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AD: The Bible Continues
Review of Episode Six

By Gary F. Zeolla

This review is continued from AD: The Bible Continues: Review of Episode Five. This sixth episode is exactly why I am calling this miniseries “AD: The Biblical Novel Continues.” Out of the 44 minutes of programming, I would estimate that at best four minutes came from the Bible. The rest of the episode was pure fiction. However, it was such fiction that things might have happened the way depicted in the episode.

The episode opens with the aftermath of the death of Stephen. His mother is mourning his death. This is not mentioned in the Book of Acts, but it is reasonable to assume that if Stephen’s mother was still alive, she would have mourned him. Christians then bury him. Acts says, “Now devout men prepared Stephen for burial, and they themselves made loud wailing over him” (8:2). It is reasonable to assume these “devout men” were Stephens’ fellow Christians, thought it could be a reference to members of his family. Thus it might have happened the way AD depicted it.

After this opening, there were two main storylines. The first was the political intrigue occurring in the temple. Caiaphas is coming under fire for allowing the Christian movement to grow so rapidly. Thus some in the Sanhedrin are trying to depose him. After much ado, Pilate makes the final decision to keep Caiaphas as high priest. None of this is mentioned in the Book of Acts, and I seriously doubt in secular history. But it might have happened. I mean, there probably was turmoil among the Sanhedrin over the growth of the early Church, and that might have led to Caiaphas’ position being threatened. And that is what a historical novel does; it takes known historical events and builds a fictional narrative around it.

But what I found most interesting was Pilate using a coin toss to determine if Caiaphas should remain as high priest, or if a rival should replace him. I found this interesting as I discuss the idea of using a coin toss to make a decision in my new book The LORD Has It Under Control, in my commentary on Acts 1:15-26. That whole scene, by the way, was omitted in this miniseries, as have been many other events that do occur in the Book of Acts. But unlike the apostles, Pilate used a double-headed coin, so it ended up not really being a similar situation.

In any case, the other storyline was an elaboration of the following passage from the Book of Acts:

        Now Saul was giving approval to his [Stephen’s] murder. Then in that day [ca. 33 A.D.] a great persecution took place on the assembly, the one in Jerusalem, and all were scattered throughout the regions of Judea and Samaria, except the apostles.... 3But Saul began making havoc of the assembly—entering every house, dragging off both men and women, handing them over to prison. 4So indeed, the ones having been scattered went about proclaiming the Gospel [of] the word (Acts 8:1-4; ALT3).

The rise of Saul as a persecutor of the early Church is depicted reasonably well. He is shown to be a very brash, hot-headed person. And again, things might have happened as depicted. The most interesting scene was the debate between Saul and Peter. Each quotes Scripture to support their position, but Peter also quotes several of Jesus’ sayings from the Gospels, such as “I am the Way and the Truth and the Life! No one comes to the Father except through [or, by means of] Me!” (John 14:6; ALT3).

It was nice to hear such powerful words of Jesus being quoted on network TV. But it got me thinking; in the Book of Acts the apostles never actually quote any of Jesus’ sayings from the Gospels. It seems reasonable that they would have, but Luke simply does not record them as doing so. But why?

Maybe since Luke had just written his own Gospel he felt it was superfluous to repeat the words of Jesus he had just presented in his Gospel. Instead, he thought it better to record the original words of the apostles. But the writers and producers of AD thought otherwise. They figured it was better to omit most of what Luke records the apostles as saying and instead have them quote Jesus. That must make for better TV. So I guess as viewers we have to accept that the AD writers and producers know better what the apostles should be portrayed as saying than Luke did, who was writing by the inspiration of the Holy Spirit (I hope the reader picks up my sarcasm here).

Later, Saul gives an arousing hate speech and instigates a mob of common folks to take up arms against the early Church. There is some portrayal of people being rounded up in the streets, while the apostles are trying to protect them and telling Saul to take them instead. But Saul says it will hurt their movement more to take potential followers. All of this might have happened this way. But there is no way of knowing. But I was pleased there was no graphic violence depicted occurring against the people being rounded up. In fact, this episode was the first one so far that did not have graphic violence in it. That was a welcome relief, as I might have shut it off if it did, as just couldn’t stomach any more.

In any case, 50 minutes into Episode Six, we finally have something depicted that actually came directly out of the Book of Acts. It is taken from the following verses:

Now Saul, still breathing threat and murder [fig., murderous threats] against the disciples of the Lord, having gone to the high priest, 2requested letters from him to Damascus, to the synagogues, in order that if he should find any being of the Way, both men and women, having been bound, he should bring [them] to Jerusalem (Acts 9:1-2; ALT3).

The episode depicts Saul going to Caiaphas and requesting the authority to persecute the Christians. Caiaphas gives him this permission, by way of a letter sealed with his signet.

Saul then gets together a band of uniformed soldiers and marches on the Christians’ tent camp.  Let me pause here to point out that in the earlier quoted passage from Acts, it says Saul was “entering every house.” There is no mention of tents. But as mentioned in the review of the previous episode, it must have been determined by the writers to be more dramatic to have the early Christian living in a tent camp rather than in houses. In any case, someone in the tent camp spies Saul and his band while they are still a ways off. Peter then tells the people to flee, but he and the other apostles say they will meet in Jerusalem. This is the portrayal of the “all were scattered ... except the apostles” mentioned in Acts 8:1. But what happens next is really intriguing.

By the time Saul gets to the camp, it appears to be empty. Not having any people to persecute, he tells his band to burn the settlement. As they are setting fire to the tents, Peter from outside the camp lights a circle of oil that he had prepared beforehand that goes all the way around the camp. This traps Saul and his band within the circle of fire and enables Peter and the rest of the Christians to get away. This was a very ingenious move by the fictional AD Peter. And I could just picture the real Peter up in heaven saying, “I wish I had thought of that” (More sarcasm here). Thus ends Episode Six of this Biblical novel.

AD: The Bible Continues - Review of Episode Seven

AD: The Bible Continues - Review of Episode Six. 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 16, 2015.

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