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Thursday, March 01, 2007 

The "Tomb of Jesus"

I received an email from my district president this morning with an attached email from Dr. Paul L. Meyer, a real archaeologist concerning all this nonsense of finding a skeleton in Christianity's closet. Most of the regular readers of this blog will have seen this already. But for those of you who didn't or haven't... enjoy.

February 25, 2007

Dear Friends and Readers,

Thanks for the profusion of e-mails I've received over the last two days regarding the Talpiot tombs discovery in Jerusalem, a.k.a., "the Jesus Family Tomb" story. Some of you also suggested that "life seemed to be following art" so far as my A Skeleton in God's Closet was concerned. Believe me, this is not the way I wanted my novel to hit the visual media!

Alas, this whole affair is just the latest in the long-running media attack on the historical Jesus, which I call "More Junk on Jesus." We all thought it had culminated in that book of falsehoods, The Da Vinci Code. But no: the caricatures of Christ continue.

Please, lose no sleep over the Talpiot "discoveries" for the following reasons, and here are the facts:

1) Nothing is new here: scholars have known about the ossuaries ever since March of 1980, so this is old news recycled. The general public learned when the BBC filmed a documentary on them in 1996, and the "findings" tanked again.. James Tabor's book, The Jesus Dynasty, also made a big fuss over the Talpiot tombs more recently, and now James Cameron (The Titanic) and Simcha Jacobovici have climbed aboard the sensationalist bandwagon as well. Another book comes out today, equally as worthless as the previous.

2) All the names - Yeshua (Joshua, Jesus), Joseph, Maria, Mariamene, Matia, Judah, and Jose -- are extremely common Jewish names for that time and place, and thus nearly all scholars consider that these names are merely coincidental, as they did from the start. Some scholars dispute that "Yeshua" is even one of the names. One out of four Jewish women at that time, for example, were named Maria. There are 21Yeshuas cited by Josephus, the first-century Jewish historian, who were important enough to be recorded by him, with many thousands of others that never made history. The wondrous mathematical odds hyped by Jacobovici that these names must refer to Jesus and his family are simply playing by numbers and lying by statistics.

3) There is no reason whatever to equate "Mary Magdalene" with "Mariamene,"
as Jacobovici claims. And so what if her DNA is different from that of "Yeshua" ? That particular "Mariamme" (as it is usually spelled today) could indeed have been the wife of that particular "Yeshua," who was certainly not Jesus.

4) Why in the world would the "Jesus Family" have a burial site in Jerusalem, of all places, the very city that crucified Jesus? Galilee was their home. In Galilee they could have had such a family plot, not Judea. Besides all of which, church tradition and the earliest Christian historian, Eusebius of Caesarea, are unanimous in reporting that Mary, the mother of Jesus, died in Ephesus, where the apostle John, faithful to his commission from Jesus on the cross, had accompanied her.

5) The "Jesus Family" simply could not have afforded the large crypt uncovered at Talpiot, which housed, or could have housed, 200 ossuaries.

6) If this were Jesus' family burial site, what is Matthew doing there - if indeed "Matia" is thus to be translated?

7) How come there is no tradition whatever - Christian, Jewish, or secular -- that any part of the Holy Family was buried at Jerusalem?

8) Please note the extreme bias of the director and narrator, Simcha Jacobovici. The man is an Indiana-Jones-wannabe who oversensationalizes anything he touches. You may have caught him on his TV special regarding The Exodus, in which the man "explained" just about everything that still needed proving or explaining in the Exodus account in the Old Testament! It finally became ludicrous, and now he's doing it again, though in reverse: this time attacking the Scriptural record. - As for James Cameron, how do you follow the success of The Titanic? Well, with an even more "titanic" story. He should have known better, and the television footage of the two making their drastic statements on Monday, February 26 was disgusting, and their subsequent claim that they respected Jesus nauseating.

9) Even Israeli authorities, who - were they anti-Christian - might have used this "discovery" to discredit Christianity, did not do so. Quite the opposite. Joe Zias, for example, for years the director of the Rockefeller Museum in Jerusalem, holds Jacobovici's claims up for scorn and his documentary as "nonsense." Those involved in the project "have no credibility whatever," he added. - Amos Kloner, the first archaeologist to examine the site, said the conclusions in question fail to hold up by archaeological standards "but make for profitable television." -- William Dever, one of America's most prominent archaeologists, said, "This would be amusing if it didn't mislead so many people."

10) Finally, and most importantly, there is no external literary or historical evidence whatever that Jesus' family was interred together in a common burial place anywhere, let alone Jerusalem. The evidence, in fact, totally controverts all this in the case of Jesus: all four Gospels, the letters of St. Paul, and the common testimony of the early church state that Jesus rose from the dead, and did not leave his bones behind in any ossuary, as the current sensationalists claim.

Bottom line: this is merely naked hype, baseless sensationalism, and nothing less than a media fraud, "more junk on Jesus."

With warm regards,

Paul L. Maier, Ph.D., Litt.D
Department of History
Western Michigan University
Kalamazoo, MI 49008


UPDATE
Concerning this “lost tomb of Jesus” stuff on the web, the two best posts on the matter, in my ever so humble opinion, are by Chris Rosebrough over at Extreme Theology and Dr. Jeff Kloha over at Concordia Theology.

UPDATE #2
Horned+Swoggled is reporting that James Cameron died in 1837 and his grave has been discovered. Read more here!

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After all the hubbub of the past week, it should be pretty clear that the "Lost Tomb of Jesus" film is essentially a hoax.

To begin with, the name "Jesus" is not legible on the so-called "Jesus son of Joseph" ossuary, as any serious semitics scholar will tell you if you show him the tracing. This is why the original transcriber (see the Israeli Catalogue of Ossuaries) put a question-mark after, and two dots over, the "Jesus" part of the name, thus indicating in standard fashion that he was making a conjecture (in this case one that is obviously remote). The film's producer, however, has carefully omitted this fundamental point from his statements to the press, instead asserting that the reading had been "conclusively confirmed" by unnamed experts. For details, see http://jesus-illegible.blogspot.com/

So I started to poke around to try and understand the mechanics of this hoax.

What I found, somewhat astonishingly, is that James Tabor -- the religion professor who is promoting the Cameron film -- is the same character at the center of the recent claim that the finding of undatable feces near the site of Khirbet Qumran supports the -- now widely disputed -- thesis that a sect of Essenes lived there in antiquity and authored the Dead Sea Scrolls.

Tabor is also involved in the current exhibits of the Dead Sea Scrolls traveling around the country, which have been criticized as presenting a biased and misleading picture of the current state of Scrolls scholarship. For details, see http://jesus-crypt-fraud.blogspot.com/ and the other postings published by the authors of that blog.

For Tabor's "Essene latrine" efforts (also based in part on a misleading use of DNA evidence), see K. Galor and J. Zangenberg at http://www.forward.com/articles/led-astray-by-a-dead-sea-latrine/, or the most recent article by N. Golb on the Oriental Institute website, http://oi.uchicago.edu/research/projects/scr/).

Professor Jim Davila’s blog (March 6, 2007) http://paleojudaica.blogspot.com/ quotes Tabor as asserting to him in an email: "I have never excavated even one tomb, and I am not even an archaeologist and have never claimed to be such."

Yet Tabor himself, in an article published in the Charlotte Observer, excerpted on the same paleojudaica blog a year ago (February 13, 2006), wrote: "As an archaeologist, I have long observed and experienced the thrill that ancient discoveries cause in all of us. The look on the faces of my students as we uncover ancient ruins from the time of Jesus, or explore one of the caves where the scrolls were found, is unmistakable."

Tabor's Ph.D. was awarded to him by the University of Chicago’s Department of New Testament and Christian Literature (which is housed in that institution’s Divinity School building). The title of his dissertation was "Things Unutterable: Paul’s Ascent to Paradise". He clearly has no training as an archaeologist, historian, or semitics scholar, and we will no doubt be left to wonder at the motivations that led him to become involved in these phony scams.

Charles, Thanks for all the great links! I look forward to getting a chance to look at each one when I have time later in the week.

For anyone who might be interested, a fascinating opinion piece by Professor Norman Golb of the University of Chicago, who is one of the world's leading authorities on ancient Judaism, has appeared in The Forward.

Although the piece is mainly about the marginalizing of ancient Jewish history in Dead Sea Scrolls research, in passing Golb weighs in with the view that the Jesus-tomb claim is not based on "scientific research per se, but on conjecture and a tendentious presentation of evidence".

The link is http://www.forward.com/articles/take-claims-about-dead-sea-scrolls-with-a-grain-of/.

Susan,
Good article, thanks for the link.

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