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Sunday, March 04, 2007
(10:09 PM) | Stephen:
God's Bones

Color me unimpressed by James Cameron's documentary about the bones of Jesus and his family being found in Israel 27 years ago. Part of my lack of enthusiasm is due to the completely unnecessary drama added to every stage of the show. I understand that there is a certain element of storytelling that every documentary should have. But it was overdone, and it cheapened what they were trying to say, making it seem less intelligent that it could have been.

The heart of the problems that I have with it, however, is the way they portrayed Jesus' mother, Mary. They show her as becoming a great teacher within Christianity, a leader if not the leader of the movement, and that's why her ossuary was not only placed in that tomb, but why it was marked and why it was transliterated from the Latin Maria to Hebrew letters.

That's silly. There is no evidence, no idea whatsoever that Mary became a leader in the Church. She was a somewhat revered figure who was taken care of by John and who died in Ephesus, though the Roman Catholics recognize also a tomb in Jerusalem as her final resting place. However, tradition says that her remains were taken to Constantinople and placed within the Hagia Sophia. The documentary's claim that Church tradition places her remains in Jerusalem is just wrong.

Mary's status wasn't that much, really, until the Church started to work out the implications of what it meant that Jesus was the actual Son of God. When the doctrine of the Trinity was being worked out as meaning that all persons of the Trinity are co-equal with one another, people started to view Mary as the mother not only of Jesus but the Mother of God. It is then that she became an extremely revered figure, then that the idea of her perpetual virginity took root and later sprouted the doctrine of the Immaculate Conception.

John Dominic Crossan is quoted, of course, in the documentary. He is asked if the idea that Jesus' bones have been found would affect his faith, to which he replied with a definite "no." Of course, Crossan believes in a spiritualized resurrection, in which the memory of what Jesus taught and stood for is resurrected within the hearts of his followers, rather than Jesus' physical body rising from the grave. In my previous post, I expressed the idea that if Jesus did not rise form the grave, Christianity is destroyed, or at least should be. This idea is shared by the Apostle Paul, so I will be forgiven if I am more influenced by this idea than Crossan's.

One interesting angle of the documentary is that finding Jesus' bones doesn't actually dispute the Resurrection, but the Ascension. But this implies that the early Church had some reason for a doctrine of the Ascension at all and needed to hide the fact that Jesus did in fact die, er, again and was laid to rest. Far simpler is the idea that had such a thing happened, the Christian doctrine of the resurrection would simply be that Jesus was raised from the dead to show that death had indeed been conquered, and the souls of those laid to rest in the faith would live on in heaven. In fact, this has been what many parts of the Church have taught, especially in the first couple of centuries. This is fairly standard Gnostic teaching, against which the Church has needed to fight rather vigorously, beginning with the Gospel according to John through the Ecumenical Councils and even to this day. If Jesus did not bodily ascend into heaven, then there would be no reason to ever contend with this idea; indeed, this aspect of Gnosticism at least would be accepted Christian doctrine. Furthermore, the Jesus' bones would be the most revered relics of the Christian world. Certainly by now there would be at least an informal doctrine of a necessity of a Christian pilgrimage to view them that would rival the Muslim hajj.

It's a shame, too. I was hoping for something really fun to watch.

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