History Channel’s Jesus Doco

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by Neil Godfrey

Mercifully I do not have access to History Channel’s series Jesus: His Life (links that were sent to me by some well-meaning readers are blocked in Australia) but for those interested R.G. Price has begun to review the series in John Loftus’s Debunking Christianity site.

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21 thoughts on “History Channel’s Jesus Doco”

    1. Yeah, there were actually many well done documentaries and education segments on American TV in the 1970s and 1980s. My dad watched them frequently and I benefited from that I believe. I think there were many segments on religion and ancient culture from this period that no one would run in America today. That really tells you something.

      1. religion and ancient culture [documentaries] from this period [the 1970s and 1980s] that no one would run in America today

        Bauer, Jared (13 April 2019). “IDIOCRACY: Did It Come True?”. YouTube. Wisecrack.

        [16:09] A cautionary tale of what happens when people cede their ability to think critically and just become mindless consumers. [16:15]

  1. I used VPN to view the first episode of this series. Quite entertaining, but zero surprises. I agree with John Loftus regarding the panel of ‘experts’. The series sets out to show The Roman Empire as a real threat to the Jews if they should fall out of line and it pitches this dramatised documentary as being told for the first time ‘through the eyes of those who knew him best’, but they still resorted to mostly Matthew and Luke for their nativity. They didn’t argue or justify use of Luke or Matthew as “those who knew him best” – they merely defaulted to these books – perhaps because they feature the elements of the nativity story between them and are part of the canon. But then what is new here?
    I was hoping to hear some stuff from the infancy gospels and/or cross-examinations of certain traditions or elements extracted from all sources that were taken from the close people … The best in the way of a re-write were simple semantics changes. Not an Inn or a barn (22:10 time in video) but invited to stay on the ground floor with the animals. Or in the beginning Joseph is not a carpenter but a worker in construction. This and some high school exegesis – such as Luke wanted Shepherds to reflect the shepherd role of Jesus (26:00).

    Parts I find quite quirky and odd …

    Mary explains her pregnancy to Jospeh (07:30)
    Dramatisation calling the baby his wife is carrying the ‘Son of God’ (11:05)
    Joseph blows a fit (11:40)
    Joseph seeks to dismiss her quietly – (13:48) Although this is Biblical – to me this is evidence that it must be written by a person not familiar with the culture.

    There was a discussion about people returning home during census. Prof. Ben Witherington III suggested (20:40) That there is evidence people did go back to ancestral home. But he didn’t provide a reference for this evidence.

    (28:20) Herod is the subject of conversation – said that he dominated for 50 years. However, the times don’t correspond. Herod may have died before Jesus was born. I have other theories in this matter – but nothing was investigated here.

    No – discussion on timing of the birth of Jesus in episode.

    Suggestion that Magi were from Yemen (29:00) (Is there evidence of this?)

    Only Dr Robert Cargill raised a few points of historical significance.

  2. I’m not sure I’ll be able to watch this, but I hope they had the Beloved Disciple with his/her face digitized out or hidden by arty camera angles and a voice filter.

  3. Whether an Inn or a barn or the ground floor with the animals, this ignores the contradictory detail that they had a home over which the star stood for the magi.

    Also, this takes the LUKE story as its basis, but there is nothing bout king Herod in that one.

    It is amazing how one or the other contradictory account is ignored, or sometimes the two are just mixed together.

    Just another ridiculous fiction concocted by “experts”.

  4. r.g.price – I’ve just read the comments on your page. OMG. Some really interesting exchanges there though.

    Would you say that HISTORY channel might have edited some more controversial things out too? Caution and ratings might make them veer towards pleasing a dominant audience.

    1. r.g.price writes: I believe that the figure of Simon of Cyrene is meant to represent the apostle Paul. . . . Paul says that he has been “crucified with Christ” and he boasts of his bearing, “the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ.”

      • What chance is there of “Simon of Cyrene” punning the “Cyrenaics”. (Wikipedia), i.e. the greatest pleasure/good for Paul (or any mortal) is being “crucified with Christ”.

      Cf. Godfrey, Neil (12 December 2010). “More Puns in the Gospel of Mark: People and Places”. Vridar.

    2. One commenter inadvertently makes a good point:

      Possibly Mark knew more of Paul’s preaching than the [extant] letters provide.

      r.g.price, do you cite all the authentic Pauline epistles and with what frequency for each?

      1. Yes, that is a good point. I’d have to look back at notes to see which letters of Paul Mark quotes from, but honestly, David Oliver Smith’s book is probably the better resource for this, as he’s much more thorough on this matter.

    3. r.g.price writes: The Crucifixion of Jesus during Passover is meant to be symbolic. Jesus represents the Passover lamb, which is sacrificed to atone for sins.

      • Brian Bethune (23 March 2016) [now bolded]. Did Jesus really exist? – Macleans.ca.

      According to [Richard] Carrier, a solution that requires no special pleading. His take on Christianity’s origins begins in the religiously roiling Israel of the 30s, when the restive population was starting to rebel against the Temple elite.
      Through visions, apocalyptic math and study of the Scriptures, one group . . . came up with a celestial being made human flesh, killed by the forces of evil in a sacrifice that combined and eclipsed both Yom Kippur and Passover, who rose from the dead and will very soon come again to save the faithful.

      • Carrier, Richard (2014) [now bolded]. On the Historicity of Jesus: Why We Might Have Reason for Doubt. Sheffield Phoenix Press. ISBN 978-1-909697-35-5.

      Element 18: Jesus Christ was regarded as having fulfilled by his death (and thereby replacing) the two greatest Jewish religious sacrifices – Yom Kippur and Passover.

      1. I don’t think it was that conscious of an effort. The reason being is that Paul never makes a big deal about associated Jesus with either Yom Kippur of Passover. However, Paul does associated Jesus with the Passover lamb in 1 Cor, “our paschal lamb, Christ, has been sacrificed.” But Paul only brings this up because he happens to discussing the subject of Passover with a group that are engaged in preparation for Passover.

        But it seems to me that if this were actual central to the understanding of Jesus’ sacrifice, then it would be something that is started more clearly in other contexts. It’s like Paul only brought it up opportunistically because that was the subject of the conversation.

        So I think what happened was there was no link between Jesus and Passover initially, but because the author of Mark was constructing his narrative on the framework of Paul’s letters, he used that discussion in 1 Cor to frame his narrative. Keep in mind that 1 Cor is also where Paul describes the Eucharist, and in fact has many discussions about meals.

        Whereas Carrier is still to some degree thinking about how all of the material that we find in the Gospels could have come into existence as part of community traditions that then influenced the Gospels, I see the it differently.

        I think that there was almost nothing prior to the Gospel of Mark. Paul innovated some stuff himself, creating various aspects of Jesus worship on his own. The writer of Mark then took Paul’s innovations and built on them. I don’t think anyone conceived of Jesus as having been Crucified on Passover prior to the writing of Mark. The writer of Mark invented that idea.

        1. As I understand, Paul’s temple replacement theology entails that Yom Kippur and Passover (both requiring the temple) are now deprecated. So this may be a case of not having all of Paul’s letters.

          “Ancient Yom Kippur Observances”. My Jewish Learning.

          [The biblical Yom Kippur is primarily a priestly institution] Since Yom Kippur rites were performed in the sanctuary by the High Priest, the presence of the common people was not required. Individual observance was merely an accompaniment to the work of the High Priest, who was engaged in “rites of purgation” or “rites of riddance,” in the [temple] sanctuary.

          “Passover from the Bible to the Temples”. My Jewish Learning.

          [T]he sacrificial rite of the paschal lamb and its consumption–was the main feature of the ancient [biblical] Passover ceremony . . . the lambs were slaughtered . . . and the priests poured the blood on the base of the [temple] altar.

  5. • r.g.price has lit the fuse, will we get a repeat of the following 1910 event?

    “New Foe Of Religion Arises”. Chicago Tribune. 6 February 1910.

    NEW FOE OF RELIGION ARISES–German Professor Maintains the Messiah Never Lived.–BIG DEBATES IN PUBLIC.–Women Overcome by Hysteria Interrupt Disputants.–[BY CABLE TO THE CHICAGO TRIBUNE.]–BERLIN. Feb. 5.—Berlin was this week the scene of one of the most remarkable theological discussions since the days of Martin Luther. It was provoked by Prof. Arthur Drews of Karlsruhe, who caused a public sensation by plastering the billboards of the town with posters propounding the startling question:–“Did Jesus Christ ever live?”–On Monday the professor addressed a big meeting at the Zoölogical garden in defense of his theory that Christ never lived and the following night he appeared in the same forum in order, Luther-like, to defend his theses against all comers.–A score of the most eminent theologians of the country responded to the invitation. The debate was carried on with fervor and passion before an audience of more than 2,000 persons, who were held spellbound until 3 a.m. The last hour was employed by Drews in a final retort to his critics.–Women Overcome by Emotion.–Drews’ onslaughts on the most cherished tenets of the Christian doctrine were so graphic and ruthless that many women of the audience were overcome with emotion and had to be carried from the hall shrieking hysterically. An intensely dramatic scene was presented by one woman. who stood on a chair and held her arms outstretched in an attitude of supplication to heaven to send down retribution upon the head of the Karlsruhe heretic.–Prof. Drews appeared in Berlin under the auspices of the League of Monists, whose position, as their name denotes, is akin to those who express their creed in the formula, “There is no God but God; for hear, O Israel, the Lord, thy God, is the one God.”– The professor laid down his theories after the classic manner of old time university disputations. The gist of his position in large measure was like the mythical theory of David Strauss, which created a sensation fifty years ago. Strauss held there was verity in the historic Christ, but that the vast mass of miracle and supernatural wonders had been woven like wreaths around the head of Jesus. Drews goes further. He alleges there never was such a person as Jesus of Nazareth.–Baron Leads Opposition.–Baron von Soden, professor of theology in the University of Berlin and pastor of the Jerusalem church of Berlin, led the theological onslaught on Drews. He maintained that, even if it were firmly proved that no such person as Jesus ever existed, that hardly would injure the heart and core of the Christian religion.–Other speakers attempted to ridicule Drews out of court by quoting the semi-satirical works which have been written bearing such titles as “Historic Doubts About Napoleon,” about Martin Luther, and about Frederick the Great.–The discussions have aroused tremendous interest throughout Germany.

    Cf. Dieterich, Alfred. editor (1910). “Berliner Religionsgespräch: Hat Jesus gelebt?” (in German). Kulturpolit. Verlag. trans. Jésus a-t-il vécu? Controverse religieuse sur “Le mythe du Christ” (in French).

      1. • Well it is a certainty that someone has to keep the fuse burning in order to avoid another century of theologian’s premature crowing:

        Daniel Marguerat (Faculty of Theology, University of Lausanne) (1998). “Introduction”. In D. Marguerat, E. Norelli, J.M. Poffet. Jésus de Nazareth: nouvelles approches d’une énigme (in French). Labor et Fides. p. 13. ISBN 978-2-8309-0857-2.

        We are no longer in the age when Bruno Bauer (1840), or P. L. Couchoud (1937) went to great lengths to deny that Jesus had existed: Nowadays the debate is about the meaning of his actions, not his existence.

  6. And I’ve also now read r.g.price’s blog entry on the HISTORY channel’s episode dealing with the crucifixion and I’ve learnt a lot and have parked a few things to read up on in the short term future.

    Another great review might I add.

    He writes: “What this tells us is that the person who wrote the Gospel of Mark is the person who invented the Crucifixion scene.” Basing it on Psalm 22 – WoW

    Also liked the idea of Mark writing after reading Paul’s letters.

    I found this all so interesting. I’m not in the position to have a view on this yet, but I have some leads now to further my studies. Reading scripture makes me drift off to sleep – but with this in mind I’ll be able to stay awake longer. LOL.

    Thanks to r.g.price

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