In a recently released DVD, David Suchet, better known as Hercule Poirot on the PBS “Mystery” series, travels to the Holy Land and beyond to find out more about the man who took Christianity from a small sect in Jerusalem to the pagan world, the first steps to it becoming the large religion it is today.
In the documentary, Suchet tells of being in an American hotel room 25 years ago where he read Romans, a book in the Bible that is a letter Paul wrote to people in Rome. Suchet said he has been fascinated by St. Paul ever since.
“As an actor, I felt that I would like to play him,” Suchet said.
He said he wondered, “What sort of man was he? What gave him this power? How did he actually change Western thought?”
The two episodes on the disc are marked by Suchet’s artwork and interest in acting.
He is often seen sketching or photographing the sites he visits. He takes time to consider how information or the place affects how he would portray Paul.
One such scene comes 40 minutes into the first episode.
Suchet talks about how he had to find the now-famous walk for his Poirot character to influence his portrayal. He then walks an ancient path that Paul might have used.
He said it helped him understand Paul because he now has an idea of the type of roads and the speed Paul used, as well as where and how he walked.
“I think he was a speedy man. Very speedy,” Suchet concludes.
Wide range of people
This is not the typical church video many people grew up with.
The experts and others in the documentary include men and women; Jews and Muslims as well as Christians; people from several countries; and men on the street, priests, educators and even Theophilos, the Greek Patriarch of Jerusalem.
They don’t necessarily parrot church teaching. Some speculate in trying to paint a picture of who Paul was. The piece is about knowing the man, not theology.
The look and feel of the show also surpass old-fashioned religion shows.
While the scenery is beautiful on its own, it is showcased in the angles and framing by the cameraman. The DVD feels like a professional movie, not a low-budget teaching tool.
While light on extra features, the two that are included are nice. On the DVD is a short text biography of Suchet. The DVD case holds a booklet with a timeline, list of Paul’s writings and brief capsules of Paul and his time.
Suchet’s trip is based on Paul’s journeys in Acts. Suchet talks with experts in the regions from many backgrounds who offer their insight into Paul. At times, he quotes Scripture that works with the place.
Early in the first episode, Suchet comments that the young Saul, who would become Paul, seems so angry, even able to condone stoning, but he would go on to write the words found in 1 Corinthians 13: “Love is patient. Love is kind. It does not envy. It does not boast. ...”
In the second episode, Suchet learns that Paul was an early adopter of letter writing. So in Thessalonica, Suchet dictates, as Paul would have with his correspondence, “In Christ there is no male or female ...” while a man writes the words in Greek in Suchet’s journal.
Suchet’s travels include Damascus to find what transformed this man consumed with hatred for Christians into its biggest missionary.
In Ephesus, Suchet stands next to a statue of Artemis and speculates Paul might have said, “You’re just made of stone. Push you over and you’ll break into hundreds of pieces.”
His visit to Ephesus includes a grotto with frescos, including of Paul, which leads Suchet to speculate that with a beard, he looks like Paul.
The first episode includes visits to Jerusalem and Tarsus.
The second episode includes trips through Greece — Philippi, Thessalonica, Athens and Corinth — as well as back to Caesarea, where Paul was imprisoned.
Suchet’s final visit is to Rome to the Basilica of St. Paul Outside the Walls, where he sees what is said to be the tomb of Paul.