The Story Keepers
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|Created by||Brian D. Brown
Eric J. Danenberg
|Written by||David N. Weiss|
|No. of episodes||13|
|Production company(s)||Shephard Films
Focus on the Family
The Story Keepers is an animated Christian video series produced by Zondervan from 1995 to 1997 in America and Ireland. It tells the story of a Christian leader and his family's adventures living in Ancient Rome whose mission is to keep Jesus's stories alive during the 1st century. The series consists of thirteen episodes, and features two full-length movies that are compilations of the last four episodes.
The introduction to each episode before the opening credits is as follows:
"Rome, 64 AD. The Emperor Nero has unleashed his fury against the Christians. Their crime: Proclaiming a King higher than Caesar. Setting fire to the city, Nero places the blame on the Christians, and launches a new campaign to wipe them out. Families are separated, children left homeless, as thousands are sold into slavery or thrown to the lions. Escaping the panic of the fire, and dodging the advancing soldiers, a group of children find shelter in the gentle care of Ben and Helena; a local baker, and his wife. Here the children discover an amazing secret network of daring men and women, who risk their lives to help one another, and to tell the stories of the great storyteller, the one called Jesus. And so awaiting the day when their parents will return, Anna, Cyrus, Justin, and Marcus, embark on an adventure of a lifetime, together with Ben, Helena, and their friends, in the Christian underground. Their mission: To keep the stories of Jesus alive. This is their story. They are the Storykeepers!"
- Benjamin bar Simeon, called Ben for short, is a 37-year-old Jewish baker and underground church priest. He grew up in Galilee, where as a boy he watched as Jesus used his lunch in the feeding of the 5,000. He was forced to emigrate to Rome because the Romans loved his bread so much. He and his wife Helena foster four children who were separated from their parents in the infamous fire of July 18, 64 AD. At first, Ben's church remains a well-kept secret, and he even achieves the status of Caesar's official baker, which comes in handy on more than one occasion. When he is discovered to be a Christian leader, he is arrested and sentenced to death by crucifixion. He is saved by a centurion with whom he has been sharing the story of Jesus' resurrection. Upon escaping Rome for Shem Hadar, Ben is captured along with a former centurion named Tacticus and forcibly marched across the desert without water. He is eventually rescued by his family, and settles in Shem Hadar, where he continues pastoring his church.
- Helena bar Simeon is Ben's sweet and soft spoken wife. She is a leader in Ben's underground church, and a mother figure to the children she and Ben have taken in. She is just as skilled as Ben in baking and telling stories, and it is she who usually leads the church in Ben's absence. She has apparently never been to Israel herself, but her parents once passed through Nazareth. At one point, Helena and three of the children are trapped in the bakery as Nihilus sets it on fire in an attempt to flush Ben out of hiding. They are rescued when Ben, Tacticus, and the servants of the local miller tunnel into the bakery from the catacombs. When Ben is captured by Nero's soldiers, it is Helena who plans and leads the rescue operation, and arranges the church's escape from Rome. She and the kids are captured in the process, but they escape with the help of Capella, one of Nero's centurions. When Ben and Tacticus are captured again by Nihilus in the desert on the way to Shem Hadar, Helena helps track and rescue them.
- Zakkai, called Zak for short, is a 17-year-old who has been living with Ben and Helena. His late father was a leader among the Jewish zealots, and Zak has, in his own way, taken up that fight. His uncle Mordecai, also a zealot leader, once traveled to Rome to see him. He gave Zak an amulet of the Star of David, the symbol of the Jewish nation, saying that the amulet once belonged to Zak's father. It was a symbol of Zak's own coming-of-age. Zak is hot-headed, and often gets himself into trouble with the Roman soldiers. His zealous attitude once got him captured by Tacticus, who questioned him about his faith. In spite of Tacticus' help in escaping Nero at one point, Zak is reluctant to trust the centurion. Eventually though he comes to accept Tacticus as a member of the gang. When a miller betrays Ben and nearly gets Helena and the children killed, Zak confronts the miller, sword in hand. Zak is naturally suspicious, refusing to trust even an old trail guide with whom Ben and his family travel on two occasions. He's also very sarcastic, making fun of the guide for talking to his horse. Zak's faith is rewarded when Milo's horse Regis saves his life.
- Justin ben Judah, played by Adam Wylie, is the 12-year-old son of a Jewish carpenter named Joshua ben Judah. He lived with his family in Rome until the persecution that followed the outbreak of the fire on July 18. Justin did not always get along with his brother Marcus. He became jealous when their father made Marcus a wooden chariot. Justin dared Marcus to hitch the chariot to the family goat and ride down the hill. This resulted in Marcus getting dumped out of the chariot, and Justin getting lectured for his irresponsibility. When the boys were separated from their parents, Justin claimed guardianship of Marcus, and became very protective of him. Even after Ben and Helena took the boys in, Justin still took care of his brother, displaying a lot more patience and maturity than he had before the fire. Ben sees a future church leader in Justin, and at one point offers him an opportunity to tell the story at a church meeting. Justin, however, is afraid of speaking in public. He overcomes this fear later, though, when he tells some Christian prisoners the story of Jesus' trial before Pilate. He searches harder for his parents than the other kids, persuading Ben at one point to allow him to search the slave hold of a Roman ship where he believes his father may be imprisoned. When the ship is suddenly called out to sea, Justin volunteers to take the place of an elderly slave at the oars. And when the ship is damaged in a battle and starts taking on water, Justin risks his life to free the slaves before they drown. He later finds out that his father escaped his ship and went to search for his mother on a farm. Justin and Marcus are later both reunited with their parents in Shem Hadar as a reward for their faith.
- Marcus ben Judah is the 4-year-old brother of Justin and the youngest son of Joshua ben Judah. He has a typical child's view of the world, which is barely affected by his separation from his parents. He looks up to his older brother, and treats Ben and Helena like a second set of parents. Of the other three children in the house, Marcus gets along best with Anna. He loves animals, and has a pet goat named Thastus. He also adopts two lion cubs temporarily, until he finds them a family and a home in Africa. He christens the cubs Leo and Theo. Marcus serves as Justin's accountability and encourager, helping Justin overcome his fear of public speaking by encouraging him to, "Tell the story to me, only louder." He is the most optimistic member of the group, refusing to let them give up hope when all seems lost. His faith is rewarded when he and Justin are finally reunited with their parents.
- Anna 10-years-old. She is the barefoot street wise member of the group. Her mother taught her how to navigate the catacombs long before the fire, and after she was separated from her parents in the fire, she usually stayed in the tunnels, gradually making her way to Ben's bakery. She met Justin and Marcus on the streets, and led them to the bakery as well. Anna is certain her parents were killed in the fire, and compared to the other children, she spends the least amount of time focusing on searching for her parents. She is an unashamed witness, and will gladly invite people to attend the church meetings, much to Zak's chagrin. She befriends Cyrus, a young black street entertainer, and makes him a part of the church. When Cyrus is captured in a raid, Anna and Helena go to his house to inform his parents of what happened, only to discover the house burned, and Cyrus' parents missing. Anna insists that they rescue Cyrus before he and other Christians captured in raids are thrown to the lions. It is often Anna who comes up with an idea to rescue friends in danger, and it is she who usually guides the gang through the catacombs. She is compassionate, taking Jesus' command to love her neighbors and her enemies seriously. She is also a romantic, encouraging the flirting that occurs between Tacticus and a Christian servant named Miriam. Anna's faith is rewarded when Tacticus and Miriam adopt her after they get married.
- Cyrus is the 8-year-old son of circus performers Sabin and Risa. He is the most widely traveled of the children, being part of an international circus. His family was living in Rome when the fire broke out and he was separated from his parents. Sabin and Risa were convinced Cyrus had been killed and left Rome, swearing to never return (though they did anyway). Cyrus is somewhat street-wise, as he relied on his skill as a juggler and acrobat to keep himself fed until Ben and Helena took him in. Cyrus is ashamed of his status as an orphan, and tries to hide this fact from Anna when he first meets her. He is also a show-off. He teaches Anna how to juggle, and often runs interference during Ben's rescue operations. It is during his act as a decoy that Cyrus is captured and sold to a merchant named Flavian. Flavian gives him special treatment as his star entertainer, even though the other slaves are suffering. Cyrus becomes quickly accustomed to his new-found lifestyle, and at first rejects Ben and Helena's attempt to rescue him, which puts him at odds with Justin. But when the slaves revolt and burn Flavian's estate, Flavian turns on Cyrus, and Cyrus flees back to Rome. Justin, hearing about the revolt, waits up for Cyrus and encourages him to return to Ben and Helena. When Ben, Justin and Marcus are later captured, Cyrus introduces Helena to a friend of his parents, Zemo, who can help them smuggle the gang out of Rome. Zemo informs Cyrus that his parents will be in Rome very briefly, and Cyrus accompanies Zemo to the docks, where he is reunited with Sabin and Risa as a reward for his faith. Together the circus friends help rescue Ben and the others, and they all make their way to Shem Hadar.
- Emperor Nero, is the Caesar in Rome during the series. He launches the campaign to wipe Christianity out of the empire. Nero is portrayed in the series as a short, skinny man who likes playing the lyre and singing, but has no skill for either. He is gullible, not recognizing his own favorite baker in disguise. The Storykeepers series promotes the theory that it was Nero who started the fire in Rome on July 18, 64 AD. In the series, this is not the only fire Nero sanctions. In "Ready, Aim, Fire," he allows his centurion Nihilus to launch fire bombs into the merchant district, wanting to clear space to build a pantheon. Unlike the rest of the characters who have typical American accents Nero speaks with a British accent. Nero has Sinus problems.
- Nihilus, is a centurion of the Praetorian guard, and he is known for his ruthlessness. He has a few centurions under him, but he sees them as distractions and rivals rather than as students. Nihilus once designed and built a catapult that he used to launch balls of flaming debris at portions of the city in an attempt to flush out Christians hiding in the tunnels beneath the city. He hates losing, and when his plans are thwarted, he takes it personally. After the sabotage of the catapult, he begins to suspect Tacticus as a Christian. He vows to capture Tacticus and see him killed. He attempts several times to get to Tacticus through Ben and his family, but each time his plans are thwarted. His irrational behavior and repeated failures anger Nero, who relieves him of duty and threatens his life. Nihilus returns the threat and takes off in pursuit of Ben and Tacticus. He trails them to the desert around Shem Hadar and kidnaps them, planning to turn them over to bounty hunters as an act of revenge. When Helena and the others come to the rescue, Nihilus and Tacticus find themselves battling it out on the edge of a cliff. Nihilus eventually falls to his death after refusing to accept help from Tacticus.
- Tacticus is a favorite centurion of Nero, and a rival of Nihilus. He is curious about Christians, refusing to believe that they could possibly set fire to the city as Nero claims. The first Christian he meets in person is Zak, whom he arrests for carrying a contraband scroll, and for utilizing the aqueducts for travel purposes. He interviews Zak in prison, encouraging him to play along with Nero in order to avoid death. Zak's steadfastness amazes Tacticus, and he eventually helps Zak escape the palace. Later, while pursuing a missionary through the catacombs, Tacticus is injured in a Cave in and abandoned by Nihilus. He is helped by Justin and Anna. Moved by the kids' selflessness and surprised that they did the right thing and saved his life, Tacticus becomes an ally of Ben's, and eventually a Christian. He is discovered by Nero when he refuses to participate in corporate worship of Nero on the emperor's birthday. He is stripped of his rank and imprisoned, but later rescued by Ben and the gang. He develops a romantic relationship with Miriam, one of the palace servants. God rewards Tacticus' faith when he finally marries Miriam and adopts Anna after he escapes from Rome. He sends Miriam and Anna ahead to Shem Hadar via Port Sa'id, a Roman outpost, while he travels with Ben across the desert. He and Ben are captured there by Nihilus, and after more than a day, they are rescued by Ben's family. Tacticus duels with Nihilus, ending with both of them hanging off a cliff. Ben and Zak help Tacticus up, but when Tacticus reaches out to help Nihilus, Nihilus refuses, instead choosing to fall to his death. Tacticus and the others finish their journey to Shem Hadar, where Tacticus is relieved to be reunited with his own family.
- Stoutacus is the guard in charge of the Circus Maximus. He's a fat, lazy glutton who prefers to spend his time sitting in his office, eating. He is a favorite customer of Ben's, who finds it all too easy to manipulate him with food. Stoutacus occasionally accompanies Tacticus out on patrol, and it was he who inadvertently discovered a scroll Zak was smuggling when he bit into the bread that disguised the scroll. Stoutacus only appears with lines in the first three episodes, and has a brief cameo (no lines) in the fourth episode.
- Snivelus is Nero's personal guard, and is every bit a sycophant. He suffers silently through Nero's poor lyre playing and even worse singing, and in spite of his loyalty, he often finds himself the one being throttled when Nero flies into a rage. He serves as Nero's announcer, leading the crowd in their half-hearted applause at the end of Nero's performances. Snivelus is a coward, trying to stay out of the way as much as possible whenever a sword is brandished.
- Miriam is a personal servant to Empress Poppaea Sabina, and a friend of Anna's. She is Ben's "in" at the palace. She has a crush on Tacticus, which Anna teases her about frequently. When Tacticus is discovered as a Christian, Miriam and Anna organize a plan to help Tacticus escape. Consequentially she ends up joining Tacticus as a fugitive. She, Tacticus, and her parents are later smuggled out of Rome and board a boat for Shem Hadar. She marries Tacticus en route, and extends an offer to Anna to adopt her, which is something Anna confessed to Miriam that she fantasized about back in Rome. Miriam only appears in the last five episodes of the series.
- Milo is an old travel guide employed by Ben to take him and his family to Ostia for a meeting, and later met Ben and the gang in the desert between Port Sa'id and Shem Hadar. As a young man, Milo was the guide that helped Joseph, Mary and Jesus escape to Egypt. He is said to know every road, foot path and goat trail in the empire. He is full of stories, and will spend hours sharing them with his companions, whether they want to listen or not. He frequently talks to his horse Regis, who seems fully capable of understanding the old man's chatter and usually responds with a snort, whinny, bobbing of his head, or stomping of his hoof. Milo trusts Regis' senses, and can tell when the horse is warning him of an impending attack. Zak is skeptical of the pair, and even after he learns to trust Milo, he still doesn't appreciate Milo's incessant talking.
- Regis is Milo's wagon horse and constant companion. At first, Zak doesn't like Regis any more than he does Milo. Eventually Zak warms up to Regis, especially after the horse frees himself from Nihilus' custody and makes his way back to Zak and the gang.
- Antonius the miller Antonius first appears in Trapped!, but is not named. It is implied in this episode that he is a tailor, as he offers Nero a ball of string for his birthday (Antonius then adds a golden amulet to his gift after Nero threatens to throw him out). In Betrayed Antonius is identified as the local miller, from whom Ben buys his grain and flour. Antonius has two muscular servants named Tracus and Bracus, whom he claims were raised by wolves (a nod to the story of Romulus and Remus). He is well aware of Ben's position as a church leader, and uses this knowledge to exploit Ben, often charging him more for his deliveries, claiming, "Delivery to Christians is high risk." In response to a threat on his life (made by Capella), Antonius tells the Romans everything he knows about Ben, which results in Nihilus' raid on the bakery. When Nihilus threatens to kill Helena and the boys by burning them alive inside the bakery, Zak angrily confronts Antonius. Antonius realizes what his cowardice has done and offers to help Ben tunnel into the bakery and rescue Helena and the kids. Zak compares Antonius to Judas Iscariot, but unlike Judas, Antonius repents and asks God's forgiveness.
- Capella is a Centurion who appears in the episodes 10-12 (Easter). He is apparently Tacticus' replacement, and seems to be Nihilus' right-hand man. Like Ben and several one-time characters, Capella has had the opportunity to meet Jesus face to face. He was present at Christ's crucifixion on April 3, 33 AD. Capella succeeds in locating Ben's church in the catacombs and captures Ben, along with Justin and Marcus. Ben takes advantage of his captivity by telling Capella the story surrounding Jesus' crucifixion and His resurrection. Before Ben can finish his story, however, Helena attempts to rescue him with the help of Cyrus' parents. Ben surrenders himself to Capella in order to finish his story, since Capella seems genuinely interested in what Ben has to say. This act confuses Capella, and he wonders why Ben would be willing to give his life just to tell a story. When Nero orders Ben's crucifixion, Capella frees Ben and his friends and gives them an opportunity to escape while he battles an enraged Nihilus. Capella is mortally wounded in the fight, and dies from his injuries in Ben's arms, but not before he encourages Ben to continue telling the stories of Jesus. For his sacrifice, Capella is buried in the family tomb of Senator Patronius, a friend of Ben's.
- Breakout - A young street juggler named Cyrus is captured during a church raid and sentenced to being thrown to the lions. Anna convinces Ben to launch a rescue operation. *Note*: "Breakout" is the pilot episode of "The Story Keepers". - (U.K. Transmission Date: 01/12/1997)
- Raging Waters - Zakkai and the kids must smuggle a scroll containing a story about Jesus to a church across town, and use the aqueducts to do so. Things seem to go swimmingly until Zak is captured by a Roman centurion named Tacticus. - (U.K. Transmission Date: 01/19/1997)
- Catacomb Rescue - Ben and the gang must help a missionary named Ephriam escape Rome, but first they need to secure travel papers for him. When Nihilus and Tacticus come searching for Ephriam, Ben and Anna lead the gang through the catacombs. When Anna and Justin are trapped in a cave-in with an injured Tacticus, they learn the value of loving their neighbor from Jesus' parable of the Good Samaritan. - (U.K. Transmission Date: 01/26/1997)
- Ready, Aim, Fire! - Zak's uncle Mordecai has come to visit, and Zak goes overboard trying to impress him. Meanwhile, Nihilus and Nero have plans to renovate the city via fire, and Tacticus must find a way to stall them and give Ben and his church a chance to escape. - (U.K. Transmission Date: 02/02/1997)
- Sink or Swim - Justin learns about a slave ship where his and Marcus' father, Joshua ben Judah, may be imprisoned, and Ben agrees to help Justin search the ship. But the gang is caught off-guard when the ship is suddenly called out to sea to do battle with a rebel slave ship. - (U.K. Transmission Date: 02/09/1997)
- Starlight Escape - Rome has become too dangerous to hold large meetings, so Ben, Helena, and the kids travel to Ostia with an old guide named Milo. It's no easy journey as they are hunted by Roman patrols the entire way. Ben and Helena use the long trip to tell the kids the story of Jesus' birth and the visit of the Magi. - (U.K. Transmission Date: 02/16/1997)
- Roar in the Night - Marcus has befriended two lion cubs who have escaped from Nero's cruel animal trainer. He is determined to find a way to keep the cubs out of Nero's clutches, but that may mean having to release them in Africa instead of keeping them. - (U.K. Transmission Date: 02/23/1997)
- Captured! - Cyrus is captured by a patrol while showing off his acrobatic skills, only to be sold to a local merchant who is impressed by Cyrus' talent. Cyrus finds himself living the good life, and when Ben & co. try to rescue him, he refuses to go back to the bakery. Helena tells the children Jesus' parable of the Prodigal Son and encourages them to pray for Cyrus. - (U.K. Transmission Date: 03/02/1997)
- Trapped! - Tacticus' faith is discovered when he refuses to participate in the mandatory worship of Nero at the emperor's birthday party. Ben and the gang enlist the help of Empress Sabina's servant Miriam to rescue Tacticus. - (U.K. Transmission Date: 03/09/1997)
- Tricked By A Traitor - The local miller reveals Ben's operation, sending him into hiding. In order to flush him out, Nihilus threatens to burn down the bakery—with Helena, Justin, Marcus and Cyrus still inside! Ben and his family are living in the catacombs, planning their escape to Shem Hadar. Meanwhile, Nero's soldiers, led by Nihilus and Capella, are searching the catacombs for them.
- Tried And True A soldier finds a hole leading to the catacombs where Ben and the other Christians are hiding so they plan an attack. In attempt to escape Zak triggers a barrier that traps Ben, Justin and Marcus with the soldiers and are captured and Ben awaits execution. Helena plans to free them by smuggling a group of Christians ,Cyrus parents among them.
- Caught At The Crossroads Cyrus is reunited with his parents, who insist on helping Helena rescue Ben and the boys. The attempt is almost successful, but when Ben is recaptured and sentenced to crucifixion, it's up to Capella to save him—even at the cost of his own life. - 10 through 12 shown as a special episode/movie (U.K. Transmission Date: 28/02/1998)
- To The Ends of The Earth - Ben and the gang are finally on their way to Shem Hadar. But their trek takes them across the desert to avoid a port where the Romans are still searching for Ben and Tacticus. When Nihilus shows up, bent on vengeance, Tacticus faces one last battle with the gang's most ruthless enemy. - (U.K. Transmission Date: 01/07/1998)
- The Easter Storykeepers (1998 - Compilation of episodes 10-12)
- The Christmas Storykeepers (1998 - Compilation of several episodes with episode 13)
- The Storykeepers Collection (Each DVD volume holds 3 episodes, 3 volumes in all, 9 episodes)
- The Storykeepers: The Complete Resource Kit (All episodes on 4 video tapes plus a teacher's/parent's guide)
- In "Catacomb Rescue," a plaque can be seen on Ben's wall depicting Nero bestowing his favor on Ben. An inscription reads, "By appointment of his divinity; Imperial Baker"
- "Starlight Escape"
- "Ready, Aim, Fire"
- "Oh Brother," Clubhouse Magazine 1995
- "Nabbed by Nero"
- "Roar in the Nigh"
- "Oh Brother" and "Catacomb Rescue"
- "The Final Conflict"
- In an attempt to free Zak from Nero's custody in "Raging Waters," Ben disguises himself with a mustache and a horned helmet, speaking with a stereotyped French accent and claiming to be from Gaul. Nero is fooled until Zak, feigning death by Ben's "secret poison torture pastry," sneezes, giving away the act.
- "Catacomb Rescue"; "This is a job for my Praetorian guard, not these common foot soldiers."
- "Trapped!" and "The Christmas Storykeepers"
- "Getaway"; Nero: "Mark me, your days are numbered!" Nihilus: "So are yours, Nero. So are yours."
- "Raging Waters"
- "Breakout," "Catacomb Rescue"
- "Raging Waters."
- "Trapped!" Ben: "Don't apologize, Miriam. We're just grateful to have Christians like you working in Nero's palace."
- "Starlight Escape."
- "The Final Conflict."
- Antonius: "Your young friend was right. I couldn't live with myself if I let this monster do this to you." Ben: "God bless you, my friend." Antonius: "No, Ben, God forgive me."