Well, it is– after all– Easter Week, and as surely as the spring flowers bloom at this time of the year, the exploitative, deceptive “religious documentaries” spring up on the History cable channels and “religious discoveries” dutifully appear on the covers of Time, Newsweek, and the US News & World Report.
But of course the level of outrageous hucksterism has now begun to exceed the merely deceptive. Thanks to computer-generated graphics and some charlatans and willing, stooge scholars who clamor to be on TV, these documentaries have succeeded in COMPLETELY IGNORING the archaeological consensus and in making fundamentalist hypotheses seem unarguably authentic through visual imagery.
I mean, it’s absolutely outrageous what the History Channel, for instance, has done with its prime time spectacular “The Real Face of Jesus?” (naively shilled by Good Morning America and the Today Show).
First of all, it is abundantly clear to all serious archaeologists that the Shroud of Turin is a 13th-14th-century forgery, part of the booming European medieval relics trade. Only those who continue to be supported by the 21st-century pilgrimage-and-relics trade and those fundamentalists who believe that the resurrection of Jesus was accompanied by some kind of explosive nuclear emission that seared the linen will continue to believe unfailingly in its authenticity.
Then you have the scientism. In this documentary, you have a guiding “graphics expert” with an outrageous Donald Trump-style hairdo, who guides us through the steps whereby the image on the shroud is made to take on a 3D, photo-realistic quality through mathematical modeling and the extrapolation-by-software of facial pores, bloody wounds, and hair follicles.
My God, this is a dangerous delusion. It’s a theological confabulation designed ONLY for profit by selling a miraculously life-like illusion to the Faithful. It’s relic worship pure and simple. High budget relic worship to be sure– much more expensive and technologically advanced than seeing an image of the Virgin Mary in the bark of a tree.
This kind of high-tech antiquarian hokum just hammers another nail into the public understanding of what science and archaeology are all about. But of course belief in empirical evidence and confidence in human reason have already been quite thoroughly crucified in our tabloid TV society.