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The Discovery Channel's shameless assault on faith March 01, 2007

The nonsense is starting early this year.

Every year now, as Easter approaches, the media lavish attention on some sensational new theory, advanced to undermine the claims of Christian faith. Sometimes these new theories come from writers with appropriate academic credentials, and sometimes the theorists themselves claim to be Christians, even while they contradict basic Christian beliefs.

Not this year. "The Lost Tomb of Christ," a television special to be aired by the Discovery Channel on March 4, has not a wisp of credibility. This is a blatant effort to generate publicity and profits by challenging fundamental Christian beliefs, using a preposterous argument that no respectable scholar will endorse.

The program (I cannot make myself call it a documentary) thrusts directly at the heart of Christian faith, questioning the Resurrection. The Discovery Channel will encourage credulous viewers to believe that archeologists have discovered a tomb containing the physical remains of Jesus Christ and members of his family.

If this claim is true-- that Jesus did not rise from the dead-- then Christianity is a false religion. As St. Paul explained to the Corinthians (1 Cor 15: 17-19):

If Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile and you are still in your sins. Then those also who have fallen asleep in Christ have perished. If for this life only we have hoped in Christ, we are of all men most to be pitied.

On what basis does the Discovery Channel ask us to believe that Christians-- who presumably will compose the greater part of the audience for this program-- are “of all men most to be pitied?”

Here are the facts:

In a burial vault in Jerusalem, archeologists discovered ossuaries containing the remains of several people who apparently lived at the time of Christ. The boxes were marked with names, including Mary, Judah, and Joseph. On one box the name was illegible, but it might have read: “Jesus.”

When this burial vault was discovered in 1980-- that’s right, 27 years ago-- the discovery drew no particular attention. There was no reason to believe that this tomb contained the remains of the Lord’s family. Indeed there were several excellent reasons to believe that it did not.

The names on the ossuaries were extremely common ones; the tomb might have belonged to any affluent family living in Jerusalem. But Jesus was born into a poor family from Nazareth, not an affluent family from Jerusalem.

Moreover, historians confirm that from the earliest days of the faith, Christians honored a site near Calvary-- at the spot where the Church of the Holy Sepulchre now stands-- as the place where Jesus was interred after the Crucifixion. The tomb that is the focus of the Discovery special is located in an entirely different part of the city.

Are self-proclaimed experts of the 21st century more likely to identify the spot of Christ’s tomb accurately than those who witnessed the burial? That’s what we would have to believe, to take this argument seriously.

The Discovery Channel special adorns the bare, unpromising facts about the tomb in Jerusalem with a complex network of unproven theories. Thus producers speculate that one ossuary, labeled “Mariamene,” could contain the remains of Mary Magdalene. This ossuary was buried with the one that might have been labeled “Jesus.” Since DNA tests reportedly showed that the two people were not blood relatives, the producers draw the conclusion that they were married. Based on this long series of fanciful assumptions, the program determines that The Da Vinci Code was right, and Jesus was married to Mary Magdalene.

Who is responsible for such a stunning leap of logic?

"The Lost Tomb of Christ” is the work of two men: James Cameron and Simcha Jacobovici. Let’s take a glance at their credentials.

Cameron is a successful film director, who gave us Titanic and The Terminator. He is also a fan of science fiction, a member of the Mars Society (dedicated to colonization of that planet), and a man who admits that he cannot properly weigh the claims of his own program. “I’m not a theologist,” Cameron told reporters. The word is “theologian,” but Cameron isn’t someone who worries about details. In making this film, Cameron relied on Jacobovici.

“Simcha has no credibility whatsoever,” the curator of Jerusalem’s Rockefeller Museum told Newsweek. Unlike Cameron, Jacobovici is not entirely new to the business of archeological discovery; he has a track record. In 2002, he was instrumental in preparing another Discovery special, about what was alleged to be the tomb of “James, the brother of Jesus.”

Then as now, legitimate archeologists were skeptical about the discovery that Jacobovici touted. Finally in 2005, Israeli authorities exposed the “tomb of James” as a fraud, and indicted five people on charges of forgery.

Somehow these two men-- one with no expertise whatever, the other with a history of promoting an antiquities scam-- convinced the Discovery Channel to invest $3.5 million in their program. Do you suppose that you and I could convince Discovery to invest a similar sum in a project to undermine public belief in, say, global warming?

It’s difficult to avoid the conclusion that the Discovery Channel knew what it would be getting: not credibility, but public attention. Television sheds heat, not light, and in this case producers are hoping to generate controversy, not to advance the cause of knowledge and understanding.

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