Narrators: Richard Kiley, Jean Simmons. No program title device is more kicked around than the term “mystery,” yet a documentary exploration into the life of the Biblical patriarch Abraham makes the term unavoidable. What inner voice could, after all, persuade a 75-year-old father-figure, son of a maker of idols, to drag his family over vast desert spaces in search of the One True, Invisible God?
The episode on Abraham begins this second season of biblical explorations (achieved mostly through visual documentation rather than modern reenactments). A&E’s “Abraham” surrounds an attractive array of ancient art with contemporary narrative pomposity, cocooned in the almost unbearable pretentiousness of Vaughn Johnson’s pseudo-reverential score.
The episode begins to hint at the complexity of Abraham’s life and mission, but stops short of revelation.
Acting under orders from Above, the archetypal Abraham moved his family and followers from one settlement to another; produced one son, Ishmael, with another woman when his own wife, Sarah, proved barren; and produced a second son , Isaac, at 100, when Sarah suddenly turned fertile.
Following further orders from On High, he was prepared to sacrifice Isaac when his hand was stayed by a heaven-sent angel, thus establishing for all time the balance of authority between man and deity. With Ishmael and Isaac, he helped lay the groundwork for the world’s three monotheistic religions.
Since much of Abraham’s true stature is defined through indirection in “Genesis,” his story inspires vast speculation and argument among Jews, Moslems and Christians, and some of this resounds in cameo appearances throughout the program by an ecumenical gathering of experts; their statements on the historical significance of the real or imagined Abraham add some intellectual backbone.
The ongoing narration is intoned by “Man of La Mancha’s” Richard Kiley and “The Robe’s” Jean Simmons, two seasoned veterans in the dispensation of the vacuous resonance and, thus, very much at home here.