Review: The First Jesus? Expedition Week, National Geographic Channel, Friday November 20 9 pm

In a word: Bollocks.

From the blurb:

He was called the King of the Jews, believed to be a Messiah.  Just before Passover, the Romans beheaded him and crucified many of his followers outside Jerusalem.  But his name was not Jesus … it was Simon, a self-proclaimed Messiah who died four years before Christ was born.  Now, new analysis of a three-foot-tall stone tablet from the first century B.C., being hailed by scholars as a “Dead Sea Scroll on stone,” speaks of an early Messiah and his resurrection.  Was Simon of Peraea real?  Did his life serve as the prototype of a Messiah for Jesus and his followers?  And could this tablet shake up the basic premise of Christianity?

We’ll go to Israel to assess this unique and mysterious artifact, including testing by a leading archeological geologist and comprehensive review of the letters, script and content by a Dead Sea Scroll expert.  Then, from Jerusalem to Jericho, we’ll investigate key archeological ruins which could help prove Simon was indeed real — all of which just might sway the skeptics.

The entire documentary is based on a stone tablet, which comes to us courtesy of the antiquities market. No provenance, no context. This entire ‘controversy’ rests on a single scholar’s interpretation of a single word – an interpretation in the minority, of those who have studied it.

This whole documentary put me in mind of the worst of archaeology – scholars drooling over an artifact ripped from wherever it might’ve been located (and so questions of authenticity can never be fully resolved). I was at a conference once where one lecture hall was filled with folks giddy over the aesthetics of another bloody pot looted from another bloody tomb. This was much like that. A silly section of this film has the two ‘leads’ wandering over a site, looking for burn layers from a particular year that they tie back to a passage in Josephus. An already excavated and conserved site, by the way: you might as well look for evidence of European castle-building at Disneyland.

Bah. Do yourself a favor. Don’t support the antiquities market by watching this film. Give it a miss. The nuance in the arguments over 1st century messianic fever in the Levant is lost in the sensationalism.  Why does every documentary about the holy land promise to overthrow the tenets of one faith or another? That is the more interesting question than the ones posed in this film.

The First Jesus? Expedition Week, National Geographic Channel, airs Friday November 20 9 pm.

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11 thoughts on “Review: The First Jesus? Expedition Week, National Geographic Channel, Friday November 20 9 pm

  1. No truly committed believing Christian could buy into this bilge. However it’s very unfortunate that a gullible uncommitted public may do just that.

  2. Christian or not, bad science is bad science. I abhor just as much ‘truly committed Christians’ twisting evidence for their own views, just so they can sleep better at night.

    Michael Stone has had his theory long before this tablet was found, and if you’ve read his book, The First Messiah, it doesn’t bash Christianity – on the contrary, he wrote it as a faith promoting work.

  3. Regardless of belief, it was just shoddy documentary-making. The more interesting questions hinted at in the film was the political, social, and cultural turmoil of first century Jews. That would’ve been a documentary worth watching.

    A single artefact, divorced from its context, has precious little worth. It’s only when it is embedded in a web of relationships can we extract something approaching its meaning.

  4. Any one not open to investigate and learn more about the life and times of Jesus, and why many questioned if he were the messiah are simply fools. Belief – true belief comes from deep questions and a search for answers, not blind acceptance of what the crowd believes. The “stone” or stela in question does debunk Jesus, rather explains how the life and death of Simon lead to the changed thinking of what a messiah may be, that he might be more then just a military leader. Prior to this a messiah was to come and lead great battles to defeat the foes of Israel/Juda, after Simon there comes a change of thinking one that considers the possibility that a man of peace could also be a leader. Blind faith, leads to blind stupidity. If your afraid to question then where is your faith?

    1. well there will be a problem with that because the Jewish leaders (known the law and prophets real well) of the time rejected him as a messiah for he didn’t fulfill the o.t. prophecies (to their understanding) and they feel that way even today. And you must have a vague understanding of the gospels because you will understand that everyone expected a messiah to rule and overthrow the romans, even john the baptist who stated he was the ‘Lamb of…’ brought fourth questions, even his disciples didn’t fully understand his primary mission until he was resurrected. (take into account those who became apostles were those who were fisherman and tax collectors and would not have known the law that well yet they describe Jesus fulfilling nearly 300 prophecies of the old testament in his first coming and him fulfilling the rest in his second (most revealed in book of revelation)

  5. there were more people like jesus back then.. but jesus is the only one they remember

  6. I’m a former Christian born in the Catholic faith. I experienced the Evangelical sects of Christianity, joined for 10 years of my life the Jehovah’s Witnesses. Now after decades of research I’m convinced that the judeo-christian-islamic faith has its origins in paganism. This discovery reinforced my belief that religion is just a human invention.

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