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March 30, 2013 by William H. Scarle, Jr. 

The current television series called simply “The Bible” running on the History Channel has been an unqualified success.  It has been largely written and produced by evangelicals who believe the Bible is true and an effort has been made to keep the presentation accurate and faithful to the text and the times.

Some examples of this effort in accuracy are the depiction of Joseph and Mary as a young Israeli couple, rather than presenting Joseph as an older man who simply took Mary on as a ward.  A brief survey of medieval religious art will highlight the difference.

Likewise Jesus baptism is by full immersion in the water of the Jordan rather than a sprinkling of water on his head.  This would be consistent with the Jewish practice of “mikvah,” or ritual cleansing, and was certainly the way John baptized.

Likewise Jesus arrest by the Temple authorities is depicted as a rump hearing by a select group of Temple authorities, including the High Priest who was appointed by Rome.  It was thoroughly illegal and certainly did not involve the general public who were attracted to Jesus.  The script makes this quite clear and is faithful to the text of the Gospels.

The crowding of Jerusalem for Passover and the tents pitched outside the walls to accommodate the flood of pilgrims is also a touch of historical detail that adds correctness to the presentation.

The Palm Sunday approach to Jerusalem by Jesus as a part of the general parade of pilgrims approaching Jerusalem from Galilee and elsewhere is also accurate.

However, Hollywood producers are not biblical scholars, not even Mark Burnett and Roma Downey.  Mary and Joseph certainly did not travel to Bethlehem alone.  Travel in Israel in the first century was dangerous.  They did not arrive just in time for Jesus to be born.  Both Joseph and Mary had family in Bethlehem.  They did not stay in an inn, since there is no such thing in the little town of Bethlehem.  They stayed with family and the Greek word translated ”inn” is better translated “guest room.”  Jesus was likely born in a cave and laid in a manger, but it was attracted to the home in which they were staying.   Bethlehem was crowded and the guest room was occupied.

The Magi and the shepherds did not arrive together and the Magi were Persians.  Jesus was at least eighteen months old before the Magi arrived in Bethlehem.

The Lord’s Supper was initiated at the end of a Passover meal, not at the beginning.  Judas left the room before the meal was started.

Having traveled in Israel and experiencing the beauty of the Galilee I was a bit disappointed at the bleak landscape depicted as Galilee in the series.

However, nothing is perfect.  Ten hours is a short space of time to depict the entire biblical story.  Burnett and Downey have made a good effort and I am delighted at the response the series is getting.  Hopefully it will move America closer to its biblical roots.

(Bill Scarle can be contacted at  END-whs