Episode Three of History Channel’s The Bible makes the leap from Old Testament to New Testament times. The fast-forward is appropriate to the feeling one has as one turns the page from Malachi’s prophecy in the Old to the gospel of Matthew in the New. What happened? Circumstances have changed dramatically.
We enter the world dominated by Rome. Yes, the producers choose to illustrate the desecration of the Temple in an extra-biblical way (my readers may be able to help me find the source for this, if it exists beyond the producers’ imaginations). And yes, the emphasis is again on violence, which makes for stimulating TV (I guess for some; I am getting tired of it myself). But there is no question of the sea-change that has taken place, and Rome is a brutal regime with its power in evidence everywhere.
When I visited the Holy Land in 1987, I was bowled over by the overwhelming presence of Herod. The Romans were builders, and they built to last: aqueducts, palaces, monuments, fortresses, seaports . . . and, of course, the Temple for the Jews of which only one wall is left now. It is fitting for the New Testament to open with this observation, even though the Scriptures do not focus on that history very much. Some think the brutality and disgusting character of Herod may be over-acted in this production, but I do not hold that opinion. A guy who weighs well over 300 pounds and has to be lifted by mini-crane into and out of his swimming pool, who has his family members killed in cold blood, and who is paranoid enough about his power to murder male babies must be portrayed in the most vicious and cunning way possible. We are not disappointed in this case.