Biblical Studies Bible and Film
Rhonda Burnette-Bletsch
  • LAST REVIEWED: 19 April 2024
  • LAST MODIFIED: 19 April 2024
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780195393361-0329


Bible and Film is an interdisciplinary field concerned with the complex interplay and multiple intersections between moving images and biblical texts. While “film” continues to be used as a shorthand, the constant evolution of technology and storytelling forms means that Bible and Film research might engage with any media that involves moving images (e.g., television, streamed content, video shorts, commercial advertising). Researchers in this field employ diverse methodologies in pursuit of equally diverse goals (reception history, film history, cultural studies, genre analysis, intertextual conversations, political/ideological criticism, semiotics, adaptation/translation theory, hermeneutics, theology/homiletics, innovative pedagogy). One direction of research examines media that overtly adapt biblical texts by retelling an identifiable story using identifiable characters (Bible “on” film). Other researchers are interested in films that appropriate the Bible in different ways, such as quotation, allusion, or the use of biblical imagery or paradigms (Bible “in” film). Still other work in the field indicates that certain films or film genres function similarly to given biblical texts or genres by exorcising cultural fears, expressing lament, exploring theodicy, or upending social givens through subversive narratives (film “as” Bible). A fourth direction of fruitful research is the analysis of films that bear no tangible relationship to a biblical text but nonetheless generate mutually enriching insights when placed in critical conversation with the Bible (Bible “and” film). In all these endeavors, good research moves beyond the identification of biblical elements in film or the compare-and-contrast approach. As semiotic analysis recognizes, a profound act of translation occurs when appropriating aspects of a written text into the radically different system of signs constituted by the moving image. This recognition demands attention to non-narrative aspects of media and a deeper engagement with film theory. Cultural studies and reception studies move beyond the identification of biblical elements in media to the analysis of how such films reflect and respond to their cultural contexts of production and consumption. Why appropriate aspects of the Bible in this historical-cultural moment? For what purpose? What relationships of power and privilege are legitimated or challenged by these films/texts? Such questions are posed of Bible and Film by ideological criticism. Finally, scholars employing genre theory and intertextuality studies move beyond compare-and-contrast approaches by allowing the analysis of Bible and/in/on/as film to create a mutually illuminating dialogue. A critical encounter between Bible and Film, when neither is privileged over the other, generates fresh understandings of each.


Included in this section are works that identify and summarize a wide range of movies considered pertinent to Bible and Film studies. Some of these surveys do little more than summarize film plots while others provide insightful analysis of individual films. While dated, Campbell and Pitts 1981 remains the most comprehensive source for Western cinema through 1980. However, all such catalogues are inevitably selective and become outdated shortly after publication due to continued cinematic production. Exceptions to this rule are Shepherd 2013 and Shepherd 2016, which focus on Bible films during the closed canon of the silent era (1897–1927). Shepherd’s work fills in an important lacuna for Bible and film studies by making accessible early Bible movies found only in film archives. While Page 2022 makes no claim to be exhaustive, it does an admirable job of being inclusive of films from diverse world cinemas and throughout the course of film history. Reinhartz 2012, while also in no sense comprehensive, is important as a source that extends beyond Bible films (Bible on film) to also include mainstream movies that bear some tangible connection to biblical texts, tropes, or images (Bible in film).

  • Campbell, Richard H., and Michael R. Pitts. The Bible on Film: A Checklist 1897–1980. Metuchen, NJ: Scarecrow Press, 1981.

    This work provides an expansive, if incomplete, catalogue of American and European films featuring biblical stories and characters that were released before 1980. The authors present these films chronologically under the overarching categories of the Old Testament (including the apocrypha) and New Testament. A separate chapter offers a limited selection of television episodes and series that reimagine biblical texts.

  • Page, Matthew. 100 Bible Films. BFI Screen Guides. London: Bloomsbury, 2022.

    DOI: 10.5040/9781839023569

    Page provides an accessible survey of Bible films that span cinema history and illustrate the adaptation of biblical texts to film in diverse cultural and historical contexts. Each film receives roughly two pages of discussion, including high-quality film stills. Page’s introduction also includes useful discussions of race and anti-Semitism in Bible films.

  • Reinhartz, Adele, ed. Bible and Cinema: Fifty Key Films. London: Routledge, 2012.

    This work offers insightful essays on fifty films, mostly written by leading scholars in the field. Twenty-five of these essays focus on Bible films and twenty-five analyze mainstream films that somehow borrow from or allude to biblical texts. This collection explicitly emphasizes Hollywood films, with a few notable exceptions.

  • Shepherd, David J. The Bible on Silent Film: Spectacle, Story, and Scripture in the Early Cinema. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 2013.

    DOI: 10.1017/CBO9781107337152

    Shepherd provides a detailed survey and engaging narrative analysis of Bible films in cinema’s silent era, many of which are accessible only in archives. He discusses emerging cinema’s reliance on older forms (e.g., visual arts and passion plays) and the new possibilities this medium presented for spectacle in retelling and reimagining biblical stories. Shepherd’s work challenges the field’s tendency to focus exclusively on Hollywood by drawing attention to the pre-Hollywood era.

  • Shepherd, David J., ed. The Silents of Jesus in the Cinema (1897–1927). Routledge Studies in Religion and Film 5. New York: Routledge, 2016.

    This work offers essays on thirteen silent Jesus films, written by a variety of experts in the field. These essays illustrate the genesis and early evolution of the cinematic Jesus. The collection includes both well-known and obscure silent films that are inaccessible outside of media archives.

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