About that Jesus’ tomb story . . .

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“):

The hype machine for James Cameron‘s documentary The Lost Tomb of Christ has hit Anna Nicole Smith levels of ridiculousness.

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.

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  • Jerry

    it would have been nice to have seen a bit more journalistic resistance

    Given what looks like a downward spiral in the media to more sensationalism and less real journalism, I can only sigh and look forward to better days.

  • Deacon John M. Bresnahan

    Throughout my life since childhood many decades ago, one of my favorite maqazines had always been National Geographic. But then they too became part of the “more sensationalism and less real journalism” as Jerry aptly put it. And it seemed to my family it was the Christian religion they were attacking with hyped up sensationalism to get noticed. So, reluctantly, we cancelled our subscription.

  • A. Professor

    Dear Mollie,

    Please indicate to me on which page(s) of “The Jesus Family Tomb” the authors claim to have discovered the body of Jesus Christ? I’ll wait.

    PS. This is a trick question. They don’t! But that hasn’t stopped you from writing that now has it? And in an article about writers who mislead their readers.

    PSS. Can you say, “hypocrite”?

  • http://www.post-gazette.com Ann Rodgers

    It’s interesting that none of these stories have noted the bogus claims that Pellegrino previously made in two books about his alleged participation with Bob Ballard on Titanic expeditions. It was a well established fraud, and you would think that both Cameron and National Geographic would have been warned off by Pellegrino’s past history.

  • A. Professor

    Okay Ann. Once again, please find the page numbers in either of Pellegrino’s books where he claims to have accompanied Ballard on his Titanic expeditions. I fear you are just repeating what some reporters/reviewers or bloggers may have said. And since this is a pretty important piece of condemnation if it’s true – please provide me with the page numbers (and the actual statements). On this note, one of my serious problems with people of faith is that they do just that: they take things on faith. In this case that’s what got Pellegrino into trouble with the bogus claims of airman Joe Fuoco. If he’s made the claims you say he’s made, please show us.


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