• Bible Films Blog

    Looking at film interpretations of the stories in the Bible - past, present and future, as well as preparation for a future work on Straub/Huillet's Moses und Aron and a few bits and pieces on biblical studies.

    Matt Page


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    Monday, January 07, 2008

    Bible Films and the Two Halves of the Brain.

    I've just finished reading Walter Wink's book 'Transforming Bible Study'. Whilst it's primarily equipping its readers to facilitate a specific type of group Bible study, it also discusses the relationship between the right and left hemispheres of the brain, which, in turn, got me thinking about where Bible films fit into the picture.

    Wink's main points are that the fields of academic study of the Bible and of personal transformation by it are growing ever further apart; that, very loosely speaking, these two fields map to the split that has been found between the two halves of the brain; that if we only use one hemisphere of our brain when we approach the Bible we are ultimately being "halfiwits"; and, thus that we should be seeking to re-integrate the two.

    Wink also outlines the advantages of doing so, particularly for those approaching the issue from the academic (left side) side of the divide. He cites evidence suggesting that re-allocating time spent studying maths to music and art actually improved scores in maths, and goes on to cite various stories of scientists who have made their breakthroughs, not whilst hard at study but whilst engaged in something else entirely, such as Archimedes's bath, Newton's apple or Kekule's benzene ring. The theory is that once the right brain is given the chance to work on such problems it uses it's intuition and creativity to find a solution that the right brain would not have found. The final part of the argument is that the best situation is when both halves of the brain are working together.This got me on to thinking about a couple of examples where watching Bible films has been significant in increasing understanding. The first relates to my own experience. Perhaps seven or so years ago, I was still trying to make my mind up over whether Genesis should be taken more literally, or more symbolically. I swayed towards the latter, but still felt some sympathy with the former position. However, the decisive moment for me was watching John Huston's The Bible. That film takes a very literal approach, but at the same time its dark and primitive feel undermines its handling of the text. For me, for reasons I'm still not sure I can explain, the penny dropped, and these stories have remained firmly mythological for me ever since.

    The second example I can think of is during the release of The Passion of the Christ. At the time I remember being amazed at just how many people said that this had made them understand more clearly how Jesus had suffered and so on. Shortly afterwards I was in a talk where the speaker really over did it on describing a crucifixion and I remember feeling it was all a bit over the top so soon after that film.In both cases there was a certain amount of critical understanding and academic engagement with the text, but looking at a more creative exploration of it enabled the viewers to "get it" on a whole new level. The penny dropped as the right side of the brain was brought into it.

    And this, I guess, is one of the reasons why Bible films can be important, especially for those studying the text. Anyone who is studying a given text has a good knowledge of it, primarily from using the left half of their brains. By watching that text depicted on screen, the right half of the brain is brought into the equation and the two can work together towards more innovative solutions.

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    • At 8:21 pm, January 09, 2008, Blogger Kevin C. Neece said…

      Well said, indeed! This observation also relates to the importance of the arts in education. Factual knowledge is one thing, but it is through creativity and innovation that the world is changed. I think it is right to combat the emotionally charged approach that becomes Bible 'feeling' more than Bible study. But, as we emphasize academically-driven studies of the Bible, we can forget to creatively think about what we are studying and allow ourselves to deeply feel what it means. In essence, we stop short of engaging Scripture with our whole selves. Film is a very powerful gateway toward reaching those deeper engagements. Of course, it can also be very misleading and manipulative, so one must always balance with a well-informed, critical eye.


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