Comment: the Bible and EastEnders

So every EastEnders storyline comes from the Bible, apparently.  Jennifer Robins, storyliner on the show, said yesterday that “the prototype of every EastEnders story can be traced back to one source: David and Goliath, Daniel in the Lions’ Den, Samson and Delilah, Sodom and Gomorrah, the fall, all the Bible stories.”

It's easy to see why: the Bible is bursting with human stories that will be around as long as people are – and it's got to be one of the most honest, insightful, hard-hitting and brilliantly constructed collection of books about what Rowan Williams calls 'the really important debates in the public arena [which] are about what it means to be human'.

But Christians protest: 'EastEnders characters are so bad, they're so nasty, they're so morbid and dark and depressing!'  (Of course, these same objections are also frequently levelled at Christians.)  'The programme doesn't always show 'God botherers' in the best light!  It continually confronts us with a repertoire of dubious ethical choices!'  In short, the question comes: 'how can you call EastEnders biblical when the characters are so disobedient to its teaching?' 

This is where one starts to wonder if people have actually been reading their Bibles.

Firstly, the Bible has more storyline than it does lists of commands.  It's a collection of real stories about real people and real relationships.  Something like 70% of the Bible is written in narrative form.  By comparison, there are actually not that many column inches of finger-wagging instructions or definitive stances on binary ethical issues or divine dictats about good behaviour.  If we'd rather get values-by-rote than stories, we'll have a hard time with the Bible.

And, secondly: EastEnders storylines are tame in comparison to some of the Bible's!  Has there ever been an incident on Albert Square where two daughters plot together to get their dad drunk and have incestuous sex with him in the hope of getting pregnant (Genesis 19)?  Or where a father sacrifices his daughter because she's the first thing he sees when he gets home, and he has to keep his promise (Judges 11)?  If the BBC are looking for 'gritty' storylines, how about the one where a military leader fast-tracks an ordinary soldier to the front-line to be killed so that said leader can get together with the soldier's widow (2 Samuel 11)?  Or, if we're going to stick to only 'nice' TV, would, say, the stoning of Stephen (Acts 7) ever make it on to our screens?

That doesn't mean that the point of these stories is to condone the behaviour in them, or that the God of the Bible relishes these things. Far from it!  But sometimes we can be so quick to rush to 'the point', or to get to its teaching, that we bypass the human story part altogether.  

Maybe that's why the suggestion that EastEnders takes its storylines from the Bible can raise a few eyebrows.  But the fact that the Bible is what it is means that we shouldn't be surprised that it is such an important resource in the world of literature, the visual arts, music and, yes, even soap operas.

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