• 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


    Tuesday, April 09, 2013

    Ishmael in Film - Part 1

    This post is incomplete as there are a number of errors that need rectifying.

    One of the characters who appeared in the History Channel's latest series The Bible was Ishmael, Abraham's first son by Hagar. Abraham in general hasn't appeared in that many films. As far as I'm aware his fleeting appearance in 1936's Green Pastures is the earliest remaining appearance in a film. I say "remaining" because I know of up to four silent films in which Abraham may appear.

    The BFI film archive does list two films, which it seems are now lost, that are about an Ishmael, 1912's Pathé Hagar and Ishmael and The Marriage of Ishmael from the following year (Imperium films). I can't find a great deal of information on these films online - neither of them even appear in the IMDb, but the book on Pathé's silent historical films - Richard Abel’s "The Cine Goes to Town: French Cinema, 1896-1914" - might yield a little more information. The first sounds highly likelky to be about the biblical characters, but the second could very conceiveably be about a different Ishmael: the Bible only talks about his marriage in the future tense.

    I'm also aware of some other films about Abraham courtesy of David Wilson. The Trial of Abraham’s Faith was made by British company Empire Films in 1910. According to a review in the 3rd February edition of Biopscope from the same year this is, as might be expected, about Abraham's willingness to sacrifice Isaac. The other is, yet again, from Pathé, 1911's Le sacrifice d'Abraham (1911). Neither appears to have featured Ishmael, although it is conceivable that he was included in a shot or two. Presumably though Ishmael does appear in Pathé's Le sacrifice d'Ismaël from the following year. Pathé were at it again the next year (1913) with Rebecca about Isaac's wife, though it seems unlikely Ishmael featured in this one. There were also brief appearances in 1918's Restitution and Le Berceau de dieu (1926), both of which tell a sweeping story across the whole Bible, rather than focus on a particular group of characters.

    A few films from the sound era feature Abraham, but not Ishmael, including The Living Bible's entry Abraham: Man of Faith (1952), Greatest Heroes of the Bible: Abraham's Sacrifice (1979), Year One, The God Complex (both 2009) and 2011's Young Avraham. (N.B. I believe Hagar features in the Greatest Heroes episode, but no mention of Ishmael and I haven't seen it to be able to comment).

    All of which leaves only 5 films that I can lay my hands on that deal with Ishmael: Huston's The Bible (1966); the longest available treatment, Abraham (1994) starring Richard Harris; Testament: Abraham (1996), The Bible: In the Beginning (2000) and this year's The Bible, I had meant to discuss these in this post but it's got too late so I will have to save it for another day soon.

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    • At 8:16 am, April 10, 2013, Blogger Peter T Chattaway said…

      There was also The Genesis Project, a.k.a. The New Media Bible, which did a word-for-word adaptation of Genesis similar to the one they did of Luke. I haven't seen it in decades, but I imagine both Abraham and Ishmael figure prominently in there.

    • At 8:30 am, April 10, 2013, Blogger Matt Page said…

      Darnit, er, I mean thanks. Will amend later. Thanks.


    • At 11:04 am, April 15, 2013, Anonymous Louise lewis said…

      Fnatstic review, extremely eager to get my hands on it and watch. I have a broad selection of christian movies from my local online christian site: http://www.cumbooks.co.za/ which has a broad selection of similar titles at incredible prices

    • At 10:44 pm, June 16, 2013, Blogger Matt Page said…

      Thanks for the comment Louise.



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