Sunday, March 4, 2007

TV review: "The Lost Tomb of Jesus"

I have to say that "The Lost Tomb of Jesus," which just ended on the Discovery Channel as I write this, was a lot more interesting than Mr. Cameron and Mr. Jacobovichi's first documentary that claimed to have "proved" the Exodus. But, please, don't take that to mean this was a good show or that Mr. Cameron and Mr. Jacobovichi have gained much credibility in my eyes. They did make a fairly nice detective story out of it instead of the naked claims and argument that made up the old Exodus show. But how much of that detective story is fictional? It was all a little too neat, too lined up like an argument with one bit of evidence after another making a neat chain of "facts." A chain of evidence that says 10 small limestone ossuaries, discovered in 1980 in a Jerusalem suburb may have held the bones of the New Testament's Jesus and his family and that Jesus and Mary Magdalene were married and had a son.

There were also odd things that were not done that damaged the program's credibility in my eyes. For example, they got DNA from the Jesus and Mary ossuaries, but why not all of them? It might have been a tomb full of unrelated people. They just assumed it was a family tomb and if Jesus and Mary were not related, then they therefore had to be married. And it was only mitochondrial DNA which can only tell if they had the same mother.

Later, when Ted Koppel interviewed Simcha Jacobovichi in a special extra program that came after the Tomb show, Mr. Jacobovichi claimed that he couldn't get DNA from the other ossuaries. That claim I hope will be put to the test and only if others prove him honest on that will I believe him. We have yet to learn how much fiction got into the program and some of Koppel's first two experts suggested a lot did.

Amazingly, to me, none of Simcha Jacobovichi's critics brought up the fact that Jesus' tomb had supposedly been found hundreds of years ago. They built a church on the site called "The Church of the Holy Sepulchre," the "holiest" Christian site in Jerusalem and Israel. It was supposedly built on the location where Christ was crucified and buried. A church originally built by Constantine I the Great in 333 AD, after he supposedly became Christian, and then turned Christianity to the official religion of the Roman empire.

I had a lot more sympathy for Mr. Jacobovichi when he had to face Ted Koppel's theologians at the end. The program got absurd for me when hearing one of the theologians arguing for the bodily ascension of Jesus into the sky. I mean, dude, where did his body go? You think heaven is up in the sky? What's up there is 350,000 feet worth of atmosphere and then the vacuum of space and the Van Allen radiation belts. Where did Jesus' body go? To the Moon? Is Heaven hiding behind a cloud? If it all weren't so tragically insane it would be funny.

Mr. Jacobovichi offered an alternative to the dogma of standard Christianity about Jesus rising into the sky and he suggested it was only Jesus' spirit or soul that ascended into heaven. And they called it Christian Realism.

Okay, if he didn't rise up into the sky as described in the Bible what about all the other miracles? Do Christian Realists believe Jesus cast demons into pigs, walked on water, did he change water into wine, curse a fig tree and make it wither or heal blind people by spitting? I don't know what Christian Realism entails about other supernatural events except for Jesus' body not rising up into the sky. So, I Googled "Christian Realism" and got a Wikipedia note on it but it didn't make things much clearer for me:

Christian Realism is a philosophy advocated by Reinhold Niebuhr. Christian Realists believe that the "kingdom of heaven" ideal is one's supreme concern. Unfortunately, according to Niebuhr, the kingdom of heaven can not be realized on Earth because of the innately corrupt tendencies of society. Due to the natural injustices that arise on Earth, a person is therefore forced to compromise the reality of the kingdom of heaven on Earth.

Well, at least they didn't make Christian Realism up to cover their asses, I'll give them that.

In the end, after Koppel was through trying to tear Mr. Jacobovichi's show apart, it wasn't as compelling as they claimed, but it was still an interesting, though doubtful, possibility. I would like to see more archeological work done on this. And I also think Mr. Jacobovichi made a few good points about this possibility being overlooked for more than a decade because Christians can't accept Jesus leaving bones behind. What was clear after hearing those theologians was that if they ever did find Jesus' bones and proved it many Christans still wouldn't accept it.

Mr. Jacobovichi also argued how his own evidence was better than that of an archeologist who believed that back in 1990 the tomb of the "Caiaphas" family had been discovered and that this tomb had the bones of the very "Joseph, son of Caiaphas" that was the Jewish high priest who organized the plot to kill Jesus. The Caiaphas who convinced the Sanhedrin that Jesus should die and was also involved in the trial of Jesus after his arrest in the garden of Gethsemane.

If this Jesus isn't the Jesus of the New Testament, then why believe that their Caiaphas is the Caiaphas of the New Testament? Did anything in their tomb suggest any of that Caiaphas family had been high priests? Well, if that archeologist had anything it was edited out. It was a point that didn't boost Jacobovichi's own credibility but rather one that gave me less confidence in biblical archeology overall, which was pretty low to begin with.

For me, the interesting stuff wasn't the program's core theory about Jesus' bones and family, but the little surprising details like the fact that in Jerusalem they have these superstitious beliefs that make them put pipes into the tombs that stick up through the ground so spirits can rise up out of the ancient tombs. And there's also the fact that there are these ancient tombs under these apartment complexes in Jerusalem and there are only concrete slabs over them keeping you from getting in. Nice set up for a Poltergeist type movie.

PZ Myers has a review up now which gives a more detailed timeline on the show. Check it out if you want to know more.

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