If you missed CNN’s “After Jesus” special last night, you didn’t miss much. It was more fanciful musings on the history of earliest Christianity of the sort that we saw last Spring with the release of The Gospel of Judas, the media blitz of Bart Ehrman’s Misquoting Jesus, and the release of the movie The DaVinci Code.
“After Jesus” makes at least three provocative claims:
1. Earliest Christianity was pluriform in its beliefs. Scholars like Bart Ehrman allege that Christianity as we know it is a result an “orthodox” movment to suppress other valid expressions of Christianity during the first and second centuries. Thus, according to Ehrman, Gnosticism (an early heresy) is a “lost Christianity” that was sidelined by a Christian Canon that excludes Gnostic writings.
2. Earliest Christianity was egalitarian. The current Christian Canon of scripture is often patriarchal, and such repressive patriarchy is actually a misrepresentation of earliest Christianity. Moreover, other early writings (especially Gnostic ones) show us that Jesus and some of his earliest followers were more-inclusive of women in church leadership.
3. Earliest Christianity was political. Jesus’ message was mainly a political message that threatened the overthrow of the Roman Empire. Thus Christians were persecuted because they were “troublemakers” for the Roman Empire.
There’s nothing new about these claims, and I wrote a great deal about them earlier this year. You can read some of my previous posts here.
But one of the most telling moments of the whole documentary comes at the end. It is here that the naturalistic perspective of the historical scholars is revealed:
In the span of three centuries, the life and death of a Jewish rabbi from Nazareth had become the basis of the favored religion of the Roman Empire and gospel to millions, an astounding development that still fascinates and confounds even the experts. . .
It’s interesting that one single Jew becomes the focus of the devotions of a whole people, while — you know, there were many other Jews who were — who had also been crucified and many of them were also known as Messiahs, in the same time period. None of them have the following. So the big question is, why Jesus? Why did he get that type of following? . . .
Little wonder that the most popular explanation over the ages was that this all had to be the work of God. But historians don’t work from divine theories.
And it is in that last sentence that the bias of the presentation is revealed. Historians and popular documentaries of this sort usually discount the possibility of the supernatural. Thus their historical analyses frequently preclude the biblical accounts which are decidedly supernatural.
So “After Jesus” has an ax to grind, whether its creators realize it or not. They interviewed historians who by and large begin with a presupposition that precludes the supernatural accounts of the Bible. This is hardly a fair and balanced approach. Thus “After Jesus” takes its place among the ranks of Christianity’s detractors. And Christianity marches on nevertheless.