Last Sunday, the first installment of History’s five-part miniseries The Bible beat everything on television with a massive 13.1 million viewers, making it cable’s most-watched entertainment telecast this year.
For producer Mark Burnett, who worked on the ten-hour special with wife Roma Downey, the success of The Bible isn’t all that surprising. “It will be, over the next 40 or 50 years, the most watched thing that Roma and I have ever made,” he told EW, quite confidently, back in January.
At the time, Burnett gushed about shooting the series. “I really believe what I’m going to tell you right now,” he said. “The hand of God was on this…. the edit came together perfectly, the actors came together perfectly, it just comes to life.” But Burnett wasn’t just speaking about how well the practicalities of production had gone. “Weird things happened during filming,” he said. “Everybody would look at each other like, “Whoa.”
Here are a few of the “weird things” he was talking about:
A mighty desert wind
“There’s a scene with Jesus and Nicodemus, when Nicodemus comes to Jesus in the night. It’s a very still night, not a breath of wind, and we’re on the edge of the Sahara desert in a palm grove in an oasis… Jesus says, ‘The Holy Spirit is like the wind.’ At that moment, a wind, like as if a 747 was taking off, blew his hair, almost blew the set over and sustained for 20 seconds across the desert, and the actors didn’t break — they kept going. And everything stopped. Everyone just looked at everyone like, ‘What just happened?'”
The missing frock
“We had hundreds of craftsmen working [on making costumes], and the most important costume was Jesus’ costume. Every time, at the end of the day, the costume’s got to be taken away to be maintained. So when we were doing the baptism scenes, it’s completely immersed in water. During it, a portion of the costume came away. We shot this in a giant reservoir on the edge of the Sahara desert, so we’re never going to find this again. It’s really bad. Every time you lose something, you’ve got five months ahead, and you can’t replicate these costumes. Four days later, a kid showed up from many, many, many miles away, who had been seeking us through the desert to return this to us. He didn’t know what it was why he should seek us, but he felt he had to return it.”
Cobras at the cross
“We had a snake wrangler every day on the set. I mean, we’ve got a couple hundred people shooting, and we can’t afford to have people getting bitten by snakes. Every day, this guy would find a snake or maybe two snakes, and remove them. On the day of the crucifixion, a lot of people prayed. The cross was a huge thing. They prayed [for safety], ‘Imagine if this cross fell. The actor playing Jesus could be killed or badly injured.’ The snake man came to work that day — he’d gotten there early on the mountain playing Golgotha, and the bag of snakes [he was carrying] was the biggest bag I’d ever seen. He came to my wife and said, ‘Miss Roma, there were 48 snakes.’ He found 48 cobras and vipers hidden within the rocks around the cross.”
Whether or not you believe these were on-set miracles or just mere coincidences, one thing is certain — The Bible’s ratings are , in fact, pretty divine.