I have just completed a review of Finding Jesus: The Childhood Home of Jesus, finding it puzzling and rather self-defeating. But a couple of nights ago, I was bored in the extreme and another episode of Finding Jesus showed up on the TV schedule. Well, “in for a penny, in for a pound,” I thought, “why not?”
You may recall that this CNN series has the following description: Finding Jesus discovers fascinating new insights into the historical Jesus, utilizing the latest scientific techniques and archaeological research. Finding any meaningful research in this series will be a miracle, I am afraid.
In this episode we are treated to one half of an hour of talking heads reciting the story of Peter from the Christian Gospels, there being virtually no other records of the man. Peter is not spoken of as a literary character but as a real person through all of this and since talking heads can be rather dull, they had actors re-enact parts of the story for the talking heads to talk over. (The parts of scripture were selected from here and there as there are myriad conflicts in this story, but I am setting that aside for the moment.) We are told that Peter was a large man, a strong man … because? Well, “he was a fisherman and fishermen have to be strong.” Well there is a good story line, might as well use it. The fact that the boats were small and one could not be quite large and still move around in a small boat, thus favoring small, strong men as fishermen seemed to escape the gentleman with the, uh, opinion. The average Israelite was about 5´4˝ tall. More than likely fisherfolk were about the same.
Peter also had long straight hair, and Anglo features, including blue eyes. Gosh, Jesus looked Anglo, too. Nobody looked particularly Palestinian in the enactments, instead they looked like Anglos in drag. At least Jesus wasn’t a blond (he was a hunk, though, just sayin’). The commentary focused on how Peter and Jesus were best buds, bros even. They claimed that Jesus gave Peter his new name (Simon being his old one) because he would be the rock upon which Jesus would build his church. I suspect the nickname Petros was more likely given because Peter was hard headed and obtuse, failing to understand Jesus’ teachings over and over. Plus the “foundation of his church” comment was the only such utterance or action taken that had anything to do with founding a church or new religion, which leads me to believe it was an interpolation of the author of that gospel and not anything planned by Jesus. Why Jesus would want to build a church is puzzling since he saw the coming of the new age in just a few short years and stated this over and over.
Anyway, we are treated to the “traditional” Peter stories for half an hour, peaking in the joy of Peter meeting Jesus after resurrection. They emphasized once again, the betrayal of Judas and Peter’s denial of Jesus … three times(!) … as if they were important actions. Hello? If Judas doesn’t lead the police to Jesus, how does he get arrested, executed, and resurrected? If Peter leads an armed resistance to Jesus’ arrest and is successful, no resurrection and no Christianity. If Peter says “Yes, I was Jesus’ chief acolyte,” he gets rounded up along with Jesus and ends up on a cross, too. Judas had to be Jesus’ best bud, because who else but your best friend would help you commit suicide?
They end up with the absurdity of Peter’s final execution insisting he be crucified upside down because he wasn’t worthy of dying as his master had. WTF? Being suspended upside down in such a brutal way would lead to a quick death, certainly one would be unconscious in short order. Crucifixion is designed as an extended tortuous death. Why would the Romans do Peter this favor and shorten his agony? Why would the Romans do anything Peter asked? It doesn’t end there, apparently, because according to Catholic tradition, Peter’s body was taken down from the cross by “Christians” and buried on the site over which St. Peter’s Basilica was eventually erected. Crucifixion victims were largely left to rot on their crosses, as a deterrent to other criminals. Why the Romans would allow the body to be taken down and buried is puzzling, but what the heck, they did it for Jesus, too.
Well, so much for the first half an hour. In the second half hour, we are treated to a parody of an archaeological
expedition into the catacombs under St. Peter’s Basilica. We are told stories about the finding of the bones of St. Peter! In the first serious episode, we are told of an archaeologist who finds a graffito stating that St. Peter’s bones are within some chamber and lo and behold, bones are found. Upon examination, they seem to be a mixture of the bones of two men, a women, and some animals. Oh, well.
But then another set of bones is found by Vatican sleuths and we are told that these are the real bones of Peter, no further investigations are needed. Hey, if we can’t trust the Vatican to tell the truth, who can we?
Well, not having those bones to do any fancy scientific testing on means there is no scientific evidence at all, so the researchers wind two teeth (in Belgium!) said to be St. Peter’s enshrined in a church. The church gives permission for carbon-14 dating and DNA testing, so … boy, oh boy, oh boy! We gonna do some science. The dating result? The teeth were part of a live person in … drum roll, please … 250-340 CE! (This range represents the error of measurement of about ±50 years for this short of a span from the present.)
So, the episode concludes with the lame claim that “without permission from the Vatican to examine what they claim are St. Peter’s bones, it is impossible to tell …” Pathetic.
Stop for a minute and ask. If the teeth had dated to first century CE, what would that have proven? Were they Peter’s teeth? Or Jesus’? Or Jehoshaphat the Carpenter’s?
What if the Vatican said, “Sure, take the bones, play with them all you want, grind them to make your bread, have at it.”? If they were carbon dated to first century, DNA tested showing they were of an Israeli man, what would that have proved? Hello, the Church believes Peter was a real man, having done the deeds claimed for him in their scriptures. It doesn’t need proof but it sure doesn’t want its “holy relics” proven false.
The producers did one thing rather well, pointing out there are no records whatsoever that Peter was ever in Rome or that he founded the Catholic Church. (Peter is referred to as the first Pope.) They go to some length to claim that the tradition is real, but what does that mean? It means that the word was handed from person to person down the centuries in a game of historical “Telephone;” that has to be accurate, right? (If you are not familiar with the party game of Telephone, look it up.)
Then you have to ask: why would the bones of a man constitute a holy relic? This passion to have a touchstone to important events leads to the modern practice of buying tee shirts at concerts and sporting events, so it is very human, but what religious function might bones serve? They do not speak. They have no message, etc. And this is from a group of people who have perpetrated myriad hoaxes involving weeping or bleeding statues, etc. As mentioned, enough splinters of the “one, true cross” have been sold to make an entire log cabin. But there was the current Pope displaying the bones of St. Peter (kept in a little coffin-like box) to rapturous crowds at the Vatican.
Can you imagine scientists bowing their heads if Einstein’s skull were displayed? Or how about Aristotle’s knuckle bones?
Again, the only purpose for an episode such as this is to make money from the gullible. No new facts were revealed (other than those teeth were not Peter’s), no wisdom was revealed, no nothing.