Almost exactly three years ago, we were looking at some of the breathless media coverage of a documentary that claimed to have found the tomb of Jesus. Daniel Pulliam covered the saga at the time and here’s a snippet from one of his posts (headlined “James Cameron to Christians: It’s over“):
An allegation that Jesus Christ’s body has been found is an interesting story. The fact that some big-name moviemaker is behind it adds to the spice and makes it a very legitimate story. But the silliness of the headlines, the hypothetical evidence, poor background information (likely fed by Cameron’s PR machine) and the hype factor all add up to give people who take religious issues seriously just another reason to ignore the media. And that’s too bad.
The story at this point is an embarrassment to reporters. It’s why they have a bad name in religious circles. As Amy Welborn said, “It’s nonsense, but you know what … Easter is coming!!!“
What a difference three years makes. Charles Pellegrino, the man behind the Cameron documentary, has written a book about the atomic bombing of Japan. “Avatar” director James Cameron had already optioned the book but it turns out there are some serious questions about its accuracy. “The Last Train from Hiroshima” had received strong reviews. The New York Times called it a “sober and authoritative new book” and a “gleaming, popular wartime history.” Cameron and Pellegrino had a history of collaborations and Cameron wrote introductions for previous Pellegrino books.
Anyway, it turns out that, contrary to what the book said, one man hadn’t been on one of the planes accompanying the Enola Gay and key players such as the priest (named “Father Mattias”) and Jesuit scholar “John MacQuitty” have no evidence of having ever existed. You don’t say.
The Associated Press report explaining the problems with the book includes some information relevant to the earlier Jesus Tomb controversy:
Pellegrino’s own background was also questioned. He sometimes refers to himself as Dr. Pellegrino, and his Web site lists him as receiving a Ph.D. in 1982 from Victoria University of Wellington, New Zealand. But in response to a query from the AP, the school said it had no proof that Pellegrino had such a degree. …
Cameron wrote introductions for Pellegrino’s “Ghosts of the Titanic,” published in 2000, and for the controversial 2007 release “The Jesus Family Tomb,” co-authored by Pellegrino and strongly questioned by scholars for its assertion that a tomb discovered in Jerusalem contained the remains of Jesus and possible family members.
I’m certainly happy that the problems with Pellegrino’s scholarship have been revealed. But these problems have been obvious for years. When media coverage was at a fever pitch three years ago, it would have been nice to have seen a bit more journalistic resistance early on to the claims Team Cameron were peddling.