• 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


    Wednesday, February 02, 2022

    The Chosen (2019) s1e04

    Having enjoyed episode 3 of The Chosen not quite as much as I enjoyed episodes 1 and 2, I'm a little apprehensive about sitting down to number 4. Will it return to the appeal of the first episodes, or has the novelty worn off? It starts bizarre;y enough with Peter on a rowing boat with a group of Roman soldiers when he "accidentally" directs them onto a sand bar – damaging their boat – one of them uses his sword to cut his ear. Presumably this is nod to the moment in the Garden of Gethsemane where Simon Peter (according to John 18:10, but not the Synoptics) cuts off Malchus' ear.

    Of course, at this point in the episode he is only Simon, but this is the episode where Andrew tells him about Jesus, then he meets Jesus after a disappointing night fishing, Jesus produces a multitude of fish, Simon believes and decides to follow him and gains his nickname "Rocky". 

    What's interesting is that this formula is fairly well worn in Jesus films, but it's not really like that in the Gospels. Without checking, I'm reasonably certain that Jesus of Nazareth (1977), Jesus (1999) and The Miracle Maker (2000) all follow this pattern. The Gospels however have it slightly differently. Mark and Matthew just have Jesus meeting Andrew and Peter at the same time at the Sea of Galilee and calling them without any miracle. Luke doesn't really have the story of Simon being called. Simon just appears in 4:38, as if everyone already knows who he is, with a mother-in-law in need of healing. 

    The groundwork for the story of Peter's mother-in-law is foreshadowed in this episode. We're introduced to Peter's wife, who tells him that "Eema" is sick and rebukes him for not looking after her enough. Peter reveals he's in trouble. He has tax debts and has been fishing on the Sabbath (here called "Shabbat" throughout) and is in increasingly desperate need of "a miracle". He needs a big catch of fish. "Where is your faith?" his wife demands "You've not pursued the Lord lately. Not like the man that I married".

    The miraculous catch of fish episode appears only in two gospels, and in radically different places. In Luke it appears at the start of ch.5, just a few verses after the healing of Simon's mother-in-law. In John, however, it's tagged on to the end of the Gospels, as a post resurrection appearance. Some claim these are two entirely separate incidents, perhaps even making the point about Simon's failure to learn, or that it gives the moment when he sees the miracle for a second time he knows this is Jesus even though he's a distance away.

    John's other innovation is to change the role of Peter's brother Andrew. In the Synoptics he's a bit of an also ran. In John (1:35-42) he gets promoted to being one of the two disciples who initially follow John the Baptist (the other is not named, though Jesus films that include this incident nearly always make him John), until the Baptist points them towards Jesus and they then transfer their allegiance. Andrew then goes and tells Peter who meets Jesus and joins up. Jesus changes his name then and there (in Mark isn't mentioned until 3:16, likewise the other Synoptics).

    As  with the three films mentioned above here we have these various bits harmonised into one story, that doesn't really match what any one of the Gospels says. Andrew, is the wide-eyed dreamer: Peter the practical based realist. Andrew returns excited about "the Messiah", Peter thinks he is just being naive. They go out to fish, catch nothing, but when they return Jesus tells them to try again, Peter points out this is impractical. Cue miraculous catch of fish, Simon's exclamation ("You are the Lamb of God. Depart from me. I am a sinful man... you don't know who I am and the things I've done") and his conversion and calling.

    Here however, there's a far greater level of desperation in Peter's circumstances and far more severe character flaws than is typical for this soon-to-be-leader-of-the-(whole?)-church. He's been a gambler and got into trouble and now he's in trouble for tax fraud. There's suggestions of violence and drunkenness in there as well. And now he's working on the Sabbath.

    The moment when the miracle happens is far more dramatic as well, and certainly wants to emphasise that this is a miracle. It comes as Simon is about to be seized for his tax debt - "its my last night as a free man and I'm fishing". The catch takes place in very shallow waters and the nets don't even seem laid out in such a fashion that a bunch of fish could get suddenly trapped. Yet here the pull from the net is so sever that the boat almost capsizes. There's also a God shot at this point - the first in the episode, and perhaps even the series.

    All of which makes this quite a showy and dramatic way to present this story. The films mentioned above follow a similar structure and while they also suggest that this is a miracle by Jesus, these "enhancements" are absent. They all involve interpretation but whereas those other leave the door open for more natural/coincidental/God-working-through-nature interpretations, here only one reading seems possible. It's interesting too that the film's director, in the after the credits chat, actually calls the recording of that scene itself "a miracle". This is a step above Mel Gibson's claims about the "Holy Ghost" when he was making The Passion of the Christ (2004).

    Several other named biblical characters also feature several times in this episode. Firstly I've already mentioned Andrew, but James and John appear in the background and get a few lines. There's also a role for Zebedee whose warm, avuncular, portrayal contrasts significantly with the spiky antagonist of Last Temptation of Christ (1988).

    Nicodemus also makes a few appearances without really moving things on, I'm guessing they're positioning him as a character the audience can relate to, who can be converted as per the John 3:16 passage, relatively early on in the series. The episode ends with him seeking out John the Baptist to ask about "the miracles".

    Matthew also makes another appearance. He's portrayed very differently to Simon. Yes he's a tax collector, but he's nervous and clearly not at all comfortable with his form of employment. It's interesting that whereas The Chosen is making Peter a bit rougher round the edges than the Gospels do, trying to remove that saintly edge, they seem to be semi-rehabilitating Matthew to lessen his complicity in Rome's oppressive machine. He's also fascinated by what is going on and Jesus in particular and the way Matthew always carries a pen and parchment and regularly jots things down, is clearly intended to mark(!) him out as an eye-witness Gospel author who can be relied upon because he was literally noting things down as they happened. 

    Again this is a very conservative view point solidified a bit via the series' presentation of him. But then Christian history has spent a long time developing the romance of Matthew's character and his narrative arc. The opposite viewpoint – that Matthew was not one of the disciples who used other people's accounts and recalled sayings (and may even have written in Hebrew not Greek or Aramaic) has not really been retold with the same level of fond devotion. As a result it's far less appealing despite historical probability being in its favour. 

    Lastly given the last episode took place seemingly before Jesus' ministry, it's a surprise that we've skipped over Jesus' baptism. But then the series is certainly happy with a jumbled chronology and seems to use it (well) as a narrative device a fair bit, so I imagine we will circle back to this moment later. I guess this enables the series to telescope a fair bit. I've no idea if there has been a crucifixion scene yet, but, in theory the filmmakers could keep this constantly within reach, without getting there for quite a long time.

    I do like the way this episode manages to roll a number of episodes in together in a way that is dramatically satisfying, even is the theological positioning is a bit strong at time. It reflects, I suppose, the bite-sized way they Gospels are typically read and in some ways written. Chronology is a secondary concern to serving the narrative and the portrayal and the episodes work as relatively self-contained stories within a grander narrative.I'm interested to see if this is going to be a regular feature of the series.

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    • At 10:04 pm, November 11, 2022, Anonymous Rebecca Delity said…

      very descriptive and informative blog, thank you! I was searching for info. concerning the telenova loosely based on the 10 Commandments with G. Winter, which is dubbed, but still quite good. Thank you!
      from rdelity@yahoo.com
      (not a spammer)

    • At 8:46 am, November 25, 2022, Blogger Matt Page said…

      Hi Rebecca,
      Thanks for your message.
      I'm not sure if you'd already seen some of the info here on that production, but if not here's a bit about the telenovelas in general:
      And here's my extended review of the cinema cut of the Ten Commandments one:
      http://biblefilms.blogspot.com/2020/05/os-dez-mandamentos-o-filme-2016.html. I also write about the movie-cut in my book "100 Bible Films" which has some references to a few other sources though I'm not sure what off the top of my head.

    • At 8:01 pm, April 14, 2024, Anonymous Anonymous said…

      Why in the first episodes did the soldier cut off Peters ear instead of Peter cutting the soldiers ear?This is not an accurate description of what happened and what was written in scripture.

    • At 8:55 am, April 26, 2024, Blogger Matt Page said…

      I guess this is poetic licence. I imagine when we get to Gethsemane we'll see Peter cutting off Malchus's ear. My guess is that by doing this they will use it to justify Peter's violent response in Gethsemane.


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