Secrets Of The Jesus Tomb, Five True Stories: Four Wives, One Man, More 4
GATHER round, friends: I may have found the stupidest documentary ever made. A large claim, true, but I have more convincing evidence for it than Secrets of the Jesus Tomb had for its investigation of a set of ossuaries – boxes of bones – excavated in Jerusalem. Shelved for years, these boxes were taken up by Bible historian James Tabor who "sensationally" discovered that they had been inscribed with names including "Joseph," "Jesus, son of Joseph" and "Mary". Gosh! Could it be…?
"If Jesus's physical bones were discovered," ran the risible narration, "that would be the end of traditional Christianity." Call me cynical, but I'm fairly sure this rather momentous news wouldn't be brought to us by a documentary on Five. Clearly that would call for a BBC1 special hosted by David Attenborough, being all reassuring and softly spoken, and Myleene Klass, in a sexy yet classy dress. Perhaps even a Newsnight follow-up, with Jeremy Paxman: "Sooooo, Archbishop of Canterbury, feel pretty silly – or what?"
Of course, since the names Jesus (or Yeshua) and Joseph (Yosef) were about as common in Biblical times as John or Jim today, none of this may come to pass. But, argued Tabor like a pub debater, what were the chances of finding not just those names together, but one that could (note the could) mean Mary Magdalene and another that could be Jesus's brother Yose? Eh, what were the chances of that, eh?
The programme featured mind-boggling explanations, such as the fact that Christians believe Jesus rose from the dead – you know, in case there was anyone watching who'd been brought up in a vacuum – and that he wasn't actually a Christian. "The truth is, Jesus was Jewish," said Tabor, with the air of one revealing a big secret. "It's so hard for us to grasp 2,000 years later."
Oh – pardon the expression – my God, no it isn't! "Jesus was Jewish" must be up there with "Pope is a Catholic" and "Anton never gets good partners on Strictly Come Dancing" in the Obvious Dictionary.
The stupidity went on. The Vatican, it was claimed, has tried to cover up the fact that Jesus has siblings (except it hasn't) because this somehow undermines the idea of the Virgin Mary (how would it?). Mary Magdalene could have been married to Jesus (clearly they'd never seen Martin Scorsese's The Last Temptation of Christ, as they thought this was a new idea).
Eventually, having drawn out this nonsense for an hour, the programme was forced to admit that it was based on nothing more than the supposed coincidence of the names, which statisticians rated as sufficiently unremarkable. Anyway, the inscription might not have read "Mary Magdalene" anyway but "Mary and Mara" and no anthropologists had found any signs of a crucified man.
Moronic as this programme was, perhaps it did serve a purpose: Christian or atheist, Jew or Muslim, Scientologist or Satanist, surely all faiths could unite in laughing this off the screen.
Four Wives, One Man was a sad illustration of Tolstoy's maxim about unhappy families being unhappy in their own way. Nahid Persson's film was a claustrophobic portrait of a polygamous family, or families, in Iran, caught up in a miserable cycle. The wives feuded and formed alliances, while the husband – who looked like an Iranian Will Ferrell – made a succession of terrible decisions. It was depressing but had some light relief thanks to his bloody-minded old mother, who cursed the lot of them from her corner. "All my son thinks about," she said, in what must be a fairly loose translation, "is pussy."