I am a Bible nerd. I love the Hebrew Bible, known to most Christians as the Old Testament. I studied it with Jewish scholars, including a Rabbi, and they opened my eyes to this often set aside portion of the Christian canon. Many Christians rush through the Old Testament just to get to the New Testament, but that is to sell ourselves and God short. Just think about how many thousands of years of interaction and relationship God invested into making the content of the Old Testament possible. It was that important to God, and it should be shown much more respect by us.
Now that is not to say that I love everything in the Old Testament. Some of the content is horrific, and it should be. It reveals to us just how far we have descended into the abyss of sin, and just how much evil our sinfulness perverts the creation God so carefully, and intentionally brought into being. Every time I read the Rape of the Concubine in Judges I cringe, and I wonder why God does not just leave us to annihilate ourselves, because we can be that evil. And then I read a Gospel account, and marvel at the love and compassion Christ shows to we who are so unworthy. My gut wrenches at the thought of what he endured even before they nailed him to the cross: all the public torment, the hostile accusations, and backdoor plotting to have him killed. Yet God is so good, and so in love us with that God was willing to endure this so that we could try again in grace. I know that my reaction to the New Testament is that more more heightened and profound because I know what we had to go through to get there, and that journey is only recorded in the Old Testament. The stories recounted in the Scriptures are compelling, if we are willing to really read them, not just skim them for the basic gist. We miss so much of the fascinating detail when we do. That is the problem with so many of our stories that are made into movies: we know the basics, but not enough to see how interesting they really are, so we go about messing with them to jazz them up for mass market. Well, I have news for Hollywood, the narratives in the book beat what you’ve put on the screen every day of the week, and twice on Sundays.
Look at The Ten Commandments (1956) by Cecil B. DeMille. I actually like this one, but it still loses some of the best parts of the biblical account by throwing in diversions that don’t make sense, much less drive the story, like Queen Nefretiri. She is not in the oirginal story, and she ends up being an odd presence in the movie. But even Mr. DeMille was unwilling to be as harsh as the original text. He softens the blows of the Lord advising Moses that God will kill the firstborn of Egypt before Moses even returns from the burning bush (Exodus 4:23), and that it is the Lord God’s self that does the killing, not some angel of death or a strange green smoke (Exodus 12:12). Now that is something with which to wrestle. The other night I watched Noah (2014), and it was so obviously intent on making an action packed, exciting film that someone figured there was not enough juiciness in the Bible version. Wrong. The movie really lost continuity and even caused problems that were handled in the Scripture. No one is around to seal Noah, his family, and the animals in the ark, so Noah risks his life hanging around on the outside deck, but in the Bible, God seals them in (Genesis 7:16). Problem solved, and that would have been cool to depict! There is all this melodrama with Ham about not having a wife for life after the flood, because Noah does not take on any women for Ham and Japheth, but Scripture clearly says that Noah, his wife, his three sons and their three wives all entered the ark (Genesis 7:13). God managed to think this through better than the screenwriters. I could make all the same complaints about other biblically based fictional movies, including Son of God (2014), and its wonky take on the Gospel accounts of Jesus’ life and ministry. The bottom line is that we would be better served, and probably a great deal better entertained to really read, and read well!, the Bible accounts themselves. We need to end the false notion that the Old Testament is boring. There is so much that would be rated NC-17 in those hallowed pages. Hollywood couldn’t get them shown, much less come up with something better. They’ve tried, and their improvement always fall flat. They may be entertaining, but more often not, and they will never have the power and authority of the original to compel us to be transformed. There is a saying: “The book is better than the movie,” and, in this case, it is certainly true!