Beliefs Culture

TV’s ‘Dig’ goes to the gates of hell — and hopefully, back

A statue of St. Peter in St. Peter’s Square at the Vatican. The conclave to pick a new pope will begin on Tuesday (March 12) the Vatican said Friday, resolving an open question that had dogged the cardinals meeting here over the past week. RNS photo by David Gibson
Left, Jason Isaacs as Peter Connelly, and Alison Sudol as Emma Wilson in the first season of "Dig." Photo by Ronen Akerman/USA Network

Jason Isaacs, left, as Peter Connelly and Alison Sudol as Emma Wilson in the first season of “Dig.” Photo by Ronen Akerman/USA Network

(RNS) Detective Golan Cohen, one of the primary characters in “Dig,” the USA Network’s biblical conspiracy action-thriller series, said it best: “This thing is getting weirder by the minute.”

Yes, Golan, it is.

Especially as the 10-part series, which airs Thursday nights at 10 p.m. EST, reached its penultimate episode this week. Thrown into what was already a heady mix of end-of-the-world predictions, secret sects and stolen relics are hidden passageways, cryptic messages and murder.

Through it all, religion and faith have been and continue to be major factors in the series. Here are the religious facts behind the latest fictional episode.

The righteous ones

In “Dig,” the character known only as “The Essene” tells FBI agent Peter Connelly (Jason Isaacs): “You have a part to play, and if you fulfill your role you will bring healing to yourself and the world.”

Don’t you love a holy man who speaks in riddles? The show’s writers may be referring to the Jewish notion of “tzadikim nistarim.” Drawn from the Torah by Jewish mystics, this idea holds that at any given time there are at least 36 living “righteous ones,” with the ability to save humanity. And, as “Dig” is headed toward the battle of Armageddon, humanity could use a savior or two. Or even 36.

Judaism teaches that these righteous individuals are not aware of their status; nor do they know each other. They may be called upon at any time to save humanity, and afterward they will “disappear” back into the communities they came from.

If the writers of “Dig” are headed in this direction — and viewers won’t know until the final episode airs on May 7 — they are in good pop culture company. The idea of the tzadikim nistarim has been incorporated into novels by Jodi Picoult, Neil Gaiman, Michael Chabon and even Deepak Chopra. It’s even been on television before, in the short-lived Fox series “Touch.”

And here’s another clue that “Dig” may be headed this way: “Touch” was created by Tim Kring, who is also co-creator and executive producer of “Dig.”

Bible roulette

In one scene, Peter is shown reaching for a Bible, turning it spine-up, spreading the pages and randomly picking a verse. He calls this “Bible roulette.”

This is a thing. A “player” holds a question for God in his or her mind, opens the Bible and there, supposedly, is the answer. Anyone can play, though evangelicals and other biblical literalists are the usual players.

There’s even a Bible roulette app.

But Bible roulette is not without controversy. Some Christians say the Bible is not a vending machine there to dispense counsel on demand, nor should it be relied upon for stupid questions, like what car to buy or what color to paint your house. Still others worry that people in need of real counseling — perhaps for depression or suicidal thoughts — will open to something like Matthew 27:5: “Then Judas went out and hanged himself.”

(RNS) Statue of the Apostle Peter, by Giuseppe de Fabris, St. Peter's Square, Vatican City.

(RNS) Statue of the Apostle Peter, by Giuseppe de Fabris, St. Peter’s Square, Vatican City.

So what verse does Peter get?

“Do not think it strange concerning the fiery trial which is to try you,” he reads. “Be sober, be vigilant, because your adversary, the devil, walks around like a lion.”

That verse is from a New Testament book Christians call — SURPRISE! — 1 Peter, believed to be the first letter written by Peter, an apostle of Jesus, to some Christian exiles. Most scholars date it to about 81 A.D., though they are divided over its authorship.

Why is this relevant to “Dig”? The Apostle Peter became the first Bishop of Rome and the founder of the Roman Catholic Church. He was crucified — upside down — by Emperor Nero. It is Peter’s bones that the church believes are buried under the altar of St. Peter’s Basilica, also named for him.

“Thou art Peter, and upon this rock I will build my church,” Jesus says to Peter in Matthew 16, one of the most quoted Bible verses. “And the gates of hell shall not prevail against it.”

That’s good, because all signs in “Dig” indicate the “gates of hell” are about to be flung wide open.

The end is nigh?

When the bad guys come under attack, their leader, Pastor Billingham (David Costabile), says: “Let’s keep our eyes on the prize. First Jehoshaphat. Then Armageddon.”

Armageddon is the place where, according to the New Testament’s Book of Revelation, the final battle between the returned Jesus and the Anti-Christ will occur. It is an actual place, a desert plain, outside the city of Jerusalem, where much of “Dig” takes place.

Many Christians believe the Battle of Armageddon is a metaphor — a dream of Revelation’s author, John of Patmos. But other Christians believe it is a prediction — an outline of the horror that will come before the end of the world. The Christian sect in “Dig” believes the latter.

So for the last episode of “Dig,” expect any or all of the following: four horsemen, poisoned rivers, 144,000 Hebrews, seven seals, eight angels, seven golden trumpets, a seven-headed beast and a Whore of Babylon.

Should be quite a party.


About the author

Kimberly Winston

Kimberly Winston is a freelance religion reporter based in the San Francisco Bay Area.


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  • Indeed there a signs all around us that the end may be approaching. Jesus compared the world in the last as “a woman in labor” who has contractions or “birth pangs” closer and closer together. Contractions being distresses such as floods, famines, earthquakes, storms, plagues, wars, and general tribulations occurring closer and closer together with more and more intensity. So the end could be very near, or it still could be a ways off. God only knows. The bigger question for all of us is; are we ready now? Jesus Christ is our hope. He who died for our sins so that we could avoid the Eternal wrath of God. We need to receive Jesus as Lord and Savior, and turn away from sin. Follow the Lord as He leads, and abide in Him. Then we will know His peace and assurance of eternal life. God Bless

  • Jesus died for us so that our sins may be forgiven now on the basis of his ransom sacrifice. The benefits of that ransom sacrifice will also be applied to mankind during Jesus’ upcoming millennial and messianic rule over mankind from God’s kingdom or heavenly government (Daniel 2:44; Matthew 4:17).

    That application will put an end to man’s inherited sin and death (Romans 5:12) so that man will finally be able to live forever on earth under splendid conditions (Isaiah 11:1-9; Revelation 21:1-4). Then man will know real peace on earth as he was always meant to enjoy.

  • No, the church as a whole is not ready. It is deep in apostasy. Jesus said, ‘many will be called, few will be chosen’. My Father, a man who loved the Lord is now in a home for Alzheimer’s. We met the sister of another ‘guest’ & she was quite the drinker. We got to talking about our churches we all went to, our Pastors, community involvement, etc. After a Bday party for one of the other ‘guests’ she said she was going to meet some friends and the Pastor of her church for drinks. My mom and I just looked at each other, she said ‘oh, I’ve been drunk with our Pastor more than once!. From the amount of wine she consumed before she had to ask for a ride downtown there was no reason to disbelieve her. We are in the days of Noah, eating drinking, marrying, giving in marriage, ……….I’m not perfect, but I live a repentant lifestyle, if I realize I’ve done something that wasn’t right, I confess, repent & move on. I read my bible, pray and ask God to count me worthy to go back…