Sunday, March 24, 2013

Understanding Caiaphas -- The Bible Series

The Bible series continues on History Channel tonight and introduces, among others, the character of Caiaphas.  The character of Caiaphas presents one of the greatest challenges for any Jesus film or Passion play, and many have failed the test, making Caiaphas a cartoon, caricature baddie who makes no historical sense and who is offensive to boot.

There are, however, exceptions.  When I consulted on The Passion (BBC / HBO, 2008), I was delighted to find that Frank Deasy, the writer, and Nigel Stafford-Clark, the producer, were eager to make all the characters in the drama understandable, even sympathetic.  This is Frank Deasy discussing how he wrote Caiaphas:

One of the elements that I found so admirable in Deasy's script was the idea of giving Caiaphas a family, a wife and daughters, and allowing us to see something of his life.  Ben Daniels himself reflects on the role in a BBC video interview here.

The Bible series is in the same tradition.  Although it cannot give as much screen time to Caiaphas as something like The Passion, it still works hard to try to understand the character and the historical context.  I know that Helen Bond's book Caiaphas: Friend of Rome and Judge of Jesus? (Louisville: Westiminster John Knox, 2004) was used by the production team in order to help them to understand and so to write the character, and Helen herself was one of the consultants on the series.  (For those not familiar with Helen's work, a great place to begin is her online piece Joseph Caiaphas: In Search of a Shadow).

Caiaphas in The Bible is played by Adrian Schiller, one of several Doctor Who alumni to appear in the series.  Schiller played Uncle in the magnificent 2011 episode The Doctor's Wife, penned by Neil Gaiman.  You can see him interviewed about playing Caiaphas, with several clips, here:

Schiller shows a fine understanding of the historical issues here, with the crowds that would have been in Jerusalem at Passover.  A couple of quotations:
"There is no reason to think that he was anything other than utterly sincere in his beliefs and his adherence to his religion . . . .

Well, the challenge I wanted to meet was to present a reasonable man, an intelligent man, a man with a problem. And I hope that people watching the series will be sympathetic to difficulties he was faced with.

Simply because the influence of these stories is so enormous and so widespread, it's important people know more of the detail, whatever your views about religion or God or morality. You can't ignore these books, so don't!"
Here is the preview for tonight's episode:

Oh, and Doctor Who fans should also look out for Paul Marc Davis, the Trickster from the Sarah Jane Adventures (and Chieftain in Doctor Who episode "Utopia"); he plays Simon in The Bible.

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