It is tricky business to fill in months and years of gaps in a story that is episodic, as the storyline in Acts is. In this episode we are properly introduced to two new characters— James the brother of Jesus, and the more exotic Ethiopian eunuch, coming to the temple for the feast of Yom Kippur, the once a year forgiveness festival. Let me just say that there is not much brilliant about most dramas of this sort, but the end of episode 10 is brilliant, as it parallels Saul (the hot potato for Jerusalem Jewish Christians) leaving Jerusalem in tandem with the scapegoat being set loose off into the wilderness. Was Saul a scapegoat on whom were fixated the troubles of the fledgling church in Jerusalem? It certainly makes sense if we consider what Paul has to say about the Judaizers in Galatians, and when he recounts that he was in danger from false brethren who saw him as a betrayer of the Jewish faith. What Saul actually was, was the first person to fully realize the implications of the Gospel for the old temple centered religion of Judaism. Spinning out those implications made him dangerous, in the same way Stephen was dangerous.
This episode begins in Galilee with James having a dream about Jesus as a boy in the temple at twelve. This is interesting since we have no evidence James was present on the occasion, not least because he was likely Jesus’ considerably younger brother, not an older brother. Nevertheless, the portrayal of James, as the coming leader of the Christians in Jerusalem is winsome in various ways. James was indeed Torah true, if we are to believe Josephus. This is why he came to be known as James the Just. He was not for imposing the Mosaic Law on Gentiles, but he apparently felt Jewish Christians, perhaps mainly as a witness Jews, should be Torah true. Paul felt differently.One of the subplots of this episode is the continuing story of Christian women working the palaces of Herod and Pilate. In this episode things go wrong when their mistresses discover their Christian faith, and there are consequences. Tabitha is whipped. Yet another story line involves Simon the Zealots dalliance with rejoining the Zealots in light of the coming possible desecration of the Temple by the statue of Caligula. This is plausible, as is his distrust of Saul the former persecutor of Christians. The story about Saul’s capture and then release by the high priest is fictional, but it highlights the fact that Saul was indeed potentially dangerous to the Christians in Jerusalem, not least because of his tendency to speak his mind about things like the Mosaic law, including its ritual practices. In the category of peculiar is the portrayal of the eunuch giving alms not only to the Temple, but also to the Zealots. I liked the touch however of having the high priest give him the Isaiah scroll as a gift, which no doubt will prove profitable when we get around to the portrayal of Acts 8.
This episode has its plausible and implausible moments, as they all do, but the ending is worth the price of sitting through a conundrum or two. We have two more episodes to go in this season, and the show has been renewed for another season next year. Stay tuned.