Novak (novak) wrote,
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Theological Notebook: The NYT Tells Us Another Artifact Threatens To Destroy Christianity. Again.

itihasa drew my attention to a New York Times article with her blurb: A three-foot-tall tablet with 87 lines of Hebrew that scholars believe dates from the decades just before the birth of Jesus is causing a quiet stir in biblical and archaeological circles, especially because it may speak of a messiah who will rise from the dead after three days. The discussion on her post consisted of a lot of *facepalm* kinds of comments, and no little laughter. While there were a number of people excited to read some actual scholarship on the artifact, most were commenting on the awful yellow journalism of the article itself. The fact that I see so much of this sort of thing in the Times makes me both annoyed and a bit frightened, as I commented:
"NEWLY DISCOVERED ARTIFACT ADDS NEW NUANCES TO SCHOLARLY EXAMINATION OF CHRISTIANITY IN THE CONTEXT OF SECOND TEMPLE JUDAISM"

or

"NEWLY DISCOVERED ARTIFACT THREATENS TO DESTROY CHRISTIANITY"

Every new artifact or text seems to get the second treatment – some folks here cited The Gospel of Judas as the last time we were treated to this noise – because it seems that in the mind of the unimaginative news editor, only the latter option can possibly be newsworthy. Whether this reflects a lack of depth in understanding subtleties of historical research or whether it indicates a certain longing deep in the hearts of the newspaper's staff is ambiguous.

The fact that I so consistently see headlines like this in the New York Times in my field makes me suspect that it isn't as far removed from the National Inquirer as it would like to imagine. That makes me more than a bit worried when I think to read the Times seriously in all the fields I'm not a specialist in. Would that they had the imagination to hire someone with a theological degree who could recognize the difference between those offering serious and modest scholarly comment and those engaging in self-promotion or hucksterism. I'm amazed that they can have the quality of someone like Peter Steinfels on their staff and at the same time print such hokum in what could have been a serious article.
I wonder if I ought to convert that into a Letter to the Editor. The question would be whether to significantly tame it down or whether to really try to shame them into some sort of self-awareness: the latter is more effective, in a sense, but has a slim chance of succeeding if the target is convinced of their all-knowingness because, hey – they work for the Times.

We'll have to see if this thing gets the full treatment: specials on the Discovery and History Channels and the like. If so, it might earn a chapter in that book I'd like to write someday: The Total, Complete, and Final Destruction of Christianity: A History
Tags: apocalyptic literature, christianity, christology, historical, historiography, jewish mysticism, judaism, manuscripts, new york times, nonsense in academia, theological notebook
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