Bringing the Bible to Life

Jesus walks among the people. Photos courtesy of History Channel.

Bringing the Bible to life may seem like an insurmountable task. But Mark Burnett, producer of the popular reality series Survivor, and wife Roma Downey (Touched by an Angel) committed to doing just that with The Bible, a 10-hour miniseries that debuted on History Channel on March 3. 

Their goal, Burnett explains, is to breathe fresh, visual life into the Bible's grand narrative. Throughout the project, Burnett and Downey consulted with a team of 40 biblical scholars, theologians and other experts to check for script accuracy and oversee the editing process. American Bible Society was an early collaborator on the project and is now part of the advisory council. 

“We wanted to come together in partnership to produce something that would be meaningful, and something that would be lasting and something that would glorify God,” Downey adds.

“Our Job is Storytelling”

The desire to connect audiences emotionally with the love story of God's Word was one challenge Burnett and Downey wanted to keep paramount. “Our job is storytelling,” Burnett says. 

Bringing the Bible to the screen “is a madly ambitious, audacious undertaking,” Downey says. The team spent six months filming in Morocco, where the landscape is stony and sandy. “We didn't want anybody to look like they'd just stepped out of the dry cleaners,” Downey explains. 

Working on the set was, at times, overwhelming, says Burnett. Downey, who plays a small role as Jesus' mother Mary, says the demands of filming came not so much from the scenes themselves, but from the level of emotion that went into the acting. 

“It was such a privilege to be able to step into the role myself,” Downey says, yet “there was an intensity to some of those scenes that was very painful.” Downey recalls playing the scene where Jesus is carrying his cross. As he falls, Mary tries to break through the Roman soldiers to reach out and touch her son. Downey says she tried to combine her own love for Jesus and her personal experience as a mother to play the scene as authentically as she could.

“That was a profoundly moving scene,” Downey says. As Jesus looks into his mother's eyes, he reassures her with a glance, Downey says. “In that moment, it's as if he's saying to her, ‘It's going to be okay. This is what I came to do. You've always known this is what I came to do.'”

“Shine a Light”

Burnett and Downey hope that The Bible will reach not only a committed Christian audience, but also beyond. God's Word is “not only a sacred text, it's the underpinning of our society,” Burnett says, and as such, he feels the show will attract a broad interest.

“[Our] hope is that millions and millions of people around the world see it and either reconnect with [God's Word] or connect for the first time,” Burnett says. And for those connecting for the first time, Burnett and Downey pray that The Bible will serve as a catalyst to promote people looking further into God's Word.

Downey is also excited about the possibilities for The Bible to broadcast into places where God's Word might not otherwise be welcome. “Shine a light where the light has never shone before,” she says.

“If you see [the show], and you love it how we think you will, you'll seek more,” Burnett says.

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