Tuesday, April 5, 2011

First Century Codices or Media Hype (Again...)

"The mainstream media need to do a much better job of checking in on academic blogs and other social media tools that are readily at their disposal. They need to be more skeptical, in general, and specifically when dealing with obvious problems. Antiquities fraud is a serious issue and the model of hyping a discovery in the press is a common route for less-than-savory characters involved in the trade. It’s understandable that a reporter and editors can be had, but when they discover they’ve been had, they need to correct quickly." ~ Mollie Ziegler in her recent post: "It’s all Greek to me(dia)?"

I assume that most of you have seen the media hype about some alleged codices discovered in a Jordanian cave that could be the "earliest Christian writings in existence". I will admit, when I first saw the article I got pretty excited because discovering documents from the first century would be an incredible find. However, I was a little wary when I read the BBC reporter saying, "They could, just possibly, change our understanding of how Jesus was crucified and resurrected, and how Christianity was born." No such claims were being made by any of the people who actually had seen the relics. After some waiting and reading, it seems I should have been even more skeptical.

Recently several of the scholars quoted in various articles have stated that they were misquoted to make the discovery sound genuine when they retained a healthy attitude of skepticism awaiting further confirmation. Others have called into question David Elkington's credentials (the man who is making grand claims about this discovery). Still others have pointed out the discrepancies in the claimsPeter Thonemann of Oxford has even staked his career on them being forgeries and has backed up his statement with pretty good evidence. He actually received pictures of the codices from Elkington last year, analyzed the Greek, and concluded that "the text on the bronze tablet was copied directly from the inscription in the museum at Amman by someone who did not understand the meaning of the text of the inscription, but was simply looking for a plausible-looking sequence of Greek letters to copy." Elkington failed to mention that in his press release and the media did not do much digging before it reported the find.

It still remains to be seen if Dr. Thonemann is right (the Greek in the images is really hard to read so I cannot confirm his transcription) but the case for the codices authenticity is not looking good. Again, we have another example of hype in the media. Unfortunately, the outlets that ramped up the hype have not retracted anything or even given air-time to those who doubt the authenticity of the codices. I agree with Mollie Ziegler's conclusions in her post. In general, the media does need to be more skeptical of claims, they need to not claim more than the scholars who present discoveries claim, they need to report the dissenting views, and they certainly need to have the courage to retract claims they have made when serious doubt is cast on discoveries they report on (though they rarely do).

By His Grace,

No comments: