The Investigator

A new movie is out for the evangelical set: The Investigator. Judging from the website, it’s a blend of tropes revolving around a detective story:

Depressed and angry, James isolates himself until his famous brother encourages him to take a job as a criminal justice teacher and baseball coach at a Christian high school. With his cop mentality challenging his students, James struggles through experiences with an unsupportive principal, a guidance counselor with a secret, and rebellious students. But when his best option seems to be quitting, a student challenges him to begin the investigation that will change his life, and those of his students, forever…the investigation into the homicide of Jesus Christ.

I’ve seen this idea of “the murder of Jesus Christ” several times now. I know that some classes from a local Christian school have done courtroom enactments of the trial of Jesus. What really is the point?

Even if you posit that the Gospels were unbiased eye-witness accounts – which is far from the case – you still have the problem of definition. Murder is an unlawful killing. But in the Roman system, it was perfectly lawful for the authorities to kill people for the least of reasons. Being stubborn with the judge was enough.

Whatever his intention, Jesus’ triumphal procession into Jerusalem and his display in the temple made him an obvious focus for radical anti-roman sects. This would seem to be enough to bring down official condemnation on his head. Where’s the murder mystery here?

To make matters worse, the whole thing was organized by God. In the first recorded Christian sermon, Peter’s Pentecost sermon, he declares that Jesus was “delivered up according to the definite plan and foreknowledge of God”. If there’s a murder here, the investigator will find that the mastermind is his own deity.

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  • mikespeir

    Well, sure, the whole thing was orchestrated by God, but “the Jews” and Pilate weren’t, you know, supposed to go along with it. Something like that.

    • guest

      Just like the garden of Eden. Satan gets his authority to test mankind from God (see the story of Job), God makes the fruit and leaves humans alone with it. God decides the punishment.

      • evodevo

        Sounds like a stacked deck to me !!!

  • Michael Mock

    I really despise the “courtroom evidence” approach to Christian apologetics. It’s a cute bit of rhetorical sleight of hand, I suppose, but it’s a poor analogy and even worse as a reason to believe. Consider, for a moment, your role a Juror at this trial:

    Day One: You are seated in the courtroom, the witnesses are sworn in, and the trial begins. All four of the witnesses recount a common scene: a lone man is run over by a truck, then stands up, miraculously unharmed, before ascending into the sky along a beam of light. It seems incredible, but you have these four different guys, who all swear they were there when it happened. They can’t all be lying or mistaken, right?

    Day Two: The defense attorney starts cross-examining the witnesses, and you notice some minor discrepancies in their stories. Three guys say the man was run over by a truck; the last one specifies that it was a van. It’s a little odd, but maybe they’re just confused – or maybe it was a moving van, or something like that.

    Day Three: You discover that the four witnesses all knew each other. Not only that, they all claim that the victim was their teacher. Not only that, but you now learn that each and every one of them has gone on to found one or more churches, based on the victim’s teachings. These churches are the witnesses’ careers and their livelihoods, so it’s pretty obvious that they have a direct incentive to convince people that the story about their teacher is true. That doesn’t necessarily mean they’re lying, of course, but as a juror are you going to take what they say at face value now?

    Day Four: You discover that the only reason there’s a trial in the first place is because these four men claim to have seen someone get run over. There’s no police report, no other witnesses, no news stories. There doesn’t even seem to be a birth certificate for the person they claim was the victim.


    The problem with this approach is that it attempts to treat the gospels as independent, disinterested (and so presumably objective) eye witness accounts. They aren’t, and pretending that they are is either foolish or deceptive. You can’t separate the Gospels from Christianity; the Gospels are the centerpiece of Christianity in its written form.

    • guest

      What you’re forgetting is that the witnessess aren’t even the guys who saw someone get hit by a truck, they’re the guys who claim to have talked to the guys who saw someone get hit by a truck. And those guys saw this thing happen at least forty years ago. And all the witnessess are anonymous.

    • evodevo

      Three thumbs up!! Oh, wait, I only have two thumbs.

  • kessy_athena

    Christian high schools have courses in criminal justice? Seriously? Well, I guess they have to fill the hole in the schedule where science classes ought to be….

    Personally, if you want to make an analogy to the modern criminal justice system, I’d say the closest thing would be suicide by cop…

    • Jim Jones

      With Judas set up as the way to get it done.

      • kessy_athena

        LOL You don’t suppose there was a grassy knoll involved?

        • Jim Jones

          It’s a damn silly story in any case.

  • Michael

    It’s not quite true that “Being stubborn with the judge was enough” to merit capital punishment. That doesn’t really fit with the Gospel either. While Jesus’ unwillingness to make any definite statements was sufficient for conviction by the San Hedrin (as Jewish law held that “you say I am” qualified as an affirmation), it seemed to make Pilate less eager to sentence him to death if anything. In the Gospel, it is the crowd that convinces Pilate to crucify Jesus.

    • Jim Jones

      > In the Gospel, it is the crowd that convinces Pilate to crucify Jesus.

      Which is one of the silliest parts of a very silly story.

      • Michael

        Come on, that’s not even close to the silliest part. Cursing the fig tree was pretty silly. Claiming the world was about to end (and then John retracting the claim a few decades later) was pretty silly. Speaking in tongues was silly. Really, the trial was quite reasonable in comparison to the rest of the books.

        • Jim Jones

          Except the wrong people were involved at the wrong time for the wrong reasons and with totally unbelievable motivations.

          There’s a long list of contradictions in the four gospels and that isn’t the worst of it.

  • PsiCop

    First of all, the idea that courtrooms are places where “the Truth” is discovered, is erroneous in the extreme. Sure, it sometimes works out that way. But courts in the US and in many other places are adversarial in nature, with one side saying one thing (and perhaps attempting to back it up with evidence), and the other saying something else entirely (also, possibly trying to back it up). In a lot of cases both sides are presenting information which most assuredly IS NOT “the Truth,” but rather, is whatever that side wants the jury to think. In a lot of cases, if not most of them, neither side is presenting any “Truth” at all. Expecting “the Truth” to magically pop out from two competing, and untrue accounts, is ridiculous on its face.

    Not to mention the complication of what constitutes “evidence” in the mind of a reasonable person, may not be permitted to be presented in court, owing to the many rules in play. Ultimately only a bone-headed fool assumes courts are engaged in an examination of “the Truth.” Any lawyer will tell you the law is completely and totally uninterested in “the Truth.” It is SOLELY interested in itself. And nothing else.

    On top of that, we have the old notion that Christianity can be understood through an investigative method. Fundamentalists are especially prone to this, given that they take Luke 1:1-4 literally:

    Inasmuch as many have undertaken to compile an account of the things accomplished among us, just as they were handed down to us by those who from the beginning were eyewitnesses and servants of the word, it seemed fitting for me as well, having investigated everything carefully from the beginning, to write it out for you in consecutive order, most excellent Theophilus; so that you may know the exact truth about the things you have been taught.

    They assume, based on this, that the gospel of Luke (and possibly the other 3) are the products of investigative journalism. That also is foolish, not only because it’s anachronistic thinking (investigative journalism didn’t come into existence until modern times), but because the content of Luke doesn’t exhibit any evidence of having been the product of any concerted investigation. It’s not referenced; it reports things that no one else saw and therefore could not possibly have been “witnessed” by anyone; and large chunks of it were copied verbatim, or close to it, from prior sources (the gospel of Mark and the “lost gospel” Q). Not to mention, it was written not earlier than the mid-80s CE, so that there would have been no “eyewitnesses” to Jesus for its author to interview.

    Fundies really need to put away this idea that their metaphysics can be tracked down through a process of deductive investigation. Metaphysics being what it is, it just can’t be done … and they know it. But they keep saying otherwise. Yes, they are liars. But, they’re liars for Jesus, you see, so that makes it OK.

  • evodevo

    What a bunch of pandering tripe – if they REALLY wanted to investigate, there are a lot of exegetical books that propound interesting hypotheses on the circumstances surrounding the crucifixion and the lack of credibility of the gospels. Oh, wait, that might involve actual thinking, historical sources and FACTS, as opposed to fantasy. Never mind.

  • phantomreader42

    If there’s a murder here, the investigator will find that the mastermind is his own deity.

    An honest investigator would find that, but since when has any religious apologist been capable of honesty?

  • Joseph O Polanco

    Murder is the premeditated and immoral killing of a human being by another. Since Christ committed no crime, his death can be rightly deemed murder.

    • Kevin R. Cross

      Actually, he did commit a crime. According to the laws as they stood, and assuming the gospels got any of it correct, he comitted heresy.

      • Joseph O Polanco

        On what specific evidence do you base your claim?

        • Kevin R. Cross

          His teachings. He contradicted certain areas of the law of Judaism as they stood. Of course, the people who prosecuted him were biased and had their own agenda (as in what he’d done in the temple) but they were on firm lrgal grounds.

          • Joseph O Polanco

            Which teaching in particular are you referring to?

            • Kevin R. Cross

              Well, I think a big one would be claiming to be the prophesied messiah (not sure if he’d actually claimed it at that point, but it had been claimed in his name and he didn’t deny it – which would be enough).