History Channel’s “The Bible”: Episode 2

This installment, like the first week, was a mixture of good and coulda-been-better.  They totally screwed up one of my favorites, (Samson), but I liked how they did the David storyline so well that by the end I forgot I was upset about their portrayal of Samson (until I looked back over my notes.)  I think it was better than last week’s, and I’m starting to wonder just how many of the inaccuracies are due to budget or time constrictions, but I don’t really see how limited funds would have prevented them from showing things like Rahab hiding the spies on her roof or Samson standing with a hand on two separate pillars like it specifically says he was.  *sigh*

Jericho

This episode started by re-playing the last few minutes of the previous show, when Joshua sent spies into Jericho. In the Bible, they’re supposed to scout the whole area, but Joshua does tell them “especially Jericho” so I guess it’s alright that the show simplified.  I’m not sure why they felt the need to add scenes of the spies knife-fighting in the street, (other than the sense that the producers of this series think bloody fighting=good drama, as we saw with last week’s warrior angels), but according to the Biblical text, somehow the king of Jericho did find out that there were spies in the city, and sent people to Rahab’s house to find them.  So I guess it’s possible that the city was alerted to the presence of spies because they left some dead bodies and lots of witnesses in their wake, but then they would be pretty poor spies, wouldn’t they?  (Like spies who try to shush an enemy woman into not giving them away…why wouldn’t she?  Just because you “shushed” her?  That was kinda dumb.)  Anyway, the show changed the manner in which Rahab helped the spies escape quite a bit, but it still showed her saying she thought they were sure to succeed in their coming campaign because she had heard of all the miracles that God had done and was convinced He was on their side.

Before the spies lay down for the night, she went up on the roof and said to them, “I know that the Lord has given you this land and that a great fear of you has fallen on us, so that all who live in this country are melting in fear because of you. We have heard how the Lord dried up the water of the Red Sea for you when you came out of Egypt, and what you did to Sihon and Og, the two kings of the Amorites east of the Jordan, whom you completely destroyed. When we heard of it, our hearts melted in fear and everyone’s courage failed because of you, for the Lord your God is God in heaven above and on the earth below. –Joshua 2:8-11

I wish the show hadn’t shown the spies coercing her into cooperation by holding a knife to a boy’s neck, (presumably her son).  Because that takes away from the power of her volunteering to help them just because of the reputation the Israelities and their God had.  I was glad they showed Rahab joining the victory chant at the end of that segment, though, because it’s indicates that she did become one of them as the Bible records.

But Joshua spared Rahab the prostitute, with her family and all who belonged to her, because she hid the men Joshua had sent as spies to Jericho—and she lives among the Israelites to this day. –Joshua 6:25

Did you know that Rahab actually went on to become part of the lineage to Jesus?  I guess my main complaint with her portrayal in the show is that they took away a lot of her agency as a character.  She’s threatened into helping the spies instead of volunteering, and they only established that she was a prostitute by having a smarmy soldier leer at her and call sneer “my little whore,” which to me was not a clear indication that she actually was a prostitute as it could have just as easily been interpreted as harassment, so she’s a passive victim and not somebody who makes choices for herself, good or bad.  Maybe she was forced into a life of prostitution, whether explicitly or through socio-economic factors; we just don’t know.  But did the producers make this style choice because they didn’t want to portray one of Jesus’ ancestors as someone who once willfully sold her body for money? I don’t like any attempts to sugar-coat people in the Bible and make them seem better than they were.  They were all flawed humans, and God used them anyway.  I don’t understand the tendency for Christians to elevate Bible heroes and make it that much harder for us to relate to today, as if they never struggled with doubt, as if they never had moments of weakness, as if they were all perfect from the start and not broken, emotional messes like we are.  As if we could never measure up to their example if we tried.

But it was never the people in the Bible stories that were incredible.  It was always God’s power working through them.   Their biggest contribution was having the faith to trust Him to lead their lives, and not one of them ever got that totally right either.  Go read Hebrews 11, which lists many of the imperfect people from the Bible, including Rahab, and commends them for the actions they took by faith.  This whole awesome list is basically concluded by saying, now it’s our turn!  What will God do with our lives, if we let him?

Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us. –Hebrews 12:1

You can read more fully about Rahab and the spies in Joshua 2, and about the battle of Jericho in Joshua 6.  I was pleased that they included details that are often omitted in re-tellings of this particular story, like the angel visiting Joshua and instructing him on how to take the city, and the fact that they actually walked around the city once a day for six days and then seven times on the seventh day.  The main concern I had for this section besides the Rahab thing is that they never really explained the ark of the covenant.  They opened with a shot of Joshua praying by it, and they mention it briefly throughout, including when the priests carry it around the walls of the city, but it is such an important symbol of God’s covenant and power that it would have been really helpful to the audience to establish that a little more, so that the significance of David rejoicing when it’s brought into Jerusalem later in the episode makes sense.  The ark has the stone tablets of the ten commandments in it!  It has Aaron’s staff that budded, and a jar of manna.  It represents God’s presence with the Israelites.  When it’s captured by their enemies and placed in a temple of Dagon as a trophy, the statue of Dagon falls off its pedestal and bows to the ark.  It gives the people who captured it tumors.  The ark of the covenant deserves its own segment on the show, is what I’m saying, yet I can’t even find a picture of it on the show’s website.

Samson

The Samson in the show was pretty close to how I’ve always imagined him, except that show-Samson had more than the seven braids mentioned in the Bible.

Samson, (with his more-than-seven braids), and his mom. (source for image).

Samson and his mom. (source for image).

My statement in the opening paragraph of this post that the show “ruined” the story of Samson may have been too harsh, but they just left so much outSamson is easily one of my favorites; his story is full of great drama, and he’s so deeply flawed and tragic.  He has a weakness for women.  He has a temper.  He’s a fascinating character.  But the show left out a lot of the best parts of his story, like killing a lion with his bare hands, and making a clever riddle out of the fact that bees made honey in the lion’s carcass, and the fact that his new wife was married off to the best man because they thought Samson didn’t want her anymore, and she wasn’t burned to death until after he burned all the fields of the Philistines by tying torches to foxes’ tails and making them run through the grain.  I suppose some of those things were cut to make it shorter, and some because they didn’t have the budget for the CGI or whatever, but I was basically just yelling at my screen the whole time because they skipped through it so fast, and it could really be an amazing full-length movie on its own.  I’ve always secretly wanted to write a screenplay for it myself.

Anyway, there were a lot of points that the show got right: Yes, his wife was burned to death, yes, he handed himself over to be bound and brought to the Philistines before breaking out of the bonds and kicking butt, yes, he used a donkey’s jawbone as an improvised weapon (but he killed way more men with it than the one or two in the show), yes Delilah betrayed him for money and yes he was that stupid and told her exactly how to do it, (but only after he had lied to her 3 times about how to make him lose his strength, and seeing her try to betray him all 3 times.  I told you he had a weakness for women.)  And yes, he prays for a final surge of strength when he’s brought out at a Philistine party to be mocked, and pushes down the pillars and the whole building collapses and kills all the revelers along with himself.  His mother wouldn’t have been there so soon after to dig him out of the rubble, but it does say that:

Then his brothers and his father’s whole family went down to get him.  They brought him back and buried him between Zorah and Eshtaol in the tomb of Manoah his father.  He led Israel twenty years. –Judges 16:31

I don’t have time to include quotes from all the great parts in the Samson story, but you should go read the whole thing, it’s really really good.  Probably my favorite part in the show was when he snapped the chains that were supposed to be restraining him and then started swinging them around as a weapon.  But wouldn’t it have been cool to see him tear the gates of the city of Gaza from the wall and carry them up the hill, too?  That might have been more doable under the budget than fighting a lion with his bare hands.  Oh well.

Saul and David

Is it bad that the first thought I had when Saul appeared on screen was “he’s not handsome enough!”?  (Right after “whoa, they skipped all the way from Samson to Samuel with no transition!”, that is.)  Here’s how the Bible introduces Saul:

Kish had a son named Saul, as handsome a young man as could be found anywhere in Israel, and he was a head taller than anyone else. –1 Samuel 9:2

Sorry dude, you're probably not as handsome as the real Saul was. (source for image)

Sorry dude, you’re probably not as handsome as the real Saul was. (source for image)

Regardless, I liked this portrayal of Saul, and later in this section that of adult David, and this was my favorite segment this week.  They got a lot of things just right; now that I think about it, I probably liked it the best because it was the most accurate to the text.  (They still skipped a lot, but in fairness there was a lot more to skip, too.  I mean, David’s narrative spans two whole books of the Bible).

I loved the sarcasm of Samuel when he said confronted Saul about not having carried out the Lord’s instructions to destroy everything that belonged to their enemies; it was perfect.

“But Samuel said, “What then is this bleating of sheep in my ears?  What is this lowing of cattle that I hear?” –1 Samuel 15:14

The David and Goliath bit was pretty good except I’m not sure I would have swapped out David’s original dialogue as he went up against the giant for the 23rd Psalm.  In a way it was a cool decision because David did write those lyrics, and maybe he did go around quoting his own stuff when it felt relevant, (although it’s unknown whether he would have written that particular psalm by this point in his life or not.)  I like the first part of what he really says in the Bible, about his God being his weapon, but re-reading it now I guess the second part is pretty grisly:

 David said to the Philistine, “You come against me with sword and spear and javelin, but I come against you in the name of the Lord Almighty, the God of the armies of Israel, whom you have defied. This day the Lord will deliver you into my hands, and I’ll strike you down and cut off your head. This very day I will give the carcasses of the Philistine army to the birds and the wild animals, and the whole world will know that there is a God in Israel. All those gathered here will know that it is not by sword or spear that the Lord saves; for the battle is the Lord’s, and he will give all of you into our hands.” –1 Samuel 17:45-47

I liked Goliath’s warrior ponytail when he took off his helmet, but then I liked it even more when I realized they only styled him that way so they could make it easier for David to hold up his severed head.  It just made me laugh, along with the inexplicable British accent of the young David a la Isaac and Sarah from the last episode.

I didn’t quite catch whether the show mentioned exactly what was inside that bag that David handed him as proof that he had more than fulfilled Saul’s price of 100 dead Philistines for the hand of his daughter Michal, but it was 200 foreskins.  Gross, right?  I’m totally okay with the decision to put them all in a bag and keep them unseen from the audience instead of having them count out the full number before the king as the text says.  Yeah.  I don’t need to see that.

The inclusion of Saul ordering some priests killed was a bit of a strange choice; maybe it was meant to really show how far off track he had gone?  I don’t think it illustrates his craziness as much as him hurling spears at David one minute and then asking him to soothe his nightmares away with his harp the next, but if they had done this scene the way it happens in the Bible, Saul comes off more paranoid about everyone conspiring against him to support David, yet most of his men are unwilling to carry out his kill order against the priests.  It’s just kind of a strange story, but maybe it was included to meet the show producers’ seeming quota for bloody violence.  They love to fit those fight scenes in wherever they can.

David creeping up behind a peeing Saul and cutting a piece of his cloak to prove he could have killed him if he’d wanted was pretty much exactly how it happened.

The deaths of Jonathon and Saul and David’s reaction to hearing about them were terrific, I thought.  The text doesn’t specify how Jonathan died, just that it was during the battle, so an arrow makes sense, especially since it does say that archers critically wounded Saul.  Saul does kill himself by falling on his sword, but only after his armor-bearer refuses to kill him for him.  The messenger that relays the news of the deaths to David tries to take credit for killing both the king, perhaps mistakenly believing that David will reward him for killing his “enemy.”  In the show, David rebukes the messenger for thinking it’s good news, but in the Bible he kills him for “lifting your hand to destroy the Lord’s anointed.”  But the emotions of this whole part were right, if not all the details.

The dramatization of David and his men crawling into Jerusalem through the water shaft and climbing up out of the well was fantastic.

I do wish they hadn’t introduced Bathsheeba during the scene where David is dancing in the street before the returning ark of the covenant, because it tainted the unbridled joy of that scene, when David is supposed to be leaping and dancing in such an undignified manner that his wife Michal is embarrassed, and tries to shame him for it and his skimpy attire.  (I always thought the linen ephod the text says he was wearing was more like underwear, but in the show it looks more like a kind of a kilt?)

When David returned home to bless his household, Michal daughter of Saul came out to meet him and said, “How the king of Israel has distinguished himself today, going around half-naked in full view of the slave girls of his servants as any vulgar fellow would!”

 David said to Michal, “It was before the Lord, who chose me rather than your father or anyone from his house when he appointed me ruler over the Lord’s people Israel—I will celebrate before the Lord. I will become even more undignified than this, and I will be humiliated in my own eyes. But by these slave girls you spoke of, I will be held in honor.” –2 Samuel 6:20-22

I loved Nathan’s rebuking of David for taking “everything from [Uriah’s] life,” and I thought it was a good choice to have the ending focus on the fact that David’s son Solomon will build the Lord’s temple.

Sorry it took me a few days to get this post up.  I’ll try to be faster next with next week’s episode!