Yet another ‘Tomb of Jesus’


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It seems a bit greedy. Every few years, another “genuine tomb of Jesus” is identified with great confidence. Some people are serial identifiers and this latest story is one of those. Curiously, it’s dated 1 March 2012, although I received it on 29 February (presumably on the back of neutrinos from the Large Hadron Collider). Once again, Simcha Jacobovici and James Tabor have identified the ‘Tomb of Jesus’ and, surprise, surprise, they have a book, The Jesus Discovery, to sell about it.

The pair have previously identified a tomb as the “Jesus Family Tomb”. Located at Talpiot (‏תלפיות‎), a suburb of Jerusalem some 5 km south-east of the city, it was discovered in 1980 and published in 1996. It contained ten ossuaries (boxes for bones), of which six bore inscriptions naming the person whose bones had been stored inside them. According to Jacobovici and Tabor, the six names are Mariamne (compounded with a variant of Martha), Judah son of Jesus, Matthew, Jesus son of Joseph, Joseph and Mary; from this they concluded that Jesus son of Joseph is Jesus of Nazareth, with a 600:1 likelihood that this is the tomb of the historical Jesus and his family.

So, why are they now claiming that another tomb is the “real” tomb of Jesus, when the odds were stacked so highly in favour of their previous claimant? It’s only 200 feet (61 m) away from the first and they used robotic cameras to explore it. Presumably, the tomb is sealed. Inside, they claim that their cameras have revealed “images of the Resurrection”. I’m immediately driven to ask how one makes an image of a resurrection and make it clear that it is a resurrection that’s being depicted? Assuming that the interpretation of the scene is correct, how do we know it’s supposed to be the resurrection of Jesus and not Lazarus? There is also said to be a cross depicted on the wall.

Graffiti supposedly saying "Jehavah, raise up, raise up"

Graffiti supposedly saying “Jehovah, raise up, raise up”, but the word that is supposed to be “Jehovah” obviously starts with “T”

Already, there are murmurs that a Greek text they claim to have found and translate as “Divine Jehovah, raise up, raise up” does not contain the Greek IAEO (Yahweh transliterated into Greek letters), as the first letter is not an iota (I) but a tau (T). This is obvious from the photograph published by The Daily Mail. Their claim that there is an image of a fish with a stick (!), which they interpret as representing Jonah and the Whale, has been debunked by Eric Meyers, who shows it to be a representation of a nephesh (tomb monument). He shows similar examples from published early first century CE contexts in Jerusalem.

The problem I have with this sort of story is the completely uncritical way it’s dealt with by the mainstream press. Journalists ought to pressing Jacobovici and Tabor to answer the awkward questions raised by their critics. They ought to be investigating rather than churning out yet another dodgy press release claiming all sorts of amazing discoveries and throwing in a few sceptical comments for ‘balance’. They are happy to describe Simcha Jacobovici as an archaeologist (actually, the first report I read called him an archeologist, a sure sign that the author of the piece doesn’t know their fundament from their ginglymus), when he is a journalist. He is perhaps best known from his television series as the Naked Archaeologist (now there’s a mental image you’re going to find hard to get rid of). James Tabor is the controversial Professor of Religious Studies at the University of North Carolina in Charlotte. So, neither is an archaeologist and both are happy to present themselves to the public as archaeologists.

What other profession allows outsiders to claim that they are members? Surgeons, architects, quantity surveyors, solicitors, teachers… all have professional bodies that prevent any know-it-all from setting themselves up as one of their members. Yet it’s always a free-for-all when it comes to claiming expertise as an archaeologist. While it may not require the intellect of an Einstein, archaeology is nevertheless a profession with its own codes of practice, years of training, gaining experience and ways of dealing with evidence. Yet this pair of frauds can come along, pretending to be archaeologists to help bolster some utterly ridiculous claims that any archaeologist worthy of the name would not even entertain.

Update 1 March 2012

Well, I’m happy to say that others have picked up on this story. Perhaps the overwhelmingly negative reactions among scholars in the blogosphere will help prevent the gullible among the faithful from falling for this non-story. As usual, Michael Heiser has some good thoughts and plenty of links to other sites critical of the spin.

    • nslay
    • February 29th, 2012

    A field that requires the intellect of Einstein? I think you’re underselling archaeology. Every other field requires years of training and experience too. Indeed, a natural inclination to numbers helps in some. But archaeologist seem to have a keen ability to memorize detailed histories and languages and make innovative connections in their work … at least, this is what I gather from reading your main site and this blog. I’m not sure physicists, even with the intellect of Einstein, would necessarily make good archaeologists (actually, weren’t some bad archaeologists?).

    Why is physics and mathematics the gold standard for intelligence? This is a misconception… Even with training, I’m so sure that I couldn’t do your job as well as you.

    • Barry H.Bloomfield. A.K.A. Badger
    • March 1st, 2012

    The credibility of Archaeologists is very suspect also,my experience with archaeologists is dismal ,making comments and decisions on issues and diggings without even visiting or wanting to observe artefacts retrieved …If they dont dig it up it doesn;t exist .!! Badger H.Bloomfield .Amatuer archaeologist.Historian .Discoverer of a series of Ancient Sites in Tararua New Zealand .

  1. Well said. Working in the media, it’s painfully obvious just how little research goes into checking the claims made by ‘experts’ in their press releases, especially when the news doesn’t tie in to the paper’s core concerns (for the Faily Mail, think immigrants, house prices and sex scandals).

    However, it would be wrong to devolve the blame directly onto the poor journalists’ shoulders. Given the massive erosion in newsroom staff and training over the last couple of decades, less-experienced reporters are being lumped with beats in which they have little knowledge and few contacts, forcing them to rely to a greater extent on the packaged material churned out by PR firms.

    The existence of work quotas at many outlets is also driving a system of low-quality churned filler, and militating against the kind of long-term investigative work that is the hallmark of quality journalism.

    • I agree that it’s unfair to blame the journalists alone: the working practices of the press are shambolic as a result of many factors, including the scaling-back of reporter numbers, competition between titles for scoops, loss of advertising revenue and the drive towards massive profits. I’ve read Nick Davies’s Flat Earth News and was shocked by what he reveals; similarly, the parliamentary Leveson Inquiry into the standards and ethics of the British press is revealing all sorts of uncomfortable truths (but, I suspect, barely scratching the surface). How “news” is treated by all the media ought to concern us all.

      As you point out, the role of PR companies is also a baleful one. They exist to promote a “product”, which can be as much a person, organisation or idea as it can a physical object. Everything is treated as consumer goods. I suspect that it’s a consequence of the free market philosophy that’s been dominant in the West for the past thirty-odd years. “The Past” is just another “product” that can be packaged and sold; what shocks me is the ability of those with no expertise in understanding the past and with a vested interest in promoting certain ideas about the past (be they for profit, propaganda or self-promotion) are the ones making money from it. Archaeologists, meanwhile, tend to sit on the sidelines, wringing their hands and wondering why better ideas about the past don’t get the same level of attention.

      As for a solution, I’m no nearer finding one than the hand-wringers.

  2. Who is trying to ridicule whom? Read BAR@trial in Jerusalem about “James” ossuary(is…ok contrary “60 minutes lies”@ only 10% experts-read it by yourself@all behind Talpiot tomb: Applied Statistic Magazine(pro@contra) evaluations.
    The problem is with the quality of graduates of present West University: How to interpret rightly for such ones without any knowledge on philosophy, bible hermeneutics, archeology/math-statistics …the logic o religion (one must know both logic@religion
    Professor James Tabor made few interpretation mistakes (I wrote him about it) in his book The Dynasty of Jesus but as an archeologist he is an honest man

    • Most idiots and many deluded bigots are “honest” people. They just do not have enough knowledge in the field they are pontificating upon to know how ignorant they are.

    • Mike Lynd
    • March 5th, 2012

    An anecdote from John Romer, archaeolgist:

    “I once worked with a bloke who once excavated on the Mount of Olives outside Jerusalem. He said, ‘We were working on a cemetery of the first century, mainly crucified people, it was fascinating.’ I said, ‘Oh, yeah? You must’ve learned a lot about crucifixion, eh?’ ‘Yeah,’ he said, ‘funny thing . . . . We found a coffin, and on the lid it said “Jesus bar Joseph” — Jesus son of Joseph.’ ‘Good lord, that must’ve been interesting,’ I said; ‘Did you publish it?’ ‘No,’ he said, ‘we found hundreds and hundreds of graves, we just gave a general description of the site.’ I said, ‘But you couldn’t have found that many of Jesus bar Joseph — I mean, blimey, it could’ve been the Jesus!’ And he looked at me and said, ‘Naw, it couldn’t have been the Jesus, he went to Heaven.’”

    • You’ve pointed out something that mystifies me. With these recent alleged discoveries, a very unorthodox (not to say heretical!) theology is being asserted in which Jesus doesn’t ascend physically to heaven, yet we don’t see church leaders of any sect rushing to denounce them. Why on earth not? After all, evidence that appears to disprove the bodily resurrection of Jesus removes one of the major tenets of Christianity!

    • Dr. David tee
    • April 12th, 2012

    Let me ask you this: Why would a coffin with the name Jesus bar Joseph be evidence against the ressurrection of Jesus? There is no proof that that coffin conatained the body of the historical Christ.

  3. While struggling to hide the true meaning of the recent Talpiot Tomb findings, the Jesus Discovery team blunders into a trap set by the Hebrew author of the Book of Revelation, exposing Christian Rome’s darkest secret to the bright light.

    http://www.i-newswire.com/jesus-discovery-team-accidentally/169270

    The symbology on those two ossuaries are verifiable and timed stamped messages that leaves no doubt it is the work of a prophet. More importantly though, it is the work of a Hebrew prophet with intimate knowledge of deeply encoded details within the Book of Revelation. This helps to prove that Revelation was authored before the destruction of the Temple, which contradicts many pivotal assertions about the New Testament. They have opened Pandora’s box and now the truth has escaped…

    Here is Wisdom…

      • Julie and Patrick
      • September 10th, 2012

      My husband and I have been extremely intersted, whithin the past few years about everything on your link. We also are starting to check into the “truth”. Not as taught in American schools. As we realize that everything we know about history is a lie and a cover up. We have also noticed everything we understand is not reality. You mentioned Pandora’s box and to me that is right on! As the experts dig deeper into the history of the world, by going all the way back to all ancient civilizations – We are seeing connections that seem not possible, science wraps it up for us and isn’t contradicting the Bible, in general. We are Christian; just saying that so you might understand where we come from. Our minds are wide open and as we watch shows such as Ancient Aliens and others like it, I understand I need to know more about space-time, aliens, Masons and everything else that ties together to tell us that what our eyes see is absolutely impossible. No one can convince a dog that the world had color because it is not possible for them to see it, based on the fact that a dog doesn’t have color recptors in the eye. A dog knows for FACT the world is black and white. I want to know what I am not seeing in the world. I would be closed minded if I thought that what I see is all there is. I know there is more! We feel our minds have opened to a place it has never allowed us to go before. We don’t know how to start looking into all of this. The things we are looking for are there in front of us, but we are not able to see it. Because what we know we don’t see, IS THERE! That said, how does one start to make sense of it all?

  4. Quite a conversation you’ve got going here on the pros of archaeology and cons of journalism and PR! I’d prefer to consider the wonder of discovery itself and leave it at that. However, that is naive, and we must have the difficult conversations that have come up.

    • Iqerkheperensa
    • May 18th, 2012

    “I’m immediately driven to ask how one makes an image of a resurrection and make it clear that it is a resurrection that’s being depicted?”

    I believe this is the usual manner: http://www.iconsexplained.com/iec/lib/02356_resurrection.jpg

    “Angelicos testes”, etc.

    • Susan Burns
    • May 19th, 2012

    Without Herschel Shanks we would not have the Qumran scrolls in our lifetime. He could be considered a journalist. So when you denigrate journalists maybe you should wait a few years to see how this all shakes out. He is taking a lot of arrows because he is not going through the appropriate channels. He is taking these finds directly to the public without going through the middle men ensconced in the ivory tower. Let people believe what they want to believe. The truth will win out – of that I am sure. BTW you have several inaccuracies in your REPORTING.

      • p louis
      • July 16th, 2012

      Susan – I don’t think he was denigrating Journalism, but of a journalist calling himself an archaeologist. I agree that journalism is a worthy profession – and therefore a journalist shouldn’t have to pretend that he or she is anything else. Claiming you are an archaeologist when you aren’t is hardly the work of an honest Journalist.

  5. Anything based on a lie is a lie and the truth always prevails.The Holy blood Holy grail pretend that Jesus escaped death on the cross and married Mary Magdalene.Then the Da Vinci code pretend a secret marriage between Jesus and Mary Magdalene and the real blood of the grail is inside Mary based on the painting of the last supper by Leonardo Da Vinci.After that some persons pretend finding Jesus tomb and bones and carried DNA tests! and statistics on names! Their discoveries correspond and support the above fake stories.There is a very dangerous lie about the real blood in the marriage of Jesus with Mary Magdalene.The truth is that real and Holy blood of Jesus is on His forehead and not in the womb of Mary Magdalene.This is revealed in the true story The Coin Of The Temple by Souheil Bayoud.The blinds who do not see a bodily resurrection either will not see the impossibility of marriage of Jesus with Mary Magdalene.

    • Tor Hershman
    • June 23rd, 2012

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