Is the entire Bible too epic for one miniseries?

Last night, the History Channel premiered a new series entitled “The Bible” which is a five part series which will be airing on Sunday nights until Easter. The series covers the Biblical narrative.

Regardless of a person’s religious sensibilities, the Bible is the most influential book in the history of humanity. Its impacts on ethics, culture, literature, art, and a host of other areas of life cannot be overstated. For that reason, to be a well rounded person, I think its positive to be more familiar with that book. And I wouldn’t discourage anyone from watching.

That being said, I do feel that there are a number of significant detractions from this series. Let me try to illustrate this point. What are some of the great, epic “Christian” movies of all time?

The Ten Commandments, covers the Exodus of the Israelites and lasts 220 minutes.

Ben Hur covers the life of a Roman man involved in somewhat of a love triangle in the first century and culminates in the woman Ben Hur loves hearing the Sermon on the Mount and Ben Hur seeing the crucifixion of Christ and lasts 212 minutes.

The Greatest Story Ever Told is the story of the life, crucifixion, and resurrection of Jesus and originally lasted 260 minutes.

King of Kings also covers the life of Jesus and lasts 168 minutes.

More recently, the 2003 Gospel of John lasted 180 minutes while the Passion of the Christ lasted 126 minutes. With the Passion of the Christ, keep in mind that the movie only covers a few chapters of actual Biblical text.

With all of these movies, they capture relatively small snapshots of the entire Biblical narrative. And to fully do those elements of the scripture justice, it takes a lot of time.

With this new miniseries, it is covering a tremendous amount of content and I feel that it is partially at the expense of context. To develop the stories and to give a sense of why things are happening when they’re happening, the directors don’t have time for. And as a result, I feel that parts of this series have so far been rushed and that it presents a Biblical depiction which isn’t always easy to follow. I know what’s in the Bible. I study this stuff and even I was confused at a couple places (of a story that I know!)

My hope is that the story isn’t so rushed and cryptic that it will cause people to give up on it. I think the challenge of the Bible is already what keeps many away from digging in and I hope that an unclear depiction of that narrative doesn’t further enforce that fear.

Another obstacle for a TV miniseries covering such a large amount of material is the resources that they have to tell the story. Movies like the Ten Commandments had monstrous casts. The Greatest Story Ever Told was made in 1965 for $20 million. The Bible miniseries was made now for $22 million. To give some perspective of blockbuster films, the Avengers cost $220 million. Dark Knight Rises was $230 million. Pirates of the Caribbean: At World’s End cost $300 million.

I’m certainly not saying that only really expensive movies are worth seeing. But the expensive movies have more resources. And when telling the story of creation, Abraham, Moses and the Israelites, Joshua, David leading the Israelites, and the entire life of Christ for a fraction of the money used in movies, it is simply not going to look as good. Again, that’s not to say that something that’s made for less money can’t be good. But for such a big story to be done on such a low budget, but when we have such high standards for production values, looking at a film which clearly had significant limitations detracted from the overall experience, at least in my opinion.

All in all, I think that such a grand attempt is commendable but I feel like the History Channel and the producers bit off more than they could chew.

For evangelicals who have nominal or non-Christian friends who might decide to check out this series, it will hopefully be a springboard to meaningful conversations. If that can happen, then this movie will have ultimately served a meaningful purpose.