Friday, March 09, 2007

Fallout from Jesus tomb claim

While the University of North Carolina-Charlotte's James Tabor most likely took a credibility hit by appearing in James Cameron and Simcha Jacobovici's Lost Tomb of Jesus docudrama, UNC can be relieved by the reaction of Jodi Magness who, along with most of the archaeological world, dismisses the whole hyped mess to wasted energy. Tabor continues to defend the ossuary claim in his blog.

The Discovery Channel at the last minute added the Critical Look hosted by Ted Coppel the hour following Jacobovici's theatrical presentation. In it, Jacobovici comes across as a crass narcisisst who takes every criticism overly personal. He would have done well to defend himself with, "The film is only an attempt to get people talking about these bone boxes. I've done that. I've been successful in my goal," and left it at that. Instead he responded to every criticism with, "I'm a filmmaker, not a _____ (fill in the blank, theologian, archaeologist, statistician, etc.)"
And James Tabor, sitting next to Jacobovici, comes out firing. By the end of the hour, however, Tabor seems to get this "deer in the headlights" look as if he is watching his career and credibility laughed into a black hole as Jacobovici rants more and more madly.
Of the criticism, the best word used during the whole hour was Jonathan Reed's description of the documentary as "archeoporn." Besides that, William Dever, a non-Christian archaeologist, spent his segment shaking his head disdainfully and looking at Jacobovici like "and what institution did you break out of?"
Once the theologians got on screen, I was unimpressed by Father David O'Connell, the apparently liberal Catholic priest who platitudinously did not worry if Jesus' ossuary had been found or not, did not worry if Mariamne was "Pastor-Wife Magdalene" or not. His faith was enough for him. He believed irrespective of factual evidence. I was baffled by his myopic view of the unnecessary bother of facts or truth or reality.

Similarly, Darrell Bock from Dallas Seminary neither was given a fair question on which to build an evangelical case nor did he use well the time he had. Tabor had an inflammatory condescending comment that showed he had Bock in a set up. He was ready for this fundamentalist when he said, "I will stick with Paul who wrote in 1 Corinthians 15 of a spiritual resurrection," implying that Bock was not being Biblical. It seemed to take Bock off guard and he never fully recovered. I think Bock was trying hard not to come across as a "mean fundamentalist" when no one could have topped the disdainful vitriol of the previous segment's two archaeologists, Dever and Reed.

The most brilliant of the three theologians was Judy Fentress-Williams from Virginia Theological Seminary, who criticized the entertaining aspect of the documentary at the expense of critical thinking. Her examples of critical thinking for believers included, "Are there any archaeologists in this film who agree with the hypothesis? She called the film "deceptive."

In any event, Discovery Channel seems to be backing away from the documentary. The "Critical Look" was only tossed out on Monday before the film's airing and hastily arranged by Ted Koppel. Now the Discovery Channel is not trumpeting their high ratings during the showing, and their planned second showing this weekend has been scrapped.