Season 1, Episode 2 — ‘Shabbat’
Synopsis. The newly-exorcised Mary Magdalene gets ready to host her first Shabbat dinner in a long, long time. Matthew tells the praetor Quintus that Simon might be lying to the Romans about his ability to help them catch merchants who are dodging their taxes. Nicodemus learns that Mary is no longer possessed and asks her who cast out the demons, but she does not know. Jesus shows up unannounced at Mary’s house for Shabbat dinner, along with two of his disciples. Mary, Nicodemus, Andrew and others host very different Shabbat dinners, while Matthew eats alone. The episode ends with Simon standing by the shore of Galilee as several Roman soldiers approach.
Gospels. This episode does not dramatize any stories from the gospels. However, it does introduce new characters from the gospels and allude to other elements besides.
The two most significant new characters are Thaddaeus and a man named James, both of whom will eventually become members of Jesus’ inner circle, the Twelve. In this episode, these men are already calling Jesus their “rabbi”, and he calls them his “students”.
The gospels don’t say anything about Thaddaeus and James, aside from including their names on lists of the Twelve — and sometimes the gospels don’t even do that.
Thaddaeus, for example, appears on the lists in Mark 3:16-19 and Matthew 10:2-4, but he does not appear in either of the lists in Luke-Acts (Luke 6:13-16, Acts 1:13). Since the four lists agree on all of the other disciples’ names, it is often assumed that Thaddaeus was identical to “Judas, son of James”, who appears in both of the Luke-Acts lists.
As for James: All four lists of the Twelve mention two men named James, one of whom is the son of Zebedee, while the other is the son of Alphaeus. Since we will meet Zebedee and his sons later in the series, the James we meet in this episode is presumably the son of Alphaeus. But director Dallas Jenkins has been calling this character “James the Lesser”, which is a name that does not appear on any list of the Twelve but does appear in Mark 15:40, where he is the son of one of Jesus’ female followers. Many people have speculated that James son of Alphaeus and James the Lesser were the same person, but we really don’t know. Either way, the gospels don’t tell us any actual stories about them.
It is interesting, by the way, that this episode shows Jesus already being treated as a rabbi with students, before he has begun his ministry or called his more famous disciples.
This episode also introduces a comic-relief figure named Barnaby, who probably isn’t the same person as Barnabas, the friend of Paul’s who appears in Acts and the epistles. But you never know. (Church tradition says Barnabas was one of the seventy apostles in Luke 10, so there would be a precedent for introducing him this early. But anyhoo.)
It makes sense that Andrew would participate in Shabbat with Simon and his wife, as the gospels indicate that Simon and Andrew shared a home in Capernaum (Mark 1:29).
Mary Magdalene tells Nicodemus she does not know who cast out her demons, only that the man who did it has changed her life. This parallels the words of the blind man who was healed by Jesus in John 9. He could not identify Jesus either — he even asks Jesus who healed him! — but he says, “One thing I do know: I was blind but now I see!”
Even though Mary does not know who saved her, she somehow knows enough about him to know that he would not want her to reveal his name even if she did know it. As Mary puts it, “His time for men to know has not yet come.” This echoes the passages where Jesus tells the people he has healed not to tell anyone about him (Mark 1:40-45, 3:9-12, etc.), and it echoes the passage where Jesus tells his mother he might not perform a miracle that she wants him to perform because “my hour has not yet come” (John 2:4).
When Barnaby hears that Jesus is from Nazareth, he says, “Well, apparently something good can come from Nazareth!” The line alludes to John 1:46, in which Nathanael, one of Jesus’ future disciples, is told that Jesus comes from Nazareth and replies, “Nazareth! Can anything good come from there?” The gospels do not specify whether Nathanael was repeating a popular saying or simply expressing his own opinion of the place.
There was a similar line about Nazareth in The Chosen’s pilot episode.
One of the Pharisees who attends the dinner at Nicodemus’s house tells his wife, “Try to get a seat near the head of the table.” This is a very overt expression of the jostling for position that Jesus decried when he dined with the Pharisees in Luke 14:7-11.
When Jesus shows up at Mary’s door, he seems hesitant to ask if he can join her Shabbat dinner. “I don’t want to be rude, but would it be okay if I–” he says, without even finishing his question. This is noticeably different from how, say, Jesus openly dictated that he would stay at Zacchaeus’s house when they first met in Luke 19:5.
Old Testament. The Sabbath prayers that bookend the episode quote a few passages from the Hebrew Bible, such as the tribute to the “woman of valour” in Proverbs 31.
The prayers state that people are required to rest on the seventh day of the week because God rested on the seventh day after creating the world in six days. That is the reason given for keeping the Sabbath in the version of the Ten Commandments that appears in Exodus 20:8-11, but the version that appears in Deuteronomy 5:12-15 gives a significantly different reason. There, it says that the Israelites need to remember that they were oppressed slaves in Egypt; therefore, they must let their own slaves rest.
The story about God resting after he created the world comes from Genesis 2:2-3.
Meanwhile, guys at the pub in Capernaum tease a man with long hair about looking like Absalom, and they tell him to watch out for low-hanging branches. This refers to the story of David’s rebellious son, who was killed after the mule he was riding passed too close to an oak tree and his hair got caught in a branch (II Samuel 18:9-15).
Incidentally, director Dallas Jenkins notes in a roundtable discussion of this episode that the pub where the guys hang out is called “the Hammer”, which is a nod to the Maccabees, the Jewish rebels who successfully won their land back from the Greeks in the 2nd century BC. The word “Maccabee” is derived from the Aramaic word for “hammer”, and books about the Maccabees are part of the Orthodox and Catholic canons.
Themes. The primary theme of this episode is, of course, the Shabbat dinner and how it runs deep and wide throughout Jewish culture — deep because it goes so far back in Jewish history (if not quite as far back as the episode suggests; see below for more about that), and wide because Jews of all social classes participate in it.
The episode’s climactic sequence cross-cuts between very different kinds of Shabbat dinners: Mary Magdalene’s is very modest and easygoing, Nicodemus’s is very lavish and political (for lack of a better word), and the one at Simon’s home is compromised by the fact that Simon leaves early to go do something he shouldn’t be doing.
Notably, it is the modest and easygoing dinner that Jesus attends — and, as director Dallas Jenkins has noted, Jesus encourages Mary to read the prayers even though this job would ordinarily go to a man. So there’s an incipient feminism to this episode, too.
The episode also fleshes out the character of Matthew, the tax collector, noting how he is marginalized and mistreated by both Romans and Jews. He is beaten by some people, we learn that he has been disowned by his father, and, while all the others are sharing Shabbat dinners, he eats alone with only a stray dog to keep him company.
The episode also focuses on Matthew’s odd personality and the fact that the Roman praetor Quintus finds it amusing. The filmmakers have said that their version of Matthew is meant to be on the autism spectrum, which accounts for both his facility with numbers as well as his willingness to endure social ostracization.
Historical quibbles. The episode suggests that the Sabbath dinner prayer, or kiddush, has been consistent for the past three thousand years, but that simply isn’t so.
For example, the Eshet Hayil — or ode to the “woman of valour” — comes from Proverbs, which probably wasn’t even written three thousand years ago, and the ode wasn’t added to the Friday-night prayers until the 17th century, three or four hundred years ago.
More broadly, the Talmud says the kiddush was created by the Great Synagogue, a group of Jewish leaders that is said to have existed between the 6th and 4th centuries BC, and it has been argued that the current version of the prayer might go back only as far as the 3rd to 5th centuries AD — which would be long after this episode is set.
Mary Magdalene mistakenly leaves a seat for Elijah at the table and is reminded that that is a Passover custom, done once a year, and not a Sabbath custom done every week. But it’s highly unlikely that the custom existed at all when this episode takes place.
The custom seems to have arisen after the 2nd century, when the rabbis could not agree on whether to pour four or five cups of wine at Passover. Eventually it was determined that Elijah would come back and resolve such questions — and thus, the fifth cup is now poured for him (and sometimes a seat is reserved for him as well).
Suffice it to say that those developments took place well after this episode does.
Simon orders some cider at the pub. Cider is made from apples and was certainly known to the Roman Empire by this point in history, but it was historically associated with the cooler climates of England, France and other temperate-zone territories. Israel, like most territories on the Mediterranean coast, is in more of a subtropical zone.
Humanization. Jesus winks at Barnaby after Barnaby makes his Nazareth joke, to show that there are no hard feelings. This, combined with Jesus’ awkwardness at the door, is indicative of the film’s very down-to-earth treatment of Jesus’ humanity.
Timeline. The plot thickens!
In my recap of Episode 1, I noted that there are two different versions of the episode out there: one in which the prologue takes place in 2 BC, and one in which it takes place in AD 2. Both versions agree that the rest of the episode takes place “28 years later”, which means the rest of the episode must take place in either AD 27 or AD 30.
Episode 2 — the version of it that is currently streaming on VidAngel, at any rate, as well as the version that was livestreamed in March — complicates things by saying it takes place in AD 26. But a version I saw last year said it was taking place in AD 30.
Two things seem to be happening here.
First, it seems that the series was originally set in AD 30, but then, at some point early in the show’s release, the producers changed this so that it now takes place in AD 26.
And once that change was made, they had to change the date of the prologue in Episode 1. And it seems the producers might have assumed that “28 years” before AD 26 is 2 BC, on the same general principle that +26 minus 28 equals -2. There’s just one problem with that analogy: there is no year zero. The calendar goes straight from 1 BC to AD 1.
So 28 years before AD 26 would actually be 3 BC.
The prologue to this episode takes place in Chinnereth in 948 BC.
Chinnereth was a town by the Sea of Galilee, and the sea itself is sometimes referred to as the Sea of Chinnereth in the Hebrew Bible (Numbers 34:11, Joshua 13:27).
There does not seem to be any particular reason why the prologue is set in 948 BC, aside from the prologue’s general depiction of Shabbat dinner as a super-ancient custom. But if you are wondering where the prologue fits into Israelite history, it probably takes place during the reign of Solomon. (Most scholars date his death to around 931 BC.)
Language issues. The dialogue remains as modern and colloquial as ever. Once again, Eden replies to Simon by saying, “Don’t [what Simon said] me.” And when Simon tries to assure Eden that he knows what he’s doing, he says, “I’ve got this.”
Miscellaneous. The first episode ended with Mary Magdalene in Jesus’ embrace. This episode begins a day or two later, and Mary has no idea who that man was. What happened between these two episodes? How did that embrace end? Did Jesus refuse to tell Mary his name — which seems unlikely, given how casually he states his name in this episode — or did she just not ask? Did he just vanish while she wasn’t looking?
This is the second episode in a row in which Jesus appears at the very end of the story. In some ways this reflects a tendency in evangelical movies (going back at least as far as the Billy Graham films of the 1950s) to climax with altar calls and similar scenarios in which the protagonist’s life is changed by Jesus. This episode also reflects an evangelical sensibility — more so than most Jesus movies — in the way it shows Mary Magdalene giving Nicodemus her testimony regarding the change Jesus has made to her life.
Clip: “Now I’m completely different”:
Behind the scene: Jesus shows up for dinner:
The entire episode was also livestreamed on March 30, with an intro by director Dallas Jenkins and an interview with Noah James, who plays Andrew: