This Sunday, March 1, CNN premieres a new six-week documentary series, “Finding Jesus.” This new series blends science and archaeology as it attempts to discern what is fact, what is faith, and what is forgery. Part documentary, interviewing academics and theologians, part drama, the series explores the value and authenticity of six objects which could bear light on the historical Jesus.
For the last 2,000 years, humanity has been fascinated by the figure of Jesus – the historical man and the divine Christ. Images of Jesus have appeared on icons, stained glass windows, painting, sculptures, television, and film. Jesus has influenced music, politics, education, and philosophy.
But, what is fact and what is forgery? And, what is just simply faith?
The series sets out to explore these core questions. It is the raising of questions that cause scholars like Dr. Candida Moss to be engaged in such a project. Dr. Moss is the Professor of New Testament and Early Christianity in the Department of Theology at the University of Notre Dame and a contributor to this film. I spoke with her this week.
“Anyone in religion,” she said, “should be interested in religion being thought about and talked about in the public square.” By combining science, archaeology, and scholarship, Moss believes that such a series as “Finding Jesus” could provide enough proof that there is a Jesus. Or, it could raise more questions, resulting in searching for answers. It could also provide a different perspective of looking at the Bible.
Each of the six episodes investigates the value and authenticity of a historical object. The first episode, which airs this Sunday, focus on the Shroud of Turin, the mysterious cloth and many believe was the actual burial cloth that Jesus was wrapped in. The other episodes consider relics venerated as part of the True Cross, the gospel of Judas, relics believed to be of John the Baptist, the burial box of Jesus’ brother James and the gospel of Mary Magdalene.
Even though the focus (and titles) of the episodes is on a archaeological discovery, the series considers other familiar characters. In this way, it offers a chance to think about Judas, John the Baptist, Joseph of Arimathea, Mary Magdalene and others in a different way, especially considering that many of them are misunderstood. It offers a chance, as Dr. Moss stated, ” to look at them in historical context to get a fresh perspective.”
Take Mary Magdalene for example. For centuries, tradition has taught that Mary Magdalene was a prostitute, though there was no reference to such in the Bible. Instead the Bible notes how Mary Magdalene gives out of her personal resources to the Way. Dr. Moss states how unfair it is that the Bible shares how much Mary Magdalene gave, yet history announces her as a prostitute.
What Mary Magdalene’s witness does point, Dr. Moss says, is that “women of means, educated and invested in the movement, were following Jesus to the cross.” It must have been hard for the church, drenched in a male dominated society, to embrace such a woman as Mary Magdalene for who she truly was.
It is this asking our tradition questions that motivated Dr. Moss to be a part of this project. “I believe in what we do,” she says, “in asking the tough questions.” She adds, “A robust faith can benefit from asking the questions and grow from it.”
This information, Dr. Moss says, “should be transmitted to the world.” It should not be kept in the ivory towers of academia. As Dr. Moss says, “People want to know more.” But with if what is presented in this series is not enough? Dr. Moss acknowledges that documentaries like this have limited space. Even so, Dr. Moss offers a kind reminder, “Everyone should find something in this if they open their minds to learn.”
For those who are looking for answers, CNN has set a website where viewers will be able to leave comments and questions of the various scholars connected to the project. Dr. Moss hopes that it will inspire people to read the New Testament.
“Finding Jesus” airs on Sunday evenings at 9pm starting March 1, 2015.