A.D. The Bible Continues: “The Road to Damascus” Review

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A.D. The Bible Continues moves closer toward the finale with the recent airing of episode eight on NBC TV. Over the last few weeks, we’ve pointed out how disappointed we’ve been with the biblical and historical inaccuracies in the television show. We’ve also noted that the gospel—which is of central focus in the book of Acts—is glaringly absent from this program. This has been characteristic of the whole show so far. Well, talented writers and researchers Avery Foley and Troy Lacey provide the following review.

Episode eight of the NBC mini-series A.D. The Bible Continues deals with one of the most pivotal events in early church history—the conversion of Saul of Tarsus from a hateful persecutor of the church to a sold-out Christian willing to endure intense persecution and even martyrdom for the faith. Thankfully, unlike many of the previous episodes, episode eight did spend a good portion of its time focusing on events from the biblical text. Of course, there was further intrigue with the palace and with the temple as always, but in this episode the main story was drawn from the pages of Scripture.

As we mentioned last week, A.D. portrays Saul traveling to Damascus because he was tricked by the high priest to get him out of Jerusalem. But, according to Scripture, he was sent to Damascus with letters of permission from the high priest so he could find Christians and haul them back to Jerusalem (Acts 9:1–2). Saul leaves for Damascus in episode eight along with several others, including the head of the Jewish guard, who was sent along to ensure that Saul stayed away from Jerusalem. Along the way, it gets dark, a bright light shines around Saul, and Jesus appears before him. Now, the text does not say that Jesus appeared before Saul. Acts 9 says that a light shone around Saul, and he heard a voice speaking to him (Acts 9:3–4). The show followed Scripture by having Saul fall to the ground and say, “Who are you?”* Interestingly, the program omits the biblical “Lord” from the end of Saul’s question. Saul is rather angry in the show in his response to Jesus, something that does not directly contradict the biblical text but that does take artistic license. However, the companions with Saul appear to just see Saul talking to no one. Yet according to Scripture they saw the light and heard a voice but couldn’t understand what Jesus was saying (Acts 9:7, 22:9). Saul is then blinded and taken into the city.

The episode accurately depicts Saul as refusing to eat or drink while he sits in darkness (Acts 9:9). It also accurately shows Saul having a vision that Ananias would come and restore his sight (Acts 9:12). Now, the biblical text says that Jesus appeared to Ananias in a vision (Acts 9:10), but the show has Jesus appearing bodily before him. The dialogue between Jesus and Ananias is largely drawn from the book of Acts. After speaking with Jesus, Ananias travels to the street called Straight to find Saul. He then lays his hands on Saul’s eyes and says, “He has chosen you to know his will and to see the righteous one and to hear the words from his mouth.” Now these are not the words that Ananias actually spoke to Saul. He actually said, “Brother Saul, the Lord Jesus, who appeared to you on the road as you came, has sent me that you may receive your sight and be filled with the Holy Spirit” (Acts 9:17). Saul’s sight then returns, but no scales fall from his eyes as the text states (Acts 9:18).

After his conversion, Saul tries to convince the other persecutors to join him in being baptized. Again, no mention is made of repentance and faith in Christ, but rather there’s a call to “feel God’s love” and “be baptized in the name of Jesus.” Now, baptism certainly is important, but A.D. is portraying being baptized as the gospel instead of presenting the need to “confess with your mouth the Lord Jesus and believe in your heart that God has raised Him from the dead” in order to be saved (Romans 10:9). It should be noted that the show also correctly depicts Barnabas as being present in Damascus to observe Saul’s change in behavior (Acts 9:27). After Saul is baptized, he immediately, and with great purpose and enthusiasm, travels to the synagogue to preach the gospel. This matches with Acts 9:20.

Although A.D. got many of the details surrounding Saul’s conversion wrong, this episode was the most Jesus- and Bible-centered episode we’ve seen in a while. That was certainly positive and partially reflected the attention back to where it should be—on Christ!

A.D. continues to depict the disciples as a group of nervous cowards, hiding in a cellar in order to escape from Saul’s persecution. However, the Bible never portrays the disciples as hiding from persecution. Instead, it shows them as engaged in a powerful preaching, teaching, and healing ministry all throughout Jerusalem (Acts 4:13, 4:31, 4:33, 5:12–16, 5:29, 5:42, 6:7). After they receive word that Saul has left town, Peter and John journey to Samaria to join Phillip.

This loosely matches Acts 8:14. When they are there, people come to them to be healed because they have heard about the miracles they did in Jerusalem. Now, the text states that Phillip did many signs and wonders in Samaria (Acts 8:13), not that Peter and John did, though it is possible that they did accompany their preaching with signs as they often did (Acts 8:25). While they are healing, they are also preaching to the gathered crowd. They then pray that the new believers will receive the Holy Spirit. According to the biblical text Peter and John did pray that they would receive the Holy Spirit (Acts 8:15).

Simon the Sorcerer, who was baptized in episode seven, then gives Peter everything he owns and says, “I want you to use it to help spread the Word of Jesus. Now all I want in return is just, you know, just a few drops of the Holy Spirit as a friend. As a fellow Jesus follower.” Now, the biblical text records Simon’s request as, “Give me this power also, that anyone on whom I lay hands may receive the Holy Spirit” (Acts 8:19). In the episode, Peter asks Simon if he thinks God can be bought and then bursts into a fit of anger, which includes throwing Simon’s money at him and John holding Peter back with a cautionary “hold your anger.” Peter yells, “Hey! Take back your words. Repent!” John chimes in with, “If you value your life repent now.” This strays far from what the text actually says that Peter declared. In the episode, everything gets dark and the Holy Spirit whips around, shoving Simon to the ground. Simon screams that he repents and Peter begs God to be merciful. The sky then clears. Of course, the scene in Scripture is far less dramatic. Simon is not almost struck down by God. He is severely rebuked by Peter and then says, “Pray to the Lord for me, that none of the things which you have spoken may come upon me” (Acts 8:24).

Part of the episode is taken up with two new characters, Joanna and Chuza. These individuals are found in Luke 8:3. Joanna, among others, is shown to have followed Jesus and supported His ministry. In the program Joanna is properly shown as married to Chuza who was Herod’s steward (Luke 8:3). Also, the show says that she was demon-possessed but healed by Jesus. The text in Luke states that she was one of the women who had been “healed of evil spirits and infirmities,” but it is unclear whether she was healed of demons or sickness. The show also makes her the maidservant of Herodias, which is not found in the text. Joanna is visiting Pilate’s palace with her mistress and bumps into Mary Magdalene who is now working there. She says that she heard that Jesus was dead but Mary enthusiastically gives her the good news that Jesus is alive. But Joanna was one of the woman who went to the tomb, saw it empty, and ran back to tell the disciples (Luke 24:10)! She certainly did not need to be told by Mary that Jesus was risen. Later in the episode, Joanna is heard praying in Jesus’ name, which is a positive to the episode, but when she is brought before Herod and Herodias and accused of following Jesus, she denies Him. This, of course, is artistic license and not recorded in Scripture.

In addition to the many biblical details that the show gets wrong, it also gets many historical details wrong. Again, as explained last week, the whole pretext of having the Emperor Tiberius in Jerusalem is highly unlikely and not attested to in the historical record. Tiberius did not come to Rome to check on Pilate. Rather, Pilate was summoned to Rome to account for his mishandling of a riot in Samaria, but Tiberius died before he got there. The shows depiction of Tiberius as coming to Jerusalem and eventually promoting Pilate to a position in Rome is not historically tenable.

The episode heavily hints that, upon returning to Rome, Tiberius was murdered by Caligula, the next in line for the throne. In historical writings, the accounts of Tiberius' death are conflicting, though a few do mention that Caligula smothered him with a pillow. So, although not fully documented, that part of the episode is at least plausible. But the show has Claudia having premonitions and dreams about Tiberius' death. These are mere artistic license and not rooted in any documented history.

The program also shows Tiberius as concerned with the friendship of Caligula and Agrippa and their rampant immorality and debauchery, some of which is rather graphically depicted on the show. In response, Claudia suggests Agrippa remain with them to be straightened out by Pilate. Tiberius agrees. However, Agrippa did not stay behind in Jerusalem; he was in prison in Rome for stating that he wished Tiberius were dead and that Caligula were the emperor. He wasn't released until Tiberius was dead and Caligula had assumed the imperial throne. In fact, Agrippa would have been unwelcome in Jerusalem, because Herod Antipas by this time hated him and would have liked nothing better than for him to be dead.

Also, it seems historically unlikely that the reason Tiberius would be angry with Caligula was because of his lechery. In fact, Roman historians like Tacitus and Suetonius were not kind to Tiberius and accused him of the worst possible sexual deviancy. Some even blamed Caligula's behavior on Tiberius' bad influence and even encouragement in various perversions while secluded at the Isle of Capri. To paint Tiberius as a "kind-hearted old man,” as the show does, is to ignore the many Roman and Jewish historians who wrote of him as a complete monster.

Right as he is leaving Jerusalem, Caligula proclaims that Pilate and "you all will answer to me," possibly referring to all of Jerusalem. If this is the case, it is ironic that later when Caligula is emperor, he is talked out of requiring Jews to make allegiance to him as Divine, by Herod Agrippa's influence. It seems that the Jews were largely spared from Caligula's wrath, only to face imperial banishment from Rome by his successor Claudius. This would hardly be the case if the show’s depiction of Caligula’s anger toward Pilate and Jerusalem were accurate. When Caligula returns to Pilate as the newly elected Emperor in place of Tiberius, he strips him of his promotion. However, historical details show that Pilate traveled to Rome to stand before Tiberius, who died while Pilate was en route. Caligula then replaced him with Marcellus. So while it makes for interesting character subplots, none of this current drama being dragged out here has any historical attestation.

Unfortunately, A.D. continues to get both the biblical and the historical details wrong with this episode, as it has with others. Though this episode did focus more on the biblical events and on Christ than did other episodes, it was still sadly lacking the gospel and accuracy.

As with other weeks, I encourage you to use A.D. as a springboard for gospel-centered conversations. This episode could be used perhaps to discuss the incredible and immediate change that the Holy Spirit can make in a person when they repent and place their faith in Christ, as Saul did. Even though we certainly cannot recommend A.D. as a TV show, we can still use it to point those who watched it toward Christ and what He did for them.

Keep checking answersingenesis.org for a review of episode nine.

Thanks for stopping by and thanks for praying,
Ken

This item was written with the assistance of AiG’s research team.

*All quotations from the episode are taken from the subtitles provided by NBC in the video on its website.

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