Easter traditions

The Easter season can be said to possess the following (typical) characteristics: a massive increase in the sales of candy and otherwise elusive plastic eggs; an elevated anticipation and excitement among children for what the Easter Bunny left them (sounds like a modified Santa Claus theory to me); a recognizable difference in church attendance; and, most notoriously, televised skepticism regarding the Christian belief in the death and resurrection of Jesus.  So far as I can tell, not much has deviated with regard to these characteristics.

As many will already know, the National Geographical Channel is televising its skepticism on 06-Apr-09.  (If you didn’t know, now you do).  The allotment will contain three floods of information for viewers to wade through in three short hours: 1) the search for the tomb of Jesus, 2) the secrets of the Knights of Templar, and 3) the scandal over who actually killed Jesus.[1]  Before dealing with these three individually, it needs to be said that shows such as this are nothing new—despite their insistence of providing the viewing public with “new” or “revealing” information.  Its newness is relative to those who encounter it; so, yes, in that sense it is new.  However, in academic circles, much of this “new” information is old hat;[2] yet, that reality is conveniently not mentioned. Now, onto the three segments.

The Search
The scope of this segment is quite obvious: the “experts” want to ascertain the legitimacy of the suspected tomb of Jesus, discovered over two decades ago, which was apparently a family tomb.  These “experts” also want to attempt to establish a “bloodline” connection between those buried within the tomb.  In short, and if you’ve been paying attention to your TV, this segment gives new life[3] to the theory of the Talpiot tomb that was televised a couple of years ago, which was spearheaded by Simcha Jacobovici.  Outside of a few fringe scholars, this theory has been proven to be completely suspect and not credible enough to be held as a viable option (see here).  However, these scholars are back in the camera’s primary focus perpetuating something that cannot be sustained.

For me, there is one fundamental problem with attempting to establish a bloodline connection between those within the Talpiot tomb: while a connection might be established between those within the tomb, a direct connection between those individuals and the Jesus of the New Testament (NT) is impossible.  The reason for the impossibility is that in order to make such a connection, one has to have a control sample against which the other samples can be compared.  Historically speaking, there are no blood samples of the historical NT Jesus; so, how these scholars assume they can make a connection will be interesting to see.  If they go simply on the name “Jesus” (or, Yeshua) inscribed on the ossuary, then they are proceeding with rather weak evidence. 

The Secret
This segment appears intriguing for the simple fact that a (supposedly) new document has been found which sets the Knights Templar in a historically modified light.  From what I know and can gather, this appears to be a presentation of “facts” that will be similar to the “facts” elucidated by Dan Brown regarding the Priory of Sion.[4]  I hesitate to make any further comments about this segment simply because the information provided is not all that helpful for forming comments.  All that is noted are the details regarding the scandalous “history” of the Knights and the potential significance of the newly discovered document. 

However, I do have one comment that is more of a curious observation: why is this segment included in this three-part series?  More specifically: what is the rhetorical effect of placing this segment between the search for the tomb and the scandal of the crucifixion?  I might have to come back to this set of questions.

The Scandal
The inherent thrust of this segment is concerned with blame and how that blame has been portrayed historically.  From the snippet given, it appears that the desire of this particular segment is to swing the critical pendulum away from the Jews as a whole—thus, avoiding anti-Semitism—and have it nip (well, okay, smash into) the nose of Pontius Pilate.[5]  The justification for this shift is rooted in the apparent scandal that the Gospel accounts have exonerated Pilate’s actions because of the Gospels’ anti-Jewish agenda.  Thus, the Gospel accounts have altered the validity of history in order to advance a socio-religious polemic against the Jews so as to maintain the comfort of the Pax Romana.  James Tabor is quoted as saying: “The Gospel writers had to convince their Roman audience that they were not enemies of Rome.”

One of the key problems with this suggestion is that it is highly debatable that the Gospel accounts were explicitly written for a “Roman audience”.  Another key problem is that the pendulum shift relies on an either-or dichotomy with regard to who is to blame—i.e. it is either the Jews or it is Pilate.  The problem is that the solution to this dilemma is not so clear-cut.  The responsibility for the death of Jesus is a massively delicate subject and it is certainly something that cannot be decided a single hour allotment.  If one wants to examine the details of this discussion and understand why it is so volatile, I highly recommend the revised PhD dissertation of Jon Weatherly—professor of NT at Cincinnati Christian University.  Dr. Weatherly handles the subject with the scholarly sharpness and clarity for which he is known.  However, I have a bad feeling that the treatment to be given in this Scandal segment is ignorant[6] of Dr. Weatherly’s arguments.  I may be wrong.

First of all, I would encourage both Christians and non-Christians to watch this program (if you have that channel) when it airs on 06-Apr-09.  I say this to Christians simply because you have the responsibility of knowing what is being said about what you believe.  I would also encourage Christians to read up on the works of those who are skeptical of Christianity and/or those who wish to debunk it.  By knowing what is being said about Christianity, you will be better equipped to answer the honest questions of those who do not believe. 

To non-Christians (i.e. those who reject Christianity), my encouragement is not that you should watch this program in order to fuel your disdain for Christianity; instead, I encourage you to hear what is being portrayed by those who are skeptical to see if what they are saying makes logical sense.  I would also encourage you to read up on the works of those who have intelligibly responded to the negative treatments of Christianity and see if they make logical sense.  In other words, I simply ask you to be objective in your skepticism.

Secondly, to speak directly to the nature of these segments, the logical structure (or, rhetorical effect) of the segments appears to be quite intentional.  The scandal of the Knights Templar suggests a propensity for controversial cover-ups in order to preserve an assumed piety.  This then becomes a segue for discussing the Christian tradition regarding the death and resurrection of Jesus in order to suggest a similar propensity.  In this case, two seemingly disconnected ideas emerge: 1) the Gospel writers place the full blame on the Jews for the death of Jesus in order to preserve the sanctity of Rome; and 2) the Gospel writers have incredible tales of a resurrected Jesus in order to preserve a fundamental tenant of the Christian faith, when in “reality” the body of Jesus was simply moved to another tomb. 

The implied goal of this sort of presentation is an attempt to show that Christianity is nothing more than a religion based on scandalous theories that have no historical justification.  However, the fundamental flaw in this attempt is that in order to make such a case, the scholars and “experts” who appear on these sorts of shows are perpetuating (known) scandalous theories, and passing them off as “historical truth”, in order to show that Christianity is a scandalous theory and is therefore false.[7]  (This is why I smelled Dan Brown earlier, for Brown uses a similar methodology in his book, The DaVinci Code).  The hypocrisy of such an approach should be obvious; however, it will remain hidden because the theories promoted are generally not known by the viewing public to be not only scandalous in themselves but also historically suspect (or, false).


[1] This summary is taken from this site.  The critique that follows is based on the information provided in the site, my past experiences with these sorts of issues, and (admittedly) my assumptions of what will happen and/or be said. 
[2] This is not meant to sound elitist; it’s really just how things are.  That which is found by those who interact with such data generally takes time to trickle down into popular consciousness.   
[3] Conceptual pun intended.
[4] The “facts” as detailed in his book, The DaVinci Code.
[5] Could that not be classified as anti-Romanism?
[6] I use “ignorant” in the simple sense of the term (i.e. no knowledge) and not in a pejorative sense (i.e. “you stupid moron”).
[7] Granted, there will certainly be scholars on this show who are opposed to the theories being promoted; but, I have an a posteriori feeling that their air-time will be minimal at best.

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