Testament & The Shift: New Bible Adaptations Inspired by The Chosen
Updated: Feb 7
With the immense success of The Chosen and its unique crowd-funding model, Angel Studios is in the process of creating two more screen adaptations inspired by biblical stories. Testament will follow the story of the early church as it is told in the Books of Acts, while The Shift will explore themes and ideas derived from the Book of Job. Both adaptation projects are still in production and drawing on the crowd funding model pioneered by The Chosen but they each will be approaching the process of Bible adaptation in unique ways.
Testament (Quick Summary)
Testament is an adaptation of the Book of Acts with a twist. The original story of Acts takes place during the early Imperial Period in Palestine and other Roman-occupied regions along the Mediterranean. Testament radically reimagines the story of Acts by asking the question, "What would the world look like if Jesus came ~2000 years later?" The shape of the story will remain the same: Testament will still follow a small band of disciples as they receive the gift of the Holy Spirit and seek to spread the news of Jesus' resurrection and the hope of salvation in the face of opposition from domineering religious authorities and oppressive imperial occupiers. However, by shifting this story into a world that resembles our own, the creators of Testament hope to overcome some of the imaginative and emotional distance that contemporary people face when trying to engage with biblical stories.
Testament is created by Paul & Faith Syrstad, who have also created a feature-length film with the same name and concept (Testament) as well series of modernized parables (The Parables Retold). Crowdfunding hasn't begun quite yet, but Angel allows potential investors to express interest here.
The Shift (Quick Summary)
The Shift is an original sci-fi film, but it's loosely inspired by themes and ideas derived from the Book of Job. In the Book of Job, God allows the Satan to try/test Job by inflicting various afflictions (loss of property, loss of family, loss of health, loss of friends) in order to see if he will remain faithful to God. In the same vein, The Shift will follow a man (Kevin) who is tested and afflicted by a mysterious tempter (the Benefactor) in order to see if he will remain faithful to God. The sci-fi aspect of the film is tied to the mechanism for temptation. The Benefactor grants Kevin the ability to "shift" between different realities in order to see how his small choices can change the trajectory of the world around him.
The Shift is written and directed by Brock Heasley. Fans of The Chosen will recognize a few other members of the creative team: Dallas Jenkins (creator of The Chosen) is an executive producer and the cast includes Elizabeth Tabish (Mary Magdalene), Paras Patel (Matthew), and Jordan Walker Ross (Little James). The second round of crowdfunding for The Shift is currently underway at Angel Studios and will conclude in 19 days.
Testament, The Shift, & the Advantages of Modernized Adaptation
I'm sure many fans of The Chosen will be happy to see Angel Studios cranking out two more Bible adaptations using their unique model, but some may be surprised at how both of these new projects are reimagining biblical stories in more modern settings. Looking at this choice from the perspective of adaptation, however, I can see several advantages.
Historically-accurate biblical adaptations like The Chosen face a significant obstacle: the characters and situations that they depict are disconnected from modern audiences as a result of historical and cultural changes. As a result, audiences have to work harder, imaginatively-speaking, to connect with the characters. A modernized-adaptation like Testament is able to shoulder some of the imaginative work of connecting the audience and the characters/situations in the story by shrinking the cultural and historical gap. This makes it easier for some viewers to relate to the story and feel drawn in.
As a genre, historical films are generally not as successful at the box office as contemporary or science fiction films. Historical films depicting pre-American eras are even less likely to be box office successes. By shifting biblical events into a context that has a broader audience, Testament and The Shift are increasing the likelihood that potential viewers will have enough interest to watch.
Historical films - especially pre-modern historical films - are very costly. Researching the historical culture and producing costumes, sets, and props that are fitting and appear authentic requires a significant investment of time and money. Modernized adaptations save on many of these costs. While the creators of Testament may still need to do some research in order to understand the original meaning of the Book of Acts, they don't have to worry about researching all the details necessary to accurately reproduce the Greco-Roman world. They still need to create costumes and props that fit the alternative-reality of the narrative, but a lot of these elements can simply be repurposed or slightly modified modern clothes and items. Even a sci-fi film like The Shift can get away with this, since its dystopian world appears to be very closely connected to our own. Likewise, both projects can make use of existing locations and sets instead of having to engage in the very costly and limiting process of constructing original sets of their own.
When an adaptation like The Chosen aims for something akin to historical accuracy, it opens itself to all kinds of critiques. Even the most serious historical films play fast and loose with historical and cultural details for the sake of story and engagement, but that won't stop online mobs from blasting minor historical anachronisms and inconsistencies. Modernized adaptations like Testament and The Shift face less pressure, because they obviously aren't presenting themselves as historically accurate depictions. That's good news from a PR standpoint, and it's also a creative boon. Instead of feeling handcuffed to historical details, the creators of Testament and The Shift can focus on what serves the purposes of the story that they are telling. It's also just kind of fun to try to re-contextualize a story from one setting to another.
Contributing to The Bible Artist
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A New Resource for Engaging Scripture Creatively
Have you ever felt inspired to create your own work of Bible Art or biblical adaptation? Read Scripture Like an Artist is a Bible journal that will help you engage with Scripture through your imagination and respond to what you are reading through art and/or creative writing. For each passage that you read, you will still take notes on important literary features like plot and theme, but you will also have space to respond by sketching, doodling, or writing something inspired by the passage. There's also a separate area for you to draw and take notes on your favorite biblical characters. By engaging with Scripture creatively, you'll allow your imagination to be unconsciously shaped and formed by the images, metaphors, and patterns of the biblical story. And, who knows? Perhaps your quiet time will generate an idea that you can turn into something beautiful!
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If you liked this post, you might want to check out some of my other posts on Bible art and adaptation.
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Episode 5 Guide: Mary's Demons & the Destiny of John the Baptist
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Episode 1 Guide: Mary Magdalene, Lilith, and the Redeemer
Episode 2 Guide: Mary Magdalene, Nicodemus, and Shabbat
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