Monday, February 26, 2007

Soon to be Aired Jesus Documentary Under Fire

Just when you thought it was safe to make a documentary about the life of Jesus, James Cameron goes and proves it ain't quite so simple. This baby is supposed to touch on what are the alleged remains of Jesus, Mary Magdalene and even a son, Judah. This ought to be fun...

Yahoo News AP wire excerpt:

NEW YORK - Filmmakers and researchers on Monday unveiled two ancient stone boxes they said may have once contained the remains of Jesus and Mary Magdalene, but several scholars derided the claims made in a new documentary as unfounded and contradictory to basic Christian beliefs.

"The Lost Tomb of Jesus," produced by Oscar-winning director James Cameron and scheduled to air March 4 on the Discovery Channel, argues that 10 small caskets discovered in 1980 in a Jerusalem suburb may have held the bones of Jesus and his family. One of the caskets even bears the title, "Judah, son of Jesus," hinting that Jesus may have had a son, according to the film.

"There's a definite sense that you have to pinch yourself," Cameron said Monday at a news conference. He told NBC'S "Today" show earlier that statisticians found "in the range of a couple of million to one" in favor of the documentary's conclusions about the caskets, or ossuaries.

Simcha Jacobovici, the Toronto filmmaker who directed the film, said that a name on one of the ossuaries — "Mariamene" — offers evidence that the tomb is that of Jesus and his family. In early Christian texts, "Mariamene" is the name of Mary Magdalene, he said. The very fact that Jesus had an ossuary would contradict the Christian belief that he was resurrected and ascended to heaven.

Most Christians believe Jesus' body spent three days at the site of the Church of the Holy Sepulcher in Jerusalem's Old City. The burial site identified in Cameron's documentary is in a southern Jerusalem neighborhood nowhere near the church.

This may be a reach, but, after the crucifixion, if that really happened, it would stand to reason that Jesus's family and followers might have wanted to remove the body before the Romans put it on display as an example to other would-be insurgents. That would explain the different location of these ossuaries.

In 1996, when the British Broadcasting Corp. aired a short documentary on the same subject, archaeologists challenged the claims. Amos Kloner, the first archaeologist to examine the site, said the idea fails to hold up by archaeological standards but makes for profitable television. "They just want to get money for it," Kloner said. Shimon Gibson, one of three archaeologists who first discovered the tomb in 1980, said Monday of the film's claims: "I'm skeptical, but that's the way I am. I'm willing to accept the possibility."

Yes, Mr. Kloner, that's exactly right. All the producers want is money. That is why it is being aired on that media juggernaut, the Discovery Channel. At least Mr. Gibson seems to be more open to new possibilities.

The film's claims, however, have raised the ire of Christian leaders in the Holy Land. Stephen Pfann, a biblical scholar at the University of the Holy Land in Jerusalem who was interviewed in the documentary, said the film's hypothesis holds little weight.

"I don't think that Christians are going to buy into this," Pfann said. "But skeptics, in general, would like to see something that pokes holes into the story that so many people hold dear." Pfann is even unsure that the name "Jesus" on the caskets was read correctly. He thinks it's more likely the name "Hanun." Ancient Semitic script is notoriously difficult to decipher.

Kloner also said the filmmakers' assertions are false. "The names on the caskets are the most common names found among Jews at the time," he said.

This seems like a nonsensical argument to me. If, 2,000 years from now, a future society unearthed the remains of George Washington, but some scoffed saying that "George was a very common name at that time," would that make any sense? Of course it wouldn't. Besides, the ambiguity of the ancient language itself should provide these skeptics with enough ammunition to reflexively dismiss the findings out of hand.

William Dever, an expert on near eastern archaeology and anthropology, who has worked with Israeli archeologists for five decades, said specialists have known about the ossuaries for years. "The fact that it's been ignored tells you something," said Dever, professor emeritus at the University of Arizona. "It would be amusing if it didn't mislead so many people."

This statement is more revealing than you know. The entire premise of the early Christian church was based on deception. The early councils tell us how the differing factions of the early faith had often violent disagreements about how to spread the message of Jesus. Why then, would it be any different when it came to the disposition of his remains?

Osnat Goaz, a spokeswoman for the Israeli government agency responsible for archaeology, said the Antiquities Authority agreed to send two ossuaries to New York, but they did not contain human remains. "We agreed to send the ossuaries, but it doesn't mean that we agree with" the filmmakers, she said.

I can't wait to view this. I'd like to see how closely it comes to the many volumes I've read about this subject. The Apocryphal Gospels are full of such "heresy". The bottom line is this: Like the new interest in this subject generated by books like the DaVinci Code, this documentary will be a polarizing event. people like me, who think that the standard story is a bunch of superstitious nonsense, and who wonder what the real story is, will watch this to see how comprehensive and consistent the information is. The true believers who watch will likely not have their views changed by what they see, and they should not feel threatened by anything if their faith is really as strong as they believe it is.

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