Wednesday, February 29, 2012

There's Nothing You Can Do That Can't Be Done

I have been working very hard laying out the foundation for what I hope will be a great book.  Yet I thought I would take a moment to comment upon the recent controversy over the so-called 'New Jesus Discovery.'  Apparently Professor James Tabor and Simon Jacobovici have discovered another Jewish family tomb in East Talpiot, several kilometers south of the Old City on the road to Bethlehem, which they claim is the “new” family tomb of Jesus.  Discovery Channel has produced a documentary which is being promoted all over the internet.

I was working with a film production company in London with a project that got the 'green light' for production with a very similar network.  I know first hand what kind of pressure gets exerted on an individual.  Most people are honorable.  Yet life is all about perspective.  I still have vivid memories of the production company flying me out to meetings in exotic locations and thinking to myself 'My God, I've got to somehow live up to all of this.'

I have skimmed through the evidence which supposedly connects this burial site to early Christianity and I have to admit - I don't see it.  I think this is a very good example of the old adage, when your in a hole stop digging.  These people are still promoting an untenable hypothesis.  I have seen nothing so far which would lead anyone other than someone convinced that the first burial site has something to do with Jesus to think that any of this has anything to do with Christianity.  Nevertheless my post today is not going to transition into an attack against Tabor and Jacobovici.

When I look at the zeal with which so many so-called 'bibliobloggers' attack Tabor I am taken aback.  What is really going on here?  Is anyone really suggesting that Tabor is deliberately distorting and manipulating the evidence for some ulterior purpose?  Yes apparently this is being insinuated by Robert Cargill who thinks at least one of the images - the principle image of the 'fish' was photoshopped:

If this charge does turn out to be true I admit this is something quite serious.  Yet sometimes I think that there is this rush to condemn people without letting the facts come out.

Assuming for the moment that no images were altered in anyway (and only Cargill has made this charge as far as I can see), I wonder why it is that so many of these bloggers treat people so badly.  I mean what is the difference between Tabor promoting the idea that he thinks that this tomb is an early Christian site and someone like Robert Cargill or any of the other associate professors who publish posts on their blog condemning Tabor for proposing this.  They are both engaged in the same activity - that is self-promotion.

Indeed we have to be honest here for a moment.  It has only been a very short while that academics would actually start running blogs, Facebook pages and Twitter accounts.  I don't mean to sound cynical but I seem to have noticed that most of these academics happen to do so when they have a book coming out.  Their publishers certainly must have suggested this would be a good idea.  Now some people would argue that the difference between someone like Cargill and someone like Tabor is that Cargill is offering a 'service' to the community by attacking Tabor's theory and preventing him from 'profiting' from his Discovery Channel venture.  But is that really a fair comparison?

Tabor has a new idea.  I happen to think it is an unworkable hypothesis but then again I am not devoting my blog to ridiculing Tabor and his theory.  There are a lot of stupid theories about the Bible out there.  I have more than my fair share.  Yet I think it is more interesting to go beyond Cargill's valid concerns and look at the plethora of 'bibliobloggers' who have been devoting their pages to trashing Tabor for even suggesting that this is a Christian tomb.

The Biblioblogging community is by and large a miserable gathering of impotent intellectuals who take pot shots at anyone who comes up with new ideas.  I can't deny that on many occasions they get it right.  In theory at least they offer up a service insofar as they offer 'instant' analysis of new claims like this burial site.  Yet the dark side of this phenomenon is that because there are no professional standards nor any editing or professionalism in place many of these 'criticisms' quickly develop into personal attacks.  I won't repeat the many things that are being said about Professor Tabor's motives because that is playing into the hands of these snarky bibliobloggers.  My point is only to remind people that these are just ideas.  You may disagree with what Tabor is suggesting but the tendency to develop these criticisms into personal attacks only demonstrates that something else is really going on here.

When we go back to the origins of Christianity we undoubtedly would discover that whatever 'facts' were used to develop the gospel, the original evangelist undoubtedly exaggerated his claims in order to help his message gain traction.  The same criticism gets leveled at bio pics.  There is a difference between writing a scholarly article and developing art and entertainment.  Any Discovery production is going to be about winning audience share.  The only way that someone is going to get a documentary made and have it watched by millions of people is if the gatekeepers to that large audience think that their viewers are going to find this show compelling.  It's a catch 22 and to some degree every successful person has had to balance integrity with 'winning.'

Did Tabor sacrifice some of that integrity to make this documentary?  I don't know.  I haven't even watched the bloody program yet.  Yet these bibliobloggers are already preparing the propaganda campaign which will justify his execution and I didn't know a crime has been committed.

The truth is that most of these bibliobloggers are only the intellectually superior counterparts of those who blog and tweet vitriol heaped on movie stars at the Academy Awards.  I may have thought that Angelina Jolie looked like a bald skeleton on the runway but what kind of a person spends the night cutting her and her fellow professionals all night?  In the same way one wonders that these bibliobloggers are really not that concerned about 'protecting the world' from stupid ideas as they are getting revenge on others for being creative and having enough chutzpah to put together a documentary on a stupid premise.

While I don't think that this discovery will pan out it heartens me that someone at Discovery Channel is willing to take risks and develop documentaries of this kind.  I look at all these 'critics' and turn the table on them and ask - when you die what will your epitaph say.  'He spent a lot of time on his computer' ...

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Stephan Huller's Observations by Stephan Huller
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