Bozell Column: What Bones of Jesus?

February 27th, 2007 11:23 PM
The press releases of the Discovery Channel boast that its parent company, Discovery Communications, is the “number one nonfiction media company.” That identifier is now in shambles, and the paper it’s printed on fit only to be crumpled and thrown away. The folks at Discovery have rendered themselves carnival barkers peddling sensationalistic garbage, trashy money-making gimmicks dressed up as real journalism.

The Discovery Channel is hyping to the heavens its new documentary on “The Lost Tomb of Jesus.” James Cameron, the Oscar-winning director of “Titanic,” has joined filmmaker Simcha Jacobovici in publicizing claims that a 2,000-year-old tomb containing 10 boxes of bones belonged to the family of Jesus of Nazareth. It also echoes the dopey “DaVinci Code” novel by asserting that Jesus was married to Mary Magdalene, that the couple had a son. They claim the son was named Judah and that all three were buried together.

So much for the Resurrection. So much for the Bible. So much for the divinity of Christ. So much for Christianity. It’s all a fraud – if one is to believe the non-fiction of the Discovery Channel.

Other than a syrupy boost – an embarrassingly syrupy boost --  from an “exclusive” appearance on NBC’s “Today” show, the national media for once aren’t buying into this cheap publicity stunt and have found a load of skeptics to denounce the film, perhaps because the list of experts, both scientific and religious, is endless. Perhaps the most important debunker is the professor Amos Kloner, who oversaw the original archaeological dig of this tomb in 1980. "It makes a great story for a TV film," Kloner told the Jerusalem Post. "But it's completely impossible. It's nonsense."

Joe Zias, who was the curator for anthropology and archeology at the Rockefeller Museum in Jerusalem from 1972 to 1997 and personally numbered the ossuaries at the center of the film, was even harsher. "Simcha has no credibility whatsoever...He's pimping off the Bible...Projects like these make a mockery of the archeological profession."

Hebrew University archeologist and epigraphist Leah DiSegni said that the names found in the tomb, Mary, Joseph, and Jesus were among the most common names of the day. It would be like finding a tomb with the name George on it in the future and asserting that it must have been the tomb of President George Bush, DiSegni told the Cybercast News Service. In addition, biblical scholar Stephen Pfann has questioned even the actual inscription on the tomb, claiming it’s “scratchy” and hard to read. For all we know, it’s Johnny, Mabel and Jerry.    

How do the producers defend themselves against the avalanche of criticism? It’s so, so typical. On the “Today” show Jacobovici and Cameron the “Titanic” director finally were pressed to respond to critics like Zias. They quickly fell back on the laughable concept that they weren’t – surprise! – experts.  Both said they weren’t archaeologists. One insisted he was filmmaker, the other a journalist. Cameron found it “compelling” as a layman.      

In other words, neither has credibility, and neither does the non-fiction Discovery Channel.

When it comes to ancient Christian sites, the Discovery Channel already had a huge credibility problem on its hands. Discovery aired a 2002 special on the alleged “Ossuary of James,” which was declared a forgery in 2003 by the Israel Antiquities Authority. Its promoter, Oded Golan, is currently on trial for forging part of the inscription. Jacobovici produced that badly flawed documentary, too.

The Discovery Channel, like most of the national TV elite, display a dramatic bias in target selection when it comes to religion. There are no controversies over the historical claims of Islam, Judaism, or any other religious faith. But Christianity is another story. It is routinely the subject of sensationalistic TV exposes, complete with breathless claims about how Jesus “might be” the son of a Roman soldier, or he might have survived the Crucifixion. And now he’s a dad, with kids.

What’s worse is that these shoddy alleged exposes always air in the most sacred Christian seasons, like Lent. Last year during Lent, on April 2, 2006, “Dateline NBC” offered part of its show to alleged Jesus-debunker Michael Baigent, even as reporter Sara James declared: “Baigent acknowledges there’s no proof of his theory, but points out that it was possible to survive crucifixion.”

If the Discovery Channel fails to cancel this slanderous ‘documentary,’ it will have to explain why it is intentionally misleading the public. This network should be embarrassed by this plunge into sensational speculation masquerading as ‘science.’ To slander Christianity at the start of the Lenten season is unconscionable. This isn’t news. It’s sensationalism on a stick. Or in this case, on a cross.