• Bible Films Blog

    Looking at film interpretations of the stories in the Bible - past, present and future, as well as preparation for a future work on Straub/Huillet's Moses und Aron and a few bits and pieces on biblical studies.

    Matt Page


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    Saturday, April 28, 2018

    A.D. (2015) - Part 12

    This is part 12 of a series of posts covering A.D. episode by episode and are initial impressions not a review. You can read them all here
    So we arrive at the final episode in the first series of A.D.: The Bible Continues, which, three years after series 1 concluded, looks likely to be the last episode, leaving the series high and dry somewhere around Acts 11. It's a shame really because as the series has continued it has far out stripped my expectations, not only surpassing The Bible (2013) and it's spin off Son of God (2014), but also the series' earliest episodes which seemed to fall prey to the same weaknesses as its predecessor. As the series has moved further away from the Gospels, and as the biblical content has been diluted with the Roman/fictional content it seems to have improved. There's still been the odd dodgy special effect - and this episode's angelic appearance to Cornelius is no exception - but the over-emphasis on violence has been replaced by better storytelling craft, character development and pacing.

    The backstory that has been building up through the last few episodes is that of the statue of Gaius (i.e. Caligula) that is to be erected in the temple. The portrayal here conflates things a little. Pilate was out of power in Jerusalem by about 37AD, but the incident with Gaius' statues did not occur until around 39-40AD (recorded in Philo). There was however an earlier episode which both Philo and Josephus record where Pilate tried to erect Roman standards bearing Caesar's image. This took place around 26-27AD, at the start of Pilate's governorship and at which the Jewish leaders and people "fell to the ground in a body and bent their necks, shouting that they were ready to be killed rather than transgress the Law" (Josephus, War II:175-203, 7). This earlier episode was portrayed at the very start of Jesus (1999).

    The composite incident we are left with in A.D.: Kingdom and Empire has Gaius' statues being brought into the temple by a nervy Pilate. There the Christian's, led by James and Peter, join Caiaphas and the high priests in kneeling on the ground in front of Pilate's soldiers and bearing their necks. Pilate decides discretion is the better part of valour and withdraws to consider his options. The last scene in the series is someone coming to arrest Peter, presumably just in time for series 2 to begin at the start of chapter 12.

    Before all this however Peter has been in Joppa. There he encounters Cornelius after both men have heard from God. Peter for his part hears a voice that simply says "Peter, these are looked on as unclean, but do not call anything impure that God has cleansed." and on screen we see a selection of brief shots of individual non-kosher animals.It's all over rather quickly. Cornelius however, sees his vision only after being overwhelmed by guilt for killing Joanna. He takes some time out from Jerusalem for a while and arrives in Joppa and whilst there sees a vision of an angel who tells him "Godly has looked kindly on your...repentance" and asks him to send for Peter. The two meet and talk, and then those present - including Cornelius's family - start speaking in tongues and we see tongues of fire.

    This scene is notable for several reasons. Firstly, because whilst all the elements of the biblical version of the story are essentially present, albeit in abbreviated form, it feels rather deprived of the Jewish context. I think essentially Peter seems to lack any sense of disgust at the unclean animals and untroubled by the implications of what is now happening. It's more than that, though. Somehow despite the way the series has led the way in its portrayal of race in many ways, it doesn't quite get this right here. The incident just lacks the significance the Bible gives it.

    Secondly, it's interesting to see the different characters speaking in tongues. This is straight out of the Bible, but it's interesting that we don't often get to see Christians speaking in tongues, except occasionally at Pentecost, and even then it's rather different. Here the characters are speaking tongues making a similar sounds and in a similar manner to how charismatic Christians do today. That's an assumption by the filmmakers, but it's interesting to see.

    It's also notable that Mary Magdalene is with Peter when she meets Peter and she somehow discerns that Cornelius was responsible for killing her friend Joanna and is troubled by it. Again it would be easy to be sniffy about this, but there is a ring of truth about the way this unfolds. Cornelius haunted by the guilt of it. A discerning Christian able to somehow put the finger on the issue, which, in turn therefore deeply affects the person in question.

    Lastly once their meeting is over Cornelius pretty much just returns to his old job. The show does quite a good job of exploring this. Peter and his friends expect Cornelius to join their ranks, just as previous Jewish converts have done. Cornelius however think he has to go back to soldiering, but with an expectation that roles will change. It's tempting to say the show is pushing for a world where faith has no bearing on your beliefs and actions in your day job, but actually this is not at all fair. Instead it leaves it open and we're unsure how it will resolve itself. Cornelius is clearly a changed man and that is impacting how he lives in all areas of his life, but for him it doesn't equate to leaving the army, at least not yet.

    It would be interesting to see how these various things resolve themselves, both as the focus shifts away from Jerusalem and as the leading characters become less tethered to the biblical characters. Sadly it doesn't look like we'll get the chance. It's a shame though because whilst I had to force myself to watch the first few episodes, in the second half of the series I've found myself having to slow down the rate at which I watched it to give myself enough time to write it up. I believe Roma Downey and Mark Burnett would like to produce more episodes. Lets hope that, against all odds, they get the chance.

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