Will The Bible Miniseries Correct Biblical Illiteracy?

Last week, after watching the latest episode of The Bible miniseries on the History Channel, bible scholar Wil Gafney wrote on her blog:

The bible is a wonderfully rich, complicated, challenging, illuminating, revelatory text. It is also horrifically violent and does not say what we want the way we want it to. We must take it in its entirety seriously as a cultural and historical artifact and as scripture – if that is our confession. But this series erases the texts in which Joshua and the Israelites slaughter babies, kill their mothers, fathers and brothers and take their sisters as war-brides as long as they haven’t had sex – prepubescent girl-children – on the orders of Moses and God. They ignore the texts in which God calls for the enslavement of non-Israelites and their children in perpetuity – the scriptural and theological basis for the Atlantic slave-trade and American slavocracy. They ignore the texts in which entire ethnic groups are exterminated by divine command. And they even ignore the horrific sexual violence perpetrated against women and girls within Israel: Lot’s offer of his daughters to be raped by a mob, Israelite fathers selling their daughters into sexual slavery with the permission of God and Moses, a Judge of Israel sacrificing his daughter like an animal and celebrated as a hero of faith in the New Testament, abduction, rape, forced pregnancy used repeatedly as tools of war. Bathsheba’s abduction and rape recast as consensual adultery.

In the American context when rape is being redefined while male bible-thumping legislatures require physicians to forcibly insert instruments into women’s vaginas one day and deny them access to legal medical procedures the next, it matters that and how the bible is being distorted in primetime. Whereas evangelical leaders like Jim Wallis watched with “great delight,” I watched with horror.

On bloggingheads, I asked Gafney about those two paragraphs, and about the series creators’ claim that their production will help address biblical illiteracy. Will it? Watch:

You can see the entire discussion here, or the segments on the series’ erasure of women, Gafney’s take on its portrayal of Hagar, the battle of Jericho, the portrayal of most characters by white actors, except for Samson, depicted as a mandingo figure, in Gafney’s view, and rape and polygamy in the story of King David.

The third of ten episodes airs tonight on the History Channel.

UPDATE: Gafney’s post analyzing the third episode is here.

Sarah Posner, author of God’s Profits: Faith, Fraud, and the Republican Crusade for Values Voters, covers politics and religion. Her work has appeared in The Washington Post, The Guardian, The Atlantic, The American ProspectThe NationSalon, and other publications. Follow her on TwitterRSS feed Email