'The Bible' Sequel: 7 Bizarre Scenes to Look Out For
It didn't take a prophet to predict that A.D.: Beyond the Bible, the sequel to History's The Bible, produced by Mark Burnett and Roma Downey, wouldn't be on History.
With over a million units sold on disc and digital, the franchise is too huge. So the sequel will be on NBC. (One Three, Burnett's partnership with Hearst, handles international distribution.) Was the situation like the one in Woody Allen's Broadway Danny Rose -- a talent on the rise leaving a smaller partner because he needs a bigger venue?
"Yes," Burnett tells THR. "Fundamentally, I'm a network producer. Survivor and The Voice became event TV. There is nothing in the world -- nothing -- like an American broadcast network, when things line up, to deliver the most number of eyeballs." And nothing delivers eyeballs like the Bible. "We had almost 100 million viewers in the U.S. alone," says Burnett.
Burnett predicts that A.D. will be an annual event: "We see this going on many years. Think of how many seasons it would take to get to something as significant as Constantine [the Roman emperor whose conversion in A.D. 337 made Christianity go global]." Burnett won't specify what we'll see in the new series, and doesn't want to be pinned down at this point. "Just read the book," he says, "and the historian Josephus, and look at archaeology and other texts."
Based on the books and his hints, THR predicts what you're likely to see in A.D.:
Christians Burned as Human Torches
'"They made candles from Christians!" marvels Burnett. Roman emperor Nero, the psycho sadist who inspired the biblical character of the Antichrist, blamed Christians for the fire that burned most of Rome, so he threw big nighttime parties in his garden where Christians coated with pitch were set on fire to serve as lamps. THR prophecy: Since the act killed in Nero's time, it should do big numbers on NBC.
Mass Suicide at Masada
In A.D. 73, about 1,000 Jewish Zealots on a 1,300-foot rock fought off Roman legions, then committed suicide instead of surrendering in an epic clash of civilizations. "Imagine the might of Rome reeling from the massive unrest," says Burnett. THR prophecy: ABC scored huge ratings with 1981's Peter O'Toole-starring miniseries Masada, and NBC will do it with cooler effects. A.D. is likely to show how Rome's war on the Jews distracted them from the handful of Christian disciples, who grew to hundreds of thousands and conquered the empire using the same ports and 2,500 miles of roads the Romans themselves had built. "The Romans saw the rise of Christianity as a small annoyance," says Burnett. "But those roads backfired."
A Kajillion Crucifixions
"In the siege of Jerusalem [A.D. 66-70], the Romans crucified 500 Jews a day, for months," says Burnett. "As order broke down, armed militias took over. It was as bad inside Jerusalem as out." THR prophecy: You'll see the city burn, chaos erupt, and hundreds of times as many crosses as in The Bible.
Christians Eaten by Beasts
"They fed Christians to lions," says Burnett. Though scholars say it was mostly other animals who tore up Christians, who would sometimes be sewed up in animal skins to make them appetizing to dogs, lions are telegenic and have star quality. THR prophecy: Lions will munch Christians.
Jesus Appearing to St. Paul in "The Third Heaven"
The top Christian evangelist wrote the only known direct account of seeing Jesus after his crucifixion. "The other accounts are all second or third or fourth hand, written down four or five decades after the Resurrection," writes historian Garry Wills. THR prophecy: The Bible was a hit partly because of CGI scenes. If Burnett and Downey pass up the chance to CGI Paul's heavenly trip, it'll be a miracle.
The Smackdown Between St. Peter and St. Paul
The big battle of the first century was between Jewish Christians and gentile Christians who didn't want to eat kosher and get painful adult circumcisions. Peter and Paul argued viciously, in an atmosphere of total paranoia. "There is an incredible throughline of conflict, an internal conflict with Paul -- this guy who used to be a persecutor of Christians," says Burnett. THR prophecy: Peter and Paul will fight with words, not swords. But in real life, Wills believes, one set of Christians informed on the others to the Romans, and that's how Paul and Peter both wound up getting tortured to death by Nero's imaginatively theatrical psychos. This may be too controversial to make it onscreen.
Apostles Dropping Like Flies
However Peter, Paul and the other early Christian leaders died -- crucified upside down, dragged through the streets, stoned or burned -- you can expect lots of them to die, right after you've gotten attached to them, in scenes as startling as Ned's beheading in Game of Thrones. "There was fear around every corner," says Burnett. "The only apostle who died of natural causes is John. So you've got these characters that you know and you're following, and any week one can be killed." THR prophecy: The stoning of St. Stephen is a lock. But scholar Candida Moss complains that the Apostle murder stories were written 300-500 years after they died, and include flying magicians, talking animals, and the resurrection of smoked fish. The writers had an interest in playing up the persecution angle, whereas basically the Romans simply didn't understand what Christians were talking about. "When Peter [in the Acts of Peter, the earliest, second century source describing how he died] persuades the wives and concubines of Roman officials to stop having sex with their partners, do they kill him because he is a follower of Jesus?" says Moss. "Or because they see him as a pest?"
But Burnett trusts his show's legion of religious scholars: "It's epic. You'll say, 'There's no way that happened!' But there's so much documentation. It's the setting for a fantastic TV series. Imagine how brilliant this is for billions of people to see around the world."