Mark Burnett and Roma Downey’s television series A.D. continued this week with episode 9 “Saul’s Return.” We asked for your questions. The following are brief responses to top questions.
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Was Caligula really an insane emperor?
History does record Caligula as a crazed emperor whose actions often left his followers with the impression that a madman led them. His portrayal of asking his follower to kill himself is a literary addition that may have well fit his reputation.
Further, his demand of a statue of himself in the temple is historically accurate. Caligula made this demand in 40, a few years later than the timeline in A.D. Further, Caligula ruled from Italy, not Jerusalem. Third, Pilate was removed from leadership no later than 37. He would not have been the man in leadership during this time. A statue was planned for the temple, yet was not placed there as intended following intervention by the Jewish people to their Roman representatives.
How did the apostles respond to the conversion of Saul?
Following Saul’s conversion, Barnabas was the first church leader to accept Saul as a genuine believer. Acts 9:26-30 shares:
When he came to Jerusalem, he tried to join the disciples, but they were all afraid of him, not believing that he really was a disciple. But Barnabas took him and brought him to the apostles. He told them how Saul on his journey had seen the Lord and that the Lord had spoken to him, and how in Damascus he had preached fearlessly in the name of Jesus. So Saul stayed with them and moved about freely in Jerusalem, speaking boldly in the name of the Lord. He talked and debated with the Hellenistic Jews, but they tried to kill him. When the believers learned of this, they took him down to Caesarea and sent him off to Tarsus.
Many facts are shared in this account regarding Saul. First, Saul tried to join the apostles. Second, they feared him. Third, Barnabas served as Saul’s connection to the apostles. Fourth, Saul shared his testimony about Damascus road. Fifth, Saul preached openly about Jesus. Sixth, he sought to evangelize Hellenistic (Greek-speaking) Jews who tried to assassinate him. Seventh, the believers helped Saul escape to Tarsus.
A.D. portrays this basic storyline well, adding further tension between Peter and Saul during this time.
Was Tabitha the same character found in the book of Acts?
Tabitha is seen suffering at the hands of Caligula. Afterwards, she is comforted by Mary Magdalene who secretly serves the emperor. Later, Tabitha connects with Joanna who tells her more about Jesus.
While not made clear yet in the series, it appears this Tabitha will be revealed as the same woman mentioned in Acts 9:36-43. There, she lives in Joppa and is described as “always doing good and helping the poor” (v. 36). She dies from a sickness and is then raised to life by Peter.
Though Tabitha’s role in A.D. is clearly a fictional addition, the attempt is to introduce a character often overlooked in Scripture. Tabitha likely did not stay in Jerusalem, yet served the Lord and was a powerful example of God’s work through the apostle Peter to raise her to life.
Was Saul arrested in Jerusalem?
The New Testament does not record that Saul was arrested during the time portrayed in this episode of A.D. Instead, we are told, “He talked and debated with the Hellenistic Jews, but they tried to kill him. When the believers learned of this, they took him down to Caesarea and sent him off to Tarsus” (Acts 9:29-30).
Saul escaped, leading to a brief time of peace in the early church. Verse 31 summarizes, “Then the church throughout Judea, Galilee and Samaria enjoyed a time of peace and was strengthened. Living in the fear of the Lord and encouraged by the Holy Spirit, it increased in numbers.”
What was the Abomination of Desolation mentioned in the episode?
The apostles debated whether the coming statue of Caligula to the temple would be the Abomination of Desolation prophesied by Daniel (Daniel 7) and mentioned by Jesus (Mark 13) that would take place to mark the return of Jesus. This intriguing idea has often been noted by scholars in connection with Caligula. Whether the apostles and early Christians held this interpretation is uncertain, but was likely one of the views under discussion during this time.
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