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Sinking credibility: the media and the bones of Jesus


by Charles Colson

Director James Cameron’s follow-up to his Oscar-winning Titanic was a documentary about the wreckage of the doomed ship. The film contained so many shots of Cameron in a deep-sea submersible that one critic named him “Captain Nemo.”

Well, Captain Nemo has surfaced again.

In an upcoming Discovery Channel special, Cameron claims to have found an ossuary containing the bones of Jesus. How does he know? Through a combination of Sesame Street and The Da Vinci Code.

The ossuary [carved stone depository for the bones of the dead] is inscribed “Joshua, son of Joseph”—names that are not exactly rare among first-century Jewish males. So Cameron also points out the nearby ossuaries bearing names of people associated with Jesus—most importantly, “Mary,” as in “Magdalene.”

Actually, it doesn’t say “Mary” but “Mariamne,” which—according to some people—was what other people called the Magdalene. This is good enough for Cameron, who considers it natural that Jesus would be buried alongside his so-called “wife.”

See what I mean about The Da Vinci Code? If you do, you are not alone. Archaeologist Amos Kloner, who “did extensive work and research on this very tomb and its ossuaries” ten years ago, said “it’s a beautiful story but without any proof whatsoever …” Lawrence Steigler of Harvard told National Public Radio that Cameron’s claim “sounds rather preposterous.”

When even Harvard and NPR call your bit of revisionism “preposterous,” you know that you are way out on a limb. Then again, Cameron is far from the first person to dash his credibility to pieces against the stone that was rolled away that first Easter.

Like others, his ultimate explanation for what happened that Sunday morning is a cover-up. Like others, he has no explanation for why the Apostles would be willing to die for what they presumably knew to be a lie. I know a thing or two about cover-ups and conspiracies: No conspirator willingly dies for what he knows to be untrue—or, in the case of Watergate, even go to jail. The closest men around the president of the United States testified against him to save their own skins. You’re going to tell me the Apostles maintained their story at the cost of their lives? Impossible.

What’s worse than Cameron’s “preposterous” claims is the credulous reaction of the media.

At the website Get Religion (which analyzes the media’s coverage of religion), Daniel Pulliam put it this way: Many “news organizations [are] reporting [Cameron’s] words as gospel truth.” He’s right. A headline in the New York Times’s blog read “Raising the Titanic, Sinking Christianity?” Time followed, proclaiming that “this time, the ship [Cameron’s] sinking is Christianity.”

While Newsweek magazine did manage to quote Cameron’s critics, as Pulliam pointed out, “their words [were treated] as equal to that” of the moviemaker—who, by the way, admits he’s not a “theologist or an archaeologist,” just a filmmaker.

Pulliam is right when he says that “at this point” the coverage of this story “is an embarrassment to reporters.” And they wonder why they are held in low esteem among believers?

Stories like this and the fuss over the “Gospel of Judas” are slickly packaged revisionism. After the revisionism has been shredded, the only thing sinking beneath the waves is the media’s credibility.

From BreakPoint, 1 March 2007. Copyright 2006, reprinted with permission of Prison Fellowship, PO Box 17500, Washington, DC, 20041-0500, USA. Web site - www.breakpoint.org.
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