Produced by husband and wife team, Mark Burnett (Survivor, The Apprentice, The Voice) and Roma Downey (Touched by An Angel), The Bible Miniseries was one of the most anticipated shows of 2013. On 3rd March, 2013, after months of speculation and teaser trailers the wait was finally over with the first part of The Bible Miniseries premiering on History to an estimated audience of 13.1 million (US). Over the next five weeks the show was reportedly watched by more than 100 million people, and according to Mark Burnett will go on to be watched by more than 1 billion.
The Bible Miniseries – An ambitious ten part series based on the best selling, and most beloved book of all time. So was the wait worth it. Did Burnett and Downey succeed in making a miniseries worthy of carrying the Biblical torch?
Parts 1-5: The Old Testament
Everyone knows that The Bible is the bestselling book of all time. However, there is an ignorance of The Bible running rampant in society, as people become more and more secular in their thinking and understandings.
As I began watching I knew right away that, if nothing else, The Bible Miniseries would be an excellent primer to the stories and truths found in Scripture. And the more I watched I realized that this series will become a classic series (much like the 1977 classic series, Jesus of Nazareth), as well as become an invaluable resource for churches, youth groups, and Christians in general to use to introduce their families and friends to God’s Holy Word.
Episode 1: Beginnings begins with Noah in the ark telling the creation story to the sole survivors of the flood raging all around them. We are then whisked to the time of Abraham, and watch as the events of his life unfold as God leads him. I loved this part of the show. Obviously some of the events of his life are omitted due to time constraints, but all the major turning points in Abraham’s life are here – God’s calling on his life, the split with Lot and his people, fathering Ishmael with Hagar, the visit of the Lord and the two angels, the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah, the birth of Isaac, and Abraham’s willingness to sacrifice his son.
Gary Oliver plays Abraham with passion, and is very believable as the father of the Jewish nation. I was extremely moved by Mr. Oliver’s acting in the sacrifice of Isaac scene; you can really feel his pain and inner turmoil as he raises the dagger high above his head readying himself to follow God’s command.
Episode 2: Exodus whisks us some 400 years through time to the time of Moses. Though not on the epic scale of the 1956 DeMille classic, The Ten Commandments, this episode is still very well done. William Houston is brilliant as the older Moses, the man who would lead the Jewish nation out of captivity to Pharaoh, and later give them The Ten Commandments. Again some of the story of Moses has been left out, but most of the memorable stuff is here – Moses encountering God in the burning bush, Moses returning to free his people, the ten plagues on Egypt, the Exodus, the crossing of the Red Sea, and the giving of God’s laws.
In Episode 3: Homeland, we witness as Joshua leads his armies against Jericho, and the walls come tumbling down! Next comes one of my favorite parts in The Old Testament sequence of episodes, the Samson story. Nonso Anozie plays Samson, and for the first time I can recall Samson is portrayed as a black man. Some may have a huge problem with this, but I thought it was a bold and inspired move by the producers. The people in The Bible are a diverse bunch, and I think that this series shows this in a visual way. Was Samson black? Who knows? He may have been. And so I have no problem with the producers portraying him as such. One thing I do know is that he probably wasn’t a short white guy like me!
Episode 4: Kingdom tells the stories of Saul and David. As this episode concluded I did find myself thinking that I wished the producers had taken some more time to unpack one of the most complex and beautiful stories in The Bible. Personally I felt that this episode was very rushed, as the producers tried to cram as much of David’s epic story into 42 minutes. But again I understand that they could only do so much with the budget and time they had to work with.
The Jews exile to Babylon begins Episode 5: Survival. In this episode the story of Daniel is told, and features such events as the three friends in the blazing furnace, Daniel in the lion’s den, and the Jews’ eventual return to Jerusalem to await the prophesied coming King.
To be honest, I could have watched all of The Old Testament episodes in one sitting, they were that good. But taking a break in between really helped me focus on the truths each story contained long after the credits rolled for each episode. My one bug-a-boo with The Old Testament section of this miniseries is that the producers chose to cut the beautiful stories of Jacob, Joseph, and Esther from the series.
Other than that I feel that the producers of The Bible Miniseries did a great job in recreating some of the pivotal events in the Biblical history of the Jewish nation.
Parts 6-10: The New Testament
As good as The Old Testament section of this miniseries was, The New Testament episodes surpassed the earlier episodes in every way.
Episode 6: Hope opens with the Nativity story. Not to complain, but this sequence of events felt extremely rushed. Mary going to the home of Elizabeth wasn’t even mentioned, she meets the Angel Gabriel, he tells her she will have a baby, and quicker than it takes to make a cup of instant coffee, she’s already given birth. I must admit the actual birth scene was moving, and a beautiful reminder that Jesus, the King of the Heavens, was born in a filthy animal stable devoid of the grandeur He so richly deserved.
Next comes the baptism of Jesus scene, followed by the temptation of Jesus in the wilderness. The ‘temptation’ scene was amazingly captured, and the showdown between Jesus and the devil is probably one of the finest I have seen in a Jesus movie.
This episode ends with the beheading of John the Baptist and the calling of Peter, both of which are soul stirring scenes.
In Episode 7: Mission, Jesus begins his ministry. I must take pause at this point and say that Portuguese actor Diogo Morgado was an excellent choice for Jesus. He draws the viewer in with his warm smile and puppy dog eyes. He is commanding, authoritative, and focused. At the same time he comes across as loving, caring, and compassionate. It’s not too often we see these qualities in a Hollywood Jesus, but Mr. Morgado brings his A-game to deliver one of the most memorable Jesus performances in film-history.
In Episode 7: Hope, we get to witness the calling of Matthew, Jesus teaching the disciples The Lord’s Prayer, Jesus having compassion on the woman caught in adultery, the feeding of the 5,000, Peter’s confession, Jesus and Peter walking on water, and Jesus raising Lazarus from the dead.
There is some great teaching in this episode, and I liked how some of the wording was adapted for today’s audience.
Episode 8: Betrayal mainly focuses on the final week in the life of Jesus. Jesus enters Jerusalem on a donkey; the Pharisees get antsy; Jesus enters the temple and overturns the tables of the money lenders; Judas agrees to betray Jesus; the Last Supper; Judad betrays Jesus; Jesus’ arrest in the Garden of Gethsemane; and the beginning of Jesus’ trail by the Pharisees.
It was also nice to see Jesus’ encounter with Nicodemus, and I loved how they included the John 3:16 passage of Scripture into the dialog. I also liked that they showed that the trial by night held by the Pharisees was illegal by their own customs, traditions, and laws. I thought the ‘humanizing’ of Judas was a neat touch by the producers; for too long we have all but demonized Judas. But we must remember that he was one of Jesus’ closest friends who was blinded by greed and self-serving purposes for a brief period.
Episode 9: Passion begins with the Pharisees taking Jesus to Pontius Pilate; it is unlawful for them to put a man to death so close to the Passover, and so they want Pilate to do their dirty work for them. I really liked how the producers included some of the political aspects that played into the story. I also liked that this episode followed the Biblical account very closely.
OK, so this is ‘that’ episode; you know, the one that shows Jesus being whipped and crucified. To be honest, the whole sequence of events that lead to Jesus hanging upon the cross is nowhere as bloody or gory as Mel Gibson’s The Passion of the Christ. But this doesn’t mean it’s any less powerful.
The scourging scene is thankfully kept short. There is some blood seen, but none of the tearing of flesh we saw in Gibson’s masterpiece. There is a fair amount of time devoted to Jesus carrying the cross through the streets of Jerusalem, with a particular touching moment when a bloodied and exhausted Jesus looks up at his mother, Mary, and says, “Don’t be afraid. Everything is possible with God.”
I must say that Diogo Morgado is nothing short of exceptional in this episode. As a viewer I really felt his pain, fear, and anxiety. And I will openly admit that I had a huge lump in my throat throughout most of this episode.
Jesus’ final journey culminates at Calvary, with Jesus being nailed hand and foot to the instrument of his execution. I know this is only a reenactment of what actually happened, but the cries of Jesus as the Roman soldiers hammered the nails through his hands and feet will forever haunt me. Thank you Lord!
But this episode does not end at the cross. Instead, we see the risen Lord talking with Mary Magdalene. At this point I began to breathe again as the beautiful truth began to once again invade my mind and heart… Jesus has risen! What a way to end this episode; after the brutality, comes the glory!
At the beginning of Episode 10: Courage, Mary rushes to tell the disciples that Jesus has risen. Peter goes with her to confirm this for himself, and after verifying that Jesus’ body is no longer in the tomb, goes back and begins to pray with the other disciples. Then Jesus appears to them.
After 40 days, Jesus ascends back to Heaven, but not before telling the disciples to go into all the world and share the good news with anyone who will listen.
And that’s just what they do. This episode details some of what the early Christians went through to share and preserve the message that God had placed on their hearts. We witness as Paul of Tarsus is saved, and goes on to become a powerful man of God. We learn about the fate of some of the disciples; according to tradition all but one of them were martyred for their faith. And in an inspiring final scene, we see John meeting Jesus once again, as the Lord tells him of what is to come; the teachings and truths that went on to become The Book of Revelation.
The Bible Miniseries may not be as concise as some would have liked. It’s does take some liberties and artistic license. And some of the episodes feel a little rushed. But with the time frame the producers had to work in, I think they did a great job and that this miniseries is a major triumph.
As this is a major production you can expect the acting to be excellent. The truth is all the actors in The Bible Miniseries are simply brilliant. Again, Diogo Morgado gives an impassioned performance as Jesus, Darwin Shaw is outstanding as Peter, and Con O’Neall makes us both hate and love him as Paul of Tarsus. Other actors worthy of mention are William Houston (Moses), Roma Downey (Mother Mary), Adrian Schiller (Caiaphas), Sebastian Knapp (John), Amber Rose Revah (Mary Magdalene), and Gary Oliver (Abraham). These actors all give memorable performances, but again everyone involved – from the least to the greatest – give great performances.
As a firm believer that the music in a film can often make or break it, I have to say that The Bible Miniseries some of the best film music I have heard in a long while. Quite frankly, the music in The Bible Miniseries is epic, and really helped establish the shows epic feel.
As for the quality of the production itself: I watched the miniseries on Bluray, and have to say the picture and sound are as good as you’ll get. The cinematography throughout is nothing short of inspired, with sweeping shots of the Moroccan landscape (the show was filmed in Morocco).
Being based on The Bible, this miniseries has a strong Biblical and Christian worldview. But it’s not really a family friendly show. There is a lot of violence and bloodshed throughout, often accompanied by blood-spattering sound effects. Again, the violence comes nowhere near the extremes of The Passion of the Christ, but parents might want to check this series out before letting their younger kids watch.
Some may not like the fact that this is not a word-for-word adaptation, or that at times it feels a little rushed. The writing is excellent throughout, and I was surprised at the level of detail that was included. As well there are some really neat touches included such as when The Lord visits with Abraham (if you look closely it’s Jesus), and when The Apostle Paul preaches about love (1 Cor.13).
There is some artistic license taken, but nothing that downplays the power of the Word, or that will distract the viewer from the intent of the show which, according to executive producer Mark Burnett, is to highlight the issue of a growing “Biblical illiteracy” among young people and to glorify God (he’s mentioned this in many interviews in print, on the net, and on TV). He also anticipates that Billions of people will see this series around the world.
My prayer is that he is right, and that we see a world revival as a result. Wouldn’t that be something?
One of the stand-out productions of 2013, and quite possibly the most memorable,The Bible Miniseries is a brilliant work of heart that will undoubtedly become a classic… to be honest, it’s already a classic!
Christian St John – Christian Film Guide Editor
|Christian Film Guide Ratings for The Bible Miniseries (2013)|
Violence: There is a lot of on screen violence in The Bible Miniseries. Sword fights, wars, beatings, crucifixions, brutality, and torture are just some of the things you will see in this show. Notable scenes that will make you cringe include men having their eyes gouged out, some battle scenes in which open, gushing wounds are seen, a man stabbed in the neck with blood pouring out of the open wound; children being slaughtered (thankfully most of this is off screen… we do see a mother holding her bloodied, dead baby); men being crucified; dead bodies including women and children; a man covered in weeping sores; man covered in leprosy; man being beaten, whipped, and humiliated; crown of thorns on Jesus head with blood pouring down his face; several men beheaded; the crucifixion of Christ.
Sex/Nudity: Abraham is seen leaving the tent of Hagar after sleeping with her; men and women are seen “making out” in Sodom; a woman is taken forcibly by men who are intent on raping her… nothing happens as she is rescued; A woman is referred to as a prostitute; King David sleeps with a woman who is not his wife.
Drugs/Alcohol: Drinking wine.
Faith/Spiritual Content: This is an adaptation of The Bible. A strong Biblical and Christian worldview is presented throughout.
Christian watched his first movie at 3 years old and since then has watched literally thousands of movies. With a love for both God and movies, Christian launched Christian Film Guide in 2012, and although it's a relatively new website you could say that it's been almost 40 years in the making! About Christian More reviews by Christian