Thou Shalt Not Replace the Bible with a Movie …

A Biblicist Tells How to Judge Scripture-Based Films

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ROME, NOV. 16, 2001 ( First there was Cecil B. DeMille´s «Ten Commandments.» Now comes Carlo Buzzetti´s decalogue.

In the history of filmdom, it has not always easy to discern which Bible-based films, such as DeMille´s 1956 epic, help audiences to understand the Word of God, and which deform and betray the revealed message.

In today´s edition of the Italian newspaper Avvenire, biblicist Buzzetti offers the following guidelines for how to judge movies.

1. The relation Bible-cinema is of a hierarchic-priority character. The cinema is at the service of the Bible, and not vice versa. These two realities are never interchangeable.

2. The relation Bible-cinema is of a circular nature. On one hand, the Bible provides arguments for the cinema. On the other, the cinema can help capture aspects of biblical texts that were previously unnoticed.

3. The relation is never substitutive. As the Bible and cinema are not equivalent realities. No film can ever take the place of the Bible, although it is true that for many the Bible virtually does not exist but for the support of a film.

4. A biblical film is good if it encourages one to read the Bible. It might be viewed before or after the Bible is read. The former inspires the desire to read or reread the Bible, or to comment on a familiar biblical text.

5. A biblical film is like a painting. With reference to the Bible, it is good if it helps to discover some aspects that were previous unperceived by readers.

6. A biblical film is good if it helps the audience to understand better something about human existence in general, but also if it helps spectators understand aspects of their own lives.

7. The perspective of radical confrontation and reciprocal exclusivity, implied in the phrase «either the Bible or the cinema,» is both problematic and erroneous. Instead, an attempt at friendship can only begin from the perspective of coexistence and collaboration.

8. The relation Bible-cinema is situated in the broader chain of relations and hierarchies, beginning with the Word, and passing through the proclaimed, reiterated, and written word, [including] preaching, catechesis, school, art and cinema. However, no prophetic word can substitute the Word of God, in the same way that no work of art, theater or cinema can exhaust or replace the written translations of the Bible.

9. A good biblical film is at the service of the Bible. However, the Bible´s superiority is not of an exclusive-dictatorial character. If the Bible is to be constantly communicated, it must appear on paper and other audio-visual means.

10. No translation is good in itself, but «good for ….» Whoever defends the legitimacy of film versions cannot maintain that all biblical films are good. Each must be evaluated individually. It must be verified that the film has a quality-advantage in relation to the end, namely, that it is «faithful,» and «good for» understanding the Bible.

Buzzetti concluded: «I have seen that when a discussion on a biblical film is preceded and guided by this decalogue, it is more solid, serious and serene.»

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