Early Saturday morning, in the wee hours, former television personality Scott Wolter appeared on Coast to Coast A.M. (audio behind paywall) to discuss the so-called Jesus Ossuary, a first century funeral box inscribed with a name some interpret to be that of Jesus, with guest host David Schrader. I must admit that I don’t get the appeal of these kinds of talk radio shows. What do they sound like to people who aren’t already steeped in fringe history? If I didn’t already know about Scott Wolter and his work, I don’t think that the interview would have made any sense at all. Are listeners expected to come to shows like these already up to date on the latest crazy-quilt of claims?
“Enjoy the show for what it is: entertainment,” Schrader said at one point. “And maybe you’ll learn something by accident if you listen for a little bit.” I believe Scharder is entirely correct: The show has no informative value, and the only way one learns anything from it is entirely by accident.
Wolter started the interview by disclaiming any attempt to offend Christians but saying that he had to live in the “real world” by assuming Jesus was not God. Schrader takes exception to this and proposes the old heresy of adoptionism, first proposed by Theodotus of Byzantium, to explain how Jesus could be a man subject to physical laws, while only becoming God when “filled with the Christ” at his baptism. If you think Schrader knows he was talking about adoptionism, or that it is an age-old heresy rather than an exciting modern discovery, I have a bridge in Brooklyn to sell you. Wolter, by contrast, claims that the entire Christian story is an “allegory” and “never happened.” This, of course, undermines Wolter’s own claim that “real historical people” are responsible for the Christ story. If the documents are unreliable and can’t be trusted, then by what right do we assume that Jesus married Mary Magdalene? The only reason for that are myths and legends read into the same Biblical texts that Wolter blithely dismisses as fiction. Just to put this in a way Wolter can understand: By his own logic, there is no way to distinguish between a real Holy Bloodline conspiracy and, for example, fiction made up by the Knights Templar after they visited the Talpiot Tomb (the Jerusalem sepulcher Wolter believes holds the ossuaries of Jesus and his family) and read a set of names off of the ossuaries.
Following this, Wolter repeats his usual set of fictions about how the leadership of the Knights Templar were lineal descendants of Jesus and instigated the Crusades so they could recover the bones of Jesus and Mary Magdalene and find “something hidden along with these ossuaries.” This claim doesn’t hold water unless you could find proof that Jesus’ descendants (a) existed and (b) were resident in France. This claim, with its echoes of the Merovingian bloodline claims from Holy Blood and the Holy Grail, only works if you accept the medieval legends that Mary Magdalene lived and died in France, a story that is much less likely to be true if she is buried beside Jesus in Jerusalem. (For that matter, the Orthodox Church and the Catholics outside of France prior to the High Middle Ages long held that Mary Magdalene’s body is in Ephesus.)
Wolter alleges that the Knights Templar wanted to obtain the bones of Jesus in order to have power over the Catholic Church, since they could blackmail the Church over the claim Jesus ascended to heaven. He does not explain how anyone would know that the bones are those of Jesus. Schrader immediately relates this to Hitler and fantasizes about how Hitler could have used the corpse of Christ to win World War II. He wonders why the secret Templars did not give Hitler talismanic Jesus bones to help him, and Wolter speculates that hiding Jesus’ bones is “more frightening” and “powerful” than showing them. To that end, he believes that fictional bones or imaginary ones are better than real bones because you can psych out the Catholic Church in a way that real bones might not do because they might be attacked or ridiculed as hoaxes. Uh-huh.
In the second hour, things start to get weird. Taking a cue from Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade, Wolter speculates that three skulls found in the Talpiot Tomb were in fact those of three Knights Templar, placed there as guardians of the Jesus tomb in what he says are the “exact” positions where leaders of a “Templar preceptory” would sit.
Schrader says that the Catholic Church is “backpedaling” in order to accept that some parts of the Bible aren’t literally true. Wow. Schrader is only a few centuries out of date! Schrader, a Lutheran, seems unaware that the Catholic Church hasn’t endorsed a literal interpretation of the Bible practically ever. Literalism is a Protestant obsession, and even then primarily among fundamentalist sects.
Wolter delivers an impassioned defense of his ability to perform the job of an archaeologist. “People have accused me – ‘Well, you’re not an archaeologist, and, you know, you’re a concrete guy, and you’re a geologist and you can’t do geology’ – Really? Why can’t I?” He added, “Last I checked, archaeologists dig in the ground, they look at stone artifacts like arrowheads and hammers, stones, and all that. And that’s a world I’m very comfortable in, so I’m not saying I’m an archaeologist but there are aspects of archaeology that I would think they could use my help in.”
Both Wolter and Schrader believe that academics are too stubborn to accept help from what Schrader described as paranormal research and what Wolter says is a different scientific perspective. Both agree that academics are too territorial and don’t accept new ideas. Neither of them was able to articulate an understanding of archaeological field methods, or even an understanding that the history of civilization isn’t written in a handful of prestige artifacts yanked willy-nilly from the ground out of context.
As the interview wound down, Wolter reached deep into old Victorian “Jesus myth” claims, saying that many researchers “believe” Jesus was the “sun” and not the “son.” The late Achayra S was big into that one, but she didn’t invent the claim.
But perhaps the most interesting part of the final minutes was when Biblical fundamentalists called in to berate Wolter for not giving enough respect to the Bible, literal interpretations thereof, and the person of Jesus overall, and then suspecting him because he is a Freemason, which listeners for Coast to Coast A.M. have long been taught to believe is an evil organization trying to take over the world. Another caller reminded Wolter that even experts have been duped by hoaxes like the Hitler diaries, and asked Wolter why he believes that Talpiot Tomb is that of the Jesus family if the Bible, the oldest source for the lives of the people allegedly found in the tomb, says that the people involved traveled all over and were not in Jerusalem to die and be buried. Wolter flailed around a bit in response, and Schrader prevented callers from following up on their questions. Wolter eventually decided that maybe the Jesus family were brought to the tomb “centuries later.” If that’s the case, then Wolter undermined his own ideas since the creation of a “Jesus family tomb” centuries after the fact could not be distinguished from a pious fraud, a hoax, or an ill-supported tradaition, like the tomb of Jesus at the Church of the Holy Sepulcher.
I am an author and researcher focusing on pop culture, science, and history. Bylines: New Republic, Slate, etc. There's more about me in the About Jason tab.
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