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.
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.