Author: Donna Sundblad, Atlanta Bible Study Examiner
Part 3 of the History Channel‘s The Bible aired on March 17 with the prophet Jeremiah warning Israel’s King Zedekiah about the coming siege of Jerusalem by Babylonians. Jeremiah’s warnings go unheeded and he delivers a final message to Zedekiah. “Surrender to Nebuchadnezzar or die. God is bringing disaster.”
The biblical account of this historical time explains that Zedekiah was placed on the throne as king by Nebuchadnezzar, after King Jehoiachin was taken captive and brought to Babylon. As the television miniseries fast forwarded through the remainder of the Old Testament and into the New Testament account of the birth of Jesus and the start of his ministry on earth they did a good job.
“In the ninth year of Zedekiah’s reign, on the tenth day of the tenth month, King Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon advanced against Jerusalem with his entire army. They laid siege to the city and built a siege wall against it all around. The city was under siege until King Zedekiah’s eleventh year” (2 Kings 25:1-2 HCSB)
The prophet Daniel
The Bible offered a realistic portrayal of the massive Babylonian army camped outside the walls of Jerusalem. No one escapes the city and after 18 months the Israelites start to starve. The TV miniseries showed the Babylonians shooting fiery arrows over the wall and King Zedkiah turning to the prophet Jeremiah for help. The prophet tells the king to “repent and all will be well. God will save us.” Then almost in the same breath he says, “You’re too late,” and the scene moves to a battering ram at the gates. Jerusalem is destroyed and the temple is plundered and burned to the ground. The Jewish people flee including a man named Daniel who is taken captive. This works for the miniseries for the sake of time constraints, but in actuality he was taken captive to Babylon when Jehoiachin was deported.
“Nebuchadnezzar deported Jehoiachin to Babylon. Also, he took the king’s mother, the king’s wives, his officials, and the leading men of the land into exile from Jerusalem to Babylon” (2 Kings 25:15)
The Daniel in episode 3 of The History Channel’s the Bible looked old compared to Daniel of the Bible who was taken captive as a youth (Daniel 1:3). The condensing of events is understandable for TV, but in actuality Daniel was in captivity about three years before he was to be “evaluated” by the king. The miniseries did a good job of showing Daniel’s visionary powers, and how Nebuchadnezzar grows to trust him after none of the other wise men, sorcerers, or seers could tell him his dream. Daniel not only tells him his dream, but what it means. Of course in the Bible more than one dream is interpreted, but the miniseries did a great job with the condensed version.
A large gold statue is constructed and everyone is expected to bow to it. When the music is played all the people bow except three Jewish men who remain standing. This was a powerful scene that created a strong visual of the faith they lived. Daniel tells Nebuchadnezzar, “They will only worship God.” An angry Nebuchadnezzar vows that he will “make them bow.”
The scene of the fiery furnace left a little to be desired but overall the producers got the idea across when Daniel’s friends do not burn in the fierce flames and a fourth “man” appears in the fire with arms outstretched. His friends are not harmed and the miracle unites the people. They reaffirm their trust in God.
Daniel and the lions’ den
Cyrus, King of Persia conquers Babylon without a fight, and Daniel finds favor in his sight. Others who serve the new king are jealous of Daniel, and develop a plot. They know the only way to bring Daniel down is his God. The men flatter the king and trick him into creating a law that forbids the people to pray for a month. They know Daniel will not abide by this man-made law, and it will mean his life. Daniel goes up to his room, puts on his prayer shawl, faces east, and prays. Through lattice work in the room, his enemies witness the breaking of the law and Daniel is arrested and thrown into the lions’ den.
Cyrus does not sleep and asks for the door to be open. In the miniseries this happens the same night, but in the biblical account he waits until the following morning because it is the law. Daniel is found unharmed. Cyrus calls for Daniel to come out and says, “God is with you. You’re God is real. Your God has saved you. Your people will return to Jerusalem. Sadly they no longer have a temple to worship him.”
The Jews get to return to Jerusalem, but Daniel stays in Babylon. He says, “I fear for their future. I saw a great beast. It had great iron teeth and it devoured the whole world, but I saw one … this isn’t the end. It’s the beginning.” The narrative was a nice lead in to the New Testament.
Birth of Jesus
The miniseries featured flash scenes covering the next 500 years including information from extra-biblical texts. This worked as a segue to the New Testament times where Mary and Joseph are introduced through a modern day lens as Joseph thinks about how pretty Mary’s eyes as they gather in worship. Romans crash in and Joseph tells Mary to go back to her Father’s house. On the way she hears a voice. A burgundy-caped angel says, “The Lord is with you. Don’t be afraid. You will soon give birth to a son. He will be the son of the most high. The Holy Spirit will move in you. Don’t be afraid.”
By the time Joseph and Mary are shown next, he sees she’s is pregnant. She explains it is the work of God, but Joseph grows angry and says, “I thought I knew you.” When she explains that it is God’s child, he says, “Mary God doesn’t do this to people like us,” but an angel tells him, “Joseph son of David, be at peace. Take Mary as your wife. She is pure. The child she carries is from God.”
Joseph returns to Mary, where a crowd is surrounding her and calling her “whore.” Joseph shouts, “I believe her and I will still take her as my wife if she will have me.” This is much different than the biblical account where Joseph learns of Mary’s pregnancy but it does get the story across.
The miniseries depicts Mary and Joseph alone against the world, as the birth of the king of the Jews is announced in the heavens. Wise men quote scripture, “a scepter will rise out of Israel.” Joseph and Mary travel to Bethlehem and are caught in a fierce rain storm as she goes into labor and they can’t find a place to stay.
While the Bible doesn’t name the wise men, tradition names them: Caspar, Melchior and Balthasar. The miniseries cuts to the astrologer Balthasar as he stands before Herod. He asks, “What can you tell me of the new king?”
Herod is portrayed as a crazy, self-indulgent King disturbed by this inquiry. “King of the Jews? Did you not come here to see Herod, King of the Jews. Then who is claiming to be king.”
Balthasar answers, “No one. He is not born yet. Surely your scribes have received the prophecy.” He returns to his companions and they follow the star as Herod goes into a tirade. This scene is rushed as Herod learns through the Scribes that the king will be born in Bethlehem. He sends his troops to kill all the babies in Bethlehem before Jesus is born.
“Bethlehem Ephrathah, you are small among the clans of Judah; One will come from you to be ruler over Israel for Me. His origin is from antiquity, from eternity” (Micah 5:2)
In the biblical account, Herod doesn’t order the babies killed until he realizes the wise men are not returning to tell him where he can find the baby. In fact, in the Bible, when the wise men come to Jesus and Mary they are in a house and he is referred to as a “child” not a baby. This is why Herod’s order is to kill the baby boys two years and under.
In the miniseries, Joseph has a nightmare. He sees all the babies in Bethlehem being killed. “We have to leave now,” he says to Mary. “I can’t explain. Just trust me.”
Return to Galilee
After Herod dies, the people sense an opportunity to win their freedom, but the Roman response is brutal. The uprising is crushed and in Galilee alone, 2,000 people are crucified. In the scene where Joseph and Mary return to Galilee, Jesus looks to be about four or five years old. They come upon victims of crucifixion. Joseph reminds Mary that they must trust in God’s plan.
John the Baptist
At the River Jordan crowds flock to John the Baptist in the desert. Some people call him the Messiah, the Redeemer of the Jews, and the anointed by God, but he makes it clear “There is one to come, greater than me. I’m just a voice in the wilderness preparing the way.”
Jesus walks on the scene and tells John, “John what you are doing is right. Baptize me.” Following his baptism, Jesus goes into the wilderness. For 40 days his spirit is tested, preparing him for the challenges to come. He walks like he is about to faint, then collapses with labored breathing. A snake slithers up beside him. Jesus trembles. A black robed Satan walks up to him, and Jesus stands. Satan tempts Jesus, but Jesus resists Satan’s temptations and gets ready for his ministry which will be without John the Baptist who has been arrested.
Jesus returns to his home region and goes to the shores of the Sea of Galilee. His mission begins here with Peter, a fisherman. When Peter asks, “What are we going to do?” Jesus answers, “Change the world.”
John the Baptist beheaded
John the Baptist continues to preach in prison. This part of the miniseries is quite different from the biblical account, but it ends with the prophet losing his head.
The History Channel’s The Bible part 3 overall did a good job of depicting biblical events within the time constraints needed for a project of this magnitude. While the miniseries is very good, it is important to remember it is not a replacement for actually reading God’s Word.
Donna Sundblad has read through the Bible more than 20 times in her life, but reading the Bible isn’t enough. In 2 Timothy, 2:15 we are told to “study.” Study involves many aspects including a look at the original …
I’m stll enjoying engaging in discussions around the miniseries. Not a bad review, but still glaringly MIA (Missing In Action) is the story of redemption! I had hoped that the angel who told Jesus’ earthly dad Joseph would have included the rather important statement concerning the child in Mary’s womb “You shall call his name Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins.”
I was disappointed that the demonstration of the Trinity at Jesus’ baptism was omitted. to me that would have been something NOT to leave out. On the other hand, since the miniseries has in no way attempted to teach any actual doctrine in the first three segments, perhaps I should be complementing the miniseries on its consistency.
Also, I don’t remember hearing in this episode Jesus’ words recorded in the NT at the beginning of his ministry, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.”, which is perhaps the best demonstration of the Trinity in the NT, if not the entire Bible.
Lastly (not really, but enough for now), the allegedly episode ending climactic answer to Peter’s question about what they would do, “Change the world.” is nowhere in scripture and probably sets the stage for Jesus’ ministry being portrayed mainly as a the ‘social gospel’ so prevalent in today’s liberal minded evangelical climate. Rick warren is undoubtedly proud of the miniseries and his own contribution as a technical;/spiritual advisor for the project.
According to the Apostle Paul,
“The saying is trustworthy and deserving of full acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, of whom I am the foremost.” (1 Timothy 1:15 ESV)
The miniseries still has a couple of more episodes, but my hopes that it will get to the MIA plan of redemption are becoming dim.