The new series A.D. is providing us with an in depth look at the rise of the Jesus movement, and its motivating forces and factors. In Episode 2 of this series of shows, the arc of the narrative does not really reach beyond the Easter stories in the Gospels. Indeed, it ends on a mount, probably in Galilee, with Jesus commissioning his disciples and then departing from them. Along the way we get various scenes, some of them quite moving, of the encounters of the risen Jesus with his disciples both male and female. Especially effective and affecting are the John 20 scene of Jesus appearing to Mary Magdalene near the garden tomb and Jesus’ commissioning of her, and the appearance in the upper room to Thomas. My personal favorite is the scene in Galilee, taken from John 21, of the miraculous catch of fish, and the recommissioning of Peter.
If this is the spine of the 43 or so minutes of this episode, how is the episode filled out? Firstly, it involves the attempts by Pilate to kill the story, by killing both Roman soldiers and temple guards who were at the tomb when Jesus rose and escaped their clutches. Pilate without question was ruthless, but what Matthew 28.11-15 actually says is: “11 While the women were on their way, some of the guards went into the city and reported to the chief priests everything that had happened. 12 When the chief priests had met with the elders and devised a plan, they gave the soldiers a large sum of money, 13 telling them, “You are to say, ‘His disciples came during the night and stole him away while we were asleep.’ 14 If this report gets to the governor, we will satisfy him and keep you out of trouble.” 15 So the soldiers took the money and did as they were instructed. And this story has been widely circulated among the Jews to this very day.” This is a far cry from what this episode in fact depicts.
Much more plausible is the notion that it was actually believed by some of the authorities that the body was stolen by the disciples, hence the attempt to hunt down the disciples and find the body. This is also depicted in this episode as well, with the disciples escaping the city with the help of a Zealot named Boaz, and reaching bucolic Galilee where they go fishing again. Some interesting facets of the story telling involve: 1) the further depiction of the close relationship between Caiaphas and his strong willed wife, the daughter of Annas, which parallels the similar depiction of the relationship between Pilate and his wife. Both of these strong women appear as powers behind the curule chairs, so to speak; 2) equally interesting is the probing of the possible relationship between Jesus’ mother and Mary Magdalene after they both are witnesses of the crucifixion. Of course in actuality, Mary Magdalene disappears entirely from the pages of the NT after John 20, which gave room for the later Gnostic speculations about here in various apocryphal Gospels (see the Gospel of Mary); 3) I like the portrayal of Peter, and his admission to Jesus that ‘you know me better than I know myself’ when it came to the threefold denial and the threefold recommissioning and affirmations of love. It would have been nice if something could have been done with the fact that differing words for love are used in the exchange between Jesus and Peter in John 21, but one can’t have everything. We may anticipate that in Episode 3 we will cross over into the book of Acts well and truly.