(Photo: Joe Alblas)
"The Bible" episode 3, shown on Sunday evening on The History Channel, spends much of its first half on the history of the Jewish captivity under Nebuchadnezzar II, king of the Neo-Babylonian Empire, who destroys the Frist Temple and takes the Jews captive to Babylon.
Although episode 2 ended with the scene of King David telling young Solomon that he will build the temple, "The Bible" skips over the story of Solomon and moves on to the part in Jewish history where the Jewish king is corrupt and the Kingdom of Judah is conquered and its people forced into exile.
The famous Prophet Daniel is among those exiled to Babylon and wins favor with Nebuchadnezzar because of his gift to interpret dreams. In one of the more powerful scenes in episode 3, Nebuchadnezzar builds a giant golden statue and forces the Jews to bow and worship it, but three men refuse to bow down: Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego (Hebraic name: Hananiah, Misha'el, and Azariah). As Nebuchadnezzar sits on his throne and watches the mass of Jews kneel down to the idol, the three men – friends of Daniel – resolutely stand, refusing to worship another god, and pray in unison as they know the punishment of death awaits them.
Nebuchadnezzar, angered by their defiance, orders oil brought, a fire lit and throws the three men into the raging fire. The last words the three men utter before the flame is ignited is: "I call upon the name of the Lord, Lord save me."
No surprise for most people who have heard this famous Bible story, the Lord appears with the three faithful men in the fire and they are protected from any harm. The show, however, takes the liberty to have Nebuchadnezzar approach the flame curiously and put his hand to the fire to test it, only to pull back his hand in pain and reveal it burned. The three Jewish men walk out and join Daniel in an embrace as the Jewish people who previously bowed to the golden idol are reminded that God is still with them.
Nebuchadnezzar loses his mind later in life, and Daniel visits him in his chamber, but he is chained to the wall like a wild beast, with thick chains around his neck and hands.
Soon after Nebuchadnezzar's death, Cyrus, King of Persia, conquers Babylon and Daniel befriends him, offering him his service of interpreting dreams in order to protect the Jews still in captivity.
One of Cyrus' officials, jealous of Daniel's great influence on the king, convinces Cyrus to order that Jews not be allowed to pray for a month. Daniel breaks the order, and Cyrus witnesses him praying, with Daniel even making direct eye contact with Cyrus and continuing to pray when he's caught.
In response, Cyrus orders that Daniel be punished by throwing him into the lion's den. Daniel prays to God and he is able to control the lions and is unharmed. Cyrus rushes to the lion's den in the middle of the night to save Daniel, having said he couldn't sleep and that he had "wronged" his friend.
"God is with you, your God is real," says Cyrus in amazement after he sees Daniel calmly standing in the middle of the lion's den unharmed.
Cyrus orders that the Jews be freed and allowed to return to Jerusalem. When the official who had proposed the one-month ban of prayer protests, the king ordered for him to be thrown into the lion's den.
As Daniel watches the freed Jews file out of the city to return to Jerusalem, he confides in one of his Jewish friends that he had a dream that a great beast would devour the whole world, but then the son of man would come to save it and bring peace.
"The Bible" then picks up the story 500 years later when Jerusalem has been conquered by the Roman Empire. Right away, "The Bible" introduces viewers to the cruel Roman punishment of crucifixion.
King Herod is introduced laying on a table, his back smeared with yellow slime and leeches on him. He is depicted as a madman – unpredictable, cruel – a glutton and living a lavish lifestyle.
Mary and Joseph are introduced, with "The Bible" filling out their story with more romance. Joseph is first seen looking at Mary (before she becomes pregnant) saying in voice-over that Mary had the most beautiful eyes and smile.
Soon, the Angel Gabriel appears to Mary and tells her that the Lord is with her and she shall give birth to a son, the son of the Most High. After some time passes, Joseph confronts Mary about being pregnant and she begs him to believe that she is still a virgin and that it's the work of God. She pleads with Joseph to be her husband and the father of the unborn child. But he walks out saying, "God doesn't do this to people like us."
But the Angel Gabriel appears to Joseph and tells him that Mary is pure and that she is carrying the child of God. Joseph then runs to find Mary, who is being attacked by villagers who call her a shameless whore. Joseph pulls Mary into his arms to protect her and says that he will take her as his wife.
Joseph and Mary travel to Bethlehem for the census, and Mary gives birth to Jesus in the manger. The three wise men visit bearing gifts and King Herod orders all the infant boys killed. But Joseph has a dream that warns him of the upcoming slaughter and they quickly leave the area.
King Herod dies and the Israelites see that as an opportunity to gain freedom from the Roman Empire and violence erupts. The narrator notes that in Galilee alone, 2000 Jews involved in the uprise were crucified.
As Mary, hugging a now boy Jesus, rides on a small horse with Joseph leading the way on foot, Mary looks up and gasp. There is a rotting man – his body, from head to feet, is black, gray and blue in color – as he hangs on a cross. Mary tries to cover Jesus' face but he peeks out and looks up at the crucified man. Now the camera pulls back and the audience sees a whole hill filled with dead men on crosses.
Twenty five years pass and now Jesus begins his ministry. Herod's son Herod Antipas is now king and Pontius Pilate, the Prefect of the Roman province of Judaea, who will be the judge of Jesus' trial and authorize the crucifixion, arrives.
The audience is next taken to the River Jordan where John the Baptist is baptizing the crowd. Jesus, whose first image on screen is blurry and his head is covered, approaches John the Baptist in the river. He removes his cloak, and although John the Baptist says that he is the one that needs to be baptized, Jesus asks him to baptize him.
After the baptism, Jesus goes into the wilderness for 40 days where he is tempted. He falls down in the middle of the desert from weakness, and from his cloak a small snake slithers out. Jesus suddenly shakes and sits up slowly, turns around and there is Satan – walking towards him in a heavy, black hooded cloak. His face is ash gray, his nails black – looking like death – and tempts Jesus to turn the stone into bread, to throw himself down the mountain, and to bow to Satan in exchange for power.
Jesus refuses and as Satan tempts him with the image of having a gold crown set on his head, Jesus sees flashes of his future of a bloody crown of thorn. And instead of Satan's image of a Roman official pouring oil on his feet and kissing it, Jesus sees the nails and his bloody hands.
The story moves to John the Baptist being imprisoned and Jesus going to the Sea of Galilee, where he sees Peter on a boat without any luck in fishing that day. "Peter, just give me an hour and I will give you a whole new life," says Jesus to Peter after he is helped into Peter's boat. Jesus knows the name Peter without any introduction.
Meanwhile, Herod Antipas is talking to John the Baptist before his execution, saying, "Do you claim to be the messiah?"
"No," John the Baptist replies.
"But do you think he's coming?" Antipas persists.
"He's already here," replies John the Baptist, as dramatic, epic music sets the mood. "Here, he's here, out there, speaking God's truth, opening the heart of all men."
The screen goes back to Jesus and Peter on the boat, where Peter is pulling up nets full of fish. "How did this happen? What did you do?" Peter asks Jesus.
"I'm giving you a chance to change your life, Peter. Come with me. Give up catching fish and I will make you a catcher of man."
"What are you going to do?" Peter asked.
"Change the world," Jesus replies, as the camera pulls back showing Jesus standing on the boat while Peter sits with his net full of fish amid a wide sea; just one man and a simple fisherman who will change the world and history.
In prison, John the Baptist is beheaded and the shadow of his decapitated head is shown, and episode 3 concludes with Jesus and Peter in the boat in the middle of the Sea of Galilee, with Jesus now beginning his public ministry.