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.