Tuesday, March 19, 2013 at 5:43 AM
My evangelical parents made me not just read The Holy Bible but memorize much of it the way other kids memorized nursery rhymes. This is why I have been so utterly stupefied over the years by the number of self-professed Christians who have never even opened this “good book,” let alone read it.
But now these religious dunces have a savior in Mark Burnett, famed for producing such popular TV shows as Survivor and The Apprentice. Because Burnett and his actress wife Roma Downey are the producers of “The Bible,” a made-for-TV mini-series, that is such a hit that it’s drawing more viewers than American Idol.
Specifically, I suspect nothing is more inspiring to many of those tuning in than to think they can learn all they need to know about The Holy Bible from Burnett’s TV show. Better still that watching it makes reading even the “CliffsNotes” version seem like a seminarian’s chore.
The problem of course is that far too many Christians believe the contents of The Holy Bible are not just historical fact but, literally, the word of God. They really believe, for example, that we all descended from Adam and Eve; that God appeared as a burning bush to command Moses to lead the Jews out of bondage; and that Jesus was born by Immaculate Conception to the Virgin Mary. By contrast, even before I became a teenager I experienced the divine revelation that The Holy Bible is rife with as many fairytales, fables, myths, and legends as Homer’s The Odyssey.
In which case you’d think an enlightened soul like me would not be the least bit bothered by the artistic license Burnett took in depicting Jesus as White and Satan as Black. Well, in light of the righteous indignation this has incited, let me first clarify that I am not at all bothered that his Satan bears a passing resemblance to President Barack Obama. For, unlike most commentators, I do not impute any political agenda or racial bias to Burnett in this respect.
Instead, what bothers me is his lazy decision to portray good and evil in stereotypically racial terms. After all, he can argue – even if only to boost his racial pride – that Jesus was White because he was a Semitic human being. But he cannot argue that Satan was Black because, after supposedly getting kicked out of Heaven, he (or it) was never anything but an evil spirit.
Which means that it required some racist thought on Burnett’s part to portray Satan as Black – especially given that the most evil people in the history of mankind (who can fairly be deemed Satan incarnate) have all, in fact, been White. (Incidentally, if you believe angels were/are in Heaven, do you believe they were/are all White – as generally depicted…?)
I appreciate that some fans of this mini-series might defend Burnett by citing his portrayal of more heroic and sympathetic characters like Samson and at least one of the Three Wise Men as Black. Indeed, I know firsthand that these depictions imbued some Blacks with racial pride – as I suspect Burnett knew it would.
But this would amount to giving him a pass just because he portrayed the way these characters looked with some regard for historical accuracy. One can deduce this based on the fact that all of the main characters in The Holy Bible hailed from places where people actually looked more African and Mediterranean than European and Scandinavian. And it behooves one to make this elementary deduction particularly in the case of Jesus Christ because the good book is conspicuously, perhaps even devilishly, silent on what he looked like.
Granted, you’d never know this given popular portrayals of these characters – most notably in Hollywood movies. Indeed, this is why, despite Burnett’s Black Samson, the face of White Italian-American actor Victor Mature – who played the title role in Cecil B. DeMille’s Samson and Delilah – will come to mind when most people think of this Biblical character. Not to mention that, in making Samson actually look Black, Burnett might have been playing into racial stereotypes about the physical prowess of Black men….
Whatever the case, there seems no doubt that, in making Jesus White and Satan Black, Burnett is proselytizing and perpetuating insidious and pernicious racial stereotypes. It’s a canard worthy of The Clansman.
Therefore, just bear this in mind folks: if Burnett wanted to be historically correct, his Jesus would look more like his Samson. Instead, he looks like every other Eurocentric depiction of Jesus that has more to do with historical delusions of White supremacy than divine allusions to the word of God.
Jesus probably did have some African links – after all the conventional theory is that he lived as a child in Egypt where, presumably, his appearance did not make him stand out…
[I]f the past 2,000 years of Western art were the judge, Jesus would be white, handsome, probably with long hair and an ethereal glow… [But] it can almost certainly be said that Jesus would not have been white.
(BBC, October 27, 2004)
Is there any wonder why Hell will freeze over before Catholics elect a Black pope…?
That said, “The Bible’s” biggest sin is not the artistic license Burnett took with his casting. Rather, it’s the decision executives at the History Channel took to carry this greatest story ever sold. They should have sent Burnett over to the Disney Channel, where make-believe TV belongs.
Accordingly, I pray: “Let’s Bring History Back To The History Channel,” and leave all of the “scripted reality” programming to the entertainment networks.