National Geographic: The Gospel of Judas versus In Search of Easter
By Kristin Battestella
Since less and less television networks devote their programming hours to religious documentaries around Easter, I turned to Netflix for my Biblical fix. I’ve enjoyed National Geographic materials for many years, and was pleased to find two of their specials available: The Gospel of Judas and In Search of Easter. Strangely, I thoroughly enjoyed Judas and hated Easter.
Arriving first, The Gospel of Judas chronicles the recently discovered and restored lost gospel of Judas Iscariot-the disciple who betrayed Jesus in the
for thirty pieces of silver. According to this long lost tale, Judas did not betray Jesus, but in fact had received special instructions from the Messiah in order to facilitate the crucifixion. Garden of Gesthemane
To hard core fundamentalist Christians, this notion is not even a pill to consider swallowing toughly. What’s in the Bible is the insurmountable truth, what is says is well, gospel, and anything outside of it isn’t worth reading. The Gospel of Judas, however, makes a convincing case for Christian scholars to consider this tale and other rediscovered Gnostic gospels- including the Gospel of Thomas, Mary Magdalene, Philip, Valentine, and dozens more. The Bible as is, I have to say, is a damn good tale of trials, tribulations, sin, faith, and salvation. It really can’t be beat.
On a style note, the four canonical gospels do have the best showcase of Jesus’ life, teaching, ministries, death, and resurrection. These long lost and restored gospels are often missing extensive segments and often have a talking head Jesus sprouting wisdom but not going anywhere or doing anything. The Gospel of Judas is no different, but the scholars onscreen explain that these extra gospels are meant for the student or the historian to study and compare. I agree that you can take what is good from these materials and leave what you don’t like as you would if you were reading any other comparative bible study book. You wouldn’t introduce someone to Christianity with the Gospel of Judas, certainly. However, an intelligent individual secure in one’s faith should not be deterred, much less threatened by these newly discovered materials.
The Gospel of Judas does get hokey with some of the reenactments, just like more and more documentaries that rely entirely on an acting cast to tell their tale. Thankfully, the special takes the time to show the restoration and authentication of the Judas codex. In a time when so many hoaxes have come about; it’s refreshing to know that even if you eventually disagree with what’s inside, there’s new antiquities still to discover. If The Gospel of Judas proper does not convince you, the DVD contains interactive timelines, extra interviews with the guest experts, and photos and excerpts from the text. Overall, this National Geographic documentary provides the religious, historical, and scientific aspects for the viewer to divulge and make up his own mind.
Unfortunately, I cannot say the same for In Search of Easter. I was very excited when this disc arrived, only to be very disappointed in the under one hour special. Where The Gospel of Judas spent almost ninety minutes analyzing and authenticating, In Search of Easter is forty-five minutes of long-winded scholars tossing out the big questions. Did the resurrection really take place? Why do the gospel accounts differ? Why did the disciples react to the risen Christ the way they do? How can you expect to answer these kinds of questions in forty-five minutes and get into a side story involving the resurrected Christ’s appearance to early Mormons?
In Search of Easter has the same scholars that can be seen on numerous religious programs, but all they do is talk. Their speeches are laced with words like ‘vision’ and ‘miraculous’ and ‘faith’ and it’s almost always followed by a ‘but’. But what? It’s almost as if In Search of Easter is mocking Christians for believing that the risen Christ miraculously appeared in splendid visions to Mary Magdalene and our good friend ‘Doubting’ Thomas. They provide little historical examination or scientific understanding to Christ’s death and resurrection, but seem to nudge nudge wink wink at those of us who take this on Faith. I’m very surprised that National Geographic would produce such a poorly put together, secular, and somewhat offensive documentary. In Search of Easter is more offensive and insulting than whatever you may think earth shattering in The Gospel of Judas. If In Search of Easter was on television, I would have changed the channel.
Thankfully, beyond the links to further National Geographic media, the In Search of Easter DVD also includes the special Quest for Noah’s Flood. It’s as if the NatGeo powers that be knew In Search of Easter would be ill received, so they added this proper program as well. Why is this show not available on its own DVD?
Quest for Noah’s Flood follows one scientist’s search-Dr. Ballard, discoverer of the Titanic- upon the
Black Sea for evidence of Noah, his ark, and the Biblical flood that cleansed the earth. Expert explanations, scientific adventure, Great Flood pros and cons from the Bible and The Epic of Gilgamesh. All in all a very well round program, who knew?
There’s plenty of religious programming out there, even if it doesn’t seem to be airing on television anymore-I’ve been recording classroom specials coming on at 5 a.m.! Online viewing and rental sources take the risk out of the hit or miss nature of such documentaries, but you expect a certain level of consistency from a name such as National Geographic. I should be happy with two out of three, but the radical set up of The Gospel of Judas, the wishy washy feeling of In Search of Easter, and the technical science in Quest for Noah’s Flood give the feeling that religious programming is being geared towards a smaller and smaller audience. NatGeo either wants to make news with The! Earth! Shattering! Stuff! or gloss over with broad generalities so as not to take a big religious risk and heaven forbid offend someone in
The Gospel of Judas had me hankering to reread some of my extra-Biblical references again, but In Search of Easter made me angry at the increasing negative view of organized religion and traditional beliefs. Not only the opposite of what I expected, but a sad reflection as well.