Out this week is a two-disc collection of the six-episode miniseries Bible Secrets Revealed. I was curious to see it mostly to find out what perspective it took: skeptic or avoiding controversy?
Turns out I could have found that out by googling the title and seeing how many religious sites had posted responses. If the show had comforted and reassured them about the holy book, they wouldn’t have felt the need to answer back about its supposed anti-Christian bias and disrespect for faith. I tend to agree with them that this was a sensationalist presentation of the material (you can guess that from the title of the last episode, “Sex and the Scriptures”), but I imagine that’s what it took to get the show made.
The structure is similar to other series of this type — lots of talking heads interspersed with various scenes of floating text, pictures of books, and pans across images to make the show more visually interesting. The occasional short reenactment or location footage makes for a pleasant change. Exaggerated and tabloid-ish in the telling, the subject matter could still be of interest for those Christians who’d like to approach their faith with open eyes.
“Lost in Translation” begins by pointing out how scholars tackle the issues of authorship in different ways from the faithful. Various contradictions are pointed out — including the stories of David and Goliath and Jesus’ birth — so those who want to read the Bible literally will be upset. The source material is not historically accurate, as one professor points out, but rewritten to promote the religion and its heroes. Very little of the information was new to me, but then, I’ve always been a questioning Christian interested in the boundaries and odd spots. There are more specifically historical tie-ins about 2/3 of the way through the episode, when they talk about the creation of the Book of Mormon and using the Bible to justify slavery during the Civil War.
“The Promised Land” looks at the history of the land of Israel, specifically in terms of Biblical commands and references, and how Jews, Muslims, and Christians all find it sacred. Exodus is particularly examined, as are the history of the Crusades and key buildings in Jerusalem. A number of violent verses are shown as background for current struggles in the Middle East.
“The Forbidden Scriptures” is about some books left out of the Canon, those which would be considered Apocrypha, such as the Book of Enoch, the Apocalypse of Peter, or the Gnostic Gospels, including those of Thomas and Mary. By referring to those books that were left out as “suppressed”, the series attempts to make otherwise dry history more salacious, postulating political and sexist reasons for the choices.
“The Real Jesus” compares the Gospels to the historical record. Key moments discussed are the virgin birth, his early life, his relationship with John the Baptist, the political nature of his teachings (particularly the anti-wealthy ones), his relationship with Mary Magdalene, and the resurrection.
“Mysterious Prophecies” explores whether the prophets were really trying to tell the future, specifically related to the coming of the Messiah, and whether Revelation was inspired by the eruption of Mt. Vesuvius. There’s also some history of Kabbalah.
“Sex and the Scriptures” looks at Biblical rules about sex, family, and procreation. Examples include the story of Ruth and Boaz, Abraham and Sarah using Hagar as a surrogate for children, Jesus’ treatment of prostitutes, marriage in the Bible, priestly celibacy, David and Bathsheba, and the depraved cities of Sodom and Gomorrah. Even Lot’s daughters getting him drunk so they could get pregnant by him gets mentioned.
The show is under the auspice of the History Channel, so I was a bit surprised to see opening trailers for Duck Dynasty and a whole series of Ancient Aliens DVDs that take the subject seriously. They’re all A&E products, I guess. I quite liked the trailer for Houdini, airing in May, though. (The studio provided a review copy.)