Thursday, July 21, 2011

Decoding the Ancients (2011)

History Television, a Canadian cable network, will air tomorrow at 10 PM a six-part investigation on the History of Christianity. While it's ambitious, this investigation unfortunately left me on the fence.

From the Middle East to Europe, Canadian documentarist Simcha Jacobovici talks about "new" archeological discoveries that will challenge long held beliefs about Christianity's History in the documentary Decoding the Ancients (also known as Secrets of Christianity).

For instance, in 4 BC, a man known as Simon of Peraea was crucified by the Roman army outside of Jerusalem. Simon, a self-proclaimed "King of Jewish", told his followers that three days following his death, he will "rise" again.

Was Jesus influenced by this Jewish belief that waiting for the ressurection of a chosen messiah is part of salvation, wonders Jacobovici?

Did we also know that Jesus once travelled on a fishing boat from Israel to "the land of Gadarenes" (quote from the Gospels)? Where is this land? For Jacobovici, it's not today's Umm Qais (Jordan), but rather Cadiz (Spain).

In other episodes, Jacobovici also tries to prove that Roman emperor Constantine, "known" for converting to Christianity, incorporated elements of Roman paganism into Christianity. Moreover, we also get to see how Christians in the Roman army secretly practised their religion before it was legalized in the Roman Empire.

A part of me really liked the documentary for I personally learnt new things: the existence of Simon of Peraea, the messiah before Jesus; the fact that Jesus may have been an anti-Roman rebel; or the fact that today's Christianity kept a few things of what Emperor Constantine probably made of it. For example, did you know that Jesus officially happens to share the same birthday, December 25, with Mithra, a Persian pagan god?

Moreover, while Renaissance painter Raphael depicted Constantine's "vision" of the Christ during the Battle of the Milvian Bridge in 312 against Gen. Maxentius, the Arch of Constantine, on the other hand, doesn't.

The average Joe who likes History might dig this documentary, but an expert on religious History might be left on the fence. Simcha Jacobovici's investigation sometimes brings nothing new to the table. Indeed, two years ago, the National Geographic Channel aired a documentary on Simon of Peraea called The First Jesus?.

Another irksome detail is Simcha Jacobovici's belief that he's come across the truth in most episodes. He believes that some of his discoveries finally offers new clear-cut facts on the History of Christianity even though they're incomplete. Nonetheless, let's look at the bright side of things: Decoding the Ancients offers new theories that will keep us scratching our heads for years.

The truth might be somewhere between Jacobivici's interpretation of Christianity's History and that of some interviewed experts who don't necessarily concur with him.

Rating: 3.5/5

The first episode of Decoding the Ancients will debut tomorrow, July 22, at 10 PM EST on History Television, a Canadian cable network. Here's what you should expect from each episode.

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