'A.D. The Bible Continues' goes beyond biblical epic.

Byline: Paul Schemm

OUARZAZATE, Morocco -- The people are restive, the priesthood is scheming and a fanatic band of insurgents known as the zealots are plotting assassinations -- and now to make matters worse, the body of a condemned cult-leader known as Jesus has disappeared from the tomb, apparently following some ancient prophecy.

Politics in Jerusalem 33 A.D. was just as complex and dangerous as it is today, and NBC's new series, "A.D. The Bible Continues,'' fuses the biblical epic with the current rage for taut political dramas -- "House of Cards'' in sandals.

The first of the 12 episodes airs at 9 p.m. Easter, picking up where its predecessor, the wildly popular "The Bible'' series from the History Channel left off and going on to tell the story of what happened to Christ's disciples after the crucifixion.

It is choosing this time period that makes "A.D.'' such a departure from past Bible stories, most of which end with the resurrection.

Here, it is just a beginning and a rough one as well, with an anguished Mother Mary (played by Greta Scacchi) watching her son die on the cross while the terrified Apostles fear the rage of the crowd and try to distance themselves from their leader.

"The decade following the crucifixion, from the perspective of the Apostles, it was the best of times, it was the worst of times,'' creator Mark Burnett, whose credits include "Survivor,'' "The Bible'' and "Shark Tank,'' told The Associated Press from his home in Malibu. "Every day, they thought they could be killed.''

He and his co-producer and wife, Roma Downey, actress and former star of CBS' "Touched By an Angel,'' touched a chord with the original Bible series that debuted in 2013 on the History channel to 13 million viewers, prompting NBC to pick up their plans to craft a sequel for network television.

This new series, however, goes for a more gritty and human approach that tries to understand the characters as humans caught up in the politics of the day. Only about half of the material comes from the Bible, with the rest from historians of the period.

"If anyone comes to it expecting to see only...

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