The place of Biblical epics as a genre is an interesting one. Some people are quick to point out that they are never fully accurate to scripture and therefore detract from it. And yet, for a young mind not yet sophisticated enough to relish in long sessions of scripture reading, a cinematic depiction of a Bible story may be a formative connecting point that endears the scriptures to someone before they have even read them.

So it was with me and the 1995 film Joseph, one of very few VHS’s at my Grandma’s house and so, a film I asked to watch many, many times. If I didn’t already have a fascination with Egypt, this movie would’ve clenched it. Whatever its inaccuracies, I never forgot the example of Joseph standing before Pharaoh and refusing to bow because he would only bow to God and Pharaoh’s surprising response, “Take heed, magicians, whatever else, I know that this man won’t lie to me to save his life.” It was an imagined exchange, and yet captured the integrity that Joseph really does display throughout the scriptural account of his life.

Joseph delivered Egypt and his own family from destruction, but as we all know, many centuries later, his people needed saving again and God sent Moses to be the conduit for that salvation. Moses’ story has been told on film again and again. Some would say, it’s already been done and done well, so why does it bear revisiting? The Ten Commandments is an iconic movie like no other; The Prince of Egypt added a near perfect soundtrack to the story. And yet, just as we don’t read the scriptures just one time and gain all there is to learn from them, each new depiction offers new perspective and insight by its chosen approach. The latest of these is Netflix’s Testament: The Story of Moses.

Unlike the other Moses films I mentioned, Testament: The Story of Moses is not strictly a narrative film, it is a docudrama that combines sequences of cinematic reenactment with talking heads interviews. The interviews uniquely combine the insights of religious leaders, scholars, and historians from Jewish, Christian, and Muslim backgrounds. Though a title card before the first episode clarifies that “their contribution is meant to enrich the narrative, but should not be understood as consensus”, the journey of the three-part miniseries ultimately refreshed me with the thought that these three major Abrahamic traditions, though they disagree on so much, all look together to Moses as an example.

The series did an excellent job of choosing what insights to include at what points, with commentary ranging from the spiritually personal to the politically sweeping. It was as though you were studying the story of Moses verse by verse with enough time to stop and reflect on the implications of many story details that you might miss if you were soldiering onward for the sake of narrative pacing.

That said, unlike reenactments where it is clear the effort and budget were put into the interviews and the narrative portions are poorly thrown together B-roll for a little visual interest, this series really felt equally carried by the strength of the “docu” and the strength of the “drama.”

Across three 90-minute episodes we watch Moses go from his early years in Egypt; to life as an outcast and murderer trying to find his way through the guilt to a livelihood in a new land; to his calling from God to return to Egypt; through his confrontations with its dogged ruler; all the way through to the Red Sea and the wilderness journey that lies beyond. Yes, its final episode even includes a good 40 minutes just about life in the wilderness after the exodus, a portion of the story that is usually left out, favoring instead the implication that once the Red Sea closed back up the children of Israel lived happily ever after.

In particular, I found the dynamic between the Pharaoh and Moses to be well-written and compellingly depicted by the actors. It lacks some of the intimacy of other depictions that never let you forget that they would’ve known each other very well from Moses’ younger years. But as one commentator puts it, “Pharaoh’s…least redeeming trait is his arrogance, as Moses’ number one character trait is described as humility. So, it’s arrogance vs. humility on full display.” Watching the insistent stubbornness of the Pharaoh as he is shown more dramatic witnesses of God’s power than nearly any other person in history was both maddening and fascinating to observe. It truly shows you a hardened heart incarnate.

The source material for this production came from sources beyond just the King James Version of the Bible in its continued effort to represent multiple Abrahamic faith traditions. As such, some of the things portrayed are not parts of the story I had ever seen or considered before. Though some reviewers were quick to complain about that, I found it enhanced and added interest to the experience of the series. And if, as a person of faith, it compels you to return to your own trusted scripture to verify your faith’s canonical details, all the better.

That’s the power of the Biblical epic as a genre of film. The very first YouTube comment on the trailer for the Testament: The Story of Moses as of this writing says, “Don’t ever learn religion through movies,” and in many ways, I agree. I wouldn’t want my testimony to be “I believe in that 1995 Joseph movie starring Ben Kingsley.” But the Bible has some of the most gripping and cinematically promising stories that have ever been written, and adapting them to film is a no-brainer. What’s more, seeing a scripture story depicted in a way that makes it unforgettable to you is an invitation to a conversation regardless of the film’s weak points or inaccuracies. (Some of that conversation is already happening in real time in this particular film’s format). Within two days of being released, this series had already hit the number one show being watched on Netflix in 55 countries. That’s a lot of people stepping out of their daily lives to think about Moses and the power of God unto salvation.

I would encourage anyone with access to Netflix to give Testament: The Story of Moses a watch, not only for its insight and interest and to communicate to that streaming service and others that we want more invitations to these types of conversations.