Like a number of others tonight I have just watched Jesus: The Cold Case on TV One, presented by Bryan Bruce. Here are my thoughts on what I have seen. First off, who is Bryan Bruce?
Bryan Bruce is an award winning producer, writer & director who lives in Wellington, New Zealand. He has a MA in Sociology, Psychology & philosophy from Canterbury University. A former musician and schoolteacher, he began his television career in 1984 as front person and writer for a TVNZ arts show. Since then has won awards for Best Director and Best Factual Writer and his work has made the finals of several international festivals, including the New York Television Festival and the prestigious Banff Awards.
The overarching message that Bryan Bruce is gravitating towards in this documentary is that the biblical and subsequent Christian message on who killed Jesus, namely, “the Jews” in some broad sense, is false, and what’s more it is responsible for centuries of great evil.
Something that strikes the viewer quite early on is that Bruce quite simply doesn’t believe that the Gospels accounts are true in general terms. “Many,” he says, “now believe that the Gospels contain more fiction than fact.” Throughout the documentary we hear from a number of academics who lend their credibility to the various claims Bruce makes.
One of the immediate worries about the presentation is that although we’re led to believe that the presenter is applying rigorous criminal investigation methods to the case, to those familiar with the world of biblical scholarship, his list of authorities suggests otherwise:
- Emeritus Prof. Geza Vermes (Oxford)
- Emeritus Prof John Dominic Crossan ( St Pauls)
- Prof. Elaine Paigels (Princeton)
- Bishop John Shelby Spong (USA)
- Prof. Lloyd Geering (New Zealand)
- Dr Helen Bond ( Edinburgh)
- Prof . Israel Hershkovitz (Tel Aviv)
- Dr Shimon Gibson (London)
Does this read like the list a careful investigator consults if he wants a decent shot at getting to the unvarnished truth, rather than a somewhat partisan perspective?
- According to Vermes, Jesus was resurrected in the hearts of his followers, but not literally from the dead.
- Crossan claims that Jesus’ followers had a kind of spiritual visionary experience.
- Paigels writes that early Christians didn’t believe in physical resurrection at all, seeking instead a state of spiritual knowledge and enlightenment.
- Spong says that Jesus’ resurrection had nothing to do with him coming back to life, but with the subjective – but real – experiences in the hearts of his followers.
- Lloyd Geering, who himself does not believe in any such being as God, claims that the body of Jesus remained buried and that the story of his resurrection was a later story concocted on the basis of a re-reading of the Old Testament
Now of course this isn’t a documentary on the resurrection, but the pattern is somewhat striking. It looks fairly clearly as though the presenter has intentionally stacked the witness stand with those hostile to the Christian story. It will hardly come as a surprise that, given such a uniform and narrow sample, the testimony will (rather gleefully!) point away from the traditional version of events surrounding the death of Christ. We might just as easily consult the faculty of Dallas Theological Seminary and claim that using rigorous scrutiny, we have reached the conclusion that the biblical portrait of Jesus’ death is, well, inerrant! Given that those consulted would be placed at one extreme of the spectrum on whether or not we can generally trust the Gospel accounts or the teaching of the early Christian movement, the interests of balance would surely call for less radical voices, the likes of Craig Evans, James Dunn, Luke Timothy Johnson or N. T Wright. One example – Lloyd Geering is quoted as assuring viewers – completely unchallenged – that the details of the crucifixion was no more than what people “imagined” had probably taken place. When it comes to the story of the resurrection, Geering is explicit – Jesus was probably buried by the Romans and that was that. No tomb, no stone rolled away, and no angels. Geering laughs, “the very fact that you’ve got angels [in the story] shows that we’re dealing with myth, not history.” There was not a single challenge raised. Not even an innuendo that Geering’s view isn’t the scholarly consensus. This was said just minutes after the narrator told us that the Gospel was more fiction than fact.
This type of concern rears its head among a more sceptical audience when the evangelical likes of Lee Strobel seeks to do just what Bryan Bruce is doing: Apply critical scrutiny to the facts concerning the life of Christ. And yet we frequently hear the complaint that Strobel consults only committed and usually conservative Christians, people who are unlikely to disagree strongly with each other – or with Strobel. I would hope, then, that this same type of sceptical, professedly critical audience will likewise regard Bruce’s offering as a biased, selective survey of a very thin slice of the scholarly community. For example, says Bruce, the author of Mark says that the land was covered in darkness when Jesus was crucified. But how does he know this, Bruce asks, since he wasn’t there? He must be relying on hearsay, and we are therefore not reading eyewitness testimony. What then does Bruce make of the work of Richard Bauckham, who, in Jesus and the Eyewitnesses makes the case that in fact we have much that is eyewitness testimony in the Gospels? Well, we don’t know. As a scholar who reaches the wrong sort of conclusion, Bauckham does not appear to have been on Bruce’s reading list.
Herein lies the flaw in so much of what is passed off as a fresh, new, surprising, maybe even scandalous new look at the evidence to get at the real facts of New testament events. There is nothing fresh, new or surprising about it. Material like this seems to gain some traction from the rather popular but simply false assumption that any enquiry concluding that mainstream Christianity has fundamentally gotten things wrong must be fresh, honest and critical. The assumption itself, of course, is about as uncritical as assumptions get, because it is already committed to the belief – or perhaps the hope – that whatever the truth is, it’s certainly not whatever “the church” thinks. That’s what makes this project interesting to many. It’s not that there’s a surge of interest in why Jesus was crucified. Rather, there’s a sense of delight in hearing that stuffy, old, doctrinaire, cherished but uninformed Christian belief is wrong.
On to the documentary…
Strolling through the life of Jesus, Bruce starts with the birth, and with John Shelby Spong. Spong – like Geering on the resurrection – quite bluntly tells the audience that the birth story is simply made up. Since Jesus is called Jesus “of Nazareth,” and apparently for no other reasons, Spong says that “if we want to be historically accurate” we should be singing “O little town of Nazareth.” After all, Spong says, as though it will be obvious, given the number of generations between Joseph and the number of wives King David had, David would have had about ten billion descendants at the time of Jesus, and it would be absurd to believe that ten billion people would have returned to their ancestral town of Bethlehem for the census.
“In other words,” Bruce immediately says, “the Gospel writers made up stories about Jesus’ birth, just as they did about his death.” It’s quite clear what has just happened. Spong’s claim has been presented as the scholarly one that we should have no problem with. But how much evidence have we really seen? If Jesus grew up in Nazareth, then the epithet “Jesus of Nazareth” would be perfectly understandable with no special need to deny the Gospel claim that Jesus was born in Bethlehem. But hey, we’ve got a well known figure saying that the biblical writers are wrong, and that’s, well, a little bit naughty and fun.
Next, Bruce goes on to tell us about two Greek copies of the New Testament, Codex Sinaiticus and Codex Vaticanus, and breaks the news to the public: They’re different! This is where it becomes clear that Bruce’s audience is essentially the same as that of the popular level work of Bart Ehrman: It’s the masses who don’t know anything – anything at all – about biblical scholarship. Yes, it’s true that we don’t have the original copies of the Gospels. Shock horror, they were written in the first century! Yes, over time there are going to be differences between copies as more and more copies are made. This is not news. But it does enable Bruce to add in the suggestion that really, the church was “changing” what the Bible said. What’s more, noted Bruce, there are differences between the Gospel accounts of the same events. Again, this is surprising as an attempt to stir up doubt about what we read in the Gospels, but an understandable way to prime an audience that might be quite unaware, even of the basics.
John Dominic Crossan, clearly the favourite source of the documentary maker given the number of times he appears on screen, is asked to comment on the historicity of the crucifixion account at this point, and he tells us: When Jesus says “My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me,” “I don’t think Jesus ever said that.” Why not? Well, that doesn’t seem to matter. Crossan just doesn’t think so. In immediate response, Bruce says that “clearly we have to be careful” when taking such Gospel accounts as historical. After all, Crossan doesn’t believe it. Just… because he doesn’t. This is a surprising pattern that begins to reappear throughout this documentary. A person in an armchair appears on-screen, declares that they don’t personally think that something in the Gospels really happened, and the narrator, in effect, strokes his beard (OK he doesn’t really have one) and says “Well, fascinating, there you have it.” But what do other scholars say? What are the reasons for agreeing with the talking head we’ve just seen? And what reasons do others bring to the discussion table for another view? None of that matters. Crossan says it. Bruce believes it. That settles it.
There are times where even the scholars that Bruce hand-picked to reinforce his stance on Jesus don’t seem quite negative enough about the traditional portrait of Jesus. Remember that in the Gospel, Jesus is portrayed as reading to the congregation in the synagogue. As Geza Vermes explains to Bruce, early Jewish sources like Philo of Alexandria indicate that Jewish boys were taught to read and write – given a basic education. But Bruce suddenly decides that it’s best to get a second opinion (just this once!), because “just when a matter seems certain,” another scholar comes along and tells you something different. He goes back to old faithful, John Dominic Crossan, who says, citing no particular source, that Jesus was probably illiterate. For no obvious reason, this seems to be Bruce’s preferred option. What’s interesting is that for some reason when the opinion being expressed is the most far left, least orthodox and least compatible with historic Christianity, Bruce never seems to see a need for a second opinion, or even evidence. Some guy in an armchair saying “I just don’t believe it” seems to settle the matter forever. At least one end is served: The Gospel portrait of Jesus is denied. Evidence? Let’s not bother about that, it only gets in the way!
Next Bruce says a few words about the political backdrop of Jesus’ life. Herod the great, who ruled at the time of Jesus’ birth, was rich and powerful. He had grand buildings and vast wealth. This, says Bruce, suggests that the account of Herod ordering the death of babies in Bethlehem “is a lie.” He was nasty, yes, admits Bruce, and he even killed family members, but there’s nothing in the literature saying that he ever killed any babies. Of course, even the Gospels don’t say that just as Herod himself killed family members, Herod also killed babies. The former was done by Herod, the latter was done by soldiers, according to the Gospels. But perhaps more importantly is this: As historians like Josephus note, Herod was a brutish man, responsible for a lot of bloodshed. According to Matthew’s Gospel, Herod’s order was to kill male children, under two years of age in Bethlehem and the immediate surroundings. As even fairly liberal sources like the BBC are willing to point out:
In fact, demographic clues from first century Palestine reveal that Bethlehem was a small village, with a population between three hundred and a thousand. Experts estimate that, at any given time, the number of babies under the age of two would be only between seven and twenty. So numbers alone may be the reason why Josephus does not mention the murders.
This was not an enormous slaughter of dozens, even hundreds of babies, as portrayed in films like Jesus of Nazareth or in artwork. That no such massive scale killing is recorded then, is to be expected.
John the Baptist’s message, says Bruce, was politically important. “Things wouldn’t come right for the Jews until they put things right with God and repented.” You see, says Bruce, John believed that the world was about to end and only the pure – the baptised – would be saved. But where exactly is his evidence? None is actually cited, but it is likely that Bruce is thinking of the biblical claim that John preached that “the kingdom of heaven is at hand.” Presumably Bruce thinks that this is a reference to the end of the world, but if this is so then he has simply got to expand his reading before embarking on further works like this. The idea that first century Judaism was looking forward to some sort of end of the world is simply false. But as this does not play any major role in the remainder of the documentary, there’s no need to embark on a correction of this falsehood here. But he is right about one thing, that John was indeed calling Israel to repentance, just as the Old Testament prophets had done many times before.
According to Elaine Paigels, since John baptised Jesus, John must have been Jesus’ teacher. Jesus therefore got his message from John, and that’s why some might have thought Jesus was a political worry, since John’s message was so political. What is revealing about short comments like this from Paigels is that it offers an insight into the slender basis that the more radical wing of biblical scholarship actually has for so many of their interesting sounding claims. John the Baptist was really Jesus’ mentor? How do we know? Well, John baptised him! But was he the teacher and mentor of everyone he baptised? Well no, but gosh it does sound interesting doesn’t it? John Dominic Crossan adds here that John the Baptist thought that once enough people were baptised, once the movement had reached critical mass, God would show up and effectively consummate history. And how does he know this? Sadly, Crossan chose not to share that gem.
But if Jesus is “of Nazareth,” asks Bruce, why did he go to Capernaum to begin his ministry and not stay in Nazareth? “It seems to me,” Bruce says, that “those closest to Jesus didn’t believe that he was the son of God, so he left.” I don’t know why Bruce thinks he needs to rely on his own intuitions, since the Gospels themselves tell us precisely that. In Luke 4, Jesus did visit Nazareth, where he declared that “no prophet is accepted in his own hometown.” Bruce could have quoted this, but here as elsewhere, he prefers the glasses-adjusting chin stroking method of saying “it just seems to me that…” and banking on the credulity of the audience. They don’t need evidence, they’ve got a detective like Bryan Bruce!
Next the subject moves on to the death of John the Baptist, as the death of Jesus draws nearer. Vermes rejects the biblical reason for John the Baptist’s death, namely that he had rebuked Herod for taking his brother’s wife. He was not killed for that reason, “but because he was a potential troublemaker. His eloquence might have led a revolution.” What revolution did he threaten? Well, we’re not told, but John was a wild kinda guy, so hey, let’s just throw the possibility out there.
Staying with the death of John the Baptist a little longer, Bruce notes that Matthew and Mark include an account where the daughter of Herodias danced for Herod at a party, and it pleased him so much that Herod promised to give her what she asked for. Prompted by the request of her mother, the woman Herod had married (the woman John said he ought not to have taken), she asks for the head of John the baptist. However, the story of this dance isn’t mentioned in Josephus, so, Bruce says, it didn’t happen. It’s another example, he says, of Christians making stuff up. Again, here’s a good example of how what passes for “critical” scholarship is done. Without anything by way of evidence, just declare that an account in two of the Gospels is pure fabrication – after all, Josephus doesn’t tell the story, and unless it’s mentioned by Josephus then it’s not true. Don’t worry that the argument lacks any clear basis. As long as you’re discrediting a Gospel account you’ll get a pat on the back from some people.
So now John the Baptist was dead, and we’re greeted again with the face of John Dominic Crossan. This time, he’s on screen to tell us again that John had predicted the end of the world (I think we’re supposed to have believed this claim previously so that we won’t raise an eyebrow at it now). When John died and this cataclysmic event had not happened, Jesus had a crisis. God didn’t arrive! Jesus now had to totally re-think his approach.
Bruce observes that the Gospels talk about crowds following Jesus, “but I suspect that having seen what happened to John, Jesus took a low key approach.” As for what the Gospels say about the ministry of Jesus, Bruce opines, “We don’t know if these stories have any truth to them.” Where does this come from? What led to it? Nothing that we’re told about. No particular evidence, no considerations, Bruce is just sharing his thoughts. What does it contribute? Little, other than a general air of “we’re above believing this stuff.” On the healing of Lazarus at Bethany, Bruce says, “I find it suspicious that only John’s Gospel has the story of Lazarus, so I think he made it up.” That was it – the whole argument verbatim. And this is the way so many things are dismissed in this documentary. If anyone doubts that a biblical event took place, then that’s the end of it. It didn’t happen.
On to Passover and the events leading up to Jesus’ crucifixion. Bruce wonders if this was Jesus’ first time in Jerusalem, “as three of the Gospels say that it was.” This had me checking the Gospels to see whether even one of the Gospels said this, let alone three. I came back empty handed. Matthew does not say this, and neither do Mark, Luke or John. Where does Bruce find this? Will he share? Apparently not, he simply tells us that this is so and that is that, as with so many of his quips.
Crossan is back, telling us that in a politically tense Jerusalem, Jesus started a demonstration. He did this by riding a donkey, which amounted to a Messianic claim – since the prophets referred to the king riding on a donkey (Zechariah 9). This was dangerous – given that the Jews were celebrating deliverance from Egyptian bondage. Given that the Jews were under Roman bondage, this environment was a fragile one and any Messianic claims during passover were potentially volatile. Incidentally, Bruce offers his wisdom here again, saying that the next time that Jesus entered the city (the next day), the crowds that hailed Jesus were no longer there, so Bruce says that the crowds of Palm Sunday simply never existed. Naturally. Perhaps Bruce thinks that the next day the streets were empty!
Shimon Gibson chimes in here, saying that while Jesus’ triumphal entry was a “very important event” for the Jesus group – those who knew or followed Jesus, as far as the geography goes and the huge number of pilgrims who travelling that route anyway, the event probably didn’t have much significance. It took place in the midst of a crowd and would not have dominated the scene. This would have been an ideal moment for Bruce to retract his comment about the whole affair being invented – but why bother?
On the cleansing of the Temple while in Jerusalem for the Passover, Bruce says “This may have been a much smaller event than the New Testament suggests.” After all, the Temple court was huge, and this could have been a small skirmish. However, he acknowledges that most theologians and NT scholars agree that this is actually what got Jesus into trouble with the Jews that week, trouble that led to his arrest. At the very least, as Helen Bond says at this point, the Jewish authorities saw that Jesus is doing something out of the ordinary in the Temple at Passover. They wanted the feast to run smoothly, and any suggestion that Jesus might have disrupted that could have prompted them to alert the Romans.
Crossan seems to support the Gospel accounts here, saying that Jesus was protected by the crowd and that is why he was not arrested sooner. Bruce however doesn’t buy it – not the Gospel accounts, nor even his hand-picked scholars. After all, when Jesus was killed, there was no outcry. This too then, has to be fabrication. Unsurprisingly, Bruce also doubts the whole account of Jesus’ betrayal. “Some scholars” have called the biblical account into question. And who is Bruce referring to? John Shelby Spong. Spong says that Judas just means “Judah.” What’s more, the Apostle Paul didn’t mention the betrayal by Judas specifically. Betrayal with a kiss, pieces of silver – these are all elements found in either the Old Testament or Jewish literature, and they are used as Midrash, fictional embellishments.
Bruce adds: If people re-wrote history (his way of summing up the practice of using Midrash) in this way in those times, then we need to ask if the Christians did this as well to place the blame on the Jews. The first clue that the Gospel writers “made it all up” when recounting the betrayal of Jesus is the fact that the version of events in each Gospel is not quite the same as the other. The naivete of this sort of judgement is just staggering, and it is instructive to bear in mind that the man has absolutely no background in either history or biblical studies. That events are recounted differently by different authors does not contribute in the least to the conclusion that the events in question never happened.
Elaine Paigels, author of The Gnostic Gospels, says the trial probably never happened at all. The Sanhedrin did not meet at night. And, she says, we don’t even know that they had the jurisdiction to sentence a man to death. Crossan adds that it couldn’t have been an official “trial,” just a decision. But none of this is useful in the least. The Gospels never claim that the Sanhedrin passed judicial sentence on Jesus, so the fact that they would not have had jurisdiction to do so is just not relevant.
Elaine Paigels says that there’s evidence that Pilate was a hard man, brutal in killing people and quite happy to insult the Jews, so the Gospel account of this man who did not want to get on ther wrong side of the people by having Jesus killed (or not) must be false. Crossan adds, “I can’t even imagine any Roman Governer allowing a crowd to scream at him.” Helen Bond too says that Pilate had a military background. Jesus was a peasant, and Pilate wouldn’t have had a second thought about sending him to the cross. The argument is basically that while this indeed the way the Gospels portray the actions of Pilate on that day: as wanting to appease the crowd, this doesn’t sit well with what we know about Pilate’s personality. I don’t think it’s a particularly compelling argument on its own, but I’ll say that this is as close to a sensible argument as anything that the documentary contains.
But then observe how Bruce immediately pours on the rhetoric saying that “It’s clear that much of the passion story was made up by the Christian writers,” when no such thing is “clear,” even if Bruce believes that there are reasons for doubting some of what is purported to have happened. He only makes it worse by asking, “Why would the early Christians tell stories that they clearly knew to be untrue?” That they knew to be untrue now? The strength of the rhetoric is very obviously out of proportion to any evidence based arguments, but the rhetoric is there for a reason. Bruce is whipping up his audience to make them credulous for what is about to be said. He has got to get them hearing words like “lie,” “untrue,” “why would they,” “what could motivate them,” “they knew to be untrue.” In order for his accusations that follow to fall upon receptive ears, he needs to build up a picture of a Christian community that was strongly motivated to tell deliberate lies to exonerate Pilate and blame the Jews for the death of Jesus. Evidence or not, this is what he’s got to convey.
Now that he has set the scene and basically asked why the Christians were such a pack of liars, his selected scholars come in to offer answers. Paigels suggests that Mark blamed the Jews – rather than Pilate – for the death of Jesus because he was writing in wartime and wanted to stress that Jesus did not lead a revolt against the Romans, and that the Jews tricked Pilate into having Jesus crucified. This is what Bruce was looking for, so he adds his own two cents: The Christians were keen to separate themselves from the Jews after AD 70. So they re-wrote history. They made Pilate into a nicer guy and made the Jews nastier. The Gospel writers “pulled off the greatest PR spin in history.”
This anti-semitic theme, says Bruce, was then wired into the Christian writings, until John’s “Gospel of hate” that blamed the Jewish people as a whole, where the ugly and plainly anti-Jewish message was laid out clearly. Christians turned the “spotlight of hate onto Judaism.”
Bruce sees further evidence of the spread of this anti-Jewish message in AD 144 when Marcion proposed a canon of the Bible and preached a clearly anti-Semitic theology. He portrayed the Jewish God as mean spirited and dark, while the Christian Saviour was good and loving. He wanted to strip the Scripture of its traces of Jewish sympathy. The trouble with this example is that Marcion was promptly and resoundingly condemned by the orthodox Christian community. Even in AD 144 this message that Bruce says had become dominant could not find a foothold. How strange!
From here, the version of history that the viewer is exposed to descends into madness of The Da Vinci Code proportions. We are told that the controversy at the council of Nicea was settled – not by the assembled bishops, but by Emperor Constantine, who was the “head of the church,” and Arius, the man whose views were rejected, died “mysteriously” afterwards. A conspiracy is born. Again.
From here we leap into the twentieth Century, into the life of Jules Isaac, the Jewish author of Jesus and Israel. This book was Isaac’s own account of his life during World War II, while he was asking why Christian nations took such a dim view of the Jews. His wife and daughter had been murdered by the Nazis. “What was it that the Jews were supposed to have done that could possibly warrant such hatred,” asks Bruce. Hitler played on Christian contempt of the Jews to bolster his agenda. “The impact of those lies told by the early Christians” on Jews living in Europe was massive, says Bruce. Isaac’s wife and daughter were sent to Aushwitz. What they suffered, “we can only guess.” But we can’t just blame Hitler. Martin Luther railed against the Jews, calling on the Jews to be driven out like dogs. “How he came to this vile conclusion isn’t clear,” says Bruce, but the Nazis appealed to him. But wait a moment, that was important. How he came to his conclusions isn’t clear? But the clarity of the line of reasoning here is what is carrying Bruce’s thesis: Christians hate and kill Jews because the first Christians lied and said that Jews got Jesus killed!
Things get stranger still as we hear Spong at this point say that he was taught to hate other religions because “we have the only true faith” and he was given the message that “I will kill you if you don’t agree with me.” What? How could this possibly be true? What church did Spong attend where he was given the message that it’s alright to kill people who don’t agree with us?
So now we have lies – well, alleged lies, we still haven’t quite seen the evidence that the early Christians made this stuff up, but Bruce calls them lies, that encourage Christians to actually murder Jews, and which justify the Holocaust? Not to mention churches that tell people like Spong that murder’s fine if others disagree with you. The Holocaust reminds Bruce “how dangerous it is to repeat the lies” that the New Testament tells about the Jews. Apparently, even if the people who advocated that Jesus die were actually Jewish, then simply reporting that fact would be wrong!
But wait, suddenly a new bombshell is dropped. Bruce now silently retracts the entire argument, and says that even if further documents were unearthed that did show that the Jews were responsible for Jesus’ death, “How could that justify what happened here,” at Aushwitz?
Take a moment to appreciate the importance of that. Previously Bruce had been begging us to believe that the “lies” of the New Testament are dangerous because they result in things like the Holocaust. Now he’s telling us that even if they weren’t lies at all – even if the Gospels are absolutely correct, and Jewish people really did call for the death of Jesus, that would not justify anti-semitic persecution after all.
Ding, the penny should be dropping right now. That’s the point. The New Testament accounts don’t justify anti-semitism. If some Jews were responsible for the death of Jesus then that’s what they did, but none of this offers support for the persecution of Jewish people now or at any other time. Once Bruce has acknowledged this, what, exactly, is he accusing the New Testament of? Oh that’s right, being a pack of lies. But the support for this contention has always been a bit murky, leaving only one thing clear throughout: This stuff in the Gospels is definitely made up!
But forgetting that again, Bruce is back in action, saying that if you need any proof of how unfair the Gospel account is to the Jews, “all you need to do is remind yourself of what happened here, at Auschwitz.”
Bruce closes by telling us: “The Jews did not kill Jesus. Pilate killed Jesus.” What Bruce might be enlightened to know is that the person responsible for Jesus’ death is named, and has been named for many centuries now (from probably as early as the fourth or fifth century) in the Apostles’ Creed, in which the Jews are never even mentioned. Instead, we read of Jesus, the son of God, who became man for our sake and for our salvation, and who was “suffered under Pontius Pilate.” And we certainly didn’t need this documentary to tell us that.
So what have we actually seen? Well, we finally got to a true statement at the end – one that Christians have taught for centuries no less – but just look at what we had to endure to get there! An almost unbelievably partisan selection of scholars, supposedly representing a consensus, along with a generous scattering of proclamations about the reliability of New Testament accounts that Bryan Bruce appears to have simply pulled out of thin air.
What’s worse is the knowledge of the way that wide eyed, impressed viewers will see this. Here’s a person who’s willing to ask “hard questions.” What a breath of fresh air! Never mind that it’s the same stale air that has been circulating on sceptical websites and religious studies departments for years. Look, he’s got scholars backing him up! Never mind any of the published responses to those scholars, Bruce can rest easy in the knowledge that his audience won’t even have read them.
For a somewhat more informed read, even if only for the sake of providing balance to this documentary, see Craig Evans and N. T. Wright, Jesus: The Final Days.