Maybe it's time to cue the theme from "Jaws" at copy desks in major newsrooms.
We are halfway through the season of Lent, and you know what that means. Once again, we are approaching the most important days on the Christian calendar, as in Holy Week and Easter. Editors should note that Easter in the West (Gregorian calendar) and Pascha in the churches of the East (the older Julian calendar) are on the same date this year.
This time of year is dangerous for editors because the odds rise that they will need to handle news stories that are supposed to contain accurate references to church history and basic Christian beliefs. This has, in the past, been a challenge in some newsroom, even at the most elite levels of the news food chain. Take, for example, the New York Times and its ongoing struggle with the details of the Resurrection.
This brings us to an Associated Press news feature about the efforts to restore the main shrine in the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem. See if you can spot the problem here:
JERUSALEM (AP) -- The tomb of Jesus has been resurrected to its former glory.
Just in time for Easter, a Greek restoration team has completed a historic renovation of the Edicule, the shrine that tradition says houses the cave where Jesus was buried and rose to heaven.
Gone is the unsightly iron cage built around the shrine by British authorities in 1947 to shore up the walls. Gone is the black soot on the shrine's stone façade from decades of pilgrims lighting candles. And gone are fears about the stability of the old shrine, which hadn't been restored in more than 200 years.
Did you see the problem?
I'll give you a second chance, because this error was repeated in the tag line for the main AP photograph that ran with the feature. It's probably safe to say this photo description was based on the story, not the other way around.
The renovated Edicule is seen in the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, traditionally believed to be the site of the crucifixion of Jesus Christ, in Jerusalem's old city Monday, Mar. 20, 2017. A Greek restoration team has completed a historic renovation of the Edicule, the shrine that tradition says houses the cave where Jesus was buried and rose to heaven. (AP Photo/Sebastian Scheiner)
OK, I know that this is complicated. Maybe there needs to be an expanded entry in the Associated Press Stylebook covering the events of Holy Week, Easter and the Ascension?
Attention AP corrections desk: Christians around the world do not believe that Jesus was "buried and rose to heaven" from the tomb cut into the stone of Golgotha. They believe that he was buried there, was resurrected, then ascended to heaven 40 days later. Church tradition points to Mount Olivet as the site of the Ascension.
Let me stress that there is plenty of interesting and valid material in this AP report, once you work your way past the messed up reference to the Resurrection. The factual information about the restoration work is fascinating, even to someone like me who has visited this shrine twice. Here is some background:
The limestone and marble structure stands at the center of the Church of the Holy Sepulcher in Jerusalem, one of the world's oldest churches -- a 12th-century building standing on 4th-century remains. The shrine needed urgent attention after years of exposure to environmental factors like water, humidity and candle smoke.
Three main Christian denominations jealously guard separate sections of the church, but they put aside their longstanding religious rivalries to give their blessing for the restoration. In 2015, Israeli police briefly shut down the building after Israel's Antiquities Authority deemed it unsafe, and repairs began in June 2016.
A restoration team from the National Technical University of Athens stripped the stone slabs from the shrine's façade and patched up the internal masonry of the shrine, injecting it with tubes of grout for reinforcement. Each stone slab was cleaned of candle soot and pigeon droppings, then put back in place. Titanium bolts were inserted into the structure for reinforcement, and frescos and the shrine's painted dome were given a face-lift.
While doing repairs inside the tomb, workers were allowed to carefully work their way through several layers of history. The wording here is careful, some would say skeptical, but this is the language of secular history and journalism.
On Oct. 26, the team entered the inner sanctum of the shrine, the burial chamber of Jesus, and temporarily slid open an old marble layer covering the bedrock where Jesus' body is said to have been placed.
Below the outer marble layer was a white rose marble slab engraved with a cross, which the team dated to the late Crusader period of the 14th century. Beneath that marble slab was an even older, grey marble slab protecting the bedrock, and mortar on the slab dates to the 4th century, when Roman Emperor Constantine ordered the Church of the Holy Sepulcher built.
The restorers have cut a small window from the shrine's marble walls for pilgrims to see -- for the first time -- the bare stone of the ancient burial cave.
"It seems we are in front of levels of history that are validated," said Antonia Moropoulou, who supervised the renovation.
Concerning the error at the top of the story: AP editors will need to print a correction on that. I would urge them to be careful when doing so. After all, the highly skilled corrections desk team at The New York Times didn't cover itself with glory when correcting a similar error a few years ago.
The New York Times published a fairly straightforward story about Pope Francis' first Urbi et Orbi message. With this paragraph:
Easter is the celebration of the resurrection into heaven of Jesus, three days after he was crucified, the premise for the Christian belief in an everlasting life. In urging peace, Francis called on Jesus to ''change hatred into love, vengeance into forgiveness, war into peace.''
Yes, the professionals at The New York Times are confused about what Easter marks. If you were satirizing the poor state of the Grey Lady's understanding of religion, this would seem over-the-top. And yet it's real. My favorite part is the correction to the piece -- yes, it was corrected to drop the "into heaven" and replace it with "from the dead." The correction is:
An earlier version of this article mischaracterized the Christian holiday of Easter. It is the celebration of Jesus’s resurrection from the dead, not his resurrection into heaven.
To be clear, not only is Easter not about Jesus' "resurrection into heaven," Christians don't believe Jesus "resurrected into heaven" -- period.
All of this reminds me of a piece of "laugh to keep from crying" satire on this topic. I believe this was written by Mollie Hemingway, but an old link to the original source has gone dead. Can you imagine a great newspaper like the Times needing to run a correction like this?
In last Thursday’s story, “Americans excited to visit ‘ball parks,’” the sport of baseball was repeatedly spelled bayspall. The number of ‘bases’ was given as five; the correct number is three. “Home plate” is a marker embedded in the ground, not a trophy awarded to the winner of the World Series. “Babe” Ruth was the popular nickname of George Herman Ruth Jr. (1895–1948), generally regarded the greatest baseballer of the early twentieth century, and not the African-American mistress of Brooklyn Dodgers owner Walter F. O’Malley as stated in the article. The Times regrets the errors.
Hang on. There are plenty of complicated religious holidays just ahead on the calendar.