Samuel, Cain, & the Queen Mother (Tragic Old Testament Stories that Need a Film/TV Adaptation)
Updated: 5 days ago
I had some issues with His Only Son, but there's one thing David Helling and I can agree on: the world needs more film and TV adaptations of the Old Testament. While the Gospels have been adapted to film and television countless times, the Old Testament has dozens of stories that have been left virtually untapped since the 1950s (outside of VeggieTales). Since I've been predicting that the success of The Chosen is going to catalyze the development of more Bible shows and films, I thought I'd brainstorm a few ideas for biblical adaptations based on Old Testament narratives that have been overlooked for the past few decades.
But before we get to my specific ideas, let me do a little table-setting. There's a reason that these Old Testament stories haven't received a proper adaptation. Most of these narratives are dark and tragic. They aren't inspirational, sentimental, or family-friendly. Contrary to the typical faith-based fare, these stories aren't designed to evangelize or present positive values. Instead of offering us a lesson on how to live, they simply uncover the darkness in the human heart and the brokenness of our world. But that doesn't mean they aren't redemptive. Experiences that force us to meditate on sin, darkness, and death can help us become more aware of our need for a source of salvation that's beyond ourselves.
One last quick note: for each film, I created a hypothetical movie poster with some help from Bing's Image Creator. Let me know which ones you like the most! Creating them was a ton of fun and I'd love to do more if there's interest.
Cain and Abel
Biblical Text: Genesis 4
Biblical Synopsis: After they are expelled from Eden, Adam and Eve have two sons, Cain and Abel. When God accepts Abel's sacrifice and rejects the sacrifice of Cain, Cain kills his brother in a fit of envy. Though he attempts to cover up the murder, Cain's sin is seen by God and he is sentenced to exile. Still, God promises to continue to protect Cain from anyone who might threaten him.
Tone: Somber, tragic
Crime Drama: God knows about the murder immediately because of his omniscience, but we aren't told about when or how Adam and Eve learn what happened. I could see a film that follows Cain as he attempts to hide his murder from Adam and Eve (the bulk of the film), only for God to ultimately expose him. Such a film would naturally focus on the experience of guilt/hiding as well as the fracturing of family relationships.
Adventure: When God confronts Cain about the murder and sentences him to exile, Cain is scared of how he will be treated by those that he encounters. In response, God places a mark of protection on him. These bits of the story are quite evocative - and they also raise all kinds of perplexing questions (who were the other humans that Cain was afraid of). I could see a film that begins with Cain's exile and follows him on an adventure through the primeval world that's only hinted at in Genesis. Such a film would explore what it looks like to try to move on in the face of guilt and regret.
The Levite and his Concubine
Biblical Text: Judges 19-21
Biblical Synopsis: When a Levite's concubine flees to her father's house, he goes to seek her and bring her back to his home. On their return journey, as they stay in a city of Benjamin, the citizens of the city form a mob and the concubine is brutalized and left for dead. In rage, the Levite summons the other tribes of Israel to take vengeance. After a bloody war with the rest of the tribes of Israel and the slaughter of its women and children, the tribe of Benjamin is left on the verge of extinction. Afraid of losing a tribe but unable to intermarry with Benjamin because of a rash vow that they took, the Israelite soldiers steal women from a city that refused to participate in the war.
Tone: Dark, horrific, tragic
Horror/Dark Epic: If it wasn't clear from the synopsis, the story of the Levite and his concubine is among the most horrific and troubling narratives in all of Scripture. It exists to demonstrate just how depraved and destructive the people of God can become when they do what is right in their own eyes and do not acknowledge God's kingship. Structuring this story might be difficult - and I'm not really sure who the protagonist would be - but it's hard for me to envision this as anything but a horror film. After watching Northman, Robert Eggers strikes me as the perfect filmmaker to help bring audiences back into such a strange and disturbing time.
The Life of Samuel
Biblical Text: 1 Samuel 1-16
Biblical Synopsis: After a barren woman vows to dedicate her child to God's service, she miraculously conceives and gives birth to Samuel. Samuel grows up faithfully serving in the Tabernacle - in contrast to the Hophni and Phinehas, the wicked sons of the high priest, Eli. When God's judgment on the wickedness of the priests leads to the loss of the Ark and the death of Hophni, Phinehas, and Eli, the Israelites look to the young Samuel to be their new spiritual leader. Under Samuel's leadership, the Israelites are gradually able to push back against their Philistine adversaries. Over time, however, they grow disaffected and long for a warrior king like the surrounding Gentile nations. At God's instruction, Samuel regretfully concedes and appoints Saul to be king over Israel. But when Saul rejects Samuel's guidance and disqualifies himself from kingship, Samuel is forced to appoint a king after God's own heart.
Medium: Multi-season TV/Streaming Series
Tone: Epic, Adventurous
Epic Adventure: Prophesied births, massive battles, magical objects: the events of Samuel's life aren't far from what you might find in a fantasy epic like Lord of the Rings. I could see a show that begins by looking at the events before Samuel's birth up til his initial victories as judge (season 1) and then looks at Samuel's relationship with Saul (season 2), before concluding with the rise of David (season 3). While Samuel's story is a little more upbeat than some of the others on this list, it's also quite sobering. Each leader that we encounter begins on positive note before inevitably getting dragged down by some sort of destructive sin. The original narrative leaves us wondering whether a son of David can truly bring deliverance or whether all leaders are doomed to fail if they're given enough time.
Athaliah and King J(eh)oash
Biblical Text: 2 Kings 11
Biblical Synopsis: When King Ahaziah of Judas is killed, his idolatrous mother, Athaliah, seizes control of Judah and has all of his royal heirs slaughtered. Only a single baby, Joash, is spared, hidden in the Temple by Ahaziah's sister, Jehosheba, and raised in secret by the faithful priest, Jehoiada. After six years, Jehoiada and the priests hatch a plot to oust the usurping Queen Mother and restore Joash to his proper place as king.
Medium: Limited TV/Streaming Series
Tone: Suspenseful, grim
Political Thriller: I've never seen Game of Thrones, but the story of Athaliah's rise and fall has the potential to scratch the same itch for political intrigue, backstabbing, and astonishing brutality (without all the nudity). I could see a show that begins with Athaliah's violent rise to power (the first episode or two) and then jumps ahead six years and follows Jehoiada as he seeks to keep Joash a secret and plans his counter-coup.
The Fall of Jerusalem
Biblical Text: 2 Kings 25; Matthew 24; Revelation 16
Biblical Synopsis: The destruction of Jerusalem and Solomon's Temple by the Babylonians in 587 BC is the absolute nadir of the Old Testament. After years of stubbornly ignoring the warnings of both the biblical prophets and the Babylonian Empire, Jerusalem is besieged and destroyed and the people are taken off into exile. Of course, this is only the first destruction of Jerusalem - a similar moment reoccurs in 70 AD, when the Jewish revolt against Rome is crushed and the Second Temple is destroyed.
Tone: Dread-inducing, claustrophobic, tragic
Survival Thriller: While there's a tendency for historical films to focus on "important" figures like kings and generals, I'd be much more interested in seeing this story told from the perspective of an average person, caught within the walls of Jerusalem during the siege and forced to find a way to survive the madness within the city and the violent forces surrounding it. I could see a film that follows a young mother and child from the beginning of the siege through to the final assault by the Babylonians.
Multi-Timeline Film: In the Bible, it's quite common for events to fall into recurring patterns or "types." As I noted above, Jerusalem has fallen and the Temple has been destroyed on two occasions - and depending on how you read Revelation and other prophecies, there may yet be a third major siege. I could see a film that follows three distinct narratives: one story set during the fall of Jerusalem in 587 BC, one story set during the fall of Jerusalem in 70 AD, and the final story set in a near-future siege of Jerusalem by the Anti-Christ. By presenting these stories concurrently (like The Fountain), the film could draw some interesting parallels and explore what it is that brings humanity to the same dead ends time and time again.
So, there's my list. Are there any other Old Testament stories that you'd like to see adapted to the screen? Or want to suggest a different approach to some of the stories above? Leave your thoughts and ideas in the comments below!
A New Resource for Studying Biblical Adaptations
If you're like me, watching biblical adaptations is about more than entertainment. Bible movies & shows like The Chosen provide us with fresh eyes to see the significance of the Bible and the beauty of the Gospel. That's why I'm excited to share with you a new resource that I've created to help you study biblical adaptations & reflect on how they apply to everyday life. Come and See is a devotional journal designed specifically for studying Bible movies and shows like The Chosen. It includes sections for you to take notes on each episode's plot, your favorite quotes, personal connections, questions, and, of course, Scripture references. Whether you're studying on your own or with your small group or ministry, Come and See is a perfect resource to help you dig deeper into The Chosen.
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If you liked this post, you might want to check out some of my other posts on The Chosen and Bible adaptation. I have Bible studies/discussion guides for each episode of The Chosen Seasons 1-3, blogs exploring how The Chosen adapts key biblical figures, and articles exploring the controversial nature of adaptation. I hope you enjoy them!
The Chosen Season 4
The Chosen Season 4 Controversy? (The Transfiguration of Jesus & the Second Commandment)
Reflecting on The Chosen Season 3 & Anticipating Season 4: What Worked & What to Fix
The Chosen Season 3
The Chosen Season 3 Episode 1 & Episode 2: Reaction and Analysis
The Chosen Season 3 Episodes 7 & 8: Recap, Review, & Analysis
The Chosen Season 3 Episodes 1 & 2: Questions to Discuss Before the Premiere