The first followers of Jesus were met with brutal resistance by those who sought to destroy the message of the Gospel. A.D. follows the storyline of Acts and describes the hostility of the Jewish aristocracy, but seeks to balance that with the brutality of Rome and the violent activism of the Zealots.
They have created a fictional Pilate, whose increasingly exaggerated cruelty is probably wearing thin for most viewers. In episode 5 he orders the crucifixion of ten women, going far beyond artistic license and into the realm of morbid entertainment. (See my previous post on Pilate.)
Downey and Burnett do help us imagine the political atmosphere of the 1st century by developing a story of the Zealots (primarily the fictional Boaz), revolutionaries who wanted to violently overthrow Roman authority. Josephus, a 1st century Jewish historian, describes them as a violent deviation from mainstream Judaism, and holds them partly responsible for Rome’s eventual destruction of Jerusalem. A.D. provides a believable portrayal of this movement.
Pilate’s cruelty, Caiaphas’ hostility and the Zealots’ hatred serve as a contrast to the generosity, love and non-violence of the early Christians in episode 5.
Acts 2:42-47 briefly describes the early church’s shared way of life together, gathering daily for food, fellowship and teaching. Luke also tells us that they “were together and had all things in common,” so A.D.’s Christian encampment outside of Jerusalem is entirely believable. There we are able to imagine Jewish converts joining this growing movement and are introduced to Philip, who in Acts (and in A.D.) is one of the seven chosen to make sure food gets distributed to the widows (Acts 6:5).
In episode 5 we witness Stephen’s speech before the Sanhedrin, and his subsequent stoning. Like Peter’s speech in episode 3, we only get a few sentences of this, which severely waters down his message. We also see the Gospel message of love and forgiveness in the life of Boaz, although this is easily lost in the drama, action and suspense in the Caiaphas and Pilate stories.
A.D. has watered down the theology of Acts in favor of action, which from a production standpoint makes sense: most viewers want drama, action and suspense, not history and theology, in a television show.
The last scene gives us a glimpse of Paul. I’m looking forward to seeing how Downey and Burnett develop his character.