This is my review of the History Channel series, The Bible, episode 4. You can read my reviews of episodes 1 and 2, and episode 3

The last episode, “Homeland”, ended with the Israelites asking Samuel for a king, and Samuel anointing Saul. In this episode, we get a look at Saul’s reign, his fall, and the rise of David, ending with a look at Solomon as a child.

When I started watching the episode, I accidentally opened episode 1 instead, and I noticed something new about the opening. A title card reads: “This program is an adaptation of Bible stories that changed our world.” The narrator then begins by describing the Bible as if it were a single story, “the most powerful story of all time, it continues to shape our world.” It’s painfully clear from this that the makers of the story don’t see the Bible as a collection of stories, but rather as a single narrative culminating in Jesus. We’ve seen this throughout the last three episodes, with Jesus being shoehorned into the narrative.

The narrator betrays the makers’ politics when he continues, “[The story of the Bible is] the foundation of our governments, the blueprint for our laws, a sacred guide for life’s journey.” Not only is the statement false, it is precisely what people say when they want to argue in favour of putting biblical commandment monuments in government buildings.

Saul’s Reign

The episode begins with a theme-setting question: “Is any man good enough to rule God’s kingdom?” Spoiler alert: The answer is No.

We find Saul hiding behind some rocks, spying on an enemy encampment. The show doesn’t explain why the Israelites are fighting, or what is going on. We know from 1 Sam. 13, however, that Saul has been attacking the Philistines, and the Philistines have raised a very large army to retaliate. The size of this army has the Israelites concerned.

Saul asks out loud, “Where is Samuel?” He explains for the audience’s benefit that Samuel should be there, and that he is needed to make a sacrifice before the Israelites attack. With that bit of exposition out of the way, he declares that he can’t wait any longer.

Just as he is slitting a goat’s throat, however, Samuel casually strolls in, then acts terribly shocked that that the party has started without him.

In the last episode, Samuel was portrayed as power-hungry. He is resentful when the people ask for a king, and grows even more so when God agrees to give them one. He is only tentatively pacified by the reassurance that he can, at least, continue to lead in a religious capacity.

Samuel doesn’t come out looking any better in this episode. His lateness goes completely unexplained. When Saul explains that they’ve been waiting for seven days, and that his men are deserting, Samuel ignores that he is the cause of this. Instead, he replies, “Then be a king, leave the job of priest to me. Do you think God values your sacrifice more than mine?”

His reply is absolutely full of problems. Firstly, the people are deserting because their faith is wavering. A king can only do so much, and it’s likely that Samuel’s absence is being interpreted as God’s absence. When he tells Saul to leave the job of priest to him, he ignores the fact that he hasn’t been doing his job. He never showed up! If he’s not going to be the priest, why should he be upset that someone else has stepped in to fill the void? The final part of his statement is a complete non sequitur. Nowhere is it suggested that Saul believed his sacrifice to be better, simply better than nothing.

Samuel comes off looking like a power-hungry, resentful, neglectful, incompetent douche. This is, actually, fairly faithful to the biblical representation of him. I’m actually rather surprised that the series didn’t try to whitewash him, perhaps by adding a very good reason for him to be late.

Before the interaction is over and the Israelites go to battle, Samuel spits out a command that they are to kill absolutely everyone and everything, then scowls at Saul while the narrator tells us that, “a new era is beginning, one of prophets and kings. They must work together to secure the promised land.” It’s hard not to hear the doom in that pronouncement as we see Samuel’s utter contempt for his king.

The Israelites fight while Samuel stands on a hill, watching the battle. Unfortunately, he sees the Israelites take a prisoner, and the next scene begins with him shrieking at Saul: “You had ONE task, ONE simple command, from God!! Destroy everything!”

Saul argues, claiming to have followed God’s commandments. To this, Samuel replies in full sarcasm mode: “Then what is this bleating of goats in my ears? What is this lowing of cattle, wailing of lambs? Can the dead cry out? And who,” he points to the prisoner, “is this pagan king?” Saul claims that the king was being saved only temporarily, that he would be killed later, but Samuel is having none of it. He slits the king’s throat himself.

Samuel doesn't like to share.

Samuel doesn’t like to share.

As in the text, it is at this battle that Saul loses his dynasty. Samuel declares: “Your descendants could have ruled for over a thousand years, but today God has forsaken you.” This is fairly similar to his pronouncement in 1 Sam. 13:14, except that Samuel had made this pronouncement prior to the battle, and I do not recall Saul being guilty of keeping livestock from a battle.

I mentioned when I was reading 1 Sam. 13 that Samuel’s reaction here seemed to be another manifestation of his jealousy. He hadn’t taken well to losing secular authority, but had at least retained religious authority. Seeing Saul step into that territory as well seems to have enraged him.

In the series, Saul seems to agree with this assessment. He isn’t sure whether Samuel is speaking as himself or for God, out of personal jealousy or in his capacity as a prophet.

As Samuel tries to turn away from the interaction, Saul holds on to his scarf, ripping it. At least, I think it’s his scarf. The ripping takes place under the camera’s frame, and – despite the tearing sound – Samuel’s clothes do not move as though they were being held with enough force to rip (which, by the way, would be quite a lot of force – way more than movies ever seem to assume).

In any case, Saul comes away with a piece of Samuel’s clothes in his hands. When Samuel sees this, he says: “God has torn your power from you.” Clever, clever.

Incidentally, this interaction is not found in the text in relation to Saul/Samuel, but I think it may be a reference to something that happens much later, when Solomon is king. In the story, the prophet Ahijah tears his garment into twelve pieces in order to show Jeroboam than the nation would be torn (1 Kgs 11:29-32). Jeroboam would then go on to found the Northern Kingdom after Solomon’s death.

This section of the episode closes with a very disturbed Saul, asking himself if he’s been to hasty. He decides to ask Samuel for forgiveness, but learns that Samuel is already gone. Saul clutches poignantly to the torn piece of robe.

Enter David

The portrayal of David in the episode really isn’t flattering, though I did find it quite close to the text.

The narrator tells us that, as a result of Saul’s disobedience, God sent Samuel out in search of a new king. Both scene and narration make it seem as though God had chosen Saul, but that’s failed so now he will let Samuel choose the next king. It’s a little odd.

He really just can't stop squinting.

He really just can’t stop squinting.

In any case, Samuel is walking about when he comes upon a teenaged shepherd killing a wolf with a sling. Despite the fact that David’s introductory dialogue is terribly awkward and he can’t seem to stop squinting, Samuel decides that he should be Israel’s next king. I can’t help but wonder if the show’s Samuel deliberately chose the least likely candidate as a form of revenge for his loss of status.

In any case, Samuel anoints David and tells him that he will be king of Israel “once Saul is dead.”

In the next scene, we return to Saul in the aftermath of Samuel’s departure. Jonathan is disturbed that Saul seems so troubled despite their great victory. In response, Saul says that he’s just tired and needs some sleep.

Despite the fact that he is sleeping in the next scene (having troubled dreams in which he calls out to God for forgiveness), the narrator assures us that some time has passed. That’s good, because it helps to explain why David is in the room playing his harp.

It’s a fairly damning scene, as we see David looking longingly past a sleeping Saul at his crown while the narrator tells us that he has entered Saul’s court and resides there as “a king in waiting.” Whether intended or not, that colours everything that follows.

In another battle against the Philistines, Goliath reveals himself. It’s rather amusing as he isn’t particularly tall (maybe a head taller than the fairly uniform Israelites, but I’m often a head taller than everyone in female crowds, and it’s not unusual for my spouse to be able to spot nits in most crowds), yet his footsteps make this incongruous booming sound.

Goliath steps out in front of the Philistine army and asks for an Israelite champion willing to fight him.

Jonathan offers himself up first – a detail absent from the text – but Saul forbids it. No one else comes forward. In an effort to rouse a volunteer, Saul declares that any man who defeats Goliath will be very rich. Still, the Israelite lines are silent. Goliath taunts them.

Then David, his pubescent voice cracking and positioned in the background so that he appears very small beside Saul and Jonathan, calls out that he will do it. Saul protests, “You’re no soldier. You’re a shepherd!” To which David replies: “As I protect my sheep, God will protect me.” This will become a common taunt from David, a reminder to Saul that God has switched favourites.

Saul tries to give him a shield, but David throws it aside, picking up a rock instead. As he approaches Goliath, he mutters out a “here though I walk in the shadow of death, I fear no evil” speech. This is, of course, from Psalm 23 and doesn’t appear anywhere in the book of Samuel. It’s hard to deduct points, though, since tradition does attribute the psalm to David.

Predictably, the Philistines start laughing when they see David approach. For some unexplained and absurd reason, Goliath then removes his helmet, giving David a clear shot at his head. There’s no reason for him to do this except to give David a clear shot. I suppose its possible that they wanted to use the act to show how little of a threat Goliath considered David to be, but it’s just so incredibly silly. They could have just as easily not given Goliath a helmet at all, as Saul doesn’t wear one in his battle scenes.

We get a Raiders of the Lost Ark set up where David is loading his sling as Goliath swooshes his sword around, then BAM! It’s all over in an instant as David bonks him. Unlike Indy, David then runs up and beheads Goliath, holding up the severed head and unleashing a mighty pubescent roar.

In some rather ham-fisted foreshadowing, Saul calls David his “wolf in shepherd’s clothing,” and says that “you’ve saved my kingdom!”

Next comes the Hakuna Matata-style growing up scene, as David transitions from boy to man while fighting Philistines, as the narrator tells us that he fought on Saul’s behalf “for decades.” In the end, “he becomes a warrior, a leader, a hero.”

The Souring

We immediately see that Saul knows David’s destiny, or at least suspects it. As Saul marches in a parade through his city while the people throw down flower petals and chant his name, David comes into view looking somewhat sour. But then, someone cries out that David has killed tens of thousands, and the crowd shifts to chanting David’s name. In an instant, David goes from looking rather miffed to grinning, raising his arms to accept the praise. The taunt is one that is repeated a few times in relation to Saul and David, such as in 1 Sam. 18:7. We’ll see it repeated a few times in the show, as well.

Jonathan perceives that his father is unhappy with the crowd’s turning, and tries to pacify him, saying that David does deserve their praise. Saul replies: “He’ll want my crown next.” The last shot of the scene is of David smirking, like he’s thinking, “Yeah, yeah I will.”

In the next scene, David is lounging with Jonathan and Michal, and the two men appear to be boasting of their military prowess while Saul hides behind a column, listening. Saul calls David forth, spitting the chant back at him: “So, once again you are our champion. You have killed thousands.” Jonathan, who is apparently completely tactless in this show, calls out a correction: “TENS of thousands!”

Saul sarcastically expresses his gratitude for David’s service, to which David says, “The Lord blessed us all.” The way he says it feels like a jab, as he can’t seem to be able to stop smirking whenever he speaks with Saul. He knows that Saul no longer has God’s blessing.

In his best creepy voice, Saul tells David that he will reward him with Michal. Far from happy or even smug, David looks completely freaked out by this announcement. At least until Saul asks for 100 dead Philistines in exchange (which, frankly, doesn’t seem like much for a men credited with killing tens of thousands).

David's madness-inducing smirk.

David’s madness-inducing smirk.

Jonathan and Michal are concerned, but David is cocky. He assures them that he will return and, with an ominous glare at Saul, he adds, “God willing.” Again, he knows that he is God’s chosen, and Saul knows it, too. David repeatedly throws it in Saul’s face throughout the episode.

With one final smirk, David heads off to battle. As they watch him leave, Saul says to Jonathan, “You love him like a brother, don’t you?” Jonathan gazes wistfully after David as he replies that he does. Saul continues, “As Abel no doubt loved Cain.” Jonathan’s portrayal is an odd one. It seems rather terrible to say that he acts gay, but the subtext certainly seems to be there in the way that he looks at David. I’m surprised, given the incentive to “no homo” the Jonathan/David relationship.

In any case, Saul continues on about David wanting the crown, while Jonathan protests that he is loyal. And yet we, the audience, saw the way that David looked at Saul’s crown in an earlier scene. We know that Saul knows exactly what is going on, and that Jonathan has been deluded (either by himself or by David).

When David returns, he brings “trophies taken from each of [the Philistines’] bodies.” No mention is made of foreskins, and Saul never asks for such trophies (and, in fact, seems rather disgusted to be presented with them.

There is a discrepancy in the text regarding how many foreskins David needed to collect; 2 Sam. 3:14 claims that it’s 100, while 1 Sam. 18:27 puts it at 200. The show fudges this by having Saul ask for 100 dead Philistines, and David bringing back 200 foreskins. With his signature smirk, he tells Saul that “God was with me.” There it is again, that reminder that God’s allegiances have shifted.

Michal is presented to David, but Saul throws a spear at them before they’ve left the room. Jonathan asks: “Father, what demons possess you? Without him, we would all be slaves and you would not be king.” To which Saul replies: “And with him, you never will be.” What Jonathan blames on demons, the text blames on an evil spirit (1 Sam. 16:14-16).

A little later, a man goes to Michal, informing her that Saul wishes to see David. She replies that it’s impossible, that David is not well. During the interaction, Saul is skulking behind a curtain, spying on the interaction. When Michal replies, however, Saul flies out in a rage. He pushes past his daughter and finds the apartments empty. Jonathan and Michal are both defending David, and this further enrages Saul.

The whole narrative is played as though Saul is deranged and paranoid, yet David has been anointed as the future king, and the look he gave Saul’s crown was unmistakable. He is continually smirking at Saul and goading him, reminding Saul that it is David who now holds God’s favour. It feels an awful lot like David is gaslighting Saul, making him seem crazy to the point that his own children turn against him.

As Saul chases after David, there is a brief scene where slaughters the priests (the story is taken from 1 Sam. 22).

In the next scene, Saul leaves his guards to go on a little stroll. It’s as ridiculous here as it is in 1 Sam. 24. What guards would let their king wander about in the wilderness alone? With bandits nearby? Saul continues to be portrayed as losing his mind, as he talks to himself in a distorted voice (a standard movie convention to show psychological slippage). And his guards, seeing him in this deranged state, decide to let him just wander off.

Saul enters a cave and starts to pee. As he does so, David does the worst sneaking job ever to get up behind Saul and cut off a piece of his clothes. Despite this making a rather loud fabric-tearing noise, Saul notices nothing. He also notices nothing as goes to leave the cave with David standing out in the open right behind him. It is only when David calls out that Saul notices him. Is he meant to be drunk? It strains credulity.

As in 1 Sam. 24, David shows his piece of robe to Saul as proof that he could have easily killed him, yet didn’t. He plays the innocent as he declares that “only evildoers do evil deeds, so my hand will not touch you.” This is doubly ironic with Uriah standing right beside him (not to mention a terribly naive statement).

Saul shrieks at him, but for once David keeps his smirks and jabs to himself. When Saul asks him if, “when you have my crown, will you not kill my descendants?” David swears that he won’t. Of course, he will. His followers will murder Ishbosheth in 2 Sam. 4, and he’ll hand several of Saul’s descendants over to the Gibeonites in 2 Samuel 21. Yet the show makes David seem sincere here. For the first time in the entire episode, David is playing the part of the wrongfully accused.

Here, the show does some conflating. It has David’s companion ask him why he would spare Saul’s life, as Abishai does in 1 Sam. 26 when he and David sneak into Saul’s camp to murder him, but David changes his mind at the last moment. Only in the episode, Abishai doesn’t exist and the companion is Uriah.

In answer to the question, David says: “Because he’s one of the anointed. It’s up to God to decide his destiny.” The look Uriah gives him is absolutely precious. It perfectly conveys the message: “What if God’s destiny for him was for you to kill him, though?”

Ep4_04

In the next scene, Saul is stabbing his food with a knife when Jonathan runs up to him, screaming “father father father” the whole way. He warns Saul of an approaching Philistine army, but Saul is so paranoid that he can only mutter on about David.

The portrayal is different from the one we get in 1 Sam. 23, where Saul doesn’t seem to hesitate at all before he abandons his chase of David to take care of the impeding Philistines. Here, however, Jonathan must convince him that it is his duty to defend his kingdom before he agrees to go.

This battle is conflated with the one in which Saul dies. David’s stint as a bandit and his joining the Philistines are both completely erased. He is simply an Israelite on the run from a mad king, and that’s that.

The battle itself is somewhat different as well. The Israelites are losing and, as they try to run away, Jonathan is killed by an arrow. The Philistines then immediately hold back to give Saul time for a monologue in which he blames himself for the terrible losses.

Incidentally, this is precisely why you never put your king and his heir in the same battle. It’s a rooky mistake, forgiveable only because Israel is still new to this whole monarchy thing.

In any case, Saul is so repentant that he commits suicide. He is never injured, and his suicide is out of remorse rather than fear of capture, as it was in 1 Sam. 31.

Saul’s crown dramatically rolls away from his body, and is picked up by an Israelite soldier. The soldier then brings it to David, and tells him of Saul and Jonathan’s death. As he presents the crown, he begins to giggle, and it is this that offends David rather than the messenger’s claim that he had personally killed Saul (as in 2 Sam. 1). Rather than order the messenger killed, as he does in the text, David simply commands him out of his sight.

Once they are alone, Uriah falls to his knees and declares David king.

David’s Reign

David’s reign, as the narrator tells us, begins with the need for a capitol. In the next shot, a band of Israelites are crawling through one of Jerusalem’s water supply tunnels, likely about to get terrible rashes from the chaffing of their wet clothes and armour.

The scene is ridiculous. In a rather pathetic attempt to add some drama, the show has David’s group encounter a grate barring their way. David’s companions are at a loss, they have no idea what to do next! Thankfully, David displays his brilliant mind by figuring out that they can just swim under the grate.

Okay, so why was that grate there? If it only goes partway and is no barrier whatsoever to invaders, why was the grate placed there in the first place?

It’s not a dramatic moment when there is such a cheat-y solution. It’s just absurd.

It doesn’t get any better after that, either, as David and his band slosh around Jerusalem, leaving a trail of wet footprints that go completely unnoticed by the world’s worst guards. When David opens the gates, the Israelite army is able to rush straight in. It seems that they had been waiting just outside – a whole army literally at the gate – and the guards hadn’t noticed a thing.

There’s some more conflation as the scene switches straight to the ark being brought into the city and David dancing before it. They did make him bare-chested, but he is far from nude!

While in this state of undress, he encounters Uriah and his wife. He makes eyes with Bathsheba, and tells Uriah that, “your wife is far too pretty for you.” The rape is somewhat foreshadowed when David, taking Bathsheba’s hand to lead her into a dance, asks Uriah if he minds – never giving Uriah a chance to respond. Bathsheba does, however, saying “I mind.” David doesn’t seem to care, and pulls her into the dance anyway.

A creeped out Bathsheba.

A creeped out Bathsheba.

As they dance, David’s eyes linger on Bathsheba, and she instantly stiffens. The camera switches to Uriah, who appears to be getting worried, then back to Bathsheba as she pulls away from David. She looks incredibly uncomfortable as she returns to Uriah, though he just grins on apparently willing to overlook what his king’s presumption.

David, completely unperturbed, dances on into the ark’s tent and declares that “now God is truly with me!” It seems odd that he’s allowed in there.

As the scene was playing out, I was worried that Michal’s fight with David would be fit into it. It would have been easy to play her anger as simple jealousy at seeing David dancing with another woman. While I’m not particularly happy with her being completely written out of the scene, at least they didn’t go in that direction.

The adultery angle is an interesting one. In the show, it’s not clear that David is cheating on his wives, since it isn’t really clear that he has any. Only Michal has been introduced (Abigail is entirely absent), but she was merely promised by Saul, and that only moments before he flings a spear at them both. The only suggestion that their relationship might be more than platonic comes when Michal is guarding the door to David’s apartments, which might suggest that they are her apartments as well. Yet there is no wedding scene, no point at which she is referred to as David’s wife, and she is completely gone by the time Bathsheba enters the scene. Since David is never shown with any other woman, it would be easy to conclude that he was simply a bachelor when he met Bathsheba.

In any case, the next scene finds David on his rooftop, playing with a maquette of Jerusalem. He has a little clay temple, and is trying to find an ideal site for it when he sees Bathsheba bathing. The camera lingers on her, representing David’s gaze. I was very relieved that the show’s creators didn’t make Bathsheba into a temptress. She never looks back at David, and never even seems aware that he is there. The scene makes it clear that he is being a creepster, while she’s just trying to enjoy a bath.

David’s voyeurism is interrupted by Nathan. David tries to deflect the fact that he’s been caught by pointing out his plans for a temple. “For the Lord,” he insists. It’s well done the way he wears the mantle of godliness, insisting that he is on his roof to do God’s work, to protect himself from the fact that he’s just been caught spying on a bathing woman. I think the show’s creators wanted to highlight that David wanted to build the temple for selfish reasons, rather than as a proper tribute to God, but they inadvertently made a fairly powerful comment about “godly men” as well.

Nathan, of course, is having none of it. He tells David that he’s had a dream from God, who says that David’s house will rule Israel forever (the term isn’t fudged, despite everyone watching knowing that this is false – I found that interesting), but that it will be David’s son who will build the temple.

My temple?” asks David, incredulous. “God’s temple,” corrects Nathan. David quickly accepts his chastisement and thanks Nathan. As soon as Nathan leaves, David goes back to perving on Bathsheba.

That night, David is lounging on his roof when a servant announces that Bathsheba has been brought, “as requested.” She is very formal, addressing David as “your majesty.” He insists that she call him David, trying to make it personal. She pulls back again, mentioning her husband, asking if there’s been news of him. David says that there hasn’t been, and reminds her that he’s very far away. He leers at her, invades her personal space. She’s stiff and clearly uncomfortable. He starts touching her cheek, and she firmly tells him that she is “loyal to my husband.” Captain Grabbyhands asks, “what about your king?” The meaning is clear – as king, he can command her to submit.

David is absolutely disgusting. In a final effort, Bathsheba tries to pull away. “This is wrong!” she says. “No one need know,” answers David, and the scene fades to black. The narrator announces: “Bathsheba becomes pregnant.”

I’m glad that they did the scene the way they did. Too much pop culture portrays Bathsheba as a temptress, or at least as a willing participant, and I’m glad that they made it so clear that what happened was a rape.

In the next scene, David has sent for Uriah and asks him how the war is going, how’s Joab, how are the other soldiers? All fine, says Uriah. As in the text, David tries to send him home to sleep with Bathsheba, hoping to cover up the timing of her pregnancy, but Uriah refuses. “This is a holy war, how can I go to my home and spend the night with my wife?” David tries the same trick he tried with Bathsheba: “Man to man, who’se to know?” But Uriah is firm, “I will know.” He seems very confused, but as with the ark parade, he is willing to ignore everything and his grin quickly returns.

The narrator cuts in to inform us that David can’t, actually, force Uriah to sleep with Bathsheba. Instead, “he finds another way to conceal his adultery.” The use of the term “adultery” is rather iffy here, given that he didn’t just cheat on Uriah. I mean, yes, technically, it’s adultery, but it’s also rape. He’s raped Uriah’s wife, and that term always takes precedence over the victim’s marital status.

As in the text, David sends Uriah back to the battlefront with a letter for Joab in which he instructs Joab to send Uriah to the most dangerous battlefront and abandon him there. As in the text, Joab shows absolutely no remorse or hesitation. He simply reads the letter, then tosses it in the fire before walking away.

In the next scene, David and Bathsheba are presented as a happy couple, standing close together in a beautiful garden, holding their baby. Nathan interrupts the scene, asking David, “You think you can just sweep everything you’ve done under the carpet? […] You think God doesn’t see everything?” David and Bathsheba both immediately look at their baby, and they know. They know.

David is seated before the ark, pleading for his son’s life, when Bathsheba walks in crying. “First my husband, now my son. We are cursed,” she says. David turns on Nathan, crying out: “But I was anointed! God blessed me!” This detail is an invention of the show, and a silly one at that. How could David believe that his anointing granted him immunity after seeing what happened to Saul? I could understand remorse, I could understand a lament that he had allowed himself to believe himself “too big to fail,” but this statement to Nathan is just silly. Likely, it was only inserted so that we could get Nathan’s reply: “A king is never above his god.”

But never mind, all is well because Nathan promises them another son.

Sure enough, in the next scene David and Bathsheba are hanging out in the sun again, this time with a young boy, Solomon. The child is playing with David’s temple maquette, hammering in for the audience that he’s going to be the one to build the temple.

But, cycling back to the episode’s thematic question, the narrator tells us that “Solomon will build God’s temple. But, like his father, he will find it impossible to obey God’s commandments.”