Indiana Jones and the reporter from hell

Did you catch any of the stories about the recent discovery of the ancient “Gate of Hell”? The gate was believed to be the portal to the underworld and was known for its lethal properties. Finally located by a team led by Francesco D’Andria, professor of classic archaeology at the University of Salento, Biblical Archaeology explains:

“We found the Plutonium by reconstructing the route of a thermal spring. Indeed, Pamukkale’ springs, which produce the famous white travertine terraces originate from this cave,” D’Andria told Discovery News.

Featuring a vast array of abandoned broken ruins, possibly the result of earthquakes, the site revealed more ruins once it was excavated. The archaeologists found Ionic semi columns and, on top of them, an inscription with a dedication to the deities of the underworld — Pluto and Kore.

D’Andria also found the remains of a temple, a pool and a series of steps placed above the cave — all matching the descriptions of the site in ancient sources.

“People could watch the sacred rites from these steps, but they could not get to the area near the opening. Only the priests could stand in front of the portal,” D’Andria said.

According to the archaeologist, there was a sort of touristic organization at the site. Small birds were given to pilgrims to test the deadly effects of the cave, while hallucinated priests sacrificed bulls to Pluto.

The ceremony included leading the animals into the cave, and dragging them out dead.

“We could see the cave’s lethal properties during the excavation. Several birds died as they tried to get close to the warm opening, instantly killed by the carbon dioxide fumes,” D’Andria said.

OK, that’s all background. What I want to talk about is ABC News’ coverage of this discovery, embedded at the top of the story. It’s totally unserious and, apparently, requires constant mentions of Hollywood to make it through the two-and-a-half-minute segment.

About a minute and a half into the program, we get a reference to Indiana Jones and the Raiders of the Lost Ark. The reporter says something about this being an archaeological find thrilling enough to be an Indiana Jones plot. If only he would have left it there.

Just before the 2-minute mark, the reporter says that they’ve blocked up the entrance to the Gate of Hell and he says that’s good because “we all remember what happened in Raiders of the Lost Ark when they dug up those religious artifacts of the dead. To use a loaded phrase, all hell broke loose.”

And the other reporters in the studio boo, to their credit.

But one viewer called me and was outraged. How does one mess up the basic plot line of Raiders of the Lost Ark so badly? To quote from the Wikipedia plot summary (spoilers abound but if you haven’t seen this movie from 1981, it’s your own fault!):

Indiana and Marion leave Cairo to escort the Ark to England on board a tramp steamer. The next morning, their boat is boarded by Belloq, Dietrich and the Nazis, who once again steal the Ark and kidnap Marion. Indiana stows away on their U-boat and follows them to an isolated island in the Aegean Sea where Belloq plans to test the power of the Ark before presenting it to Hitler. Indiana reveals himself and threatens to destroy the Ark with a bazooka, but Belloq calls his bluff, knowing Indy cannot bear to eradicate an important historical artifact.

Indiana surrenders and is tied to a post with Marion as Belloq performs a ceremonial opening of the Ark, which appears to contain nothing but sand. Suddenly, spirits resembling Old Testament Seraphim emerge from the Ark. Aware of the supernatural danger of looking at the opened Ark, Indiana warns Marion to close her eyes. The apparitions suddenly morph into “angels of death”, and lightning bolts begin flying out of the Ark, gruesomely killing the Nazi soldiers, while Belloq, Dietrich and Toht meet even more gruesome fates. The fires rise into the sky, then fall back down to Earth and the Ark closes with a crack of thunder.

That wasn’t “hell” breaking loose and melting the faces of the Nazis, my friends at ABC! That wasn’t hell at all! That was power coming from the opposite direction.

Sheesh. What a week! The New York Times doesn’t know what Easter celebrates, CBS is confused about the circumstances surrounding John the Baptist and Jesus’ death. And now ABC confuses God and Satan.

I know that we complain about reporters’ lack of knowledge about religious basics, but I didn’t realize that ignorance extended to Steven Spielberg movies!

And on a more serious note, some of the uses of “myth” in these reports have been inaccurate. But, then again, less so than on most days when myth is confused for “something untrue.”

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  • Wait a minute…I always thought the Indiana Jones movies were more documentaries than fiction. My world has been shake this morning.

  • sari

    I guess. The phrase was used correctly; y’all are hair-splitting what was clearly a lightweight article. I spent many many hours teaching idiom to my autistic child. Imagine playing catch and telling yours to keep his eye on the ball. Instead of watching the ball, he touches it to his eye. Same situation here.

    The phrase, “All hell breaks loose” has gone into the vernacular as something like spontaneous mass pandemonium. It has no religious connotation whatsoever. From the freedictionary online:

    “if all hell breaks loose, a situation suddenly becomes noisy and violent, usually with a lot of people arguing or fighting”

  • Is confusing the plot of a movie the same as confusing scripture?

  • astorian

    Indy himself would surely have asked the Times and CBS reporters, “Didn’t you guys ever go to Sunday School?”

  • Jeremiah Oehlerich

    I wonder if there is a greater missed opportunity here. Saw similar, though lacking the Indy references, coverage on this discovery from Huffington Post. My first reaction was to wonder if they were confusing the Christian concept of Hell with the traction of the Underworld from Grecco-Roman mythology. The two have very different applications, since every one goes to the Underworld, according to Greek myths, while Hell exists for those who reject God, accroding to the Scriptures. Such bad news coverage is hardly useful since it conflagrates, and as a result denigrates, two very different world views.

    • Genevieve Williams

      I mostly lurk but I did want to mention here that I had a similar reaction to Jeremiah’s. Greek mythology is one of my hobbies (hobby only because I can’t read Greek, but I’ve gotten about as far as I can without that ability) and every time I read a “Gate of Hell” headline in connection with this exciting find, I winced. (Not only that, but the Mediterranean is practically littered with mythical portals to the Underworld; what’s especially exciting about this one is its match to historical sources.)

  • Julia

    It is generally agreed, I think, that the phrase in the Apostles’ Creed about Jesus descending into hell was actually referring to this underworld where supposedly everybody went (except for a favored few) before Jesus’ Resurrection triumphed over all that.

    Amazing to see these folks laughing and indescriminantly schmooshing together scary religious events they’ve heard about. And didn’t the guy describe the Ark as something related to artifacts of the dead or something like that. I guess he didn’t know what the Ark was or the Old Testament stories about what happened to people who touched it. A basic knowledge of Scripture is useful when reporting on many, many stories of archeological findings.

  • gerg

    I saw this same report. Isn’t it weird how the media so often references movies? Even obscure ones. It’s like they have no personal experience, so they are forced to refer back to movies they have seen. Or, they assume that these movies are our one shared bit of culture – our one and only reference point, the only thing we share together.
    A movie culture is a bad culture.

  • Jerry

    We have a new one: the media does not get movies. I guess we can add that to the list which includes religion and science.

    • Will

      From the reports here, it seems like the media does get journalism. (Or law.)

  • northcoast

    Some of us were so traumatized by all of the snakes that the rest of the movie was a blur.

  • Martha

    Mollie, your outraged reader must soothe his or her inflamed emotions with what Jeffrey Weiss has told us in regards to the NYT Easter re-definition; this was an art piece, not a news piece, so the standards of editing (and reporting) are not the same. 🙂

    Off-topic, but remember our friends in the Southern Poverty Law Center? Remember the tiffs we have had in the comment boxes over their definition of what are hate groups, and whether they have a disproportionate influence which could be a harmful one over getting their definition accepted and used by public and state agencies?

    If this is accurate (link courtesy of the Ironic Catholic), one U.S. Army Reserve training brief is using their definitions of what constitutes a hate group, which includes – by what the person who put together the slide show understands – “Evangelical Christianity” and “Catholicism” – not just the SLPC’s category of “Radical Traditionalist Catholicism”, but “Catholicism” with no qualifier.

    And that this brief is relying on the SPLC is evident from slide no. 32, which not alone quotes the SPLC about “36 active hate groups in Pennsylvania” but shows the list, which includes three “Radical Traditional Catholicism” groups.

    Now, I appreciate very much that the U.S. Army Reserve is concerned that, for example, Catholic Counterpoint is disseminating claims that “that there has been a Satanic takeover of Rome, the new rites of the Mass and Sacraments are heretical, Vatican II was heretical” but is that really a hate group on a parallel with Neo-Nazi prison gangs?

    Now, I know the SPLC claims that their concern about these groups is to do with anti-Semitism, but if you look for the Catholic Tradition webpage (which may or may not be the same as the Alliance for Catholic Tradition group listed, or they may or may not be affiliated with them), you will get hit with the images of the Sacred and Immaculate Hearts, not “The Protocols of the Elders of Zion”. Maybe there is rabid anti-Jewish sentiment lurking on the site, but you are more likely to have to wade through pages of pious aspirations , 19th century holy pictures, and denunciations of the new Mass to find it.

  • Spencerian

    In fact, the Indiana Jones films (save the last one) finds the hero saved by acknowledging or calling out those who abuse that which is aligned to beneficial or good forces. We see Indy respecting the power of the Ark (empowered by God), the three Sankara Stones (a holy token he returns to a village that relies on respecting who it represents and the village’s greatest treasure, their children) and how the search for the Holy Grail is different from possessing it. None of these plots were of slash/horror movies of note where evil forces are unleashed. If a reporter can’t properly recall a movie plot, how can we rely on their recitation of news?

  • Joshua

    I think that the errors are that big of a deal. It’s fun to point out them out, but I don’t know if they deserve all of the scornful what-were-they-thinking hoopla. It like being the religious version of Comic Book Guy.

    At most, calling out these mistakes could potentially incur curiosity in people to know what Jesus’ resurrection meant, and at the very least, it will encourage someone to re-watch Raiders of the Lost Ark.

    • Joshua

      Make that “aren’t that big of a deal”.

  • Richard Mounts

    Picking at, or even nitpicking at, the quality of reporting is what this blog is about. It particularly is about examining articles where there are religion “ghosts.” So it is appropriate here to point out and discuss what the GetReligionistas see as poor journalistic practice. Just so, it’s important to point out Jeremiah Oehlerich”s use of the word “conflagrates” (see his comment above). I’m not sure that it’s a real word, but wouldn’t it mean “sets a large destuctive fire?”

    I suspect he means “conflates.” So here one can see that words and their meanings do matter, especially when journalists use them–if they want to be taken seriously.

    • Jeremiah Oehlerich

      Oops! Yes, “conflates” would be correct.

  • dalea

    The link to Biblical Archeology took me to a story about the apostle Phillip. Could not find the story on the Plutonium. Is this the correct term, because it is also the name of the most deadly radioactive element.

    The mention of Pluto and Kore bothered me. If in Greek, wouldn’t it be Hades and Kore? And in Latin, Pluto and Persephone? Mixing Pantheons is always troubling.

  • Suburbanbanshee

    The best thing about the Plutonium story is that it proved the ancient travel writers weren’t lying.

    I mean, sure, sometimes the ancients are wrong or believe stupid factoids (just like us). But darn it, they weren’t wrong all the time.

  • ” instantly killed by the carbon dioxide fumes”

    Yeah, well, they don’t know their science any more than they know their Indy movies. That’s now how CO2 works. 😛

    • asshur

      I’d suppose the journalist was talking about CO, not CO2- the birds are the clue-. But everybody knows that journos get science even less than religion …

      • northcoast

        With a little SO2 thrown in for effect.

  • Harpalus

    If it’s any consolation guys most Archaeologists really hate the constant Indiana Jones references. What he does is the complete opposite of what Archaeologists do: he manages to destroy every historic site he comes across!

    • northcoast

      Not to mention his impact on the indigenous population.