One of the most striking dimensions of the Old Testament is its realism. In the stories of Jacob and Joseph (the stolen blessing, Jacob's wooing of Rachel, his reunion with Esau, Joseph being sold by his brothers to Egypt, his adventures with Potiphar and the Pharaoh, and his reconciliation with his brothers) we find tragedy and triumph, depression and joy, jealousy and reconciliation, hate and love, anger and forgiveness the same qualities we see in ourselves and those around us. In the drama of these Biblical patriarchs, there are no plasterboard saints but complicated human beings grappling with all the emotions, anxieties, successes, and failures that fill our own days and deeds.
The creative and inspirational source behind this drama filmed in Israel is Mildred Freed Alberg, a woman who has received many awards as a television producer, especially for her work on "Hallmark Hall of Fame" presentations. She has brought together a stunning group of international actresses and actors including Colleen Dewhurst (Rebekah), Keith Mitchell (Jacob), Tony Lo Bianco (Joseph), Herschel Bernardi (Leban), Harry Andres (Isaac), and Julian Glover (Esau). Actor Alan Bates serves as narrator for the Jacob and Joseph stories. The director is Michael Cacoyannis, a man with a special gift for the Mediterranean milieu (Zorba the Greek and Electra). Music for the show was created by Mikis Theodorakis (State of Siege, Zorba the Greek). Ernest Kinoy wrote the script in a simple, elegant style.
A great deal of research went into this two-hour film. Alberg spent two years studying archaeological findings on the customs and ways of life in ancient Israel. Dr. David Noel Freedman, co-editor of the Anchor Bible Series, served as consultant, providing additional background material and helping the producer interpret the stories.
Any artist who seeks to deal with Biblical material faces a difficult task. Part of the essential mystery, beauty, and magnificence of Old and New Testament stories is their spareness. The German novelist Thomas Mann took sixteen years to write his four-volume epic Joseph and His Brothers. Yet many readers found his novels too lengthy, too heavily philosophical, and lacking in spiritual vitality.
Alberg described her approach: "We are attempting to portray the people of the Biblical narratives in the way they lived and as real people, according to all we now know about them. In the film The Ten Commandments, for example, when Moses writes on the tablets, fire comes from his fingers. That is the kind of thing we tried to avoid in our film. In our drama, the people are simple people with strong beliefs. When God talks to Rebekah, you don't hear the voice of God in deep, mellifluous tones. Instead, there is an absolutely marvelous moment when she suddenly realizes she's hearing the Lord. Later, when she's giving birth, she says with great excitement, 'God spoke to me, God said . . .' "
The stories of Jacob and Joseph are undoubtedly fit material for reinterpretation; they are dramatic and emotional dynamite. Everyone will have to judge for him/herself whether this film rings true to the Biblical accounts and brings us a fresher understanding of these people, God, and ourselves.