Time to review the latest episodes of America’s favorite Bible-based sitcom, CBS’s Living Biblically. It’s great that the Bible is getting some positive attention in the mainstream, but we thought it would be fun to offer an episode-by-episode review, just to set the record straight on what the Bible really says and how it’s lived out according to the traditional interpretation of the people to whom it belongs. This time we are looking at episodes three and four.
In the mostly unremarkable and harmless episode three (which, according to the show’s narrative sequence, should have been released as episode two, not episode three), our hero Chip finds himself stumbling over the obligation to love his neighbor.
Episode Three: Love Thy Neighbor
Chip feels a little dismayed when his God Squad (a rabbi and a priest) informs him that, if he wants to live according to the Bible, he needs to love everyone. Nevertheless, he proceeds to make a go of it, making an effort to be friendly and to extend the benefit of the doubt to others. Noisy neighbors put him to the test, as does an annoying co-worker in the office. Rather than deflecting her with an unkind remark, Chip remembers his obligation to love his neighbor, and that inspires him to embrace her in an awkward hug—thereby incurring a reprimand for sexual harassment. Lesson learned: Loving one’s neighbor does not grant a license to grope.
In Judaism, where boundaries between genders are carefully guarded, one would be less likely to make that mistake. But what does it really mean to love one’s neighbor? It’s a question that occurred not only to the scriptwriters of Living Biblically but also to the sages, and they deduced that loving one’s neighbor as yourself can be expressed like this: “What is hateful to you, do not do to your neighbor.” Likewise, our Master Yeshua taught the same interpretation in the inverse: “Whatever you wish that others would do to you, do also to them” (Matthew 7:12).
Episode Four: Thou Shalt Not Steal
Episode four begins with Chip attempting to buy a new Bible so that he can keep one in the bathroom where he reads it. OK. I get that a lot of people read in the bathroom, but, just for the record, in the Jewish tradition, we don’t read holy books in the bathroom. In fact, we don’t even take holy books into a bathroom. That’s a basic matter of propriety derived from Deuteronomy 23:13-14. But that discussion is not really germane to the point of the episode.
In episode four, Chip frustrates his wife and his co-workers by scrupulously avoiding theft in order to fulfill the Bible’s prohibition on stealing. Chip has a crisis of conscience for what he calls “under the table cable,” that is, using free cable without actually paying for the premium channels. He needs the premium channels so that he and his wife can watch Game of Thrones. Chip admits that he likes the HBO show for the nudity and his wife enthusiastically concedes that she likes the incest scenes, but those rather jarring confessions are apparently not on the radar as problems for Living Biblically. Chip does the right thing and starts paying for the premium channels so that he and his wife can enjoy their favorite TV show guilt-free. I think there’s supposed to be some intentional irony there, but I’m not sure.
On the strength of Ezekiel 33:15, Chip attempts to return things that he has stolen in the past. I was impressed by the spot-on reference to a deep-cut in the Prophets.
If he turns from his sin and does what is just and right … gives back what he has taken by robbery … none of the sins that he has committed shall be remembered against him. He has done what is just and right; he shall surely live. (Ezekiel 33:14-16)
It’s a great shout-out to the prophets’ repentance message. I mean, how often does Ezekiel get cited on prime time television?
At work, Chip’s commitment to integrity causes more problems when he chastises his coworkers for stealing office supplies. Conscience-stricken, he attempts to return office supplies that he has stolen in the past, but a security guard catches him and assumes he is stealing the supplies rather than returning them. Meanwhile, his co-workers are chapped at him because he has ruined the fun of daily petty theft. Chip remorsefully realizes that he has become “a Bible-pusher,” and he resolves to keep his convictions to himself and no longer foist them on others. That seems to be the main takeaway from the episode. Lesson learned: Keep your religious convictions to yourself.
Episode four’s scrupulous attention to detail is consistent with Jewish interpretation on the prohibition against theft. The Torah calls us to use just weights and measures, checking and rechecking our actions lest we are misappropriating something, taking advantage of someone, or even inadvertently stealing something. The sages warn against all forms of theft. According to Jewish law, the prohibition applies even to an object worth less than a perutah (a penny). A story in the Talmud tells of one sage who refused even to answer questions while working as a day-laborer lest he steal time purchased by his employer. That standard has implications for the extended coffee break and those long chats around the water cooler.
Episodes three and four of Living Biblically turned out to be mostly harmless without creating any real concern about misinterpretations of the Bible. If the show encourages viewers to start thinking about the Bible or what it means to apply God’s principles to daily life, it’s doing a good thing. There are certainly worse things to watch on television. I only wish the show was also funny.
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