• 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


    Thursday, May 30, 2024

    The Chosen (2021) s2e02

    After a fairly eventful first episode of the new series, this one feels like a return to the world-building that sets The Chosen apart from other on-screen depictions of Jesus. This is not unfamiliar for the series being similar to the earlier episodes of season 1. Here, the episode essentially takes place on the road between their unknown encampment and Caesarea Philippi (although the pronunciation of Caesarea Philippi  is fairly unusual). 

    We also get introduced to two more disciples, which actually is fairly rare the series so far. When we first meet Jesus, he already has a few that disciples in tow or at least is friends with them, Peter, Big James etc. and we're introduced to Mary joining the group. Then at the end of the first season we get the climax of Matthew's conversion narrative. Other than that, though, relatively few of the 12 have a joined (perhaps Thomas?). 

    In some ways, then, it's interesting to see two new disciples joining in the one episode, although in both the Bible and the episode there's a sense that they come as a pair. 


    The first one we encounter is Nathaniel and he is introduced in the style that's quite common for the Chosen. The first scene features a new location and new members of the cast. We learn a little bit about this person's backstory, and their motivations, before cutting then to scenes of the disciples or of Jesus (or both). Then gradually the new cast member comes into the orbit of the established group and eventually becomes part of the movement (if not the disciples).

    And so it is with Nathaniel. We meet him as an architect with great ambitions, but facing prejudice both for being Jewish, and also because of his level of education. When one of his building projects fails (perhaps because of this prejudice) he is left emotionally broken and out of a job. Those who know their Bible well but we'll recognise the name Nathaniel and so not not be surprised when sooner or later he appears under a tree weighing up his future. 

    Here, just to make sure no-one misses it, Nathaniel ends by crying out "Do you see me? Do You See Me?". Of course God does, which means at the end of the episode Jesus is able to say to him "I saw you under the fig tree" -- a strong suggestion that Jesus and God are one the same. The story-line is brought to an unintentionally amusing conclusion when Nathaniel utters something, as if deliberately quoting the screenplay of The Matrix, "He is the one".


    The other new character we meet here is Philip and his introduction is very different from the pattern outlined above. Philip seems to come across Peter and the other disciples as they're wandering through the countryside. He himself seems very familiar with them, leaving them befuddled as to how he is so familiar with them, when they have only just met. 

    It quickly transpires, though, that not only does he know Andrew, but he has also been a disciple of John the Baptist for the last two years. We also discover that he knows Nathaniel fairly well, although the two have very different personalities: whereas Nathaniel is aware of his own hubris, there's an implication that perhaps he has been a little arrogant, and that he is not particularly comfortable around people. 

    In contrast, Philip is incredibly personable and has much higher confidence than his architect friend. He rubs Peter, and perhaps some of the other disciples, up the wrong way a little, but certainly endears himself to some of the more fringe members of the group with whom he seems to take time to connect, valuing and emphasising their importance to Jesus' movement. In some ways I'm rather with Peter, though I appreciate Philip's concern for those on the margins, and the way that he is already acting as the social glue that holds Jesus' movement together. 

    John the Baptist and Herod

    It's interesting too that we learn quite a bit about the series' John the Baptist from this encounter. As the show started long after Jesus' baptism, we mainly have encountered John through the other disciples's comments, particularly Peter who (as is pointed out to Philip) Peter calls John "crazy John". Here we also have Jesus refer to him as his cousin and clarify that they are more or less the same age. These are details that many biblical scholars question. For many, the thought is that John was older and in some ways Jesus was initially a follower, part of his movement, before choosing his own path. The tying of the two of them together as part of the same family, according to this theory, is the familial details we find in Luke's Gospel are later inventions. 

    I'm not sure that Jesus being a disciple of John's, prior to beginning his own ministry, rules out the possibility that the two are not related. It's certainly not implausible that two people with similar genes end up having a similar set of skills and ending up in the public eye, despite having separate careers. We wouldn't assume that if Luke had not mentioned it, but given that he does, I'm not sure there's much of a case for overturning it.

    It does seem, though, that John is still alive and so perhaps we might meet him before he meets his untimely fate.

    We also get a little bit more information about Herod. This comes as the group approach their destination at the end of the episode, Caesarea Philippi. We're told that John criticised Herod for his killing sons and swapping wives. It's interesting to see the mention of 'killing sons' as this is not found in scripture, but it's something we know from other sources such as Josephus. Again I wonder if we will get to meet Herod at any point before Jesus' trial.

    Jewish context

    Perhaps it's just some of the discussions that I've been involved in online and the comments that the director Dallas Jenkins has made himself, but it became far clearer in this episode (to me at least) the extent to which the show is keen to emphasise Jesus' Jewish heritage: the use of the word rabbi (which has been involved in since the start) felt like it was is being used more frequently here. Philip applies it to John for example. 

    Secondly, there's a lot of discussion about " Hebrew School", particularly between Philip and Matthew. Matthew we learn was so good at maths he dropped out of Hebrew language classes to focus on Maths alone. The point is made -- and I'm not really sure what historical basis there is for this -- that all the male disciples, more or less, have been to Hebrew School.

    This is perhaps why nearly all of them are able to join in with a recitation of a relatively obscure passage in Ezekiel (39:9-10a). Perhaps this passage is better known amongst the Jewish community now, or there is some evidence that it had great significance at the time, but it's not one that is in a lot of people's consciousness. So the fact that so many other disciples are able to recite it, in such unison, is either further proof of what good Jews they are, or a suggestion that they know most of the Hebrew Bible as well as this, or perhaps both. 

    I'm open to being correct about this, but it feels like a stretch. I don't know that there's much evidence that the average peasant labourer / fishermen would have enjoyed this level of education. Most of their time would have been spent learning the family trade and then starting to work in said business from a young age. Nevertheless, the point is also made that women such as Mary would not have had such an opportunity.

    I've mentioned here before about James Crossley's line about many portrayals of Jesus showing him as "Jewish, but not that Jewish" and this feels like perhaps another example. (We also get, for example, Jesus or the disciples, making derogatory comments about organised religion which apparently Jesus doesn't "do". 


    There were a couple of other things that grabbed my attention as well, both of which take place on the road as part of a conversation between Peter (who we're still calling Simon) and Jesus. The first is Peter and his concern that as the number of followers grows, there is a lot of duplication of effort and perhaps a lack of leadership. 

    It's a really interesting way of raising this part of Simon's personality, because it's clear to the audience that Simon is jostling for position and wanting to get himself appointed to a special leadership position over the others. Jesus though is not playing the game and handles things expertly. 

    Firstly, he doesn't call Peter out on his rather transparent bid for power, but instead speaks to the longer term potential of the movement. Then, when the appropriate moment arrives, Peter's special skills will come to the fore. This is clearly a nod towards him becoming the 'leader' of the early church, and it's interesting that what both men are envisaging seems relatively hierarchical. Certainly it will appeal more to those within Catholicism than those within movements such as the quakers. And this forms an interesting counterpoint to the comments earlier about Jesus' dislike of religion. Put perhaps I'm reading too much into that.

    This conversation does feel like it comes slightly out of left field, however. Peter has never really struck me as the 'system's analyst' guy, which seems to be the role he is playing here. Y es there's a level of calculating self-promotion, which fits with his character elsewhere, and it's good that the show doesn't just portray him as transparently portraying self-promotion, but I also wonder where the streak will go. Will there be any further moments in the show where these skills are in some way brought out or is this just part of the foundations and these to be laid for that later conversation that we all know is coming.

    In any case having spoken to Peter's potential rather than criticised his flaws Jesus dashes off. It's time for him to push the cart carrying their belongings. Big James has been doing it emphasising the strongly physical nature of the task, which is further highlighted by the other disciples initial unwillingness to relieve him. But now Jesus is actively wanting to take on the task, he reminds his followers of his past career as a labourer and the physicality of that task. It's also a nod to the kind of servant leadership typicl of a man who will later, presumably, wash his own disciples' feet. Interestingly though we don't see Jesus pushing the cart, I'm left wondering why that is. It's probably just one of those things, but perhaps there will be more to it...



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