It's a historical drama that seems more like Vikings or even Game of Thrones, but, technically, ABC's upcoming series Of Kings & Prophets is based on a historical document — The Books of Samuel, part of the Old Testament. But given that it looks like a sword and sandals adventure rather than a dry historical adaptation, how accurate is Of Kings & Prophets? Is it a true story? The answer is twofold, since the show is taking its cues from the Bible, not historians. And, even then, Of Kings & Prophets has decided to take some liberties from the Bible's account of the fall of Saul and rise of David. But, changes almost always necessary in an adaptation — fitting Of Kings & Prophets into the framework of a television series necessitates adding new characters, expanding some parts of the story, and fleshing out action sequences like battles to keep up the heart-pounding action.
While some archaeologists believe there's a historical basis for the stories of King Saul and King David, many others are skeptical. As reporter Richard Ostling wrote in a 2003 Fredericksburg News article, evidence that the Book of Samuel is real is up to interpretation by the many historians who study the ancient Middle East: "Traditionalists say the Old Testament reliably records ancient Israel's history or, more liberally, is substantially historical, though with problems and mistakes," he wrote. "[While others believe] we can't be sure 'the real history' of that Israel 'has much — if anything — to do with the history of the Israel' depicted in the Old Testament."
The show is replicating the same characters who play major roles in the Book of Samuel. Of Kings & Prophets may be hiding behind several layers of fictionalization, but it tells a story that's been played out many times: A young man, in this case a shepherd named David, has to embrace his destiny as the eventual king, while the current king, Saul, fights to retain control of his kingdom. The trailer also mentions several key events from the Books of Samuel, including David proving himself by killing a lion and Saul's rejection as king after he sins against Yaweh.
At the Television Critics' Association, the producers of Of Kings & Prophets, Adam Cooper and Bill Collage, told Deadline that they were mindful of their adaptation's accuracy. But, while they built an overall account they call "faithful," producer Chris Brancato added, "We have to fill in what we call the negative space, the psychological complexity and motivations of these characters… we’ve sought to make the show modern, to have a modern pulse."
It seems that Of Kings & Prophets will use the biblical backdrop to lend the series a sense of gravitas and borrow some of its storylines — but you can approach the upcoming ABC series like you would any other drama. Come for the epic action, stay for the characters, and don't read the book it's based on if you don't want spoilers.
Image: Trevor Adeline/ABC