Representations of the Bible and the Ancient Near East in Film: From Griffith to Grindhouse

27 Oct 2022


Announced by the University of Pittsburgh:

Friends of ASOR present the next webinar in our monthly series on October 27, 2022, at 6:00 pm EDT, featuring Prof. Kevin McGeough and moderated by ANE Today Editor, Dr. Alex Joffe. The Bible and the Ancient Near East have been a subject of movies from the earliest days of film to the present. Stories of Cleopatra, Samson, Moses, and Jesus were compelling for audiences and the challenges of recreating the ancient world in a realistic fashion left viewers awestruck. Films about the ancient world have often been on the cutting edge of cinematic technology because of this, from D.W. Griffith’s recreation of ancient Babylon, to the “cinemascope” of The Robe, to the CGI of Ridley Scott’s Gladiator. However, films like these have also often been flash points for discussions of contemporary moral life. One of the main themes that Dr. McGeough will explore is how these films offer “typological arguments” in which the values of the viewer’s era are justified by witnessing characters with recognizable modern beliefs in ancient situations pitted against villains who hold the opposite values, which are associated with contemporary “others”. After the 1950s, these films showcased veterans dealing with the trauma of their violent encounters, who could be soothed by a faithful wife and by settling down with a family. American Protestantism and democracy are shown, especially through biblical epics of the 1950s and 1960s, as the natural culmination of history. Dr. McGeough argues that viewing the 21st-century Middle East through these lenses has an impact on actual US foreign policy, and these media treatments influence us in unexpected (and often unseeable) ways. Arguments from these films offer apparent scientific accuracy for popular audiences because film can be so realistic. Ironically then, even archaeologically informed film-making can undermine what makes archaeological research in real life so valuable.

These films wax and wane in popularity, so join Prof. McGeough as he explains why this has been the case and discusses how different genres of film impact how the ancient world is treated in the modern era. The webinar will conclude with a live Q&A session moderated by ANE Today Editor, Dr. Alex Joffe.

Dr. Kevin McGeough is Professor of Archaeology in the Department of Geography & Environment at the University of Lethbridge where he holds a Board of Governor’s Research Chair in Archaeological Theory and Reception. (The University of Lethbridge is likely the only university in the world in which biblical Hebrew is taught in a geography department). He has excavated in Israel, Egypt, Turkey, Jordan, and Canada and is a co-director of The University of Lethbridge-Royal Alberta Museum Excavations at Head-Smashed-In Buffalo Jump, in southern Alberta.

Kevin has been involved with ASOR publications since his days as an undergraduate, when he compiled an index for five years of Biblical Archaeologist. He has been the editor of ASOR’s Archaeological Report Series and the Annual of ASOR, and is now chair of ASOR’s Committee on Publications. He is currently co-editor of the Alberta Archaeological Review, and is the author of Exchange Relationships at Ugarit, Ugaritic Economic Tablets, and a three-volume work, The Ancient Near East in the Nineteenth Century. His most recent book is Representations of Antiquity in Film: From Griffith to Grindhouse.

This webinar will be recorded and all paid registrants will be sent a link to view the recording.

Cost: ASOR Sustaining Members: $0 | ASOR Members: $6 | Public: $12

Event Date: 
Thursday, October 27, 2022 - 6:00pm to 7:00pm
Sponsored By: 
The Friends of the American Schools of Overseas Research