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AD: The Bible Continues
Review of Episode Seven

By Gary F. Zeolla

This review is continued from AD: The Bible Continues: Review of Episode Six. This seventh episode continues to demonstrate why I am calling this miniseries AD: The Biblical Novel Continues. It consisted of three main storylines: 1. Saul’s persecution of the early Church. 2. The visit of Emperor Tiberius to Jerusalem. 3. Philip’s encounter with Simon Magnus. The first and third are taken from Scripture, but the first has elements not found in Scripture but which might have happened, while the third is distorted from the Biblical account. The second is pure fiction, but it might have happened.

On the first storyline, the opening scene of the episode consist of juxtaposing Saul dragging Christians out their homes into the streets and arresting them and the apostles celebrating the Lord’s Supper. The former would be a dramatization of Acts 8:3, “But Saul began making havoc of the assembly—entering every house, dragging off both men and women, handing them over to prison.” The later of possibly of Acts 2:46, “And continuing daily with one mind in the temple, and breaking bread at every house, they were sharing food with great happiness and simplicity of heart [fig., generosity]" (ALT3).  I say “possibly” as it is not certain this is a reference to the Lord’s Supper, as it could just be reference to shared meals. But given Jesus’ instructions to “be doing this in remembrance of Me” (Luke 22:10; ALT3), it is logical that the apostles celebrated the Lord’s Supper on occasion. But where the “might have” part comes in is of Saul’s main focus being to find Peter. Given that Peter was the “ringleader” of this new “cult,” it is possible Saul focused on finding and eliminating him, but the Book of Acts simply does not say so. But in the end, it is Peter with the other apostles who find Saul while he is alone. It is an interesting confrontation, but again, in the realm of “might have happened.”

Meanwhile, the emperor is coming to Jerusalem. The cause of his visit is Pilate’s seemingly inability to keep Jerusalem from being in turmoil. This leads to much political intrigue, including Caiaphas coming to Pilate’s defense. I do not know enough about secular history to know if an emperor, any emperor, ever visited Jerusalem, let alone Tiberius at this critical time in the history of the early Church. But this would have been a very big deal, and if it happened at this time, strange that Luke does not mention it.

The final storyline is Philip‘s encounter with Simon Magnus. Here, AD veers considerably from the Book of Acts. In the episode, Philip says he was called by God to travel to Samaria, but in Acts it is the persecution of Saul that causes him to flee there. The apostles tell him it will be dangerous for him there. With a smile, he says, “Maybe I will find some good Samaritans there.”  I actually kind of like it when a show injects a well know phrase or inside joke in a show. Thus in the movie Flying High staring Lynda Carter that I watched recently, I really got a chuckle when near the end of the movie she said, “Who do you think I am, Wonder Woman?”

In any case, on his way to Samaria, Philip is mugged and left for dead, just like the traveler in Jesus’ parable. But in this case, it was actually a setup. He was mugged by henchmen of Simon Magnus. One of those henchmen finds Philip and helps him on his way to Samaria. When Philip gets there, he joins a large crowd watching a demonstration by Simon Magnus of his “powers.” Philip is called forward by name. Simon then seemingly by magic tells about Philip being mugged and produces a pendant that was stolen from him.

Quite a bit of time is spent showing other supposed “miracles” by Simon Magnus. I couldn’t help but think how this episode spent so much more time showing his false miracles as compared to the almost complete dearth of depicting the real miracles by the apostles in previous episodes. But here, they show Philip healing a young girl that Simon could not heal.

Later, Philip is shown baptizing converts, and Simon comes to be baptized. Afterwards, he purposely cuts one of his henchmen with a knife, thinking he will now have the ability to heal him. But that does not happen, leaving Simon rather distraught.

This was all very interesting, but hardly any of it actually came from the Bible, and what Acts does say about this encounter was not depicted.

        4So indeed, the ones having been scattered went about proclaiming the Gospel [of] the word. 5Now Philip having gone down to a city of Samaria began preaching the Christ to them. 6And the crowds with one mind were paying close attention to the [things] being spoken by Philip, as they [were] hearing and seeing the signs which he was performing. 7For many of the ones having unclean [or, defiling] spirits, [the spirits] were coming out, shouting with a loud voice; and many having been paralyzed and lame were healed! 8And [there] was great joy in that city!

        9But a certain man, by name Simon, was previously in the city practicing magic and astonishing the nation of Samaria, claiming himself to be someone great, 10to whom they were paying close attention, from [the] least to [the] greatest, saying, “This [man] is the great power of God!” 11Now they were paying close attention to him because of the considerable time he had astonished them with magical acts. 12But when they believed Philip as he [was] proclaiming the Gospel of the [things] concerning the kingdom of God and the name of Jesus Christ, both men and women were baptized. 13Then Simon himself also believed. And having been baptized, he was continuing with Philip; and observing signs and miraculous works taking place, he himself was amazed (Acts 8:4-13; ALT3).

The only part of all these two paragraphs depicted in AD was the baptisms, while all of what was depicted is not found here, other than the general idea of Simon “practicing magic and astonishing the nation of Samaria.”

On a side note, I found it interesting that Philip was baptizing via total body immersion. How to depict baptism is probably always a struggle for movie producers. No matter how they do so, they will upset some Christian group. I remember one “Jesus movie” where people waded waist deep into the Jordon River to be baptized by John the Baptist, but John then cupped his hands, picked up some water, and baptized them by pouring the water on their heads. I still remember the associate pastor of the immersion church I was attending at the time being rather upset and saying, “They were in the water; why didn’t he immerse them?”

But back to AD; due to the emperor’s visit, Saul has been ordered to stop arresting Christians, as it will look bad to the emperor. But Saul declares he is doing God’s work and thus will not stop. The episode ends by Saul torturing a Christian to give up Peter’s location, thus AD just couldn’t stay away too long from its graphic violence. But at least there was a point to it.

The tortured man tells Saul that Peter is on his way to Damascus. After Saul sets off, a guard from I assume either Caiaphas or Pilate gives the man a sack of silver. Thus the reason Saul makes his life changing trip to Damascus is due to a ruse to get him out of Jerusalem during Tiberius’ visit. AD thus ties together its fictional storyline of the emperor’s visit and the Biblical storyline of the persecutions by Saul. Nicely done, and it might have happened that way, but I doubt it.

AD: The Bible Continues - Review of Episode Eight

AD: The Bible Continues - Review of Episode Seven. Copyright 2015 by Gary F. Zeolla (www.Zeolla.org).

Analytical-Literal Translation of the New Testament

The above article was posted on this website May 23, 2015.

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