When I first saw the promos for Of Kings and Prophets (ABC’s new miniseries that airs immediately after Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.), I was actually excited.  After all, the account of David is one of the most exciting sections of the Bible—and practically begs for an adaptation which takes some inspiration from Game of Thrones.  The Biblical account is replete with courtly intrigue, romance, military conquest, action… all the elements that make for a good historical movie or TV series.  And all of those elements are in fact present in the Of Kings and Prophets series premiere.

But…

Unfortunately, this series borrows a little too heavily from Game of Thrones and not quite heavily enough from The Holy Bible.  The characters are behaving out of character.  The casting is laughable from a racial accuracy standpoint (either go all-Caucasian, or all-Middle Eastern, guys).  The costuming feels far too medieval for 1000 BC Palestine.  Israel has a very impressive cavalry in this series, especially considering that Israel didn’t exactly have horses in quantity until David’s reign!

But the worst offense this movie commits is in its depiction of God, who is certainly not given his due as the hero of this story.  Instead, God is relegated to the background as a grumpy old man demanding the slaughter of the helpless to avenge an ages-old slight.  Hardly the Biblical depiction of God!

The series premiere adapts 1 Samuel 14-15 relatively faithfully, as Saul is busy trying to unite the Kingdom of Israel and Samuel gives him God’s message that he must destroy the Amalekites.  However, the depiction of these events leaves much to be desired.  The Biblical account does not say much about the Amalekites, instead summing them up in a single sentence:

“When Saul had taken the kingship over Israel, he fought against all his enemies on every side, against Moab, against the Ammonites, against Edom, against the kings of Zobah, and against the Philistines.  Wherever he turned he routed them.  And he did valiantly and struck the Amalekites and delivered Israel out of the hands of those who plundered them” (1 Samuel 14:47-48).

According to this passage, the Amalekites are a legitimate threat to Israel in that they have been “plundering” them.  Further, 1 Samuel 15:5 indicates that the Amalekites actually have a city which Saul attacked.  In verse 7 Saul deals them a massive blow, defeating them “from Havilah as far as Shur, which is east of Egypt,” which indicates a battle followed by a long rout as the soldiers fled.  Based on all of this information, Amalek might not be as powerful as Philistia, but it wasn’t exactly a single caravan of women and children.

In the series, however, the Amalekites are exactly that:  a single caravan of women and children that Saul and his men slaughtered in about 2 hours’ work.  Why did this series make a change of this magnitude to the Amalekites?  The answer lies in Saul’s dialogue with Samuel after committing his “war crime.”  Saul turns on Samuel and yells, “The Lord I revere does not slaughter women and children.”  To this Samuel responds, “He made you in His image.”  In other words, the depiction of God from these scenes is as a capricious and vengeful God who does in fact slaughter women and children for no reason and chose a similarly vengeful and bloodthirsty man to lead His people.

Saul and his war against the Amalekites is contrasted with David’s slaying of the lion in this episode.  While it is not laid out in the Bible exactly what happened with this incident (beyond the fact that it did happen), the depiction in the episode is not inaccurate, even if it is overdramatized for television.  The biggest complaint I have with this plot (aside from the casting) is in David’s motivation.  Simply put, he has none.  He wants to kill the lion to get his father’s debt forgiven, not to protect the sheep.  He does not see himself as fighting with the Lord on his side, but he still feels compelled to do it.  In fact, it is not until after David has slain the lion that Saul’s daughter Michal tells him that he did not kill it alone because the Lord was with him.  This is completely contrary to the David that we know in the Bible, who trusted the Lord for his entire life.  For example, 1 Samuel 17:34-37:

 David said to Saul, “Your servant used to keep sheep for his father.  And when there came a lion, or a bear, and took a lamb from the flock, I went after him and struck him and delivered it out of his mouth.  And if he arose against me, I caught him by his beard and struck him and killed him.  Your servant has struck down both lions and bears, and this uncircumcised Philistine shall be like one of them, for he has defied the armies of the living God.”

And David said, “The LORD who delivered me from the paw of the lion and from the paw of the bear will deliver me from the hand of this Philistine.”

That does not sound like a guy who didn’t realize that the Lord was with him!

I’m not entirely sure why Of Kings and Prophets included any of the sexual scenes it did (Note:  there wasn’t anything too explicit from it, though it was abundantly clear exactly what was happening in each scene).  First there’s Saul’s older daughter Merav who is betrothed to Mattiyahu, the son of a Judahite elder, as part of an arrangement to bring Judah under the banner of Saul.  However, Merav is evidently having an illicit affair with Mattiyahu (and doing so very loudly and publicly in her father’s house!) before the betrothal is finalized.  Michal (Saul’s younger daughter), whom we can consider the female lead in the love story, does not have any romantic scenes in this episode beyond a teasing comment about marrying a “commoner”—a not-so-subtle foreshadowing of her future relationship with David.  However, Ahinoam (Saul’s wife) does make it quite clear that Michal is not her daughter but rather the daughter of Saul’s concubine, something that does not appear in the Bible anywhere and doesn’t yet serve much purpose beyond showing that Saul doesn’t have the best home life.  And then there’s the concubine who performs an (implied) sexual act as Saul is preparing to go out to battle against the Amalekite—a concubine who is revealed to be a spy working for the Philistines.  Thus far none of the sexual content really adds to the story beyond appealing to the male audience.

Near the beginning of this review I commented on the casting choices.  Simply put, they are inconsistent.  The two main characters—David and Saul—are Caucasian (Ray Winstone (Saul) and Olly Rix (David) are both English).  The rest of the cast—with one obvious exception—at least looks Middle Eastern.  The exception, David Walmsley (David’s friend/cousin Yoab), evidently hails from the Irish part of Israel!  Frankly, that just plain does not work!  If they had cast all Caucasian actors for this series, there would almost certainly have been an outrage over the inaccuracy.  However, I would not have been annoyed by that as I am by this inconsistent casting!  Don’t get me wrong:  I’m sure that the actors are all very talented, and nothing jumped out at me from the performance in this episode.  But seeing a couple white guys, one of whom speaks in an Irish brogue, walking around what looks like the New Zealand countryside (it was actually filmed in South Africa, for the record) put me more in mind of The Lord of the Rings than The Holy Bible!

However, by far the most egregious error in this series so far comes in the portrayal of God—something which just about all Bible-based epic movies /TV shows share in common.  Simply put, God as they depict Him in this episode is not the God of the Bible.  The God of the Old Testament is not a God who is far off from His people and commands “war crimes” as was depicted in this episode.  The God of the Old Testament instead commands the people of Israel to be separate from the peoples of the land (the seven nations that lived in the land before them), which includes the command to utterly destroy them and their disgusting practices and idolatrous worship.  The reason for the war against the Amalekites is given in the episode (they attacked Israel on their way out of Egypt), but it is immediately retracted when Saul protests that they are a weak people with whom Israel is not at war.  No mention is made of the greater need to keep Israel pure and set apart from the nations.  No mention is made of the idolatry of the Amalekites and the other nations.  No; instead, a vengeful spirit (speaking through a jealous old prophet) demands the destruction of a pathetic band of nomads in retribution for a centuries-old crime as the payment for his blessing on the political machinations of a weak-willed king.

And that is the crux of the matter.  God is not the hero of this story.  God is a nebulous figure who commands the wholesale slaughter of women and children.

If you are squeamish about violence and sexual content, I wouldn’t recommend this series.  The violence factor is off the charts.  The sexual content is not on the same level as Game of Thrones, but there is one explicit sex scene in this episode and another heavily implied.  About the only thing I can say is that there is no bad language!  I am going to continue watching and reviewing this series to see if its Biblical accuracy improves, but I’m not exactly holding my breath for it.