Just got my latest Smithsonian magazine. I have a particular fondness for this magazine, being one of the first I got when I was a kid in the late 70s. One of the first issues had the shots of Io’s volcanoes from Voyager 1. About a decade later, I got an internship at one of the Smithsonian’s museums, the National Air and Space Museum. Very cool and I’ll never forget it or the folks who I worked with there.
This current issue, January/February 2016, has as the front cover a title “The Search for Jesus: new archaeology from Galilee to Jerusalem” with a very nice, if fantastical, picture of an artist’s rerendering of a 6th-7th century image of a beardless man from a cave in Egypt. Perhaps the original painting has more information to ID it as Jesus Christ, but I don’t see much reason to in what is presented in the magazine. Inside the magazine is a considerably less breathless title “Unearthing the World of Jesus”.
I do understand that magazines are business and they do have to make money, which I am sure is the reason behind the cover being the way it is; the magazine also contains a full page ad about how patriots need to buy survival food, unsurprisingly right across from part of the Jesus article. However, my respect for the magazine has gone down hill rapidly and that isn’t a good thing when this issue also announced that it was my last unless I renew. There are some very good articles in this issue, about the continued existence of unexploded ordinance in Germany thanks to WWII, some of the earliest cave paintings, how autism may not be a new thing, and a touching story about a WWII veteran in his twilight. To renew or not is the question, can one bad article turn me off of what is generally an excellent source of information?
The article is written as if the story about Jesus Christ is unquestioned historical fact. The use of may and might are so sown throughout the article that it reads like something from any gossip rag or like a show like Ancient Aliens. For a magazine that has excellent journalism and excellent research, I find this extremely unusual and largely inexcusable.
For example, the claim that a site across from the modern town of Migdal is Magdala and Magdala *is* the hometown of Mary Magdalene. It may indeed be Magdala. This is not evidence that Mary existed but evidence that a character was claimed to be from there. That a synagogue was found there is interesting and is evidence that Jews existed there but that was already known. There is a claim that there is a “possible” site for Jesus’ trial that aligns with the description of Herod’s palace on the gospel of John but strangely enough, there is no description of Herod’s palace in that gospel, the only words about Pilate’s palace and the only description is that Pilate went in and out of it, then going to another place to judge him (the gospel of Luke is the sole source for the trial by Herod). There is also claimed the usual inscription about Pilate which shows that there is a difference between what the bible claims and what an official Roman inscription claims. Continue reading “Not So Polite Dinner Conversation – myth, fact and what should be presented in a magazine about science and history”