Alissa’s Note: A.D. The Bible Continues begins airing on Easter Sunday, and during its run, each week Peter Chattaway will be writing recaps of each episode as they air. Recaps involve spoilers, especially if you’re not familiar with the Bible story.

Episode 1: 'The Tomb Is Open'

There are four gospels in the New Testament, each of which include parts of the story that the others leave out. So in a way, it makes sense for Mark Burnett and Roma Downey to produce a whole new dramatization of the death and resurrection of Jesus just two years after they first ventured into this territory with their hit miniseries The Bible.

The first season of A.D. The Bible Continues has been billed as an adaptation of the first ten chapters of Acts, but the first episode sticks to the gospels instead. In fact, it follows the same basic arc as the ninth episode of The Bible, from the trial before Pilate to the discovery of Jesus' empty tomb—but it gets from one point to the other by a very different route.

For one thing, where the earlier series made Nicodemus a major character, the new series focuses on Joseph of Arimathea—and it explores questions I had never really considered before. How did the high priest Caiaphas react when he heard that Joseph, a member of the Sanhedrin like himself, had provided a tomb for Jesus mere hours after Caiaphas and the others had condemned Jesus for his "blasphemy"? After all, since the priests asked Pilate to post a guard outside the tomb, they must have known whose tomb it was.

The new series also focuses on the Roman centurion Cornelius. In the Bible, he appears only in Acts 10, as a devout and God-fearing man who becomes the first Gentile convert to Christianity, but the series sets him up as just another tough-minded Roman, an assistant to Pilate who participates in the crucifixion of Jesus. It will be interesting to see if the series gets around to depicting Cornelius as a man of generosity and constant prayer prior to his baptism, as per the Bible, or if it dwells too long on his brutal-Roman phase.

Gratuitous violence was one of the defining characteristics of The Bible—remember how the angels in Sodom went all martial-arts on the townsfolk there?—and it's not hard to see how A.D. might fall into that habit, too. The first episode features a scene in which a Zealot named Boaz tries to convince Peter and the other grieving disciples to join the revolution, and even though Peter turns him down, you just know we'll see clashes between Jews and Romans in weeks to come. Some of this may well be historical—taken from the pages of Josephus or whatever—but a fair bit probably will not.

And the same angel who drew his sword against the Sodomites in The Bible shows up here, too, as the angel at the empty tomb. He falls through the air like a meteor (which makes you wonder if Jesus will blast off like a rocket when the Ascension happens). And, yes, he draws his sword where the Roman guards can see it—not, apparently, because he's actually going to use the sword or anything, but just because it looks "cool."

The dialogue can be a little on-the-nose (Pilate says he had to kill Jesus because "the man was a danger to the status quo"), and at times it sounds like the script was written by Christian apologists, like when Caiaphas and his wife accuse Joseph of fulfilling a prophecy in Isaiah 53:9, or when Pilate asks Cornelius to confirm that the body of Jesus really was dead—like, really really really dead—before the stone was rolled in front of the tomb.

But at times the series really clicks, especially when Peter, the other disciples, and Mary the mother of Jesus meet in hiding to share their grief and argue over what to do next. The Bible never had time to dwell on character moments like these, and the fact that A.D. does makes me keen to see what happens next, in the eleven episodes to come.

Peter T. Chattaway writes about films in general, and Bible films in particular, at FilmChat.

Watch This Way
How we watch matters at least as much as what we watch. TV and movies are more than entertainment: they teach us how to live and how to love one another, for better or worse. And they both mirror and shape our culture.
Alissa Wilkinson
Alissa Wilkinson is Christianity Today's chief film critic and assistant professor of English and humanities at The King's College in New York City. She lives in Brooklyn.
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