Saturday, April 15, 2017

"Finding Jesus: Faith, Fact, Forgery" On CNN.

The episodes of CNN's series (and it is hardly alone among TV shows about ancient history in being like this) "Finding Jesus: Faith, Fact, Forgery" ought to begin the way they finish:

NARRATOR: The (fill in the blank: piece of wood, bone fragment, etc), thought to (fill in the blank: have come from the True Cross, be the remains of the Apostle [fill in apostle's name], etc), has/have been proven by Carbon-14 testing to come from (fill in actual time 200 to 1500 years later than the 1st century), and so is/are inauthentic, and does/do not bring us any closer to the historical Jesus.

CNN might object: "If we did that, many viewers would change the channel and miss the next 59 minutes and 45 seconds of our 1-hour show!"

To which I would respond, "Well they might! Especially if they had already seen 1 or 2 episodes of the series, in which 80 to95% or so of the first 59 minutes and 45 seconds are repetition, fluff and theological babble, only very mildly mitigated by the odd intelligent remark not edited out or the occasional glimpse of a lovely artwork! Have you thought about how many of those viewers you've already lost doing it your way? Here's a bold new approach for you: you want viewers to hang around for an hour? Fill up the whole hour with actual content!"

Obviously, CNN is not taking my advice these days.

But imagine: a show about Jesus' place in history where they told you what they know about this episode's artifacts right away, first thing, but was so interesting and filled with still further information -- and more of the art: I've seen a tremendous lot of really beautiful art in shows in this genre, but I haven't seen one yet which wouldn't have benefited from still more -- that the actual general public would watch breathlessly all the way to the end.

Drop the "historical re-enactments," the sequences in which actors are portraying Jesus and his contemporaries, like a hot rock. What will you put in their place? I refer you to the above-mentioned beautiful art. (It wouldn't kill you to occasionally mention, if you happen to know, when and/or where and/or by whom the painting or sculpture or altar or church or temple was made.) You can also show manuscripts: hopefully, a large part of the evidence of what you're telling your viewers comes from primary sources. You can show maps, old and also freshly-made. You've already flown academics in to Jerusalem or Rome or wherever -- give them more time to show the viewer around. Get out of their way, use this rich resource in a more appreciative way. If you're doing it remotely close to right you won't have to repeat one frame of film to fill up an entire hour.

That's right, CNN: I just said you're not doing it remotely close to right. Well, there it is. What's that you say? You're asking if I think I could do better? I can't produce an entire documentary right now. But if you hired me as a consultant on your next project of this type: yes, I don't think that could help but result in a drastic improvement. And/or: you could simply stop hiring Simcha Jacobovici. That alone would result in a tremendous improvement. You're welcome!

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