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More from Tabor on the Jesus/Talpiot Tomb

27th February 2007

James Tabor posted a good comment on my The Jesus/Talpiot Tomb: Around the Blogosphere post of last night. Since many use rss readers to view blogs, I figure I should reproduce his comment in full as its own post.

Dear Tyler,

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, Kloner’s complete article as well as Rachmani’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 Kloner’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 don’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.

James also posted on his The Jesus Dynasty blog this morning responding to some of the misinformation that is circulating among Christian bloggers.

Mark Goodacre also has some further reflections this morning; he especially examines the relationship between the Jesus/Talpiot tomb and the James Ossuary. Todd Bolen at BiblePlaces blog also has a couple updates this morning, a round-up and a list of problems with the theory. Dr. Claude Mariottini also has a couple posts on the tomb, one that responds to the original press release and another that reflects on it from an archaeological perspective. Finally, The Jerusalem Post also has an interview with Amos Kloner this morning (HT Jim West).

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.


Posted in Archaeology, Discoveries, Documentary, Jesus Tomb, Talpiot tomb, The Tomb Documentary | 6 Comments »

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 »

CT’s Top Ten Films of 2006

6th February 2007

Last week I posted on Christianity Today’s 10 Most Redeeming Films of 2006 — a list which I wasn’t terribly impressed with. This week they have released their Critics’ Choice Awards for the Top 10 Films of 2006. This list is a bit better — primarily because I tend to agree with it more (though there were some surprises!).

Here is the list in all it’s glory:

  • 10. Little Children (directed by Todd Field)
  • 9. Tsotsi (directed by Gavin Hood; Buy DVD from Amazon.ca | Amazon.com)
  • 8. Little Miss Sunshine (directed by Jonathan Dayton and Valerie Faris; Buy DVD from Amazon.ca | Amazon.com)
  • 7. Casino Royale (directed by Martin Campbell; Buy DVD from Amazon.ca | Amazon.com)
  • 6. Sophie Scholl: The Final Days (directed by Marc Rothemund; Buy DVD from Amazon.ca | Amazon.com)
  • 5. The Queen (directed by Stephen Frears)
  • 4. United 93 (directed by Paul Greengrass; Buy DVD from Amazon.ca | Amazon.com)
  • 3. The New World (directed by Terrence Malick; Buy DVD from Amazon.ca | Amazon.com)
  • 2. L’enfant (directed by Jean-Pierre and Luc Dardenne; Buy DVD from Amazon.ca | Amazon.com)
  • 1. Children of Men (directed by Alfonso Cuarón)

I quite liked Children of Man, though I’m not sure I would give it top nods (of course, I’m not entirely sure what I would put at the top of the list, though I do make a suggestion below). I am still not convinced about The New World, though the fact that it made both of CT’s lists means that I probably should view it again. I was a bit surprised that there were no documentaries on the list. What about An Inconvenient Truth (Davis Guggenheim; IMDB; Buy from Amazon.ca or Amazon.com) or Jesus Camp (Heidi Ewing and Rachel Grady; IMDB; Buy from Amazon.ca or Amazon.com)?

In terms of movies released in 2006, my vote for best movie of 2006 would be The Departed (Martin Scorsese; IMDB; Buy from Amazon.ca or Amazon.com). This is a great gangster film and all of the actors had great performances, especially Jack Nicholson. Second runner up would be Casino Royale (Martin Campbell; IMDB), which did for Bond what Batman Begins did for the Batman franchise last year. Honourable mention goes to Thank You for Not Smoking (Jason Reitman, 2005 [I watched it in 2006]; IMDB; Buy from Amazon.ca or Amazon.com). In addition, I found Blood of My Brother: A Story of Death in Iraq (Andrew Berends, 2005 [I watched it in 2006]; IMDB; Buy from Amazon.ca or Amazon.com) to be quite interesting for its portrayal of life in Iraq.

I watch a lot of kid’s films with my children, so I thought I would pick a best kid’s movie. I haven’t seen Charlotte’s Web or Lassie, so I can’t pick either of them. It would be easy to pick Cars (John Lassiter; IMDB; Buy from Amazon.ca or Amazon.com), Over the Hedge (Tim Johnson; IMDB; Buy from Amazon.ca or Amazon.com), Ice Age 2: The Meltdown (Carlos Saldanha; IMDB; Buy from Amazon.ca or Amazon.com), or even Curious George (Matthew O’Callaghan; IMDB; Buy from Amazon.ca or Amazon.com).

Instead of any of those movies, I’m picking Hoodwinked! (Cory and Todd Edwards; IMDB; Buy from Amazon.ca or Amazon.com) as my favourite kid’s movie of 2006. I found this deconstruction of Little Red Riding Hood quite amusing. While some have slammed its animation as cheap, I kind of like the minimalist CGI animation — after all, it is supposed to look like a cartoon isn’t it?!

All in all, however, I don’t think 2006 was as good as last year for movies.


Posted in Documentary, Faith & Film, Film | 1 Comment »

Cameron and Jacobovici producing The Tomb

5th December 2006

According to a news release on CNW Group, filmmakers James Cameron and Simcha Jacobovici (of The Exodus Decoded fame) have wrapped production on The Tomb (working title), a new biblical documentary-drama about the life of Jesus (at least that is as much as I could figure out from the press release).

Here’s an excerpt from the release:

The feature-length documentary uses present-day research to shed new light on events from the Bible. Drawing upon archaeology and forensics, Mr. Cameron and Mr. Jacobovici reveal facts that point toward a potential discovery of historic significance concerning the New Testament.

Mr. Jacobovici, the Emmy Award-winning filmmaker responsible for The Naked Archaeologist and Deadly Currents, directed the drama sequences, which will provide essential context for the documentary’s findings. He has described the Biblical recreations as some of the most historically accurate ever filmed.

Said Phil Fairclough, Executive Producer for Discovery Channel: “This is going to be a stunning documentary that confirms our commitment to telling the most important factual stories. We’re delighted to be working again with James Cameron and Simcha Jacobovici, who between them bring an unbeatable combination of documentary rigor and cinematic gloss.”

Mr. Cameron has previously produced Expedition: Bismarck (2002) and Last Mysteries of the Titanic (2005) for Discovery Channel.

Added Chris Johnson, Senior Vice President, Programming for VisionTV: “As Canada’s multi-faith broadcaster, we are excited to be part of a project that promises to have profound meaning for Christians and non-Christians alike. We have been privileged to work with Simcha Jacobovici before, and look forward to the results of this new collaboration with one of the world’s most acclaimed filmmakers, James Cameron.”

Jacobovici is also co-authoring a book with Charles Pellegrino related to the documentary, 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).

This looks to be another slick production of questionable historical and academic value, much like Jacobovici’s other efforts (e.g., his Naked Archaeologist series). At the very least it should be a conversation starter.


Posted in Archaeology, Documentary, Film, News | 4 Comments »