Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Critique of BBC Documentary "Did Jesus Die?"

My Ahmadiyya colleagues have been urging me to watch the BBC documentary Did Jesus Die? for a long time now. I finally got around to it, and as I have done so, I have reviewed and commented on the contents of the documentary, which I have posted here below:

(00:40-00:45) - "...throughout history, people have responded differently to this [the Gospel] story." Somewhat true. The Jews and the Pagans denied that Jesus rose from the grave, but they didn't deny that Jesus died. Instead, they claimed that his body was stolen by His disciples (as has been recorded in Matthew 28:11-15 and is mentioned around 31:30-31:40).

(01:00-01:17) - "...There have been heresies that suggested that Jesus survived the crucifixion..." Uhh, no. No such theory has ever existed until around the 18th/19th centuries, during the advent of German liberal higher criticism. Funny enough, nowadays this view is not taken seriously anymore, save by various conspiracy theorists and certain Islamic sects/schools of thought (the Ahmadiyya being one of the most prominent of them).

(02:35-02:50) - "Many modern scholars and theologians... now seem to doubt the historical accuracy of the gospels" There will always be dissenting views, though admittedly they are more prominent now than they have been centuries before. However, the figures tend to be inflated, and there are still many scholars and theologians who view the gospel accounts as reliable, even inerrant, and can articulate good reasons for believing so (I can give a boatload of names if anybody would care enough to ask me).

(02:55-04:00) - Elaine Pagels, John Dominic Crossan... why do they always pick the most far-left liberal scholars and use them as the spokespersons of "contemporary biblical scholarship?" This kind of skewed presenation is so patently dishonest, especially when considering the expert replies made by less radical scholars who do in fact view the gospels as historically accurate in their reporting of Jesus' story.

The next several minutes features some rather cheap diatribes against supernatural events, such as the miracles. Of course, you have to presuppose Naturalism in order for this tactic to actually work. Now, it's not all without merit, as they are also spot on in pointing out some of the nonsense promulgated by Roman Catholics, particularly the Filipinos who reenact the Crucifixion back home, but the blatant skewing of facts.

(13:15-13:25) - "The gospel accounts of it [the resurrection]... are full of inconsistencies and curious contradictions." The supposed "incosistencies and contradictions" are brought up later in the video (14:08-15:10). The apocryphal ending of Mark is already well known among biblical scholars (both liberal and conservative), so bringing it up is beating the dead horse.

Notice, also that the video doesn't mention actual conflicting details, but only mention how certain stories appear in one or two gospel accounts but not in the rest. If the four gospel writers were intending to complement each other's reports (which they most likely were), then there isn't really a problem with this.

Nevertheless, if anybody is really worried about "inconsistencies and contradictions" in the resurrection stories, why not look up the various harmonies proposed by biblical scholars who actually have taken the time to carefully study the gospel narratives (The best harmony, I think, would be the one proposed by Simon Greenleaf).

As a side note, thank God they put N.T. Wright in there. He's probably the only voice of reason present in this whole documentary.

(17:40-18:00) - Unnecessary tangent on Roman Catholicism's papal claims. Duhh, of course they're spurious, but what's the point of comparing such a questionable belief with the more attestable doctrine of the resurrection?

(19:00-20:50) - Yet another unnecessary tangent. The Toronto "Blessing" is so far out there, it's an embarrassment even for many of the sane(r) Charismatic churches. Also, what does believing in the "literal truth of the bible" have to do with the mania that goes on in the Toronto Airport Church? Tearing down strawman is also a dishonest debate tactic, you know.

(23:00-24:10) - Scare tactics. As though believing in orthodox Christianity somehow automatically placed you in the ranks of those who indiscriminately burned all dissenters as heretics. How does that even affect the accuracy of the gospel stories anyway? Besides, the matter concerning the Cathars isn't as simple as the documentary makes it out to be, but I am not an expert at that particular field of church history, so I will have to pass it over for the time being.

(26:10-26:25) - People come up with conspiracy theories involving the Knights Templar all the time. There isn't really any solid evidence (the actual bones?). Besides, wouldn't this do violence to the Ahmadi theory that Jesus' remains are in Kashmir?

(34:40-35:00) - "The question of clinical death is certainly raised by the fact that the herbs that Joseph of Arimathea took into the tomb with the body of Jesus were aloes. These are healing, not embalming herbs." Admittedly, aloes are indeed used to treat minor burns or wounds. However, The kind of wounds sustained by Jesus during the Crucifixion and the tortures He endured before it are way beyond the capacity of aloes to treat.

Besides, 75 pounds? You do not place 75 pounds of herbs with a person in a burial cloth unless you believe that person to be deceased.

(37:55-38:55) - More beating the dead horse. Stop bringing up the apocryphal ending of Mark, seriously.

Also the Luke reference is authentic: The theory of Western non-interpolations, on which the idea of the Luke passage being a later addition is based, is no longer taken seriously by most biblical scholars (save for a minority). Besides, the author of Luke also wrote about the ascension in Acts 1:9-11, so it's not that far-fetched that he would have had that idea in mind in writing the gospel.

(39:00-40:00) - Does anybody really still take seriously the idea of Jesus having a sexual/marital relationship with Mary Magdalene? Also, who are the "historians" who support this idea? Michael Baigent? Richard Leigh? Give me a break, this kind of crackpot theory is hardly even worth going over, since it's been debunked to death countless times before.

(42:00-42:15) - Questionable relics like this have been floating around for centuries, especially during the medieval period. Even if it was authentic, it is likely to have been transported from some other region of the world. The relics don't really prove much.

(49:10-49:20) "Could Jesus have been taken to India as a child and taught to be a Buddhist?" Problem is, there is no evidence that the magi ever took the infant Jesus with them to India. That is just sheer eisegesis. Jesus' teachings on humanity, salvation, etc. are contradictory to Buddhist principles.

(50:00-50:05) - "Certainly the later teachings and miracles of Jesus have uncanny parallels with the teachings and miracles of the Buddha." LIKE???

(50:05-51:00) - "Loving your enemies and the idea that the meek will inherit the earth have absolutely no tradition or precedent in Judaism, but they are entirely consistent with Buddhism." Try Leviticus 19:34, Psalm 22:26 and Psalm 37:11 on for size. It helps to do some research before spouting off nonsense such as this.

Also, it is quite dishonest to highlight those few places where Christianity and Buddhism do happen to have similarities (which is usually in the moral aspects), and ignore the numerous places where they conflict (which is usually in the theological aspects).

(51:10-52:20) - Finally, we get to the tomb in Kashmir. Surprising... the Ahmadis seem to put a lot of stock into this documentary., yet their beloved Kashmir tomb theory is barely discussed at all in the video, and has been relegated to the very end.

Furthermore, if this theory is as groundbreaking as it is made out to be, why don't scholars actually pay attention to it? Even the crackpot theories in the Da Vinci Code and Talpiot Tomb received some scholarly attention (mostly critical). It is telling that the Ahmadi theory does not get even a peep out of the academia.

(54:05-55:15) - "But this is a sacred site, and short of exhumation, there is no way of discovering whether the body buried here is that of a man who once survived crucifixion." There you have it: Nobody has ever really demonstrated that the person buried in Srinagar is Jesus as we can't even get to the body. The footprint doesn't count for much, as such kinds of things are falsified all the time, and are not considered good evidence at all.

(55:30-End) - "...The end of Christianity as we know it..." It would be indeed, IF the case being made throughout the video had any validity to it. But it doesn't, so better luck next time. PS - Pagels' theory at the end is somewhat...cute... but there are way too many factors that cannot be accounted for by it, such as the sudden change in disposition by the apostles, or the conversions of Jesus' brother James and the apostle Paul.

In conclusion, I was not at all impressed by the documentary. The bulk of it is just plain bad history and skewed information. I am nowhere nearer to being convinced by the Ahmadis' theory that Jesus survived crucifixion than when I first encountered this idea.

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