Durham University
Programme and Module Handbook

Postgraduate Programme and Module Handbook 2007-2008 (archived)

Module THEO50630: The Bible in the Cinema

Department: Theology and Religion

THEO50630: The Bible in the Cinema

Type Open Level 4 Credits 30 Availability Available in 2007/08 Module Cap


  • None


  • None

Excluded Combination of Modules

  • None.


  • to introduce the critical study of cinematic adaptations of biblical narratives
  • to explore the complex relations between the films and their various sources
  • to investigate a selection of issues raised by the films and the critical literature


  • The first films based on biblical narratives were made in the 1890s, and therefore the history of the cinematic adaptation of the Jewish and Christian scriptures is almost as long as the history of the cinema itself. It is only in recent years, however, that these films have become the object of serious and sustained study for film scholars and for specialists in biblical and theological studies. This module involves the analysis of a selection of films – some American, some European, some populist, some ‘art house’ – based on biblical narratives, and it explores the relationships between the films and their sources, their stylistic features, issues of narrative and characterisation, and the questions of religious, ethnic and sexual identity raised by the films.
  • In the first term, following a survey of the history of the ‘Hollywood biblical epic’, and an introduction to some critical issues in the analysis of the genre, the module gives special attention to cinematic adaptations of Old Testament narratives, such as The Ten Commandments (Cecil B. DeMille, 1956). The focus shifts, in the second term, to cinematic adaptations of the gospels, with particular emphasis on the portrayal of Jesus, the representation of other characters from the gospels, and the treatment of Jewish rituals and Christian sacraments. The films selected for critical analysis will vary from year to year, but will usually include films such as King of Kings (Nicholas Ray, 1961), The Gospel According to St Matthew (Pier Paolo Pasolini, 1964), The Greatest Story Ever Told (George Stevens, 1965), The Last Temptation of Christ (Martin Scorsese, 1988), and The Passion of the Christ (Mel Gibson, 2004).

Learning Outcomes

Subject-specific Knowledge:
  • knowledge of the history of the cinematic adaptation of biblical narratives
  • understanding of the stylistic characteristics of the films selected for analysis
  • knowledge of the relations between the films and scriptural and other sources
  • understanding of a selection of critical issues raised by the films under analysis
Subject-specific Skills:
  • the ability to analyse the narrative and stylistic characteristics of selected films
  • the ability to identify the relations between these films and their various sources
  • the ability to evaluate the significance of filmmakers’ choices with respect to the representation of specific individuals, groups, and institutions
  • the ability to utilise insights from the study of the films and of the critical literature on the films in the exploration of issues in biblical, theological or religious studies
Key Skills:
  • advanced research skills, including the ability to locate, evaluate, and summarise key sources, both in print and online, and to cite them to a professional standard
  • advanced communication skills, including the ability to construct a sophisticated argument, supported by the sources, in a clear, concise and convincing manner

Modes of Teaching, Learning and Assessment and how these contribute to the learning outcomes of the module

  • The lectures supply a framework of information and interpretation, which gives students an overview of a subject and a point of departure for their work, introducing subject-specific knowledge and demonstrating the use of subject-specific skills.
  • The tutorials give students an opportunity to present plans for their work, and to receive feedback on their formative work, on a one-to-one basis, promoting the development of subject-specific and key skills.
  • The seminars give students an opportunity to present the results of their work, and, in dialogue with one another and with staff, to evaluate these results, promoting the development of subject-specific and key skills.
  • The essays require students to investigate particular topics, to present the results of their investigations in a clear and concise manner, and to cite their sources fully, accurately, and consistently, assessing subject-specific knowledge, subject-specific skills, and key skills.

Teaching Methods and Learning Hours

Activity Number Frequency Duration Total/Hours
Lectures 2 1 per term 2 4
Tutorials 4 2 per term 1 4
Seminars 8 4 per term 2 16
Preparation and Reading 276
Total 300

Summative Assessment

Component: Essay Component Weighting: 100%
Element Length / duration Element Weighting Resit Opportunity
Essay 5000 words 100%

Formative Assessment:

One 5000 word essay.

Attendance at all activities marked with this symbol will be monitored. Students who fail to attend these activities, or to complete the summative or formative assessment specified above, will be subject to the procedures defined in the University's General Regulation V, and may be required to leave the University