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Rev. Wil Gafney, Ph.D.

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What the History Channel Is Getting Wrong About the Bible

Posted: 03/12/2013 11:33 am

Not quite everything. Just geography, anthropology, archaeology, biblical studies, theology, race and ethnicity. Not all of them all of the time, but most of them, most of the time. The History Channel is engaging in a systematic whitewashing of the Bible, its characters and narratives, with a few telling exceptions. And this matters because of the way that race functions historically in the West, in the United States and in the Church and, how the construction of race in modernity is shaped by, in and, in response to the Scriptures.

The physical, geographical setting for the narratives in the Bible is the land bridge between Africa and Asia. The setting of the Hebrew Bible is the Ancient Near East including Mesopotamia, Northern, Eastern and Upper Central Africa -- ancient Egypt was much larger that contemporary Egypt. The intertestamental period and New Testament see Europe added to the mix at the end of the biblical story. Scholars classify the Israelites and their language as Afro-Asiatic. The land mass on which ancient Israel and Canaan sat includes the Great Rift Valley that extends into East Africa through Kenya and Tanzania.

That dark, rich, fertile soil is the source of a pun in the Genesis account of the creation of humanity: God creates an adam from the adamah, an earthling from the earth, a human from the humus. Mark Burnett and Roma Downey replaced the life-giving red-brown soil of Fertile Crescent with sandy white soil which would not sustain life so they could show God creating a white man in God's image. That man, like the bulk of the cast, is white like them, like their target audience, unlike the Afro-Asiatic Israelites.

When they do cast a black actor it is to reinscribe some of the most base racialized stereotypes in the Americas: the big black man/dingo with a taste for white women. My specific commentary of the portrayal of Samson is available here.

Follow me on twitter @WilGafney for a weekly live tweet-chat as each episode airs and check wilgafney.com for tweet-chat archives, blog posts and other media responses.

 

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