The Bible world of Roma Downey and Mark Burnett’s LightWorkers Media productions sometimes seems not unlike a movie about Shakespeare in which you hear lines like “To be or not to be, that is the question” and “All the world’s a stage, and all the men and women merely players,” but everyone seems to have heard them already. There’s no sense of revelation or discovery; no one is struck by them or finds them intriguing.
In the 2014 Jesus movie Son of God (adapted from the last few episodes of the 2013 miniseries The Bible), Jesus rebukes a hotheaded Peter with the novel words “Turn the other cheek.” When Jesus said that in the Gospels, this provocative idea required several verses of explanation and context, but in Son of God Peter understands right away, as if it were already a familiar cliché.
In Resurrection (adapted from the first few episodes of the sequel series A.D. The Bible Continues, and thus a sequel of sorts to Son of God), Simon Peter himself (British actor Adam Levy), talking to a Zealot resistance fighter, glibly throws out “Live by the sword and you die by the sword.”
Peter does this, strikingly, on the morning after the Crucifixion, with no hint of the freshness of the wound those words should represent for him — considering they were Jesus’ last words to him in the Garden of Gethsemane a day and a half earlier.
On Thursday night it had been Peter, sword in hand, who wanted to fight until Jesus rebuked him. Now, hardly more than a day later, Peter serenely repeats those words like a confirmed pacifist who has never thought otherwise.
Such storytelling flattens the arc of divine Revelation, the gradual unfolding of God’s design in history, rather than dramatizing it. Everything takes place in a homogenous, undifferentiated “Bible times,” which is not as culturally different from our own times as you might expect.
“We are fishermen,” he smiles, “not fighters.” Just imagine, fishermen fighting! (There was a missed opportunity here: What if Peter had ruefully said, as much to himself as to the other man, “We were called to be fishers of men, not to fight them”?)
I think the most banal such moment in a LightWorkers production may have come in an exchange in the 2016 Ben-Hur remake between Jesus and the protagonist, whose blandly anachronistic response to one of Jesus’ most revolutionary demands — “Love your enemies” — was “That’s very progressive.”
It’s not only Jesus’ challenging teachings that are taken for granted.