When a book is made into a film, journalists often ask experts, “How accurate is it?” This usually generates a list of “errors” and ends in a negative judgment on the film’s quality. This is the wrong question. Instead, one should explore what the changes to the story mean, or, even more significantly, they should ask, how are a film’s additions, deletions, and other narrative changes combined with its accurate portrayals?

This essay begins by presenting an ancient mode of translation that interwove accurate, literal translation with additions and alterations to create a new rendering in which the changes were hidden within the straight translation. This translation style is known as targum, the texts it created are called targums (=targumim), and the mode of hiding the additional material is called “hidden midrash.” The essay will explain the six Rules of Targum and briefly show how they work in Targum Neofiti’s translation of the Adam and Eve story.

The translation of books into films, particularly in the case of Scripture films that wish to draw upon Scripture’s authority, provide a parallel case for the use of hidden midrash in the modern period. The essay will look at George Steven’s film, The Greatest Story Ever Told, and show how the film uses the Rules of Targum to present an authoritative picture of John the Baptist—even as it changes that picture’s details.

Other films that wish to be seen as authoritative and faithful to their originary text, not just Scripture films, may use the technique of hidden midrash. The essay ends with a brief analysis of the recent film Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone to show how it uses targumic techniques to alter the story while maintaining its aura of faithfulness to the book.