• 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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    Tuesday, January 26, 2010

    The Bible: A History, Part 1

    I didn't have time to watch the first instalment of Channel 4's new series The Bible: A History on Sunday, but having just caught it this morning I thought I would post a few initial impressions.

    Overall I thought it was a great start to the series, with Howard Jacobson, a Jewish Atheist who wants to believe, doing a great job with his interviews, and being open about his own, seemingly shifting, perspectives. I'm actually intrigued to know what atheist's are making of this programme. It seemed to me, at least, that Richard Dawkins was given a fair chance to put his case across, but perhaps there are supporters of Dawkins who are crying "foul".

    Christians, however, can have few such complaints. Those from the creationist perspective, whilst obviously disagreeing with most of what the programme had to say, were certainly well represented by Greg Haslam. It's tempting for programme makers to wheel in a nut job to represent 6-day creationists, but Haslam is well thought of within the broader Christian community and comes across well in the interview, even if he failed to persuade either Jacobson or myself.

    There were also interviews with Jewish leaders from across the spectrum. Jonathan Sachs from the more liberal end of the Orthodox Jewish community, and Jacobson's own brother-in-law - a rabbi with firm belief in a 6-day creation.

    Jacobson gives a good platform to the more literal minded believers before moving on to those who take a more symbolic interpretation of the creation stories, and juxtapose that with science and religious belief. John Polkinghorne was particularly interesting in this respect, and clearly gave Jacobson food for thought (although there is always a certain amount of contrivance with all these documentaries, as the journey of the presenter is, in itself, an engaging narrative - like the creation story itself it doesn't have to be 100% as it happen in order for it still to be "true".

    The historical background was also provided in a very accessible, yet sufficiently detailed manner. Again those that hold to Mosaic authorship of Genesis will object, but really only a percentage of evangelical scholars hold to this position (and as these scholars get more specialised the percentage tends to move towards a later date). But in fairly nimble fashion the programme lays out evidence for polytheism relatively late in Israel's history, the exile of the Jews to Babylon and the effect on the Jewish faith, and the reform / development of Jewish faith that took place in that period resulting in a more textual faith.

    There was one excellent quote by Jacobson, explaining why he was uncomfortable with the "new atheists" but I didn't manage to get it down. Perhaps some other time.

    Doug Chaplain has also reviewed the programme.

    Next week it's Rageh Omar looking at the story of Abraham and how it relates to the three Abrahamic faiths.

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