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AD: The Bible Continues
Review of Episode Eight
By Gary F. Zeolla
This review is continued from AD: The Bible Continues: Review of Episode Seven. Before beginning the review of the eighth episode, I need to go back and mention a couple of points from Episode Seven that I didn’t mention in that review as they figure proximately in this episode. First, when Emperor Tiberius visits Jerusalem, his nephew Caligula accompanies him. Second, Mary Magdalene is working as a servant in Pilate’s palace, but she is hiding the fact that she is a member of that hated new Christian sect.
Caligula and Tiberius
I knew before watching this miniseries that Caligula would later became Emperor and that he was known for his debauchery. For instance, “Caligula had four wives, three of them during his reign as emperor, and he was said to have committed incest with each of his three sisters in turn” (RomanEmpire.net). As such, I cannot fault AD too much for opening this episode with a rather sordid scene involving Caligula, but I could have done without seeing it, so I will spare the reader from describing it. Suffice it to say, in it Pilate’s wife Claudia is humiliated.
Pilate retaliates by confronting Caligula in the showers and holds a knife to his throat. I immediately thought, “Is he nuts?’ Caligula is the nephew of the emperor and heir to the throne. Such an action should have meant certain death. But for some reason Caligula does not tell Tiberius about it; and neither does Agrippa’s son, who was also in the shower at the time, being a close friend of Caligula.
Meanwhile, Claudia is pleading to Tiberius on behalf of Pilate, trying to convince Tiberius that Pilate is a good governor and should stay in office, but Tiberius goes one step further and says he will promote Pilate to an office in Rome and gives Claudia a sealed letter to that effect. Claudia is overjoyed to be getting out of Jerusalem. Claudia and Pilate later talk about both events and strangely seem little concerned about what happened in the shower.
Of course, none of this political intrigue and debauchery has anything to do with the Books of Acts, and none of it actually happened. As mentioned in the review of Episode Seven, there is no evidence that Tiberius ever visited Jerusalem, let alone at this time and let alone that Caligula accompanied him.
While all of this political intrigue is going on, Philip is still in Samaria, baptizing converts. Peter and John show up by the riverside, and there is a joyful reunion. Simon Magnus then enters the scene, and he brings with him a crowd of sick, lame, and leprous people for Peter to heal. Peter proceeds to do so, and AD does a very good job of portraying the miracles. I even thought how nice it was that AD finally portrayed the apostles performing miracles, given that it had skipped over previous mentions in the Book of Acts of the apostles doing so. But the problem is; the Book of Acts does not say Peter and John performed miracles in Samaria. Thus AD does not portray miracles when the Book of Acts says they were performed, but AD does portray them when Acts does not say so.
What Acts does say is:
14Now the apostles in Jerusalem having heard that Samaria had received the word of God sent Peter and John to them, 15who, having come down, prayed concerning them in order that they shall receive [the] Holy Spirit—16for He had not yet fallen upon any of them, but they had only been baptized in the name of Christ Jesus. 17Then they began laying hands on them, and they were receiving [the] Holy Spirit (Acts 8:14-17; ALT3).
The text does not specifically say so, but most likely it was obvious the Holy Spirit had descended on the Samaritan converts because they began speaking in tongues. But having skipped over the speaking of tongues by the apostles in its depiction of the Day of Pentecost, it is no surprise AD didn’t want to deal with this controversial issue here.
In any case, Simon Magnus, seeing the miracles Peter is performing, offers to donate a sack of silver to help spread the word of Jesus. Peter smiles, until Simon says, “All I want in return is that you give me a small drop of the Holy Spirit.” Peter is outraged and begins calling down curses on Simon. The sky darkens, the wind starts howling, and Simon doubles over in pain, blood coming out of his eyes. Peter intercedes for him before God, crying out for God to be merciful. The clouds part, the sun comes out, the wind dies down, and Simon recovers.
This was a very dramatic scene; but the problem is, it didn’t happen. The Book of Acts actually describes the scene as follows:
20But Peter said to him, “May your silver be with you in perdition [fig., hell], because you thought to be acquiring the free gift of God through money! 21[There] is neither part nor portion for you in this matter, for your heart is not right before God. 22Therefore, repent from this your wickedness, and implore God, if perhaps the intention of your heart will be forgiven you. 23For I perceive you [as] being in the gall of bitterness and bond of unrighteousness.” 24But answering, Simon said, “You* implore [in prayer] to the Lord on my behalf, in order that nothing of what you have spoken shall come upon me” (Acts 8:20-24; ALT3).
The episode now returns to Pilate’s palace. This is where the second point I skipped in my review of Episode Seven comes to play. Mary meets her friend Joanna in the palace. I immediately recognized the name, as Joanna is mentioned in the following passage of Scripture:
And it happened in the next [fig., afterward] that He [Jesus] was traveling through every city and village preaching and proclaiming the Gospel of the kingdom of God, and the twelve [were] with Him, 2and certain women who had been healed of evil spirits and sicknesses: Mary, the one being called Magdalene [i.e., because she was from Magdala, see Matt 15:39], from whom seven demons had gone out, 3and Joanna wife of Chuza, steward of Herod, and Susanna and many others, who were providing for them from their possessions (Luke 8:1-2; ALT3).
Thus Joanna was a follower of Jesus, but she had not heard about Jesus’ resurrection. Mary tells her about this, and Joanna is overjoyed to hear about it and believes. But both agree that it is best if they keep their faith a secret. But later, Agrippa’s son spies Joanna praying to Jesus and tells Agrippa about it. Agrippa has her and her husband brought before him. Chuza tells Agrippa that his wife is mad and often talks to people who are not there and that that was all that was happening. Agrippa asks Joanna if this is so. I felt like shouting at the TV, “Profess your faith in Jesus! Do not deny Him!”
But that does not happen. Joanna instead says that it is true she once had demons cast out of her. Given the above passage of Scripture, this might have been true. Thus she was not lying; but still, she did not profess her faith either. This misdirect saved her life, but it was very disappointing. Of course, this was all pure fiction, as Mary never served in Pilate’s palace, let alone Joanna. But still, it would have been nice to see AD portray a bold declaration of faith in Jesus.
Meanwhile, Paul is on his way to Damascus, “still breathing threat and murder [fig., murderous threats] against the disciples of the Lord” (Acts 9:1; ALT3). This anger of Saul towards the new sect in general and against Peter specifically is nicely portrayed in AD. Then we have the dramatic appearance of Jesus to Saul. And surprisingly, the manner in which AD portrays this monumental event in the history of the Christian Church is done very well and very close to Scripture, including the blinding of Saul.
AD continues rather closely following Acts in its accounts of Jesus appearing to Ananias and telling him to go to Saul and Ananias’ initial objections. It only veers from the Bible is saying the reason Ananias did not flee from Damascus as other disciples did when word of Saul’s approach reached the city was because his wife was in labor. That was just a piece of dramatic license.
But that one point aside, Ananias goes to Saul as Acts describes, prays for Saul, and he receives his sight. In the next scene, Ananias takes Saul to a river to be baptized. It is here that AD adds to Scripture by portraying Barnabas as objecting to Saul being baptized. But no matter as the baptism and its aftermath is heartwarming. After Saul is immersed, he is overjoyed and is filled with the joy of the Lord. He then proclaims, "I was blind, but now I see" (echoing of course the song "Amazing Grace"). He then goes into the city and tells Ananias he has to tell others about Jesus and immediately goes into a synagogue to preach about Jesus.
This was the best storyline yet by far in AD. It was very uplifting, both emotionally and spiritually. I even was thinking that this was the first time I felt such throughout this whole miniseries and how great it was that the episode would end on such an upbeat note. I thus thought for once I would be writing a positive review of an episode of AD. But I didn’t realize this was not the ending. There were still a couple of minutes left in the episode.
The episode actually ends by returning to the opening storyline. Tiberius and Caligula have departed for Rome. But Claudia has a nightmare of Tiberius being murdered in his sleep. She wakens Pilate with her agitation and tells him about the dream. Just then, they are called to the throne room.
Caligula is sitting on the throne. As they enter, he tells them that Tiberius died in his sleep and that he is now emperor. Pilate’s earlier action in the shower is now coming back to haunt him. Caligula takes the sealed letter from Pilate and rips it up, and Pilate and Claudia are obviously in emotional turmoil, and so was I. After such an uplifting and well done scene about Saul and his conversion and baptism, the episode just couldn't end there. Instead, if had to continue and instead end with this scene. Thus once again I was left feeling distraught rather than uplifted at the end of the episode. I guess NBC did not want viewers to be left with the impression that reading the Bible is an uplifting experience.
I will close this review by pointing out that it is true Tiberius died in his sleep, that Caligula succeeded him, and that there were rumors the 77 year old Tiberius’ death might not have due to old age. But none of that happened in Jerusalem at this time. It occurred near Rome in 37 AD (RomanEmpire.net). Jesus’ death and resurrection occurred in 30 or 33 AD, depending on which timeline is accepted. But it is generally accepted Saul’s conversion happened within two years after that, thus at the latest in 35 AD. Thus AD has truncated the timeline by at least two years to put all of this political intrigue at the same time as Saul’s conversion.
AD: The Bible Continues - Review of Episode Nine
AD: The Bible Continues - Review of Episode Eight. Copyright © 2015 by Gary F. Zeolla (www.Zeolla.org).
Analytical-Literal Translation of the New Testament
The above article was posted on this website May 30, 2015.
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