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Archive for the 'Discoveries' Category

The Jesus/Talpiot Tomb: Around the Blogosphere

26th February 2007

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 “Mariamneâ€? 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.
  • Fellow Albertan Michael Pahl has some good thoughts over at the stuff of earth.
  • 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.


Posted in Archaeology, Discoveries, Documentary, Historical Jesus, Jesus Tomb, Talpiot tomb, The Tomb Documentary | 22 Comments »

James Tabor on the Jesus/Talpiot Tomb

26th February 2007

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.

Here is a quote from his opening post on the Talpiot Tomb:

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 “leaked out� 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 “ark of the covenant� 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 Jesus’ 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 “common� (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 “Jesus son of Joseph� is indeed, most likely, the figure we know as Jesus of Nazareth becomes highly probable. Statisticians often point out that “common sense� 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 Jesus’ 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 Jesus’ 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 people—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, there’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!


Posted in Archaeology, Discoveries, Documentary, Jesus Tomb, Talpiot tomb, The Tomb Documentary | 8 Comments »

Jesus Tomb in the News Again

24th February 2007

There is another article out and about on the “Jesus Tomb” documentary by Simcha Jacobovici and James Cameron. This one claims that Jesus’ burial site was discovered in Jerusalem’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 Jesus’ brother), Judah son of Jesua (Jesus’ 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.

jesus_family_tomb.jpgThere are also a couple books related to this discovery. Simcha Jacobovici co-authored a book with Charles Pellegrino related to the documentary:

while Jame Tabor has written a more scholarly book on the subject:

  • The Jesus Dynasty: The Hidden History of Jesus, His Royal Family, and the Birth of Christianity is available from Amazon.ca or Amazon.com.

The first chapter of Tabor’s book, “The Tale of Two Tombs,â€? is available from the ABC News website.

Stay tuned for more information…


Posted in Discoveries, Documentary, Historical Jesus, Jesus Tomb, New Testament, News | 6 Comments »

More on the Qumran Latrines

23rd February 2007

Michael Pitkowsky alerted me to another article on the Qumran latrines in The Forward, a national Jewish newspaper.

The article, by Katharina Galor and Jürgen Zangenberg, critiques the view of Joseph Zias and James Tabor that the latrines provide additional evidence for the Qumran-Essene hypothesis. The article, “Led Astray By a Dead Sea Latrine,” raises some important points and is worth a read.


Posted in Dead Sea Scrolls, Discoveries, Qumran | Comments Off

The Jesus Family Tomb

21st January 2007

In connection to my previous post, “Cameron and Jacobovici producing The Tomb,” I wanted to highlight that Jame’s book, The Jesus Dynasty: The Hidden History of Jesus, His Royal Family, and the Birth of Christianity is available from Amazon.ca or Amazon.com. The first chapter, “The Tale of Two Tombs,” is available from the ABC News website.


Posted in Archaeology, Discoveries, Talpiot tomb, The Tomb Documentary | 2 Comments »

More on the Qumran Latrines

22nd December 2006

Ha’aretz has an article on the Qumran Latrines by Ran Shapira (“The hidden latrines of the Essenes“) that is worth a gander. Here is an excerpt:

Anthropologist Joe Zias, of the Hebrew University Science and Archaeology Department, recently found positive evidence of the Essenes’ adherence to these rituals. Together with Dr. James Tabor, Professor of Religious Studies at the University of North Carolina and parasitologist Stephanie Harter-Lailheugue of the CNRS Laboratory for Anthropology in Marseilles, France, Zias found the latrines that were used by the Essenes in Qumran. The three researchers say that, in addition to shedding a great deal of light on the unique culture of the Essenes in Qumran, the discovery represents an archaeological bonanza: Additional proof that the Essenes wrote the scrolls. Zias explains that when feces are left on the desert floor, exposure to sun and wind quickly annihilates intestinal parasites. But when feces are buried in the earth, intestinal parasites may survive for many months and their eggs may be preserved for as long as 2,000 years, as in the case of Qumran.

The presence of the eggs of intestinal parasites, typically present in human intestines, in a relatively limited area, in the place described in the scrolls and by Josephus, led researchers to conclude that they discovered the bathroom of Qumran’s ancient residents. “Only ascetic members of a sect that paid such close attention to hygiene would bother to walk hundreds of meters beyond their camp to relieve themselves, and invest the necessary energy to dig a pit in which to bury their waste,” Zias concludes.

For what it is worth, I agree with Joe Zias. I find the non-Essene hypotheses that disconnect the scrolls from the community not as plausible as a modified Essene hypothesis. See here and here for other posts on this discovery.



Posted in Ancient Potties, Archaeology, Dead Sea Scrolls, Discoveries, News, Qumran | Comments Off

Going Potty at Qumran: Evidence of Latrines Discovered (GPAT 4)

13th November 2006

A recent news release on Eureka Alert summarizes a forthcoming article in Revue de Qumran on a remote latrine site discovered at Khirbet Qumran.

This is the fifth in a series of posts (some more serious than others) on “Going Potty in the Ancient World.� My other posts include:

All posts in this series may be viewed here.

The international team of scholars, including James Tabor, Joe Zias, and Stephainie Harter-Lailheugue, did a number of soil samples outside of the Qumran settlement and discovered a latrine site.

Here is an excerpt:

Visiting Qumran, Tabor noted an area approximately 500 meters to the northwest of the settlement which seemed likely because it was sheltered from view by a bluff. Tabor also noted that the soil in the area appeared to have a significantly different coloration from other soils in the Qumran environs, a fact which was subsequently confirmed by Zias using high-resolution aerial photographs.

“I started thinking that in the scrolls they have these very explicit descriptions of where the latrines have to be,” Tabor explained. “It has to do with religious ritual purity — the latrines have to be located in a place that the ancient texts designate as ‘outside the camp’. That’s a phrase used in the Torah, where Moses tells the ancient Israelites ‘build your latrines outside the camp.’ When you go to the toilet, take a paddle or a shovel with you and use the toilet and then cover it up,” he said, explaining that the ancient practice appears to have been revived at Qumran.

“This group is very strict and they observe this practice rigorously — in one text it says go 1000 cubits, and in another text, 2000 cubits — and they specifically state ‘northwest’ in the scrolls. Josephus, in talking about the Essenes, mentions it as a point of admiration or piety – he says that these people are so holy, that on the Sabbath day they won’t even use the toilet, because on the Sabbath one can’t go outside the settlement,” he said.

“It turns out, if you go northwest from Qumran you get to this bluff – a large natural plateau separated from further cliffs – and if you go around it, it hides you from the camp. One of the things Josephus says is that they also believe that their latrines should shield them from view of the camp, so I thought ‘this is getting really good, if I can just find some evidence for toilet practices.’”

Tabor suggested investigating the area to Zias, who took four random soil samples at the site as well as six other samples for control — 4 from surrounding desert areas, one from an area that was known to be Qumran’s stable (to test for animal parasites), and one from an area on the opposite side of the city, essentially covering other outside-the-settlement areas that could have been used as latrines.

On the basis of earlier research that has shown that intestinal parasites can be preserved in arid, sub-surface conditions, Zias sent the samples to Harter-Lailheugue at CNRS for analysis. Three of the four samples from the suspected latrine area yielded four species of preserved worm eggs and embryophores that were all identified as human intestinal parasites – Ascaris SP. (human roundworm), Taenia SP. (a human tapeworm), Trichuris SP. (a human whipworm) and a human pinworm, Enterobius vermicularis, that had not previously been reported in the ancient Near East. The soil sample from the stable contained the eggs of Dricrocoelium SP., a common parasites of ungulates. The control samples from the surrounding desert areas contained no parasites, human or animal.

“Frankly, I was surprised,” said Zias. “A parasitologist I talked to told me that my chances of finding something were just about nil. Finding evidence of parasites would be easy in a latrine, but in the middle of the desert… But small things like parasite eggs in feces can hang around for thousands of years. At the Dead Sea, we have hair and hair combs with desiccated lice in them because of the dryness.”

“The evidence shows conclusively that the area was a toilet,” Zias noted. “The samples contained eggs from intestinal worms that are specific to humans. These things had to come from human feces. The presence of eggs in three out of four 100-gram samples indicates heavy and continual use of the specific site suggested by Tabor.”

Since the other sites did not yield human parasites, the team concluded that the latrine site was most likely the area specified in the Scroll passages. Because of the remoteness of the Qumran environs, they concluded that the latrine could only be associated with Qumran, the only settlement in the area.

The scroll texts that provide the directives for going potty at Qumran which the article alludes to are found in the War Scroll and the Temple Scroll. The latter scroll contains the directives to build the latrines “outside the city” חוץ מן העיר (see 11QT 46.13), while the former gives further directions about the latrines and that they should be in discrete and private locations (1QM 7.7; see also 4Q491 frg 1, 3.7) (see also Deut 23:12-13).

This discovery accords well with the reported bathroom habits of the ancient Essenes and may be another piece of evidence supporting the Essene hypothesis, which has come under attack in recent years (see, for instance, my post Khirbet Qumran and the Dead Sea Scrolls). The discovery of a latrine site also makes sense of the fact that only one toilet was found in the actual Qumran site (see my initial post on the Qumran toilet in GPAT 1).

The rest of the press release goes on to highlight some of the implications about the unsanitary conditions at Qumran on the health of the inhabitants and their apparent short lifespan as illustrated by the remains at the cemetery.

I am looking forward to the full article in Revue de Qumran. In the meantime, take a gander at the news report.

This discovery has also hit the major internet news sources, including the NY Times, MSNBC, the Jerusalem Post, Nature.com, among others.
(HT Archaeologica News)


Posted in Ancient Potties, Archaeology, Dead Sea Scrolls, Discoveries, Qumran | Comments Off

Canaanite Burial Ground Found in Jerusalem

8th November 2006

Israel’s Antiquities Authority announced yesterday the discovery in Jerusalem of an ancient Canaanite burial ground dating back more than 4000 years.

Here is the report from Arutz Sheva:

Archaeologists working at the site of the Holyland Park building project in Jerusalem have discovered a graveyard that is over 4,000 years old.

The graveyard formerly had a model of the Second Holy Temple on top of it. The model was recently relocated to the Israel Museum.

The graveyard, the archaeologists estimate, was used during the Bronze Age, from 2200 BCE until 1600 BCE. It is filled with amulets, weapons and work tools from that period, as well as complete pottery vessels of a high quality.

The AFP story had a bit more information in their article:

The site, uncovered at a construction site, covers more than 20 hectares (49 acres) and contains human and animal remains, as well as metal and ceramic artifacts and weapons, dating back to between 2,200 and 1,600 BC.

The dig’s director, Yanir Milevsky, said that this was not the first such site found in the Jerusalem area but that “the quantity of items and their particularly good state of conservation will allow us to enlarge our knowledge of farming villages … during the Canaanite era.”

The ancient land of Canaan covered present-day Israel, the West Bank, and Gaza Strip, as well as adjoining coastal lands and parts of Lebanon and Syria. The Hebrew people, following their liberation from exile in Egypt recounted in the Bible, moved into the area around 1,200 BC and began to conquer it.

This looks like a pretty significant archaeological find.

UPDATE: Todd Bolen over at the Bible Places Blog posted on this discovery back in September. He has some great pictures as well: click here.


Posted in Archaeology, Discoveries, News | Comments Off

Irish Bog Psalter Follow-Up

16th August 2006

I can’t recall if anyone followed up on the medieval book of Psalms discovered in Ireland last month (Jim Davila surely did!), but the specific location of where it was found has been revealed (somewhat old news I realize). According to the Irish Examiner, it was was pulled out of a bog in the townland of Faddan More in north Tipperary. If you are wondering “where in the world is that?!” like I was, check out this google map (I assumed that it was somewhere near Tipperary!).

In addition, the Irish Times had another article with a bit more information about the Psalter. Here are some excerpts:

The discoveries also include a fine leather pouch in which the manuscript was originally kept.

….

“Part of a fine leather pouch in which the book was kept originally was recovered as well as other small fragments of the manuscript and its cover. The investigation results suggest the owner concealed the book deliberately, perhaps with a view to its later recovery,” the statement [issued by by the National Museum of Ireland] noted.

My previous posts on the Psalms manuscript may be found here and here.


Posted in Archaeology, Bible, Discoveries, Manuscript, Psalms | 1 Comment »

Medieval Psalms Codex Clarification

28th July 2006

There has been a clarification in connection to the Psalm book discovered in the Irish bog. Initial news reports said that the book was open to Psalm 83, which in most modern English translations is a prayer to wipe out the enemies of Israel. What no one noted is that they meant Psalm 83 in the Latin Vulgate, and the Latin Vulgate (like the Greek Septuagint it follows) is usually one chapter off of the Hebrew MT tradition and our modern English translations. So as it turns out — much to the dismay of all of those who interpreted this as some sort of sign from God — the book from the bog is open to Psalm 84 according to our modern translations.

Here is an excerpt from the recent Reuters story that announces the clarification:

The National Museum of Ireland announced Tuesday what it said was one of the most significant Irish discoveries in decades; an ancient Psalter or Book of Psalms, written around 800 AD. It said part of Psalm 83 was legible.

In modern versions of the Bible, Psalm 83 is a lament to God over other nations’ attempts to wipe out Israel and many commentators wondered at the coincidence of such a discovery at a time of heightened tension in the Middle East.

“The above mention of Psalm 83 has led to misconceptions about the revealed wording and may be a source of concern for people who believe Psalm 83 deals with ‘the wiping out of Israel’,” the museum said in its clarification.

The confusion arose because the manuscript uses an old Latin translation of the Bible known at the Vulgate, which numbers the psalms differently from the later King James version, the 1611 English translation from which many modern texts derive.

The difference in numbering is due to different ancient traditions of dividing individual psalms, especially for psalms without superscriptions. For example, Psalms 9 and 10 in the Hebrew MT tradition (which most modern English translations follow for psalm numbers) are combined in the Greek Septuagint and Latin Vulgate to form their Psalm 9. This combination is facilitated because MT Psalm 10 does not have a superscription. In fact, many scholars believe that the LXX tradition here is more authentic since when combined MT Psalm 9 and 10 share an acrostic pattern (the verses are in alphabetical sequence).

Here is a table showing all of the differences in psalm divisions between the two major traditions:

PsalmChapters.jpg

I wonder what speculation Psalm 84 will give rise to!

(Thanks to Jeremy for the heads up in a comment on my original post)


Posted in Bible, Discoveries, Manuscript, Psalms | 4 Comments »