Why The Bible is a Book and Not a Movie
From the Heart
Rabbi Gary S. Creditor
The Rabbis of antiquity anticipated the Discovery Channel's production of the "The Bible!" They just restricted the viewer to one person – Adam. In a Midrash created to answer the question – why did Adam live 930 years and not a thousand – God shows Adam all of human events to come. How did the Rabbis imagine HDTV? In any event, Adam sees that David is only allotted a very short lifespan. He says to God: "But isn't David supposed to write the Book of Psalms? Isn't he supposed to defeat Goliath and become King of Israel? How can he possibly do it in such a short lifetime?" God asks Adam for a solution and Adam gives him some of his years so that David could live a full life and achieve all that he did.
This is a novel way to begin my reflections on the sensational presentation on the Discovery Channel of "The Bible." I confess that I have not seen it nor have any intentions to do so. I am not critiquing its presentation nor responding to the current controversy over who does the portrayal of Satan look like? I find it irrelevant.
My focus is strictly on one issue: Why have we not made the Bible into a movie? Why have we preserved it as a book? This is not a frivolous question. It goes to the heart of our religious foundation and structure. On a wider scale it relates to learning and knowledge in general.
Judaism has preserved the Bible – I now switch to our language, namely, Tanach – the Hebrew abbreviation for its three parts – because of the uniqueness of the written text. I see many very crucial elements in this.
1. Words have nuances and different layers of meaning. Depending on our age, our gender, our experiences, our positions, we can read words differently. In my youth I read passages very differently than currently. It is me that colors my reading, even as the text stays the same. Keeping the Bible as a book, allows me to change in relation to the text.
2. Words have nuances and different layers of meaning. That is the same line as in #1 but now I refer to the fact that each language has its own "www," its own interweaving of meaning and values. Using Roget's English Thesaurus finds a different set of synonyms and antonyms than doing it in Hebrew. The value system of each language is vastly different. The Hebrew text of the Tanach creates our Judaism in a way that the English cannot. This doesn't exist at all in the movie edition.
3. In the transition from Hebrew to English and from text to movie, the different meaning of words is frozen. Someone has chosen for us what the text should mean, and is capable of distorting the text altogether. DeMille's "Ten Commandments" is a prime example. It changes the Torah's text, reorganizes events and includes elements foreign to the Torah.
4. Having a text challenges to use our imagination. We don't know how any of the people of the Bible looked. Words describe the plagues of Egypt and the 'finger of God' creating the Ten Commandments. How did God's voice sound? How did Moses'? The tensions and feelings are all words and we as the readers use our imagination to create the canvas. That makes the Bible our personal document. We hear it and see it individually and in doing so makes it ours. What a gift that the Torah is and remains a book!
5. A movie is entertainment and a book requires literacy. Movies have certainly moved me. But a book requires me/us to be literate: to follow the plot line, understand grammar and syntax, fill in the blanks, read the language itself and much more. Being a "People of the Book" required us to be literate in our religious foundation. That is more a challenge now than ever before.
Maybe just on a lark I will see one presentation on the History Channel, but the real treasure bequeathed to us and which challenges us is to read the Bible.