Saint Hilda's House

through the gates and into the city

'A.D: The Bible Continues' Reviewed: A Triumph of Intimacy Over Spectacle

John (Babou Ceesay) and Peter (Matthew Levy) look to a strange figure on the shore... (Hint: it's Jesus.) 

John (Babou Ceesay) and Peter (Matthew Levy) look to a strange figure on the shore... (Hint: it's Jesus.) 

This year my housemates and I have had a lot of fun watching several different TV shows.  One such of these shows is the smash hit Game of Thrones.  So you can imagine our delight when NBC started to advertise its new show A.D: The Bible Continues as a combination of The Bible and GOT.  We marked our calendars for Easter Sunday- for no other reason of course than the premiere of this new show.  I was especially prepared to mock the show with my usual witty banter [witty banter? ed.] when the title sequences began to roll. The similarities to GOT were immediately obvious, as a song eerily familiar to one which any fan of the HBO fantasy-drama would recognize played over a scene depicting the forging of the nails which would crucify Jesus.   

For the first half of the premiere, the show reproduced scenes anyone familiar with the Good Friday narrative knows all too well. We see Jesus accused by high priest Caiaphas (Richard Coyle) for blasphemy and inciting civil unrest.  The apostle Peter (Matthew Levy) denies his teacher and friend three times in a state of self-preservation. Pontius Pilate- played as a villain to the tenth degree by Vincent Regan- sentences Jesus to be crucified.  Then, in a scene depicted who knows how many times on film, we see Jesus violently tortured and put to death.  But it is after these most well known scenes that the show begins to show something truly unique.  Despite all of its spectacle and political intrigue, we are shown for the first time intimate scenes between the disciples; scenes of doubt, fear, and community.

The three episodes that have been released at the time of writing all follow a similar formula.  There's always at least one scene of Caiaphas and Pilate arguing over the state of things in Jerusalem, then a scene with each of these men talking to their respective wives about their encounter.  There's always a scene in which factions of zealots plot to take down the Romans by violent means. There is at least one scene in each episode where the show uses its CGI budget to create images intended to amaze and dazzle the viewer.  

The truly remarkable scenes, however, are the several scenes in each episode which show the Disciples wrestling with the issues facing them as followers of the now dead, risen, or ascended Christ.  These are the scenes which form the heart of the show.

To totally exclude the scenes which do not include the disciples would be a disservice to the actors, writers, and the show itself, all of whom are trying to tell a key part of Christian history. It is quite interesting to have a portrayal of the politics of the day that led to Christ’s death: Caiaphas wanting to shut down anyone claiming to be the Messiah, lest it incite a rebellion that the Romans would easily squash, and Pilate thundering that Jesus needed to die because “He was a threat to the status quo!”  The show has done an unexpectedly great job of producing discussion and provoking questions within my house about certain aspects of scripture, and life in the ancient world.  An example of this happened during the most recent episode, in which Pentecost is at the forefront, as we see the Holy Spirit descend in a fiery beam on the Disciples.  In the midst of this occurrence, King Herod is visiting for the festival of Pentecost, which neither I, nor any of my housemates knew was a Jewish day of importance before this episode aired.  

The aspect of the show which falls most resoundingly flat are the moments when special effects take center stage over the great cast of actors.  Each episode seems to have at least one scene which the budget was allotted a substantial sum for a computer generated extravaganza.  In the first episode, this comes right after Christ has breathed his last and a great earthquake occurs.  There are fake columns and stones falling on the poor citizens of Jerusalem, as panic envelops the city for an extended amount of precious screen time.   In the second episode we have the ascension of Jesus, during which we see an incomprehensibly large cloud full of witnesses and angels envelop Christ and the actors who play the disciples are forced to play faux amazement and wonder at a bright light and wind for the last scenes of the episode.  The depiction of the Holy Spirit descending in the most recent episode was by far the most successful incorporation of big budget special effects into the cast.  The disciples are seen praying the Lord’s Prayer together as a stream of light and fire encircles them from Heaven and they all begin to say the prayer in different languages.  This gives me hope that the show runners realized at some point what was at the heart of the show: the intimacy shared between the disciples and Christ.

The scenes that I wish were the majority of the show are not those of backroom political dealings, nor the big budget special effects: they're the ones focused on the quiet conversation and intimacy of the disciples.  Instead of being amazed at the earthquake following Christ’s death, I was in tears over the intimacy and beauty of the depiction of John (Babou Ceesay) carrying his savior and friend to the tomb, ritualistically washing the blood and gore off of his teacher as the priest performs the burial rites.  

These are the scenes in which the disciples are shown for what they truly were: men of no particular distinction, battling with the loss of the one they were following.  While in a fit of depression and sadness, Peter bewails the fact that he was weak when Jesus needed him most.  And John acknowledges this, saying “He (Jesus) loved us for it; He died for our weakness.”  When a number of the disciples are gathered in a locked room, asking each other what to do next, the risen Christ appears asking, “Do you have any food?”  The gathered followers delight in the return of Jesus, relieved that their belief was vindicated, their doubts put to shame, but a knock on the door makes a light situation tense, and Jesus vanishes.  Of course who should enter but Thomas, and even the secular viewer’s heart breaks as the well known story unfolds.  The disciples are at first excited to share this new with their friend, but then realize that there is no proof to make him believe this miracle. Thomas becomes angry and then storms off to see the tomb for himself, self-assured that he is the subject of an elaborate prank.  He returns and his doubts are eradicated as he is able to embrace his Savior, wounds and all.  A non canonical character is introduced in the most recent episode, Maya (Helen Daniels), the daughter of Peter.  She serves as a sounding board for Peter during the period in which he does not know what to do now that Jesus has ascended.  “Life used to be easy,” he states, “life just used to be about catching fish, and making money.”  He asks Maya what he should do, “Do what Jesus would do. Pray.” she answers.   

These scenes of Disciples interacting with one another are what has made me tune in for each new episode.  We can get spectacle and intrigue in Game of Thrones, or House of Cards, but A.D.: The Bible Continues is able to make this small set of characters who are known throughout history, and are read about every Sunday, into relatable Christians.   We all have our times of doubt, we all know the path of Christianity is not the easiest, or the safest, and when we don’t know what we should do next, we do know that praying is a good option.  

At the end of this past Sunday’s episode, Peter and John (who are now filled with the Holy Spirit) are beaten and thrown into prison after healing and preaching in the name of Christ.   Instead of hanging their heads and lamenting the fact that their faith has led them there, they look at each other, share a knowing glance and begin to laugh.  Without sounding cheesy, I think it is scenes like this which will keep me coming back to A.D.: The Bible Continues.  Following Jesus is not easy. It is not fun.  It is not glamorous. It is scary and dangerous, and definitely something that should not be undertaken lightly.  But the beautiful part of it all is those shared glances, between yourself and others who are in the trenches with you, with blood in your eyes, laughing.

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