We have all had a month to contemplate the last posting and its predecessors.
How shall we now define the form of storytelling that is represented in the Jacobovici and Cameron film and the Jacobovici and Pellegrino book released last March?
The makers of “The Lost Tomb of Jesus” presented a story
Story 1: The New Gospel: a newly created fictitious story which mixed first century Biblical sources with known fictitious Gnostic apocryphal gospel sources.
Which they intertwined with another story
Story 2: The story of the scientists and professionals: apparently supportive statements from reputable scientists, archaeologists, epigraphers and historians, used as supportive pillars to prove the fictional story to be true.
Embedded within an overall detective story
Story 3: The story of the filmmakers: as investigative journalists recording, for all to see, the amazing history of their discoveries in order to convince the world that their methodology was correct and thus their conclusions should be both professionally and credibly communicated (in both film and book).
At first we were all taken in by story 3, and having no way to verify or critique their methods we merely accepted it for the moment as an entertaining and engaging jewel in the crown. When it became clear that story 1 was fictional and story 2 was scientifically unconvincing, many of us, including myself, pronounced publicly that the entire tale was thus nothing more than science fiction. After all, two of the team, James Cameron and Charles Pellegrino are both notable authors of many known science fiction works.
However, a few science fiction writers have justifiably taken issue with this view. The task of a science fiction writer is to produce a compelling fictitious story which gains the interest of its audience by interweaving it with real or theoretical science. However, the science fiction writer never pretends that his work is real history. Even though it may pose a somewhat credible story that could in fact take place, usually in the future, if one takes into account certain scientific facts or hypotheses, it is intended to remain fiction. Like other forms of fiction, the author intends to engage his audience in a piece of literary art posed in the form of a fictitious story. He has crossed the line if he presents his work as a historical fact. These science fiction writers and enthusiasts felt offended and appalled that such a work should be called “science fiction”. And why?
The filmmakers posed “The Lost Tomb of Jesus” as real history by selling it to the Discovery Channel. The writers of the book presented their work as nonfiction, where it arose to number 6 on the New York Times bestseller list, not in the category of fictional books, but in the nonfiction category.
We have already found out that the historians are denying the historic basis of the reconstructed gospel (the first story). Most of the interviewed specialists have already stated that they were manipulated and did not mean what was actually aired in the film (the second story). Now we discover that even the part of the film that we took for granted as truth, the exciting story of discoveries made by our investigative reporters, had entire sections which were both staged and the contents manipulated.
Since no actual fiction writer wants to lay claim to this new book as part of their trade, and since the filmmaker and the writers of Lost Tomb want to present their work as nonfiction, under what form of professional work can this be classified?
The professionally allowable artistic license: using narrative techniques to present a nonfiction story, was not followed here. Numerous “facts” were carefully contrived, staged or “made up”.
Shall we call this contrived and dishonest nonfiction?
Perhaps we don’t have to invent a new term for it. Shall we try:
j) Hoax: “Something accepted or believed in through trickery: something established by fraud or fabrication”
Or shall we seek yet another, less offensive term?