• 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


    Monday, July 03, 2023

    The Chosen (2019) s1e08

    In many ways, it felt like episode 7 of The Chosen's opening season was the climax to its various story arcs, so the decision not to end there seems like a curious one. It's true that one of those arcs – that of Nicodemus – moves on a step further in this episode. We leave him hiding round a street corner crying because he cannot follow Jesus to Jerusalem. Yet neither of the main two story lines in this episode are primarily about major characters. One revolves around the healing of Peter's Mother-in-law (Mark 1:29-31) who has featured before, as has Peter's wife, but they've mainly functioned as filling in Peter's back-story as significant characters in their own right. Secondly, there's the woman of Samaria who, is an entirely new character as this is the first time we've really seen Jesus moving beyond Galilee.

    And perhaps this last point is why this series ends where it does. It's not driven so much by story arcs and characters, as the breaks in the text, which, I suppose, say something about Jesus' story arc. His ministry is about to extend beyond it's initial Galilean base and begin a new phase. This is an interesting decision in terms of its use of the gospels. The three Synoptics only have Jesus go to Jerusalem once (as an adult); John has three visits. The writers are harmonising here and it makes me wonder how this structure will continue in future seasons. 

    It's curious too that we see Quintus making a decree banning religious gatherings and saying Jesus is sought for questioning. Is this merely coincidental timing and Jesus is unaware he is wanted. Or is Jesus' move south supposed to be motivated by fear?

    It's also noticeable how both of the major story lines in this episode revolve around women, and this has been one of the strengths of this series – though I don't know whether this derives from a theological conviction or the need to appeal to a wider base. In addition to the Samaritan and Peter's mother-in-law, we've already seen a lot of emphasis on Mary Magdalene and Jesus' mother Mary, which might be expected but in the former case is certainly sooner than might be expected. Plus we've also seen a fictional character, Tamar, framing and almost overshadowing the story of the man healed from being paralysed (ep.6), as well as the most prominent child in children-only episode (3) being female.

    Given Peter's mother-in-law is healed then I'm curious as to why the filmmakers decided not to have Peter's wife join them on their travels. There's no scriptural precedent for this of course. After all we only really know Peter even has a wife because we're told he has a mother-in-law. But it does show Magdalene making the trip, seemingly as the only woman. There's some precedent for Magdalene being present – in Luke 8:1-3, she is named as being on one of Jesus' preaching tours – but in The Chosen she seems to be the only woman, as opposed to the "many other women" (8:3) Luke mentions (on a separate occasion). Is the difference that Peter's wife is married and so the filmmakers consider her 'rightful' place to be at home? If so what about Joanna, whose husband Chuza still appears to be on the scene.

    The main biblical incident in this episode, though, is Jesus' conversation with the Samaritan woman at the well (here called Photina following Eastern Orthodox tradition). The fictionalised backstory to this one starts from the opening scene which heads back to (an oddly specific) 1152 BC and a conversation Jacob has with a local named Yassib. Yassib thinks he knows that it is impossible for Jacob (and his 12 sons) to dig a well as the water circumnavigates their land. He also thinks its strange that Jacob is relying on promises made to his ancestors (and, by implication that Jacob's ancestors relying on promises to him would be equally odd). Of course, in mere seconds Yassib is proved wrong. Water miraculously springs up through the ground seconds later.

    This is a bit odd for a number of reasons. Firstly because the Hebrew Bible has no mention of Jacob's Well. This is something that is only found in the New Testament and subsequent traditions. There's no reason to assume that Jacob's well has any link to the patriarch of the latter part of Genesis, not least because the NT writers still seem broadly happy to operate under the cultural assumptions that Samaritans are bad and untrustworthy.

    Furthermore, it's hard to tell what the point of this scene actually is. If it's that Jacob's god is different in that he expects you to wait generations for him to come through on his promises, then the (almost instantaneous) miraculous (?) provision of water, rather seems to undermine Jacob's argument. Perhaps it simply serves as a reminder that, like the Jews, Samaritans also owed at least part of their inheritance to Jacob (or Israel as he is also known in Genesis) and that Jesus' ministry is for all of Jacob's 'sons', not just the descendants of his son Judah. I also noticed that when we jump back to the incident in the Gospels, it's dated as 26AD, thirty years after the latest date usually given for the end of Herod the Great's reign (this was also the date given in s1e3).

    There's further filling in the gaps later on as well, namely around Photina's current and previous relationships (which in John has Jesus summarise as "you have had five husbands and the man you are living with is not your husband). I've heard various takes on this over the years. It's often read that this is a woman of low morals, but even she is valued by Jesus - a fleshed out portrait of Jesus' reputation for consorting with sinners. Another view points out that marriage was not really something women were active partners in. Your first marriage was dictated to by your family, and if your first husband divorced you (which he could do relatively easily according to some traditions) then society gave you no way of supporting yourself other than by finding another husband. This view casts the woman as a tragic figure, forced to move from one dead/fickle husband to another by patriarchal society.

    The fleshing out of Photina here chooses neither approach, but incorporates a hint of both. An early conversation with her fifth (still living, still not divorced) husband. She is trying to divorce him, as she now lives with another, but he won't because she is his "property" and he doesn't "part lightly with his possessions". He wants her to return, but also recognises that some of his predecessors have mistreated her in divorcing her when each "gets bored" and that she married him for "stability". In other words this is a more complex and nuanced scenario than either of those presented above, and while it's not necessarily logical, I kind of like it, because life, and marriage, is rarely logical either. Later Photina is shunned by a street vendor, though even in that conversation there's a suggestion that while he can't be seen to associate with her, he's not entirely unsympathetic to her plight.

    We also get a bit of further exposition of the relationship between Jews and Samaritans and the fact that Jesus seems to go out of his way to talk to this woman. There's mention of some of the reasons for the animosity between the two peoples. Initially, the conversation itself holds fairly closely to the text of John 4, but then Jesus goes beyond knowing about the five husbands and the one to giving a detailed breakdown of her first relationships. He also explains that he "came to Samaria just to meet you" and tells her that he has not revealed to the public that he is the messiah. 

    Finally the disciples return, there's the conversation about his food being doing God's will before the series ends on a more general note with Jesus saying "it's been a long time of sowing but the fields are ripe for harvest".

    I haven't decided yet whether to post a few reflections on season 1 as a whole next, or move onto season 2. Watch this space I guess.



    • At 12:38 pm, July 08, 2023, Blogger VEITU said…

      Loved the samaritan woman scene

    • At 3:31 pm, July 09, 2023, Blogger Matt Page said…

      Thanks VEITU

    • At 4:46 am, September 10, 2023, Blogger Peter T Chattaway said…

      Re: Peter's wife, we don't have to infer her existence from Peter's mother-in-law -- Paul actually mentions her in I Corinthians 9:5! And, interestingly, Paul says Peter took his wife with him on his journeys -- at least during the period after the gospels.

      The more interesting thing, to me, is that Jesus openly praises Peter and the other disciples in the gospels for leaving their wives and children to follow him (Matthew 19:27-29, Luke 18:28-30), and there is no hint that Jesus tried to soothe the wives and children who were left behind... but clearly the producers of this series felt that such soothing was needed.

      The prologue -- with Jacob talking to one of the locals about how much better, and more peaceful, his God is than all the local gods -- is weirdly funny to me, in light of what Jacob's family does to the locals very soon after this prologue takes place (a la Genesis 34).

      Oh, and re: the date: In the original version of Season 1, the main action was said to take place in "30 A.D.". This was later revised to "A.D. 26" (and flashbacks in Episodes 1 and 5 that took place in "2 A.D." and "12 A.D." were revised to "2 B.C." and "A.D. 8", respectively). It appears the producers eventually did become aware that Herod's death -- and therefore Jesus' birth -- is typically dated no later than 4 B.C. But they still made an error in calculation, because there is no Year Zero -- the timeline goes straight from 1 B.C. to A.D. 1 -- so A.D. 26 is actually 29 years after 4 B.C., not 30 years.

    • At 9:06 pm, September 20, 2023, Blogger Matt Page said…

      Thanks Peter, I forgot about that Corinthians verse.


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