Friday, December 23, 2005

The CBS Special--- "The Mystery of Christmas"

Quite a few of you have asked me to post something about the show. First I should say that one of you has already found the transcript of the show out there somewhere, so apparently it is available, and the DVD, I have been informed, will be out at the end of January. My reactions to the show are as follows:

1) In the wake of the Peter Jennings Christmas show two and a half years ago, major networks realized that Evangelicals would like to be fairly represented among the interviewees on shows dealing with things Christian or Biblical. Jennings was the first to make a concerted effort to do this, after heavy criticism of his first Jesus special in 2001. The three hour Easter Monday show (put up against the NCAA men's championship basketball game) did very well in the ratings, getting the second highest rating of the night. Producers and network execs noticed this, hence the more open door to doing such shows, and including Evangelicals. Their statistics say there is 40 million of us Evangelicals out there. If a significant portion of us watched a show, it would make a difference in programing, and is doing so.

2) In regard to this specific show, CBS put a lot of money into filming this show. We filmed in Israel Jordan and Egypt for about two weeks, with a fabulously talented crew. The producer Miguel Sancho had come and talked with me in August about doing the show and I was happy to oblige. Later on, he decided to ask me if I would go to Israel with them for filming. Fortunately I was on sabbatical and so this was possible. They had done the interviews with White, Pagels, Crossan, and myself State side (they caught up with me in Abilene where I was doing a lectureship and preaching at Hardin Simmons College). The concept of the show was to present the more skeptical points of view first in the first half of the show, being fair to their views, and then we would go to the Holy Land and see if there might be hard evidence from archaeological etc. that these stories could be true-- which was the part of the show they would feature me in. I personally feel they were extremely fair to me, and my views. In fact, I would really encourage all of you to write CBS and especially Miguel Sancho ( and thank him for taking a risk and doing this. We need more shows like this where the real issues actually surface, and scholars are interviewed, not just lay persons or pastors and Evangelicals are treated fairly.

3) I found the crew a treat, and the interviewer Maureen Maher was a blessing as well. She is a practicing Catholic. She was asked to come hard after all the interviewees to make us really articulate what we think. I thought she did that very well. If you are going to do this sort of thing, you have to be prepared to answer difficult questions and "give a reason for the hope that is within you".

4) I thought the show was beautifully filmed, and was in no way hokey. Even the interviews with the children struck home at points. I really have no criticisms of the show. It was fair and balanced in showing views of the Christmas story. You can pray for me however, as I have several more such shows in the works.

Merry Christmas to one and all,




Nick said...

It's not truly a transcript but it is a rather detailed report on the show from 48 Hours. You did very well.
48 Hours Report

Nick Robinson

Todd H said...

My wife and I were flipping through the channels that night and stumbled across the show. We were both pleasantly surprised and learned a lot - even from those we disagreed with. My wife especially appreciated your humble and even-handed treatment of the issues in the program. I thought the program was well-done also. Good selection of different views, with maybe a slight bias towards privileging the actual biblical accounts. I am ok with that though. It's nice to see the bias swing in a different direction this time.

Isaac said...

This is not exactly a direct comment on this post, but I was reading the CBS write-up regarding this program and Prof White mentioned Mark being "written decades before Matthew and Luke", and this made me wonder what your opinion is. I have just finished D. Burkett's book "Rethinking the Gospel Sources" and find his arguments convincing. Have you read this book? Seems to clearly show Markan priority as mistaken by identifying a layer of uniquely Markan redaction. Is his argument compelling to you, and, if so, does this impact the dating of Mark as decades earlier than Mt and Lk?

Chris Whisonant said...

My wife and I were trying to find something on TV and I saw this. We have little tolerance for liberal, unbiblical viewpoints and about halfway through we were ready to turn it off! When it came back on and they said who you were I said to my wife "I read his blog! This should be good now..."

It was indeed. I look forward to the other shows on which you will be working! Thank you for your availability and defense of the Biblical accounts.

Isaac, the synoptic gospels were probably written within a decade of each other: AD 65-75.

Ben Witherington said...

I think Markan priority is a virtual certainty, especially when one compares Matthew to Mark. Luke uses his Markan source more freely. I would date Mark to the late 60s, probably just before the fall of the Temple (see Mk. 13). I would say Matthew and Luke were written in the 70s or 80s, so not as much later as Mike White suggests. Perhaps within the same decade.

Tim said...

So, Ben, on a completely different subject - how was church on Christmas Day?

Ben Witherington said...

I was very proud of our church. Not only did we have our two regular worship services, but we also had Sunday School, and then at 6 p.m. we fed the poor and homeless in the church. A truly proper celebration of Jesus' birth.

Tim said...

Wow! You leave us far behind.

Despite our Anglican tradition of having service on Christmas Day, we get very few people out to it. Christmas Eve is the big worship time. This is the reverse of my childhood in England, where Christmas Day was the main service and Christmas Eve an eccentricity for people who liked to stay up late. In Edmonton very few people go to church on Christmas Day.

We had 170 at our two Christmas Eve services, and 15 on Christmas Day. I wonder if we would have got more if we had simply stuck to our regular Sunday schedule of two services instead of making concessions to the day? Your church's example challenges me to think some more about this. And as for feeding the poor and needy in the evening - well, as I say, I'm really impressed.

Blessings of the (continuing) Christmas season to you and yours, Ben.

Tim Chesterton