A.D. The Bible Continues — season one, episode seven

A.D. The Bible Continues — season one, episode seven May 24, 2015


Season 1, Episode 7 — ‘The Visit’
Acts 8:4-13

Editing Acts, redux. The seventh episode of A.D. The Bible Continues just might be the first one that is far more concerned with its political storyline — the visit of Tiberius and Caligula to Jerusalem — than its biblical storyline. Still, it does depict Philip’s visit to Samaria and his baptism of Simon the Magician from Acts 8.

Scripture references, redux. No one quotes any Old Testament passages in this episode. However, Peter does lead some Christians in celebrating the Eucharist, which was instituted by Jesus at the Last Supper. And when the other Christians warn Philip about the dangers of going to Samaria, Philip replies, “I’m sure there’s some good Samaritans,” which is a cute nod to the parable Jesus told in Luke 10.

Historical reference points, redux. The emperor Tiberius and his successor Caligula visit Pilate in Jerusalem, which takes this show’s secular-history subplot into seriously unhistorical territory.

Tiberius — who died in AD 37, shortly after this episode takes place — was a notorious recluse and spent most of the last decade or so of his life on Capri, an island off the coast of Italy. During this period, he could barely be bothered to visit the Italian mainland, much less any of the empire’s more far-flung territories.

What’s more, if Tiberius had visited Pilate in person, odds are he would have met him in Caesarea, the coastal city that served as the region’s administrative centre. It is exceedingly unlikely that Tiberius would have traveled deep inland, through territory filled with Zealots and other fanatics, to visit Pilate in a city that was of deep religious and historical significance to the Jews but not necessarily to the Romans.

The dialogue in this episode actually hints, however inadvertently, at how unlikely it is that Tiberius would have made this journey. Tiberius says at one point that Judea is a “minor province” — so why go there in person, then? — while Pilate’s wife Claudia says the best thing about Jerusalem is that it is “one day’s journey to our home on the coast.” Wouldn’t that home on the coast have been a better place to meet, then?1

Notably, the episode makes no references at all to Sejanus, the Roman official who governed Rome in Tiberius’s absence and was executed for treason in AD 31.

Historians and apologists have often speculated that Sejanus was an associate of Pilate’s, because Pilate became prefect of Judea around the time Sejanus took control of the Roman government in Tiberius’s name. It is also sometimes thought that Pilate’s anti-Semitic policies were an extension of Sejanus’s policies.

What’s more, some apologists have speculated that Pilate’s behaviour during the trial and crucifixion of Jesus — particularly when the priests told him he would be “no friend of Caesar” if he let Jesus go — might be related to his fear of offending Tiberius so soon after his friend Sejanus had been executed by Tiberius for treason.

But this episode never touches on any of that.

The episode does, however, refer to other incidents that took place even earlier.

Tiberius mentions how Pompey, on conquering Jerusalem in 63 BC, entered the temple’s Holy of Holies — which only the Jewish high priest is allowed to do — and found nothing there. (This is dramatized in the 1961 version of King of Kings.)

And both Tiberius and Leah recall an incident in which Tiberius expelled the Jews from Rome while forcing thousands of them to serve in the military. This happened in AD 19, or about a decade and a half before the events of this episode.

One last detail: Tiberius and Caligula are accompanied on this journey by Agrippa, the nephew of Herod Antipas and brother of Herodias. While Caligula and Agrippa were certainly friends, the historical Tiberius threw Agrippa in prison for wishing Tiberius was dead — and Agrippa didn’t get out until after Tiberius did, in fact, die.

Violence, redux. Philip is beaten by robbers as he approaches Samaria. He later discovers that these men might have been working for Simon the Magician.

Simon tells Philip the crowd will kill him if he fails to heal a sick woman, but it’s hard to see why, since Simon has already failed to heal her, and the crowd didn’t kill him! Perhaps the assumption here is that the crowd will be harsher with Philip because he isn’t a Samaritan (in an earlier scene, Barnabas warned Philip that the people of Samaria would tear him apart if they found out he was from Jerusalem).

Later, after Simon has been baptized, he cuts his assistant Yitzhak’s hand, hoping that he will be able to heal Yitzhak using some of Philip’s supernatural power.

More Christians are beaten and flogged by Saul’s men. The authorities tell Saul to cut it out while Tiberius is in town, but Saul refuses to let up — and Caligula, for his part, doesn’t seem to mind the mayhem. Indeed, when he sees Saul’s men leading some captives down the street, he happily chokes one of the Christians to death.

Finally, Caiaphas and Reuben bribe a man to pretend to be a Christian being tortured so that he can give Saul some misinformation that will get him out of the city.

Bribes, redux. Did I mention that Caiaphas and Reuben bribe a man? That makes this the sixth episode (out of seven) in which Caiaphas or one of his associates (his wife Leah, his chief guard Reuben) pays someone to do something.

Aggression, redux. Peter and the other Christians don’t have much to do in this episode besides hide, though at one point they make a point of confronting Saul in the street — and then they can’t agree on whether to let him go.

Saul, for his part, mocks the apostles for making things like this up as they go.

Family matters, redux. Saul goes to Galilee and follows Peter’s daughter Maya to her house just to leave a threatening message for her dad. Maya then comes back to Jerusalem just to warn Peter. Each of these trips takes a few days on foot, but the episode makes it look like these journeys happened fairly instantaneously.

Caiaphas allows his father-in-law Annas back into the house but takes Annas’s money, to satisfy Pilate’s demands for Tiberius’s visit. Caiaphas and Leah also argue over whether he should be defending Pilate’s record in Tiberius’s presence.

Pilate’s wife Claudia tells Tiberius her husband’s record is “exemplary”, which, um, isn’t what she seemed to think about her husband in the previous episodes.

Political friction, redux. Tiberius and Caligula are accompanied on their visit by Agrippa, the nephew of Herod Antipas and brother of Herodias. At this point in the story, Pilate rules Judea and Antipas rules Galilee, but eventually — possibly after the events of this season — Agrippa will be made king over both of these territories.

The way Caligula says he and Agrippa rested well could be taken to mean that they are lovers. If memory serves, A.D. Anno Domini also hinted at such a relationship.

Claudia tells Pilate they must cultivate good will with Caligula and Agrippa if they are to survive whatever Tiberius has in store for them on this visit. But, as noted above, the historical Agrippa was actually in Tiberius’s bad books at this time.

Pilate and Herod Antipas argue over who is more responsible for the growth of the Jesus movement. Pilate says Antipas gave him responsibility for Jesus, but there was no sign of this in the series’ first episode! Meanwhile, Antipas says he would have crushed the Jesus movement at its birth — but the movement began in Galilee and Antipas is the tetrarch there, so it’s not like he hasn’t had his chance.

Amplified effects, redux. We hear the “breath” of the Holy Spirit again as Philip looks up to heaven before healing the Samaritan woman.

Odds and ends. The Samaritans bow and/or kneel before Philip after he heals the woman. There is no specific mention of people reacting to Philip like this in the book of Acts, but some of the Gentiles did bow down before Peter and make offerings to Paul and Barnabas — and in both cases, the apostles told everyone to stop. Philip does not do that here, at least not before the episode cuts to the commercial break.

Mary Magdalene gets a job working in Pilate’s palace, where she waits on Tiberius and the others (and is briefly groped by Caligula). This reminds me of an apocryphal legend that traces the origin of coloured Easter eggs to an encounter between Mary Magdalene and Tiberius — but this episode doesn’t get into that at all.

1. Google Maps says it takes 22 hours to walk from Jerusalem to Caesarea. So you could make the trip in “one day” if you — or the people transporting you — didn’t sleep or rest at all.

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