An annual Easter story

davincicodeA few days ago I noted that we’ve seen relatively few examples of that mainstream media Holy Week tradition of showcasing stories designed to question the work of Christ. But a reader passed along a story that’s the opposite. Associated Press religion reporter Rachel Zoll highlighted the practice:

It’s a predictable part of the Easter season: The period of reflection on the Crucifixion and Resurrection has become a popular time for marketers to roll out works — from the scholarly to the sensational — that challenge Christianity’s core beliefs.

In the last several years, churchgoers have been hit with a steady stream of claims that Jesus didn’t die on the cross, that he had a wife and kids, and that the Bible is a fraud.

Zoll speaks with Christians who are angered by the trend. They don’t oppose questioning but the timing and the lack of context, she finds. She mentions James Cameron’s Lost Tomb of Jesus and allegations about Jesus being married and having a son. Zoll properly says the documentary was unveiled during Lent. She also goes to great lengths to explain Lent, Holy Week and Easter. That’s why I wonder if it wasn’t an editing change on the first line of the piece that says the Easter season is the period of reflection on the Crucifixion and Resurrection of Christ.

Anyway, Zoll points out that the annual claims about Christ never seem to stick but that they are still accepted by the general culture. She also explains why filmmakers and publishers hawk their wares during the Lenten season.

New Testament scholars and archeologists say that, the more outlandish the claims, the bigger the sales — which increases demand for ideas from the fringe. They are being presented to a public with little knowledge of early Christianity reading unfiltered information on the Internet, experts say. . . .

“We live in a Jesus-haunted culture that’s biblically illiterate,” [Ben] Witherington [, a New Testament expert at Asbury Theological Seminary and author of What Have They Done With Jesus?] said. “Everybody knows who Jesus is. But the actual knowledge about early Christian history and the Bible is very low in the culture and even large segments of the church. In that situation, anything can pass for knowledge about the historical Jesus, even wildly improbable theories.”

Even if we did have a relatively light year for such stories, Zoll’s analysis of the annual practice is a welcome deviation during this part of the year.

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  • Larry Rasczak

    Nice Job Ms.Zoll! Nice Job!

    Thanks for letting Mr. Witerhington speak the embarrising truths.

    and HAPPY EASTER to EVERYBODY here!

    (Especially my friends on the Left… now put down that New York Times and do what Sunday was made for ;-D )

    Happy Easter Everyone!

  • Dan

    Larry I’m not on left but before going to Mass this morning I just had to read what the NYT Mag had to say about Pope Benedict. I thought it was going to be the NYT’s loving Easter gift to us Catholics but it actually wasn’t that bad, by NYT standards anyway. Amy Welborn has a piece on it and I largely agree with what she had to say. The biggest problem I had with the piece is that it did not clearly and accurately summarize what the Pope has to say on the issues of the hyper-secularation of Europe and the relationship between faith and reason. As a result the article does not do justice to the quality of Pope Benedict’s thought.

    Happy Easter — Christ is risen!

  • Jerry

    A HAPPY EASTER to everyone, whether left, right or middle. May God grant that we all grow ever closer to Him.

  • http://buddhateach.blogspot.com Robert Hargrave

    I know a lot of very devout but non-”liturgical” Protestants who call Lent– and especially Holy Week– the “Easter season,” just as they call Advent the “Christmas season.” Ignorance of the ancient Christian liturgical calendar is not limited to people uninterested in Christianity or un-devoted to Christ.

  • Deacon John M. Bresnahan

    Christ Has Risen! Alleleuia.
    But I’m not sure this year has been that light in the Christ-bashing department. The tomb hoax ate up much of Lent, and tonight The History Channel is apparently featuring a new look about “suppressed” information about Jesus. I suppose it will be more from the Gnostic fictions

  • Deacon John M. Bresnahan

    I just got back from “Pontifications” site–a pro-Catholic site, run by, I believe a former Episcopalian priest. But I can’t get through. Apparently someone named “Daimon” has hacked the site and taken it out. Is this anti-Catholic bigotry in action?????

  • Stephen A.

    It’s easy to be tempted to focus solely on the print media (because, perhaps, they are easily Linkable?) but the broadcast has been at the Questioning Christianity game.

    A History Channel examination of Hollywood’s portrayal of Jesus went off the deep end and portrayed opponents of risque versions, such as the Last Temptation of Christ, as nuts who were overracting, portrayed the marketing of the Passion of the Christ as illegitimate because it was “too” successful” and even trotted out American flags and Bush saying (over and over, in one sequence) “God bless you and God bless America” at the end of speeches, to “prove” that the Theocracy is somehow dictating what Hollywood is showing to the general public. Bizarre and pathetic. (One commentator Sunday on another show noted that F.D. Roosevelt composed an entire six minute prayer that he read over the radio on the day of D-Day in 1944. That EXTREMIST!)

    CNN and MSNBC and the History Channel are running shows on “other” Gospels and “Banned” Books of the Bible this evening.

    CNN’s “After Jesus: The Early Christians” Saturday (also will be on tonight) seemed on Sunday to spend as much time on Judaism as it did on Christianity.

  • Alan L.

    How about that “wonderful Easter Tradition” from the big three networks(ABC, NBC, CBS) of running the Ten Commandments every year at this time. Do these networks really think that we are this stupid and we are just grateful that they would put on any “religious programming.”
    Does anyone remember the last time one of these networks ran a movie about Jesus during the Easter season that was exalting ofChrist?

  • Dale

    Alan:

    Easter roughly coincides with Passover. Thus, showing The Ten Commandments around the time of Easter is appropriate. Of course, I’m assuming that having an Egyptian princess in a skin-tight dress grovelling at Charlton Heston’s white, Anglo-Saxon Protestant feet and moaning “Moses, Oh Moses!” is a valid commemoration of Passover.

    Anyhow, what would Easter be without a generous helping of Hollywood ham?

  • http://www.sandiegointeractive.com Mr. San Diego

    Happy Easter everyone, and God Bless!!!

  • Jerry

    On the other hand, my local paper, the Contra Costa Times had a nice article on the Churches in Berkeley (of all places). I suppose they ran the story because it was Easter, still, at least it was better than what others here have reported.


    Long before Berkeley was called “Berserkley” or “The People’s Republic of Berkeley,” it had another nickname: “City of Churches.
    http://www.contracostatimes.com/news/ci_5622092

    Today, according to the Berkeley Convention and Visitors Bureau, the city has 105 Christian churches — along with five Jewish synagogues, eight Buddhist temples and a New Age church, a Vedanta Society center and Hare Krishna temple — serving a population of 102,000.

    They range from the nine theological seminaries — five Protestant, three Catholic and one Unitarian Universalist — that comprise the Graduate Theological Union on “Holy Hill” in North Berkeley to the tiny neighborhood churches, such as the New Light Church and the McGee Avenue Baptist Church, that seem to dot every corner in South Berkeley.

    “It’s no surprise this city has so many churches,” says Lesley Emmington of the Berkeley Architectural Heritage Association. “It was founded by many of the same people who founded the University of California, and they were men of the cloth as well as men of education. For them, moral improvement and intellectual improvement went hand in hand.”

  • cheyan

    Deacon Bresnahan, I’m inclined to think it has *some* religious component (it’s still inaccessible as I write this) – DaiMon claims to be TURKISH HACKER, but catholica.pontifications.net would be very hard to misconstrue as a European or American or anything else government address, though I guess it could seem like a school site, which leaves either pure random graffiti or something reacting to Catholicism. But I think the religious component is small, because the animation that would have played on the page (I can’t view it) is described to me like a computer company’s advertisement, not something that has any possible meaning to it.

  • Roberto Rivera

    Last night, the History Channel ran “Banned from the Bible II.” As the title suggests, it’s about non-canonical writings that were kept out of the scriptures by that mean, old, oppressive patriarchal church. Not surprisingly, nearly every book profiled is either, (a), a gnostic take on Jesus, (b), about how women were the real apostles, or both. Similarly, watching the talking heads, a viewer might infer that gnostics and other heretics comprised if not a majority of Christians, at least a substantial minority, say, 43.237 percent and that it was only some kind of armed force that kept them from becoming the mainstream and bequeathing to us an Oprah-like faith with lots of sex.

    As Rodney Strong and others have written, this says worlds more about 21st century worldviews and imaginations than it does about the patristic and post-apostolic world.

  • Dennis Colby

    I thought Zoll did a great job, and that this story was a fine example of a smart reporter analyzing a trend rather than just contributing to it. I was glad to read some new voices, too, and not just the usual suspects.

  • Connie Sandlin

    FYI – “Turkish Hacker” also attacked and destroyed the forum page of our Audubon website last August. We have a new forum page up now that is much, much less vulnerable to attack, but we had to do our homework to get it back online.

  • James Davis

    A belated congrats to Zoll myself. Her piece was a badly needed antidote to the pseudo-intellectual toxins that many in the media like to taint the season with.

    I wish I’d thought of Zoll’s angle myself, but we went with a couple of other angles (if you can take a little shameless promotion). One was a profile of a Haitian-American priest saying his first Easter Mass:

    http://www.sun-sentinel.com/news/local/broward/sfl-ceaster08apr08,0,5666322.story

    The other was coverage of Chuck Colson’s Easter service at a local prison:

    http://www.sun-sentinel.com/news/local/broward/sfl-ccolson09apr09,0,5530661.story

    The Web version included a nice slide show. A couple of people called in to voice their appreciation for both stories.

  • Martha

    Maybe the annual Christianity-bashing was a little light this year because frankly, what’s left to attack?

    Virgin Birth? Got that one covered. Miracles – been pooh-poohing them for a century or so. Death on the cross? Likewise. Married with kids – you bet. And finally the Resurrection never happened – ticked that box.

    What’s left for next year? Pentecost – that wasn’t the Holy Ghost, it was a freak gust of wind combined with a small localised fire?

  • Stephen A.

    Actually, Martha, a narrator of one of the shows said the Pentacost event was a metaphor for a kind of reverse Tower of Babel – all languages and people’s coming back to roost, as it were, to the Gospel.

  • http://www.geocities.com/matrixism2069 TheCrow

    Taking the Bible’s word for it doesn’t seem any better than pure conjecture. The Bible after all contains all kinds of things that transmute the known laws of the universe. Cases in point; the matter of Mary conceiving a male child wjile still remaining a virgin and Jesus rising from the dead. I’m not sure about all of these new angles on the Easter story but I saw a well done piece on the history channel. At least it put its ideas up to the tests of reason and common sense.

    It is most probable (approaching certainty) that Christianity is no more than a very succesful form of social engineering much like Islam or communism. If it is social engineering we must have I’ll take something more sensibly designed for the modern world. Something like say Matrixism. So come April instead of celebrating a crucifixtion on Easter I’ll be celebrating a scientific breakthrough on Bicycle Day.


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