Last week, ABC premiered its new action-drama series, “Of Kings and Prophets,” which looks like a “Game of Thrones”-style version of the Book of Samuel (that’s the one with David and Goliath, if you’re rusty on your Old Testament).
The show joins a pair of recent Hollywood takes on the Bible, “Risen” and “The Young Messiah.” In “Risen,” released last month to mixed reviews, Joseph Fiennes plays Clavius, a Roman tribune charged by Pontius Pilate (played by Peter Firth) to find the missing body of Jesus in an effort to quell an uprising in the weeks after Jesus’ resurrection.
“The Young Messiah,” out last weekend, is based on the Anne Rice novel “Christ the Lord: Out of Egypt”—yes, Anne Rice the author of “Interview With A Vampire”—and follows a cherubic seven-year-old Jesus and his family as they return from exile in Egypt to their home in Nazareth. Sean Bean plays a hardened Roman soldier who probably ends up being a good guy and saving kid Jesus somehow.
So is Hollywood turning back to the Bible for inspiration? In 2014, big-name directors Darren Aronofsky and Ridley Scott gave us “Noah” and “Exodus: Gods and Kings,” essentially modern re-boots of the classic swords-and-sandals Hollywood epics, only with better special effects and ridiculous disaster themes. Unlike their predecessors—”Ben-Hur,” “The Ten Commandments,” “The Greatest Story Ever Told”—they flopped at the box office.
With that in mind, here’s an idea for Hollywood: make more Bible-themed action movies from lesser-known Old Testament stories primed to be cinematic spectacles. A lot of them are pretty slim on details, so there’s plenty of room for creative interpretation. Because most Hollywood producers probably don’t know their Old Testament very well, here’s five ideas to get them started.
1. Ehud the Assassin-Judge of Israel
The Israelites have been subjugated by the Moabites for 18 years. God sends Ehud to deliver them, and Ehud turns out to be a ninja assassin. He makes a short sword and hides it under his robes against his right thigh when he goes to pay tribute to Eglon, the king of Moab, who is evil and obese. After presenting the tribute, Ehud whispers to the fat king, “I have a secret message for you.”
King Eglon, intrigued, shouts to his attendants, “Leave us!” Once they’re alone Ehud says, “I have a message from God for you.” As the king leans forward, Ehud draws his sword and plunges it into Eglon’s enormous belly. As the Bible tells it, “Even the handle sank in after the blade, and his bowels discharged. Ehud did not pull the sword out, and the fat closed in over it. Then Ehud went out to the porch; he shut the doors of the upper room behind him and locked them.”
Ehud slips out the window and scales down the side of the palace, Jason Bourne-style, while the servants wait for their king to come out of his chamber. By the time Eglon’s men realize what’s happened, Ehud has escaped to the hill country, where he summons the Israelites with an awesome battle horn (like the Horn of Gondor) and they muster in the hills and march against the Moabites, slaughtering 10,000 of them and liberating their people.
2. Joshua Stills the Sun So He Can Slaughter His Enemies in Broad Daylight
Everyone knows about Moses but it was his lieutenant Joshua who led the Israelites into the promised land of Canaan—with plenty of intrigue and a bunch of huge battles. After the Israelites sacked Jericho, the people of Gibeon sent emissaries to Joshua and duped him into making a treaty with them by posing as ambassadors from a faraway land. (Joshua was commanded by God to destroy all the inhabitants of Canaan, not to make treaties with them.)
In retaliation for Gibeon’s alliance with the invading Israelites, an alliance of Amorite kings besieged the city, whose leaders appealed to Joshua to save them. After an all-night march, Joshua and his army took the Amorites by surprise, more or less like Gandalf’s charge with the Rohirrim during the Battle of Helm’s Deep in “The Two Towers.” And kind of like when the light blinds the orcs right before Gandalf the Rohirrim overrun them, Joshua’s charge is supernatural.
As the Amorites flee, giant hailstones fall on them from the sky, killing scores of soldiers. Then Joshua commands the sun to stand still so they can finish the Amorites in daylight, and “the sun stood still, and the moon stayed, until the people had avenged themselves upon their enemies.” Imagine Jon Snow as a battled-hardened Joshua, and you’ve got cinematic gold.
3. Elijah Owns the Prophets of Baal, Then Slays Them
Elijah the prophet (but, a younger, edgier Elijah, like Walton Goggins) is living in the wilderness during a drought sent by God because the people of Israel and their king, Ahab, are following the false god Baal. God tells Elijah to confront Ahab, whose wife, Jezebel, a priestess of Baal, has been wantonly killing God’s prophets.
Elijah proposes a contest between God and Baal: who can light an altar with fire from heaven? The Israelites, along with 450 prophets of Baal and 400 prophets of Asherah (another false, totally evil god) are summoned to Mount Carmel where they build two stone altars, one for God and one for Baal. Two oxen are slain and placed on the altars. The priests of Baal whip themselves into a bacchic frenzy, crying out to Baal, cutting themselves and adding their blood to the altar. They do this all day. Nothing happens.
Elijah orders his altar to be doused in water and then asks God to accept the sacrifice. With the sadistic, bloodied priests of Baal looking on, fire descends from heaven, consuming the altar and the sacrifice and even the stones.
Elijah then calls down for rain from heaven to end the drought, and as the rain begins to fall in great torrents, he turns on the priests of Baal and orders Israelites to kill them all.
4. Judith the King-Slayer
In the Book of Judith (part of the Catholic and Eastern Orthodox canon but considered apocryphal by Protestants), the Jewish city of Bethulia is besieged by the Assyrians. Judith, a widow, has a plan to break the siege. She disguises herself as a harem girl and wanders into the enemy camp, allowing herself to be captured and taken to the Assyrian general, Holofernes.
Once in the general’s tent, she plies him with wine, flatters and seduces him. When he passes out, she decapitates him with his own sword, takes the head and escapes back to the Israelites, who then (of course) attack and defeat the Assyrians.
In 1914, the story of Judith was made into a film starring Lillian Gish, but it’s time for a re-boot, maybe with Brie Larson or Saoirse Ronan.
5. The Twelve Spies Discover a Race of Demon-Giants
Before the Israelites entered Canaan, Moses sent twelve spies to reconnoiter the land and report back on its inhabitants and cities. Among the creatures they found were the Anakim, or the “sons of Anak,” a race of terrifying demon-giants. The spies thought these massive creatures were descendants of the Nephilim, offspring of women impregnated by fallen angels before the great flood of Noah.
One of these giants, Goliath, is later slain by David. But who—or what—was Goliath’s father, or his father’s father? According to the Book of Enoch and the Book of Jubilees (ancient Jewish religious texts), the Nephilim were “watchers” led by Samyaza, a powerful angel who convinces rebel angels to descend to earth and “take wives” to “beget us children.”
Hollywood needs to wake up to the possibilities here. After all, Darren Aronofsky’s stupid rock angels have nothing on the Anakim.