Can you find faith in ‘Finding Jesus?’ One of the TV show’s experts thinks so

The second season of CNN’s series explores facts and myths about the historical Jesus.

Finding Jesus: Faith, Fact and Forgery. CNN

When I was little, my parents would read me Bible stories from a big, colorful, Bible story book. And man, they were great stories. Jesus would feed 5,000 with less than what our family of three just had for dinner. He’d walk on water. He’d heal a blind man or tell off some Pharisees. And as they read, naturally, I’d look at the pictures—just like I would if they were reading me Winnie-the-Pooh or a Dr. Seuss book.

 

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I knew the stories were real, of course, but they still felt like stories, too: They blurred the boundary between reality and tale. That’s no big deal when you’re a kid, given those boundaries are pretty blurry for little ones anyway. But as we grow into adulthood, we try to separate fact from fiction, truth from myth. And sometimes we accidentally—even subconsciously—throw those Bible stories into the latter. It can be hard for us to imagine that they took place in the real world.

But they did. And the archaeological record seems increasingly outspoken about it.

It reminds us that the events in the Bible took place in the real world, in a real time and place.”

CNN‘s Finding Jesus: Faith, Fact and Forgery begins a new season March 5. And while the show’s title suggests that the series is a hard-hitting investigative series—CNN’s crack investigative reporters determined to either prove or debunk millennia-old biblical accounts—the show itself is more subtle. “It doesn’t come across as an investigation,” says the Rev. A.R. Bernard, who’s featured on the series. “It’s more an exploration of the evidence.”

Bernard, senior pastor and CEO of New York’s Christian Cultural Center and president of the city’s Council of Churches, says that Finding Jesus helps put flesh on the bones of our age-old biblical stories. It reminds us that the events in the Bible took place in the real world, in a real time and place. Whether you believe or doubt what the Gospels say, these are more than just stories. They lay claim to a bit of history, and history can be seen and touched and studied.

Take, for instance, Finding Jesus’ second-season premiere: It focuses on a 2,000-year-old stone inscription that records the name “Pontius Pilatus,” or Pontius Pilate. The Judean prefect likely commissioned it himself to honor Tiberius, the Roman Emperor at the time. While the stone doesn’t itself speak to Pilate’s role in Jesus’ crucifixion, it does speak to the fact that this guy was a real, flesh-and-blood guy doing the job that the Bible tells us he did.

The figure of Doubting Thomas, the apostle, looms large in our skeptical age.”

“I love it when archaeological discoveries support Scripture,” Bernard says, though he adds that he doesn’t need that support to embrace his own faith. “As far as I’m concerned, the Bible is credible in and of itself. … Archaeological findings come along to support my faith. But they are not the foundation of my faith.”

But Bernard says that other people do need a more fact-based foundation for what they believe. The figure of Doubting Thomas, the apostle, looms large in our skeptical age. He, like many would-be believers, wrestles with doubt. He demands evidence. “He represents a large segment of the population,” Bernard says.

And Bernard think that’s just fine. Healthy, even. He looks at Thomas as less of a symbol of doubt and “more of an enquirer.” Thomas, like most of us, wants to know that his faith is grounded in something real. Something, for lack of a better word, tangible. It needs to be not just powerful, but reasonable.

The evidence we find that confirms some elements of the Bible give us more reason to trust the rest.”

“Our faith is a reasoned trust,” Bernard says. “That’s part of what the show does.” It gives us reasons for that trust, if we’re so inclined.

This is not to say that Finding Jesus is an apologetic work—something solely meant to bolster faith and wave off any contrary argument. The archeological record and biblical stories don’t always comfortably mesh. Experts sometimes interpret the Gospel stories through the age in which they were written, rather than accepting them as the Gospel truth. And of course we’ll never find “proof” for some of the Bible’s stories. While Pilate might’ve scratched his name in age-old stone, we don’t know the name of the bleeding woman whom Jesus healed. And even if we did, it’s unlikely she ever had the wherewithal to commission a marble tablet to record the event herself.

Faith is, indeed, a reasoned trust. The evidence we find that confirms some elements of the Bible give us more reason to trust the rest. And there’s something inherently resonant about seeing that evidence—laying eyes on the places and things contemporary to the time of Jesus, Bernard says.

“My first trip to Israel had a deeply profound impact on me,” he says. “It revolutionized my understanding of Scripture. To see it first hand, it was amazing.”

For those who can’t make the trip themselves, shows like Finding Jesus can sometimes be the next best thing.

 

The new season of Finding Jesus: Faith, Fact and Forgery will premiere Sunday, March 5 at 9 p.m. Eastern/Pacific time on CNN.

Paul Asay
Paul Asay

Paul Asay is a movie critic for Plugged In and has written for a variety of websites and publications, including Time, The Washington Post and Beliefnet.com. He’s authored or co-authored several books, including most recently Burning Bush 2.0: How Pop Culture Replaced the Prophet.

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