When History channel series The Bible by Roma Downey and Mark Burnett first aired last Sunday, my hope was that this series would spark intense interest in the actual Bible. Regardless of any philosophical viewpoint, this miniseries presents a great opportunity for Christians and church leaders to educate people about scripture - whether it be to correct errors or to expand upon truths. If you find anything wrong (and I found some major things wrong), the primary tone should be education, not condemnation, because we desire for people to understand scripture and come closer to Christ.
Honestly, I did not realize how much I actually liked the Sodom passage in the Bible, but I appreciate it on account of its parallel to Judges 19 and 20. While the introduction with Noah telling the history of creation was brilliant, the first episode disappointed me in its refusal to seriously discuss scripture. This is where Christians and church leaders need to step up and discuss the scripture openly.
The introduction scene to the city of Sodom features numerous pairs of heterosexual kissing. It is actually pretty tame and mild - dare I say prudish? - by today's standards. It basically seems to be one drunken kissagram. I thought this would be a good foreshadowing of worse things to come. After all, Sodom is well-known for an attempted male rape, but heterosexual sins could also be just as prevalent if not more prevalent. In our own culture, heterosexual sins erupted first, followed by homosexual sins, and now heterosexuality deserves the abomination label just as much as the other. So, I thought the kissagrams would be a foreshadowing of worse and more overt sexual sins.
But that appeared to be it, and the entire scene within Sodom was completely rewritten.
Now, the two angels came to Sodom in the evening, and Lot was sitting in the gate of Sodom. When Lot saw them, he rose to meet them, and he bowed himself with his face toward the ground.
And he said, "Here now, my lords, please turn into your servant's house and spend the night, and wash your feet; then you may rise early and go on your way." And they said, "Now, but we will spend the night in the open square."
But he insisted strongly; so they turned in to him and entered his house. Then, he made them a feast, and baked unleavened bread, and they ate. (Genesis 19:1-3)
Quite a generous and charitable host to his guest, that Lot to the angels! But what was Lot doing in the gate close to nighttime? Why did he insist so strongly against them sleeping in the open square? Great room for building suspense and drama. Unfortunately, there was no suspense or drama in the miniseries' Sodom scene. Instead, it features the two angels screaming and yelling for help. Lot rushes to their rescue. This never happened in the actual Bible. And the miniseries portrays the angels as liars since they never needed help, and it was all a ruse to get Lot into action. Rescue from what is never revealed, and the angry mob at the Lot's door - their intentions and motivations are never revealed in the episode, either.
Now before they lay down, the men of the city, the men of Sodom both old and young, all the people from every quarter, surrounded the house. And they called to Lot and said to him, "Where are the men who came to you tonight? Bring them out to us so that we may know them carnally."
So Lot went out to them through the doorway and shut the door behind him and said, "Please, my brethren, do not do so wickedly!" (Genesis 19:4-7)
That could have been an extremely intense, dramatic, and terrifying scene. Instead, it was replaced by an angry mob whose intentions were vague and unknown. There were never any threats of male rape. I have heard some Christians assert that the complete absence of homosexuality was to avoid offending the gays and to appease the activists. This could be true. However, gay activists refer to the Sodom story as a condemnation of rape, not necessarily consensual sex. This is a good argument on their part, and that is why we have Leviticus 18:22.
So, there is nothing in the biblical Sodom scene which could legitimately offend the gays and lesbians. Besides which, it has a strong parallel to the end of Judges, which features a heterosexual gang rape. In Judges, we get to see what would have happened if the mob did gang-rape Lot's virgin daughters instead.
I suspect the producers in charge of the movie heavily sanitized the Sodom scene for the sake of a Christian audience. If Christians saw only gays kissing, they would object severely at the filth. If they saw threats of male rape or attempted male rape, they would go fleeing and squeaming away from the scene. I suspect that too many Christians would protest the presence of homosexuality in a Christian movie, even in the context of it being wrong. So, I think it was sanitized simply for the sake of its audience.
After Lot tells the men of Sodom, "Please, my brethren, do not do so wickedly!" he follows it with:
"See now, I have two daughters who have not known a man. Please, let me bring them out to you, and you may do to them as you wish. Only do nothing to these men, since this is the reason they have come under the shadow of my roof." (Genesis 19:8)
Lot's willingness to prostitute his daughters is absent from the miniseries episode. Perhaps the people who made the miniseries thought it would be too traumatic for children to watch. Well, then, do not let the kids watch it. This alternation in the miniseries seriously changes and damages the substance of their material. Much more could have been taken from scripture and weaved into this scene for more tension and suspense.
Lot was willing to prostitute his daughters, which goes against God's moral law. One of the angels could become outraged and furious, threatening to leave Lot to burn with the rest of the city. In Judges 19 and 20, we see what would have happened if the two daughters were given over to a gang rape. And then, there is another verse to toss into the mix.
"Do not prostitute thy daughter, to cause her to be a harlotry; lest the land fall to harlotry, and the land become full of wickedness." (Leviticus 19:29)
This would definitely drive home the point that there is not one single righteous in all Sodom while the second angel could counter the first angel: they need to rescue Lot for Abraham's sake. This is stated within the narrative text of Genesis 19:29, so you would have two angels arguing what to do and Lot facing a possible death sentence alongside the homosexual rapists for wanting to prostitute his daughters. Adding this scene that I suggest, based entirely upon scripture, would have made the audience more aware of the actual Bible's contents and of God's views on certain topics plus the scene would have been more intense, dramatic, and suspenseful.
Unfortunately, none of that happened. The Sodom scene in the miniseries episode was vague and bland and indiscernible. The episode never presented enough wickedness for it to deserve its punishment. Because it failed to present enough wickedness, it failed to explain why God was perfectly just in destroying the city. This is one instance in which Christian squeamishness is a dishonor and disrespect against God.
In the actual Bible, the two angels "struck the men who were at the doorway of the house with blindness, both small and great, so that they became weary trying to find the door." (Genesis 19:11) And then, the two angels and Lot with his family stayed one more night in Sodom so that "when the morning dawned, the angels urged Lot to hurry." (Genesis 19:15)
In the miniseries, the angels did do something to the men's eyes. It does not appear to be blindness. Another review I read had said the angels made the men's eyes bleed, but I could not tell what was happening when I watched it. Blindness would be much more efficient and humane.
Anyway, in the miniseries this begins a mad dash for safety during the night. The angels unsheathe their swords and begin slicing the men of Sodom who come after them. This scene is problematic on many levels. For one, this proves that the angels had no need and no basis for requiring Lot to rescue them. Because this added scene reveals that the angels never required any help, this scene reveals them to be liars. Holy creatures are incapable of lying. In the actual Bible, the angels are much more honest; they wanted to sleep in the open area of the city, but Lot insisted and beckoned them into his home.
Another problematic point: because God is going to torch the city anyway, it is completely senseless to kill the men. Are angels supposed to kill God's creatures? I thought that job was reserved specifically for the death angel. Blindness is efficient and merciful. Because the angels had planned to stay the night anyway (Genesis 19:2), this indicates that God did not intend to destroy the city until the next morning (Genesis 19:15). God is patient and longsuffering. He can wait the night for Lot and his family to rest and to prepare themselves for their exit out of Sodom. Waiting the night also proves that when God judges a place or a person, His judgment is not always immediate.
Instead, in the miniseries, we have an attempt by the producers for a dramatic and intense escape featuring senseless and unscriptural violence by lying angels to escape something vague and unknown for no apparent reason other than God said so.
God has reasons for what He does, you idiots. And when you make a production or interpretation about God, it is your duty to provide those reasons.
Now, about the angels with swords... when the Asian-looking angel pulled out two swords, I thought, "that's a racial stereotype." It is a stereotype because although anime and Japanese movies do show one or two men wielding twin katanas, not every samurai wielded twin katanas. There is a diversity of samurai weaponry such as a no-datchi which is just one giant sword, a naginata which is a long blade attached to a long wooden pole, a kusari-gama, which is a blade attached to a chain for throwing. All these weapons were developed roughly around 1000 AD. The samurai era with its emphasis on weaponry did not begin until 1100 or 1200 AD. It is completely anachronistic for them to appear in a time setting 3000 BC. Japan at the time was still heavily populated with the indigenous Ainu, and sophisticated weaponry did not appear until much later.
To have an Asian-looking character wield twin blades is a racial stereotype. That the black angel only had one sword further established the stereotype of the Asian angel. And take a look at this anime picture. All these weapons are depictions of real weapons.
There are twin katanas, but there is also a yari, a nodatchi, a bow and arrow, and a naginata. Quite a diversity of weapons. Actually, I thought Shu Rei Faun wielded something other than a naginata, but that is what it looks like. Oni Masho Shuten had a kusari-gama, but I cannot find a good picture of it.
And when we Christians start citing Ephesians 6:11-17, we can put a whole new spin to the phrase "Armor up!" Scripture can be both fun entertainment and a great education if used properly.
And finally, there is the scene where Abraham prepares to sacrifice Isaac. The narrator says that "Abraham has learned that being chosen by God is a blessing and a test." I think it was plural. Abraham cries out "haven't I proven my faith enough?" I wonder why does serving God need to be a series of tests? The episode provides no theological explanation for any of this. Abraham's anguished and fierce anger at God is both unscriptural and unbiblical. It's a part of Christian pop culture that has no basis in Christian reality. The most entertaining - and scripturally-sound - retelling of the binding of Isaac is found within the Jewish Midrash.
The offering up of Isaac occurs in chapter 22 of Genesis. There is nothing to indicate that Abraham felt any anger or anguish against God. For more of his adventures, read the actual Bible or at the very least what people excerpt. Even then, check your Bible for verification. On the contrary, this passage of scripture defies pop culture and modern misunderstandings. This scene is a profound declaration of faith in miracles and in God's provisions.
On the way to the sacrifice, Abraham takes two servants with him and tells them "stay here with the donkey; the lad and I will go yonder and worship, and we will come back to you." (Genesis 22:5)
Both Abraham and Isaac will return to the servants. This statement is strong proof that Abraham did not believe his son would actually be a sacrifice - either God would do something else or would raise Isaac from the dead. Abraham was preparing to witness a miraculous act of God. Furthermore, Isaac was the child of promise destined to father a great civilization. There is no way Isaac would die or stay dead while this destiny remained unfulfilled. Certainly, Abraham knew this. Never once questioning God, Abraham knew something else was going on.
When Isaac questions about the absence of a lamb, Abraham replies, "my son, God will provide for Himself the lamb for a burnt offering." (Genesis 22:8)
Another profound declaration of faith! Isaac is not the sacrifice but a lamb that God will provide. And that is exactly what happened.
Then Abraham lifted his eyes and looked, and there behind him was a ram caught in a thicket by its horns. So Abraham went and took the ram and offered it up for a burnt offering instead of his son.
And Abraham called the name of the place The-LORD-Will-Provide; as it is said to this day, "In the Mount of the Lord, it shall be provided." (Genesis 22:13-14)
Sometimes - well maybe most of the time - the Bible is best understood as a whole. This entire passage has parallels to Jesus and His sacrifice. God the Father, Yahweh, has prepared to sacrifice His only begotten Son since the beginning of the world. Yahweh has planned to establish His own people the Hebrews for the birth and sacrifice of Jesus. That the first Hebrew Patriarch should understand the sacrifice of his son and the fulfillment of promise is a vital and essential element of scripture. To complete the establishment of this people for the sacrifice of Jesus requires someone who understands God and the sacrifice that is coming.
Regarding the phrase "God will provide for Himself the lamb for a burnt offering." (Genesis 22:8) yes this is what happened regarding Jesus. God provided for Himself the ultimate sacrifice Jesus the Messiah through a virgin birth. Human actions never had any involvement in the providing of this ultimate sacrifice. The passage/parallel is complete within Genesis 22:13-14, and it is the most prophetic passage within Genesis.
That this miniseries will lead people to a better understanding of scripture remains my hope, but it might not be through what the series does within itself but on account of people searching for accuracy and find things out on their own. To isolate this passage away from the larger context of scripture results in misunderstandings and ultimately in a failure to comprehend the Bible in its entirety. Christians need to get away from pop culture including an abdication of their religion's own pop culture. Christians, let's abandon our preconceived notions to start reading, examining, and analyzing scripture on its own merits. When you analyze and examine scripture in its full context and in its entirety, you will discover that there is much more depth and detail than what a surface reading or any film production has ever presented. Amen.