BiblecoverGrade:  B+
Entire family:  No
2013, 10 episodes (440 min.), Color
Unrated (would be PG-13 for graphic violence)
Aspect ratio:  1.78:1
Featured audio:  DTS-HD 5.1
Bonus features:  C+

The Bible: The Epic Miniseries carries a blue-and-white Dove symbol on its back cover, but it’s awfully tiny and doesn’t actually say “Family Approved.” After watching this popular HISTORY Channel series, I know why. If it were a motion picture, The Bible would have to be rated at least PG-13 for the incredible amount of graphic violence it depicts. The cameras capture throat slitting, beheadings, stonings, beatings, and the same kind of sword slashing, stabbing and hacking (with splattering blood) that we get in a movie like 300.

1 Samuel 17: 51 tells how David took Goliath’s sword and killed him, then cut off his head. But reading it is one thing; seeing him holding up the head like a trophy is another. If you read the Bible there’s an awful lot of fighting and killing, but it’s pretty matter-of-fact. 2 Samuel 8:5 tells us “David slew twenty-two thousand men of the Syrians” and verse 13 adds that he won a name for himself in battle and upon his return “slew eighteen thousand Edomites in the Valley of Salt.” But train the camera on battle after battle, and . . . well, you get the picture.

That’s the first thing that strikes you about this series. The second is that the production values, the casting, the writing—even the segues that help span huge chunks of the book that had to be omitted—are all quite good. The CGI effects are terrific in this big-screen quality production. In fact, the only thing that reminds you it’s television are annoying “Previously on” and “Next on” montages that bookend each episode and run excessively long. But at least you can skip over those. 

Speaking of which, The Bible covers so much ground that a lot of things had to be omitted, or else the series would run a lot longer than 10 hours. This series isn’t organized by book, but rather by story. Would it surprise you that Jonah and the whale, the Tower of Babel, or Joseph and his technicolor dream coat didn’t make the cut?  Or that the Old Testament section begins with Noah, with only a cursory summary of the Creation and the Garden of Eden?

BiblescreenBut Abraham’s story is included, as is the story of Moses and the Exodus from Egypt, Joshua and the fall of Jericho, Samson and Delilah, King Saul, David and Goliath and David’s reign, the Babylonian captivity with Daniel in the Lion’s Den and the three men in the fiery furnace, and the more familiar territory of the New Testament: the story of Jesus’ birth, miracle-working, disciple-gathering, teachings, and eventual betrayal and crucifixion. Filmmakers Roma Downey and Mark Burnett are to be commended for continuing the story beyond that, with Jesus’ disciples trying to spread the gospel and Saul becoming Paul, the great converter of gentiles. It’s more satisfying than if everything stopped at the cross.

There are some interesting choices made throughout. Rastafarians always said that Samson wore dreads, and he does so here. Herod is a corpulent gourmand, while Jesus (played by Portuguese actor Diogo Morgado) is the long-haired beatific messiah that everyone envisions—as believable a Jesus as I’ve seen in a film or television production. The only hokey element in an otherwise solidly conceived production was the addition of physical beings dressed in armor and cloaks who were shown every time God was speaking, or who brought God’s message. It felt like a Star Wars element in a Ten Commandments kind of film.

Younger children and people disturbed by graphic violence won’t be able to watch, but the rest of the family will find The Bible an interesting combination of the expected and unexpected. And yes, it’ll probably send you back to the Good Book to see if such-and-such is really there, because the filmmakers did take quite a few liberties.