John J. Miller has provided a very good article on the Discovery Channel’s non-discovery of the alleged earthly remains of Jesus Christ, today on National Review Online. As I did yesterday, Miller makes the connection between The Lost Tomb of Jesus and The Da Vinci Code, but what is really revealing is his quote from one of the prominent figures in the documentary, Harvard University prof. Frank Moore Cross:
Harvard’s Frank Moore Cross, for instance, makes several on-screen appearances, mostly to read the inscriptions on the ossuaries. The presence of Cross, a distinguished scholar at a top-notch university, is meant to provide intellectual heft to the program. Yet Jacobovici merely has him read the words on the ossuaries. As it happens, nobody denies that they carry these names. But are they actually the ossuaries of the son of God and his earthly parents? Jacobovici doesn’t get around to asking Cross, this eminent professor, for an opinion.
So I did. Here’s how Cross replied in an e-mail:
I am skeptical about Jacobovici’s claims, not because of a faulty reading of the ossuary which reads yeshua’ bar yosep [Jesus son of Joseph] I believe, but because the onomasticon [list of proper names] in his period in Jerusalem is exceedingly narrow. Patriarchal names and biblical names repeat ad nauseam. It has been reckoned that 25% of feminine names in this period were Maria/Miryam, etc., that is variants of Mary. So the cited statistics are unpersuasive. You know the saying: lies, damned lies, and statistics.
For some reason, Cross doesn’t have a chance to say this on camera.
Good on Miller for bothering to ask Cross his opinion. Miller correctly notes that the documentary is wholly phony and fatuous:
The Lost Tomb of Jesus runs perilously close to Erich von Daniken territory — no prehistoric astronauts, but definitely a flight of fancy. It runs for 90 minutes (with commercials stretching it to two hours). Views that dissent from its relentlessly uncritical presentation of a madly speculative theory — which is to say, the opinions of Cross and virtually every mainstream Biblical scholar who has examined the film’s central contentions — receive almost no air time.
The documentary is just another manifestation of the tendency of some unbelievers to subject the claims of Christians and Jews to intense scrutiny while eagerly and easily swallowing any elephant-sized chunks of nonsense that purport to question the basic premises of Christianity:
The Da Vinci Code and The Lost Tomb of Jesus approach the traditional Christian narrative in essentially the same way: They expose it to a severe, Torquemada-like scrutiny and then propose to replace Western civilization’s foundational story with a newfangled alternative that’s based on a flamboyantly credulous reading of a few cherry-picked Gnostic texts.
It doesn’t take a religious skeptic to understand what this requires: A gigantic leap of faith.
And a gigantic tolerance for inconsistency.