Tuesday, November 18, 2008

The Business of Bogus Holy Relics

Do you ever watch those documentaries on the Discovery and History channels about the "real" secrets of the Da Vinci Code or about the latest archaeological finds in the Holy Land? You know the ones I'm talking about--"scholars" looking wise and proffering eclectic knowledge about what "really" happened to the body of Jesus or so on. You may wonder how much of this stuff you should take seriously--and it turns out you should wonder.

A few years back, an ossuary was "discovered" with an inscription on it claiming it was the final resting place of "James the brother of Jesus son of Joseph." There was great excitement about the little bone box, the so-called "James ossuary" and it made headlines around the world. Even reputable scholars wrote books about it--now you can find them in the bargain bin at your local mega-bookstore. It turns out the ossuary was a fake and the antiquities dealer who went public with it is now on trial for fraud in Israel. This is only one example--of many--where supposed artifacts have turned out to be bogus. It turns out there is a big market for this stuff--and not just for gullible tourists. There's an appetite--particularly by American fundamentalists--for archaeological evidence of the stories in the Bible.

This raises the question of course of what difference would it really make if some relic were really authentic proof of Jesus' existence. Even that does not prove his resurrection or make the case for faith. Faith remains something that must be believed in the absence of evidence. Faith that requires proof is not faith. At best any such evidence can help make the case that faith is rational but it cannot prove it is true. It's ironic that some of the people holding the most conservative views regarding the literal interpretation of scripture--people who argue that much about life should be taken on faith--are the same ones who are the most interested in gathering evidence to validate their views.

There's a good interview on NPR's Talk of the Nation today with the author of a new book on the James ossuary and the burgeoning trade in "proving" faith claims through archaeology. Her name is Nina Burleigh and the book is Unholy Business: A True Tale of Faith, Greed and Forgery in the Holy Land

Grace and Peace,


No comments: