Animated Elijah

Many consider Byrn Terfel to be the greatest singer in the world, and today the bass-baritone is bringing the biblical prophet Elijah to life. What is this, a performance of New York’s Metropolitan Opera? No, it’s part of an animated television series with biblical storylines. Home Box Office (HBO), a subsidiary of Time Warner, is airing a series of Bible stories called Testament: The Bible in Animation. The producers have made a real effort to keep the stories accurate, seeking help from various British Scripture experts including the British Bible Society. To tell the stories in a visually exciting way, the producers turned to an unlikely source: the former Soviet Union. The folks who once made films for the real “evil empire,” the Moscow-based film company Soyuzmultifilm, now have brought the Bible to life using a variety of techniques: computer animation, stop-action puppetry, and oil-paint composition. The result is a first-rate combination of scholarship and artistry. The segment on Elijah provides a wonderful example of the producers’ dedication to quality. First, the producers used an English translation of Mendelssohn’s oratorio Elias. Then, they cast Byrn Terfel as Elijah. When Elijah condemns Jezebel and mocks the prophets of Baal, it sends thrills down your spine, and you understand what the Bible means when it says “The word of the Lord came to Elijah the Tishbite.” Other segments in the series include treatments of King David, Ruth, Noah, and Daniel. From what we’ve seen and what has been reported, the series seems to reflect a real concern for accuracy and quality. Ironically, this series is coming from the same company that has earned some well-deserved criticism for marketing violent and sexually-explicit films like Natural Born Killers and music like Gangsta Rap. Columnist John Leo has even called Time Warner “our chief cultural polluter.” Well, maybe they’re getting religion. In fact, the secular media at times is curiously attracted to the Scriptures. For example, Turner Network Television, owned by Ted Turner, recently produced a series on biblical ethics that did justice to the greatest story ever told. There’s a couple of lessons here for Christians. First, in whatever form we choose to present the Gospel message, be it videos, books, plays, or any other medium, we need to pay attention to quality and artistry. It’s evident how important this is in the HBO and Ted Turner series. They’re so good, they can attract kids who are channel-surfing. The second lesson is that the truth can’t be suppressed forever. The drama of God at work in history is so overpowering that even the likes of Time Warner and Ted Turner are drawn to it. If you subscribe to HBO, you might want to watch this series with your kids and use it to teach them the biblical accounts from Scripture. Or, you can watch the whole series later when the videos are available. Think of it—videos from secular filmmakers—videos that beautifully tell the greatest stories ever told.


Chuck Colson


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