There have been a couple late additions to the Jesus/Talpiot Tomb debate in this month’s SBL Forum (see my previous post here).
First, there is a lengthy response by James Tabor to the articles by Jodi Magness and Christopher Rollston. Tabor’s article, Two Burials of Jesus of Nazareth and The Talpiot Yeshua Tomb, primarily deals with Magness’s criticisms, though he also addresses Rollston’s questions surrounding the identification with the family of Jesus of Nazareth.
Tabor also helpfully offers some comments about the nature of the debate and some suggestions for future research:
The nature of the question, with its theological and emotional overtones, coupled with the way the issue was put before the public and the academy (i.e., through a documentary film and a trade book) has understandably galvanized the responses into “yes” or “no,” (mostly “no”), when reasonable alternatives might be “possible but uncertain,” to even “probable but not certain,” but in any case a call for further investigation. I will make some suggestions at the end of this piece regarding directions for future research.
Taken as a whole it seems to me that this tomb and its possible identification with Jesus and Nazareth and his family should not be dismissed. The evidence from the gospels I have surveyed, coupled with the cluster of significant names that fit our hypothetical expectations for a posited pre-70 Jesus family tomb, is strong, and should be further tested. Of course, if the ossuary inscribed “James son of Joseph,” is added to the cluster, and the evidence for that possibility is unresolved at this point, the correspondence would be all the more striking. What is needed is further work on the epigraphy, expanded patina tests, further DNA testing if that is possible, and since the tomb in 1980 had to be excavated so quickly, but now has been located, a fuller archaeological examination of the site itself.
Tabor also has a response to the letter to the editor by Jonathan Reed.
The other article added to the SBL Forum is by Stephen J. Pfann. In his article, “Mary Magdalene is Now Missing: A Corrected Reading of Rahmani Ossuary 701,” Pfann offers an alternative analysis of the “Mariamene the Master” inscription. He argues the inscription reads “Mariame and Mara” and suggests the ossuary contained the bones of at least two different women — neither of being Mary Magdalene.
James Tabor has a response to Pfann’s new reading of the inscription on his Jesus Dynasty blog. Tabor consulted noted epigrapher Leah Di Segni and she writes: â€œI well remember that, while here and there I had some suggestions about interpretation of a particular form (for instance, Mariamenon being an hypochoristic form of Mariam), I could not but confirm all his readings. I have not changed my mind now.â€? I encourage you to read his whole post, “Leah Di Segni on the Pfann â€œCorrectionâ€? of Rahmani.”
Now that the initial buzz surrounding this “Jesus tomb hypothesis” seems to be dying down a bit, I hope that there will be some more fruitful academic debate surrounding the tomb and ossuaries — and I think that these Forum articles are a good start.
I don’t have the energy for an extensive update, but I did want to note a couple significant discussions surrounding the Talpiot tomb.
First, they have added an article entitled, “Has the Tomb of Jesus Been Discovered?,” by the noted archaeologist Jodi Magness to the February 2007 SBL Forum. I imagine they wanted to get the article online before they were ready with the entire March Forum. Magness rightly criticizes the way this “discovery” was turned into a media circus. I would add that I am not very comfortable with the notion that non-disclosure agreements were used to prevent scholars from discussing this theory in the academy. Since when should Hollywood dictate scholarship? At any rate, I digress. Her article contains a great summary of first century Jewish burial customs and how they relate to the gospel accounts and the hypothesis of the Jesus family tomb. She concludes: “…the identification of the Talpiyot tomb as the tomb of Jesus and his family contradicts the canonical Gospel accounts of the death and burial of Jesus and the earliest Christian traditions about Jesus. This claim is also inconsistent with all of the available information â€” historical and archaeological â€” about how Jews in the time of Jesus buried their dead, and specifically the evidence we have about poor, non-Judean families like that of Jesus. It is a sensationalistic claim without any scientific basis or support.”
Mark Goodacre did an excellent job live-blogging the documentary over last night (it doesn’t premiere until tomorrow night here in Canada). He also has a brief note on the “The Lost Tomb of Jesus: A Critical Look” program that aired after the documentary.
Ben Witherington also has a post interacting with archaeological perspectives on the Jesus tomb hypothesis, noting that virtually all archaeologists are either repudiating the theory or are at the very least unpersuaded by the findings of the show.
Kevin Wilson at Blue Cord has some thoughts on the “Critical Look” program and promises some reflections on the documentary in the near future.
Over at Danny Zacharias‘s Deinde, Bruce Chilton has a guest post on the documentary, as does Craig Evans. Some of Danny’s own observations may be found here.
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.
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: