Yesterday was the day when Eastern Orthodox Christians remember Gamaliel, the Jewish leader who defended the apostles before the Sanhedrin in Acts 5. So I thought it might be fun to take a quick look at how Gamaliel has been portrayed in film.
The first written reference to the resurrection appearances of Jesus appears not in the gospels but in the epistles of Paul. Specifically, it appears in I Corinthians 15, where Paul passes on a list of the people who have witnessed the risen Jesus — and then, at the end, he writes that Jesus appeared to him, too, “as to one abnormally born.”
Numerous films have been based on the Gospels, but few have been based on the Book of Acts. Even when filmmakers make a point of depicting stories from across the Scriptures, the early church tends to get left out; a typical example is the otherwise excellent series of British-Russian animated films that began with Testament, a collection of nine half-hour episodes from the Old Testament, and ended with The Miracle Maker, a feature film about Jesus. As finales go, the death and resurrection of Jesus are pretty hard to beat.
Thankfully, some filmmakers do explore the work of the apostles once in a while. The best examples to date are probably the 1985 mini-series A.D., which does a marvelous job of depicting the joy that animated the Jerusalem church but gets increasingly sidetracked by secular history and fictitious love stories between soldiers, slaves and gladiators the further it moves into Gentile territory; and the 1981 TV movie Peter and Paul, starring Anthony Hopkins, which takes superb advantage of the autobiographical information in Paul’s epistles.