Top List Thursday – 5 Bible Stories That Would Make Epic Movies

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Following on from Darren Aronofsky’s Noah earlier in the year, Ridley Scott hit us with an Old Testament one-two when the trailer for Exodus: Gods and Kings was unveiled yesterday, along with the news this morning that Scott would also be behind a big budget adaptation of the Biblical story of David. It would appear that Hollywood has refound it’s love of the Biblical epic.

This got us thinking as to which other Biblical stories would be perfect to be adapted (to be honest, the story of David easily would have topped this list was it not for this morning’s announcement). Here’s 5 of them that could make for great movies.

  • Gideon

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The Biblical Israelites had a very bad habit of straying from their religious path every other week and ending up under other nation’s thumbs, and 40 years after they had been freed from Canaanite rule, they were not only right back to being oppressed, this time by the neighbouring Midianites, but also worshipping a bunch of idols. That’s kind of a no-no. Enter Gideon (whose name literally means “Destroyer”), a young man who is chosen by God to lay the smack down on the idolatry and set his people free. That is once he can get over his own doubt and start believing all the heavenly signs he’s been given.

Eventually he finds his faith though, and after kicking a massive of statue of Baal to the curb, Gideon starts gathering supporters from far and wide to build up a massive Israelite army that can actually stand up to the Midianites. Except, Gideon did his job a bit too well according to God’s standards. It seems that with that many soldiers an Israelite victory would be too easy, with none of the miraculous glory given to God. So through a set of different tasks provided to him by God, Gideon whittles down his army of more than 30 00 warriors to just 300. And then still kicks some Midianite butt.

He does this through tactics and subterfuge, using some Biblical smoke and mirrors (or horns and torches in this case) to scare the Midianites into such a state of confusion that they end up slaughtering themselves.

Although Gideon’s story echoes some of Moses’ with his initial reluctance, his takes a few interesting turns besides for just the whole tactical genius thing, which could make for a very interesting movie protagonist. For one, after pursuing and eradicating the Midianites, Gideon refused the kingship offered to him by the Israelites as his reward, claiming their only king is God. And then he went and took all the gold he had won in battle and made himself a new “ephod” to worship, which led the Israelites right back to the idolatry. Also, he supposedly fathered 70 sons. Jacob Zuma who?

  • Deborah

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The issue of women in the ministry is one that is still debated in certain circles to today, so a movie around not only a female religious leader, but one that definitely got the job done when it came to more “manly” stuff like making war and passing laws, would definitely be something interesting to see. Deborah was not only a prophetess but also a Judge of Israel (a leader chosen by God to lead his nation in times of crisis), the only woman to hold that post and who got it after she stepped up when no men wanted to.

Know how I mentioned earlier that the Israelites were liberated from the Canaanites? That was Deborah’s doing. She had already been a very significant lady just by taking up the title of Judge (one given to famous men like Samson and the like), but after having had enough of living under rule of the Big C for 20 years, Deborah gets Barak (no, not that Barak, this is a military general) to build an army, 10 000 strong, from the various tribes. She sends Barak and his troops to confront the King of Canaan while she will lead Canaan’s top military man, Sisera, away to another location. Barak refuses to go without her though, and while Deborah reluctantly agrees to go with him, she prophesies that because of Barak’s fear it will be a woman who gets all the cred for the final victory in the battle, and not him.

Deborah and Barak go to war with Canaan’s troops, now led by a very undistracted Sisera, and while they still end up victorious and crush the Canaanites, Sisera escapes. He doesn’t get too far though, just to the tent of another “strong” woman of the Bible, Yael. She lets him in, feigning obedience and offering a refuge from the Israelites on his tail. After Sisera falls asleep though from drinking some milk provided to him by Yael – the itis takes us all, man – Yael then hammers a tent peg into his forehead with such force that he is nailed to the ground. Ouch. These ladies didn’t play around.

The life of Deborah, from her becoming a Judge to her vanquishing the Canaanites and liberating her people, is filled with stories rife with cinematic potential. Work Yael into the story earlier as well, and this could be a one-two combo of badass Biblical women.

  • Joshua

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While I don’t know exactly what part of Moses’ story is being told in Exodus: Gods and Kings, the story of Joshua could very well be a sequel to Ridley Scott’s film. Moses may have been chosen by God to lead his people to the promised land of Canaan, but there was just the slight problem of the Canaanites who already lived in said “promised land” that needed to be kindly booted the hell out: That’s where Joshua came in. A proven military leader during the Israelites vast trek to get to that point, it was Joshua’s ruthless actions after that that defined his legend. Despite being vastly outnumbered and outgunned (outsworded?), Joshua led the Israelite army through a series of conflicts that he tended to win through brilliant tactics.

His most famous victory would of course come at Jericho, where, under instruction from God, Joshua marched his army around the walled city for 7 days, after which they caused the walls to come tumbling down with just a loud blast from their horns. A filmmaker could choose just how literal to play this scene. And the same could be said for the scenes that followed, as the Israelite troops marched into the city and then killed everything. And I mean EVERYTHING. Every man, woman, child and animal was brutally put to the sword under Joshua’s instructions. He would repeat this eradication a few more times, scaring the Canaanites to such a degree that when the Israelites showed up in a new region, the locals would just straight up claim allegiance and join his army instead of facing him in battle.

And Joshua’s supernatural battle superiority wasn’t just resigned to wall crumbling horns, as he was supposedly physically invincible, his prayers to God caused the sun to freeze in the sky to give him more daylight for a battle, and his God even weaponized freaking giant hailstones so as to give Joshua the upper hand. Yep, this could definitely make for a big budget, VFX spectacle blockbuster.

  • Esther/Mordecai

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The story of Esther (and her cousin/guardian Mordecai) seems primed for the cinematic treatment: An orphan girl who would go on to become Queen of Persia, and through her bravery would save her native people. And along the way there’s romance, foiled assassinations, political scheming, and just an age old story of good vs evil where the loyal man is justly rewarded and the hand-wringing baddie gets a good comeuppance in the end.

Esther is an orphan, raised by her older cousin Mordecai, who finds herself in the court of the Persian King Ahasueru after beautiful young virgins from all over his kingdom are summoned so that the king can pick one of them to be his new queen. The previous queen having been kicked to the curb after she refused to do what the king commanded and let him show off her beauty to all his friends. Esther is eventually the one that earns the king’s favour (I’m just going to gloss over the part about how she had twelve months of “training”” in a harem, and it was her “romantic” skills that caught the king’s…er, eye), a position that is cemented when she and Mordecai get word of and help save the king from an assassination plot.

Soon thereafter, Mordecai draws the ire of Haman, a wealthy prince of the kingdom and secret Jew genocide instigator, and to whom everybody was supposed to bow when he passed. Mordecai refused to bow before anybody but God, angering Haman who stepped up his plans for a Jewish pogrom, and through some sly words and a whole lot of money, convinces Ahasuerus to write a decree that essentially makes it legal to kill the Jews.

Through Esther’s intervention and political maneuvering – despite a silly Persian law that would result in her death to do so – the Jews are not only saved, but allowed to pursue and eradicate all their enemies in a great battle. What’s more, through a gallows-humourous case of mistaken identity Haman ends up picking out a fantastic honour for Mordecai, while he himself ends up suffering the fate he had planned for Esther’s cousin.

  • Judah Maccabee

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The story of Judah Maccabee would probably already have been made into an epic movie, were it not for a little bit of anti-semitism. And not, I don’t mean prejudice to the Jewish hero. Mel Gibson was developing a Maccabee movie when he courted lots of controversy for his prejudiced rants, essentially turning him into a bit of a pariah in Hollywood. But the story of the Maccabees is just too good to sit on a shelf somewhere because of one celebrity with issues.

As I mentioned earlier, the Israelites tended to lose their religious ways rather often, and one such case was around 200 BC when the upper class of the Seleucid Empire didn’t just begin adopting Greek cultures and beliefs, but made their old religion illegal. This was much to the annoyance of a devout Jewish priest named Mattathias who promptly went and killed one of these religion swapping snobs, kicking off a bit of a civil war as the lower classes, led by the Maccabee family, revolted against the upper classes. This revolution would last for years, and it’s during this conflict that Mattathias’ son Judah would emerge as one of the greatest Jewish warriors in history.

Nicknamed “The Sledgehammer”, Judah Maccabee would lead his group of absurdly outnumbered rebels against the Seleucid forces, employing guerrilla warfare tactics a couple thousand years before the rest of the world would even come up with a term for guerrilla warfare. Through a combination of military genius, legendary ferocity in battle and just having really big cojones (nobody called “The Sledgehammer” has ever been timid), Judah would go on to win a string of ever bigger battles, culminating in recapturing the Temple of Jerusalem.

After once again regaining control of the Temple, Judah proceeded to reconsecrate the defiled holy building on December 14, 164 BCE. In remembrance of this act, this day would become a permanent Jewish holiday, and thus Hannukah was born.

But liberating Jerusalem wasn’t the end of it, as Judah sent aid to other Jewish settlements, freeing them from whatever persecution they were under under. And although he would eventually see defeat and his people trapped in a lengthy siege in Jerusalem, his actions (and some lucky international politics) would start the Jews on the road to independence. The end of that road would be reached when Judah’s eventual death inspired the Jews to rise up against the Romans and win true freedom.

Last Updated: July 10, 2014

Kervyn Cloete

A man of many passions - but very little sleep - I've been geeking out over movies, video games, comics, books, anime, TV series and lemon meringues as far back as I can remember. So show up for the geeky insight, stay for the delicious pastries.

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