It's not an easy task to produce a
program on the Bible that will appeal equally to skeptics and
believers. The A&E series The Mysteries of the Bible takes
a shot at the project, giving us twenty-two episodes exploring the
events described in the Bible and drawing on a variety of points of
view about the material. How successful is it? I'd say that The
Mysteries of the Bible is not terribly ambitious, but it does
succeed in doing what it (modestly) sets out to do.
In terms of perspective, The
Mysteries of the Bible takes a middle-of-the-road approach.
Scholars and religious figures provide their thoughts on the meaning
of the material; some take a skeptical approach, while others
cautiously assert the orthodox view. I was pleased to note that all
the interviewees are given enough time to articulate their views
properly; while the interview clips are always fairly brief, there's
none of the sound-bite abbreviation that plagues some documentaries.
Whatever the point of view being presented, the expert in question
gets to explain his or her thought reasonably completely. I'd have
liked to have heard more from all of them, to get a fuller
explanation of their ideas rather than just the summary, but I
recognize that's not very likely to happen in a 45-minute episode,
and at least I did always get the sense that the experts were fairly
represented in their views. Overall, the program handles difficult
questions by tossing it back at the viewer with a "Hey! Who
knows?" kind of approach... but that's a refreshing change from
dogmatism, at least.
The Mysteries of the Bible
Collection covers figures and events from both the Old Testament
and the New Testament, providing a buffet, as it were, of interesting
bits from the Bible. From the Old Testament, we get episodes on
"Abraham: One Man, One God," "The Ten Commandments,"
"Jacob's Ladder," "Joseph, Master of Dreams,"
"Cain and Abel," "Queen Esther," "King
Solomon," "King David: Poet Warrior," and "Prophets:
Soul Catchers." New Testament topics include "Herod the
Great," "Jesus: Holy Child," "The Execution of
Jesus," "The Lost Years of Jesus," "The Last
Supper," "Paul the Apostle," and "Apocalypse: The
Puzzle of Revelation." Episodes related mainly to the Bible in
history include "Archenemy: The Philistines," "The
Last Revolt," and "The Bible's Greatest Secrets."
Lastly, a few more general topics include "Biblical Angels,"
"Heaven and Hell," and "Magic and Miracles." The
episodes are in apparently random order, but since the episode titles
are straightforward it's easy enough to pick and choose your own path
through the material here.
The episodes are tastefully made.
Rather than relying on re-enactments (though there are a few brief
ones), the episodes are largely illustrated by images from religious
art. Since historically there's an amazing depth and variety of
artwork illustrating events from the Bible, this gives the program a
lot of beautiful images to accompany the narrative. Archaeological
evidence is brought up whenever it's relevant, with ruins and
artifacts displayed. The voiceover narrators (Richard Kiley for the
general narration and Jean Simmons for quotations from the Bible) do
a nice job.
As far as the depth of the material
goes... It's fairly introductory. I found the episodes to be
moderately informative, but I was always hoping for a bit more depth,
a bit more information, a bit more substance in general. Anyone who's
moderately well-read in the Bible will probably find this to be too
much of a retread, but it's not a bad introduction or overview of the
topics. It's probably a good program for a family to watch and
The Mysteries of the Bible is
a big collection, with seven keepcases in a sturdy cardboard
The episodes are all presented in
their original television aspect ratio of 1.33:1. They're watchable
but not particularly impressive. Some of the material looks good,
with natural colors and contrast, while other parts are grainy and a
bit faded-looking. There's heavy edge enhancement and quite a lot of
The stereo soundtrack is clear and
clean overall. In a few of the episodes, I felt that the interview
segments sounded a bit tinny and harsh, but the voiceovers always
sounded natural and attractive.
Three bonus programs are included
from other series. Disc 1 has "The Lost Ark" from Ancient
Mysteries; Disc 4 has "The Shroud of Turin" from
History's Mysteries; Disc 7 has "The Quest for the Holy
Lance" again from Ancient Mysteries.
The Mysteries of the Bible
Collection doesn't break any new ground, but it does provide a
moderately interesting overview of interesting pieces of the Bible
from a reasonably neutral point of view. While it doesn't have a lot
of substance to it, it does cover a lot of cultural ground that's
just plain useful to know in order to appreciate a lot of Western art
and literature. I'd recommend it particularly to families with