The Greatest Story Ever Sold
by Bill Dodds
No one could accuse the people who started Visual International in
1993 of thinking small. Their goal was and is to create" The
Visual Bible," to get all the books of the Old and New Testament
made into video movies-word for word.
Visual International, a South African company, has already
released its four-hour, four-tape versions of the Gospel of
Matthew and Acts of the Apostles. And production is scheduled to
begin on The Book of Esther later this year.
The first two films, "Matthew" and "Acts," which were privately
funded, each cost $3.5 million to make, according to David
Seibert, president and CEO of Visual Entertainment, Inc. It's the
Dallas-based company that holds all rights for North American
distribution of The Visual Bible series.
Now it's "taking the lead" with Visual International to continue
the project, Seibert told Our Sunday Visitor.
"We have lots of interested people w] want to finance the films,"
he explain adding that both companies are no denominational, corporations. And business is booming.
"Matthew" and "Acts" each sell for $99.95 and currently are
available only through Visual Entertainment's toll-free number
According to Seibert, over the past two years the company has
managed to sell some 40,000 units of The Visual Bible just over
the phone. But business should pick up soon.
"In the fall, we'll be just about everywhere," Seibert said.
That's when the tapes will be on sale in major retail chains and
But what are consumers getting for the money? "A cast of
thousands" filmed on location in Tunisia and South Africa.
Veteran actor Richard Kiley plays St. Matthew, dictating to his
scribes the story of Jesus. Bruce Marchiano plays an
uncharacteristically joyful Jesus (see sidebar).
In "Acts," Dean Jones plays St. Luke, author of that New Testament
book. In each film, as Kiley or Jones begins to tell the story,
the scenes come to life.
Among the other better-known actors in "Acts" are James Brolin
(who played the young sidekick on "Marcus Welby, M.D.") as St.
Peter, and Jennifer O'Neill of "Summer of '42" as Lydia.
Lydia? She's a minor character in the Acts of the Apostles (see
Although The Visual Bible people claim to present Scripture
without adding or subtracting a word, in "Acts," to quote a
synopsis supplied in its press kit, "Paul experiences a profoundly
moving meeting with the beautiful and intriguing Lydia....
Although drawn to one another, they realize that their
relationship is not to be, and part forever."
Well. . . maybe.
But in Scripture, all one is told of Lydia is that she was "a
dealer in purple cloth from the city of Thyatira. "After she heard
Paul preach and was converted, she invited the apostle and the
others to stay at her house, "where they saw and encouraged the
brothers, and then they left."
A relationship-or romance-between Lydia and St. Paul that "is not
to be" is surely a matter of The Visual Bible's loose
interpretation, and perhaps inevitable dramatic license.
Of course, to begin with, The Visual Bible follows the New
International Version- a popular Protestant translation-of
That means, too, that Visual International wants to produce a
movie for each of the 66 books of the Protestant canon, not the 73
of the Catholic.
In the same way, The Visual Bible doesn't always present a
"Catholic" interpretation Scripture either. The Protestant view
isn't overt, but it's there. For example, early "Matthew," Joseph
is awakened in the night by an angel and Mary is shown sleeping by
his side with her arm over him. But none of this is to say that
Catholics cannot or will not enjoy "Matthew" and "Acts," or be
moved by them.
And Visual Entertainment and Visual International hope to move of
According to Seibert, their goal is to have the books completed
within 15 years and "reach 1 billion people with The Visual
Bible." They want to have it "in 90 percent of the homes in North
America within seven years."
Judging from the success the series has already enjoyed, it
probably won't take divine intervention to reach that goal.
Dodds is editor of Our Sunday Visitor's Catholic Heritage magazine
This article was taken from the November 24, 1996 issue of Our
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Copyright (c) 1996 EWTN Online Services.