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

A.D. The Bible Continues — season one, episode eleven June 20, 2015


Season 1, Episode 11 — ‘Rise Up’
Acts 8-9

Editing Acts, redux. The eleventh episode of A.D. The Bible Continues covers two stories from the book of Acts, including one that would have been covered three episodes ago if the series had followed the narrative sequence in Acts.

The episode does depict Philip’s meeting with the Ethiopian eunuch and subsequent disappearance (8:26-39), and it also depicts the peace the Christians enjoyed once their persecution under the Jewish authorities was lifted (9:31), as well as Tabitha’s death and subsequent resuscitation at the hands of Peter (9:36-42).

The episode does not depict Philip’s reappearance at Azotus (8:40), nor does it depict Peter’s journey to Lydda (9:32), his healing of a paralytic there named Aeneas (9:33-35) or his staying in Joppa with a tanner named Simon (9:43).1

Notably, some tweaks have been made to the story about Philip and the eunuch. In the text, the eunuch is riding in a chariot that is driven by others (in 8:38, the eunuch “gave orders to stop the chariot”). But in A.D., the eunuch has been stripped of all his servants and possessions by Pilate, and is driving the chariot all by himself.

The episode’s depiction of Tabitha is a little more attentive to the text (even though it imagines that she died as a result of the wounds she got in the previous episode, rather than because of an illness). Acts 9:36 says “she was always doing good and helping the poor,” and sure enough, in this episode she tries to give a beggar some alms.

Scripture references, redux. The Ethiopian eunuch is reading Isaiah 53 when Philip meets him, just as the biblical version of the eunuch does in Acts 8.

Interestingly, in both Acts and A.D., the eunuch reads the version of this passage that appears in the Septuagint, i.e. the Greek translation of the Old Testament. In the previous episode, the eunuch received his copy of Isaiah from Caiaphas. Did Caiaphas give him a Greek translation rather than a Hebrew copy? Perhaps, given that Greek was the lingua franca of the day and the eunuch might not know any Hebrew.

Reuben recites the Shema, which is rooted in Deuteronomy 6, when he thinks he is about to be assassinated. Peter and John recited the Shema in the third episode.

Two sayings of Jesus are also cited in this episode. John reminds Peter that Jesus said “Father forgive them…” on the cross, as per Luke 23 (though this series never actually showed Jesus saying this!), and Peter preaches in Joppa that there are two roads and/or gates, one broad and one narrow, as per Jesus’ teaching in Matthew 7.

The raising of Tabitha also echoes the raising of Jairus’ daughter in Mark 5. In Mark’s gospel, Jesus speaks to the dead girl in Aramaic and says, “Talitha koum,” which means, “Little girl, get up.” And what does Peter say to Tabitha? “Tabitha, get up,” which presumably, in Aramaic, would have been, “Tabitha koum.”2

A.D. The Bible Continues does not draw attention to this parallel, and it’s possible the filmmakers weren’t even aware of it. But the 1985 miniseries A.D. Anno Domini made it very clear, in the dialogue between Peter and Thomas, that Peter was echoing the words Jesus had used when he raised a young woman from the dead.

Political friction, redux. It turns out the Ethiopian eunuch might not have been planning on collaborating with the Zealots when he first went to Jerusalem. The Queen has no knowledge of his collaboration with the Zealots — yet — and he tells the leader of the Zealots it is “fortunate” that he is there to assist them.

While Caiaphas sees the impending arrival of Caligula’s statue as an opportunity to unite the Jews in protest against the Romans’ actions, the Zealots see it as an opportunity to get rid of Caiaphas and all the other “corrupt” priests in addition to the Romans — starting with Reuben, who is caught spying on the Zealots.

Reuben, the head of Caiaphas’s temple guard, narrowly escapes the Zealots’ attempt to assassinate him. When he tells Caiaphas and Leah what he saw, Leah says they must tell Pilate, but Caiaphas refuses, lest it give the impression that they are collaborating with the Romans. So Leah goes behind his back and tells Pilate herself.

Zealot leader Levi and his daughter Eva see Simon the Zealot preaching in the street, and they ask him if he’ll be ready to fight like them when the statue arrives.

Church politics. James the Just continues to negotiate the truce with Caiaphas that he first arranged in the previous episode. James tells the apostles it would be wonderful to be able to speak Jesus’ name openly from within the Sanhedrin, but Peter refuses to collaborate with the priest who had Jesus killed.

For a moment it looks like there might be friction between Peter and James over how to lead the Church, but it’s defused when James apologizes and defers to Peter’s authority, while Peter leaves Jerusalem altogether to preach in other cities and says James is free to negotiate whatever terms he likes with the high priest.

Violence, redux. Kids on a roof throw stones at a Roman patrol.

One of the Zealots tries to assassinate Reuben, but Reuben manages to kill him first.

Pilate tells his wife Claudia to decide whether Joanna should be strangled or crucified. Joanna spares Claudia the decision by choosing strangulation. Cornelius then strangles Joanna to death, after which he breaks down and cries.

Family matters, redux. Two wives go behind their husbands’ backs in this episode.

Claudia asks Pilate more than once to release Joanna, but Pilate refuses, telling her that “empathy breeds weakness.” Finally — after Claudia personally tries to sneak Joanna out of prison and is caught in the act by Cornelius and his men — Pilate tells Claudia to choose the method by which Joanna will be executed.

Meanwhile, Leah goes straight to Pilate and reports what the Zealots are up to, against Caiaphas’s wishes. But Caiaphas suspects his wife did something, when he sees the Romans escorting the Ethiopian eunuch out of the city.

Amplified effects, redux. Peter’s raising of Tabitha is accompanied by big rushes of wind, like the wind we saw when Peter and John appeared before the Sanhedrin, or the wind that accompanied the punishment of Simon the Magician. There is no mention of wind in the biblical version of this miracle.

Pre-conversion narratives. A recurring theme in this series, and particularly in this episode, is that some of the more significant converts to Christianity need to have sordid, violent back-stories before they join the Church.

The Ethiopian eunuch is explicitly linked to the Zealots and implicitly approves of — and even asks for — the assassination of Reuben. Before the eunuch is baptized by Philip, he confesses that he has been “an ambassador for violence and hate,” and Philip tells him, “That is past. What matters is who you now choose to be.”

Similarly, Cornelius has been portrayed as just another Roman brute throughout this series, albeit one who is occasionally bothered by Pilate’s orders (though he still obeys them). And now his execution of Joanna appears to be the thing that has pushed him to the breaking point that will lead to his conversion in the next episode.

Odds and ends. The angel that appears to Philip and tells him to go down to the road to Gaza is the same one we saw at the Resurrection, the Ascension and the apostles’ jailbreak — but this time, he actually speaks, which he never did before (even though the biblical versions of those stories did show the angels speaking).

1. I didn’t mention the stories in Acts 9:1-30 that were skipped over by this episode because those stories were already covered in the last three episodes.

2. The raising of Jairus’ daughter is also told in Matthew 9 and Luke 8, but without the detail that Jesus spoke to the girl in Aramaic. Interestingly, the book of Acts was written by the same person who wrote the gospel of Luke, and most scholars agree that his gospel was based partly on Mark’s gospel — so the author of Acts was certainly aware of the talitha / Tabitha wordplay, even if he didn’t draw attention to it.

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