The Greatest Story Ever Sold

Authored By: Bill Dodds

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 (800-673-1596).

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 bookstores.

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 16:14-15, 40).

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 Scripture.

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 people.

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 Sunday Visitor. To subscribe write Our Sunday Visitor, Inc, 200 Noll Plaza, Huntington, In 46750.

Our Sunday Visitor is published weekly at a subscription rate of $36.00 per year.

Copyright (c) 1996 EWTN Online Services.

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