'The Bible': Mark Burnett talks about the Word made flesh
Sharp-eyed viewers who saw the first episode of History's ratings blockbuster "The Bible," in which patriarch Abraham (Gary Oliver) pleaded with God -- seen only in long soft-focus, from the side or from the back -- to spare the sinful city of Sodom for the sake of a few righteous men that might be living there, might be surprised when Jesus finally appears in this Sunday's two-hour episode.
They may notice that the figure that Abraham was addressing looks rather like Christ, played by Portuguese actor Diogo Morgado.
According to executive producer Mark Burnett, this was no accident.
"Let's put it this way," Burnett tells Zap2it, when asked about the resemblance, "Jesus is hidden throughout the Old Testament, and he's revealed in the New Testament. That's what we believe. Clearly, we know from the Bible that no one can physically see God, except in the physical sense, when he was Jesus, right? We know that is true."
Burnett, who co-executive produced the 10-part miniseries version of "The Bible" with wife Roma Downey (who makes an appearance as Mary when Jesus is an adult), is attempting to stay true to the spirit and intent of the Scriptures. For him, that meant that there were no real choices about depicting God in human form when the story called for it.
"That's the only way," he says, "the only voice, the only physical sense you could ever show God, if you're doing Genesis to Revelation. What other human body would you put in place for God? You wouldn't."
For the reasons behind this, he points to various passages in Scripture, including Genesis and the first chapter of the Gospel of John, which says, in part, "In the beginning was the Word; the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was with God in the beginning ... The Word became flesh; he lived among us, and we saw his glory, the glory that he has from the Father as only Son of the Father, full of grace and truth."
"John 1 couldn't be clearer. Jesus is the Word," Burnett says. "Why, in Genesis, did God have to speak into the world? It's the Word. God said, 'Let there be light.' There's nothing in the Bible that's by chance and by happenstance. Jesus was the Word, and the Word was with God."
While Burnett admits there was some artistic license taken in compressing the entire Bible into 10 hours, he wasn't willing to tamper with the essence of the story being told.
"Would you change 'King Lear'?" he says. "Would you change 'Narnia'? This is the Bible ... it's simple to me. There's only one way. Otherwise, it's called cheating the Bible. We don't want to do that. Nobody would want that.
"There are many, many clues throughout the series. People need to look for themselves. If people watch this series and then watch it again, they will start seeping in everywhere."
For example, the black-robed, white-faced figure representing Satan has already shown up in the Garden of Eden and in the background on the streets of Sodom.
But before Christ shows up on Sunday, there is the Book of Daniel, which includes the story of the Babylonian King Nebuchadnezzar. When three Jews under his rule don't show up to worship a golden statue he has erected, he orders them thrown into a fire.
The trio prays mightily to be preserved amid the flames. In the text, Nebuchadnezzar notices something odd and double-checks with his advisers about the number of men tossed in the fire.
They affirm it was three, "'But,' he went on, 'I can see four men walking free in the heart of the fire and quite unharmed! And the fourth looks like a child of the gods!'"
"Who is the fourth man in the fire?" asks Burnett. "Nothing in [the Bible] is a mistake. Every word is thought through. This is the Word of God. It's not a made-up story. It's God."
"The Bible" miniseries itself is the result of a lot of careful planning, right down to the music cues in the Hans Zimmer score.
"When Isaac is carrying wood up the mountain," says Burnett, referring to another scene in the first episode, "and the music is played ... where else do you think that music might be played? When someone else is carrying wood up a mountain. There's much, much more.
"A lot of thought went into this; it's not random. It's not even a choice, is it? It's a mandate. You have to honor the sacred text. Go read the book. It's as clear as the writing on the wall."
"The Bible" is the first project from reality mogul Burnett's joint venture with Hearst, called One Three Media. Since his Irish-born wife is a Roman Catholic -- her brother is a Catholic priest in Northern Ireland -- Burnett suspects a particular providence in the Church's election of a new pontiff, Pope Francis, on March 13, 2013, or 3/13/13.
"God is moving," he says.
The miniseries continues until March 31, Easter Sunday. Here's a preview of the episode airing this Sunday (a.k.a. the feast of St. Patrick, the patron saint of Ireland) ...