One of my tasks as a blogger is to seek out new material to benefit and edify my audience. Another task is to view material so to warn readers not to waste their time on what I have viewed. This post fulfills the later task.
The Last Days of Jesus originally aired on PBS before Easter, but I didn't get a chance to see it then. I watched it last Friday online. It will not be available for viewing online for much longer, and so I could have avoided mentioning it altogether. However, every Christmas and Easter, PBS airs material questioning the accuracy of the Bible and orthodox (with a little o) beliefs held by Christians for two thousand plus years. So we can expect PBS to run this program again. And so I feel obligated to steer you away from this time waster.
The overall premise of The Last Days of Jesus is that Jesus was in cahoots with a powerful Roman official, Sejanus, and King Herod. If all went according to plan, Sejanus would become Caesar. Then he would name Herod king of all the Jews. And then, the Temple priesthood would be replaced by Jesus and His followers. However, the plan failed to materialize. Sejanus lost favor with Emperor Tiberius and was executed. When Jesus was informed of this setback, he convened an emergency meeting among his followers (the real Last Supper) to decide what to do. This is when Judas decided to betray Jesus. Jesus was arrested and held in prison for months, and then crucified. The chief piece of evidence, according to this theory's proponents, is the use of palm branches to celebrate Jesus' triumphal entry into Jerusalem. The Gospels tell us that Jesus entered Jerusalem right before Passover. According to Simcha Jacobovici, palm branches would only be available to crowds in Jerusalem six months before the Passover. This proves, according to Jacobovici, that Jesus came to Jerusalem six month earlier than what the Bible claims. Another piece of evidence, according to Jacobovici, is that when Jesus overturned the tables of the money changers, Jesus wasn't arrested on the spot. The fact that he wasn't arrested right then proves He, Herod, and and Sejanus were co-conspirators.
The proponents of this theory claim that when Jesus overturned the tables of the money changers, He and His followers shut down the Temple for two days. Why didn't the Roman guards arrest him right then? For starters, Jesus did not shut down the Temple. The only portion of the Temple that was being prevented from being used for its intended purpose was that portion where the tables were set up. That portion was called the court of the Gentiles. It was an area where non-Jews could come to worship the true God. By allowing trading in the only place in the temple where Gentiles could pray to God, the Temple priests were shutting down Gentile worship and prayer. That is why when He overturned the tables, Jesus quoted Is. 56:7, "...for my house will be called a house of prayer for all nations." (NIV) By allowing commerce to block Gentile worship in the Temple, Jesus declares that the priests have made the Temple a den of thieves, or robbers. Jesus did not shut down the whole Temple, as the Last Days of Jesus claims. He would never have prevented sincere worshipers from offering up the sacrifices commanded in the Pentateuch. He freed up the one portion of the Temple not being used as God commanded. Why didn't the Romans guards arrest Him? Not because Jesus was a Roman collaborator, but because there were no Roman guards in the Temple. The Temple had its own Jewish guards. The Romans knew that if they entered the Temple, the Jews would very possibly revolt against their Roman occupiers. The priests would never have called the Romans into the Temple to arrest Jesus for they were not permitted to be there. They did not order the Temple guards to arrest Jesus in the Temple because He was popular with the people. The priests didn't want to alienate the people and cause a riot. The theory that Jesus was a co-conspirator has no basis. A clear examination of scripture and biblical scholarship is enough to refute the claims of the Last Days of Jesus.
The underlying assumptions of the narrative in the Last Days of Jesus are the same assumptions that underlie other PBS specials on Christianity. Those interviewed view Jesus as a revolutionary figure determined to over throw the Roman occupation and set up his own kingdom and inaugurate the final period of history. All the writings in the New Testament of Jesus claiming to be the Son of God were claims made by later writers who won the struggle to determine what the Church's message would be. In fact, the New Testament as we now have it is not made up of eyewitness accounts, but were written long after. That's according to one interviewee, James Tabor. Those PBS relied upon to advance the documentary's theory have been associated with dubious theories concerning Jesus. Simcha Jacobovici and Barry Wilson have been one of many claiming that Jesus married Mary Magdalene and had children by her. James Tabor has claimed that Jesus founded a dynasty before the destruction of the Temple in Jerusalem. Helen Bond, also interviewed, views Jesus as a revolutionary figure only.
I figured this special would not be worth watching. But if this brief review keeps you from wasting your time watching it the next time it is aired, then it was time well spent. Today, Friday, will be time well spent as I listen to an interview with the late Thomas Oden.
For an explanation of the title, Friday Night Frozen Dinner and an Intellectual, see here.