How Many Licks Does It Take to Get to the Center of a Christian Archeology Hoax?

It was a dark and stormy March 29, 2011. The BBC — aka The Beeb, not to be confused with The Beeber, although that was a possibility today — posted an article entitled, “Jordan battles to regain ‘priceless’ Christian relics.” Some “lead codices” had been found that were shrouded in DaVinci Code mystery. Like an episode of In Search Of, the article breathlessly stated:

“(The codices) could be the earliest Christian writing in existence, surviving almost 2,000 years in a Jordanian cave. They could, just possibly, change our understanding of how Jesus was crucified and resurrected, and how Christianity was born.”

The article tickles our collective Dan Brown G-spot and gives us a historical hickey all at once. Neveryoumind, of course, the factual errors in the article, like the quote of “I shall walk uprightly” coming from Revelation. Even mainstream Christians tilted their heads and squinted.

Meanwhile, the scholastic blogosphere was heating up with quotes from correspondence between Dr. Thonemann, an Oxford classicist, and the man most quoted in the BBC article, Mr. David Elkington. Academic bloggers were already proclaiming doubts based on red flags in the BBC article and the lack of credentials for Mr. Elkington who, it turns out, wasn’t a scholar at all, but simply an author with a book on a subject of questionable academic substance.

Naturally, it turned out Mr. Elkington’s ideas around the codices were more than a bit off-base.

Real scholars soon started harshing the world’s DaVinci buzz with facts. Dr. Thonemann published an article in The Times Online about the forgery. In the article, Dr. Thonemann says:

“…this particular ‘codex’ was a modern forgery, produced by a resident of Amman within the last fifty years or so.”

He also says:

“…it is a bit depressing that no one thought to consult any one of the dozens of British specialists in the field.”

As blogger and Near East academic Daniel O. McClellan notes regarding an article in The Express:

“It seems to me the article is meant more to keep a controversy alive than to report the news.”

Despite declarations of forgery from experts — including the Israel Antiquities Authority — the BBC has not yet published a follow up. There’s actually great documentation of Dr. Thonemann repeatedly bitch slapping Mr. Elkington in the Wikipedia entry on this topic, as well as references to Elkington being repped by Curtis Brown for a book they were going to sell at the London Book Fair on April 11. (Holy Literary Marketing Ploy, Batman!)

So, to answer the subject line’s question, it seems it takes only a couple of licks by highly educated tongues. However, the MSM doesn’t seem to want to publish anything that’s been licked, especially by experts.

Alas, I can’t pick on the BBC exclusively. National Geographic was similarly guilty of hyping the James Brother of Jesus ossuary, which was subsequently (and fairly quickly) debunked. It took them a year before they finally published an article about the hoax.

It’s interesting how the MSM is so quick to jump on the fakes and ride them into the sunset, but glacial to publish retractions. I guess facts don’t feel as good between the knees, or gallop as fast. Not sure why it’s not just as newsworthy that the horse and rider have charged off a cliff, but I’m sure you, Dear Internet Friend, know why.

And it seems an overwhelming number of these hoaxes relate to Jesus and Christianity, although a few are in regard to Old Testament history. Strange, ain’t it? Well, no. Not really. The more dearly held the belief, the more desperately we want proof to back it up. Both the forgers and the MSM know it, pandering to the people who want validation of the thing for which they should least need it: faith.

I’ve been wanting to write another blog post about how to spot a sketchy science news article and will at some point. In the meantime, the moment you read anything that screams REAL STUFF ABOUT JESUS OMG!!!PONIES!!!!1!!!, just hop onto Google and type the artifact name, followed by either the word “fake” or “hoax.”

Chances are, experts have not already licked it, but chewed it up and spit it out.

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