TVNZ tonight aired a two-hour special, Jesus: The Cold Case. It will be interesting to hear the screams from conservative church leaders and fundamentalists as they beat their breasts over the next few days and cast imprecations at presenter Bryan Bruce.
Of course there were one or two clangers in the script, though not nearly as many as I feared. Poor old Marcion, who may well have been Jewish himself, gets accused of anti-Semitism yet again, and Constantine is unjustly credited with making Christianity the official faith of the Empire. But overall it was well researched, given that its approach was necessarily popular rather than academic, and drew on some undoubted talents, including Dom Crossan, Geza Vermes, Lloyd Geering and Elaine Pagels.
The thrust of the programme was to debunk the old blood libel that the Jews were responsible for the death of Jesus, a worthy motive quite powerfully conveyed. For anyone who has studied New Testament in any formal way, there could be little surprising or new in the 'case' Bruce made. If the faithful who still sit in the pews are offended or scandalised to hear that the nativity and passion stories are largely fictive, they have no-one to blame other than themselves, or perhaps their clergy, for being kept in the dark. This is, after all, 2011 and not 1611.
'Popular' shouldn't be a pejorative word. Programmes like this are invaluable in providing scaffolding (in the educational sense of that term) for interested, intelligent laypeople to go deeper, and for that reason alone Jesus: The Cold Case should provide a fantastic opportunity for those privileged to work in the field of biblical studies to 'come clean' in a more academically rigorous way. And yet I suspect there will be a number who, if not merely sniffing disdainfully, will line up with the apologists to cast stones instead.
Deane Galbraith asks, and it's a great question, "Where are the current and most recent experts on the issue: Maurice Casey? Dale Allison? Roger Aus?" The answer could be fairly simple. By and large these scholars have not engaged those issues outside the academic establishment. The great shakers and movers, whatever their fallibilities, have always been willing and able to communicate with a wider audience, not restricting themselves to jargon-heavy academic tomes. Dale Allison certainly comes close, but Aus?
And wouldn't it be tremendous to see Maurice Casey 'sent to the scaffold'... so to speak.
Addendum: a thorough review from the keyboard of Deane Galbraith is now up on ROG.