The documentary The Resurrection Tomb is based on James Tabor and Simcha Jacobovici’s book The Jesus Discovery and resumes a controversial topic, also published in 2007, when a similar film was released.
It all started in 1980, when a tombs complex was discovered, in Talpiot, on the outskirts of Jerusalem. Jacobovici ignores the experts’ arguments and stubbornly presents everything as a great discovery. Bringing shocking matters to the public’s attention seems to be fixation for Jacobovici. In 2011, in another documentary (Nails of the Cross), she claimed that two old spikes could be the ones used for Jesus’ crucifixion.
In most religious documentaries, the idea that the Christian faith as we now know it is an unnatural and incomplete presentation of (historical) reality is imposed, and what is traditionally presented as truth must be accompanied by information from various (extra-biblical) sources. It all seems to be in agreement with the critical spirit of contemporary rationalism. But it just so happens that, upon more careful scrutiny, one can observe that movies are filled with a great deal of distorted or even erroneous information. Suppositions are presented as facts, and opinions as certainties.
For instance, Jesus’ biodata are fundamentally modified to be in line with the secular system of thought. It is clear that one relies on the inability of the viewer to distinguish between truth and falsehood, between illusion and historical fact. For instance, we can identify a number of clichés that have been imposed without any basis: the idea that the Christian religion is the result of a conspiracy, and Jesus was at best a charismatic preacher, and under no circumstances a divine envoy, let alone the Son of God. It is even assumed that Jesus would have married and had offspring, and His death on the cross was not real. Even if He did indeed die, it is said that His resurrection is not an authentic fact, but a lie.
• In 2010, around Easter, National Geographic broadcast a series of documentaries about Jesus Christ and another movie about Revelation, all part of the series “The Bible’s Mysteries”.
• In 2009, Discovery Channel broadcast a documentary that set out to answer the question: “Who was Jesus?” The documentary presented a Jesus with “a human face”.
• The Discovery Channel broadcast, in 2008, “Jesus: The missing history” that presented Jesus and the world He lived in, starting from extra-biblical information, some of it extremely dubious from a historical point of view.
• In 2007, the BBC broadcast a documentary called “Did Jesus die?” that explored the “alternative” theories that could offer an explanation for what happened on Good Friday and the following days.
• In 2006, National Geographic broadcast the documentary, “Gospel of Judas”.
Christianity as a conspiracy
These popular theories were once obscure opinions that were not given much importance. For instance, a passionate scholar of classical Greek culture published in 1999, under the pseudonym ‘Acharya’, the book The Christ Conspiracy. The American author claimed that Jesus and, by extension, Christianity, was the result of a conspiracy of the members of various secret societies that aimed at unifying the Roman Empire.
Back then, the book was labelled as a collection of nonsense gathered from (other) uninformed authors. The historical evidence could not credit such theories. Despite all this, the argumentation style would be taken over in 2007 by Peter Joseph in the documentary Zeitgeist, which was received with great enthusiasm, in general, by a young audience. The movie was the catalyst for a real movement. Zeitgeist didn’t bring anything new. It was made up of the same arguments, the same mixture of authentic and illusory.
Even the Skeptic journal—a publication that aims at popularizing scientific education—criticized the movie, labelling it “a mixture that is only partly true, and the rest is simply false”. It seems, however, that, in time, something has changed: the public’s receptiveness to such scenarios has increased. The theory of Christian conspiracy has been replaced in the collective conscience by a novel. That novel is The Da Vinci Code, published by Dan Brown in 2003. The book combines the style of a thriller with conspiracy theory, making it quite appealing to the unsuspecting reader.
In The Da Vinci Code, historical facts are intertwined with fantasy, and reality frequently and imperceptibly slides towards fiction. But who cares? Next to suspense and adventure, the book consistently imposes the idea that the Church is based on a fake, and that Christianity is, in the end, a big con. Laurie Goodstein, a correspondent for The New York Times noticed that we live in an era in which many Christian believers have assimilated a whole lot of new and unorthodox ideas, as well as half-truths and conspiracy thinking, into their faith, while still seeing it as Christianity. This is how suppositions and bizarre theories that have been rightly forgotten are revived. The public has developed an increased appetite for the sensational. This also explains the high degree of receptiveness to conspiracy theories that offer the (false) feeling of discovering forgotten truths.
On the other hand, such theories are popular because they offer the possibility to turn an imaginary scenario, that seems more attractive than reality, into truth. In this context, for marketing and advertising reasons, the conspiratorial culture tends to be adopted by the media not because it is an alternative source of information, but only because it is thirsted for by the public. This would be the most convenient explanation for the proliferation of questionable documentaries. In conclusion, the “Da Vinci phenomenon” is indeed a symptom of our time, but at the same time a simple revival of ancient heresies, fortunately already condemned by the court of history.
Nothing new under the sun
The idea of Jesus’ marriage to Mary Magdalene also appears in Brown’s novel. This idea was much older, but the seed had not yet found fertile ground in which to grow. In 1982, Michael Baigent, Richard Leigh, and Henry Lincoln published The Holy Blood and the Holy Grail and placed the spotlight on a controversial theory. According to this theory, the Holy Grail was not a chalice, but Mary Magdalene’s womb, and the blood was Jesus’ descendants that set up camp somewhere in the area of modern-day France.
Members of the Merovingian dynasty are supposed to be descendants from this supposed family of Jesus. In their turn, however, the American authors took over a theory presented by Louis Martin almost a century ago (1886) in the book Les Evangiles sans Dieu (The Gospels without God). Researchers categorically rejected the theory. One of the critics is Marin Kemp, an art history teacher at Oxford University. Interviewed for a documentary (The History of a Mystery), broadcast by BBC2 in September 1996, Kemp dismissed the theory as mere speculation.
It seems that conspiracy theories are becoming more and more prevalent in contemporary society, their proliferation at the religious level being only part of a broader picture.
After examining current trends, Michael Barkuna, professor emeritus of political sciences, reached the conclusion that we are dealing with a veritable “conspiracy culture.” Several academic papers have analysed the conspiracy phenomenon that seems to be gaining more and more ground in our contemporary society. The tendency was often referred to as “cultural paranoia.” Conspiracy theories are found in almost all fields, and they essentially propose an alternate understanding of events and phenomena. Primarily, the conspiracy is defined as an intrigue aimed at manipulation and control, a form of betrayal of the common interest by the few and the powerful.
Three reasons why we are attracted to conspiracy theories
Despite the fact that such theories cannot be proven beyond reasonable doubt, they continue to emerge and, at the same time, have supporters. They gain popularity because (in general) they offer simple, easy-to-understand answers to complex situations. For this reason, conspiracy theories remain a sophisticated form of ignorance. The best cure against them is proper information. Next to immediate intellectual satisfaction, available at everyone’s fingertips, conspiracy theories also rely on strong emotional motivations. One of the main reasons why individuals come to support conspiracy theories is because they like them. Conspiracy scenarios help turn fantasy into reality. In general, a conspiracy explanation is used when expectations differ from what reality can offer.
As human beings we feel the need to find plausible answers to the question “Why?”
Hidden scenarios are a way of coping with a shocking reality. For instance, the sudden death of a celebrity is often blamed on shadowy enemies. Conspiracy theories are seductive. Another important factor, besides the rational and emotional ones, is the social one. It has been observed that closed groups tend to be generated and based on such scenarios because the general state is one of mistrust, as a consequence of the acute feeling of continuous threat from external forces. Social studies have shown that, when a group is excluded from an event or program, one automatically seeks for answers to justify this situation. Most of the time, due to lack of information, the inferred reasons end up generating an artificial argumentative system, inadequate for reality.
Breaking the circle
A basic characteristic of those who support conspiracy theories is the attempt to understand the world and its seedy underbelly. This curiosity is often blocked by the general tendency to deny reality. The concern for unravelling mysteries is in itself noble and can be a step towards knowledge and proper research. There is, without a doubt, some playing fast and loose in both the political, economic, and even religious sphere, and history can confirm that human nature is prone to betrayal and conspiracy.
However, obvious facts must not be denied and exceptions must not be regarded as the rule. Whether they do it knowingly or not, the promoters of conspiracy theories ultimately propose an (alternative) image of the world. Those who support or adopt an orientation towards conspiracy have the tendency to see everything in a coherent and structured manner. This coherence, however, is artificial, and is imposed by human logic and not reality itself, which, at times, can be chaotic and aberrant. There is no room for accidents in the world of conspiracy theorists and everything is connected. A hidden code, which only insiders can understand, must apparently lie behind all mysteries.
At first glance, such a worldview seems to be compatible with the Christian faith, but on closer inspection we will see that it is completely opposite to it. Simply put, conspiracy theories are a form of contemporary superstition (driven by fear), which follow simplistic approach models through which the existential labyrinth is turned into a corridor. Liberation from the tyranny of conspiracy theories is achieved through adequate and balanced information. Jesus himself said that the truth would set us free.