There has been a lot of mention of the passing of the New Testament textual giant, Bruce Metzger, among the biblioblogs, and it was great to see the latest Biblical Studies Carnival dedicated to his memory.
Another biblical scholar also passed away this month, J. Alan Groves. His death was mentioned by some bloggers and I was meaning to post on it, but I ended up getting sick. I would like to now honour his memory.
I didn’t really know Alan Groves. We met at SBL once or twice and exchanged a few emails occasionally, but that was the extent of our relationship. I doubt if he even remembered meeting me. That being said, his pioneering work on the electronic Westminster Leningrad Codex and the Groves-Wheeler Westminster Hebrew Morphology has touched my life enormously. A day rarely goes by when I do not look up something in the Hebrew Bible on my computer, perform a morphological or syntactical search of a Hebrew construction, or cut and paste a verse of the Hebrew Bible when making up a test for one of my Hebrew classes. These electronic texts are used by virtually all biblical studies software programs, including Accordance, Logos, BibleWorks, Gramcord, among others. Last December, the Board and Faculty of Westminster Theological Seminary appropriately renamed the Westminster Hebrew Institute the J. Alan Groves Center for Advanced Biblical Research.
Alan and his family kept a blog that narrates his year-long struggle with cancer. It contains many moving posts; I encourage you to peruse it. His obituary is available here, while a more academic obituary may be found here.
lan Groves was a true servant of God who did a lot of his work behind the scenes.
We interrupt this Jesus Tomb extravaganza to let you know that Charles Halton has uploaded Biblical Studies Carnival XV over at Awilum.com. Charles appropriately dedicated the Carnival to the memory of Bruce Manning Metzger, who passed away 13 February 2007. All in all, Charles has done a great job summarizing posts related to academic biblical studies in the month of February 2007 — and with some humour to boot! (Who says biblical studies can’t be funny?) I encourage you to click on over and explore it. Good work, Charles!
Biblical Studies Carnival XVI will be hosted by Brandon Wason over at Novum Testamentum in the first week of April 2007. Look for a call for submissions on his blog mid-month.
As you are reading posts around the blogosphere this month, make sure to nominate appropriate posts for the next Carnival. You can submit/nominate posts via the submission form at BlogCarnival.com or you may email them to biblical_studies_carnival AT hotmail DOT com.
Your are surely right, the comments are flying. Unfortunately, there is so much out there that is not even reflective of anything those involved in the Talpiot tomb research have set forth that I am a bit taken back. I was on Larry King last night and the viciousness of the attacks by two of the guests were only matched by their utter ignorance of the subject. I am amazed at the nastiness that so many readily express about people they know nothing about and have ever met. I realize we all need time here, since the book that summarizes some of the latest research on the Talpiot tomb is just out, and the documentary has not even aired yet, but so many seem ready to condemn it wholesale in the most blanket manner, without even considering any of the evidence. BTW, Klonerâ€™s complete article as well as Rachmaniâ€™s treatment were given out to ALL the reporters yesterday at the press conference. There was no attempt to hold back on alternative views, in fact Klonerâ€™s views have now received more attention than they could have ever possibly had appearing just in Antiqot, a rather obscure journal for most. Further, he is presented in the documentary fully stating his views and Discovery is putting together a forum at which Kloner and many others with alternative views will be full participants.
I did take out time this AM to try to address some of the many misconceptions my friend Ben Witherington has about the whole matter on my Blog (www.jesusdynaty.com/blog). I will do my best over the next week or so to present on my Blog as reasonable and informed treatment of the topic as I can.
I think impuning motives here as so many are doing is really an ugly and unethical thing. I have worked with Simcha for three years now and I donâ€™t know of anyone with more integrity and commitment to investigating a story. His Emmy documentaries on the Israeli-Palestinian problem, the Sex Slaves trade in Europe, and many other similar projects speak worlds of him. I have also found Jim Cameron to be one of the finest persons I have ever worked with. At every step of the way he was concerned with scientific integrity and the highest standards of documentary evidence. We have exchanged countless e-mails and conversations and he was always consulting with me to try to get things as correct as possible.
Thanks for you honest and good attempts to keep up with all this.
The viciousness of the discussion perhaps saddens me the most — especially when it comes from Christians who are supposed to be known by their love! I have to agree with Tabor as well in regards to impuning motives. I think it’s best if we stick to the evidence and try to keep our emotions in check.
Last but not least, the academic article by Amos Kloner on the tomb, the relevant discussion from Levi Rahmani’s A Catalogue of Jewish Ossuaries, as well as the original published maps by Shimon Gibson are all available for download from the Discovery website in PDF format. This is very helpful since some of the resources are not easily found.
The hype surrounding the forthcoming documentary The Lost Tomb of Jesus shows no signs of abating quite yet. The main website for the documentary and book has come on-line now (last time I checked it just had a brief text message): The Lost Family Tomb of Jesus
There is a lot of hype and knee-jerk reactions around the blogosphere, but there have also been some thoughtful responses as well. Here are a few that I think are worthy of reading:
James Tabor, who was directly involved with the project, has some initial thoughts on the significance of the Talpiot tomb as well as a brief post on a comment by Joe Zias on the remarkable nature of the combination of names in one tomb.
Darrel Bock has a brief post musing the confusing between Hollywood and Jerusalem. Since Bock had a small consultant role for the documentary and has actually seen it, his comments are especially relevant. In short, he is quite skeptical to say the least.
Ben Witherington has an engaging (and humorous) discussion of the Talpiot Tomb at his eponymous blog. He has some personal experience working with Simcha Jacobovici on a previous documentary and while he affirms his abilities as a filmmaker, he questions his abilities as critical reader of history. He also pokes holes in the statistics, DNA evidence, as well as a bunch of historical problems with the whole hypothesis. His conclusion is work reproducing: “So my response to this is clear— James Cameron, the producer of the movie Titantic,has now jumped on board another sinking ship full of holes, presumably in order to make a lot of money before the theory sinks into an early watery grave. Man the lifeboats and get out now.”
Duane Smith over at Abnormal Interests has a good discussion of the published archaeological sources for the Talpiot tomb complex, namely Amos Kloner’s article, “A Tomb with Inscribed Ossuaries in East Talpiyot, Jerusalem,” from the journal ‘Atiqot 29 (1996): 15-22, and Levi Yizhaq Rahmani’s book, A Catalogue of Jewish Ossuaries: In The Collections of the State of Israel, Jerusalem (Israel Antiquities Authority: Israel Academy of Sciences and Humanities, 1994), 222-224. Duane also cites some other authorities that question the significance of the find and takes a more in-depth look at the actual inscriptions. He concludes: “So what can be made of all this? Very little. Jacobovici appears to be sensationalizing an otherwise unremarkable discovery now over two decades old. There is nothing here that should cause consternation for believers or give hope (or consternation) to non-believers. Theological issues will not be dispelled or supported by archaeological discoveries. This tomb is no exception.”
Tony Chartrand-Burke has a short note on his Apocryphicity blog about the questionable appeal to the Acts of Philip to identify the ossuary of â€œMariamneâ€? with Mary Magdalene. Tony notes that one shouldn’t look to the Acts of Philip for reliable information about first-century figures and that the Mariamne referred to in the Acts of Philip is not Mary Magdalene, but Mary of Bethany.
Todd Bolen has some strong comments at his BiblePlaces blog. He is especially skeptical about the motives behind the documentary; he asserts: “In short, this ‘discovery’ has nothing to do with facts and everything to do with financial gain. You can make a lot of money and gain a lot of notoriety by creating the most sensational of discoveries. It would all be so much better if journalists would call up a few experts, determine that the story is rubbish, and then publish nothing about it. Unfortunately, journalists are complicit in perpetuating the fraud, because sensational stories like this are good for their ratings.”
Mark Goodacre has a couple posts on the whole Jesus tomb theory on his NT Gateway blog. His first post looks back to March 1996 when the The Sunday Times News Review in the UK had a story about the Talpiot tomb connected with an Easter TV special on BBC, while his second post highlights the valuable role that blogging can play in such “discoveries” in that we have access to the thoughts of some scholars who played a role in the documentaries and that blogging brings together a wide range of expertise. I would add that blogging also provides some amazingly fast feedback on such issues.
Ed Cook at Ralph the Sacred River has a brief post lamenting the hype — especially considering that the Talpiot “Jesus bar Joseph” ossuary has been known for over a decade and is not even the only such ossuary that has been discovered. He concludes: “The rather limited onomastic repertoire of first-century Jews is a well-known fact to specialists, and it is both dishonest and cynical of the purveyors of this ‘theory’ to exploit the gullible with a proposal they must know is highly unlikely.”
Christopher Rollston has a guest post on Dr Jim West‘s blog where he criticises a number of the underlying assumptions of the whole theory and concludes, “The Discovery Channel special is sensationalistic and tragically flawed.”
Scot McKnight over at Jesus Creed also had a brief post questioning the sensationalism.
Rick Brannan has two posts over at ricoblog; one in which he provides links to an academic paper on the “Jesus Ossuary” by Dr. Michael S. Heiser.
Chris Heard of Higgaion fame has a short note questioning the theory that the James ossuary was originally from the Talpiot tomb. For an assessment of Simcha Jacobovici’s past track record, see Chris’s scathing 14-part review of the Exodus Decoded.
Michael Barber over at Singing in the Reign disputes James Cameron’s Titanic Claim (I liked the title of his post so included it here!)
OK, I guess it was more than a few! As you can see, there is a lot of discussion on this in the blogs, and most of it is very skeptical and negative. As with Jacobovici’s other documentaries, I imagine this one will be a slick production. While I don’t want to pre-judge it, it’s really too bad that the same amount of resources and skill can’t be marshaled for a documentary that is also academically sound. Such is life.
Dr. James Tabor, Chair of the Department of Religious Studies at the University of North Carolina at Charlotte, was one of the scholars involved with the discovery and the documentary. Now that the publication ban has lifted on the material, he will be posting his thoughts on his blog, The Jesus Dynasty.
For the past few days I have read many news reports and Blogs on various aspects of the Talpiot tomb as aspects of this story have â€œleaked outâ€? and lots of inaccuate and erroneous information has spread rather crazily on the internet. Because of a non-disclosure agreement that protected all of us working on this research I have not written in any detail beyond what I cover in the Introduction to The Jesus Dynasty. Following the press conference tomorrow that all changes. Now with all the facts officially released I will do my best to share with readers of this Blog what appears to be our present state of knowledge about this tomb. I will also be participating with a number of scholars in a Discussion Forum at the Discovery Web site.
In a second post, Tabor gives some of his initial thoughts on the whole discovery. His first two points are worthy of repetition:
1. I do not find it inherently unlikely or improbable that the family tomb of Jesus might be found in the Jerusalem area. Here the point I want to make is that most academics and professionals would scoff at the very possibility of such an idea as sensational and ridiculous nonsense. It is much like someone claiming to have found the â€œark of the covenantâ€? or any other Indiana Jones type nonsense. I think that sort of knee-jerk scoffing is unprofessional and we should hear out the evidence. I do indeed hold the view that Jesusâ€™ body was taken from its temporary tomb and moved to a permanent place of burial, very possibly in Jerusalem, and likely kept private and within the inner circles of the family. Accordingly, it is unscientific to dismiss out of hand such a possibility with smirking and scoffing. I also respectfully disagree with those who have made the point that the Jesus family would have been too poor to have been buried in such a manner, with rock hewn tomb and ossuaries. I have been in this tomb. It is small and very modest, quite plain, as are most of the ossuaries. My own understanding of the Nazarene movement as it began to thrive in the 40s through 60s CE is that one would expect, rather than doubt, that the inner family would receive such an honored and traditional burial. Also, the records we have indicate that the inner family lived in Jerusalem after 30 CE.
2. Although the names are â€œcommonâ€? (9%, 2%, 14%, 25% depending on which name) as many have pointed out, it does indeed seem to be the case that the statistical grouping of these particular names in this particular tomb is far from common, in fact it is so rare that the conclusion that this particular â€œJesus son of Josephâ€? is indeed, most likely, the figure we know as Jesus of Nazareth becomes highly probable. Statisticians often point out that â€œcommon senseâ€? when it comes to probability theory, is often quite misleading. What we have to ask is what are the probabilities of these six names occurring together in a 1st century Jewish family tomb, namely: Mary, a second Mary, Jesus son of Joseph, Jude son of Jesus, Joseph, and Matthew. Experts I am working with tell me that assuming a family size of six, the probability of these six names in these relationships occurring together in one family is: 1/253,403.Therefore, out of 253,403 families (a population of 1,520,418), this particular combination of names would occur only once. Obviously the population of late 2nd Temple Jerusalem was nothing of that sort, but perhaps only 25,000 (Jeremias) to 50,000. Further, two of the names, particularly, Mariamene and Jose, appear to be rare forms of names we know associated with Mary Magdalene and with Jesusâ€™ brother Joseph, which further indicates a significant statistical uniqueness, and a correlation with what we know of the Jesus family. A third name, Maria, is that form known to us in the New Testament for Jesusâ€™ mother Miriam, and perhaps his sister Mary as well. It is a relatively rare form of the name.
My statistical consultant gave me a very simple analogy: Imagine a football stadium filled with 50,000 peopleâ€”men, women, and children. This is an average estimate of the population of ancient Jerusalem in the time of Jesus. If we ask all the males named Jesus to stand, based on the frequency of that name, we would expect 2,796 to rise. If we then ask all those with a father named Joseph to remain standing there would only be 351 left. If we further reduce this group by asking only those with a mother named Mary to remain standing we would get down to only 173. If we then ask only those of this group with a brother named Joseph only 23 are left. And finally, only of these the ones with a brother named James, thereâ€™s less than a 3/4 chance that even 1 person remains standing.
I encourage you to take a gander at it. For now, I have to go teach!
James Cameron and Simcha Jacobovici were on the Today Show this morning promoting their upcoming documentary, The Lost Tomb of Jesus. There wasn’t much new revealed, though Cameron’s comment is fair enough: “I think people have their specific agendas and their specific kind of knee-jerk reactions, but I think when they see the film and they see how the evidence is presented, then they should comment.” Of course, they love the hype and the controversy, since it is free publicity for their documentary!
Either way, we’ll have to wait until March to comment on the documentary, though the companion book, The Jesus Family Tomb: The Discovery, the Investigation, and the Evidence That Could Change History (HarperCollins, February 2007; Buy from Amazon.ca | Buy from Amazon.com), was released today.
On related note, I just received my copy of the new edition of Paul JoÃ¼on and Takamitsu Muraoka, A Grammar of Biblical Hebrew (Revised English edition; 1 vol.; Subsidia Biblica 27; Pontifical Institute, 2006; Buy from Eisenbrauns.com).
There are a number of things that I quite like about this volume, not least of which is its binding. I find it far easier to prop open on my desk than the previous two-volume edition. I haven’t had much time to actually compare the content with the previous editions, though I like the fact that Muraoka’s additions are integrated with JoÃ¼on’s original text, the notes are cleaned up, and there is a great bibliography included. I wish they would have updated some of the charts in the volume, however.
The Discovery Channel now has a website up and running about the documentary The Lost Tomb of Jesus, which will premiere at the beginning of March. The website has a bunch of information about the documentary, including a neat feature where you can explore the tomb and look at the different ossuaries.
Here is an excerpt from the “about” page:
In the feature documentary The Lost Tomb of Jesus a case is made that the 2,000-year-old “Tomb of the Ten Ossuaries” belonged to the family of Jesus of Nazareth.
All leading epigraphers agree about the inscriptions. All archaeologists confirm the nature of the find. It comes down to a matter of statistics. A statistical study commissioned by the broadcasters (Discovery Channel/Vision Canada/C4 UK) concludes that the probability factor is 600 to 1 in favor of this tomb being the tomb of Jesus of Nazareth and his family.
The film also documents DNA extraction from human residue found in two of the ossuaries and reveals new evidence that throws light on Jesus’ relationship with Mary Magdalene.
The website also has a section where they discuss some of the potential theological implications of the discovery (and their interpretation of the data). The points that they make are worthy of reproduction (though I don’t agree with the comments surrounding the ascension) and should be kept in mind when thinking about any theological implications:
Resurrection: It is a matter of Christian faith that Jesus of Nazareth was resurrected from the dead three days after his crucifixion circa 30 C.E. This is a central tenet of Christian theology, repeated in all four Gospels. The Lost Tomb of Jesus does not challenge this belief. In the Gospel of Matthew (28:12) it states that a rumor was circulating in Jerusalem at the time of Jesusâ€™ crucifixion. This story holds that Jesus’ body was moved by his disciples from the tomb of Joseph of Arimathea, where he was temporarily buried. Ostensibly, his remains were taken to a permanent family tomb. Though Matthew calls this rumor a lie circulated by the high priests, it appears in his Gospel as one of the stories surrounding Jesusâ€™ disappearance from the initial tomb where he was buried. Even if Jesus’ body was moved from one tomb to another, however, that does not mean that he could not have been resurrected from the second tomb. Belief in the resurrection is based not on which tomb he was buried in, but on alleged sightings of Jesus that occurred after his burial and documented in the Gospels.
Ascension: It is also a matter of Christian faith that after his resurrection, Jesus ascended to heaven. Some Christians believe that this was a spiritual ascension, i.e., his mortal remains were left behind. Other Christians believe that he ascended with his body to heaven. If Jesusâ€™ mortal remains have been found, this would contradict the idea of a physical ascension but not the idea of a spiritual ascension. The latter is consistent with Christian theology.
This is certainly a significant find, though the nature of its significance will be debated for years to come. And of course, the main points of contention, that the tomb once held the remains of Jesus of Nazareth and his family, and that Jesus and Mary Magdalene may have produced a son named Judah are ultimately unprovable. Whether or not it is a plausible explanation also comes down to weighing the evidence.
At any rate, as with anything, we should wait until all of the data is available to examine and then offer our own evaluation.
There are also some new press releases out on the web that have a bit more information; the one on the Christian News Wire is quite extensive.
There is another article outandabout on the “Jesus Tomb” documentary by Simcha Jacobovici and James Cameron. This one claims that Jesus’ burial site was discovered in Jerusalemâ€™s Talpiyot neighborhood. The 2,000 year old cave reportedly contained ten coffins; six of which were carved with inscriptions reading the names: Jesua son of Joseph, Mary, Mary, Matthew, Jofa (Joseph, identified as Jesusâ€™ brother), Judah son of Jesua (Jesusâ€™ son – or so the filmmakers claim).
As always there is much hype and sensationalism surrounding this story; see for instance, this bold claim from Ynet News:
If it proves true, the discovery… could shake up the Christian world as one of the most significant archaeological finds in history.
The coffins which, according to the filmmakers held the remains of Jesus of Nazareth, his mother Mary and Mary Magdalene will be displayed for the first time on Monday in New York.
It will be interesting to see what the actual announcement will be at Monday’s press conference (26 February 2007). After that we’ll have to sort through the mixture of fact and fiction to determine what actually has been discovered, especially considering Jacobovici’s track record of sensational yet somewhat misleading documentaries.
The documentary, The Lost Tomb of Jesus, is scheduled to be aired in Canada on VisionTV on Tuesday 6 March at 8 p.m. and 12 a.m. ET.
There are also a couple books related to this discovery. Simcha Jacobovici co-authored a book with Charles Pellegrino related to the documentary:
A couple new books on the Dead Sea Scrolls came to my attention recently and appear to be quite interesting.
Weston W. Fields The Dead Sea Scrolls — A Short History
(Brill, 2006; Buy from Amazon.ca or Amazon.com)
Edna Ullmann-Margalit Out of the Cave: A Philosophical Inquiry into the Dead Sea Scrolls Research
(Harvard University Press, 2006; Buy from Amazon.ca or Amazon.com)
Fields’s brief work provides a sketch of the history of the Dead Sea Scrolls for a popular audience. Ullmann-Margali’s book, on the other hand, isn’t about the scrolls per se, but rather is about scrolls research. She examines the debates surrounding the scrolls, in particular the Qumran-Essene hypothesis.