Wofford College professor featured in National Geographic documentary

Dr. Byron M. McCane in ‘The First Jesus?’ on Friday, Nov. 20

SPARTANBURG, S.C. – Wofford College professor of religion and archeologist Dr. Byron R. McCane will be featured in the National Geographic documentary “The First Jesus?” at 9 p.m. on Friday, Nov. 20, on the National Geographic Channel (Channel 50/Channel 762 HD on Charter Cable locally; check your local listings).

McCane, the Albert C. Outler Professor of Religion, chair of the department of religion and an archeologist, was featured last week (Nov. 13) on the popular national game show “Jeopardy!” giving a clue in the category aimed at promoting National Geographic’s “Expedition Week” programs, in which “The First Jesus?” will be featured.

McCane has appeared in other nationally televised documentaries for National Geographic, the Discovery Channel and the History Channel. The upcoming program was filmed over 10 days in Israel in May of this year.

“The First Jesus?” is a documentary about a recently discovered three-foot-tall stone tablet – the Jeselsohn Stone – hailed by some scholars as a “Dead Sea Scroll on stone,” that may speak of an early Messiah and his resurrection – before Jesus. Some say the story of Simon of Peraea on the tablet served as the prototype of a Messiah for Jesus and his followers. “Could this tablet shake up the basic premise of Christianity?” the documentary asks.

McCane says he serves as the skeptic in the program. “We don’t have the archeological context for the Jeselsohn Stone, which severely limits the interpretation of it.”

The stone’s interpretation is “an apocalyptic vision of the end of time which is typical of Jewish apocalyptic literature of the time of Jesus,” McCane says. “The provocative claim that the inscription references a Messiah dying and raising from the dead three days later – before Christ – would be the first reference of such an event before Jesus. The portion of the inscription on the stone that is supposed to refer to ‘in three days rise’ is illegible.”

McCane says the documentary – a mixture of re-enactment, visits to historical sites and interviews or conversations with experts – “does a good job of taking the general public into the world of scholarship and archeology. It shows how we cope with and weigh evidence and deal with especially provocative claims. More generally, it shows how scholars go about our business, and how, when new discoveries appear, we respond to it and arrive at logical conclusions about it.”

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