Tag Archives: Finding Jesus: Faith.Fact. Forgery

Reflections on AD:The Gospel Continues


There’s a lot on television about Jesus Christ and the gospels this easter season. I watched most of CNN’s series Finding Jesus Christ: Faith. Fact. Forgery; now I’m watching NBC’s AD: The Gospel Continues.

The two programs are very different. CNN’s Finding Jesus Christ. Faith. Fact. Forgery might have been better titled “Looking for Jesus Christ” because that what it does–it looks for proof that Jesus really existed and whether evidences of him, like the Shroud of Turin, stand up to scientific scrutiny.

NBC’s AD is sure he existed, died and rose from the dead and it wants to tell you more about what happened in the last crucial days of his life and afterwards.

I liked AD’s opening segments, in general, but questions arise. AD expands on what the New Testament says about Jesus’ last days. It does what artists, Christians teachers and mystics have been doing for centuries. You might call it a meditation, a speculation, on the life and times of Jesus and leave it at that.

I wonder, however, about the appearances of Jesus risen from the dead in the series, always a crucial question. AD pictures him as artists have long done–he’s the same as before, but now dressed in white. That doesn’t fit the way the scriptures picture him, however, or what we mean when we say “We believe in the “resurrection of the body and life everlasting.”

Jesus’ disciples have trouble recognizing him risen from the dead, the gospels say. Does that mean they’ve developed poor eyesight or that belief he’s living is too much for them? The Risen Jesus is unlike Lazarus who’s clearly recognized when he comes from the tomb and then dies again.

In the resurrection, Jesus enters a new way of existence and dies no more. He may still show his disciples the wounds in his hands and his feet; they recognize his voice; thy eat with him. But his resurrection begins a new creation, a new step forward. Paul calls Jesus “the first fruits” of a new era, and we follow him into a new life.

The mystery of the resurrection of Jesus and our participation in this mystery, then, goes beyond our imagination and experience. There’s a danger to thinking that heavenly existence is the same as our present human existence, that Heaven is life on earth, only better.

“Life is changed, not ended.” Our present world will not remain the same; we are not meant to “cling” to it. As N.T. Wright states in a previous blog:

“What is more, the meaning of his resurrection cannot be reduced to anything so comfortable as simple regarding him as ‘contemporary’ in the sense of a friend beside us, a smiling and comforting presence. Because he is raised from the dead, he is Lord of the world, sovereign over the whole cosmos, the one before whom we bow the knee, believing that in the end every creature will come to do so as well.”

I must admit I had that reaction to the “smiling and comforting presence” of the Risen Jesus in AD.

I have other, minor questions about AD’s historical perspective. I don’t think Pilate and his Roman legionnaires were as heavily involved in Jerusalem in Jesus’ day as they’re depicted. The Romans were more comfortable in their headquarters at Caesarea Maritima than in Jerusalem and left local rulers like Herod Antipas and the temple leaders in control of the city. But that would demand another story line from AD.

Some of the connections AD makes are interesting. I can see the Centurion Cornelius appearing again. I also wondered about Peter’s children. Nice to see his daughter following along. Peter’s mother in law was already a follower, according to Mark’s gospel.

All in all, though, AD can’t beat the gospel story-tellers. Last week, for example, Sunday’s gospel was from Luke’s account of the resurrection, with its fascinating portrayal of the role of women in the resurrection story. They believed; the men didn’t. I’m still thinking of the implications of that.

CNN and John the Baptist

Last night I watched the second of the CNN series entitled Finding Jesus: Faith. Fact. Forgery, on Sunday evenings during lent. This segment concentrated on John the Baptist. It was partially a dramatization of John’s life, his baptism of Jesus and his own death at the hands of Herod, Salome and her daughter. Periodically scriptural scholars were introduced to comment on John and Jesus. Also interspersed through the segment were reports on the search for the relics of John.

I’m afraid I didn’t like John too much as he was portrayed, fiercely striding through the desert shouting out warnings of a coming judgment. A scary, unstable figure, he seemed to me. Why would anyone want to follow him and let him dunk you in water? The scholarly experts on the program in their comments seemed to be talking about someone else, not the figure portrayed in the series. Were they ever introduced to the dramatic side of the production they were part of, I wonder?

John was the mentor of Jesus according to the dramatization, which makes me wonder how Jesus will be portrayed in the series’ later segments. Will Jesus be another John? I hope not.

John taught Jesus the Lord’s Prayer, the series’ narrator claimed, and Jesus taught it to his disciples in turn. One of the scholarly experts, a young woman who teaches at Notre Dame University, when asked later on her Facebook page what she thought about that, said she didn’t agree with the interpretation. Too bad she didn’t say that on the program itself. What are scholars for if not to keep things in perspective?

Speaking of scholarly perspective, here’s a quote about John the Baptist from Rudolf Schnackenberg, a good New Testament scholar. Obviously he doesn’t see John as the mentor of Jesus.

“When John speaks of the One who is to come, he is thinking of an executor of divine judgment, not so much of him through whom God’s mercy and love are made visible. He expects the kingdom of God to arrive in a storm of violence, in the immediate future, with the Messiah’s first appearance. This vision gives to his summons to conversion its urgent, compelling tone, increased further by the appearance of renunciation and flight from the world which he presents in his own person. From what we know of his preaching, he seems transfixed by the vision of the judgment and finds nothing to say about the salvation the Messiah will bring.” ( Rudolf Schnackenberg Christian Existence in the New Testament, Volume 1, University of Notre Dame 1968, p 39)

CNN and the Holy Shroud


I watched CNN’s segment on The Holy Shroud of Turin on my computer last night. According to the Hollywood Reporter it topped the ratings last Sunday evening. Over 1 million people watched the first part of Finding Jesus: Faith. Fact. Forgery.

The narrator began the program: “Jesus Christ, he changed the course of world history yet the most famous man that ever lived left no physical trace, or did he?” For most of the program it looked like the answer was going to be “Yes, the shroud is an authentic witness to the death and resurrection of Jesus.” But in the final moments it was declared a medieval forgery.

But wait. Maybe not. All the evidence may not be in. Come back next year to see what CNN has uncovered. There was a hint as the program ended of more to come.

Like so many religious programs from the mainstream media, Finding Jesus. Faith.Fact.Forgery presumes we don’t know much about Jesus at all. Finding him means sifting through a jumble of faith, facts and forgeries. So far, there’s not much, but eventually we’ll learn more. We’ll get it right. Until then, suspend judgment till we have more facts.

If we follow CNN, finding Jesus is a long way off.

If the shroud is a medieval forgery I wondered why CNN spent so much time reconstructing the story of the Passion of Jesus from it as they did. Their reconstruction was along the lines that Mel Gibson used in his blockbuster The Passion of the Christ. Blood and violence are popular tools of the media these days.

The four gospels don’t use that approach in describing the Passion of Jesus, nor do they care to describe what Jesus looked like, another concern of the CNN special.

The claim of programs like Finding Jesus: Faith. Fact. Forgery that we have no physical traces of Jesus can be disputed, of course. In his day, eyewitnesses, real people, saw Jesus, ate with him, accompanied him. Their recollections are found in the gospels and letters they left or inspired. True, they’re not like the historical documents we have today, but substantial evidence is there just the same.

For most believers these are facts enough. More might come to light, but will they change the basic story about him? I don’t think so.

So we don’t have to stay on page 1 with CNN, waiting for more facts. Certainly we need to ask questions about Jesus, but questions of a deeper kind. What does it mean to follow him? What can we learn from him? We need to hold on to the signs he left us and ask: what does it mean to have his kingdom come to our world? Those questions are all in our Creed.

I don’t think we need the Shroud of Turin or CNN for that.

One more thing. What Jesus looked like is another concern of the CNN special. In the recent issue of The Hollywood Reporter, there’s a piece entitled “Jesus in Film and TV: 13 Devilishly Handsome Actors Who’ve Played the Son of God.”
There were the pictures of all the devilishly handsome actors who played Jesus in the movies or on television. None looks like Jesus to me. I go with Paul who says in his Letter to the Philippians that Jesus took on the form of a slave. If we met him on the street, we wouldn’t recognize him at all. But Hollywood can’t believe that.