The Jesus Story: Why the Experts Don't Get it Right

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Every Easter brings a new wave of TV specials about the life of Jesus and his early followers. But even though it may be the most often told story, it is seldom told correctly

Every Easter brings a new wave of TV specials about the life of Jesus and his early followers. But even though it may be the most often told story, it is seldom told correctly.

Given their mostly secular mandates, it is somewhat surprising that every Easter season American television networks delve into the story of Jesus and the history of Christianity with a flurry of investigative style documentaries. Until, that is, one gets a view of the ratings that these shows generate for them. The networks are not so much showing us their religious fervor, as they are simply responding to the demands of their advertising based business models. The enthusiasm instead comes from television viewers who have consistently proven they have a large appetite for programs that look into the origins of the world's most popular religion. From Discovery Channel to the History Channel, and even the news channels like CNN and Fox News, will once again feature prime time specials over the Easter weekend to cash in on America's annual religious revival.

With such ever-increasing exposure to biblical and religious history, the real surprise is what author Stephen Prothero reveals to us in his new book, "Religious Literacy: What Every American Needs to Know--And Doesn't." The book cites a study concluding that while two-thirds of Americans believe the Bible holds the answers to life's basic questions, most cannot name even one of the four gospels or the first book of the Bible. Prothero's book tells the story of how America became so religiously illiterate and makes the case that the country needs to begin once again to teach the foundations of its religious heritage.

"Despite this lack of basic knowledge, politicians continue to root public policy arguments in religious rhetoric whose meanings are missed--or misinterpreted--by the vast majority of Americans," according to Prothero. "We have a major civic problem on our hands."

However, unless the so-called "experts" start telling the history of the Bible and Christianity more accurately, the problem cannot be solved with more of the same old teaching. David Hulme, author and publisher of Vision,a publication that covers current social issues and philosophical, moral and ethical values, explains that most people and many theologians do not understand the origins of the early Church in its proper historical and cultural context.

"Most scholars, because of a long-standing bias in the theological world, have avoided the subject of early Christianity's Jewishness," says Hulme in his article A Pulpit of Preconceived Ideas. "But a change has been under way for some time, and it is causing a rethink of some of the underlying approaches of traditional Christianity. If understood in their totality, the implications are indeed profound."

This week Vision presents Jesus in Context: The True Origins of the Church, a collection of articles on its Web site that attempt to set the record straight and dispel some of the myths and misconceptions that have crept into the story of Jesus and his early followers.

"Like most historical accounts, the story of Jesus Christ comes down to us surrounded with legend and inaccuracy," according to Hulme. "The last decade has seen a new wave of scholarship determined to discover his historical identity. In its coverage Vision shows why this continuing quest is important, and what the biblical record reveals."

The series is perfect reading material for the Easter weekend.

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Edwin Stepp
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