National Geographic touts Jesus again

November 21, 2017 • 11:45 am

I’ve often complained about National Geographic‘s recent trend towards osculating religion, extolling the virtues and verities of faiths without questioning them in the least (see here. here, here and here, for instance). This is clearly an editorial decision, perhaps exacerbated after the magazine was purchased by Rupert Murdoch.

What bothers me about all this is the totally uncritical acceptance of the claims of religion, which is just not proper for a magazine dedicated to the natural world. It’s not just that National Geographic shows how religious people behave throughout the world, which is within the magazine’s remit, but that it not only celebrates faith but takes the truth claims of religions like Christianity for granted. But if Jesus was just a myth, or a rabbi with no divine origin, then Christianity can hardly have a firm basis. But you’ll never see National Geographic examining with a cold eye the historical evidence for the existence of a Jesus-person, for that evidence is very, very thin. That wouldn’t be a way to sell magazines.

Here’s the latest issue demonstrating the credulous acceptance of the truth claims coming from revelation and scripture. “The real Jesus” is the title article, and you can see from that and the subtitle that there’s not a scintilla of doubt that Jesus really existed.  “What Archaeology Reveals about His Life,” they say breathlessly, as if there were any evidence.

Below is the magazine’s summary.  As you can see, there’s more than just an article on “the real Jesus,” but also an “editorial” by the Editor in Chief that accepts and extols Jesus, a piece by the archaeology editor and a writer about how Jesus’s life fits into the archaeological data, interviews with those two authors, and added Jesus Features to enhance your experience and strengthen your faith.

Can we expect articles like “The real Muhammad?” and “The real Vishnu?”

Reader Gary F, who read this article, sent his take, which I quote with permission:

The article begins with a visit to the archaeologist and Catholic priest Eugenio Alliata as an authority.  Then it goes on to point out the importance of Christianity and thus Christ, by the great number of Christian believers in the world, and wastes no time dismissing the skeptics who argue that Jesus didn’t exist. The author clearly has a great sympathy for the spirituality of Christianity, visiting the holy sites with great reverence and awe.  The only substance seems to be the discovery of archeological sites of the sort mentioned in the Gospels, thus adding to credibility of the Gospels, thus adding to the awe and reverence.  It is also argued that we shouldn’t expect to find much about one person living at that time so long ago, being careful to set a low burden of proof. (Apparently God didn’t want to establish the truth about his greatest message.) The last sentences, after the author visits a holy site and is inspired [JAC’s emphasis]:
“At this moment I realize that to sincere believers, the scholars’ quest for the historical, non-supernatural Jesus is of little consequence.  That quest will be endless, full of shifting theories, unanswerable questions, irreconcilable facts.  But for true believers, their faith in the life, death and Resurrection of the Son of God will be evidence enough.”

The Editor in Chief’s column ends with:  “…sites that are monuments of archaeological significance as well as vibrant centers of pilgrimage and faith.  How gratifying, in this season of goodwill, to see the scientific and spiritual coexist.”

Ugh!  But you have already mentioned the decline of the magazine several times on WEIT.

Look at the bit in bold. It basically says, “Christians don’t need no stinking evidence, for their evidence comes from faith alone.” What a dire and miserable attitude to foist on readers of a magazine about the world! And, of course, it’s a slap in the face to those Sophisticated Theologians™ who claim that faith is more than “belief without evidence”.

It’s a good thing I don’t have a subscription, as I would have canceled it a long time ago.


59 thoughts on “National Geographic touts Jesus again

  1. It must take supernatural holiness in a Christian to confirm one’s belief at an Israeli holy site, while ignoring the Palestinian knife intifadist attempting to butcher some Israeli commuter.

  2. If they are determined to continue going this way perhaps a name change is in order – something like Woo Magazine would better reflect their content and standards.

  3. Isn’t this simply yet another case of a publication trying very hard not to offend readers and risk losing sales? I’m guessing Nat Geo struggles these days. Have they made a successful foray into the digital realm? They do have their cable channel but does it carry reality shows, infomercials?

  4. Thank goo’ness they don’t have Tailhard de Chardin to interview. As a priest + paleontologist (who got mixed up in the Piltdown Man hoax), he’d have been right up their alley.

  5. This is the worst kind of pandering. It serves to reinforce false ideas in a significant portion of the population (hence the appeal of this bilge to the marketing department).

    Can you imagine the impact if they told the truth? Virtually all Rabbis now accept that the Pentateuch is fictional. But Christians, nope; it is all true.

  6. From the cover picture, it looks like they are saying Mormon Jesus is indeed the real Jesus. My in-laws will be so pleased!

  7. The National Geo is just another example of what you get when a hand full of corporations owns all the media and few remaining magazines. There is no science, just the opinion of the rich guy who owns the company. Wait until the republicans get through with the internet and the FCC.

  8. I see the history channel has:


    “Now for the first time in history a man of faith and a man of science are teaming up to search for Jesus’ DNA. Using the latest advances in DNA technology Oxford University geneticist George Busby and biblical scholar Pastor Joe Basile are investigating the world’s most famous holy relics including the Shroud of Turin,”

    1. Gosh, I wonder what they might find! Traces of DNA from the bleeding fingers of early 14th century Italian nuns, maybe?

  9. “What Archaeology Reveals about His Life,”

    I guess a blank issue of the Nat Geo would be unacceptable no matter how accurate.

  10. I don’t see that archaeology tells us anything at all about Jesus, save about the settings in which he moved and spoke.

    It is well established that the Gospel of Mark is riddled with geographical errors, so archaeology tells us that its author did not live in Palestine.

    By contrast, the Gospel of John has the geography of Israel and Galilee exactly right, so that author knew the area.

    So, no matter how credible you may find the existence of Jesus, archaeology does in fact deeply undermine Biblical literalism.

    The archaeological verdict on Moses is much much worse.

    1. Not just Moses.

      The archaeological evidence for every OT person/episode from Solomon and before is very, very sparse to non-existent.

      This is in stark contrast to the copious evidence for Egyptian, Sumerian, and other cultures of those eras.

  11. Well at a recent science vs. religion debate with a Alister Mcgrath, Michael Shermer waxed poetic about the richness of evidence for evolution. However when it came to the evidence for Jebus, Michael made the claim that some author said that he probably existed, hoisting jebus incarnate on the same level as evolution. How is that for the king of the skeptics?

    1. Yes, he’s no sceptic at all! Shermer recently: “…The proposition that Jesus was crucified may be true by historical validation, inasmuch as a man whom we refer to as Jesus of Nazareth probably existed…”

      Shermer has been saying this for years & he hasn’t learned better over time! He doesn’t seem to pay attention to people who disagree with him on this.

      I think Shermer takes this silly position because it’s healthy for his bank account – that’s the only rational reason I can come up with. He gets invited to more PAID debates by taking the position that the non-divine Jesus existed [most believer debaters prefer their opponents to at least accept JC as historical].

  12. If you did a thorough search for magazines featuring “The Real [Bible Thing]” as a gimmick cover story the results would be truly embarrassing. I think “Life” does it at least once a year.

  13. After many years of subscribing to National Geographic, I cancelled my subscription and sent them a message as to exactly why I was cancelling (religious articles). Every time I get a request to resubscribe, I send a note reminding them of why I cancelled and asking them not to contact me until they’ve changed their policies. If anyone asks me anything about National Geographic, I tell them explicitly why I no longer subscribe.

    1. Oh yeah, that cover illustration looks almost Nordic to me.

      I suppose that was the angel’s genes. Surprised Big J didn’t inherit the golden hair as well.


  14. Here’s a brief summary of events.

    1. Rupert Murdoch bought National Geographic.

    2. NG Magazine puts Mary on the cover and gushes about how awesome the mother of God is.

    3. I cancelled my subscription.

  15. I’m beginning to think that Murdoch has a nefarious agenda. Hopefully NatGeo will regain its respectability. As a former NatGeo reader I was more interested in the religious articles when it was seen through the lens of sociology. Religion has its own beauty when it’s not pandered to or shoved in our faces as if its truth-claims were true.

  16. But for true believers, their faith in the life, death and Resurrection of the Son of God will be evidence enough.”

    Isn’t this just a paraphrase what Mark Twain (if I recall correctly) said?

    “Faith is believing stuff you know ain’t true.”

  17. I’ve been told a historical Jesus existed. I’ll have to look into this don’t I? *sigh*

    Either way, I think even if a historical Jesus existed, that doesn’t prove that he resurrected or that he is the son of a god. Christianity is still a long way from being validated even if he existed.

    1. I suspect very few people think that a Jesus figure didn’t exist and I’m not one of them.

      There are several mythicist positions, based on when they choose to have the Jesus story created – anything between 150 BCE and the 100s CE.

      The one with the most wings, it seems, derives from Earl Doherty’s idea that it started as a story of JC taking place somewhere up in the ether, not on earth. I find that he had to virtually create a whole new Judaistic conception of the relationship between God and man in order to posit this etherial Jesus. It was less than convincing.

      You won’t find the ah-ha! moment in this debate. It’s decided on the balance of probabilities: and I see very few knockdown points in the mythicists’ favour. I would advise that you should only decide to spend time on it if you are genuinely interested: Christianity, I suspect, will not fall whatever the debate’s outcome – and I think there propbably will not be an outcome.

      Of course the existence of the man Jesus doesn’t prove Christ one jot.

      1. Yes, but you have not provided any evidence for a historical Jebus. Nor have you provided evidence for “very few people think that a Jesus figure didn’t exist”. Not one piece of physical evidence that such a person existed, yet how much evidence do we have that a boy king ruled over Egypt over 3000 years ago?

        1. It wasn’t my aim, dabertini, to run through the evidence for a historical Jesus: I was advising vampyricon on the state of the debate, because s/he indicated that s/he might want to look into it. That seems like a reasonable response to his/her comment to me.

          I don’t have evidence for the amount of people who disbelieve in a historical Jesus, just the feel for the numbers over the last ooh…seven or so years of the debate. I do suspect I’m right, though: yet, the existence or otherwise of JC doesn’t depend on the numbers of people who believe it.

          1. Yes, suspecting that you are right does not make you right. We have been waiting, how long 2000 years, for some physical evidence for a historical Jebus, yet there is not any. And you cannot provide any. I suspect you are wrong. Absence of evidence is evidence of absence.

            1. You may have been waiting 2,000 years but I haven’t. What physical evidence could there be? If you found. say, 3 separate C1st timbers on Golgotha, that wouldn’t prove a thing.

              The argument, as you know, isn’t based on a physical evidence idea. It’s based on the independent attestation from the earliest different proto-Christian sources who thought different things about who Jesus was, and from the general history of inter-testamental Judaism. As I hinted, the whole debate is a rabbit-hole, down which I’ve been before, and emerged unconvinced of Jesus’ mythic status.

              1. I did not say I have been waiting for 2000 years. Humans have been waiting for 2000 years. You are unconvinced of a mythical jebus? What about the fact that a similar character arises in most, if not all religions starting with the ancient Egyptians and Horus? And all the stories are so eerily similar. What about the fact that scripture is just plagiarized ancient Egyptian mythology? The bible is not a historical text.

              2. It depends what you mean by “similar character”. Yes, Jesus shares several biographical details with, say, John the Baptist, Honi the Circle Drawer, the “Egyptian”, Theudas etc. but so what? That makes the miracle-working, itinerant preacher-type that Jesus was, more likely, not less. There were loads of Jesus-types wandering around at the time.

                Of course you’d expect the zeitgeist of the development of Jewish biblical mythology to reflect and be influenced by that of Mesopotamia and Egypt. The claims about Jesus are set however in the specifically millenarian atmosphere of inter-testamental Judaism.

                If you are referring to the short-lived Akhenaten cult, that predates Jesus by 1,400 years, the emergence of the Israelites as (just about) a culturally distinguishable group in Canaan by about 2 centuries and the rise of Judah monotheism by about 800 years. If you have found Judaean references to Akhenaten in the C1st, that might be of interest and relevant.

                The Bible is an anthology, a mixture of wisdom literature, pseudo-history, erotic poetry and theology, which contains some historical data, such as Jehu, the Omride dynasty, the Exile, the Maccabean revolt among others. Of course, you check it against Syro-Palestinian, Mesopotamian, Egyptian and other archaeologies to cast light on its truth claims: normally, the Deuteronomist historian comes out very badly when those claims are checked. The Davidic dynasty specifically gets smaller and smaller, just like God does.

              3. Now you are claiming that the more myths that accrue, the more likely a literal miracle-working jebus existed. How does that work in science? How many creation myths are there? Hundreds? Thousands? Done deal? Does this make creationism a fact? You have no clue what evidence is.

              4. No, I am not claiming that at all, dabertini. I am saying that some of Jesus’ biographical details comport in a rather banal fashion with the other claims, as we see from Josephus, of other miracle-workers and millenarian-types from the period and location.

                The fact of the claims of miracle-working are rather suggestive that Jesus existed for this reason. Matthew consistently says that Jesus said that these miracles should not be widely broadcast: John says explicitly that they are signs to prove who Jesus was, “The Word”. They have diametrically opposed interpretations of miracles, suggesting that it was well-known that Jesus was a miracle-worker, and that therefore what this meant had to be explained away. Miracle-working in the era was absolutely not a sign of godhood. Honi explicitly denied it. It merely meant that you had the reputation of having a close relationship with God. That did not stop the descendants of the Hasmonean ruling circle from putting Honi to death, in a foreshadowing of Jesus’ fate.

                Nobody seriously claims that for example Honi the Circle Drawer, attested by Josephus, did not exist. The point is that belief in a person’s ability to produce miracles was not an impediment to believing they really existed. It may be to us, but not them. And the evidence is overwhelming that the earliest extant sources, Paul and Mark, believed Jesus existed.

                We are not dealing in science here: we are dealing in history, which runs by slightly different rules. All we can say is what probably happened. At a minimum, my judgement is that the man Jesus probably existed. You can not judge that datum by the same criteria as creationism, because the start of the universe does not have any roughly contemporaneous written source and it is more obviously a directly scientific claim. The particular evidence about Jesus’ existence is unrecoverable, I suspect, from archaeology, as it is from theoretical Physics. All we have, and all we will probably ever have, are the copies of copies etc. of the written sources. That’s how the claim about Jesus differs from the myths about creation.

            2. “Absence of evidence is evidence of absence.”

              Not really. We know that the population of the world in 0 AD was ~ 300 million. But, for 99.99999% of those people, there is NO specific evidence of their personal existence.

              The most we can conclude from the absence of evidence is that there is no evidence Jesus existed, not that there is evidence he didn’t exist.

              There is (as Dermot implied) a fundamental difference between a (human, non-divine) Jesus and Creationism. Jesus could have existed (as a non-divine preacher) without violating one physical law. So could the ancient British chieftain that the King Arthur legends built around.

              The Creation, not so much.

              (For the record, I personally couldn’t care less if a Jesus did exist, I’m not going to worship the bugger. I care far more about people who misuse the phrase as ‘could care less’, for example).


            3. Sorry to bring this thread back from the grave. I agree with Infinite in that absence of evidence is not evidence of absence, but only in similar cases to this. If this particular Jesus existed, the probability of him leaving records (a minor peasant cult leader) is not large, so the absence of evidence is not strong evidence for his absence unlike, say, if there were no records of Nero.

              1. Extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence. No ordinary evidence exists! Too much evidence for a mythical Jesus equivalent to Zeus, Thor, horus, Hercules.

              2. @dabertini, I don’t think you are up to speed on the terms of the debate. Nobody, whether historicist, Ehrman, Sanders or Vermès etc., or mythicist, Price, Doherty or Carrier, thinks that Jesus was anything but a leader of a small cult.

                I think I am right in asserting that the debate takes place over how one can interpret, and find evidence in, the earliest documents.

                Crucially, (pardon the pun) one has to discard our modern ideas about who Jesus was. This is a man we are talking about, and one whom the first 3 evangelists never said was God, although mythicists might dispute that. I would aver that the balance of probabilities tips to my assertion.

              3. I agree with Vampyricon that the ‘absence-of-evidence’ argument is strongly context-dependent. It is a valid argument if there *should* be evidence of the occurrence in question, and there isn’t.

                @dabertini – yes, Jesus was a very minor cult leader, in his day. The millions of Xtians since are not retrospective evidence that Xtianity was a major movement in Jesus’s lifetime.

  18. “The Jesus Myth theory has been debunked? When did that happen? The truth is, the arguments of the Mythicist camp have never been rebutted – they’ve been ignored, declared to be mistaken, or simply irrelevant; in short, they’ve only ever been, in a word, Harrumphed.”

    ‘Even if there was a historical Jesus lying back of the gospel Christ, he can never be recovered. If there ever was a historical Jesus, there isn’t one any more. All attempts to recover him turn out to be just modern remythologizings of Jesus. Every “historical Jesus” is a Christ of faith, of somebody’s faith. So the “historical Jesus” of modern scholarship is no less a fiction.’

    Robert M. Price’s essay ‘Jesus: Fact or Fiction, A Dialogue With Dr. Robert Price and Rev. John Rankin’.

    “Everything that has been recorded of the Jesus of history was recorded for us by men to whom he was Christ the Lord, and we cannot expunge their faith from the records without making the records themselves virtually worthless. There is no Jesus known to history except him who is depicted by his followers as the Christ, the Son of God, the Saviour to the World.: (1962, p. 19).

    1. Rev. Rankin might also have noticed that there are *several* Jesuses, even in the currently canonical texts. (Paul’s celestial demigod, the related one in Hebrews, the several in the Gospels, etc.)

  19. Per “The Myth of Jesus Examined” by Bill Kennedy @

    This paper argues that Jesus never existed. I [Bill Kennedy] first examine two prominent arguments that purport to establish his existence: accounts of the crucifixion and purported mentions of Jesus by Josephus. I then show why these arguments fail and how much of the material found in the Gospels is derived, not from the supposed events during the time of Jesus, but instead are rehashed stories from Josephus.

  20. The writings about jesus by Josephus can’t be trusted. It is thought that his writings about jesus have been edited and/or added to.

    There are no documents written by any contemporaries of jesus who claim to have known him during the time he was supposedly alive. All the books of the New Testament were written much later and almost all are written by the gentiles following Paul, not the Jewish followers of jesus following James and Paul in Jerusalem.

    The only evidence I consider a potential proof of jesus is the reference by Paul to jesus’ brother, James, who headed the Judaic congregation following the teachings of jesus in Jerusalem. They insisted that male followers be circumcised and that the dietary and other Judaic laws be followed. There was no christ in Jerusalem. If there was a jesus, he was a Jewish Rabbi.

    The mythologizing of jesus probably came about due to the influence of Egyptian, Greek, Roman and other cultures’ beliefs in dying and rising gods. A lot of Greek philosophy ended up being added to christianity also.

    A significant amount of what Christians claim comes from the New Testament came about over hundreds of years of in-fighting within Christianity and the writings from those later times. Even Christian beliefs about Hell is not in the New Testament as conveyed by current preachers. Most of the levels of Hell and the punishments enacted there came from Dante’s Inferno from the Divine Comedy written in the 14th century.

  21. The really annoying thing to me is that they go out of their way to do this.

    If they wanted to “pander to believers” and yet remain scientifically respectable, they could have issues on the geography of the ME, mainstream historical work, sociology of religion on Christianities of various kinds, etc. Yet they go whole-hog to something beyond even mainstream scholarship.

    (I’m a mythicist, but I don’t expect *that* to be presented.)

  22. AAARRRRGGGHHH! Awhile back they showed a history of their “religious” articles and it spanned a long time and wasn’t all that many (and pre-Murdoch) so I thought Ok, and re-upped, but this is going toooooooo far – I know nonsense superlatives, hmmmmm. Mohammed was a real person. I want to see Vishnu, Flying Spaghetti Monster and Ceiling Cat all covered – and, as if they are/were real individuals. Now, you Pandering to the Religious Right and confusing Faith and Science Rag!

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