Note: "bible" in this article refers to the collective stories in the Abrahamic religions and not specifically the Christian variety.
In a 10-part miniseries, the History Channel retells the most important story of human existence. It is the basis of the religions of over half of the world’s population, though the series is predominantly from the Christian perspective, i.e. the first five episodes consider the Old Testament and the last five, the New.
The series elucidates and simplifies the convoluted monomyth and relieves the many misconceptions about the religions. At its core, the bible explains the Jewish struggle to establish and defend its own nation. Its events straddle the tumultuous Mesopotamian, Egyptian, Hellenistic and Roman periods, the age of civilization and the brutality that came with it.
Abraham leaves Mesopotamia to find the Promised Land. He proves his loyalty to god by offering his son. Moses leads enslaved Jews out of the Egypt and finds the Ten Commandments. The next stories can be summarized by Handel’s (lesser known) oratorios: Joshua, Samson and Saul, in that order. Otherwise, the heroes can be seen as protectorates of Judaism against oppressors: Moses against the Egyptians, Samson against the Philistines, Daniel against the Babylonians. It was a time when City-states rose and fell by the sword. The golden age of Israel is formed when David defeats Goliath and conquers Jerusalem, the subject of strife to this day.
A marked shift occurs with the story of Jesus, the effective division between Christianity and Judaism. Although the Old Testament is fraught with moral quandaries, some that question God’s wisdom (like Joshua’s slaughter of Jericho and David’s infidelity) the New Testament is sanitized and easier to swallow. Jesus is born in a manger in Bethlehem of Mary through Immaculate Conception. Jews do not accept Jesus as the Messiah (or the idea of “The Holy Trinity) as Christians do. They kill Jesus. The disciples spread Jesus’s new religion, which turns into Christianity.
Constantine accepts Christianity as a valid religion. In 380 AD, Theodosius I recognizes it as the religion of Rome. As Rome splits into east and west, so does the religion (Roman Catholicism and Orthodoxy Catholicism). Protestantism is created in the 16th century with Martin Luther in Germany, John Calvin in France and Henry VIII in England.
Islam begins with the prophet Mohammed in the 7th century. It is an offshoot of Judaism with the same Jewish prophets: Adam, Noah (Nuh), Abraham (Ibrahim), Moses (Musa) and Jesus (Isa). These similarities are troubling too. The contest for the Promised Land is the root cause of the Israeli–Palestinian conflict. It was contested between Christians and Muslims during the many crusades.
The story of the bible is the most universalized story on humanity. Its power is witnessed through its timelessness and accessibility across cultures (the Gospel has been translated into over 500 languages). It guides the actions and morals of the majority of humanity and therefore the most prevalent approach to ethics and law. As proclaimed at the title screen, they are stories that have “changed our world”.
The greatest weakness of the series is the interpretation of events from a singular viewpoint, through acceptable given it is the most prevalent viewpoint. The Producers Downey (who also plays Mother Mary) and Burnett may be criticized for being devout Christians who propose teaching the Bible at all U.S. schools. I agree with this. It is no worse than having a Eurocentric curriculum as all curricula of western society do. It is invaluable to understanding of literature and history (Shakespeare, for example). Ideally, studying the bible would be done from varied perspectives and using it to understand our collective history and present.
Discussing the bible in public discourse is a social faux-pas. It is discouraging the understanding of a key fabric of humanity. This trend needs to be reversed. Watching this miniseries is a good way to start.