Notorious Women of the Bible chronicles, in an intelligent fashion, some of the Bible’s most provocative women including Esther who is pictured above. Photo courtesy of Vision TV

Vision series a treat as it chronicles the Bible’s women of notoriety

By  Sharon McMillan, Catholic Register Special
  • June 9, 2012

I wasn’t sure what to expect from a program called Notorious Women of the Bible. Actually I was a little put off by the obviously provocative title. It seemed like a ploy to attract some of that large and lucrative audience normally drawn to programs like Desperate Housewives.

Not to disparage Desperate Housewives, but Hollywood depicts notorious women a dozen times a night on television. I was hoping for something a little different.

Notorious Women of the Bible is in fact a series that focuses on one “notorious” woman of the Bible per episode. I had the opportunity to watch the episode detailing the story of Bathsheba. People with even a cursory knowledge of the Bible have some familiarity with her story as the woman seduced by King David who later became mother of “wise” King Solomon. As a woman, I have to admit I was interested to learn more about the arc of this woman’s life.

While the production qualities are nowhere near the level of Desperate Housewives, how the story is told is refreshing and credible. The pace of the program and the mix of media used in the presentations (e.g. world-class artwork and custom illustrations) help tell the story in a surprisingly engaging way.

No less than seven academics shared opinions on various aspects of Bathsheba’s life. That alone could have been overwhelming for a 30-minute program, yet it wasn’t the least bit so. The editors excelled at providing just the right amount of academic perspective to fill in various parts of the story.

Most helpful was the commentary on the nature of the interpretations themselves. The Bible is the most read publication in history and it would have been easy to deluge the audience with minutiae on various opinions about Bathsheba’s story. Thankfully the producers gave viewers some credit for being thinking individuals who may not know the story well, or at all, but might know a few things about our contemporary world. 

For example, it was news to me to learn that a change in interpretation of Bathsheba, from an adulterer and seductress to a woman who may have been sexually assaulted, took place after the 1960s. That likely coincided with the rise of feminism. I came to that conclusion on my own (as I’m sure many viewers will) and I was thankful that I didn’t have to listen to a lengthy political dissertation on the 1960s.

As I watched the program I was eager to learn more about the motivations and considerations affecting Bathsheba’s actions. Like any weekly TV drama or soap opera we are drawn in by character portraits and the motivations for a character’s actions. The questions we are led to ask about Bathsheba’s decisions as a wife and mother are not only contemporary in flavour but the approach to answering those questions was entirely refreshing. The producers take this biblical story and turn it into a relevant and compelling plot suitable for today’s audiences, without the Hollywood production and hoopla. They achieve this with thoughtful ideas and articulate interpretations, delivered by academics from some of Canada’s leading theological colleges and universities.

Keeping all that in mind, the entertainment factor rests in the story itself and the visual presentations that complete this program. Depending on tastes, viewers may get a chuckle out of the animated illustrations used to depict the more provocative aspects of the story (think Monty Python cartoons). But even if those brief animations are not your style, there is much to appreciate in the more conventional visuals (e.g. famous paintings of Bathsheba) that help to set the tone.

It’s a treat to have new television programming about women that can be entertaining and educational, as the two sadly seldom go together.

Notorious Women of the Bible runs on Wednesday nights at 10 p.m. on Vision TV starting June 13 with Eve.

(McMillan is a freelance writer in Toronto.)

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