Television review: Jesus: His Life

MARY REICHARD, HOST: Today is Friday, March 22nd. Thank you for turning to WORLD Radio to help start your day. Good morning. I’m Mary Reichard.

NICK EICHER, HOST: And I’m Nick Eicher. Coming next on The World and Everything in It: A good, but not great Bible series coming to cable.

The History Channel is debuting the series this Sunday, just four weeks before Easter, and our Megan Basham has a review.

MEGAN BASHAM, TELEVISION CRITIC: In 2013, The History Channel scored cable’s most-watched entertainment show with Mark Burnett and Roma Downey’s miniseries, The Bible. The series proved so popular the filmmakers cobbled together a successful 20-14 film, Son of God, just from select scenes and unaired footage. So it’s no surprise, as Easter approaches, that the network is returning to the subject of Scripture.

History’s new eight-part documentary series, premieres Sunday. Through dramatic reenactments and interviews with scholars, each episode examines Christ’s earthly ministry through the eyes of a Biblical figure who knew him: Joseph, John the Baptist, Mary, Caiaphas, Judas, Pilate, Mary Magdalene, and Peter.

It’s certainly one of the more worthwhile, engaging new shows you could be watching this Lenten season. But it does still contain a few moments likely to make Christian brows wrinkle.

Let’s start with what’s good. The unique approach of focusing on the perspective of one person at a time allows for intriguing historical context rarely covered for laypeople. For example, after a lifetime of church and Sunday school attendance, I was still surprised to learn about Herod the Great’s racial background and how his insecurity over it may have impacted his response to the Magi.

CLIP: Herod’s very insecure about his Jewishness. His father is an Edomite and therefore a second class Jew. His mother is actually an Arab so his greatest fear is that another candidate will come to be King of the Jews. Someone from the legitimate sacred house of David.

But at other times, the show takes speculation too far. It gives priority to Scripture-skeptics who present their views as fact with little counter response from serious conservative scholars.

Dr. Robert Cargill, a self-described agnostic, progressive Bible scholar from the University of Iowa, is especially prominent. In both episodes screened for critics—Joseph and John the Baptist—he continually describes the gospel writers making independent literary choices to lend credibility to their accounts. He doesn’t believe they acted as divinely-inspired, faithful reporters.

CLIP: There are two major problems with the census as described in the Gospel of Luke…most scholars think Luke used this as a device…

Later, Cargill drops other questionable statements he never explains, such as claiming that John the Baptist preached a message of social justice. Other experts make claims that a quick Google search proves false. Such as this off-hand comment.

CLIP: In the earliest gospel, the Gospel of Mark, when John the Baptist sees Jesus, he doesn’t recognize him at all.

Of course, Mark’s account asserts no such thing. And Matthew’s Gospel suggests the direct opposite—that upon first seeing his cousin, John did know who he was and what he’d come to Earth to do.

But such unsubstantiated claims are most egregious when they read into Jesus’s mind thoughts anyone with a holistic understanding of the Bible know simply could not be accurate. As in well-known liberal Catholic, Father James Martin’s description of his baptism:

CLIP: But certainly Jesus understands his identity which is revealed to Him very clearly for the first time. Jesus seems to realize what God’s plan is and seems to surrender to the future that God has in store for Him.

At the very least, this flies in the face of Luke’s account of 12-year-old Jesus being quite aware he was in his Father’s house.

While the series claims to offer views from across the ideological spectrum, evangelicals who adhere to a literal reading of Scripture won’t find their views much represented. That doesn’t mean the show presents rampant heresy. I was only able to view two episodes, and I’d say both featured mostly wheat with a bit of troubling chaff sprinkled in.

And to be frank, I doubt there was any malicious intent even in that, as least as far as The History Channel is concerned. Based on my experience with network producers, they likely have no idea that some of the ideas presented in their series might pose a problem for Christians.

I’ve said countless times the shortcomings that crop up when secular studios take on the Bible have an easy solution: Consult teachers and theologians who fall on the infallible side of the ideological spectrum. Tim Keller, John MacArthur, and John Piper come to mind.

Downey and Burnett did that with The Bible series. They consulted, among others, Luis Palau, Focus on the Family’s Jim Daly, and Young Life’s Denny Rydberg. So History Channel, if you’re listening, including diverse Biblical scholarship will make your Easter-season productions more accurate and more entertaining. It’ll probably also bring back those sweet, sweet ratings.

For WORLD Radio, I’m Megan Basham.

(Photo/History Channel)

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5 comments on Television review: Jesus: His Life

  1. Thomas says:

    The series seems to be good but the commercials are a joke. EVERY 10 mins there’s 4 mins commercials. ZEOR RATING FOR THE HISTORY CHANNEL.

  2. Pamela Comer says:

    Wow! You nailed it exactly. I watched the first episode last night and was troubled by the same areas where they made the gospel writers ”make up “ the scripture and implied it wasn’t true. If I was a non- Christian watching this series, it would trouble me and not lead me toward Christ because it questions whether scripture is “inspired” or made up to fit the writer’s narrative. Time and time again secular scholars who question the Bible later find out that they were wrong, not the Bible, but rarely admit it when the information comes to light. (Example- Avalos of Iowa claimed that there was not even a King David, he was made up. Then the Tel Dan Stela, I think, was found listing a defeat in battle of David’s son that was listed in the Bible. Also secular critics claiming the Exodus never happened have now been challenged by the compacting of the Egyptian timeline by secular scholars. Jesus was questioned when they couldn’t find a certain pool that he was supposed to have used to heal someone, then low and behold, guess what archeologists found?) Give it up secular unbelieving scholars. Your attempts to prove the Bible false will always fail.
    If I watch the next episode and see the same problems, I will quit watching it and spread the word to people I know that it is based on agnostic liberal interpretations of the Bible. Especially since the other side is not represented well. I am not a fundamentalist by the way. And I didn’t know that about Herod’s kingship, either. I’ll have to look it up. It was the only intriguing point. Great review, by the way!

  3. James says:

    This is a HORRIBLE representation of Jesus, especially “claiming” that this program was bible-based. These so-called “Scholars” don’t even have reputable titles other than “Duke University Scholar”. Scholar of WHAT? The bible references were completely incorrect in almost EVERY situation. Just the inference that Jesus was a “apprentice” of John the Baptist is infuriating, and they claimed that the bible stated that. In now way does the bible state, imply, or depict that! In fact, upon the very first sight of Jesus, John said, “Behold the Lamb of God, which taketh away the sin of the world.” He knew immediately who Jesus was (John 1:29). I could go on and on about the inaccuracies. I have erased the recording and have removed the setting to record any future shows.

    1. Robin says:

      I agree with you James. My alarm bells started ringing with the first episode and it got worse from there. No one has remarked about it, but the man who plays Jesus portrays him as volatile and quite unsure of his diety. Maybe it’s poor acting and overdramatization but it is difficult to watch. Add that to ALL the scriptural inaccuracies and biased commentary by secularists and you’ve got an intentionally evil distortion of Our Lord and Savior. Satan is the master of taking what might be good and making it bad. I can’t believe every commentator said: “No one really knows why Judas betrayed Christ.” Are you even kidding me?! Did anyone read the Scriptures before making this film??? And when Joel Osteen is supposed to be representing the evangelical point of view you’re in trouble. I watched this with a jaundiced eye so if anyone brings it up I can make an informed contribution. Meanwhile, check out TheChosen.TV. It is spectacular.

  4. James says:

    Extremely disappointing. I’m sorry I wasted my time watching this.

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