Notre civilisation sera contrainte de trouver sa valeur fondamentale ou elle se décomposera. Malraux
Le problème capital de la fin du siècle sera le problème religieux, sous une forme aussi différente de celles que nous connaissons que le christianisme le fut des religions antiques. Malraux
Je pense que la tâche du prochain siècle, en face de la plus terrible menace qu’ait connue l’humanité, va être d’y réintégrer les dieux.
Notre crise est celle de la civilisation la plus puissante que le monde ait connue. […] En face de nous, ce n’est pas la nature de l’homme qui est en cause, c’est sa raison d’être […]. Et notre réponse, c’est : « A quoi bon conquérir la Lune, si c’est pour s’y suicider? Malraux
On m’a fait dire que le XXIe siècle sera religieux. Je n’ai jamais dit cela, bien entendu, car je n’en sais rien. Ce que je dis est plus incertain. Je n’exclus pas la possibilité d’un événement spirituel à l’échelle planétaire. Malraux
Over the next 11 months, Hollywood is planning to release more big Biblical movies than it put out during the previous 11 years combined, and the trend shows no sign of slowing down in 2015 (or beyond). For an industry that spent much of the 2000s shying away from explicitly religious fare—the controversy over the alleged anti-Semitism of Mel Gibson’s The Passion of the Christ effectively wiped out the genre, despite the film’s huge box office receipts—it’s a remarkable about-face that’s as surprising as it is sudden. Consider the 2014 release schedule. On Feb. 28, Twentieth Century Fox is first out of the gate with Son of God, a Jesus biopic culled from the History Channel’s hit 2013 miniseries The Bible. (A Bible sequel titled A.D. is set to air next year on NBC.) Paramount is up next in March with Noah, director Darren Aronofsky’s epic re-imagining of the life of the Old Testament’s most famous ark-builder (played by Russell Crowe). Debuting in April is Heaven is for Real, starring Greg Kinnear as the father of a boy who claims to have passed through the pearly gates during a near-death experience, and both the Mother of God drama Mary (Ben Kingsley, Julia Ormond) and Ridley Scott’s Exodus (Christian Bale, Aaron Paul) follow in December, right in time for awards season. And that’s just 2014. Other faith-based projects kicking around Hollywood include a Cain and Abel movie directed by Will Smith; a Pontius Pilate picture starring Brad Pitt as the titular villain; an absurdist comedy about the Rapture (Kevin Smith’s Helena Handbag); and an HBO drama about the same apocalyptic reckoning (The Leftovers). (…) It’s no secret that the industry is stuck in a bit of a rut. The demand for blockbusters is bigger than ever, but there are only so many comic books to mine for characters and stories, and you can’t reboot the Spider-Man franchise or churn out Iron Man sequels forever. The Bible, meanwhile, has chapter after chapter and verse after verse of (to put it crassly) action-packed material—Moses, David, Job, Jesus, Revelation, and so on—plus a « fanbase » that’s even larger and more avid than Marvel Comics’. « When we looked at it we saw that around about 50 million Americans sit in a church each week, » Burnett explains. « On a monthly basis that’s almost 150 million, because not everybody goes every Sunday. And that community is tightly knit. The last thing Jesus said to his disciples was to go out and spread the word. » No marketing budget is big enough to buy the kind of word-of-mouth that flows organically through the Christian community, and no secular endorsement has the power to influence as many viewers as, say, Rick Warren’s or Joel Osteen’s. The potential payoff, as studio executives now seem to be realizing, is huge. But there may be more to 2014’s Bible resurgence than cold, hard cash. Burnett, for one, believes that viewers are more open to messages of spiritual uplift in the wake of the 2008 financial crash than they may have been in an earlier, more comfortable age. « Part of it has to do with hope, » he says. « I feel like a lot of people, as a result of what happened in 2008, are still hurting. And they’re relying upon their faith. Joel Osteen on Sunday mornings gets more than 7 million viewers. That’s more people watching than some primetime network TV shows. » My sense is that politics is playing a part as well. In the Age of George W. Bush, religion was a polarizing force in the public sphere. Evangelicals were on the march for the GOP; less devout (or vocal) Americans felt somewhat besieged. But with Obama in office, the religious right is no longer as powerful as it once was, and the old, divisive battles over « values » seem to have waned. This may have had two effects—subtle but real—on moviegoing audiences. The first is that the sort of Evangelicals who took center stage during the Dubya years might feel a little « left out » at this point—meaning they’re especially eager to participate in any mainstream cultural event that’s willing to cater to them (such as The Bible). The second is that less fervent Americans no longer recoil from anything that smacks of overt religiosity because responding that way no longer feels as politically urgent as it did in, say, 2004. As a result the hard-core Christian community may be more ready than ever for a movie such as Exodus—and rest of America may be more open to it. The Daily Beast
Saddest of all, Diogo Morgado, the Portuguese actor in the lead (yes, another Euro-Jesus) has been directed to a performance that resembles little more than a kind of strange, smug hippie, the blissed-out organic market employee talking down to you about hemp milk. This is a Son of God already posing for his resurrection close-up. Movies.com
The standard casting cliche has been followed as to Jesus — the handsome Portuguese actor, Diogo Morgado, who plays him, still looks more like a modern beach bum than a 1st-century Israelite — but the rest of the actors have interesting and unknown faces. Greg Hicks is particularly good as Pontius Pilate (always the juiciest role in these films). … To its credit, this is one of the few movies to emphasize Jesus’ heritage (we see him reading from Torah, and being given a Jewish burial) and to de-emphasize the anti-Semitism that can be a part of Passion Plays. (In this telling, it’s not « the Jews » who really want Jesus silenced, but mostly one threatened elder.) … After the ugliness of « The Passion of the Christ » and, frankly, its filmmaker, that’s very welcome – as is a film which, once again, chooses to emphasize a message of total honesty and loving forgiveness. … But there’s little fresh or daring here. As controversial as « Passion » or « The Last Temptation of Christ » were, at least they presented very personal visions of this ancient story; whether you felt they were enlightening or blasphemous, they took risks. They dared all. … But when it comes to « Son of God » — well, the film is willing. But its spirit is weak. NJ
In the first ninety minutes, the movie seems to go out of its way to avoid the pitfalls of Mel Gibson’s “Passion of the Christ,” which featured, in between lengthy scenes of torture, a panoply of hook-nosed Yids straight out of the “Protocols of the Elders of Zion.” … Indeed, “Son of God” is at its most interesting when it deviates from rushing through the New Testament’s Greatest Hits (a loaves & fishes here, a “cast the first stone” there) and tries to imagine the political situation in Jerusalem under Roman rule. For much of the movie the high priest Caiaphas, long hissed at in Passion Plays throughout history, is cast in a somewhat friendly light. There’s a poignant moment – quite possibly the only artful scene in the whole film – which intercuts Jesus’ agonized prayers at Gesthemene with Caiaphas and company in a similar plea for divine guidance at the Temple. (Because three is a nice number, Pontius Pilate’s wife, who has had visions of Jesus in a dream, prays to the Roman gods as well.) For a brief moment, Sympathy For Caiaphas seems the unlikely tune. … ‘Son of God’ is at its most interesting when it deviates from rushing through the New Testament’s Greatest Hits (a loaves & fishes here, a ‘cast the first stone’ there) … For this first part of the move, the Jews are shown to be a tough spot – pushed around by the Romans and forced to deal with pesky agitators in their own community. One of them is the nasty looking Barabbas. With a bald head and scarred face he’s seen ranting about taxation like the angriest of the Occupy Wall Street set. (The other Bible movies – and I’ve seen them all – usually position Barabbas as just a mere thief. However, the Gospel According to John does refer to him as a “bandit,” which was a term also used for “revolutionary,” so we’ll let that slide.) Caiaphas is more like Mayor Carcetti on “The Wire” — a little bit corrupt, sure, but somewhere down there wants to do good, or at least just wants things to go easy, but is subject to other, more powerful forces. … When Jesus comes to town on the back of a donkey (with about ten extras cheering him on – this movie is CHEAP), Caiaphas makes a tough call. If he doesn’t do something about this new rabble-rouser the Romans are going to come down on the Jews hard. He gives Jesus an opportunity to back off, but Jesus faces Caiaphas down and in the way that will do the most damage – he claims to be the son of God. … So, here’s the part where this stops being just a movie and starts to involve peoples’ beliefs. If you’ve never heard of Jesus before you are possibly going to be on Caiaphas’ side here. This guy claims to be the son of God, but he knows that saying so is going to make everyone crazy (and is so blasphemous that it is punishable by death). Believers will be cheering him on. Anyone who wants to maintain peace and order will think “what is WITH this guy?” … As a movie, “Son of God” is a disaster. The acting is wretched, the camerawork is lazy, the cutting is hamfisted and the screenplay is a mess. It is both an abridged version of the mini-series and previous unseen footage. An example: we don’t hear anything about John the Baptist until someone shouts at Jesus, “your friend John the Baptist is dead!” We cut to Jesus looking sad. There’s a flash to a man with dreadlocks dunking Jesus in water. And that’s it. No context, no nothing. … Newcomers to the Greatest Story Ever Told may be mystified by scenes like this, but one thing will be made abundantly clear – Caiaphas and his cabal of Jews were real jerks. Once they decided to dispense with Jesus they were ruthless about it. The moment when the crowd petitions Pilate to release Barabbas is revealed to have been a total set-up. They papered the house, keeping followers of Jesus outside of the town square (a really small and cheap and fake looking town square, by the way) to make sure that when Pilate asks for the name of a prisoner to spare, no one suggests Jesus. … As Barabbas is released a pained Mary Magdalene shrieks “Jesus!” at the top of her voice. As we hear this we cut to Caiaphas, his head covered in Rabbinical-looking robes, laughing. Pilate, disgusted, asks the crowd “you choose a MURDERER?” None of the assembled speaks up for Jesus. This is not, as they say, Good For The Jews. Now, maybe it happened this way. What do I know? But, I suspect that it didn’t. In fact, scholars reject the idea of Romans releasing prisoners in this fashion – it only exists in the Gospels. What I do know is that this moment in the story has caused centuries of tsuris for the Jews. I also know that this movie, which will be distributed by 20th Century Fox, is going to be seen by an awful lot of Americans in areas who don’t actually see and know Jews in real life. (Nor do they know anyone from the Middle East, so they won’t blink when they see a a very white Irish woman playing Mary, but that’s another story.) Times of Israel
The stories — Noah’s Ark, the Exodus, the tumbling walls of Jericho, the crucifixion and resurrection — are likely well-known to just about anyone who spent time in Sunday school or saw any of the various other attempts at Bible adaptations over the years, including the star-studded Cecil B. Demille network perennial “The Ten Commandments.” So the challenge is to bring something new to well-trodden ground; and in the just over three hours that I sampled, there were few fresh elements on display beyond contemporary CGI updates of spectacles like the parting of the Red Sea and the vision of the burning bush. Instead, “The Bible” takes a familiarly earnest and plodding approach with a lot of overwrought acting by a cast of a thousand accents. (Noah sounds Scottish; many of the Israelites hail from England, apparently; and the Pharaoh appears to be American.) The styles of acting also range from very natural to Shakespearean melodrama to almost too contemporary. (At one point, when Abraham is dealing with the displeasure of Sarah and Hagar, he appears to look skyward with a “Women, amirite?”-type expression.) It may also be impossible to intone phrases like “Let my people go” after so many iterations with anything resembling freshness. But the proclivity for the kind of bellowing normally reserved for Captain Kirk railing against Khan starts to become comical as each character histrionically shouts up to the heavens in turn: “Isaac!” “Moses!” “David!” To Downey and Burnett’s credit, unlike the perfectly coiffed movie stars of yore, there is a lot of dirt in the first few hours, contributing to a palpable sense of heat, grime, and blood. And while it would be impossible to please everyone when dealing with such sensitive (and, to many, sacred) material, you can feel the heartfelt solemnity throughout. It’s clear they take the work seriously. Theological scholars can determine whether “The Bible” achieves the stated goal of endeavoring to “stay true to the spirit of the book,” but as entertainment, even the most faithful believers might find some scenes unintentionally comic or snoozy, or wish for a stronger cast, direction, and writing to bring these stories to life once again. As is, “The Bible” sometimes feels too facile, like a colorful Sunday school pop-up book come to life, albeit one with much more graphic violence (which some parents might want to preview before sharing with their kids). The Boston Globe
The Bible, on the other hand, doesn’t amount to much more than a further piece of evidence that drama and reverence don’t mix well. (To be fair, it would be the prohibitive favorite if only there were an Emmy for Screenplay In Which The Sentences ‘God Has Spoken To Me’ and ‘God Will Provide’ Are Said the Most Times.) With the pace of a music video, the characterizations of a comic book and the political-correctness quotient of a Berkeley vegetarian commune — laughably, the destruction of Sodom is depicted without the faintest hint of the sexual peccadillo that takes its name from the city — this production makes Cecil B. DeMille look like a sober theologian. The Bible marks the first attempt at drama by reality-show maven Mark Burnett, whose soul I would consider in serious jeopardy if it hadn’t already been forfeited during the second season of Are You Smarter Than a 5th Grader? The Miami Herald
Et si Jésus était le plus beau mec à avoir jamais marché sur l’eau ? Et si Noé avait un accent écossais ? Et si Marie avait été sauvée d’une foule en folie par Joseph ? Et envisagez cette hypothèse : et si la famille de Loth avait été sauvée par un ange spécialiste des arts martiaux ? Bienvenue dans The Bible, vue à travers les yeux de Roma Downey et de son mari, Mark Burnett, le génie derrière Survivor et The Apprentice (…) Est-ce que cette mini-série va être un carton ? Bien entendu ! Il y a des millions de Juifs et de Chrétiens souhaitant des programmes religieux au milieu de ce désert de sexe et de violence à la télévision. le New York Post
The Bible a la malchance de paraître bien cheap à côté du festin d’effets proposé par Vikings [ndlr: diffusée le même sur la chaîne History]. Et le niveau de jeu des comédiens n’est pas assez convaincant pour oublier ce handicap. Cette première fiction produite par Mark Burnett est une preuve irréfutable qu’il devrait continuer à faire ce que personne ne fait aussi bien que lui. La télé réalité est son royaume. Uncle Barky
C’est dommage, vraiment, parce cette mini-série a visiblement nécessité des heures de travail et de réflexion. Aucun doute sur la sincérité et le sérieux de l’effort non plus. Mais il lui manque la passion et l’interprétation. Ils ont rassemblé les plus grandes histoires de la Bible, rajouté par-dessus les effets spéciaux en CGI requis – Les nuages qui défilent ! Le tonnerre ! Les éclairs ! Les chutes d’eau ! – pour les raconter aussi gracieusement que possible. The Bible n’offensera sans doute personne. Mais il est aussi peu probable qu’elle inspire qui que ce soit. Newsday
The Bible, ou plutôt la vision proposée par Burnett et Downey, est une production magnifique et qui en met plein les yeux. Mais c’est aussi une mini-série plate et souvent ennuyeuse, même quand elle verse dans la frénésie, peu importe le volume de la bande-originale composée par Hans Zimmer. Les dialogues sont convenus, avant tout fonctionnels et souvent surjoués. Los Angeles Times
Les spécialistes en théologie pourront juger de la qualité de cette mini-série et de son objectif de « rester fidèle à l’esprit du livre ». Du simple point de vue du divertissement, même le plus dévoué des croyants ne pourra pas s’empêcher de trouver certaines scènes comiques ou assommantes, et regrettera une distribution plus solide, une meilleure réalisation ou écriture pour ces histoires éternelles. En l’état The Bible paraît parfois trop creuse, comme un livre distribué aux cours de catéchisme, avec juste un peu plus de violence que d’habitude. The Boston Globe
Les motivations derrière cette adaptation sont à coup sûr sincères mais l’approche trahit paradoxalement un manque de foi dans le pouvoir de ces histoires bibliques. La Bible est un conte lyrique et épique aux multiples épaisseurs, dans lequel les destins des personnages se confondent avec la destinée générale, et au sein duquel les échecs côtoient les victoires. Burnett et Downey, leurs acteurs et leurs scénaristes ne montrent pas forcément le talent de transcender cette complexité et de lui rendre justice. Ils en sont réduits à des simplifications de base dans lesquelles les méchants sont trop souvent de risibles caricatures. The New York Times
The Bible n’est rien d’autre qu’une preuve supplémentaire que le drame et la révérence ne font pas bon ménage (…) Par exemple la destruction de Sodome est montrée sans la moindre mention ou évocation des petites pécadilles sexuelles qui y avaient lieu. Cette production fait passer Cecil B. DeMille [ndlr: le réalisateur des Dix commandements] pour un austère théologien. The Miami Herald
Hollywood se serait-il mis en tête de réaliser à lui tout seul la prophétie de Malraux ?
A l’heure où, en cette veille de Pâques et avant, en cette « année du film biblique » dix ans après le scandale de la « Passion » de Mel Gibson, « Noah » et « Exodus » puis l’an prochain la suite de la mini-série télé …
Sort « Son of God« , la version cinéma centrée sur un Jésus au look peace and love de rigueur pour laquelle des églises ont réservé des cinémas entiers à travers les Etats-Unis …
Retour sur la minisérie du producteur de téléréalité Mark Burnett pour la chaine américaine History channel dont il est tiré (« The Bible« , 10 épisodes et en un peu moins d’heures, de la Genèse à la ressurection du Christ)…
Et qui avec quelque 100 millions de téléspectateurs avait été un incroyable succès l’an dernier aux Etats-Unis (reprise dans 18 pays dont la France sur Paris première en décembre 2013 et disponible fin avril 2014 en DVD) …
“The Bible”, une série qui peut provoquer des crises de foi
Séries TV | De Noé à Jésus, “The Bible”, minisérie boursouflée, se résume à une suite de tableaux poussifs. Qui a pourtant fait un carton d’audience outre-Atlantique.
Les Américains sont très croyants. C’est la seule explication sensée au succès immense de The Bible, minisérie lancée dimanche 3 mars 2013 sur la chaîne History outre-Atlantique. Créée et produite par Roma Downey et Mark Burnett – déjà coupables des Anges du Bonheur, une bondieuserie des années 90 – elle a attiré 13,1 millions de téléspectateurs lors de sa première soirée, un record sur le câble cette saison.
Ouvert sur Noé nous racontant les sept jours de la création (sous des litres de flotte), ce premier chapitre se referme sur le passage (lui aussi très arrosé) de la mer Rouge par Moïse. Entre-temps, il a fallu expédier la vie d’Abraham, la fin de Sodome, le buisson ardent, les dix plaies d’Egypte… Bref, un énorme programme à régler en une heure trente chrono. Inspirés par Les Dix Commandements de Cecil B. DeMille, Downey et Burnett revendiquent le sérieux de leur entreprise, et la liste considérable d’universitaires et de religieux qui les ont conseillés. Sans doute serait-il intéressant de montrer le résultat de leurs efforts à d’autres spécialistes moins impliqués, mais ce n’est pas le sujet ici.
Pour le critique athée, cette Bible-là n’a pas grand-chose à offrir. A vouloir condenser à l’excès les histoires du livre sacré, elle se résume à une suite de tableaux poussifs, où les personnages sont rapidement dessinés, réduits à leur mission – un trait qu’on retrouve en un sens dans la Bible, mais accentué ici, comme le reste. Emportés par leur foi, les auteurs en oublient tout simplement de faire une fiction. Ils se livrent à un exercice religieux sans doute émouvant pour certains croyants, mais qui passe régulièrement les frontières du ridicule pour les autres.
Tout n’est ici que ralentis, grandes répliques définitives les yeux tournés vers le ciel et « morceaux de bravoure » boostés aux effets spéciaux de piètre qualité, la minisérie ayant coûté environ 22 millions de dollars pour sept heures trente de programme, ce qui est assez peu selon les standards américains. A voir leurs postures, Abraham et ses successeurs, certes éclairés par Dieu, avaient aussi la certitude qu’ils allaient finir dans un bouquin majeur et, surtout, dans la minisérie qui en serait tirée – sinon, pourquoi surjoueraient-ils à ce point-là ? De plus, selon The Bible, ça castagnait sévèrement dans l’Ancien Testament. Un des anges chargés de faire le ménage à Sodome, un Asiatique, éclate la tête des méchants en mode kung-fu, deux fois plus fort que dans Kill Bill…
Si vous avez lu la Bible, même en diagonale, vous n’apprendrez strictement rien ici. Le récit risque au contraire de vous sembler extraordinairement réducteur. Les autres découvriront quelques événements majeurs en version grand spectacle. The Bible, c’est la « Bible pour les nuls » façon show à l’américaine. Loin de moi l’envie de blasphémer, mais d’un pur point de vue artistique, ça ne vaut pas grand-chose. Un récit moins ampoulé, plus intelligent, servi par des auteurs peut-être moins aveuglés par leur foi (et par leur mauvais goût) serait bien plus intéressant. Reste à savoir si 13,1 millions de téléspectateurs américains y auraient consacré leur dimanche soir…
The NY Post
March 2, 2013
What if Jesus were the handsomest dude to have ever walked on water? What if Noah had a Scottish brogue — and what if the Virgin Mary got shoved around by a crowd, only to be rescued by Joseph?
And ponder this possibility: could Lot’s family actually have been saved by a martial arts angel — as opposed to merely being “Touched By An Angel?
Welcome to “The Bible” as seen through the eyes of “Angel’s” Roma Downey, and her husband, Mark Burnett , the genius behind “Survivor” and “The Apprentice.”
This staunchly Christian couple has created a 10-part series that opens with Noah in the ark telling his family the story of Adam and Eve as they and the animals are being rocked by savage seas.
“The Bible” then goes into fast-forward mode through Noah and Genesis, all in Episode One, so we can get to the juicy bits in the other episodes.
We’re then treated, in slow-motion, to the travails of Abraham and the Israelites in the desert; the revelations by teenage Moses; and the parting of the Red Sea, which is better than Cecil B. DeMille’s parting, although in all fairness, CBD didn’t have the miracle of CGI.
Much of this is tediously drawn out, with crazy fly-overs between Biblical Chapters that may make you think it’s “Survivor: Holy Lands,” which, of course, it is.
After all, those Biblical figures did live on forever through The Bible after being brought before their own tribal councils.
Things really pick up when Jesus — played by Portuguese actor Diogo Morgado, who looks like a surfer dude, particularly in the shot-from-below, walk-on-water sequence — shows up. Morgado is very good in the part, although he sure doesn’t look the part.
Most of the other roles are taken by Brits (who look nothing like their roles since they look nothing like Middle Easterners).
The main exception to the Brit rule is Downey, who got the plumb role of the Virgin Mary. Of course she’s a producer of “The Bible” who’s married to the other producer, so it’s not likely she’d end up in the secondary role of Lot’s salty wife.
Since the last two episodes (the crucifixion and resurrection) hadn’t been edited by screening time, it’s impossible to say how good they are, but the trailers look very good.
Will this series be a hit? You bet. There are millions of devout Jews and Christians starving for religious programming in the er, desert of sex and violence on TV.
Not that the real Bible isn’t filled with plenty of both.
Difference is, you can’t make this stuff up.
National TV Reviews & News
Back in the mid- to late 1990s, the TNT network mounted an ambitious series of Old Testament Bible tales spotlighting Abraham, Moses, Jacob, Joseph, David, Jeremiah, Samson, Delilah and others.
Stars in lead roles included Richard Harris, Ben Kingsley, Lesley Ann Warren, Martin Landau, Dennis Hopper, Diana Rigg, Leonard Nimoy, F. Murray Abraham and Oliver Reed.
The Bible, produced by reality maestro Mark Burnett (The Apprentice, Survivor, The Voice, Shark Tank), comes off as thoroughly cut-rate in comparison. Beginning with a brief glimpse of Noah in his Ark before moving to the story of Abraham, it’s over-cooked and sometimes really half-baked. As when one of God’s angels, played by an Asian actor, twirls two swords Ninja-style to dispatch some bad guys while fire bolts rain down on Sodom.
Save for Burnett’s wife, Roma Downey (as Mary in later episodes), viewers are unlikely to recognize any of the « acclaimed UK-based actors » striding through The Bible. The guy playing Abraham, Gary Oliver, is a real scenery-chewer. « Trust in God! » he bellows in Jon Lovitz’s « Master Thespian » fashion as the story moves rapidly through the travails of the ancient sacrificer and his wife, Sarah.
Narrated by Keith David, a familiar voice to Ken Burns devotees, The Bible « endeavors to stay true to the spirit of the book, » according to an opening advisory. In that respect, Burnett at least doesn’t resort to having pirates attack Noah’s Ark (as NBC did in a silly 1999 miniseries). Nor does Jesus go to outer space with the devil (as He did in CBS’ 2000 Jesus miniseries while being tempted in the desert).
Sunday night’s second hour re-tells the very oft-told story of how Moses freed the Israelites from centuries of slavery by the Egyptians. Pharoah gets a jagged facial scar this time around, the product of a teen boy fight with his half-brother. He’s also chubby and very redundant while the actor playing Moses at times looks a lot like William H. Macy’s disheveled lead character in Showtime’s Shameless. Compared to Charlton Heston, he otherwise makes no impression at all.
Pharoah comes off as a laughable raging bull who also gets stuck with the line, « You always were a fighter, Moses. But you never knew when you were beaten. »
The resultant fabled parting of the Red Sea is strictly pedestrian from a special effects standpoint. Maybe these stories are just too well-known at this point. They’ve certainly been better told on film.
The bulk of Jesus’ story begins in Episode 7, with Portuguese actor Diogo Morgado very pretty looking in the early going. But he emotes to fairly good effect during the Garden of Gethsemane segment, in which he begs, « Father, take this from me. Spare me. »
Episode 8 ends just before the torture and crucifixion of Jesus begin. And that portion of The Bible wasn’t made available for review.
But Sunday night’s previews of coming attractions — both at the beginning and the end — are long and detailed enough to basically give viewers the entire series in a nutshell. Not that most adults aren’t already well-versed.
The Bible has the misfortune of looking cheap in comparison to the visual feast provided by the Vikings. And the acting isn’t nearly strong enough to overcome this.
Producer Burnett’s first fully scripted series — his 2004 Commando Nanny for The WB never made it to the air — provides strong evidence that he should resume doing what no one else does better. « Reality » series are his forte. The Bible is Old and New Testament to that.
March 1, 2013
THE SHOW « The Bible »
WHEN|WHERE Starts Sunday night at 8 on History
WHAT IT’S ABOUT This 10-hour film — with a score by Hans Zimmer, narrated by Keith David and produced by reality TV magnate Mark Burnett and his wife, Roma Downey, who also stars as Mary — is a dramatic retelling of several major Biblical stories, including: Genesis, Sarah and Abraham, and the Exodus (Sunday); Joshua’s quest to secure the Promised Land, the prophet Samuel and King David (March 10), Daniel, and then into the New Testament, with the birth of Jesus (March 17); Jesus and his disciples and the betrayal by Judas (March 24); then the Passion and Revelation (March 31). With Portuguese actor Diogo Morgado as Jesus.
MY SAY Since the creation of the motion picture camera, there have been hundreds of films and TV movies based on the Bible — no fewer than five « Ten Commandments, » for example — and each has relied to a greater or lesser degree on creative license. They’ve had to and the reason is obvious — the Bible didn’t come with set directions, or tips about tracking shots or crossfades, or all that much expository dialogue, either. (Hey, it was called The Word, after all, not « The Picture. »)
But license is vital, and because so much has been taken, great work — even numinous work — has been the result. But more often than not, Biblical cornhuskings are the byproduct, and from what I sampled (three hours) here, Burnett and Downey’s ambitious and plodding « The Bible » falls in the latter category.
It’s too bad, really, because clearly a great deal of work and thought has been put into this. There’s no doubting the sincerity or earnestness of the effort, but what’s missing is passion or interpretation.
They’ve taken the big stories, added the requisite CGI special effects — Fast-shifting clouds! Thunder! Lighting! Towering walls of water! — and retold them as blandly as possible.
This « Bible » probably won’t offend anyone, but it’s hard to imagine it will inspire anyone, either.
BOTTOM LINE Big, sprawling and flat
History channel’s new 10-episode miniseries ‘The Bible’ is a good-looking, Westernized production but it’s also often tiresome.
R obert Lloyd,
March 02, 2013
Los Angeles Times
History channel, which for so many years seemed dedicated primarily to discovering how many documentaries might be extracted from the Second World War — the Hitler Channel was its joking sobriquet — has been branching out. Last year, its « Hatfields & McCoys » miniseries set basic-cable records and was nominated for 16 Emmys (and won five). Sunday brings its first scripted drama, « Vikings, » and another miniseries, « The Bible, » scheduled so that it ends on Easter.
There are millions if not billions who take the Bible as literal truth, but it is not history as we commonly understand the word. There are historical components to the series, of course — decisions have been made about costumes and settings and incidental behavior, and some of the narrative in the New Testament episodes has been lifted from other ancient texts — but the series is ultimately a work of the imagination; indeed, it could have used a little more.
Its creators are Mark Burnett, the man behind « Survivor » and « The Voice » and other monuments of reality television, and his wife Roma Downey, who starred in « Touched By an Angel » (and plays Jesus’ mother, Mary, in her older scenes). They are not in it for the money: « I’ve loved Jesus all my life, » Downey told the Christian Post recently, adding that « Casting began with prayer. »
Theirs is a Christian view, in which the Old Testament is a prophetic prelude to the New. Five of the 10 hours are taken up with Jesus — the last of them, post-crucifixion, follows the fortunes of the apostles — which allows that story more room to breathe The first five are a bit of a greatest-hits package, hurried along by the narration of Keith David, whose voice you know as well as your own, and titles reading « 12 years later, » « 40 years later » and so on.
Many viewers will be satisfied that TV is telling these stories at all, and not even on a Christian network, though they do make their way pretty regularly to the tube. They are, after all, the most illustrated stories in the West. That the Bible itself does not offer much in the way of description or dialogue leaves a lot of space for elaboration that has kept it adaptable through the ages, the source of works of high and low art over millenniums, from medieval mystery plays to the songs of the Golden Gate Quartet, from small painted icons to huge Gothic cathedrals. But it is the source of much awful kitsch too.
« The Bible » according to Burnett and Downey is a handsome and generally expensive-looking production, but it is also flat and often tedious, even when it tends to the hysterical, and as hard as the Hans Zimmer soundtrack strains to keep you on the edge of your sofa. The dialogue is pedestrian and functional — sometimes it has the flavor of having been made up on the spot — and often overacted, as if in compensation. It is « psychological » only in obvious ways, with the poetry of the King James version all but ignored.
If Bible stories have been an occasion for slipping a little more sex into the culture than the culture was quite ready for, « The Bible » stays modest on this account. (I have not seen episodes dealing with David and Bathsheba or Samson and Delilah — six of 10 were provided for review — so I may be proved wrong on this account.) You get a bit of the bare shoulder of Hagar, the servant girl Abraham impregnates, anxious to father the nation God has promised him. The sins of Sodom are represented by kissing, dancing and fire-eating.
Violence, on the other hand, gets a good workout — it’s in the book, after all — with all the brutal modern touches. (Squelchy sound effects, slow motion.) In one notable scene, an angel (Asian, for inclusiveness) finishes off a pair of attackers with a two-handed stab out of a martial arts movie. This is for the kids, I guess.
As the episodes depicting Christ’s condemnation and crucifixion were not available, I can’t address their explicitness or what is perhaps the central interpretive question of such a film — the degree to which whether it blames Pilate or « the Jews » for the death of Jesus. I certainly wouldn’t call the film anti-Semitic, yet it does play to mainstream Western images of Christ:, the postcard, gentile Jesus, depicted as a tall, good-looking European, while his opponents … aren’t.
He is played here by Diogo Morgado, who is Portuguese, with a smile that practically defines the word « beatific. » And then the trouble starts.
When: 8 p.m. Sunday
Rating: TV-14-V (may be unsuitable for children under the age of 14 with an advisory for violence)
The Boston Globe
February 28, 2013
Given how many epic, sprawling, multi-character stories about good, evil, and the gray areas in between have found their way to television in the past few years — from HBO’s fantastical yet earthy “Game of Thrones” to the swords, sandals, and sexcapades of Starz’s soon to conclude, and underrated, “Spartacus” — it makes sense that someone decided to apply anew the “biblical proportions” approach to the actual source material for that phrase.
That those someones are reality show Midas Mark Burnett (“Survivor,” “The Apprentice,” and “The Voice”) and his wife, Roma Downey (“Touched by an Angel”), may be a surprise to those unaware that the pair are devout Christians.
The 10-hour, five-part “The Bible” — the first two-hour installment of which premieres Sunday at 8 p.m., and which concludes, naturally, on Easter — is a passion project for the couple.
Downey, who also costars as Mother Mary, and Burnett take a sort of “greatest hits” approach to the bestseller, splitting time between the Old and New Testaments. The stories — Noah’s Ark, the Exodus, the tumbling walls of Jericho, the crucifixion and resurrection — are likely well-known to just about anyone who spent time in Sunday school or saw any of the various other attempts at Bible adaptations over the years, including the star-studded Cecil B. Demille network perennial “The Ten Commandments.”
So the challenge is to bring something new to well-trodden ground; and in the just over three hours that I sampled, there were few fresh elements on display beyond contemporary CGI updates of spectacles like the parting of the Red Sea and the vision of the burning bush.
Instead, “The Bible” takes a familiarly earnest and plodding approach with a lot of overwrought acting by a cast of a thousand accents. (Noah sounds Scottish; many of the Israelites hail from England, apparently; and the Pharaoh appears to be American.)
The styles of acting also range from very natural to Shakespearean melodrama to almost too contemporary. (At one point, when Abraham is dealing with the displeasure of Sarah and Hagar, he appears to look skyward with a “Women, amirite?”-type expression.)
It may also be impossible to intone phrases like “Let my people go” after so many iterations with anything resembling freshness. But the proclivity for the kind of bellowing normally reserved for Captain Kirk railing against Khan starts to become comical as each character histrionically shouts up to the heavens in turn: “Isaac!” “Moses!” “David!”
To Downey and Burnett’s credit, unlike the perfectly coiffed movie stars of yore, there is a lot of dirt in the first few hours, contributing to a palpable sense of heat, grime, and blood. And while it would be impossible to please everyone when dealing with such sensitive (and, to many, sacred) material, you can feel the heartfelt solemnity throughout. It’s clear they take the work seriously.
Theological scholars can determine whether “The Bible” achieves the stated goal of endeavoring to “stay true to the spirit of the book,” but as entertainment, even the most faithful believers might find some scenes unintentionally comic or snoozy, or wish for a stronger cast, direction, and writing to bring these stories to life once again. As is, “The Bible” sometimes feels too facile, like a colorful Sunday school pop-up book come to life, albeit one with much more graphic violence (which some parents might want to preview before sharing with their kids).
‘The Bible’ Mini-Series on the History Channel
March 1, 2013
Mark Burnett, an impresario of reality television, has surely encountered the question before: How do you make viewers believe what they’re seeing? Did those “Survivor” contestants really eat that stuff? Would any of these seemingly intelligent “Apprentice” candidates actually want to work for Donald Trump?
Mr. Burnett and his wife, Roma Downey, gave themselves a chance to tackle the ultimate make-me-believe-it challenge when they decided to produce “The Bible,” a 10-hour dramatization that begins on Sunday on History. Instead of embracing this challenge, they ducked it, serving up a rickety, often cheesy spectacle that is calculated to play well to a certain segment of the already enlisted choir but risks being ignored or scorned in other quarters.
The mini-series certainly seems unlikely to be much of a recruitment tool for Christianity, putting the emphasis on moments of suffering rather than messages of joy, and not just when it comes time for the Crucifixion. In this heavy-handed treatment, having Jesus born in a manger is not enough; the arrival also has to occur during what looks like a typhoon. Because why have a moderate amount of hardship when you can have an excess of it?
The feelings behind the series may be sincere — Ms. Downey has said that she and her husband “felt called to do this” — but the approach here actually shows a lack of faith in the power of the biblical stories. The real Bible is a layered, often lyrical epic in which personal journeys are intertwined with collective ones, and human failings bump up against human strivings.
Mr. Burnett and Ms. Downey, their actors (Ms. Downey herself is one) and especially their adapters don’t have nearly the skill to translate such a thing to the small screen in a way that does justice to its complexity. The best they can do is a black-and-white simplification in which villains often come across as laughable caricatures because the creators are so eager to make sure that everyone realizes that they’re villains.
Mel Gibson, of course, already proved that there is a substantial audience for a suffering-heavy treatment of Christianity with “The Passion of the Christ.” But Mr. Gibson’s movie had the advantage of a narrow focus. By taking on the entire Bible, even at 10 hours in length, Mr. Burnett and Ms. Downey force themselves into a clumsy “Bible’s greatest hits” approach.
This doesn’t serve the source material — so rich in interconnections across time — very well, and it doesn’t make for very involving television. Abraham, Moses, David, Daniel and the other great biblical figures aren’t really developed in a way that illuminates them or makes them linger in our minds; they are simply called forth to perform a set piece or two. It’s like a trip through a Christian theme park. “Next stop on the tour, ladies and gentlemen: the Noah’s ark tableau, followed by the Daniel in the lion’s den diorama.”
That might be tolerable if effort had gone into providing some connective tissue to relate the scenes organically. Instead a bland narration fills the gaps between them, covering leaps of decades or even centuries, not to mention some of Christianity’s pivotal tenets. It is the narrator who announces that God has given Moses the great laws of life, the Ten Commandments, a curiously momentous thing to leave to a voice-over.
The result is a mini-series full of emoting that does not register emotionally, a tableau of great biblical moments that doesn’t convey why they’re great. Those looking for something that makes them feel the power of the Bible would do better to find a good production of “Godspell” or “Jesus Christ Superstar.” And those thinking that the ancient miracles might be better served by the special effects available in 2013 than they have been in previous versions should prepare for disappointment. The Red Sea parts no more convincingly here than it did for Charlton Heston in 1956.
History, Sunday nights at 8, Eastern and Pacific times; 7, Central time.
Produced for History by Lightworkers Media and Hearst Entertainment & Syndication. Created by Mark Burnett and Roma Downey; Mr. Burnett, Ms. Downey and Richard Bedser, executive producers; Dirk Hoogstra and Julian P. Hobbs, executive producers for History; Keith David, narrator; Hans Zimmer, composer.
WITH: Roma Downey (Mother Mary), Diogo Morgado (Jesus Christ), Darwin Shaw (Peter), Sebastian Knapp (John), Amber Rose Revah (Mary Magdalene), Greg Hicks (Pilate) and Simon Kunz (Nicodemus).
In the introduction to each episode, the message is displayed “This program is an adaptation of Bible stories that changed our world. It endeavors to stay true to the spirit of the book.” Roma Downey stated in an interview, “we had a great team of scholars and theologians helping us, making sure that we told these stories accurately and truthfully,” However, many of the story elements in the series have been criticized as deviating from the events described in the traditional text, and using too many creative licenses. These are included below:
In the book of Genesis, the angelic visitors were approached by Lot who insisted that they stay with him. Then they feasted with Lot in his home. The series shows the angels approaching Lot, begging for help with no hospitality extended to them.(Genesis 19:1-5)
The text describes a mob gathered outside of Lot’s home wanting to rape his two angelic visitors, and Lot offering his daughters instead. The series omits this. (Genesis 19:4-10)
At the destruction of Sodom, the series shows the angels slaughtering some of the city’s inhabitants. Critics refer to these as « Ninja Angels ». This is not in the text. (Genesis 19:1-17)
The series shows Abraham traveling with Isaac, a very short distance to the place where he was to sacrifice his son. In the Bible it is a three day journey and the two are accompanied by a donkey and two attendants. (Genesis 22:1-4)
The series shows Sarah running after Abraham once she realizes he is going to sacrifice Isaac. This is not in the text. (Genesis 22:1-19)
In the Binding of Isaac, the text describes a ram (adult) caught by its horns in a thicket. The miniseries depicts a juvenile lamb caught by its leg (Genesis 22:13)
After David’s affair with Bathsheba and the killing of Uriah the Hittite, he is confronted by Nathan. The series depicts David as resistant or even indignant, whereas in the text, David is remorseful for his sin and admits his guilt, leading him to write Psalm 51 and beg forgiveness from God (2 Samuel 12:13, Psalms 51)
When the Babylonians destroy Jerusalem, Jeremiah is depicted as escaping unnoticed by the invaders. In the text Jeremiah is captured, bound in chains and later released (Jeremiah 39:11-40:6)
The show depicts Daniel and his three compatriots being captured during the siege, when in fact, they were deported more than a decade before Jerusalem’s destruction (Daniel 1; 2 Kings 24:10-16)
When Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego refuse to worship King Nebuchadnezzar’s golden statue, the miniseries depicts them as being tied up, with a fire lit under them. In the text, the king orders the three to be thrown into a furnace that was heated seven times hotter than usual. In fact, the text describes the furnace as being so hot, that some of Nebuchadnezzar’s « strongest soldiers » who threw them in there where killed by the flames while doing so. (Daniel 3:19-23)
The miniseries’s depicts the prophet Isaiah as a contemporary of Daniel, living during the time of the Babylonian exile. This is a major inconsistency with the text as Isaiah prophesied that Cyrus the Persian would release the captives after a period of time. This prophecy occurred 150 years before Cyrus was born, 180 years before Cyrus performed any of these feats (and he did, eventually, perform them all), and 80 years before the Jews were taken into exile meaning that Daniel, Cyrus and Isaiah could never have existed contemporaneously at the same time. (Isaiah 44:28; 45:1; and 45:13).
In the miniseries’ depiction of the Temptation of Christ, the Devil took Jesus to a high mountain when he tempted Jesus to throw himself down. In the text, the Devil tempted Jesus to throw himself down from the pinnacle of the temple. The high mountain was where the devil tempted Jesus to worship him. (Matthew 4:1-11 and Luke 4:1-13)
Voir par ailleurs:
The Daily Beast
Russell Crowe is Noah. Christian Bale is Moses. Brad Pitt is Pontius Pilate. With pages of action and a faithful fanbase, Hollywood is mining the good book for blockbuster stories.
Pop quiz: How many of the top 15 highest-U.S.-grossing movies of all time—adjusted for inflation—star comic-book characters?
And how many are based on the Bible?
In the late 1950s, The Ten Commandments and Ben-Hur teamed up for $1.795 billion in adjusted domestic ticket sales. That’s more than Avatar, The Dark Knight, and Transformers combined.
Which may explain, at least in part, why the movie industry seems—unofficially, of course—to have declared 2014 The Year of the Bible.
Over the next 11 months, Hollywood is planning to release more big Biblical movies than it put out during the previous 11 years combined, and the trend shows no sign of slowing down in 2015 (or beyond). For an industry that spent much of the 2000s shying away from explicitly religious fare—the controversy over the alleged anti-Semitism of Mel Gibson’s The Passion of the Christ effectively wiped out the genre, despite the film’s huge box office receipts—it’s a remarkable about-face that’s as surprising as it is sudden.
Consider the 2014 release schedule. On Feb. 28, Twentieth Century Fox is first out of the gate with Son of God, a Jesus biopic culled from the History Channel’s hit 2013 miniseries The Bible. (A Bible sequel titled A.D. is set to air next year on NBC.) Paramount is up next in March with Noah, director Darren Aronofsky’s epic re-imagining of the life of the Old Testament’s most famous ark-builder (played by Russell Crowe). Debuting in April is Heaven is for Real, starring Greg Kinnear as the father of a boy who claims to have passed through the pearly gates during a near-death experience, and both the Mother of God drama Mary (Ben Kingsley, Julia Ormond) and Ridley Scott’s Exodus (Christian Bale, Aaron Paul) follow in December, right in time for awards season.
And that’s just 2014. Other faith-based projects kicking around Hollywood include a Cain and Abel movie directed by Will Smith; a Pontius Pilate picture starring Brad Pitt as the titular villain; an absurdist comedy about the Rapture (Kevin Smith’s Helena Handbag); and an HBO drama about the same apocalyptic reckoning (The Leftovers).
And so, given all the Biblical hustle and bustle currently consuming Hollywood, it seems like an appropriate time to ask: What the devil is going on?
Earlier this week, I decided to put that question to the man who may have done more than anyone else in the industry to ressurect movies like The Ten Commandments and Ben-Hur for 2014: Mark Burnett. The British-born producer famous for Survivor, The Apprentice, Shark Tank, and The Voice, among other reality-series, Burnett is also a devout Christian (along with his wife, the actress Roma Downey). While watching The Ten Commandments on TV with their children for the umpteenth time, Burnett and Downey had an epiphany. « Our kids were like, ‘This is not that great,' » Burnett tells me. « The special effects are quite obvious. These kids are used to Superman and Batman. People’s first memories of the Bible are usually either a movie or a piece of art. So we thought an updated version could be really powerful. »
The resulting 10-hour series, The Bible—Burnett’s first scripted project—debuted on the History Channel on March 3, 2013. It was very popular (to put it mildly). The series premiere attracted 13.8 million viewers; the second and third installments pulled in about 11 million each; the finale beat AMC’s The Walking Dead and HBO’s Game of Thrones. All told, The Bible racked up about 100 million cumulative viewers over a six-week period, making it the third most-watched cable series or miniseries of 2013. Even the DVD was a hit, moving 525,000 copies in its first week to become the fastest-selling disc of the last half-decade. « A lot of people said to us, ‘Nobody’s going to watch The Bible in primetime TV. You guys are crazy,' » Burnett says. « But Roma and I said, ‘We think you’re completely underestimating this faith-based, Christian audience.’ And we proved that it was enormous, and that it makes sense to create something in that world. »
‘This is not a subject like doing a western or sci-fi. You can’t just make it and hope for the best.’
Now other Hollywood bigwigs seem to have taken notice (including the bigwigs at 20th Century Fox, the studio that snapped up Burnett’s Son of God shortly after The Bible scored such impressive ratings.) Which brings us to the first of three reasons I think 2014 is shaping up to be the Year of the Bible: money.
It’s no secret that the industry is stuck in a bit of a rut. The demand for blockbusters is bigger than ever, but there are only so many comic books to mine for characters and stories, and you can’t reboot the Spider-Man franchise or churn out Iron Man sequels forever. The Bible, meanwhile, has chapter after chapter and verse after verse of (to put it crassly) action-packed material—Moses, David, Job, Jesus, Revelation, and so on—plus a « fanbase » that’s even larger and more avid than Marvel Comics’. « When we looked at it we saw that around about 50 million Americans sit in a church each week, » Burnett explains. « On a monthly basis that’s almost 150 million, because not everybody goes every Sunday. And that community is tightly knit. The last thing Jesus said to his disciples was to go out and spread the word. » No marketing budget is big enough to buy the kind of word-of-mouth that flows organically through the Christian community, and no secular endorsement has the power to influence as many viewers as, say, Rick Warren’s or Joel Osteen’s. The potential payoff, as studio executives now seem to be realizing, is huge.
But there may be more to 2014’s Bible resurgence than cold, hard cash. Burnett, for one, believes that viewers are more open to messages of spiritual uplift in the wake of the 2008 financial crash than they may have been in an earlier, more comfortable age. « Part of it has to do with hope, » he says. « I feel like a lot of people, as a result of what happened in 2008, are still hurting. And they’re relying upon their faith. Joel Osteen on Sunday mornings gets more than 7 million viewers. That’s more people watching than some primetime network TV shows. »
My sense is that politics is playing a part as well. In the Age of George W. Bush, religion was a polarizing force in the public sphere. Evangelicals were on the march for the GOP; less devout (or vocal) Americans felt somewhat besieged. But with Obama in office, the religious right is no longer as powerful as it once was, and the old, divisive battles over « values » seem to have waned.
This may have had two effects—subtle but real—on moviegoing audiences. The first is that the sort of Evangelicals who took center stage during the Dubya years might feel a little « left out » at this point—meaning they’re especially eager to participate in any mainstream cultural event that’s willing to cater to them (such as The Bible). The second is that less fervent Americans no longer recoil from anything that smacks of overt religiosity because responding that way no longer feels as politically urgent as it did in, say, 2004. As a result the hard-core Christian community may be more ready than ever for a movie such as Exodus—and rest of America may be more open to it.
So by mining the good book for blockbuster stories, Hollywood may be on to something. But as rewarding as the approach may seem, it’s worth remembering that it’s not without risks as well. In Burnett’s opinion, The Bible succeeded in large part because it was faithful to its source material. « What’s critical when you’re dealing with the Bible is that you’re accurate, » he says. « The first thing we did was to get a group of 40 church leaders and run scripts by them. There is an enormous audience, but it is very serious. This is not a subject like doing a western or sci-fi. You can’t just make it and hope for the best. There’s a way to get a massive audience if you’re faithful, and there’s also a potential backlash if you’re not. And the backlash would be pretty enormous. »
Seems like someone at Paramount agrees. According to the Hollywood Reporter, the studio recently demanded changes to Aronofsky’s Noah after screenings for religious groups in New York and Arizona generated « troubling » responses. At the time, Aronofsky was « dismissive, » according to a talent rep with ties to the project. But apparently the studio is aware of a possibility that its auteur prefers to ignore. Sure, the lucrative faith-based audience can giveth—but it can also taketh away.
Brian Thompson Université du Massachusetts Boston
Plus de trente ans après la mort de Malraux sa fameuse phrase selon laquelle « le XXIe siècle sera religieux [ou spirituel, ou mystique] ou ne sera pas », continue à faire couler de l’encre ou à agiter les Internautes, à conforter les uns, à provoquer ou exaspérer les autres. Ce qui est certain, c’est qu’elle reste très présente dans l’esprit des gens, et bien au-delà de l’Hexagone. Elle trouve un écho dans les milieux les plus divers: culturels, politiques, sociaux, religieux, scientifiques, et même commerciaux. Les uns croient qu’elle est en train de se réaliser — pour le meilleur ou pour le pire — , d’autres espèrent qu’elle se réalisera au fil des années, d’autres encore craignent qu’elle ne se réalise, étant donné les désastres dont la religion porte au moins en partie la responsabilité.
La phrase de Malraux continue à être citée, paraphrasée, détournée ou déformée pour dire tout et son contraire. Un bref survol de quelques exemples:
Le collectif Peter Pan « pour la survie des rêves » annonce, en paraphrasant Malraux et en encourageant davantage d’efforts pour la politique culturelle de la France: « le 21e siècle sera culturel ou ne sera pas » 1 . Ghaleb Bencheikh, dans une interview avec l’équipe de rédation d’ African Geopolitics / Géopolitique Africaine , perd 2 légèrement les pédales en paraphrasant Malraux mais déclare que « le 21e siècle sera féminin ou ne le sera pas » 2 . (Ailleurs on affirme carrément que Malraux lui-même disait : le XXIe siècle sera féminin ou ne sera pas 3 . ⤠ . De même, mais plus honnêtement, François Planque note que « [l]’impact de l’homme sur la nature n’a jamais été aussi problématique. Malraux aurait dit que le 21e siècle « sera spirituel ou ne sera pas »; peut-être dirait-il aujourd’hui qu’il sera écologique ou ne sera pas […] » 5 , tandis que dans la Conférence de Paris pour une gouvernance écologique mondiale, tenue les 2 et 3 février de cette année, José Manuel Durão Barroso, Président de la Commission européenne, a détourné la phrase “attribuée” à Malraux en disant que « le 21e siècle sera environnemental ou ne sera pas » 6 . D’autres scientifiques s’y mettent joyeusement, des ingénieurs chimistes par exemple, prévoyant une pléthore de poursuites en justice et paraphrasant la « fausse » ( fake ) citation « apocryphe » sur le XXIe siècle « mystique » comme suit: « le 21e siècle sera juridique ou il ne sera pas » 7 . Parlant à quelque 400 scientifiques, académiques et politiques lors d’un séminaire sur les « Directions de la science au 21e siècle: Perspectives indiennes et françaises » organisé par l’Académie nationale indienne de sciences et l’Ambassade de France à New Delhi le 17 février 2003, l’Ambassdeur de France en Inde, Dominique Girard, insistait sur la responsabilité des scientifiques de considérer les conséquences graves de leurs avancées technologiques qui vont en s’accélérant en ce début du XXIe siècle (rejoi gnant en cela certains soucis de Malraux). Ils devront mettre des questions éthiques au cœur de leur réflexion car « le 21e siècle sera éthique ou il ne sera pas » 8 . Dans une revue de scientifiques 9 comme dans une 3 revue pour consommateurs éthiques 10 , nous lisons que « le 21e siècle sera le siècle de l’éthique ou ne sera pas ». Cette formulation—« le siècle de […] »—a un certain succès et se prête à de nombreuses variantes. Ainsi, toujours partan t de la phrase de Malraux, le XXIe siècle sera-t-il « le siècle de la communication » 11 , « le siècle des abus du langage » 12 , « le siècle des chemins de fer » 13 , « le siècle de l’hybridité » 14 , « le siècle du dialogue » 15 , sans oublier « le siècle de la religion » 16 et « le siècle de la spiritualité »—langage qui pénètre jusque dans le profil qu’une entreprise japonaise brosse d’elle-même puisque l’un de ses trois principes de base s’inspire de Malraux sur ce plan. 17 Vu les vagues de pauvres qui déferlent sans discontinuer sur les pays riches, l’Académicien, Bertrand Poirot-Delpech, se moquant gentiment, dans Le Monde , de la prédiction de Malraux, conclut que le XXIe siècle sera le siècle du partage ou ne sera pas 18 .
Pour le journaliste politique du Figaro en Inde et en Asie du sud, François Gautier, le XXIe siècle sera « l’ère de l’Est » 19 , l’Inde seule étant en mesure de sauver notre monde qui s’en va à vau-l’eau sur le plan écologique, social et politique. Des branchés en informatique et Internet proclament que « [m]ême le Seigneur se numérise » : « Malraux l’avait prédit : « le 21e siècle sera religieux ou ne sera pas!» Mais, aurait-il pu ajouter — s’il avait eu accès à Internet, bien entendu — , ce siècle risque fort toutefois d’être celui de la religion… en ligne» 20 . La phrase a donc la vie dure. Pourtant, il y en a qui 1) nient carrément que Malraux l’ait jamais prononcée, ou 2) mettent, plus modestement, sa paternité en question, ou 3) se disputent simplement sur le terme exact qu’il a (ou aurait) employé. Regardons-y de plus près. 4 Olivier Germain-Thomas fait remarquer, avec raison que je sache, que Malraux n’a jamais écrit ni publié ni laissé publier de son vivant cette phrase précise au-dessus de sa signature 21 . Il conclut que la phrase la plus citée de Malraux est « un faux ». Mais il est d’accord avec moi pour dire que sur un plan du moins, c’est du pur Malraux, car Malraux avait le goût et le don de la formule : « Il aura donc été puni par là où il a péché : le goût des formules ». Dans un texte plus récent, pourtant, Germain-Thomas s’en prend à la chute de la formule : « Pour qui fréquente ses tournures, le « sera ou ne sera pas » sonne comme une copie de pacotille. Quand il ramassait sa pensée dans une fulguration de mots, il y mettait au moins de la poésie » 22 . Ce qui n’empêche que deux poètes l’avaient précédé dans cette voie, René Ghil (1862-1925) au début de ce siècle : « Dans le futur, la poésie sera une science ou ne sera pas! » 23 et André Breton qui proclamait que « la beauté sera convulsive ou ne sera pas » 24 . Quoi qu’il en soit, de telles formules lapidaires et frappantes reviennent souvent sous la plume de Malraux. On en verra une autre revenir à plusieurs reprises ci-dessous. Olivier Germain-Thomas est loin d’être le seul à affirmer que Malraux n’a jamais prononcé la fameuse phrase. En novembre 2000, Antoine Terrasse répond à une interrogation sur les propos de Malraux sur la spiritualité du XXIe siècle: « En fait, Malraux n’a jamais dit : « le XXIe siècle sera religieux ou ne sera pas » mais « le grand problème du XXIe siècle sera celui des religions » et encore, dernière phrase de son ouvrage «L’homme précaire…» : « […] nous souviendrons- nous que les éléments spirituels capitaux ont récusé toute prévision […]» 25 .
De même, Patrice de Plunkett, dans une grande conférence du Figaro, affirme que la fameuse phrase, ici avec le terme « spirituel », n’est pas de Malraux. 26 Un examen des manuscrits inédits de Malraux mène Marius-François Guyard, professeur émérite de Paris IV, à constater « qu’à deux reprises, du moins, il avait rédigé un net désaveu de paternité » de la phrase célèbre, la traitant, dans des corrections manuscrites, de 5 « formule ridicule » avant de trancher : « La prophétie est ridicule ». Quant à l’hypothèse, avancée par Max Torres dans le texte, d’une religion qui créerait un nouveau modèle de l’humanité, elle suscite chez son interlocuteur une réponse où le « oui » se mue en « sans doute » et, pour finir, en « peut-être » 27 . Dans une interview pour Le Point du 10 décembre 1975 Malraux est encore plus explicite: « On m’a fait dire que le XXIe siècle sera religieux. Je n’ai jamais dit cela, bien entendu, car je n’en sais rien. Ce que je dis est plus incertain. Je n’exclus pas la possibilité d’un événement spirituel à l’échelle planétaire ». En dépit de ce déni de l’intéressé lui-même, les citations de la phrase continuent bon train, que ce soit pour abonder dans le sens (supposé) de Malraux, pour la détourner, comme on l’a vu, à d’autres fins, ou pour dénigrer ou se moquer de Malraux ou de tout ce qui touche de près ou de loin aux domaines religieux ou spirituel, « ce fatras de calembredaines » 28 . Certains, modestes, indiquent que la phrase a été « attribuée » ou « prêtée » à Malraux. Beaucoup d’autres la citent comme si son authenticité allait de soi. Un dernier cas de figure, ce sont les témoins auriculaires qui affirment avoir entendu la phrase de la bouche même de Malraux. C’est le cas, notamment, d’André Frossard, journaliste émérite du Figaro, qui en témoigne de façon détaillée dans Le Point du 5 juin 1993: […] la phrase de Malraux sur le XXIe siècle a bien été dite, j’en témoigne, puisqu’elle a été prononcée devant moi, au cours d’une conversation dans le bureau de la rue de Valois. Je ne me souviens pas de la date (en mai 1968, je crois), mais je me souviens de Malraux me disant, à propos des événements: « La révolution, c’est un type au coin de la rue avec un fusil; pas de fusil, pas de révolution ». Puis, passant comme toujours de l’histoire à la métaphysique, il a eu la fameuse formule que l’on cite toujours de façon inexacte. Il n’a pas dit: « Le XXIe siècle sera religieux… ou spirituel… », mais « Le XXIe siècle sera mystique ou ne sera pas », ce qui n’est pas du tout la même chose. Quant au sens de ce bizarre « ou ne sera pas », que l’on prend non moins bizarrement à la lettre, il signifiait que ce XXIe siècle, faute de retrouver l’élan initial de toute intelligence 6 du monde, n’aurait plus de pensée — ce qui équivalait pour Malraux à n’être plus 29 . Il est impossible, me semble-t-il, de limiter la citation, comme le fait ici André Frossard, au seul terme « mystique »; Malraux a très bien pu lui dire « mystique » à lui — je le crois volontiers sur parole — , et « religieux » ou « spirituel » à d’autres. Prétendre le contraire dépasse ce que André Frossard (ou qui que ce soit) est à même de savoir.
A mon avis, d’ailleurs, il y a très peu de différence entre ces trois termes dans l’esprit de Malraux. Pour lui, le mot « religion » (de religio, « lien ») porte sur ce qui relie l’homme au cosmos, aux autres hommes, éventuellement aux dieux ou à Dieu; comme l’indique Bettine Knapp, il « ne suggère pour Malraux ni hiérarchie ni organisation institutionnelle » 30 . C’est ce qui donne un sens à la vie, à toute l’entreprise humaine, c’est une communion avec le domaine du sacré, avec ce qui, en l’homme, dépasse l’homme. Comme Malraux le note dans sa préface à L’Enfant du rire , « le fait religieux fondamental appartient aujourd’hui pour nous au domaine métaphysique » 31 . Je ne suis pas non plus l’interprétation d’André Frossard du « ou ne sera pas »; j’y reviendrai. Dans son dernier livre, et jusqu’en quatrième de couverture, Claude Tannery refute comme apocryphe « la formule ressassée ad nauseam » 32 . Il dit connaître « les arguments des plus sérieux défenseurs de l’authenticité de cette phrase » mais continue à la tenir pour apocryphe, même si on remplace « religieux » par « spirituel » ou « mystique ». Il note, comme Marius-François Guyard, que Malraux a qualifié cette prédiction de « ridicule » et qu’il s’en est distancié. A part les « arguments » évoqués, que faire des témoins auriculaires comme André Frossard ou moi-même? Il faudrait supposer que chacun de nous—séparément, puisque nous ne sommes pas tous d’accord sur le terme exact— 1) ait inventé la phrase 7 de toute pièce et menti sciemment depuis (pour quelle raison?), ou 2) se souvienne mal de ce que Malraux nous a dit (chacun de la même façon, à un mot près?), ou 3) ait des « visions dans les oreilles » (là encore, presque identiques?). Est-ce que l’une ou l’autre de ces explications est plus crédible que les témoins auriculaires eux-mêmes? A mon avis, aucune des trois ne résiste à l’analyse. Les témoignages — du moins, celui d’André Frossard et le mien — si. Claude Tannery pense surtout que « le tout ou rien du « ou ne sera pas » n’appartient pas aux modes de pensée de Malraux ». Mais cette alternative est-elle si différente, dans sa forme comme dans son fond, de la conclusion que Malraux tire lors d’une interview accordée le 5 mai 1969 à la Radio-Télévision yougoslave et l’hebdomadaire belgradois Nin : « Notre civilisation sera contrainte de trouver sa valeur fondamentale ou elle se décomposera » 33 . A Claude Tannery ensuite de citer certains textes pour « refuter » l’authenticité de la fameuse phrase, dont un texte que j’ai cité ailleurs pour montrer à quel point elle était au contraire dans la droite ligne de la pensée de Malraux depuis au moins 1955 : « Le problème capital de la fin du siècle sera le problème religieux, sous une forme aussi différente de celles que nous connaissons que le christianisme le fut des religions antiques » 34 . On pourrait aussi citer, de la même année: « Je pense que la tâche du prochain siècle, en face de la plus terrible menace qu’ait connue l’humanité, va être d’y réintégrer les dieux » 35 . En 1970 Malraux souligne de nouveau l’opposition entre notre civilisation technologiquement avancée et le vide, le manque de sens, de raison de vivre, à son centre: […] notre crise est celle de la civilisation la plus puissante que le monde ait connue. […] En face de nous, ce n’est pas la nature de l’homme qui est en cause, c’est sa raison d’être […]. Et notre réponse, c’est : « A quoi bon conquérir la Lune, si c’est pour s’y suicider? » 36 . 8 Malraux reprend la même formule dans Le Miroir des limbes : « Aucune civilisation n’a possédé une telle puissance, aucune n’a été à ce point étrangère à ses valeurs. Pourquoi conquérir la Lune, si c’est pour s’y suicider? » 37 Il y reviendra encore à la fin de sa préface pour L’Enfant du rire de son vieil ami, Pierre Bockel, ancien aumônier de la Brigade Alsace-Lorraine : Presque toutes les civilisations qui ont précédé la nôtre ont connu leurs valeurs, et même l’image exemplaire de l’homme qu’elles avaient élue. La civilisation des machines est la première à chercher les siennes. La fission de l’atome n’était pas encore découverte au temps où je constatais que la plus puisssante civilisation de la terre n’avait inventé ni un temple, ni un tombeau. Des livres comme celui-ci nous enseigne nt ce que les chrétiens attendent d’une résurrection de la foi, assurée par un retour aux sources, et dont la formule serait sans doute, en effet, que la véritable religion est la communion en Dieu. Il est possible qu’un croyant voie d’abord dans la transcendance le plus puissant moyen de sa communion. Il est certain que pour un agnostique, la question majeure de notre temps devient : peut-il exister une communion sans transcendance, et sinon, sur quoi l’homme peut-il fonder ses valeurs suprêmes? Sur quelle transcendance non révélée peut -il fonder sa communion? J’entends de nouveau le murmure que j’entendais naguère : à quoi bon aller sur la lune, si c’est pour s’y suicider? 38 Il est intéressant de noter ce que le père Bockel dit dans ce livre sur Malraux et sa vision du monde à venir: Ce prophète du siècle n’aperçoit de salut pour l’humanité qu’au travers d’une civilisation de type religieux, dont la nature lui paraît encore imprévisible, mais qu’il souhaite et prévoit comme la cond ition du véritable progrès humain (129).
Le père Bockel se demande si la révolution spirituelle qui accompagnait et prolongeait mai 68 n’était pas l’un des [p]remiers signes pour justifier la vision de Malraux, et de tant d’autres, sur l’avenir de la civilisation? Celle-ci, pensent-ils, sera religieuse ou se perdra. Car, 9 après l’échec de l’espoir fondé sur la science, voire sur la seule politique, quelle autre référence resterait-il à l’homme pour signifier la vie, lui offrir un sens et donner une direction à l’histoire? (200 ; c’est moi qui souligne). Si cette affirmation, avec sa forme de stri cte alternative, n’est pas au-dessus de la signature de Malraux, elle est en-dessous, dans un texte paraphé, pour ainsi dire, par la préface de Malraux. J’ai eu l’occasion de rencontrer Malraux pour la première fois en 1972 à Verrières-le-Buisson pour une interview pr éparée par des questions et des réponses écrites. Il m’a dit que nous étions la première civilisation dans l’histoire du monde à ne pas avoir de centre, de transcendance, qui l’informe en tant que civilisation. Très sensible à l’avancée de la technologie moderne et à ses dangers dans notre ère nucléaire, il s’inquiétait pour l’avenir d’une telle civi lisation sans centre, sans transcendance, et c’est là où il m’a dit : « Le XXIe siècle sera religieux ou ne sera pas ». Il a expliqué qu’il ne savait pas quelle forme cela prendrait : ou bien le renouveau d’une religion existante, ou bien une nouvelle religion, ou bien quelque chose de tout à fait imprévisible, comme il l’a souligné dans L’Homme précaire et ailleurs. Mais de toute façon, pour lui, ou bien notre civilisation retrouverait, en tant que civilisation, un centre, une transcendance, quelquechose qui donne un sens à la vie, ou bien nous nous ferions tous sauter en l’air puisque nous en avons maintenant les moyens techniques (« la plus terrible menace qu’ait connue l’humanité ») d’un suicide collectif, non sur la Lune mais ici même, sur la Terre. Le « ou ne sera pas » est à prendre à la lettre, nonobstant André Frossard. Quelques mois plus tard, le 12 novembre 1972, Claude Mauriac note dans son journal les propos de Malraux l’avant-veille, parlant d’une renaissance religieuse possible et opposant religion et science de façon binaire: Hier soir, Maurice Clavel a parlé. Et s’il a sorti sa formule préparée (littérateur, libérateur), il a aussi […] répété ce qu’il nous disait l’autre matin, que nous avions 10 lu dans ses livres, et que Malraux, presque avec les mêmes mots, avait déclaré la veille (rencontre étonnante, troublante) : qu’une renai sssance religieuse se préparait, peut-être , disait Malraux (« C’est la religion ou la science […] ») Sûrement , disait ou laissait entendre Clavel […]. 39
Dans son dernier livre, comme le rappelle Antoine Terrasse, Malraux « évoque l’hypothèse d’un événement spirituel , qu’il appelle de tous ses vœux. Il est avide de quelque foi nouvelle. Car la connaissance scientifique, qui caractérise notre civilisation, « ne possède aucune valeur ordonnatrice ». Il existe une formule de l’énergie, mais non du sens de l’homme [ … ] » 40 Claude Tannery cite une interview de Malraux avec son traducteur et ami japonais, Tadao Takémoto, interview que Germain-Thomas a pu placer précisément le 22 mars 1974 41 : « Si le prochain siècle devait connaître une révolution spirituelle, ce que je considère comme parfaitement possible — probable ou pas n’a pas d’intérêt, ce sont des prédictions de sorcier — je crois que cette spiritualité sera du domaine de ce que nous pressentons sans le connaître, comme le XVIIIe siècle a pressenti l’électricité avec le paratonnerre ». Ce « prédiction de sorcier » reflète sans doute l’extrême réticence de Malraux à prédire quoi que ce soit de façon directe et explicite, au risque de se faire traiter de « prophète » par des esprits simplistes — ce qui explique peut-être son déni d’avoir prononcé la phrase qui, comme nous l’avons vu, a été si souvent mal comprise, détournée et déformée à volonté par tout un chacun. En octobre 1975 Malraux répond, à la main et à l’encre rouge, à l’interrogation de son ancien collaborateur, André Holleaux, à propos du XXIe siècle, indiquant deux possibilités, l’une et l’autre imprévisibles dans le détail, dans des termes très semblables à ce qu’il m’avait dit trois ans auparavant : Le siècle prochain pourrait connaître un grand mouvement spirituel : nouvelle religion, métamorphose du christianisme — aussi imprévisible pour n[ou]s que 11 le fut celui-ci pour les philosophes de Rome, qui prevoyaient la fin, croyaient (supposaient) que le successeur serait le stoïcisme, ne pensaient pas aux chrétiens 42 . Le 12 mai 1976, donc quelques mois avant sa mort, Malraux s’adresse à la Commission des libertés de l’Assemblée nationale. Il note que « [t]outes les grandes civilisations, ordonnées par des valeurs suprêmes, généralement religieuses, ne fonctionnaient que parce qu’elles avaient conç u un type exemplaire de l’homme », mais non la nôtre où, depuis le 19e siècle, « la valeur suprême, reconnue ou non, c’est la science ». Puis, rappelant l’exergue que Marcellin Berthelot avait mis à l’Encyclopédie (« La Science est capable de tuer un bœuf, elle ne l’est pas de créer un œuf »), Malraux reprend, pour le fond sinon pour la forme, la chute de la fameuse phrase : « La plus puissante civilisation que l’homme ait connue, la nôtre, peut détruire la terre ; elle ne peut pas former un adolescent » 43 (c’est moi qui souligne). C’est, en clair, « la plus terrible menace qu’ait connue l’humanité », menace à laquelle Malraux espérait que le XXIe siècle trouverait une réponse adéquate.
Il est clair que Malraux, depuis au moins 1955 et sans doute auparavant (au temps où la « fission de l’atome n’était pas enco re découverte ») se souciait de ce qui se préparait à l’approche du XXIe siècle pour notre civilisation sans centre ni transcendance. Etant donné les avancées de la science et les dangers qu’elles comportent si elles sont vides de sens, il a distillé sa pensée en une formule frappante qui, toute seule et sans mode d’emploi, s’est prêtée à tous les détournements et déformations imaginables. Remise dans le contexte de tout ce que Malraux a dit et écrit dans la dernière partie de sa vie, elle prend tout son sens, non comme la prédiction d’un quelconque Nostradamus de foire, mais comme un sérieux appel de la part d’un « être spirituel ouvert aux plus hautes valeurs de l’homme », comme le décrit son ami, Pierre 12 Bockel 44 . Olivier Germain-Thomas, qui fréquentait Malraux dans les dernières années de sa vie, note que Malraux pressentait « la nécessité de retrouver des valeurs et une transcendance , faute de quoi notre civilisation volerait en éclats ». Lors d’une de leurs dernières rencontres, Malraux lui a dit: « Préparez-vous à l’imprévisible ». Bon consigne pour nous tous, dans ces premières années du XXIe siècle.
Voir par ailleurs:
Noah’s Ark: the facts behind the Flood
A recently discovered Babylonian tablet is a blueprint for a round-shaped ark that animals could board two by two
Was the Ark that survived the Flood really round?
19 Jan 2014
In the year 1872 one George Smith, a banknote engraver turned assistant in the British Museum, astounded the world by discovering the story of the Flood – much the same as that in the Book of Genesis – inscribed on a cuneiform tablet made of clay that had recently been excavated at far-distant Nineveh (in present-day Iraq). Human behaviour, according to this new discovery, prompted the gods of Babylon to wipe out mankind through death by water, and, as in the Bible, the survival of all living things was effected at the last minute by a single man.
For George Smith himself the discovery was, quite plainly, staggering, and it propelled him from back-room boffin to worldwide fame. Much arduous scholarly labour had preceded Smith’s extraordinary triumph, for his beginnings were humble. Endless months of staring into the glass cases that housed the inscriptions in the gallery resulted in Smith being “noticed”, and eventually he was taken on as a “repairer” in the British Museum in about 1863.
The young George exhibited an outstanding flair for identifying joins among the broken fragments of tablets and a positive genius for understanding cuneiform inscriptions; there can be no doubt that he was one of Assyriology’s most gifted scholars.
At first, Smith was unable to decipher the tablet that would change his life, because a lime-like deposit obscured the text. Only once this had been painstakingly removed – an agonising wait for the highly strung Smith – could all the words be read. A contemporary observer reported what happened next:
“Smith took the tablet and began to read over the lines which… had [been] brought to light; and when he saw that they contained the portion of the legend he had hoped to find there, he said, ‘I am the first man to read that after more than two thousand years of oblivion.’
“Setting the tablet on the table, he jumped up and rushed about the room in a great state of excitement, and, to the astonishment of those present, began to undress himself!”
Smith’s dramatic reaction achieved mythological status, to the point that all subsequent Assyriologists keep the tactic in reserve just in case they too find something spectacular.
Smith announced his discoveries at a meeting of the Society of Biblical Archaeology in London, on December 3, 1872. August dignitaries were present, including the Archbishop of Canterbury – since Smith’s findings had serious implications for church authority – and the classically-disposed prime minister, WE Gladstone.
For Smith’s audience, as it had been for the man himself, the news was electrifying. In 1872 everyone knew their Bible backwards, and the announcement that the iconic story of the Ark and the Flood existed on a barbaric-looking document of clay in the British Museum that pre-dated the Bible and had been dug up somewhere in the East was indigestible.
A hundred and thirteen years after Smith’s breakthrough, a similar episode of British-Museum-curator-meets-amazing-cuneiform-flood-story befell me.
Irving Finkel, assistant keeper at the department of the Middle East at the British Museum (Benjamin McMahon)
People bring all sorts of unexpected objects to the British Museum to have them identified. In 1985 a cuneiform tablet was brought in by a member of the public already known to me, for he had been in with Babylonian objects before. His name was Douglas Simmonds. Gruff, non-communicative and to me largely unfathomable, he had a conspicuously large head housing a large measure of intelligence.
He owned a collection of miscellaneous objects and antiquities that he had inherited from his father, Leonard. Leonard had a lifelong eye for curiosities, and, as a member of the RAF, was stationed in the Near East around the end of the Second World War, acquiring interesting bits and pieces of tablets at the same time.
I was more taken aback than I can say to discover that one of his cuneiform tablets was a copy of the Babylonian Flood story. The trouble was that, as one read down the inscribed surface of the unbaked tablet, things got harder; turning it over to confront the reverse for the first time was a cause for despair. I explained that it would take many hours to wrestle meaning from the broken signs, but Douglas would not leave his tablet with me. He blithely repacked his Flood tablet and more or less bade me good day.
Nothing happened about “my” tablet until much later, when I spotted Douglas staring at Nebuchadnezzar’s East India House inscription in our Babylon: Myth and Reality exhibition early in 2009. I picked my way carefully through the crowds of visitors and asked him about it. The bewitching cuneiform tablets strewn around the exhibition must have had a good effect because he promised to bring his tablet in again for me to examine. And he did.
Decipherment proceeded in fits and starts, with groans and expletives, and in mounting – but fully dressed – excitement. Weeks later, it seemed, I looked up, blinking in the sudden light.
I had discovered that the Simmonds cuneiform tablet (henceforth known as the Ark Tablet) was virtually an instruction manual for building an ark.
The Ark Tablet, which dates from around 1900BC (Benjamin McMahon)
The story of a flood that destroyed the world, in which human and animal life was saved from extinction by a hero with a boat, is almost universal in the world’s treasury of traditional literature. Many scholars have tried to collect all the specimens in a butterfly net, to pin them out and docket them for family, genus and species. Flood stories in the broadest sense have been documented in Mesopotamia, Egypt, Greece, Syria, Europe, India, New Guinea, Central America, North America, Australia and South America.
The story of Noah, iconic in the Book of Genesis, and as a consequence a central motif in Judaism, Christianity and Islam, invites the greatest attention. In all three scriptures the Flood comes as punishment for wrongdoing by man, part of a “give-up-on-this-lot-and-start-over” resolution governing divine relations with the human world. There is a direct and undoubted Flood continuum from the Hebrew Old Testament to the Greek New Testament on the one hand and the Arabic Koran on the other.
Since the Victorian-period discoveries of George Smith it has been understood that the Hebrew account derives, in its turn, from that in Babylonian cuneiform, much older and surely the original that launched the story on its journey.
People have long been concerned with the question of whether there really was a flood, and been on the lookout for evidence to support the story, and I imagine all Mesopotamian archaeologists have kept the Flood at the back of their mind. In the years 1928 and 1929 important discoveries were made on sites in Iraq that were taken to be evidence of the biblical Flood itself. At Ur, excavation beneath the Royal Cemetery disclosed more than 10ft of empty mud, below which earlier settlement material came to light. A similar discovery was made at the site of Kish in southern Iraq. To both teams it seemed inescapable that here was evidence of the biblical Flood itself.
In more recent times scholars have turned to geological rather than archaeological investigation, pursuing data about earthquakes, tidal waves or melting glaciers in the hunt for the Flood at a dizzying pace.
Another big Flood question is where did the Ark end up? Ask anyone and they will say “Mount Ararat”. But what, we have to ask, is Ararat? There is more than one candidate mountain. The Assyrians in the Epic of Gilgamesh thought it was Mount Nitsir in Iraqi Kurdistan, and the Islamic tradition has always favoured Cudi Dagh in Turkey. Rival set-ups allowed for vigorous local trade in Ark mementoes.
A traditional depiction of Noah’s Ark by the 16th-century painter Aurelio Luini (Alamy)
The Ark Tablet, like many documents of its period, is designed to fit comfortably in the reader’s hand; it is much the same size and weight as a contemporary mobile phone.
The tablet was written during the Old Babylonian period, broadly 1900–1700BC. The document was not dated by the scribe, but from the shape and appearance of the tablet itself, the character and composition of the cuneiform and the grammatical forms and usages, we can be sure that this is the period in which it was written. It was composed in Semitic Babylonian (Akkadian) in a literary style. The hand is neat and that of a fully trained cuneiform scribe. The text has been written out very ably without error and for a specific purpose; it is certainly not a school practice tablet from a beginner, or anything of that kind. It measures 11.5cm by 6cm and contains exactly 60 lines.
The front (or obverse) is in fine condition and virtually everything can be read. The back (or reverse) is damaged in the middle of most lines, with the result that not everything there can be read now, although much of substantial importance can be deciphered; some parts are simply missing altogether and other parts are very badly worn.
The most remarkable feature provided by the Ark Tablet is that the lifeboat built by Atra-hasıs – the Noah-like hero who receives his instructions from the god Enki – was definitely, unambiguously round. “Draw out the boat that you will make,” he is instructed, “on a circular plan.”
Confronting the fact comes, initially, as a shock. For everyone knows what Noah’s Ark, the real Ark, looks like: a squat wooden affair with prow and stern and a little house in the middle, not to mention a gangplank and several windows. No respectable child’s nursery at one time was without one, with its chewed pairs of animals.
The tenacity of the conventional Western vision of the Ark is remarkable, and remains, at least to me, inexplicable, for where did it come from in the first place? The only “evidence” that artists or toymakers had before them was the description in the Old Testament where Noah’s Ark is altogether a different proposition. (Indeed, the key words in the description of the Ark are used nowhere else in the Bible, and no one knows what language they are written in.)
As I stared into space with the tablet precariously poised over the desk, the idea of a round ark began to make sense. A truly round boat would be a coracle, and they certainly had coracles in ancient Mesopotamia; a coracle is exceptionally buoyant and would never sink, and if it happened to be difficult to steer or stop from going around and round that would not matter, because all it had to do was keep its contents safe and dry until the waters receded.
Coracles, in their unassuming way, have played a crucial and long-running role in man’s relationship with rivers. They belong, like dugout canoes and rafts, to the most practical stratum of invention: natural resources giving rise to simple solutions that can hardly be improved upon. The reed coracle is effectively a large basket, sealed with bitumen to prevent waterlogging. Its construction is somehow natural to riverine communities; coracles from India and Iraq, Tibet and Wales are close cousins. These traditional craft remained in use, unchanged, on the rivers of Mesopotamia into the first half of the last century.
Before the arrival of the Ark Tablet, hard facts for the boatbuilder were sparse. We have had to wait until now for the statistics of shape, size and dimensions, as well as everything to do with the matter of waterproofing. The information that has now become available could be turned into a printed set of specifications sufficient for any would-be ark-builder today.
Enki tells Atra-hasıs in a very practical way how to get his boat started; he is to draw out a plan of the round boat on the ground. The simplest way to do this would have been with a peg and a long string. The stage is thus set for building the world’s largest coracle, with a base area of 38,750sq ft, and a diameter of, near enough, 230ft. It works out to be the size of a Babylonian “field”, what we would call an acre. The walls, at about 20ft, would effectively inhibit an upright male giraffe from looking over at us.
Atra-hasıs’s coracle was to be made of rope, coiled into a gigantic basket. This rope was made of palm fibre, and vast quantities of it were going to be needed. Coiling the rope and weaving between the rows eventually produces a giant round floppy basket, which is then stiffened with a set of J-shaped wooden ribs. Stanchions, mentioned in lines 15-16, were a crucial element in the Ark’s construction and an innovation in response to Atra-hasıs’s special requirements, for they allow the introduction of an upper deck.
These stanchions could be placed in diverse arrangements; set flat on the interlocked square ends of the ribs, they would facilitate subdivision of the lower floor space into suitable areas for bulky or fatally incompatible animals. One striking peculiarity of Atra-hasıs’s reports is that he doesn’t mention either the deck or the roof explicitly, but within the specifications both deck and roof are implicit. (In line 45 Atra-hasıs goes up to the roof to pray.)
The next stage is crucial: the application of bitumen for waterproofing, inside and out, a job to be taken very seriously considering the load and the likely weather conditions. Fortunately, bitumen bubbled out of the Mesopotamian ground in an unending, benevolent supply. Atra-hasıs devotes 20 of his 60 lines to precise details about waterproofing his boat. It is just one of the many remarkable aspects of the Ark Tablet that we are thereby given the most complete account of caulking a boat to have come down to us from antiquity.
Johan Huibers’ full-scale model of Noah’s Ark was built according to the instructions given in the Bible (EPA/Ed Oudenaarden)
Boat-building notwithstanding, one cannot help but worry about the various Noahs, Babylonian and otherwise, and all their animals: the thought of rounding them up, marching them up the gangplank and ensuring good behaviour all round for a voyage of unknown length…
At first sight, the very broken lines 51–52 of the Ark Tablet looked unpromising. The surface, if not completely lost, is badly abraded in this part of the tablet. I needed, then, to bring every sophisticated technique of decipherment into play: polishing the magnifying glass, holding it steady, repeatedly moving the tablet under the light to get the slightest shadow of a worn-out wedge or two. Eventually the sign traces in line 51 could be seen to be “and the wild animal[s of the st]ep[pe]”.
What gave me the biggest shock in 44 years of grappling with cuneiform tablets was, however, what came next. My best shot at the first two signs beginning line 52 came up with “sa” and “na”, both incompletely preserved. On looking unhopefully for words beginning “sana” in the Chicago Assyrian Dictionary, I found the following entry and nearly fell off my chair as a result of the words: “sana (or sanâ) adv. Two each, two by two.”
This is a very rare word among all our texts – when the dictionary was published there had only been two occurrences. To me, it is the world’s most beautiful dictionary definition.
For the first time we learn that the Babylonian animals, like those of Noah, went in two by two, a completely unsuspected Babylonian tradition that draws us ever closer to the familiar narrative of the Bible. (Another interesting matter: the Babylonian flood story in cuneiform is 1,000 years older than the Book of Genesis in Hebrew, but reading the two accounts together demonstrates their close, literary relationship. No firm explanation of how this might have really come about has previously been offered, but study of the circumstances in which the Judaeans exiled to Babylon by Nebuchadnezzar II found themselves answers many crucial questions.)
There is a further consideration raised by these two lines in the Ark Tablet: they only mention wild animals. I imagine domestic livestock might well be taken for granted, especially if some of the animals were going to be part of their own food chain.
Today the question of Noah’s animals is no longer a preoccupation of scientific inquiry, but there was a time when serious scholars, especially the great polymath Athanasius Kircher (c1601–80), thought a good deal about them, just when knowledge of natural history was on the increase.
Kircher’s Ark taxonomy ran to only about 50 pairs of animals, leaving him to conclude that space inside was not such a difficulty. He developed the explanation that Noah had rescued all the animals that then existed, and that the subsequent profusion of different species in the world resulted from postdiluvian adaptation, or interbreeding among the Ark species; so that giraffes, for example, were produced after the Flood by camel and leopard parents.
The relationship between Enki and Atra-hasıs is conventionally portrayed as that between master and servant. If Atra-hasıs was not a king but a private citizen, this does raise the question of the grounds on which these “proto-Noahs” were selected to fulfil their great task. It is not evident that either was an obvious choice as, say, a famous boatbuilder. There is some indication of temple connections, but nothing to indicate that the hero was actually a member of the priesthood. Perhaps the selection was on the grounds that what was needed was a fine, upright individual who would listen to divine orders and carry them out to the full whatever his private misgivings, but we are not told.
In each case the right man seems to have been offered the job. All the stories agree that the boat, whatever its shape, was successfully built, and that human and animal life was safely preserved so that the world could go on. A story that recommends foresight and planning in order to ensure that outcome has lost none of its resonance.
‘The Ark Before Noah’, by Irving Finkel (Hodder, RRP £20), is available to order from Telegraph Books at £18 + £1.35 p&p. Call 0844 871 1514 or visit books.telegraph.co.uk
Voir de même:
Irving Finkel: reader of the lost Ark
Tom Chivers meets the man who deciphered a 4,000-year-old blueprint – for the original Noah’s Ark
19 Jan 2014
Four thousand years ago, a millennium and a half before the first Jewish scholars put pen to parchment on the Book of Genesis, a scribe in what is now Iraq carved the story of a great flood on to a clay tablet, in the strange and beautiful script known as cuneiform. The story told of how a god came and warned a great man to build a boat, and to take his family on that boat, and two animals of every kind, because the world was to be cleansed with a flood.
About 30 years ago, one Douglas Simmonds wandered in to the British Museum, and handed the tablet to a man called Irving Finkel, who immediately recognised it as one of the most important archaeological finds of recent years. Dr Finkel, an Assyriologist or student of the civilisations of ancient Mesopotamia, begged Simmonds to leave it with him, but he would do no such thing. It took him until 2009 to convince Simmonds to let him have it; when he did, what he discovered was a piece of the flood story – the Assyrian story of the Ark, centuries before Noah.
“Lots of people used to bring things in,” says Finkel, “people whose fathers or grandfathers had fought in Iraq in the First World War. Usually it’s some administrative paperwork, but sometimes it’s a gem, like this one: one of the most important tablets ever discovered.” Four years later, he has turned his painstaking translation of this chipped lump of clay into a book: The Ark Before Noah.
Finkel is exactly how you’d want a curator of ancient writings at the British Museum to look: grandfatherly eyes, magnificent snowy beard, a mane of white hair ostensibly tied into a ponytail but really free to do what it likes. We’re talking in his office, in the back rooms of the museum, and it too is a splendid cliché: not a surface that doesn’t have books and papers teetering on it in great piles; clay tablets here and there, desk drawers overflowing.
He has spent his life digging around in the museum and elsewhere, looking for tablets like the Simmonds one: an obsession since his first days at university, in 1969. “It’s my life’s work,” he says. “I am entirely devoted to it.” His arrival at the British Museum a decade later was a transformative moment: downstairs, in Victorian glass-topped boxes in the museum’s library, there are 130,000 cuneiform tablets, in varying states of repair. “It’s impossible to explain what it was like. I was like a chocolate fetishist locked in a sweet shop. If you’re one of these mad people who cares about these things, takes the oath of allegiance, learns to read the script, it opens up a whole world.”
The discovery that tablets from these ancient civilisations – Assyria, Babylonia and Sumeria – told the story of the flood associated with the later Hebrews shook the Victorian world when it was announced in 1872. We should declare an interest: The Daily Telegraph was one of the driving influences. “That newspaper of yours had a very big role to play in the story of Assyriology,” Finkel tells me. “It’s indissolubly linked to the flood story.” A man called George Smith was the first to find and translate a tablet which told the story of the cleansing flood; to Victorian Christianity, still coming to terms with other blows to the literal truth of the Bible, the idea that the story of Noah was simply a garbled form of an older pagan myth was shattering.
But it made great headlines, so the proprietors of The Daily Telegraph sent Smith back to the banks of the Tigris, one of the two rivers that give Mesopotamia its Greek name (“between rivers”; the other is the Euphrates). In the long-dead city of Nineveh, he found more tablets; the story, fleshed out, became known as the “Epic of Gilgamesh”. The tablet collection, which is still at the British Museum, is named after this newspaper: DT42. “He found the new pieces rather quickly, and made the mistake of telling the Telegraph straight away, who sensibly enough told him to come home,” says Finkel, cheerfully. “He should have kept quiet until the end of the season.”
The question that is invariably asked at this point is: does this mean that the Ark story is “real”? People still search Mount Ararat in Turkey, looking for the remains of a giant boat. But this isn’t a meaningful question, says Finkel. The Mesopotamian landscape is essentially a flood plain. “In that landscape, mankind’s vulnerability to flooding is explicit,” he says. “There must have been a heritage memory of the destructive power of flood water, based on various terrible floods. And the people who survived would have been people in boats. You can imagine someone sunbathing in a canoe, half asleep, and waking up however long later and they’re in the middle of the Persian Gulf, and that’s the beginning of the flood story.” There are, he says, geological and archaeological suggestions that there was an especially cataclysmic flood around 5,000BC.
The most interesting revelation from the Simmonds tablet is that the Ark, as originally conceived, was not how we picture it. “We all know what Noah’s Ark looked like – a boat, with a house on it, and a high prow and a high stern,” says Finkel. “You could sail to New York in it if you liked. But the Ark didn’t have to go in a direction, it just had to survive the flood.” In essence, it would have been a giant life raft: circular, and almost impossible to sink. “It was a coracle,” says Finkel: a kind of round boat of rope around a wood frame. “Half the people in Mesopotamia were professional boat people, so when someone told them this story, and said, imagine the biggest boat you ever saw, they must have asked: what did it look like?” What is incredible is that the tablet has detailed instructions how to build this enormous coracle, 70ft across, six yards high, even down to the length of rope required. “It’s about the distance from London to Edinburgh,” says Finkel, who had a mathematician check the working and found that it was correct to within one per cent.
Finkel gave me the tablet to hold. It’s almost exactly the size of a modern smartphone, and the shape of a pillow; terracotta-coloured, tightly covered, almost every last millimetre, in a strange pattern of carvings that look more like the arbitrary patterns on a Christmas jumper than anything we might recognise as writing; it’s cracked and glued back together, like an old vase, with some of the writing obscured by the worst bits of damage. I would like to announce that there is a sense of mystical awe that overwhelms me as I hold this 4,000-year-old artefact, this thing carved when the Egyptians were still building pyramids. But there isn’t, just a vague sense of terror that I’ll drop it and shatter it. “That would be the end of the world, for me,” confirms Finkel, unhelpfully.
The story of the flood, as exciting as it is, is only a tiny part of Finkel’s obsession. I put it to him that his book is not really about the Ark at all, it’s a love letter to cuneiform handwriting, and he nods. “The most interesting writing system of all!” he says, which he can best describe as a mix between hieroglyphic picture-symbols and a syllable-based system like Japanese. But it’s also about the window it provides to an ancient but weirdly familiar world.
“Writing is just a kind of dress, in which ideas and words are clothed,” he says. “When you adjust your vision, people emerge from antiquity. People with behaviour, and motives, and characteristics, which are familiar to us.” He draws an analogy with the recent Pompeii exhibition at the museum: “Lots of people came out saying how amazing it was that they had breakfast and slippers and pencil sharpeners and all the normal stuff of life.” People are people, in 1850BC or AD2014, in Nineveh or Middlesbrough.
Finkel has been doing this for so long, and “met” so many of the same scribes over and over again, that he gets a sense of them as people. The Babylonian schools were filled with the same mix of troublemakers, bored kids and swots as modern ones, he says, which you can tell from the recovered tablets from children learning to read and write. And when you read a really learned, intelligent, experienced scribe, “you can really see a brain there, a brain that’s clever and can see meaning. They were very sharp.”
I ask him if he has any favourites, if any of the writers become almost friends. “You get cleverness and intellect, but what you don’t get, usually, is personal stuff,” he says. “You don’t get private writing, you don’t get spontaneous love poetry. So one is filled with admiration for these minds, and sometimes you wish you could bloody well talk to this guy so he could explain what he means, but not a feeling that you’d like to go for a pint with him or something.”
Occasionally, though, he finds that a scribe has missed a line in a long, copied document, and they’ve tried to squeeze it in in the margin, with an asterisk to mark the spot: “The device is familiar, that’s like us. And it’s that sense of the guy going ‘oh s—’ – that’s the moment you think you might like to buy this guy a pint and calm him down.”
There are, however, puns and jokes and swearing and bawdy humour, “and music, and songs, and festivals, and drinking a lot of wine”, he says. “I think you should imagine the city of Babylon not unlike Jerusalem or Aleppo today, with a souk with metalsmiths and smells and awnings and donkeys, livestock wandering the streets, the way the world’s cities have always been.”
Finkel has never been to Iraq, the focus of his study for over a third of a century; he is Jewish, and when he began his work in 1969 the country refused visas to Jewish people. He still hopes to, “one of these days”, but the opportunity has never arisen.
During the time he has been studying it from afar, the country, the cradle of civilisation, has been torn apart by a bloody dictatorship and then a devastating invasion and civil war. “The Museum of Iraq was sacked, and the stuff was destroyed, and the country has been ransacked of archaeological materials, and the damage is incalculable. Of course, the hospitals and water and babies are more important, but once you get past the huge human suffering the cultural damage is atrocious.”
It’s also meant that tablets like the one that Simmonds brought him can no longer be traded: dealing with materials from Iraq was made illegal a few years ago. A window on 4,000 years of history has slammed shut. “It’s heartbreaking,” Finkel says. Absolutely heartbreaking.”
‘The Ark Before Noah’ by Irving Finkel (Hodder, RRP £20) is available to order from Telegraph Books at £18 + £1.35 p&p. Call 0844 871 1514 or visit books.telegraph.co.uk