Last night, the History Channel aired their Bible mini-series. It’s a 10-part series over 5 weeks giving an artistic display of the biblical narrative from Genesis to Revelation. I didn’t get to watch it, since I live in Belgium and it was airing at 2.00am Central European Time. Maybe I’ll catch it online or when I visit the US in a few week’s time.
But I did see that Old Testament scholar, Peter Enns, shared some thoughts following the airing of the first 2-hour segment.
Enns shares how he, and we, can sometimes cringe at the embellishment of the biblical narrative – as we bring in our own imaginative efforts or we try and smooth over some of the difficult accounts told in holy scripture. And while Enns noted some of the negatives of the Bible mini-series, he also shared his appreciation for the overall projection of the biblical narrative, mainly that the series presents ‘an interconnected grand story rather than a series of disconnected “Bible stories.”’
These are some of Enns’ specific words, noting the positive, but intermingled with some constructive criticism:
The show opened in the ark with Noah reciting the story of Genesis 1-4. Now, on the one hand, this is clearly a means of collapsing the story for time. On the other hand, connecting–if even far too subtly for most viewers–the stories of creation and the flood reflects precisely how these stories do in fact work together in the biblical narrative.Properly understood, the flood story was meant to be seen an echo of the creation story in Genesis 1. The threatening waters kept at bay above the dome-like heavens allowing dry land to appear (Genesis 1) are brought crashing down upon the earth to cover up all land (flood story). The flood is not just a bad turn in the weather but God’s returning of his creation to is pre-creation state of chaos. God “starts over” with Noah and his family as the new “first humans.”
Unfortunately, the show does not explore how Genesis 1 and the flood are also a preview of the exodus story. Moses as an infant is kept safe in a “basket,” which in Hebrew is the same word used for the ark in the Noah story, thus signaling to the readers that Moses, too, is a new beginning for God’s people, saved through water. Then, at the Red Sea, God once again divides the waters to let dry land appear, as he did in the creation story in Genesis 1. As God pushed back the waters to let habitable ground appear in Genesis 1, and as he subsided the waters to deliver Noah, he is now again providing dry ground for his people.
Oh well, you can’t have everything. I did like, though, how Abraham saw his move to Canaan as a “new beginning” for God’s people, which connects his story to Noah and creation in keeping with the biblical plot.
If this is what has been portrayed, then I, too, agree that this is a helpful approach to understanding the biblical narrative. The interconnectedness of the story. As many will know, the chapter and verse numbers were added much later (for practical help in finding a particular part of the biblical text as needed). Sometimes that can hinder us from catching the greater storyline.
But, what is given to us in the creation narrative should not be greatly disconnected from the flood or the calling of Abraham and family or the great exodus of the Hebrew people. Matter of fact, many scholars see the early chapters of Genesis as not so much about the beginning of the world (as in this is the direct account of how everything was created, ex nihilo, or ‘out of nothing’). Rather, the final product that we have shapes the narrative in order to tell how the God of the Hebrews, Yahweh, had called forth a people, even from the beginning, to be his ruling representatives on earth. All other ancient gods were mainly depicted through images, statues and pictures. Yahweh called forth living and breathing people to be his image-bearing representatives.
The Scripture comes to us as an unfolding narrative, very much connected across the parts. There are many voices, many authors, many scribal compilers, many stories within the story. But the God of the Hebrews, who is also the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, was ultimately telling one story. In many ways, the early accounts of the Hebrew Scriptures were shaped in a way to counter much of the ancient perspective of the gods. The biblical account rises to give us some rather beautiful insights into the one true God, the God of the Hebrews.