Thomas and Ramah in The Chosen & Scripture (Adapting Biblical Characters)
Updated: 5 days ago
The romance between the Apostle Thomas and his girlfriend/potential fiancé Ramah has been a topic of significant interest for fans of The Chosen. Where does the Ramah character come from? Is she in the Bible? And would Jesus allow - much less encourage - a romantic relationship between his disciples?
The Chosen Season 3 raised all kinds of interesting questions about Thomas and Ramah's relationship in Episodes 1 and 2 - before promptly putting Ramah on a bus for the remaining episodes and then giving us only the briefest glimpse of them in the Season 3 Finale. I normally don't speculate about the external factors influencing the direction that the show takes, but in this case it seems warranted. I suspect that some kind of health problem or scheduling conflict involving either Yasmine Al-Bustami (Ramah) or Joey Vahedi (Thomas) caused plans for the Thomas and Ramah relationship to be put on hold. Of course, it's possible that because there was already so much going on in Season 3, the writers decided that they just needed to put the Thomas and Ramah storyline on the back burner. Who can say?
One thing is for sure: we won't be getting Season 4 of The Chosen for quite some time. As we wait to see whether Kafni will finally give in and allow Ramah to marry Thomas, I'd like to take a step back and reflect on what Scripture tells us about Thomas (and Ramah?) and how The Chosen is adapting that biblical material.
Doubting Thomas in Scripture & The Chosen
In the West, Thomas is known best for his doubt. When the other Apostles tell Thomas about their encounter with the resurrected Jesus, he replies:
"Unless I see in his hands the mark of the nails, and place my finger into the mark of the nails, and place my hand into his side, I will never believe.” (John 20:25b, ESV)
A week later, Jesus graciously addresses Thomas' doubt by meeting his demands:
Eight days later, his disciples were inside again, and Thomas was with them. Although the doors were locked, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you.” Then he said to Thomas, “Put your finger here, and see my hands; and put out your hand, and place it in my side. Do not disbelieve, but believe.” Thomas answered him, “My Lord and my God!” Jesus said to him, “Have you believed because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.” (John 20:26-29, ESV)
This is one of only a handful of stories that specifically mention Thomas and it's the only story that hinges on his actions. No surprise then that this story has come to define Thomas in imagination of Western Christians (Christians in India remember Thomas more for his role in bringing the Gospel to the East).
The story of Thomas' doubt plays an important role in the context of the Gospel of John. John recognizes that firsthand experience (seeing) can play an important role in coming to faith in Jesus (John 1:46, John 2:11, John 2:23). But seeing miracles doesn't always produce faith that abides (John 2:23-25, John 6, John 8:30-33). Ideally, sight is a reward and not a cause of faith (John 9:39, John 14:9). In light of the revelation he's already received, Thomas' need to see in order to believe is immature - and yet understandable. He thus functions as a foil for the wise reader, who will not have a chance to see the body of the resurrected Jesus but who will nevertheless believe on account of the witness of others (John 20:30-31).
Historically, the story of Thomas' doubt in the Gospel of John has been wielded as a club to discourage Christians or seekers from asking hard questions, expressing doubts, or seeking evidence for the claims of Christianity. Granted, when Jesus says, "Have you believed because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed," there is a gentle admonishment implied. But Jesus isn't saying that Christians/seekers can never have doubt or ask questions or seek evidence. After all, the whole goal of the Gospel of John is to provide readers with testimonies and other reasons to believe in Jesus. It's good for us to ask questions and to seek understanding. But there are some claims that Jesus and the Apostles make that we won't be able to verify independently. Instead of always demanding the opportunity to see things for ourselves, we are often called to trust the testimony of trustworthy witnesses. The problem with doubting Thomas is that he has already witnessed a number of miracles, he's already heard Jesus predict the resurrection, and he's received news that Jesus has risen from reliable sources, but he still won't believe until he can see it for himself.
So far The Chosen has done a good job of using the character of Thomas to develop a nuanced understanding of faith. On the one hand, The Chosen uses the story of Thomas to combat fideism, the view that faith is completely independent of - and even opposed to - reason or evidence. When Thomas is first introduced in Season 1 Episode 5 (The Wedding Gift), he struggles to understand how Jesus will be able to help with the dwindling wine at the wedding of Cana. Instead of berating Thomas for his questions and doubts, Jesus says:
It's going to be like that sometimes Thomas. I do not rebuke you. It is good to ask questions, to seek understanding. I know of a man like you in Capernaum [Matthew], always counting, always measuring. Join me and I will show you a new way to count and measure, a new way to see time. Keep watching.
By putting these words on the lips of Jesus, The Chosen affirms the value of asking questions and seeking understanding. Jesus says this to Thomas in particular because the show is seeking to counter-act how the doubting Thomas story has been misused as a prooftext for fideism. In the world of The Chosen, reason is not the enemy of faith and Thomas isn't at fault for being an inquisitive person.
On the other hand, The Chosen also makes it clear that Thomas does need to be challenged. Being rationale - "always counting, always measuring" - is okay, but our understanding of what is rationale needs to be reshaped by Jesus. We need Jesus to show us "a new way to count and measure" - a rationality that accounts for the miraculous. Thomas wants to understand everything first before he trusts Jesus, but his understanding on its own is insufficient. By trusting Jesus first, his mind can be opened and achieve greater understanding that he seeks. As Saint Anselm famously puts it, "I do not seek to understand in order that I may believe, but I believe in order to understand." This is why Thomas needs the more impetuous Ramah to encourage him to trust first and understand later.
By setting this dynamic up at the beginning of Thomas' character arc, The Chosen is framing the doubt he has later on in a new light. When the story of doubting Thomas finally comes up in The Chosen, it won't be the story of a character who is asking questions and struggling with doubt for the first time. Instead, it will be the story of a character who has been asking questions and seeking understanding through faith over the course of several seasons but who then suddenly gives in to doubt as soon as his understanding is challenged. That's not how people tend to think of the doubting Thomas story - but it's probably closer to the reality.
Ramah in the Bible?
The New Testament does not mention a female disciple of Jesus named Ramah. In that sense, the character of Ramah in The Chosen is invented.
The Hebrew word "Ramah" means "high" or "exalted." The word comes up several times in the Old Testament, primarily in reference to the city of Ramah, which was known for being the hometown and base of the prophet Samuel (1 Samuel 7:17). The only time "Ramah" shows up in the New Testament is in a quotation of a prophecy of Jeremiah:
Then Herod, when he saw that he had been tricked by the wise men, became furious, and he sent and killed all the male children in Bethlehem and in all that region who were two years old or under, according to the time that he had ascertained from the wise men. Then was fulfilled what was spoken by the prophet Jeremiah:
“A voice was heard in Ramah, weeping and loud lamentation, Rachel weeping for her children; she refused to be comforted, because they are no more.” (Matthew 2:16-18, ESV)
So far, I can't discern any sort of significance to the name "Ramah" based on its meaning or its biblical connections, although possible that such a sense will arise over time. It's also completely possible that the name was chosen simply because it was popular or because it sounded good - the way names are usually chosen for fictional characters.
Even though there isn't a specific figure named Ramah in the New Testament, the character does fulfill a legitimate role suggested by the Gospel of Luke:
Soon afterward he went on through cities and villages, proclaiming and bringing the good news of the kingdom of God. And the twelve were with him, and also some women who had been healed of evil spirits and infirmities: Mary, called Magdalene, from whom seven demons had gone out, and Joanna, the wife of Chuza, Herod's household manager, and Susanna, and many others, who provided for them out of their means. (Luke 8:1-3, ESV)
Luke makes it clear that there were several female disciples who traveled with and financially supported Jesus. Mary Magdalene, Joanna, and Susanna are mentioned by name, but we are told that there were "many others" whose names have not been included. The characters of Ramah and Tamar have been created to represent this group of women, who are often ignored by Bible films, which focus primarily on named figures.
Of course, most people aren't questioning the presence of female disciples among the followers of Jesus. What has caused some controversy is the romantic relationship between Ramah and the Apostle Thomas. Most biblical adaptations and artistic depictions of the Apostles portray them as solitary individuals, given over wholly to the mission of Christ - the precursors of Roman Catholic monks and priests. The average Christian, both Catholic and Protestant, absorbs this assumption from the artistic tradition of Western culture without ever really questioning it.
The Bible itself tells a different story. In his letter to the Corinthian church, the Apostle Paul complains:
Do we not have the right to take along a believing wife, as do the other apostles and the brothers of the Lord and Cephas? Or is it only Barnabas and I who have no right to refrain from working for a living? (1 Corinthians 9:5-6, ESV)
Paul's words suggest that most of the other Apostles had wives who traveled with them. The celibate lifestyle of Paul and Barnbas was an aberration, not the norm. Although only Cephas (Simon Peter) is the only Apostle who is specifically described as having a wife, it's quite reasonable to conclude that the Apostle Thomas would have had a wife as well.
Thus, The Chosen uses Ramah to fill two roles in the biblical narrative: she represents both the unnamed female disciples of Jesus and the unnamed wives of the Apostles. Combining these two roles makes a lot of sense from the perspective of writing. It's economic and makes the character more complex. It also makes sense emotionally. Anyone who has ever been on a mission trip with a bunch of young single people knows how easy it is for romantic relationships to bud between members of the team. The shared adventure, challenge, passion, joy, and sorrow experienced while on mission make it easy for romantic attachments to form. Even if that isn't how the Apostles actually met their wives (something the Bible doesn't describe), it certainly rings true for modern viewers like me.
A New Resource for Studying The Chosen
If you're like me, watching The Chosen is about more than entertainment. Bible movies & shows like The Chosen provide us with fresh eyes to see the significance of the Bible and the beauty of the Gospel. That's why I'm excited to share with you a new resource that I've created to help you study biblical adaptations & reflect on how they apply to everyday life. Come and See is a devotional journal designed specifically for studying Bible movies and shows like The Chosen. It includes sections for you to take notes on each episode's plot, your favorite quotes, personal connections, questions, and, of course, Scripture references. Whether you're studying on your own or with your small group or ministry, Come and See is a perfect resource to help you dig deeper into The Chosen.
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If you liked this post, you might want to check out some of my other posts on The Chosen and Bible adaptation. I have Bible studies/discussion guides for each episode of The Chosen Seasons 1-3, blogs exploring how The Chosen adapts key biblical figures, and articles exploring the controversial nature of adaptation. I hope you enjoy them!
The Chosen Season 4
The Chosen Season 4 Controversy? (The Transfiguration of Jesus & the Second Commandment)
Reflecting on The Chosen Season 3 & Anticipating Season 4: What Worked & What to Fix
The Chosen Season 3
The Chosen Season 3 Episode 1 & Episode 2: Reaction and Analysis
The Chosen Season 3 Episodes 7 & 8: Recap, Review, & Analysis
The Chosen Season 3 Episodes 1 & 2: Questions to Discuss Before the Premiere
Adapting Biblical Characters Series
Thomas & Ramah in The Chosen & Scripture ***Season 3***
Yussif, Jairus, & Shmuel in The Chosen ***Season 3***
Quintus, Gaius, Atticus, and the Romans in The Chosen ***Season 3 Update***
Little James in The Chosen & Scripture ***Season 3***
Pontius Pilate & his Wife in The Chosen ***Season 3***
Judas in The Chosen ***Season 3 Update***
Matthew in The Chosen ***Season 3 Update***
Simon and Andrew in The Chosen ***Season 3 Update***