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FIRST-PERSON: History Channel begets a (good) Bible series

KANSAS CITY, Kan. (BP) — “Just think about all the people who don’t know the Bible,” said Roma Downey, co-executive producer of the miniseries “The Bible,” which will air on the History Channel beginning Sunday (March 3).

“The Bible,” a five-episode, 10-hour special, was the dream child of Downey (star of “Touched by an Angel”) and her husband, Mark Burnett (producer of “Survivor”). At a press interview in New York last November, I found the husband-and-wife producing team enthusiastic, nearly giddy as they neared the completion of the production.

“It’s hard to imagine, I know,” began Downey in a recent phone interview, “but there are those who have never heard the accounts of Noah, or Abraham, or Moses — or, even Jesus. What we hope will happen from viewing the series is that people, believers and those who are not yet, will gain a renewed interest in God’s Word.

“Sadly, there’s a real Bible illiteracy in today’s world. There are people who simply don’t know stories we take for granted. You think everyone knows the account of Adam and Eve or Samson and Delilah or the significance of the temptation of Christ by Satan,” the actress continued, “but they don’t.”

Burnett, added, “I think the production will attract millions of people, and we pray that upon viewing it, a new interest will develop for many of them. Especially in these foreboding times.”

Knowing Christian leaders would be concerned with the direction “Hollywood” folk would take the series, I asked Burnett and Downey a few probing questions.

BOATWRIGHT: What version of the Bible did you choose as source material?

BURNETT: We used many translations, because we wanted to be accessible to young people. But personally, I would always come back to the King James Version because that’s what I grew up with. We’re not theologians, we’re storytellers. So, we enlisted several well-known pastors and academics who study God’s Word as a vocation. Of course, as you know, you can’t please everybody. But we made a 10-hour walking tour from Genesis to Revelation, a tour we spent a great deal of time in prayer over.

BOATWRIGHT: How did you decide which biblical anecdotes to use?

BURNETT: We had one of two choices: either select dozens of short summaries and tell many brief stories, or, choose fewer characters and stories but make a much deeper emotional connection. We went with the second choice.

DOWNEY: So we began the TV scripts, written by a team of writers under the guidance of many biblical experts.

BOATWRIGHT: What was the reception like when you approached the History Channel with the direction you wanted to take the vignettes?

BURNETT: Very receptive. At least once a year, the History Channel tries to do one big epic project. We’ve tried to make this a full drama, not just a series of vignettes, with each story segueing naturally into the next story. They gave us a free rein.

DOWNEY: Just look at the professionals we were blessed to get.

[My research found that, indeed, the production was populated with award-winning experts in their chosen fields.]

BOATWRIGHT: How are the episodes presented?

DOWNEY: It will premiere March 3 and run for five weeks, each week featuring two hour episodes, and ending on Easter Sunday.

BOATWRIGHT: I understand your actor playing Jesus is a Christian, correct?

DOWNEY: Yes, we found him, really, through the power of prayer. It was just weeks away from the beginning of filming. We were looking for someone who could play both the lion and the lamb. It was going to take someone very special and we found that Diogo [Morgado] brought a beautiful combination of strength and charisma, but also gentleness and humility. And I believe his performance will be touching to everyone who sees it.

As I mentioned, I met Burnett and Downey in New York on a press junket and they showed us 45 minutes of the production. Though I can’t claim to know the quality of the entire production, I did sense a professionalism that took inspiration from these biblical tales. Probably the most difficult character for an actor to play is Jesus, who is fully God, fully man. He knew our temptations, yet remained sinless. Try to get that in your psyche if you’re an actor. But I was moved with Morgado’s portrayal of Christ. It is my belief that this singular performance will touch hearts and spark a desire in many to gain a further understanding of John 3:16, “For God so loved the world ….”

The following stories are included in the series:

— Adam and Eve

— Cain and Abel

— Noah and the ark

— Abraham

— The destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah

— The sacrifice of Isaac

— Moses and the burning bush

— The parting of the Red Sea

— The Ten Commandments

— Joshua and the walls of Jericho

— Samson and Delilah

— Samuel anoints Samuel as King of Israel

— David defeats Goliath

— David as king of Israel

— The prophet Jeremiah

— Nebuchadnezzar and the Babylonians conquer Jerusalem

— Daniel in the lion’s den

— King Cyrus frees the Israelites

— The Angel Gabriel visits Mary

— The nativity

— John the Baptist

— Jesus tempted in the desert by Satan

— Jesus meets Peter

— The miracles and mission of Jesus

— The feeding of the 5,000

— Jesus confronts the money lenders

— The Last Supper

— Judas’ betrayal of Jesus

— The crucifixion

— The resurrection

— Pentecost

— The blinding of Paul

Along with their producing chores, Burnett and Downey have published a thoughtful devotional book that works well as a companion piece, adding dimension to the television program. I was sent a copy and have been reading it every day. I was impressed because I feel most family members will find the daily devotional applicable and strengthening to their spiritual walk. “A Story of God and All of Us: Reflections” contains 100 devotionals and inspirations based on the miniseries and the producers’ meditations during that production. It contains relevant Scripture passages, experiences during production and a daily prayer.
In addition to writing for Baptist Press, Phil Boatwright reviews films for www.previewonline.org. He is also a regular contributor to “The World and Everything In It,” a weekly radio program from WORLD News Group. Get Baptist Press headlines and breaking news on Twitter (@BaptistPress), Facebook (Facebook.com/BaptistPress ) and in your email ( baptistpress.com/SubscribeBP.asp).

    About the Author

  • Phil Boatwright