Believe it or not: The New York Times has quietly returned to its 'Jesus is dead' theme

Let's start with a flashback.

Perhaps you remember a 2014 piece at The Federalist by one M.Z. "GetReligion emerita" Hemingway that ran with the headline, "Will Someone Explain Christianity To The New York Times?"

It focused on a travel piece that, once corrected, included the following material about tourism in the tense city of Jerusalem. The crucial passage stated:

On a recent afternoon in the Old City of Jerusalem, while fighting raged in Gaza, Bilal Abu Khalaf hosted a group of Israeli tourists at his textile store in the Christian Quarter -- one of Jerusalem’s tourist gems.
Dressed in a striped galabiyya and tasseled red tarbouche, Mr. Abu Khalaf showed his visitors exotic hand-loomed silks and golden-threaded garments from Syria, Morocco and Kashmir that adorn Israel’s most luxurious hotels and ambassadors’ homes. ...
Nearby, the vast Church of the Holy Sepulcher marking the site where many Christians believe that Jesus was buried, usually packed with pilgrims, was echoing and empty.

Yes, that was what the Times piece said after it was corrected. What did it say before that? Believe it or not, it said, "Nearby, the vast Church of the Holy Sepulcher marking the site where many Christians believe that Jesus is buried, usually packed with pilgrims, was echoing and empty."

In this case, it's easy to discern what the meaning of the word "is" is.

Hold that thought.

Did the world's most powerful newsroom (that title would belong either to the Gray Lady or the BBC) actually publish that telltale sentence? Luckily, someone had a screenshot.

Let me pause to note that the journalism question here is slightly complex. No one is asking the editors in the college of cardinals at the Times to accept the Resurrection as a fact of secular history. In this case, the journalism question is whether "many Christians" believe that Jesus is, in fact, buried you know where.

Do many Christians believe that? I mean, there are liberal Christians (Hello Episcopal Bishop John Shelby Spong) who deny the Resurrection or attempt to redefine it. But would the folks in that unorthodox tribe actually say Jesus is buried at the Church of the Holy Sepulcher? They would not.

Back to Hemingway's 2014 piece, before we move into the present.

M.Z. noted, logically enough, that (a) the tomb in the Church of the Holy Sepulcher is empty, (b) this historic and very complex sanctuary is also known as the Church of the Resurrection and, to wrap things up, (c) small-o orthodox Christians do not believe Jesus is dead and buried. This is not obscure stuff we are talking about.

This brings us to a recent Times arts piece that ran under this title: "Jerusalem as a Place of Desire and Death, at the Metropolitan Museum."

This review was the subject of a First Things essay by Mark Movsesian, of the St. John’s Center for Law and Religion, with this title: "Why Do Christians Revere Jerusalem? The Times Misses a Step." Here is the Times passage that will interest GetReligion readers:

Three major faiths have laid claim to that city. For Jews, it’s the place where, at the End of Days, the Messiah will appear; rebuild the Holy Temple, twice-destroyed; and sort out the righteous from the rest. For Muslims, the city is sacred as the point from which the Prophet Muhammad, after a miraculous night flight from Mecca, began a tour of heaven. To Christians, Jerusalem is a giant walk-through reliquary of Jesus’ life and death, with every street, every stone, soaked in his aura.

Movsesian notes that we are dealing with work by a journalist who, in the past, has been awarded a Pulitzer Prize for criticism. One can assume that he chose his words with care and that his editors respected his choices.

This, Movsesian raises a question:

Jesus’s “life and death”? Actually, according to the Gospel accounts, Jesus didn’t spend a lot of time in the city, except for one or two important episodes. Most of his life he spent in Galilee. And “death”? It’s true that Jesus died in the city. But wasn’t there something else important that happened to him in Jerusalem, according to Christian belief? Think about it, I bet you know. Right -- the Resurrection, the central event of the Christian faith.
The Resurrection, not Jesus’s “life and death,” explains why Christians revere Jerusalem. It explains why they built the Church of the Holy Sepulcher, the most important Christian pilgrimage site in the world, in Jerusalem, right above the place where they believe Jesus rose from the dead. It’s why Christians down the centuries have sacrificed so much to travel to Jerusalem and why all the major Christian communions have striven, often against long odds, to maintain a foothold there. The Resurrection is not a minor doctrine. To omit it is to miss the basic teaching of Christianity, one that has had a huge impact on Western history, thought, and culture -- including, of course, Western art.

Ah, but should Christians expect the Times to print material about the Resurrection? After all, that is, you know, a miracle. Maybe the Gray Lady doesn't want to write journalism about miracle stories?

Oh, wait.

It’s odd, therefore, that a Pulitzer Prize-winning art critic would miss the point, and that the Times’s culture editors wouldn’t notice the omission. It can’t be because the Times was trying to avoid offending non-Christians by referring to a miracle only Christians accept as true. The Night Journey and the expected return of the Messiah are also sectarian miracles that only believers accept (or expect). ... The Times lists them without hesitation. If one were trying to be objective, one could simply write the factual statement, “Christians believe that Christ’s Resurrection took place in Jerusalem,” and leave it at that. No one could be offended.

So what is going on here? That's a journalism question.

It would be hard to answer that question with certainty. However, I am sure that many GetReligion readers will want to read it all.

FIRST IMAGE: The Orthodox icon of Holy Saturday. MAIN IMAGE: The rite of Holy Fire at Pascha (Easter) in the Church of the Holy Sepulcher.

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