For billions of people around the world he is known as “The Son of God” — the Messiah — whose teachings have inspired one of the most powerful and influential religions in the world. Nearly everything we know about the life of Jesus comes from the four Gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke and John. But just how accurate are these sacred texts?
Segment One- Lamentably the same conspiratorial toned ‘lead in’ is used in this episode as has been used for all of them. Fortunately, on the other hand, the discussion of the date of the birth of Jesus and the place of Jesus’ birth inform viewers of standard scholarly viewpoints. Cargill and Ehrman say smart things and then, good grief, the non expert Aslan shows up again.
Correctly does the narrator note that what we know of Jesus comes from the Gospels and that these Gospels are anonymous. Goodacre talks about the reason the ‘silent years’ are silently passed over and about Jesus extensive family (and so does Tabor). This leads to a discussion of the Virginal conception (it’s not a virgin birth, it’s a virginal conception. This is a point that should have been made and wasn’t).
Chris Keith shows up in the discussion of Almah (though he didn’t mention that word). And Goodacre sends off the brothers and sisters of Jesus with an appeal to the tradition that Mary was perpetually a virgin.
And now once more we’re back to the gnostics (and Pagels pops up) and the materials which ‘fill in’ the material about Jesus as a child (and Ehrman and Goodacre and Keith too relate stories about the child Jesus).
[Which scholars claim Jesus could neither read nor write as the narrator asserts? None responsible, surely]. Next up, John the Baptist as the ‘teacher’ of Jesus.
Segment Two- The ‘half starved nearly naked man’ shows up along the banks of the Jordan (says the narrator)… John the Sensationalized… Candida Moss briefly notes the oppression of the Jews and their disdain for it. Then Aslan suggests that John’s disciples, at his death, were ‘passed on’ to Jesus… Right, because there’s evidence of the fact that Jesus inherited all of John’s disciples… McGowan is back too…
Jodi Magness (mercifully) shows up talking about the audience of Jesus. With her arrival I at least get the sense that Aslan and McGowan are counterbalanced by Moss and Cargill and Keith and Goodacre and Tabor and that actual scholarship may win out.
How was Jesus’ ministry funded- womenfolk. So Cargill and Tabor. And now we’re back to Mary Magdalene who, as Moss correctly notes, may have used her money to support Jesus but then McGowan blathers on about Jesus and Mary Magdalene and how they were married and I was forced to vomit a little bit in my mouth. Thankfully, Ehrman says it’s a bit of a jump to the belief in some putative marriage from the evidence we have.
Segment Three- The segment opens with feet trudging through desert terrain whilst the Voice of Doom talks about the confession of Peter at Ceasarea Philippi. Someone should have told the producers that Ceasarea is a verdant and lovely place with trees and a river and luscious greenery. The scene did not at all match the voicing (sort of like watching the moon landing while the voice of a narrator talks about a football match).
But was Jesus the Messiah? Or did he just call himself ‘I’. Did Jesus proclaim himself Messiah or did he look forward to someone else coming to fulfill that role? Did Jesus preach the inbreaking of the kingdom of God and renewal thereby or some sort of social Gospel of equality? Was Jesus interested in power politics or a spiritual kingdom? Goodacre and Tabor do a good job discussing the issue and here, finally, in this segment (aside from the egregious blunder at the outset of the segment), the series achieves a level of acceptability it has until now generally lacked.
Here, at last, materials are presented accurately without sensationalizing them and thus misrepresenting them. If only the entire project had – to this point- been overseen so carefully. Even Aslan’s brief comments are accurate. It’s a miracle.
Segment Four- Jesus in Jerusalem. Tabor and Keith on the entry by Jesus on the donkey and Moss on the act as a signal of rebellion. Mr Narrator, do explain, why is the cleansing of the Temple ‘out of character’ for Jesus? What’s the criterion you used to arrive at that determination? Jesus is loving and docile, Mr Narrator? Have you ever read the Gospels, Mr Narrator? Because in them Jesus gets mad a number of times.
Did Jesus cleanse the temple to precipitate the execution he expected? And so the ghost of Schweitzer arises from the ashes. Aslan on Pilate… pure rubbish.
Moss and Keith on the trial of Jesus- nicely done. [I would so like this so much better if Aslan and McGowan with their exceptionally poor pseudo-scholarship and senseless exaggerations were left out].
That Jesus died no one doubts. The resurrection, on the other hand, not so much.
Segment Five- Jesus’s resurrection as misunderstanding… And here comes Baur. What’s ‘new’ is old and what’s ‘old’ is new. There is, as the author of Ecclesiastes says, nothing new under the sun. Dale Martin’s ‘the disciples saw a shadow on the wall’ and then their views of him changed and Christianity began… is too truncated and generalized to be taken seriously.
Summary- I think I’ve found the main weakness of the series as it exists to this point: the conspiratorial tone of the narrator and his exaggerated affect. The inclusion of McGowan. The inclusion of Aslan. Were these shortcomings corrected the series would be top notch rather than just containing top notch snippets.
And now the really bad news- the next episode (which airs in two weeks) will feature a discussion of Ezekiel 1 and what some believe to be a reference to UFO’s (I kid you not- it was just on the advert between segment four and five for the next episode). I don’t know if I’ll be able to survive that nonsense.
Why must the History Channel haul the most bizarre theories in whenever it discusses the Bible? But I suppose that UFO sightings tied to the Bible are its bread and butter. It knows its audience I reckon.