25 February, 2007

James Cameron vs. Jesus Christ - Who is the Greatest?

OK, I will admit to being momentarily shaken reading this before church this morning. Shaken, that is, until I thought about it for more than ten seconds. Another take on the same story here.

New scientific evidence, including DNA analysis conducted at foremost molecular genetics laboratories, as well as studies by leading scholars, suggests a 2,000-year-old Jerusalem tomb could have once held the remains of Jesus of Nazareth and his family. The findings also suggest that Jesus and Mary Magdalene might have produced a son named Judah. The DNA findings, alongside statistical conclusions made about the artifacts — originally excavated in 1980 — open a potentially significant chapter in Biblical archaeological history.
Cameron is giving a press conference tomorrow (Monday, 2/26) in New York City with three of the caskets to announce his new film. Note the quasi-priestly garb, the angle from which the photo was shot, and the book in front of him. This all takes careful planning. Where to start? How about with who each "J.C." claims to be:

Jesus Christ (in John 8) says: "I am the light of the world... I am from above... I am not of this world."

James Cameron, speaking at the 1998 Academy Awards, where he won a small bushel of Oscars for a movie about a fornicating pretty boy who dies of hypothermia before his body is eaten by fish said: "I am the king of the world." Which isn't any better or worse than others who have made similarly grandiose claims, but the feeling can't have lasted long because it's been a rather long dry spell for Mr. Cameron in the fickle Hollywood spotlight after rising to such heights of adulation. Perhaps Mr. Cameron misspoke. Perhaps he should have said "prince".

Turns out Cameron is only six weeks into a campaign to re-make himself as Hollywood big-man with a sci-fi thriller called 'Avatar'. One doesn't need to be a PR professional to see the pending 'shocker' press conference (five days into Lent--hardly a coincidence) as part of that carefully orchestrated return to the limelight.

Let's switch gears. I've been watching a lot of CSI recently and while that hardly qualifies me as an expert on DNA testing, I do know that it can be fantastically difficult to obtain a valid sample from tissue dead only a few years, much less centuries, much less two millennia. Statistical confidence intervals expand with time. Assumptions must be made from fragmentary pieces. Presuming that some genetic material was indeed extracted from the bones, I suspect we will soon find ourselves in the same arena in which global warming is currently being debated, i.e., honest scientists who understand uncertainty getting shouted down by those who want this to be the lock-tight case that puts that pesky Jesus thing to rest once and for all.

But let's assume for a moment that the DNA is readable. What then? As Classical Values notes:
...tests? On what DNA? Jesus? Mary? Joseph? Mary Magdalene? Did any of them leave a sample somewhere unbeknownst to anyone until now? There has to be some known relative of the people found in that burial group for comparison purposes; otherwise all that can be shown IF any DNA material remains in the bones is that maybe the people in the burial group were all related to each other. (Hardly surprising in a family tomb.)
(The rest of the CV piece is worth reading for a discussion of anti-Christian versus anti-Islamic blasphemy and reactions to same. Short take: We blog and argue. They issue fatwas. James Cameron, like Dan Brown before him, made a choice at some point along the line: Hmm... should I try to write/film a huge, money-making blockbuster attempting to poke holes in a religion where they'll sneer at me and then pray for my immortal soul or one where they'll try to kill me--after not even bothering to buy the book or watch the film? Hmm... tough choice.)

Hog On Ice has a very funny take that makes a major, serious point: in order for the Cameron splash to be true, hundreds and thousands of Jerusalem locals from Jesus' time would have had to have had their testimonies completely suppressed. (Jesus? Oh, he's buried over there. Didn't you know? Shut up! Shut up! Off with your head! Anyone else? Such a thing would not have been obscure or secret for such a celebrity figure. Yet there is no such story.)

The 'new' story of Jesus being dead begs the question: Why is there no concurrent documentation to back it up? Why did nobody write about it? Remember, in the first century, despite what Dan Brown et al would like to have us believe (evil, scheming, powerful, pedophile Catholic church!!) it was those who opposed Christianity (Rome, the Pharisees, etc.) who had both power and incentive to tell such a story. Where is it? Good bench science and archaeology dovetails with other forms of historical analysis. The do not trump it, especially when other sources (e.g., the Bible--yes, it does count) utterly contradict Cameron's 'evidence'. HOI writes:
Tomorrow [Cameron is] holding a press conference in New York, of all places. Not sure what New York has to do with Christianity. There are a lot of Teamsters there; maybe Cameron is going to announce that one of the coffins also holds Jimmy Hoffa...

Here is what we're supposed to believe. Jesus, who was a pretty popular and well-known guy ("Guy"? Do I capitalize that?) even in His own time, managed to marry, have kids, die, and be buried in the biggest city in Israel--WITHOUT ANYONE NOTICING. Oh, yeah, that's a good theory. That whole crucifixion thing...that was a hoax, made up years after Jesus died from old age, and the whole city of Jerusalem, including hostile Jews and Romans, was in on it, and they kept it quiet to this day. Because...okay, I haven't figured that part out yet. Probably because the Catholic church was already heavily into real estate and didn't want anyone messing with it.

Obviously, even to non-Christians I hope, Cameron is full of s**t. Why is he doing this? Hmm...I may know the reason. I just checked IMDB, and his career has been floating in George Clooney's septic tank since 1997. That's when Solaris--Clooney's answer to Ishtar--came out. Since then, he has only done one movie (the near-Oscar-miss Expedition Bismarck) and has even had to do TV.
Gerald Augustinus at 'Cafeteria...' is among many making another key point: the names Jesus, Mary and Joseph were incredibly common in the first century Middle East. If, two millennia from now, someone came out with a case for having discovered the bones of 'John' and 'George', with no sample against which to compare their DNA, would you assume that we were talking about Lennon and Harrison, about Kerry and Bush, or about two other random guys with those ultra-common names?

Weigh the evidence. Weigh it carefully. The case for Christ does not depend on faith alone. If you're inclined to buy the media versions however (and they are legion--Cameron's is just the latest), you will be swayed in whatever direction they think they can sell you at the moment.

UPDATE I: No sooner had I finished this post than I was called out to run an errand. Hopped into my wife's car with the radio set to a station I don't usually listen to. And what's on but Dido's 'White Flag'--a tune I haven't heard in at least a year. It took me a minute... and then I got it laughing heartily and delightedly, turning my eyes heavenward as I did so. God does have a sense of humor--and irony... and timing. Amazing.
I will go down with this ship
And I won't put my hands up and surrender
There will be no white flag above my door
I'm in love and always will be
If it isn't obvious, I won't be able to explain it. OK, I'll try anyway: "down with this ship"; the film Titanic; Cameron directed it; "in love and always will be"--with Christ.

UPDATE II: Cameron smugly sipping champagne, anticipating riches. Real scholars weigh in--and give the theory a great big raspberry.