A 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.