.
The Baptism of Jesus
One of the more well done events of the miniseries arrives at this point. John is preaching and immersing people. We can almost forgive a dozen inaccuracies for getting this important fact right! The reason that we rejoice in this accurate portrayal is that some have made movies with John waist-deep in the Jordan River, with people wading out to him while he preaches—and then he pours water over their heads! Apparently, no one is supposed to ask, “Why would John be out in the middle of the river if he only needed to pour a little water on someone? How preposterous is that!
But in The Bible John is doing it correctly. When he sees Jesus, he says that he had need to be baptized of the Lord. However, instead of Jesus saying, “Allow it to be so to fulfill all righteousness, He says, “What you are doing is right,” which must be another one of those lackluster dynamic equivalences. Also, John only says that Jesus will baptize with fire, omitting the part about “with the Holy Spirit.” After Jesus’ baptism, a picture of clouds rolling along overhead is shown, but there is no voice, which says, “This is My beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased”—and no Holy Spirit descending as a dove.
The Temptations in the Wilderness
Jesus is walking through the wilderness after His 40 days without food, and he falls to the ground from weakness. While he is lying there, a serpent slithers over His body. He sits up and turns around to see a hooded figure approaching Him. Satan, who has long black nails, picks up a rock and throws it to Jesus. He catches it, but it has become bread. Challenged by Satan to turn the stone into bread, Jesus answers that man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceeds from the mouth of God. Unfortunately, for the second temptation, Satan only asks Jesus to throw Himself off a cliff instead of the pinnacle of the temple. His answer varies from the Scriptures here in that He says, “How dare you put God to the test?”
But the third temptation is done most cleverly. As Satan is offering Jesus all the kingdoms of the world, He experiences alternate visions. He is seated upon a throne of splendor, and Pilate places a crown upon His head; this vision is countered by one in which the crown of thorns is placed upon His head. Pilate pours water on his ankle and foot, kissing Him there, but he also sees the nails being driven into His body, with Pilate saying “Crucify Him!” Jesus answers Satan, “I worship the Lord My God and serve Him only.” The serpent slithers off.
This scene became the most controversial of the entire series because the appearance of Satan was a cross between the Sith Lord of Star Wars and Barack Obama. Many believe this resemblance was intentional, since the actor portraying Satan is white. Others, however, point out that Roma Downey and Mark Burnett are supporters of Obama. So, it remains a mystery how this likeness occurred. Maybe, it is just that the devil is in the details.
The sixth hour of the series ends with the death of John the Baptizer intertwined with the calling of Peter to be His disciple. Jesus walks out to Peter’s boat and asks for a hand to get inside, which Peter gives Him. Then he asks, “What do you think you’re doing?” Jesus smiles and replies, “We’re going fishing.” Peter has protested that there are no fish out there, but they haul in two nets full. Andrew, James, and John are not around. Jesus offers to make him a fisher of men. “What are we going to do?” Peter asks. “Change the world,” the Lord replies. Jesus never said those words, but He did in fact change the world.
Meanwhile, Herod Antipas is visiting John the Immerser in prison. Herod says, “What am I going to do with you and your dangerous mouth?” The viewer has no comprehension of the reason John is in prison. Nothing is portrayed of John telling him that it was not lawful for him to have his brother Philip’s wife. John answers that Herod should listen. Herod asks: “To a seditious fool? I don’t think so.” John answers that he should listen to God’s message. As per the miniseries, John’s only crime was mentioning the coming King. Just before Herod has him killed, John says, “He is already here.” Nothing is said about Herodias and her daughter’s part in his death—or the fact that this was all due to his preaching on the subject of marriage and divorce.
Gary W. Summers
*altered format from original publishing to correspond to aired episodes