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Demythologizing Jesus (of Talpiot)

Rudolf Bultmann first introduced the idea of demythologizing the New Testament in a 1941 lecture, which was published as an essay under the title “The New Testament and Mythology.” The goal of finding the Historical Jesus (of Nazareth), “the Jesus of History,” could only be achieved by “demythologizing” the perception of Jesus portrayed in the four Gospels, a portrayal which, according to Bultmann, was derived from the early church’s “Jesus of Faith”.

Founder of the Jesus Seminar, Robert W. Funk, reaffirmed this methodology as the goal of the Jesus Seminar, whose working assumptions included the dismissal of the miracles and any apocalyptic sayings attributed to Jesus [cf., Honest to Jesus: Jesus for a New Millennium (1996); The Acts of Jesus: The Search for the Authentic Deeds (1998); A Credible Jesus (2002)]. These methods were intended to reduce the persona and acts of Jesus to a minimum number of elements that might be considered “credible”, as presented in the Five Gospels (since the Jesus Seminar included the first-second century Gospel of Thomas as well).

The film producers of The Lost Tomb of Jesus and their advisers have taken this methodology a step further. They have continued to reduce Jesus’ historical persona and acts, on the one hand, but have been adding to them through elements taken from local traditions (and culture), late fictitious Gospels and now a tomb from East Talpiot.

This Judean tomb and its inhabitants, are now being connected with a specific historical family. Each ossuary has had a face and story from the New Testament superimposed upon it. This becomes problematic for those of us who would like to study and understand the tomb and its family/families on their own merit.

Due to this, we are left with an interesting situation which is, indeed, very reminiscent of historical Jesus studies. We are faced with the task of demythologizing the Jesus Family Tomb in order to clarify the identity of the real Jesus of Talpiot and the family members of that tomb according to their actual archaeological, social and historical context. It is our hope that over the coming month, before the next showing of this movie, we may be able to achieve this goal, at least in part.

Stephen Pfann, Ph.D.

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