Shuck and Jive

Sunday, March 04, 2007

Archeology or Archeoporn?

I just finished watching The Jesus Family Tomb and the followup interview with Ted Koppel. It was a very entertaining and informative evening. You can go on-line and discuss the film at the Discovery Channel. My New Testament Professor at Princeton, James Charlesworth, is there answering questions. Here are some preliminary observations:

On my last post I wrote that the Westar Fellows were not impressed. I need to clarify that. At our Spring gathering the news broke. Throughout the week there were jokes and dismissive comments about the bone box. Obviously, the Fellows did not examine this issue with a formal discussion nor can I say what each individual Fellow thought about it. I think it would be interesting and good for Westar to have a formal discussion of this issue especially as they are discussing the earliest traditions of the Jesus Movement.

The film was very well done. It was exciting to watch and certainly raised my interest. The filmmaker, Simcha Jacobovici, received criticism in regards to sensationalizing the issue. I think that criticism can be made for virtually all documentaries. It is the way the media works. He made a case. Now it is up to the church and the academy to deal with it.

Speaking of scholars, Jonathan Reed, whose work I admire, has written a couple of very fine books with John Dominic Crossan. Perhaps the emotion got to him, but he called the film "archeoporn." A little over the top, I think. He is an archeologist and a scholar and it has to be frustrating to do one's scholarly work in a media world. I think he is raising the issue of the methods and the limitations of archeology. He did not feel that this film met the standards. Hopefully he will respond with a critique along those lines.

James Tabor, also an archeologist, was measured and articulate and I wish he would have spoken more during the Koppel interview. You can read his views on his blog.

Mark Goodacre is also providing an analysis on his blog, New Testament Gateway. Both Tabor and Goodacre are good examples of scholars who are coming to different conclusions but are examining the issues. I commend them both.

Scholars, like all of us, can be petty. They accuse the others of what they do themselves (ie. manipulate evidence to "prove" their hypotheses, do scholarship to sell books, attack the other's character or motives). Scholars, please, don't. It demeans us all. Dealing with hypotheses and evidence is always somewhat circular. You have to have a hunch and see where it leads. No scholar is immune from this.

Writing or filmmaking for the public is a good thing. People for the most part are not exposed to higher criticism in the churches. Clergy either feel these issues are a waste of time, or they are afraid of their congregations, or they want to protect the faith of their flock. I am pleased that scholarship is now being written for non-specialists. In so doing, there is a necessary popularizing trend. As the guy from Dallas Theological Seminary said in the Koppel interview, preaching itself is a popularizing medium.

Theology. What if we found the bones of Jesus? Of course, it would make us rethink theology. We already are doing so. We have had to do this since the inception of higher criticism. It is about time we dealt with this. Religion is always in the process of change. Higher criticism, archeology, and reason itself forces us to look more intently at religious literature, religious symbols, and whatever it is we call faith. My frustration with most clergy and theologians is that they seem to be primarily concerned about protecting the traditions (as they view them) from the troublemaking scholars. In my view, this prevents growth and authentic faith.

More later, but I say kudos to the film and to the Discovery Channel, if for nothing more than stirring the pot. I do believe more has been done than that. I look forward to where this will lead.


  1. I was hoping you would comment on the film, and you did. I though it was done fairly well. I don't believe it offers any concrete evidence, but at least someone is asking the questions. I look forward to reading more from you on this subject.

    God Bless

  2. Have you read Goodacre's crushing critique of Q?

    It confirms what I've held all along. There are only three Qs: the one in James Bond, the one on Star Trek:TNG, and the one in the 2/4 source hypothesis.

    Of course, all three are fictions which are used to solve plot problems deus ex machina.

  3. "Crushing critique" eh? No, I have not read Goodacre's paper, but I will.

    For the uninitiated, the two-source theory for the synoptics is and has been the main theory for over 100 years. It doesn't mean it is right or that Goodacre may not be on to something.

    I am not quite so sure why Chris is elated about Goodacre's article. But it is worth looking into.