• 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, March 09, 2010

    The Bible: A History, Part 7

    Sunday saw the final entry in Channel 4's The Bible: A History, a series which has varied in quality, as well as in approach, but ended on a reasonably high note thanks to Robert Beckford's examination of the book of Revelation.

    Beckford has been 4's primary religious presenter over the last decade, charting his quest to revise the Pentecostal faith of his upbringing, and to propose instead a less literal reading of the Bible which nevertheless remains a book with an important message for today.

    As with other programmes in the series, this entry begins by looking at some of the traditional takes on the book, including William Blake and modern day fundamentalists. But it also looks at the sad tale of the Branch Dividians at Waco. I would have preferred a little more clarity as to the differences between the Dividians and the Pentecostal church which he visits, though it's there for those with an ear to hear. However, it also includes a compelling interview with one of the survivors of the Waco siege, who bizarrely still justifies some of what happened that day.

    Throughout the programme there's a good deal of discussion as to the enduring imagery of Revelation, both by people like Blake, but also in popular contemporary culture, but Beckford's quest is to move away from these images of death and destruction to find something that speaks to us today.

    As usual there are a range of interviewees to help him on his journey including a somewhat uncomfortably posed Mark Goodacre, Christopher Rowland and Martin Palmer who considers Beckford's quest a "fool's errand". Goodacre does a good job of putting the book in its historical context. Meanwhile Beckford has travelled to Patmos and is shown the traditional location given to John's vision by a Greek Orthodox priest. (Incidentally, priests from the Orthodox church have featured very prominently in this series, particularly given that there are so few Orthodox Christians in the UK).

    After Patmos it's on to America, and the Pilgrim Fathers intent on creating a place that reflected the end of Revelation, but who found themselves supposedly "battling Satan" in the Salem Witch Trials 70 years later. Prof. Paul Boyer provides the background and finds similar rhetoric in today's post-9/11 world. Beckford turns instead to the Brixton riots, the time when he could begin to realise that the Bible in general and Revelation in particular can be "profoundly political". There's a brief look at the Diggers Revolution and the Civil Rights Movement.

    And it's here that we meet arguably the programme's most compelling interviewee, Prof. James Coen (spelling undoubtedly wrong, but there was no caption). Coen, who was active in the 60s draws out the way that King and others harnessed the imagery of Revelation to bring about an end to injustice, and the battle between good and evil.

    Another group adopting the text in a similar way is those protesting about Climate Change and there's some footage taken from a Climate Change rally featuring horsemen of the apocalypse intercut with a discussion with school children as to whether such an approach is justifiable.

    Beckford's personal emphasis seems very much on the closing chapters of Revelation, and the inspired images found therein which link to the very start of the Bible and the Garden of Eden. It's this that is the focus of his closing monologue - a strong argument for a non-literal reading of the text which sides with the oppressed in the hope of creating a new Heaven and a new Earth.

    Like last weeks episode on Paul I find myself broadly in agreement with the arguments presented, although I would have liked to see the way the imagery of the Roman Empire relates to the images in Revelation drawn out a little more. But there was little here that stood out as being weak or irrelevant and it made a strong case for the enduring influence of the book today.

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    • At 11:51 am, March 09, 2010, Blogger Mark Goodacre said…

      Thanks for the helpful and interesting series of reviews, Matt. "Somewhat unfomfortably posed": quite true! I think they wanted to get the splendour of the background of Duke chapel in and this was the only way they could do it with me sitting in the pew.

    • At 4:42 pm, March 19, 2010, Blogger Matt Page said…

      I guessed that was probably why they had you sat like that. However it kind of backfired because impressive as it obviously is, I just kept thinking "Mark looks a bit uncomfortable".

      Yours was a telling contribution though. Without it the programme would have been a good deal weaker.

      ('scuse the sycophancy!)


    • At 1:16 pm, April 08, 2010, Blogger Tim Nagle said…

      love these awesome reviews!!

      I made a christian film about life and Jesus..


      thanks ... T.

    • At 9:12 am, April 09, 2010, Blogger Matt Page said…

      Thanks Tim,

      Nice films.



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