It's the day after the first episode of the History Channel's five-part mini-series "The Bible" and Monday morning quarter-backing is rampant on the Internet. Longtime Bible readers are shaking their heads over the stories director Roma Downey and producer Mark Burnett skipped, as well as the theological interpretation of the stories they chose to follow. Television critics and film industry experts are reviewing and tackling the series' dramatic effects and the actors' performances. Everyone seems to have an opinion if they watched "The Bible" last night - and even those that didn't watch are feeling compelled to jump in and share their reasons for abstaining.
Indeed, the Downey-Burnett team had to know that they would have few friendly critics when they embarked upon what became a four-year project. They lived in the Middle East to film as much as possible on location. They sought Bible experts in scripting and scenery. But few Bible experts found their efforts up to expectations.
But it wasn't those well-acquainted with the Bible Downey and Burnett were interested so much in reaching, they told Fox News talk host Bill O'Reilly last week. It was their goal to acquaint a new generation unfamiliar with the Bible - who had never heard or rarely attended Sunday School or learned Church doctrine as children - they were focused on pulling in.
And that's exactly what happened Sunday night. For a short time "#Bible" and "#History" trended on Twitter, while the very youngsters Downey and Burnett were seeking tweeted time and time again how "cool" and "sick" the Bible stories were. They saw how Abraham started problems when he slept with his wife Sarah's handmaiden Hagar. They were introduced to Abraham's nephew Lot and saw how his wife turned to a pillar of salt when she looked back on a Sodom and Gommorah God was destroying with fire. They saw how Abraham nearly sacrificed his long-awaited son Isaac, at God's command. They learned how Moses -raised as royalty - killed a fellow member of Egyptian distinction and was forced to flee from the only world he knew to become a leader of the enslaved Hebrew nation. They watched the plagues, the first born spared during the first Passover and the Red Sea part, to later swallow Pharoah's army.
Many viewers not so familiar with gritty Old Testament stories were intrigued with the Downey-Burnett's interpretation of angels as Ninja-like warriors that fought with swords rather than sing with chubby cherub cheeks. Starting with Abraham and concluding with Joshua about to climb Jericho's walls, the two hours of Bible stories and action could only be compared to drinking from a fire hose. It was fast, furious, surfacey and unsatisfactory to longtime Bible readers. But the Downey-Burnett team did successfully stir interest and revive in the minds of many stories they recalled vaguely.
"I always loved the story of Baby Moses," one Bible viewer commented "I remember my mom telling me that story," another tweeted. Others threw expected wise cracks like "He ain't heavy" when Moses reunited with his brother Aaron, and "Why didn't Sarah call the Dept of Family Services?" when Abraham tied Isaac to an altar. And yes, tweeting atheists ridiculed for two hours, from start to beginning.
But that was the Downey-Burnett team's point. #Bible had trended on Twitter. People were discussing the #Bible outside church doors and will continue to discuss it for the next four weeks, leading up to Christianity's high holiday of Resurrection Sunday. And as sad as it is, even negative comments bringing the #Bible and its stories into the online conversation and American culture made a difference.
The fact is the Bible was on the minds of television viewers Sunday night, indeed, a rarity. And for that - whether or not the production missed key points or crucial stories and whether the production was as well done as it could have been - Roma Downey and Mark Burnett should be congratulated.
The Old Testament prophet Isaiah wrote these words, " So shall my word be that goeth forth out of my mouth: it shall not return unto me void, but it shall accomplish that which I please, and it shall prosper in the thing whereto I sent it."
A worthwhile prayer for the rest of The Bible, to be presented for the next four Sunday nights on the History Channel at 7 PM Central. Join the conversation.