One sentence summary: The series redeems itself with a watchable, thoughtful, final hour.
No commercial moment this week – just repeats of stuff airing over the previous four weeks.
Most memorable moment, the moment that redeemed the series for me: Paul describing his new perspective of God as seen through Jesus. Paul describes his encounter with Jesus where Jesus does not come to him in anger, wrath or judgment, but in love. In spite of his false beliefs and priorities, his errors about what he believed to be the only “right way” to think about God, in spite of his actions harming people, Jesus was not angry with him. Paul goes on to recite words from the Hymn of Love (1 Cor. 13) and ends with “faith, hope, and love remain, but the greatest of these is love.”
The remainder of my thoughts are…
This week picks up in the middle of Jesus’ trial. We see several more appearances of the “black Satan” roaming about the various crowd scenes throughout the trial, beatings, and crucifixion. We are shown the actual suicide of Judas (though we are not shown his face) and twitching of his legs and feet as he dies.
Pilate’s wife takes a rather prominent role, having a dream, warning Pilate multiple times, watching Jesus’ flogging, seeing Jesus’ mother in tears, and then accusing Pilate of making the wrong decision.
The writers continue to liberally alter and combine storylines and timelines, although unlike earlier weeks, the alterations did not seem to alter the primary themes nearly as much.
Peter’s denials do not happen during the night, but in the morning after Jesus is brought out of the temple trial. There is no fire where Peter tries to warm himself, and all denials happen right after another. Jesus is right there and speaks to Peter, reminding him of the previous night’s prediction.
The beatings, mockings, the march out of Jerusalem, the crucifixion – they remind of Mel Gibson’s The Passion of the Christ. Though The Bible does not spend quite as much time on these scenes, it still devotes considerable time. I can only assume it is because in certain branches of Christian theology, there is redemptive value in the act of suffering. If (and that is a big if) the case, why are the gospel accounts so terse in the details of torture and suffering? The gospels present them quite detachedly, careful to avoid any kind of emotional manipulation these scenes could evoke. Rather, the gospels describe the actions and reactions of the characters, the words that are spoken, and it seems that the reader is encouraged to come to intellectual understandings about the meaning of the cross of Jesus.
The entire crucifixion process could be mistaken to begin and end in a matter of minutes. Most of Jesus’ seven last words happen one right after another without break and without cuts in scene.
The resurrection is rather anticlimactic. I get the sense that the focus was on the crucifixion and the suffering. There is nothing about the soldiers guarding the tombs, or the deceit instigated by the Jewish leaders. “Doubting Thomas” scene is combined with the first appearance of Jesus to his disciples.
The writers omit the post-resurrection breakfast on the shore story with its reinstatement of Peter.
Forty days later Jesus meets with his disciples in the wilderness and he is taken up in to heaven. They meet in the Upper Room.
Pentecost arrives and Jews are entering Jerusalem. The disciples are waiting, apparently for Stephen. They return to the Upper Room. As they recite the Lord’s Prayer a strong wind kicks up and they begin speaking foreign languages. At this point the writers combine Peter and John healing a cripple near the temple and Stephen’s stoning. They omit the entire story in Acts that brings Stephen to the fore. There is no hearing before the Sanhedrin. Saul of Tarsus is the one who instigates the stoning.
Some examples of Saul’s brutality and hatred are shown. He pursues believers to Damascus, explaining that this is the right thing to do, to be faithful to God, to protect God, and to do the targets of his persecution a favor by saving them from their false beliefs. Paul has his Damascus Road experience and is changed.
James is executed and the remaining disciples, excepting Peter, flee Jerusalem, spreading the message about Jesus outside of Jewish lands.
Paul appears to a gathering of believers but they doubt his intentions. Paul tells his story (as I wrote at the top of this entry). At the end Paul picks up Luke as his traveling companion. The rest of Paul’s story is very much redacted.
Jesus appears to Peter. This is the Peter and Cornelius story, but again redacted down to almost nothing. There is no vision of a sheet and unclean animals. Jesus tells Peter that “the door is open to everyone” and that he must go with the Roman delegation. The whole of Cornelius’ household believes and is baptized.
Fast forward twenty years. Paul’s first and second imprisonments are combined. Narrator lists a few martyred apostles. John is poisoned. Paul is executed. John revives. John is sent to Patmos. Jesus appears to John, speaks words paraphrased from Revelation. John says, “Amen.”
Camera zooms into Jesus’ right eye, past it to a darkness, then the earth fills the screen, camera zooms out, end of series.
Some thoughts on the series…
The Old Testament segments were terrible. The New Testament segments were a noticeable improvement. The final hour was decent. I give it 6 or 7 out of 10. The first hour knocks it down a point.
I found Paul’s speech to the gathered believers rather telling. From what he said it could be inferred that the creators intend that the “God” that was depicted in the Old Testament portions is not really the true God. Just as Paul discovered the true God in Jesus, the audience is supposed to reject the Old Testament depictions and see the true nature of God in Jesus. I think God finally showed up.
There are only two significant women depicted in the series: Mary Magdalene (primary) and Mary the Mother (secondary). The positive for the series is that it shows Mary Magdalene as a full-fledged disciple of Jesus, following him from beginning to end. She participates with the male disciples, argues with them, and offers her advice. For this the creators are to be commended. Mary the Mother is much more a stock figure of a mother, even though she gets quite a bit of screen time. On the other hand the creators could have brought in any number of other women found in the Bible, some of them leaders of nations and leaders of churches. I believe the creators missed a significant opportunity here.
I think the suffering and crucifixion could have been shortened drastically and replaced with more stories from Acts.
It’s probably a very good thing they didn’t try to do more with Revelation.
No, I won’t purchase the DVD of the series or the series-inspired novel about the Bible.
(My running notes for this week here.)