Tanara McCauley

Culturally Imagined Stories

The Bible – Better Read Than Watched on TV

I’ve been hearing all week about the upcoming The Bible series on the History channel. Though I originally determined not to watch it (because movies derived from books rarely do the original work justice, and I didn’t want to have that disgusted feeling about the precious Word put to screen) I succumbed to the pressure of numerous tweets and advertisements by prominent Christians who promised an epic, powerful visualization of the Bible.

I watched the first installment tonight and…I wanted to like it. I truly did. And if my reasons for not liking it were limited to the numerous creative liberties taken, or the occasional skewing of facts that occurred, or the huge amounts of material left out, I’d most likely not be writing this post. After all, Margaret Minnicks did a great job of addressing many major concerns on her post.

My core issue, however, comes from a social standpoint that is such a huge stumbling block for so many people when it comes to Christianity. It’s a delicate topic hard to tackle with delicacy, and I’d prefer to avoid it altogether. But, as it stands, it needs to be addressed; because many people whom I’ve met, witnessed to, and even love, would watch such a show and reaffirm their misgivings about the real agenda behind Christianity.

That agenda? Well…read on.

I was disappointed when I saw the major characters in tonight’s episode. For although historically all of them were Hebrew, Egyptian, or some tribal version of African/Middle Eastern, most of the actors weren’t brown (except the servants, slaves, and supporting cast).

Color and race do not the Kingdom of Heaven make!

But at the very least in a movie it’s quite distracting if you get it wrong. After all, you wouldn’t cast Jet Li to play Martin Luther King Jr., or Adam Beach as Winston Churchill. Moviegoers would spend the first part of the movie thinking: What?!? Why?!? And the second half standing in line waiting for a refund.

The distracting part is not what drives my passion about this issue, however. What does is the fact that Christianity (not Christ!) has a very oppressive past, especially in America. And because that past is fundamentally racial in nature (e.g., Native American boarding schools, slavery justified as biblical), any attempt to anglicize Bible history more than necessary is seen as a “brown is lesser” message among those who have not forgotten. Consider the words of Craig Smith: “Native people have often hidden behind the notion that Christianity is the Whiteman’s Gospel.”

Or think back to Malcolm X. Was it not Christianity portrayed as a tool to make blacks feel less than whites that played a strong role in his becoming Muslim? Do not the unseen forces all around us, the ones who would see us perish rather than give our hearts to our Almighty Creator, use and perpetuate these racial tensions to keep the lost lost?

There are thousands of Christians who belong to minority races, myself included. This message is not about us. It’s about the ones who aren’t willing to hear of Christ because they are hard-pressed to find biblical visuals that don’t support the notion that Christianity is of another world that they must sell-out to in order to become a part of.

They may or may not know much of the Gospel, but they’ve heard tell of pharaohs and Egyptians, sandy deserts and camels, and caravans of people who dwelt in sunbathed tents as they journeyed from land to land. Only when it’s brought to life they’re looking at European (or European-esque) actors in ethnic settings. Instead of opening their ears and hearts to receive the message within the story, they narrow their eyes in suspicion and nurse old wounds as stories of how they were stripped of their culture and constantly told they weren’t good enough boil back to the surface.

Within the confines of Christian fellowship (meaning when we’re preaching to the choir), who plays who doesn’t really matter. Put on a play at church and let the sound guy – whoever he may be – pour his heart into an Oscar-aspiring Paul. When trying to reach those on the outside, however, by all means make it true to life people!

Because if they can’t trust us with the small stuff – that an Egyptian has brown skin, or that Jesus may have looked like Oded’s much less attractive cousin – they won’t even want to hear the big stuff. The good stuff. The soul-saving stuff.

And if we’re not out to win the lost, what on earth is the point?

My goal here is not to criticize the makers or producers because I do applaud their efforts to give us something to watch with Christian worldview content. I would hope, however, that in the future we as a body, as a church, as a people, would consider those we are trying to reach, would consider the story we are trying to tell, and consider every block we can avoid that might cause someone to reject it, then make our biblical accounts as visually accurate as we can make them.

For we can’t be all things to all people if we won’t even represent them in the story of salvation.


10 responses to “The Bible – Better Read Than Watched on TV”

  1. I couldn’t have said it any better. This used to be a huge stumbling block for me as well. I’m fortunate to have been able to move past it, but I know many who remain lost because of it. Thanks for being so candid regarding this issue.


  2. Well, I was going to wait for the DVDs. That Roma Downey was involved did heighten my interest. I wonder if I’d have picked up on what you observed. When I was a kid, white guys played indians in the westerns, so my suspension-of-disbelief is pretty good at forgetting stuff like that, or filtering it out. But you are right. This is the 21st century and options are available that were not 50 years ago. You expressed your viewpoint very well.


    • Thanks for your comment. I think you may still enjoy the series. There will be other things that are added for dramatic effect that might irk you a bit (like them having to leave so much out there was definitely no justification for adding things that were never there), but you might be able to overlook it. I let my kids watch it and they’re pining for the next episode. They still don’t notice things like that and, like my parents did with me, I don’t raise them to focus on things from a racial perspective. My greatest disappointment was primarily out of sadness for the people who do. But, in all things God is able and is not hindered by our failures. Glory to Him for that!


      • Watched it from our son’s recorder last nite. Yep, they were a little forgetful, like about what the guys in Sodom wanted with the visitors, and how Lot kept them at bay. I wish Ben Afleck and Matt Damon could have reprised their role from Dogma. Moses did not remove his sandals while talking with the Bush, nor did we have the nifty mystical scene of the covenant. Charlton Heston’s parting of the sea comes off even better because of the half century that has elapsed. All in all, the actors did their best, and I’d fault the staging and directing. But it is for the History Channel and, as your critters have figured out, it’s not a bad cursory historical review.


  3. I think you make a great point here, and yet you are still open to its possibilities. Shows Who your faith is in. 🙂 I have been watching it. I started watching it with the children, and then stopped that after the first episode. It is a bit too action-driven, violence-focused for me, which I think takes a lot away from the message. However, I have noticed that it has caused me to begin to think more about each person within the text…these were REAL people, which we often forget because our culture tends to teach scripture with an historical fiction approach. Thanks for sharing…good stuff!!


    • Good points, Julie. Seeing it in action does help to bring it to life. I’ve found what helps me when I’m reading is to try to visualize what’s happening as if I’m there, and also to tap into the emotions the people must’ve felt. I just finished re-reading the story of Joseph when he revealed himself to his brothers and, when taken in instead of just read as a well known story, it’s really heart wrenching. Thanks for commenting and blessings to you 🙂


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