“Gritty” continues to characterize The Bible, as the third installment of the History Channel series makes more sacrifices on the altar of ratings stunts.
Firstly, in order to make the Babylonian sack of Jerusalem as bloody and violent as possible, the episode condensed the Bible’s reported three sacks into one, leaving out that the more significant exodus actually included the King of Judah, Jehoiachim, who lived out his days peacefully in the Babylonian court (2 Kings 24:12-17).
The narrator also states that in the siege under Zedekiah that the people of the city resorted to cannibalism. This is never substantiated in the Bible (2 Kings 25:3), though Jeremiah did warn about such an eventuality (Jeremiah 19:9).
After an abbreviated Babylonian Captivity the episode passes directly into the New Testament.
At this point, the creators of the Bible have the thorny problem of weaving the four separate Gospel accounts of Jesus’ life into one account. There is much material to draw upon, which makes any alterations at this point more difficult to understand.
Mary’s meeting with the Angel Gabriel (dressed obviously like a Roman soldier–a common accusation about Jesus’ parentage) takes place during a very unlikely Roman tax raid in the middle of a synagogue service.
Mary’s pregnancy earns her a collective finger wagging by the Nazareth community, which is diffused by Joseph’s public declaration that he will marry her anyway. This takes the place of the much more nuanced account from the Gospel of Matthew, where Joseph, described as “a righteous man and unwilling to expose her to public disgrace,” (Matthew 1:19) decides to dismiss her quietly.
The brutish approach continues as Mary and Joseph arrive in Bethlehem amidst a torrential downpour. Instead of seeming to only find a barn space to sleep in, “because there was no room for them in the inn,” (Luke 2:17) the Holy Family makes a mad dash for cover, with the infant Jesus positively about to pop out while Mary is still riding the donkey. The reasoning for these changes seems dubious, but the New York Times’ review has a good guess:
“Having Jesus born in a manger is not enough; the arrival also has to occur during what looks like a typhoon. Because why have a moderate amount of hardship when you can have an excess of it?”
Enter the Wise Men, or the wise man, who approaches an outlandishly evil King Herod asking about the “king of the Jews.” Instead of craftily commanding that he “Go and search diligently for the child; and when you have found him, bring me word so that I may also go and pay him homage” (Matthew 2:8), Herod argues with him, “But I am the one who brings peace! Do you think some child can do that?”
Fast-forward 25 years and the “arrogant, ruthless” Pontius Pilate has an apocryphal conversation with Agrippa about John the Baptist in the presence of a Roman-style Sumo wrestling competition. This sets up one of the more tragic misrepresentations, where John is summarily executed in the presence of Agrippa in what looks like a cow shed. This instead of the more interesting story in the gospels with Herodias, her daughter, and the silver plate (Mark 6:14-29).
The precedent is also set for a Jesus who doesn’t stick to his biblical script. Compare Luke 5:1-11 with this. When calling Simon Peter, Jesus says, “Peter, just give me an hour and I will give you a whole new life.” Peter charily responds, “Who says I want one?”
Still, there is some cause for levity while watching the knavery continue. Jesus’ temptation in the desert includes a devil that looks curiously like the current resident of the White House.