The Holocaust's bigger scope: 3-6-13
A Christian history journal: 3-8-13

Some problems with 'The Bible': 3-7-13

Perhaps, like me, you understand the meaning of the old saying that "the pictures are better on radio." It's why I sometimes prefer to listen to a baseball game on radio rather than watch it on TV.

Bible_Abraham2-HIt's similar to what we mean when we say the book was better than the movie. Which is to say that there must be room for the imagination to play with the story being told.

I was thinking about all those phrases the other evening while watching the first of the History Channel's five-part series called "The Bible."

On the whole, I'm always glad when someone tries to make the Bible accessible to a modern audience, so I appreciate the effort here. But there is just too much that went wrong with this effort. And I'm far from the first person to take note of this.

But let's begin at the beginning. The first problem is that "The Bible" is on the History Channel, which lends support to a misguided, literalistic understanding that the Bible was written as a book of history. Well, no it wasn't. Oh, of course there is history in the Bible. But you have to tease it out carefully from the myth, the story-telling, the theology, the polemic.

And yet there in the first two-hour episode on TV we see Noah on a huge boat with all kind of animals, as though we're to understand that biblical story as similar to the story of Hurricane Katrina hitting the Gulf Coast a few years back. And we see Lot's wife turning into a pillar of salt, which did nothing more than remind me of the miracle I myself experienced the other day when I was walking down a street and turned into a grocery store.

I also had lots of trouble with turning biblical stories into an action-adventure film featuring almost-magical angel ninja fighters with space travel light-sabre swords or something. And the burning bush that confronted Moses? It looked like a light show from a rock star's national tour.

The fact is that the Bible is meant to be, in some mysterious sense, the word of God, not a thriller movie. That means that our overactive, distracted minds need to take a deep breathe while we sit down, center ourselves and focus on what the many authors of the Bible were trying to say first to their original audience and then to us -- if they even imagined us.

If "The Bible" on the History Channel drives a few folks away from the TV long enough to pick up a good, modern translation of the Bible along with a reliable study guide and begin to unpack what's there, terrific. But if, instead, it simply leads to someone selling Abraham or Moses action figures, well, that's just silly and distorts sacred scripture. (By the way, the photo here today shows Abraham, or at least actor Gary Oliver, who plays him.)

Episode 2, by the way, runs this Sunday evening. Check your local Bible for listings.

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The Vatican is honoring former Pope Benedict XVI with a brief new book, but the choice of a comic font seems to trivialize the project, this report notes. (It's the font I used in the headline for this item.) Maybe the publisher was trying to be in harmony with B-16's occasional tone-deafness on some matters.

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P.S.: Time is getting short for you to sign up for either of two seminars I plan to co-teach in April. The first, April 8-13, will be about congregational transformation. It will meet at Ghost Ranch in New Mexico. For details and to register, click here. The second, April 26-28, will be about the risks of forgiveness. It will be at Kirkridge Retreat Center in Pennsylvania. For details and to register, click here.

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ANOTHER P.S.: I'll be giving the keynote address on Saturday, May 4, to the Greater Kansas City Leadership Seminar of the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ). My topic: "Transforming Your Congregation and Its Leaders." For details, click on this pdf file link: Download GKCLeadershipSeminarFlyerMapMay2013

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A THIRD P.S.: My latest National Catholic Reporter column now is online. To read it, click here.


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