Tumba de Talpiot: a controvérsia continua

A Tumba de Talpiot, debatida recentemente por dezenas de especialistas em uma conferência em Jerusalém, continua gerando controvérsias.

Por exemplo:

:: Os comentários (comments) sobre a declaração (statement) dos pesquisadores, publicada por Mark Goodacre no dia 21


:: O post de The View of Jerusalem, publicado ontem, dia 23, Rushing to Press on Ruth Gat

On the last night of the Talpiot Tomb Symposium, the statement by Joseph Gath’s widow Ruth had the archaeological community mystified. She provided the assembled scholars and media with the dramatic story of a conversation with her husband where he expressed his fears that he had excavated the actual tomb of Jesus of Nazareth.

Earlier in the conference, the participants were shown recently revealed receipts for the ossuaries from Mr. Gat, who recorded that only 4 inscriptions in the tomb had been deciphered. With word out among the participants and the media that he had died in the early 1980’s, how could he have been able to arrive at that conclusion before Joseph Naveh had the opportunity to decipher the very difficult “Yeshua? bar Yehosef” inscription?

It was thought that perhaps we heard the widow wrong or perhaps her memory was not as clear as it should be.

On Friday, The Jerusalem Post corrected its first, early ’80’s dating of Gat’s death to the early 90’s:

“He said Gat, who died in the early 1990s (and not soon after the 1980 dig, as erroneously reported in Thursday’s Post)…”

In fact, Amos Kloner clarified to me yesterday, Joseph Gat died on June 14, 1993, only a year before Rahmani’s catalogue was published.

Well then, that changes things. Joseph Gat actually died several years after the “Yeshua? bar Yehosef” inscription had been deciphered by Naveh. This means that he could have heard of the decipherment of the names within the Department and arrived at his own conclusions, voicing his apprehensions to his wife, without revealing them to others.

Apologies may indeed be due to Mrs. Gat, with all due respect! (Even bloggers can rush to press. I have changed this part of my posting “One more nail in the Ossuary” accordingly).

Does this tip the balances toward confirming the Lost Tomb hypothesis of the filmmakers? Not at all.

The observation that Joseph Gat had believed that the tomb was that of Jesus of Nazareth only goes to illustrate that speculation concerning the tomb was already alive and well during the early 90’s, well before Ray Bruce proposed this in the BBC special of ’96. This new piece of history is but a distraction from the current issue since, with the exception perhaps of Joseph Naveh’s tentative decipherment of the “Yeshua? bar Yehosef” inscription, other essential scientific data, available to us today, were unavailable at that time.

Our job as human beings is to treat Ruth Gat’s memories with respect. As scholars our work is to continue to scrutinize the data that is available and to evaluate it carefully, being mindful of our limitations.


:: A declaração de Joe Zias: Deliberate Misrepresentation? – January 23, 2008

The day before the symposium opened I was sent by one of Tabor’s supporters in the US a memo composed by Tabor in which he stated “This is a dream come through (sic) for me and something Simcha and I have worked for, behind the scenes, with Prof. James Charlesworth.” I immediately forwarded it to Professor Charlesworth, believing that this was proof of what I had suspected all along, i.e., outside intervention by Simcha and Tabor in order to distort the agenda and skew the proceedings in a way that was favorable to their pre-conceived plan. Charlesworth, previously unaware of this communication, forwarded it to Tabor. However by this time, many things, we later learned, had already been set in motion. For example, on the first day there was a panel discussion of the Talpiot tomb in which one panelist with no experience whatsoever with the topic or any peer reviewed published research articles appeared as an expert. He, unknown to all of us in the world of archaeology both here and abroad, was the lone supporter of Simcha and Tabor. According to his short resume which was handed out to participants, it would appear that he, like Simcha, is from the world of journalism as his handout mentions “over 1,000 articles in newspapers and magazines” that have nothing to do with Second Temple archaeology. By this time, my worst expectations were coming true as several sound and cameramen with whom I had known previously suddenly appeared on the scene, now working for Simcha Jacobovici.

The Lifetime Achievement Award presented to Mrs. Josef Gat on behalf of her late husband had to be one of the lowest depths to which archaeology has descended in over 30 years. I had known Josef Gat and worked with him in the Dept. of Antiquities until his retirement in 1988. He was a quiet, honest, hard-working man upon whom one could depend. Most of the time, his work was centered in Jerusalem and his job was that of inspector/field archaeologist, which meant following the bulldozers and an occasional salvage excavation. Because Jerusalem was in the midst of an unprecedented building boom and we were always short handed, he on occasion was asked to clear a tomb that had been accidentally discovered by building contractors. Such was the case with the Talpiot tomb. As Josef, despite his many years with the Dept. of Antiquities had solely authored but one very short article and a few popular articles in the press it was a mystery to all of us, why he was receiving posthumously such an award. The acceptance speech by his elderly wife that he had known about the importance of the find and it’s implications but kept quiet, is hard to understand even though the ossuary inscriptions had been deciphered by expert’s years earlier. Josef failed to publish any scientific peer reviewed articles following his retirement in 1988, not only on the Talpiot tomb but other projects in which he was involved. Josef passed away in the summer of 1993 one year before LY Rahmani’s monumental corpus of the ossuaries in 1994 in which the Talpiot ossuaries were first exposed to the public. The cynical use of the Holocaust story as to why Josef kept quiet, over something he was unable to decipher, should be clear to all, the lengths to which the film makers will go in order to be, in the words of Simcha ,”vindicated”, a phrase which was immediately ‘leaked’ to the press. The first media release was, without delay, sent off by an organization J9, which is the same organization, which sent out PR releases on two of his earlier documentaries. The second (“I’m vindicated”) article was written by a long -time personal friend of Simcha’s and it included some rather interesting quotes from an anonymous source quoting the late Amir Drori, supporting his ‘vindication’. So we now have ‘proof’, from two deceased archaeologists and an anonymous source, in the style of the filmmaker Oliver Stone that the whole thing was a conspiracy designed to cover up something, which ‘would harm Vatican relations and promote anti-Semitism.’ Josef Gat, a man of known integrity would have not agreed nor accepted such a cynical award. Now that the damage has been done the sponsors behind the Talpiot tomb publicity stunt are claiming on their blogs that they were misunderstood, ill advised etc. and that the jury is still out on their claim, whereas the truth is just the opposite, the overwhelming majority, if not nearly all scholars present, except one, regarded this as but a shameful and distasteful attempt to achieve fame and fortune at the expense of colleagues, the Holocaust and the profession.

Lastly, James Cameron, The Discovery Channel, Simcha Jacobovici, James Tabor and certain sectors of the media have an enormous financial interest at stake here, not including their tarnished reputations. Moreover, the public should be aware that the first mention of this find in the media surfaced in 1996, (a few years before Dan Brown), in a front page article in the British press, with minimal hype, sans the book, marketing agents, PR firms and mega advances from publishers; it was a dead story within 48 hours until it was ‘resurrected’ by the above. It’s time we rebury the idea, as in the academic world, it was from the beginning but a ‘rehash for cash’ which utterly destroyed the credibility of a colleague or two, who once held promising academic careers.

A controvertida Tumba de Talpiot

Mark Goodacre publicou hoje, a pedido dos Professores Eric Meyers e Jodi Magness, em seu NT Gateway Weblog, a seguinte declaração sobre a Tumba de Talpiot e a Conferência de Jerusalém:

The Talpiot Tomb Controversy Revisited
A firestorm has broken out in Jerusalem following the conclusion of the “Third Princeton Theological Seminary Symposium on Jewish Views of the Afterlife and Burial Practices in Second Temple Judaism: Evaluating the Talpiot Tomb in Context.” Most negative assessments of archaeologists and other scientists and scholars who attended have been excluded from the final press reports. Instead the media have presented the views of Simcha Jacobovici, who produced the controversial film and book “The Lost Tomb of Jesus” with Hollywood director James Cameron, and who claims that his identification has been vindicated by the conference papers. Nothing further from the truth can be deduced from the discussion and presentations that took place on January 13-17, 2008…

E, após várias considerações, a conclusão:
To conclude, we wish to protest the misrepresentation of the conference proceedings in the media, and make it clear that the majority of scholars in attendance – including all of the archaeologists and epigraphers who presented papers relating to the tomb – either reject the identification of the Talpiot tomb as belonging to Jesus’ family or find this claim highly unlikely.

Leia o texto completo.

Texto que é firmado por:
Professor Jodi Magness, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill
Professor Eric M. Meyers, Duke University
Choon-Leong Seow, Princeton Theological Seminary
F.W. Dobbs-Allsopp, Princeton Theological Seminary
Lee McDonald, Princeton Theological Seminary, visiting
Rachel Hachlili, Haifa University
Motti Aviam, University of Rochester
Amos Kloner, Bar Ilan University
Christopher Rollston, Emmanuel School of Religion
Shimon Gibson, University of North Carolina at Charlotte
Joe Zias, Science and Antiquity Group, Jerusalem
Jonathan Price, Tel Aviv University
C.D. Elledge, Gustavus Adolphus College

Conferência em Jerusalém avalia Tumba de Talpiot

Na semana passada, de 13 a 16 de janeiro de 2008, vários especialistas (e outros nem tanto), estiveram reunidos em Jerusalém para uma Conferência sobre a Tumba de Talpiot. Tumba que ficou muito conhecida através do filme O Sepulcro Esquecido de Jesus.

O tema da conferência foi Jewish Views of the After Life and Burial Practices in Second Temple Judaism. Evaluating the Talpiot Tomb in Context.

Os debates não podiam deixar de suscitar controvérsias, em matéria tão sensível.

Leia sobre o evento em The View from Jerusalem, e, se quiser, em outros biblioblogs, pois muitos noticiaram e discutiram o assunto.

Leia também em The Bible and Interpretation: Articles on Talpiot.

Ainda o controvertido Sepulcro Esquecido de Jesus

Esta notícia também é muito interessante. Quem disse que O Sepulcro Esquecido de Jesus está esquecido? Veja no Toronto Star, canadense, a posição crítica de Martin Himel sobre o filme de Jacobovici, que em seu próprio documentário questiona as conclusões de O Sepulcro Esquecido de Jesus. O mais interessante: em seu trabalho, Himel encontrou dois ossuários com a inscrição “Jesus, filho de José”, além do que os 10 ossuários da Tumba de Talpiot devem ter guardado algo em torno de 35 ossadas e não apenas os ossos de uma só pessoa em cada um… o que detona o exame de DNA!

Another take on the ‘Jesus tomb’ – By Stuart Laidlaw – TheStar.com – Nov 12, 2007

Martin Himel wants to first stress that he and Simcha Jacobovici are friends.

In fact, when Jacobovici’s controversial film The Lost Tomb of Jesus was released last March, Himel was invited to the premiere. That’s when the trouble started.

“It was a point-of-view documentary,” the Canadian-born filmmaker says in an interview from Tel Aviv, where he is based. “I felt the picture was quite limited.”

So the maker of such documentaries as End of Days and Confrontation at Concordia, who himself has been accused in the past of taking a strong point of view, set about to take a more balanced look at the tomb around which Jacobovici based his film.

Archaeological Minefields airs tonight on Vision TV at 11, following a rebroadcast of Jacobovici’s film at 9 p.m. A third film, Unearthed: The Talpiot Tomb, airs at 2 a.m. All three repeat later in the week.

The Lost Tomb was released last winter to immediate controversy. Evangelical Christian groups attacked its contention that Jesus may have married Mary Magdalene and had a son, based on a series of bone boxes found in a Jerusalem tomb bearing Holy Family names.

More alarming for such groups, however, was the idea that a bone box, or ossuary, for Jesus could even be found. Traditional Christian belief holds that Jesus ascended bodily to heaven – so no bones could ever be found in a tomb.

Himel says extra sensitivity must be shown with such stories, calling archaeology a “flimsy yardstick” on which to base such a contentious theory.

Archaeologists also attacked Jacobovici’s film, saying he overstated his case. The names found in the tomb – Jesus, Mary, Joseph and others – were very common at the time.

In his work, Himel found two ossuaries with the inscription “Jesus, son of Joseph,” even though the impression in Jacobovici’s film was that the inscription was unique.

Perhaps the most damning of Himel’s findings is that ossuaries were routinely reused over several generations, and that the 10 ossuaries in the Jesus tomb may have held up to 35 separate sets of bones. In the film, archaeologist Joe Zias calls it “intellectually dishonest” to suggest each box held one set of bones.

That means the inscriptions found on the ossuaries do not necessarily represent a nuclear family, as implied in Jacobovici’s film. It also indicates that results of DNA tests on bone fragments in the boxes labelled “Jesus” and “Mary Magdalene” are largely meaningless. The results had suggested the people were married, since they weren’t related.

“This obviously becomes an issue with DNA,” says Himel, who says in the film that Jacobovici is criticized by experts for trying to prove a “pre-existing conclusion.”

Himel says his friend Jacobovici, who is featured in Archaeological Minefields defending his work, may have got caught up in the excitement of “hitting the archaeological jackpot” and the drive to make headlines.

Jacobovici should have shown more of the caution and humility typical of archaeological work, which limits how far professionals go with their claims, he says.

“If he had put some of my points in his documentary, it would have improved his credibility,” Himel says.

As part of its Jesus: Fact or Fiction week, Vision TV also will be airing several other films, including The Name of the Rose and Myths of Mankind: The Search for the Holy Grail on Tuesday night, and Myths of Mankind: The Son of God on Wednesday.

The 1953 big-screen epic The Robe starring Richard Burton airs Thursday at 9 p.m., followed by the documentary Something about Mary Magdalene on Friday.

O Sepulcro Esquecido de Jesus: de novo

Para quem perdeu a coisa toda em março deste ano, o filme – com pose de documentário – O Sepulcro Esquecido de Jesus estará novamente no Discovery Channel nestes dias, aqui no Brasil, nos seguintes horários:

  • domingo, dia 22: 20h00
  • segunda, dia 23: 00h00, 03h00, 06h00 e 14h00


O caso RCTV e a liberdade de imprensa

Nos últimos dias, os grandes grupos midiáticos brasileiros reproduziram à exaustão textos, comentários, editoriais e matérias de rádio e televisão sobre o golpe que o presidente da Venezuela, Hugo Chávez, estaria desferindo na liberdade de imprensa ao não renovar a concessão pública da RCTV, um dos grandes canais de TV privados daquele país. Na verdade, nem se fala em “não renovação da concessão”, mas sim em “fechamento” do canal. Outra sutileza linguística ocorre quando esses grupos falam, sempre de modo lateral, sobre a “suposta” participação da RCTV na tentativa de golpe de Estado contra Chávez, em abril de 2002. O uso da palavra “suposta”, neste caso, pode significar duas coisas: desinformação ou má fé. Considerando a quantidade de material disponível sobre a participação da RCTV no golpe, a primeira alternativa deve ser logo descartada.

O papel desempenhado por jornalistas e executivos da RCTV, e de outros grandes grupos midiáticos venezuelanos foi admitido e aplaudido com orgulho pelos próprios protagonistas que hoje tentam se proteger atrás do escudo da “liberdade de imprensa”. Os mesmos agentes que produziram um bloqueio de informações, que articularam junto com os militares e empresários golpistas a tentativa de golpe, que pisotearam a Constituição venezuelana, hoje elevam seus gritos contra a ameaça à liberdade de expressão na Venezuela. São os mesmos também que apoiaram a retirada do ar da TV pública venezuelana, durante o golpe, para que a população não soubesse que Chávez não havia renunciado, mas sim preso pelos golpistas. São os mesmos que, no dia seguinte ao golpe, contavam na TV com orgulho como haviam ajudado a depor um presidente eleito pelo voto popular. Clique AQUI para ver um trecho do documentário “A Revolução não será televisionada” que mostra esse momento sublime da liberdade de imprensa. (Outros depoimentos similares podem ser vistos no site Vi o Mundo, do jornalista Luiz Carlos Azenha, que também publicou o artigo de Naomi Klein, citado a seguir).

As mentiras da mídia venezuelana
Esses fatos não são mencionados pela mídia brasileira. Muito pelo contrário. O telejornal Hoje, da Rede Globo, por exemplo, em sua edição de 28 de maio, afirma que Chávez acusou a RCTV de fazer oposição ao governo e, por isso, teria determinado o fechamento da mesma. Nenhuma referência foi feita ao papel da emissora durante o golpe. Para contrapor esse tipo de deformação, não custa lembrar o depoimento de um ex-diretor da própria RCTV sobre a atuação da emissora durante o golpe. Em um artigo escrito ainda em 2003, intitulado “As (muitas) mentiras da mídia venezuelana, Naomi Klein, conta a história de Andrés Izarra, ex-jornalista da RCTV, que disse que a campanha que culminou com a tentativa de golpe contra Chávez em 2002 “causou tanta violência contra a informação verdadeira que as quatro redes de tevê privadas deveriam perder o direito às suas concessões públicas”.

O currículo de Izarra não permite que ele seja “acusado” de chavismo. Ele foi ex-editor da CNN em espanhol para a América Latina até ser contratado como gerente de produção do telejornal de maior audiência do país, El Observador, da RCTV. No dia 13 de abril de 2002, escreve Naomi Klein, um dia depois que o líder empresarial Pedro Carmona assumiu o poder, Izarra pediu demissão do emprego sob condições que descreveu como “de extremo stress emocional”. A partir daí, passou a denunciar a ameaça à democracia que surge quando a mídia decide abandonar o jornalismo e assumir uma posição política onde passa a usar seu poder de persuasão “para ganhar uma guerra causada pelo petróleo”. Não custa lembrar também, neste mesmo contexto, o papel da imensa maioria da mídia dos EUA que abraçou as mentiras do governo Bush no processo de invasão do Iraque.

Com a palavra, um ex-gerente da RCTV
Nos dias que precederam o golpe de abril, relembra ainda Naomi Klein, os maiores grupos midiáticos privados da Venezuela (Venevision, RCTV, Globovision e Televen) “trocaram a a programação regular por insistentes discursos antichavistas, interrompidos apenas por comerciais convocando os telespectadores a ocupar as ruas: Nenhum passo atrás. Saia! Saia! Agora!. Os anúncios eram patrocinados pela indústria do petróleo, mas as emissoras colocavam no ar como se fossem de interesse público”. Enquanto essas emissoras celebravam abertamente a “renúncia” de Chávez”, prossegue o artigo, forças pró-Chávez tentavam reagir e comunicar à população que havia sido presos e não havia renunciado. As emissoras sabiam disso mas não divulgavam. E não era por medo, como disse o produtor executivo da RCTV, David Pérez Hansen, ao jornal Zero Hora, de Porto Alegre.

Em entrevista publicada nesta segunda-feira (28), ao ser indagado sobre o silêncio da RCTV e de outras emissoras sobre o golpe, Hansen diz que os jornalistas estavam com medo e sofrendo ameaças de morte. Não é o que relata o gerente de produção do principal telejornal da RCTV na época, segundo o artigo de Naomi Klein: “Izarra diz que recebeu instruções claras: nenhuma informação sobre Chávez, seus seguidores, seus ministros ou qualquer outra pessoa que de alguma forma possa ser relacionada a ele. O jornalista assistiu horrorizado enquanto seus chefes ativamente suprimiam as manchetes de última hora. Izarra diz que no dia do golpe, a RCTV recebeu uma reportagem de uma afiliada dos EUA dizendo que Chávez não havia renunciado, mas tinha sido sequestrado e preso. A reportagem não foi ao ar. O México, a Argentina e a França condenaram o golpe e se recusaram a reconhecer o novo governo. A RCTV sabia, mas não divulgou”.

Ainda segundo Izarra, a RCTV tinha um repórter no Palácio Miraflores, sede do governo venezuelano, e sabia que o mesmo havia sido retomado por tropas leais a Chávez. Enquanto isso, a emissora transmitia desenhos animados de Tom e Jerry e o filme “Pretty Woman”. “Foi quando decidi dar um basta e fui embora”, admitiu o jornalista. Nenhuma destas informações foi divulgada pela mídia brasileira que segue tratando a participação da RCTV no golpe como “suposta” atuação. Nem o depoimento dos jornalistas das grandes emissoras de TV, revelando que o depoimento de um dos generais golpistas foi gravado na casa de um deles, parece ser suficiente para transformar a suposição em fato. O que nos leva a seguinte pergunta: e se a atuação golpista da RCTV foi um fato? A atuação de um grupo midiático em um processo golpista para derrubar um presidente eleito pelo voto popular é motivo para a não renovação de uma concessão pública? Se não é, o que seria aceitável para não renovar uma concessão?

O assassinato de Danilo Anderson
Em novembro de 2004, o procurador da República Danilo Anderson, que investigava o golpe de Estado de 2002, foi assassinado em um atentado a bomba. A jornalista Patrícia Poleo, o empresário Nelson José Mezerhanne, o general Eugenio Añez e o advogado Salvador Romaní foram acusados como autores intelectuais do crime. Quanto à execução do atentado, as investigações da Justiça venezuelana apontaram fortes indícios de participação da Central de Inteligência Americana (CIA) e de grupos paramilitares colombianos. Filha de Rafael Poleo, proprietário do jornal “El Nuevo País”, Patrícia fugiu para Miami para evitar o julgamento. Acusada de assassinato e foragida da justiça, passou a ser tratada pela grande mídia venezuelana como uma heroína da oposição. A investigação sobre o atentado contra Danilo Anderson não mereceu destaque na mídia venezuelana e tampouco na brasileira. Uma visita ao mais famoso site de buscas do mundo, o Google, revelará quantas matérias saíram na imprensa brasileira sobre o assassinato de Danilo Anderson. O resultado é surpreendente.

Além de ser refratária ao contraponto, a grande mídia brasileira (assim como a venezuelana) também o é em relação a qualquer debate sobre o tema “concessão pública” na área da comunicação. As concessões de rádio e TV, vale lembrar, não são definitivas, como ocorre com qualquer serviço público. Elas têm um prazo e critérios para renovação. Entre esses critérios, não figuram as práticas descritas pelo ex-gerente de produção do principal telejornal da RCTV: a mentira, o boicote à informação, a manipulação e a participação ativa para depor um presidente eleito. A total ausência de contraponto no caso da não renovação da concessão da RCTV é mais do que sintomática. Revela uma cumplicidade explícita e recheada de má-fé em relação a uma elite que tem Miami como sua capital e inspiração de vida. O recurso à bandeira da liberdade de imprensa para defender empresários midiáticos golpistas é uma piada. Uma piada que tem antecedentes na história recente do Brasil. Talvez seja a hora de resgatar investigações sobre como grandes grupos midiáticos brasileiros construíram seus impérios por meio de acordos e parcerias com a ditadura militar. Ou pedir isso também significa uma ameaça a liberdade de imprensa?

Fonte: Marco Aurélio Weissheimer – Carta Maior: 29/05/2007


Dia Histórico para a Humanidade
Com a RCTV, cai também boa parte da credibilidade das corporações de mídia em todo o mundo. Seja a CNN, que falsificou imagens de protestos; sejam as agências de notícias ligadas a Washington ou as emissoras privadas da América Latina, que apoiaram o golpe na Venezuela em 2002. No Brasil, o ímpeto contra Hugo Chávez já coleciona distorções, meias verdades e mentiras inteiras.
Leia o artigo de Marcelo Salles em Fazendo Media – 31/05/2007

Algumas intromissões são mais intromissões do que outras?
Senado aprovou resolução defendendo retorno da RCTV, na Venezuela. Reação de Chávez é criticada por desrespeitar Congresso e intrometer-se em assuntos internos do Brasil. E o Senado não se manifestou sobre assuntos internos da Venezuela?
Leia o artigo de Marco Aurélio Weissheimer em Carta Maior – 01/06/2007

Jodi Magness fala sobre The Lost Tomb of Jesus

Radio National’s  [Australia] The Ark program has completed a 3 part series on the so called Jesus tomb with a Rachel Kahn interview of Jodi Magness.

The Jesus Tomb Pt 3

Sunday 29 April 2007

Biblical scholar, Dr Jodi Magness of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill casts doubt on the findings and conclusions put forth by Simcha Jacobovici and Charles Pellegrino in their book, The Jesus Family Tomb.

Rachael Kohn: Hello, welcome to Part III of The Jesus Tomb on The Ark, here on ABC Radio National, with me, Rachael Kohn.

To find the tomb of Jesus and his family would surely be the most controversial discovery in the history of archaeology. And that’s exactly what’s been suggested here on The Ark for the past two weeks, as I’ve interviewed film producer Simcha Jacobovici, who co-authored The Jesus Family Tomb.

But to American archaeologist, Jodi Magness, there’s precious little on which to make that claim, and its audacity inflames her passions.

Jodi Magness: When I heard this, I immediately knew without even hearing all of the supposed evidence that he had to marshal, that it could not be true. And it had nothing to do with him being a film maker or anything like that. It’s because I know the archaeology of this period, I know Judaism of this period, this is what I specialise in and so I knew on the basis of hard scientific evidence that there was no support for this claim.

Rachael Kohn: So let’s look at the specifics of the tomb. It’s a rock-cut tomb. Is that the type of tomb you’d expect Jesus to be buried in?

Jodi Magness: No, and in fact that’s one of the major flaws of this claim, and of this entire way of thinking. And partly archaeologists are a little to blame for this, in the sense that rock-cut tombs, tombs that were cut by hand into the bedrock slopes of Jerusalem are fairly conspicuous in the archaeological landscape and so they have attracted the majority of attention from archaeologists and other scholars. So when you read about Jewish burial customs, in Jerusalem and elsewhere in Judea, in the time of Jesus, generally people focus on rock-cut tombs.

The fact of the matter is however, that the majority of the Jewish population did not bury their dead in rock-cut tombs. Rock-cut tombs were expensive to cut, so only a relatively small proportion of the population could afford rock-cut tombs. The majority of the population, which was not very affluent, buried their dead in a manner analogous to the way we bury our dead today, which is in a sort of simple trench grave, an individual trench grave dug into the ground, which is quite different by the way from rock-cut tombs, which were family tombs used by a single family, over the course of several generations.

The reason why trench graves have not attracted that much attention is because they are inconspicuous in the archaeological landscape, they’re easily covered up or buried or bulldozed or destroyed, and when you do find them and dig them up, they’re very hard to gauge, because since these were poor people, they generally were not buried with grave goods, and so there’s really no inherent way of gauging the burials a lot of the time. But this is in fact the way that the majority of the population buried their dead.

Rachael Kohn: Is it possible that the wealthy Joseph of Arimathea, who’s mentioned in the Gospel of Mark, actually provided the tomb for Jesus and his family?

Jodi Magness: Well it is possible, at least if we follow the Gospel accounts. And here is the other thing about the current claim surrounding the Talpiot tomb, which is that if we want to believe that it’s true – and I think that there are many reasons why we cannot believe that it’s true – we would have to disregard the canonical Gospel accounts surrounding the death and burial of Jesus.

Now I am not a religious fundamentalist, and I’m not claiming that the canonical Gospel accounts are literally true and completely historically accurate. However they are the closest descriptions that we have in time to the death and burial of Jesus. They’re believed to have been composed between 30 to 50 years after Jesus’ death, which means that there were still people alive at the time these accounts were written, who were alive when Jesus died, you could potentially have them drawing on first-hand witnesses. That is as good as the evidence that we’re going to get.

If you want to believe the current claim about the Talpiot tomb, we would have to dismiss the canonical Gospel accounts completely, in terms of their description of the death and burial of Jesus. So having said that then, according to these accounts, a wealthy follower named Joseph of Arimathea offered Jesus a spot in his family’s rock-cut tomb, that is, took Jesus’ body and placed it in his family’s rock-cut tomb, after Jesus died, and we would simply have to disregard that completely in order to accept the current claim. And I’m happy to explain to you why we would have to disregard that, because it’s not clear on the face of it.

Rachael Kohn: Can you elaborate?

Jodi Magness: Yes. So according to the canonical Gospel accounts, and it’s not just Mark, although Mark and Matthew are generally thought to be the earlier and more reliable Gospels. But anyway, according to these accounts, a wealthy follower of Jesus named Joseph of Arimathea goes to Pilate and asks for Jesus’ body. Jesus of course had been crucified on Friday, which was the eve of the Sabbath. In Judaism the Sabbath starts on Friday at sundown.

Jesus had been crucified by the Romans on the eve of the Sabbath. By the way the fact that Jesus was crucified by the Romans is consistent with what we know about Jesus’ background and about Roman practice, because all of the indications that we have are that Jesus came from a poor family, and the Romans generally reserved crucifixion for the poorer classes of society who they considered criminals. And just to give you a contrast, if you think about the case of Paul, Paul of Tarsus, Paul was not crucified by the Romans. Why was he not crucified by the Romans? Because he claimed to have Roman citizenship and the Romans did not crucify Roman citizens. He was sent back to Rome to be judged, say for a trial.

So Jesus in contrast, was a poor Jew. He is executed by crucifixion and of course the Romans had no regard for Jewish law, so they execute Jesus on the eve of the Sabbath, something that the Jewish people then would never do, the Jewish authorities sometimes sentenced Jewish criminals to death for violating Jewish law, but they would never have executed somebody on the eve of the Sabbath or a festival, and they would never have used crucifixion as the means of execution. They would have used other means, like James the Just, brother of Jesus, was stoned for violating Jewish law, so by way of contrast.

So Jesus dies, then just before the Sabbath is about to start, and according to the Synoptic Gospels, it’s just about sundown, and Joseph of Arimathea, this wealthy follower of Jesus hurries to Pilate. The reason why Joseph runs to Pilate to ask permission is because of the concern with Jewish law, and here what’s very interesting is that the Synoptic Gospels show a familiarity with Jewish law that is lost on many modern readers of this episode, because Jewish law on the one hand requires that when a person dies, they must be buried within 24 hours of death. On the other hand, Jewish law prohibits burial on the Sabbath, or on festivals. If Jesus therefore was going to receive a burial in accordance with Jewish law, he was going to have to be buried before the Sabbath started, that is, before sundown.

Joseph rushes to Pilate, gets permission to take the body, and places it in his own family’s rock-cut tomb, something that was quite exceptional, since rock-cut tombs by definition were family tombs, you didn’t usually bury people who were unrelated who were strangers, in your family’s tomb. The Gospel accounts by the way also make it perfectly clear that Joseph’s concern was not to ‘honour’ Jesus by burying him in his family’s rock-cut tomb, there was no shame associated with being buried in a trench grave, the concern here is to make sure that Jesus gets buried before the beginning of the Sabbath so that he can be buried in accordance with Jewish law.

Now what is all of this connected with? Here’s the thing. How would Jesus have been buried had Joseph not offered him a spot in his family’s rock-cut tomb? Since Jesus came from a poor family, his family presumably did not own a rock-cut tomb. And by the way, if you want to argue that Jesus’ family was wealthy enough to own a rock-cut tomb, their family tomb would have been located in their home town of Nazareth, not in Jerusalem. But at any rate, had Joseph of Arimathea not offered Jesus a spot in his family’s rock-cut tomb, Jesus would have been buried in a simple trench grave.

The problem here is that there is no time before the Sabbath starts to dig a trench grave. And so Joseph takes the body and the Gospels tell us very accurately by the way, wraps it in a shroud, places it in his family’s rock-cut tomb, and then goes away, rolls a stone to seal the doorway of the tomb, and then goes away.

If the so-called Talpiot tomb is the tomb of Jesus, then the whole episode with Joseph of Arimathea becomes completely unnecessary and incomprehensible because there would be no need for it. Jesus then simply would have been buried in his family’s rock-cut tomb in Jerusalem. But the point is that there is no tomb ready for Jesus.

Rachael Kohn: Jodi, I guess a lot of points of the Gospel and details like that have been contested, so I want to just go on and have a closer look at the ossuaries that Simcha claims belong to the members of Jesus’ family. One of the strong arguments that Jacobovici and Pellegrino make is that the names on the ossuaries, the bone boxes, all bear names of Jesus’ family, and that finding them together is statistically significant. Now archaeologists have dismissed these names as very common names, but Jacobovici and Pellegrino argue that finding them together is the point. What do you think?

Jodi Magness: First of all I want to point out that the fatal flaw with this is that if there is no rock-cut tomb there are no ossuaries, because ossuaries are associated only with rock-cut tombs, not with trench graves. So if we assume that Jesus’ family was poor and did not have a rock-cut tomb, there would be no associated ossuaries. I would also point out that if you want to argue that Jesus’ family was affluent enough to own a rock-cut tomb, which I don’t believe, then that would have been in Nazareth and not in Jerusalem, so again you would not have ossuaries in Jerusalem. OK.

So about the question about the statistical analysis. First of all, yes, the names are in fact very common, having a cluster of names is interesting, but it’s certainly not meaningful in necessarily the way that it’s being claimed. But you know, and I’m not a statistician, so I can’t address the high statistics. But I will tell you this, in order to make the statistics statistically meaningful, they are added to the family of Jesus otherwise unknown members. In other words, there is an ossuary from this tomb that is inscribed with the name Matthew, Matya, and there is an ossuary from this tomb that is inscribed with the name Judah, or Greek Judas. In order to identify this as the tomb of Jesus, the producer and other people who are making this claim, have to argue that there were members of Jesus’ family who were otherwise unattested at least in our canonical sources, and to support this, what they have to do is draw on sources that are significantly later in dates than the time of Jesus for example the Gospel of Philip which dates to about four centuries after the time of Jesus.

What you would have to do is to crunch the numbers and to say Oh, but we have people here who actually were never known as members of the family of Jesus. We never knew that Jesus had a son named Judah, we never knew of a family member who was named Matthew, you know, then you know what? That torpedoes all of the statistics, because the data that the statistics were won on are flawed.

Rachael Kohn: Would it have been possible though for followers of Jesus later on who were now a movement around this person who they revered, is it possible that they could have provided a rock-cut tomb?

Jodi Magness: Look, nothing within the realm of history and archaeology is impossible. Our information on the past is fragmentary, it’s only partial, so all we can do is reconstruct based on the evidence that we have. While I can’t say for sure that what you’re suggesting is impossible, I can say that there’s not one shred of support for it.

We do have information about the death of the brother of Jesus, James the Just. The information that we have suggests very strongly that he was also buried in a simple trench grave, not in a family rock-cut tomb. The sources that we have, specifically Josephus, who was a contemporary and Hegesippus of the 2nd century CE, and the rock-cut tombs in Jerusalem that we are talking about actually went out of use after the year 70, when Jerusalem was destroyed by the Romans, and the Jerusalem elite which is the population that buried its dead in those tombs, is dispersed, and no longer in the city. So those tombs go out of use. So how much later are you suggesting? After 70 it completely becomes irrelevant because those rock cut tombs are not being used any more.

Rachael Kohn: What’s your reading of the scholarly response to the claims by Jacobovici and Pellegrino, do they largely mirror your argument here today?

Jodi Magness: Well I don’t know, I can’t speak for other scholars, I can only speak for myself. I do know that the vast majority of scholars have rejected absolutely rejected, this claim. Sometimes on somewhat different grounds or reasoning than I have, but it has been pretty much universally rejected by most scholars. I mean I think an overwhelming majority.

Rachael Kohn: That was archaeologist Jodi Magness of the University of North Carolina. It’s a continuing debate; we’ve provided a link to a Forum, where James D. Tabor responds to Jodi Magness.

Next week we return to home ground, where the early religious history of Australia has come together in an astonishing collection. On The Ark, with me, Rachael Kohn.

Dr Jodi Magness is a Professor in the Department of Religious Studies at the University of North Carolina in Chapel Hill. An active member of the Archaeological Institute of America, she serves on several AIA committees and has been President and Vice-President of the Boston Society. Her interest in the archaeology lies in the Roman, Byzantine, and early Islamic periods of the Near East, and she has participated and led numerous excavations in Israel, including one to the Roman siege camps at Masada in 1995. Her book on The Archaeology of Qumran and the Dead Sea Scrolls appeared in print in August 2002.

The Lost Tomb of Jesus: resenha do DVD

Em DVD Talk, uma ácida resenha de O Sepulcro Esquecido de Jesus, que saiu em DVD.

The Lost Tomb of Jesus

Review by Holly E. Ordway | posted April 24, 2007

The movie

I’ve reviewed some bad documentaries in my time. In 900-odd reviews to date, some of the stuff I’ve popped into the DVD player has turned out to be real dreck. I’ve seen many “controversial” programs and many more that took mildly speculative stuff and puffed it up with a hefty dose of sensationalism. I’ve seen topics that I really liked butchered by poor argument and ineffective presentation. So it really means something when I say that The Lost Tomb of Jesus is, by far, the worst documentary that I’ve ever forced myself to sit through.

My main approach in this review is to look at the way the filmmakers handle their material (since to my mind that’s the main job of a documentary: to present an informed and balanced look at its material). That can seem like the review is arguing with the material itself… but my objective in raising counter-arguments is frankly to point out how the film avoids them and how it uses argument badly to make its points. I teach in my critical-thinking classes that the best way to deal with an opposing point of view is not to ignore it, but to address it head-on. That’s the perspective I took here. (As I take in all my documentary reviews: for instance, as a reviewer I had a lot of problems with The Corporation even though, as a viewer, I completely agreed with the points it was making.)I wouldn’t be making nearly any of the criticisms that I’m making, if the film had actually made an honest argument for its point rather than avoiding key objections and using rhetorical sleight-of-hand.

OK, so why do I call it the worst?

Not in the choice of topic: let’s get that straight to begin with. People have enjoyed spinning far-out stories about Christianity for about two thousand years. We’ve seen a post-Da Vinci Code surge of breathless conspiracy theories, some of which have made for interesting documentary filmmaking (Digging for the Truth handled the topic solidly, with only a mild sprinkling of sensationalism, for instance.) I don’t believe that there’s any topic that should be “off limits”: no matter what, everything is going to offend someone, and even a relatively blown-out-of-proportion piece can have the beneficial effect of stimulating viewer interest in a worthwhile subject (in this case, the historical origins of Christianity).

So no, The Lost Tomb of Jesus doesn’t offend me in the slightest by its premise. But I have to admit, the film did offend me, deeply – as a rational, thinking person. You see, I’m an honest intellectual and a great believer in knowing the truth. I think that it’s a good thing to really think through what you believe (one way or the other) and base your conclusions on real evidence and solid reasoning. That’s where The Lost Tomb of Jesus hits a nerve for me.

I have never, and I mean never, seen a documentary that so deliberately and consistently uses circular reasoning, ad hominem attacks, unfounded assertions, straw-man arguments, and general poor reasoning. One of the subjects that I teach in college is critical thinking, and The Lost Tomb of Jesus offers a blow-by-blow exposition of logic and reason being twisted until it screams for mercy. (Presumably the screams were dubbed over in the final edit.)

To begin with, The Lost Tomb of Jesus uses a quick sleight-of-hand to establish the premise. What if, we are asked, the family of Jesus took his body from the tomb to re-bury somewhere else? That’s swiftly taken as a given, and then we’re off to find the tomb. But hold on: the film never takes the time to establish that it’s a worthwhile theory. Why would the family even want to re-bury Jesus in a different tomb, given that the wealthy Joseph of Arimathea had already donated a tomb (which he wouldn’t have needed to do if the family of Jesus had a tomb ready for use, incidentally), and Jesus’ body had already been taken there and wrapped, with expensive spices and all? The documentary also assumes that Jesus’ family participated in this burial and later re-burial of Jesus’ bones in an ossuary (bone box). But if they’d done that, then all of them would have known, conclusively, that Jesus had not been bodily resurrected as the Gospels state. How, then, can we explain that James, one of Jesus’ brothers, who had been a skeptic during Jesus’ life, became after Jesus’ death one of the most powerful proponents of the resurrected Jesus? If he’d really seen Jesus’ body being re-buried (and later, his bones packed in an ossuary) that would have reinforced his skepticism, not caused a complete turn-around. Does The Lost Tomb of Jesus deal with these issues? It doesn’t even acknowledge them, which for me was a first strike against its intellectual honesty.

I could forgive this beginning, if that was the extent of the logic-twisting, but it’s not: the arguments throughout The Lost Tomb of Jesus are so consistently circular as to cause dizziness. Try this one on for size: Scholars have concluded, based on the evidence, that a particular tomb and ossuary belonged to Caiaphas, a key figure in Jesus’ trial. Therefore, it is possible to find tombs of major figures, and tombs are uncovered all the time in Jerusalem. Therefore, it would be no surprise to find the tomb of Jesus. Therefore… the tomb that is being discussed is likely to be the tomb of Jesus. In this argument, it’s assumed that Jesus’ tomb exists (and therefore it’s just a matter of time to find it) and that assumption is used as part of the very argument about the existence of the tomb. The Caiaphas tomb is actually completely irrelevant to the question, but it’s drawn in as “evidence” for what is really still just an unsubstantiated claim.

I lost count of the number of times that untested assumptions are used as evidence for further assertions. For instance, it’s an assumption, not a fact, that there even was a family tomb for Jesus’ family. And yes, it’s possible. (Though in my view, unlikely; Jesus came from a working-class family, and it was the wealthy who had rock tombs – remember how Joseph of Arimathea had to donate his tomb? That would have been to save Jesus’ body from being buried in a common grave with other paupers.) But even if we grant this assumption, and then further grant the assumption that the tomb the filmmakers are focusing on is that family tomb, that’s still not evidence that Jesus was ever there. Jesus was the one raised from the dead, not the whole family!

Then there’s the (mis)use of New Testament evidence. The New Testament is actually a rich source of evidence that in fact The Lost Tomb of Jesus uses to advance its argument. That’s perfectly fine – except that as soon as the New Testament material would point in a different direction than the filmmakers’ argument, they switch tactics. The lack of details about Mary Magdalen in the New Testament is used as an argument that she was really the most important disciple: theoretically the writers of the New Testament were suppressing the mention of important women to serve their patriarchal ideology. (Never mind that women actually play key roles in the Gospels, cutting against the cultural biases of the day.)

One of the ossuaries in the so-called Jesus tomb is listed as being that of “Judas son of Jesus.” That would seem to be evidence that we’re looking at a different Jesus, right? After all, every piece of information we have about Jesus indicates that he was unmarried and did not father a child. But wait! The Lost Tomb of Jesus can make even this contrary fact work into its theory: see, this son of Jesus was kept so secret that we have no record of him! Therefore, the absence of information about this son is evidence that the son really existed… and therefore the presence of “Judas son of Jesus” in the tomb is supporting evidence for it really being Jesus of Nazareth’s tomb! Is your head spinning yet? Uh, guys – either the New Testament is a reliable document, or it’s not. I’m fine with the filmmakers taking either approach, but they can’t have it both ways, the better to suit whatever direction they want to take their argument in.

Let’s not overlook the factual or interpretive faux pas, of which we have several. First, according to the documentary, the Church fathers in the second century did a lot of “suppressing” of other Christian texts, presumably as part of a conspiracy to wipe out the truth. Suppression? No – canonization. For quite a while after the founding of Christianity, there were a number of gospels and letters in circulation among the new Christian community. Eventually the leaders of the Church met and, over time, decided which ones should form part of the New Testament. Some made the cut, and some didn’t. That’s selection, not suppression. What’s in a word? Quite a lot, really. It means that we shouldn’t look at the non-canonical material as being somehow better or more authoritative than what made it into the New Testament, but the opposite. The early Church leaders weren’t dummies: they knew that the best texts were the ones that were the eye-witness ones or ones that were based on eye-witness testimony…. so we get Matthew, Mark, Luke, John, Acts, and a selection of key letters from people who knew and worked with Jesus. What we don’t get is something like the Acts of Philip, which is a third- or fourth-century work, and therefore hundreds of years removed from the material it was talking about. It’s less reliable, not more… but it’s on the Acts of Philip that The Lost Tomb of Jesus draws when it tries to work Mary Magdalen into the Jesus tomb story.

Then we get into the morass of early Christian symbolism. The film acknowledges that crosses weren’t used as a Christian symbol until about the fourth century (true)… but then goes on to argue that maybe people were using cross symbols before then, and therefore the presence of a cross-like mark on one of the ossuaries indicates that it belonged to Jesus. That’s not so much of a stretch as it is a vast and completely unwarranted leap. The Lost Tomb of Jesus tries to justify this claim by saying that there’s no evidence for early Christianity, its practices or symbolism, until after it’s legalized by Constantine… which is just flat-out wrong. The catacombs in Rome, for instance, supply plenty of evidence of early Christian symbolism (which includes imagery of fish, anchors, ships, sheep, peacocks, among other things – but not the cross), not to mention the symbols that appear in the New Testament itself. What is that cross mark? A mason’s mark.

A big deal is also made of the tomb’s location, halfway between Jerusalem and Bethlehem, which are claimed to be the two most important cities to Jesus’ family: a perfect spot for the family tomb, right? There are lots of problems with that. First, when you locate a family tomb, you typically put it in the important town, not halfway between it and some other place. Next, Bethlehem is pretty low on the list of important locations. Jesus was born there, but only because Joseph and Mary were on the road to register at the census. He actually grew up in Nazareth. Last, the list of “important locations” related to Jesus is so long that pretty much any spot in Israel is bound to be halfway between two of them. In other words, this tomb’s location doesn’t prove anything… except that it’s actually not where we’d expect it to be (Nazareth).

But hold on – doesn’t The Lost Tomb of Jesus give other, opposing scholars a chance to rebut the film’s theories? Yes, and… definitely no. After spinning out the what-ifs, could-haves, and it’s-possibles to make a particular claim, the film does cut briefly to a few scholars stating that they don’t agree. And that’s it. We don’t get to hear their arguments; we don’t get to hear their evidence. They’re whisked in to give the pretense of balance and swiftly whisked off again. The only critical expert who’s given more than a 10-second sound bite is the curator of the Israel Museum, who tries valiantly to curtail the flights of fancy of the filmmakers. But the main discussion between the curator and Simcha Jacobovici displays the opposite of fair and balanced treatment. The curator’s explanations are cut off, and Simcha Jacobovici takes a hostile, belligerent tone towards him, almost as if he’s trying to provoke him. (The curator remains calm but is visibly frustrated, very understandably.) The show of disrespect for anyone with a different interpretation of the material is consistent throughout the program, in fact. It’s stated outright that anyone who doesn’t buy into the film’s premises is biased by being reluctant to even consider the subject; it’s implied that there’s a conspiracy of scholars to validate other New Testament finds, but not to investigate anything related to Jesus. (Anyone who thinks that has never encountered the publish-or-perish mentality of academia. Finding Jesus’ genuine tomb would guarantee tenure for some underpaid professor of archaeology or theology somewhere!)

Finally, I also found the whole “search for the tomb” to be both disingenuous and appalling. Disingenuous, because re-discovering the original tomb at Talpiot really has very little to contribute to the topic. The tomb had been mapped; the ossuaries had been removed and cataloged, and were on view; there’s no real reason given as to why it’s useful at all to find it again. Kind of cool, sure – but not essential. Then there’s the search for the second tomb… which becomes “evidence” in an interesting way: this second tomb is connected to Jesus, because it’s located next to another tomb that is potentially the tomb of Jesus. Hypothesis taken as fact, once again. What this part of the program actually does is serve as an Indiana-Jones-style adventure, one that gathers its own momentum: if we get caught up in the excitement, we’re quite likely to forget that finding and entering the tomb doesn’t prove the filmmakers’ proposition.

That covers disingenuous: what about appalling? I was horrified by the cavalier attitude the filmmakers took to doing archaeology. There’s no indication that the team was composed of professional archaeologists, and they’re not associated with any university or research project; their approach is just to do whatever it takes to find what they want (including calling in a plumber, at one point, to knock through some blockages en route to looking into a tomb). In short, these guys are practically looters. I found the overall sense of disrespect for Jerusalem’s archaeological treasures to be distressing. Anything goes, as long as it makes great film footage, right?

I could go on – some of the logical twists are so absurd as to be even laughable. But there’s really not much point. The entire film is a conspiracy-theory engine, pulling up anything and everything as fuel. Any one of these logical faux pas could be forgivable by itself: after all, I expected a certain amount (that is, a lot) of sensationalism to begin with. But what we actually get is a consistent disregard for logical, evidence-based argument; it’s a slap in the face to any viewer who actually uses his or her brain.

It’s also far from unbiased, although it claims to be (and it certainly whips out the “biased” card to pre-emptively stop any rebuttal). One of the main participants claims that the film is taking a “strictly historical approach,” so its methods and conclusions must be valid. Except that it’s not: it’s assuming as settled the very question that lies at the heart of the topic. The film assumes that Jesus was not bodily resurrected, and therefore his body (and tomb) must be out there somewhere, waiting to be found. The possibility that there is no tomb because there is no body is discounted as something that people just believe, in the teeth of the evidence, as it were. This neatly sidesteps the fact that the fundamental claim of Christianity is a historical one: that Jesus died and was resurrected, and that the reason the disciples were willing to die on the basis of that claim was that they knew it to be true, based on what they’d seen with their own eyes. However, the film avoids considering that possibility as an explanation for the events surrounding Jesus’ death. Note that I’m not objecting to the filmmakers’ conclusions, but rather to their unwillingness to tackle the counter-argument. But even though I’d have liked to have the counter-arguments placed on the table for fair discussion, the film’s sidestepping of the issues doesn’t surprise or bother me. That, I expected.

What I find objectionable that the viewing public is being presented with something that feels so fundamentally cynical and manipulative. It’s not just a house of cards, it’s a mean-spirited one that devalues opposing points of view and insults the viewer by consistently twisting logic and evidence for its own purposes. I’ve seen plenty of speculative documentaries that I was perfectly OK with, but this is the first time that I felt that I wanted to wash my brain after watching a program.

Production-wise, how does The Lost Tomb of Jesus work? Pretty well, which is part of the reason the flaws in logic bug me as much as they do: they’re nicely packaged. The program is certainly engaging, with a fast pace and what I’d call a good storyline; the Indiana-Jones style search for the tomb has a definite energy to it. The reenactments are nicely done with good production values, sidestepping the cheese factor that’s always a danger: here, you could really imagine “you are there.” The section on statistics is explained reasonably well, with the use of a nifty visual to show how many people would have answered to names like Jesus and Mary.

In the end, it’s fun to watch if you’re OK with a “hey, it could be!” attitude and don’t really mind the problematic logic here. (I teach argument; it probably bugs me more than the average guy on the street.) Frankly, I wish the filmmakers had made a feature film instead of a documentary: their style is a whole lot more suited to fiction than documentary filmmaking. I liked the Da Vinci Code (OK, I haven’t seen the movie, but I liked the book) but it was presented not as fact (even though it was taken that way by some) but as loosely historically based fiction. The Lost Tomb of Jesus is, in the end, exactly that: a what-if fiction. An exciting what-if story? Sure. A factually sound, well-reasoned what-if story? Well, no. Shelve it under fiction, not documentary.


The DVD contains the “director’s cut”, which runs 105 minutes.


The Lost Tomb of Jesus is presented in a clear, clean widescreen image, at the 1.77:1 aspect ratio, anamorphically enhanced. Colors look natural, and it looks pleasing to the eye. There’s some pixellation, and some grain in the outdoor darker shots, but it’s fine overall.


The soundtrack is a Dolby 5.1 surround track. Some parts of it feel like it has decent surround, but for the most part it plays like a stereo track. That’s fine, since a documentary doesn’t really call for lots of surround action anyway. The participants’ voices are clear and easy to distinguish.


The main special feature is a set of interviews. We get four segments apiece from director Simcha Jacobovici and executive producer James Cameron, commenting on various aspects of the production and topic, and running about half an hour in total. In a section called “Experts” we get about half an hour’s worth of additional interview footage from two of the people interviewed for the film – notably, we do not hear from any of the experts who disagreed with the conclusions drawn by the documentary.

Minor special features include a trailer, a photo gallery, a two-minute “behind the scenes” segment, and a nine-minute piece called “The Lost Tomb of Jesus: Epilogue” that runs like a short overall featurette.

Final thoughts

I’ve noticed that many people who actually liked the documentary seem to think that those who criticize it must be Christians who are offended by a challenge to their beliefs. Sure, the “you don’t like it because you can’t handle the truth” card is an easy one to play, but it’s not helpful here. I actually think that the topic is one that could have been handled in an interesting, thought-provoking, and informative way… except that’s not what we get. I admit, I expected the film to be a bit overdramatized and sensationalistic (what else is new?), but I didn’t expect this blatant disrespect for logic, argument, honest discussion, and simple fact. The Lost Tomb of Jesus appears to be a cynical and manipulative attempt to cash in on the Da Vinci Code mania of inventing Christian conspiracy theories, without the least respect for the intelligence of its audience (non-Christian and Christian alike). It didn’t offend me because of my beliefs (which I haven’t mentioned here one way or the other); it offended me as a thinking person and a scholar who believes in using honest argument and real evidence. Skip it.


Batismo de Sangue e os bastidores da ditadura

Batismo de sangue

Frei Betto – 13/04/2007

Este é  um filme a ser visto especialmente por quem não viveu os anos de chumbo. Ali  está o estupro da mãe gentil, gigante entorpecido, o Brasil sem margens plácidas, arrancado do berço esplêndido, resgatado à democracia pelos filhos  que, por amor e esperança, e sem temer a própria morte, não fugiram à luta.  

Levei dez anos para es­crever “Ba­tismo de Sangue” (edi­tora Rocco), de 1973, ao sair de quatro anos de prisão, a 1983. Re­viver toda a saga de um grupo de frades do­mi­ni­canos na luta contra a di­ta­dura mi­litar fez-me so­frer. Re­virei a me­mória, fiz en­tre­vistas e pes­quisas, re­vi­sitei os lo­cais dos acon­te­ci­mentos, con­sultei ar­quivos. Sim, ar­quivos. O go­verno fe­deral, co­man­dado por dois ex-presos po­lí­ticos (Lula na pre­si­dência e Dilma Rous­seff na Casa Civil), des­con­si­dera a me­mória na­ci­onal ao não abrir os ar­quivos das Forças Ar­madas. Fe­liz­mente existem ar­quivos fora do con­trole mi­litar. So­bre­tudo ar­quivos vivos, so­bre­vi­ventes da grande tri­bu­lação.

Deu-me tra­balho le­vantar os úl­timos mo­mentos do líder re­vo­lu­ci­o­nário Carlos Ma­righella e o in­trin­cado ci­poal em torno de seu as­sas­si­nato pela re­pressão, em 4 de no­vembro de 1969. E doeu-me des­crever em de­ta­lhes a paixão e morte de frei Tito de Alencar Lima, le­vado ao sui­cídio em 1974, aos 28 anos, em de­cor­rência das tor­turas so­fridas nas de­pen­dên­cias do II Exér­cito, em São Paulo. Que­riam forçá-lo a as­sinar con­fis­sões falsas e de­latar pes­soas. Não es­cu­taram senão o si­lêncio da­quele re­li­gioso que sabia ser “pre­fe­rível morrer do que perder a vida”, como es­creveu em sua Bí­blia.

Um dia dei o livro a Hel­vécio Ratton, que também mi­litou na re­sis­tência à di­ta­dura e es­teve exi­lado. Es­crevi na de­di­ca­tória: “Hel­vécio, a vida su­pera a ficção”. Di­retor de ci­nema, ele tomou a si o de­safio e levou às telas “Ba­tismo de Sangue”, que es­treia a 20 de abril. As cenas – am­bi­en­tação pre­cisa dos anos 60 – foram ro­dadas no Brasil e na França. In­te­gram o elenco Caio Blat (no papel de Frei Tito), Ân­gelo Antônio (frei Oswaldo), Léo Quintão (frei Fer­nando), Odilon Es­teves (frei Ivo), Da­niel de Oli­veira (que me in­ter­preta), Marku Ribas (Carlos Ma­righella), Mar­célia Car­taxo (Nildes), Cássio Gabus Mendes (de­le­gado Fleury) e ou­tros.

Filmes nem sempre re­tratam ade­qua­da­mente os li­vros nos quais se ins­piram. Em geral, a li­te­ra­tura ganha em pro­fun­di­dade da arte ci­ne­ma­to­grá­fica, obri­gada a con­densar-se num par de horas. O livro, tra­du­zido para o francês e o ita­liano (e, em breve, para o es­pa­nhol), me­re­cedor do mais con­cei­tuado prêmio li­te­rário do Brasil, o Ja­buti, atrai o in­te­resse dos lei­tores desde sua pu­bli­cação há 24 anos. Falei ao Hel­vécio: “Livro é livro, filme é filme; não quero in­ter­ferir”. O má­ximo que so­li­citou, a mim e aos frades Fer­nando de Brito, Oswaldo Re­zende e ao ex-do­mi­ni­cano Ivo Les­baupin, foi con­versar com os atores sobre a nossa ex­pe­ri­ência na guer­rilha ur­bana e na prisão. Li o ro­teiro de Dani Pa­tarra, con­si­derei-o ex­ce­lente, mas pre­feri não opinar.

Em março, no Fes­tival de Bra­sília, vi o filme pela pri­meira vez. Fi­quei trans­tor­nado: ar­rancou-me lá­grimas, re­a­vivou-me a in­dig­nação contra o ar­bí­trio, ativou-me as teias da emoção, en­levou-me pela trilha so­nora, fez-me agra­decer a Deus per­tencer a uma ge­ração que, aos 20 anos, in­je­tava utopia nas veias. Fi­quei em­be­ve­cido frente à força es­té­tica das ima­gens pro­du­zidas pelo ta­lento de Hel­vécio Ratton. O Fes­tival de Bra­sília con­cedeu-lhe os prê­mios de Me­lhor Di­reção e Me­lhor Fo­to­grafia (Lauro Es­corel). No Fes­tival de Ti­ra­dentes, a plateia de mais mil pes­soas, a mai­oria jo­vens, ex­pressou a emoção em pro­lon­gadas palmas.

A arte bra­si­leira adi­anta-se ao go­verno e es­can­cara os bas­ti­dores da di­ta­dura. Este é um filme a ser visto es­pe­ci­al­mente por quem não viveu os anos de chumbo. Ali está o es­tupro da mãe gentil, gi­gante en­tor­pe­cido, o Brasil sem mar­gens plá­cidas, ar­ran­cado do berço es­plên­dido, res­ga­tado à de­mo­cracia pelos fi­lhos que, por amor e es­pe­rança, e sem temer a pró­pria morte, não fu­giram à luta.

“Ba­tismo de Sangue” é um hino à li­ber­dade. Nele se re­vela a his­tória re­cente de uma nação e a fé li­ber­tária de um grupo de cris­tãos. Emerge, con­tun­dente, a sub­je­ti­vi­dade dos pro­ta­go­nistas, como frei Tito, em quem se tran­subs­tan­ciou a dor em amor, o so­fri­mento em oblação, as al­gemas em ma­téria-prima desta in­ven­cível es­pe­rança de cons­truirmos um mundo em que a paz seja filha da jus­tiça, e a fe­li­ci­dade, sinô­nimo de con­dição hu­mana.



Dominicanos presos pela ditadura assistem à sua história no cinema

Por André Campos – Repórter Brasil: 30/01/07

Cerca de 60 frades reuniram-se quinta-feira (25) para ver o filme “Batismo de Sangue”, ainda inédito, que mostra a atuação dos dominicanos contra a ditadura pós-1964. Entre os presentes, religiosos que foram perseguidos e torturados pelo regime

“Vocês vão ver que é um filme muito forte”, já alertava frei Betto à plateia antes de a projeção começar. “E mais forte foi a realidade”, completa.

Anualmente, os dominicanos do Brasil – representantes da Ordem dos Pregadores, fundada há oito séculos por São Domingos de Gusmão – reúnem-se para uma semana de reflexões sobre os rumos da atuação religiosa posta em prática pelos seus membros. Este ano, contudo, os debates sacros foram momentaneamente interrompidos para a revisão de um passado tão mundano quanto doloroso. Na última quinta-feira (25), cerca de 60 membros da Ordem foram até o cinema para assistir a uma exibição fechada de “Batismo de Sangue”, filme ainda inédito no país. O longa-metragem – uma ficção baseada no livro homônimo de frei Betto – retrata a atuação dos dominicanos no combate ao regime militar instaurado após o golpe de 1964.

Durante os primeiros anos da ditadura, jovens frades seguidores de São Domingos desempenharam papel importante na resistência às forças armadas. Deram cobertura à Ação Libertadora Nacional (ALN), grupo guerrilheiro comandado por Carlos Marighella – ex-deputado federal e um dos principais opositores do governo. Os frades defendiam que viver o evangelho era integrar-se à comunidade através de práticas sociais concretas, que defendessem os injustiçados. Pagaram alto preço: perseguição, cadeia, tortura e exílio.

Em 1969, os freis Ivo e Fernando foram os primeiros dominicanos a cair. Capturados pela polícia e submetidos a fortes torturas, acabaram forçados a servir de isca e marcar um encontro com Marighella. A emboscada revelou-se um sucesso: após troca de tiros, morreu o líder da ALN.

Frei Tito, então com 24 anos, foi o próximo dominicano colocado atrás das grades, capturado no próprio convento dos dominicanos. Cinco dias depois, frei Betto – hoje conselheiro pessoal do presidente Lula – também foi preso. Estava escondido no Rio Grande do Sul, ajudando opositores do governo a fugirem do país pela fronteira.

Dentre todos esses religiosos, é a história de frei Tito que o filme aborda com mais profundidade. Durante 42 dias, ele foi submetido ao pau-de-arara, a choques elétricos nos ouvidos e genitais, a socos, pauladas, palmatórias e queimaduras de cigarro, entre outras perversidades. Em certa ocasião, foi lhe ordenado que abrisse a boca para receber a “hóstia sagrada” (dois eletrodos com corrente elétrica). Teve a boca queimada a ponto de não conseguir falar. Tentou suicídio nessa época, cortando-se com uma gilete. Os militares, no entanto, o mantiveram vivo e sob tortura psicológica.

Em dezembro de 1970, Tito foi incluído na lista de presos políticos trocados por um embaixador suíço sequestrado. Partiu para o exílio, passando pelo Chile e pela Itália antes de se estabelecer definitivamente na França. Do Brasil, contudo, Tito não saiu sozinho. Levou consigo a lembrança obsessiva do delegado Sérgio Paranhos Fleury, seu principal algoz nos porões ditadura. Alucinava o espectro de seu torturador e sentia sua presença entre as árvores do convento de La Tourette – onde passou a viver. O delegado lhe dava ordens: não entrar, não deitar, não comer… Tito oscilava entre resistir e obedecer. Em 1974, atormentado por essa realidade, o frade enforcou-se em uma árvore nos arredores do convento.

História de resistência
Entre os dominicanos presentes à exibição do filme, muitos participaram ativamente dessa história. Um deles é Xavier Passat, hoje coordenador da campanha de combate ao trabalho escravo da Comissão Pastoral da Terra (CPT). Xavier nasceu na França e viveu em La Tourette nos anos 1970. Acompanhou de perto o calvário de frei Tito – tendo saído ele próprio, em algumas ocasiões, a sua procura após as constantes fugas do convento.

Para Xavier, ao contrário do que muitos pensam, o suicídio de Tito não pode ser considerado um ato de entrega. Na verdade, foi uma tentativa de libertar-se do jugo de Fleury, que continuava a torturá-lo de dentro de sua mente. Um último ato resistência contra a opressão da ditadura, encarnada na figura daquele sinistro delegado. “Melhor morrer do que perder a vida”, havia escrito Tito um pouco antes de falecer.

Frei Oswaldo, hoje diretor da Escola Dominicana de Teologia em São Paulo, foi outro a rever o próprio passado em “Batismo de Sangue”. Era ele o dominicano que originalmente fazia a ponte entre Marighella e os frades. Mas como estava muito exposto, seus superiores decidiram enviá-lo para a Europa pouco antes das prisões começarem. Acolheu Tito quando este veio à França, acompanhou seu calvário de perto. Só retornou ao Brasil há oito anos.

“Em maior ou menor grau, esse período foi traumático para os dominicanos envolvidos e para a Ordem em seu conjunto”, explica Oswaldo. “Todos os grandes projetos que nós tínhamos foram talhados, impedidos de continuar.” Entre eles, o frade destaca o Instituto de Teologia Católica na Universidade de Brasília (UnB) – iniciativa comandada por frei Mateus que foi abortada – e o extinto jornal de esquerda Brasil Urgente, também capitaneado por dominicanos.

Oswaldo afirma que a repressão levou a Ordem dos Dominicanos a não acolher nenhum novo membro no país durante quase quinze anos. “Como iríamos aceitar jovens que, pelo simples fato de ingressarem, já eram considerados suspeitos?”, indaga.

Mas já diziam os militares: “apesar de poucos, fazem muito barulho”. Estão hoje espalhados pelos quatro campos do território, envolvidos com diversas organizações religiosas e humanitárias. Combate ao trabalho escravo, defesa dos direitos indígenas, das mulheres e dos presidiários são apenas algumas das linhas de atuação adotadas pelos seus membros.

Segundo Oswaldo, há hoje um clima de retomada de projetos dominicanos em desenvolvimento no Brasil. A lembrança daquele passado, no entanto, jamais se apagará de sua memória. “É curioso. Há tempos na vida, às vezes três, quatro ou cinco anos, em que a intensidade é tal que parece termos vivido um século”, reflete o frade.

A estreia de “Batismo de Sangue” nos cinemas nacionais está prevista para abril deste ano.

Ficha técnica
Título Original: Batismo de Sangue
Gênero: Drama
Tempo de Duração: 110 minutos
Ano de Lançamento (Brasil / França): 2007
Estúdio: Quimera Filmes / V&M do Brasil
Distribuição: Downtown Filmes
Direção: Helvécio Ratton
Roteiro: Dani Patarra e Helvécio Ratton, baseado no livro “Batismo de Sangue”, de Frei Betto
Produção: Helvécio Ratton
Música: Marco Antônio Guimarães
Fotografia: Lauro Escorel
Direção de Arte: Adrian Cooper
Figurino: Marjorie Gueller e Joana Porto
Edição: Mair Tavares

Caio Blat (Frei Tito)
Daniel de Oliveira (Frei Betto)
Cássio Gabus Mendes (Delegado Fleury)
Ângelo Antônio (Frei Oswaldo)
Léo Quintão (Frei Fernando)
Odilon Esteves (Frei Ivo)
Marcélia Cartaxo (Nildes)
Marku Ribas (Carlos Marighella)
Murilo Grossi (Policial Raul Careca)
Renato Parara (Policial Pudim)
Jorge Emil (Prior dos dominicanos)

Tumba de Talpiot: Tabor e o recuo dos especialistas

James Tabor está analisando no post Those Backtracking Scholars o artigo que saiu em The Jerusalem Post no dia 11 de abril de 2007, assinado por Etgar Lefkovits, com o título Jesus tomb film scholars backtrack. Neste artigo se diz que seis especialistas que participaram do documentário O Sepulcro Esquecido de Jesus recuaram de suas posições.

Diz o começo do artigo do Jerusalem Post:
Several prominent scholars who were interviewed in a bitterly contested documentary that suggests that Jesus and his family members were buried in a nondescript ancient Jerusalem burial cave have now revised their conclusions.

E acrescenta:
The dramatic clarifications, compiled by epigrapher Stephen Pfann of the University of the Holy Land in Jerusalem in a paper titled “Cracks in the Foundation: How the Lost Tomb of Jesus story is losing its scholarly support,” come two months after the screening of The Lost Tomb of Christ that attracted widespread public interest, despite the concomitant scholarly ridicule.

But now, even some of the scholars who were interviewed for and appeared in the film are questioning some of its basic claims.

James Tabor, porém, diz:
Of the thousands of stories that have appeared on the subject of the Talpiot “Jesus” tomb since February 28th this one by Lefkovits has to be ranked, from a journalistic standpoint, as one of the worst of the worst, and given the multiple contenders, this ranking is not an easy one to earn.

E continua:
Lefkovits mentions six scholars who have “backtracked” from their positions in the film – Andrey Feuerverger the statistician, Shimon Gibson, the archaeologist involved in the original excavation, Frank Cross, the renowned Harvard epigrapher, Carney Matheson who did the DNA tests, and Francois Bovon, another Harvard professor who works on Mary Magdalene traditions. Lefkovits ends his story with a naively formulated theological affirmation that seems strangely out of place in a news story: “According to the New Testament, Jesus rose from the dead on the third day after his crucifixion, and an ossuary containing Jesus’ bones – the explanations of the movie director notwithstanding – would contradict the core Christian belief that he was resurrected and then ascended into heaven.” The problem is none of these six scholars have backtraced or repudiated what they presented in the film and Lefkovits did not bother to talk to any of them.

Quem não viu o documentário ou acompanhou o debate, clique aqui e aqui.


Those Backtracking Scholars

Posted on April 18, 2007 by JDT

While I was in Jerusalem last week a story appeared in the Jerusalem Post headlined “Jesus Tomb Film Scholars Backtrack” by Etgar Lefkovits. Its essential claim was that several prominent scholars interviewed in the controversial film, “The Lost Tomb of Jesus” had now revised their conclusions two months after the screening of the film. These “dramatic clarifications” reported by Lefkovits were based on a Web site article by “epigrapher Stephen Pfann of the University of the Holy Land.” Of the thousands of stories that have appeared on the subject of the Talpiot “Jesus” tomb since February 26th this one by Lefkovits has to be ranked, from a journalistic standpoint, as one of the worst of the worst, and given the multiple contenders, this ranking is not an easy one to earn.

Unfortunately, the Lefkovits story (try Google: “Lefkovits tomb backtrack” for a small sample) was flashed around the world, picked up by media that understandably found such a headline irresistible and a host of Christian bloggers eager to feed on any scrap of major media coverage that might cast into doubt the claims of the film–that the Talpiot tomb likely once held the bones of Jesus of Nazareth. After all, once the story is published it is no longer “Lefkovits says that Stephen Pfann says that Prof.X says,” as reported on a Web site that has the word “New” flashing on-and-off over its “Tomb” discussions, but it is now “The Jerusalem Post reports this or that.”

Lefkovits mentions five scholars who have “backtracked” from their positions in the film–Andrey Feuerverger the statistician, Shimon Gibson, the archaeologist involved in the original excavation, Frank Cross, the renowned Harvard epigrapher, Carney Matheson who did the DNA tests, and Francois Bovon, another Harvard professor who works on Mary Magdalene traditions. Lefkovits ends his story with a naively formulated theological affirmation that seems strangely out of place in a news story: “According to the New Testament, Jesus rose from the dead on the third day after his crucifixion, and an ossuary containing Jesus’ bones–the explanations of the movie director notwithstanding–would contradict the core Christian belief that he was resurrected and then ascended into heaven.”

The problem is none of these five scholars have backtracked or repudiated what they presented in the film and Lefkovits did not bother to talk to any of them.

As it happens, the day the Jerusalem Post story appeared I was sitting with Shimon Gibson in the lobby of the American Colony hotel and we read the piece through together. He was quite upset at how he had been partially quoted as saying “I’m skeptical that this is the tomb of Jesus” as if this was a new position he was taking reflecting his “backtracking.” His full statement, even as produced on Pfann’s Web site, Lefkovits’s one source for his story, plainly says the filmmakers did a good job, carrying out their work with integrity and vision, and that he was keeping an “open mind” about the possibilities. One of my purposes in being in Jerusalem was to work with Gibson on our ongoing research on the Talpiot tomb which we have carried out for two years now in complete and cooperative harmony.

I am also in very close touch with Prof. Feuerverger, the renowned statistician at the University of Toronto. Over the past few weeks we have spoken at length on the phone and exchanged dozens of e-mail. I am thoroughly familiar with his work and his conclusions and he told me this week that his major academic paper on the statistics related to the Talpiot Tomb is very close to final completion. According to the Lefkovits story Feuerverger’s is the “most startling change of opinion” of all the “backtracking” experts, but he then goes on to quote his “new” position which is identical to the one he expressed at the initial New York press conference on February 26th, and one he has held all along–namely that his 600 to 1 figure refers to the rarity of the cluster of names found in the Talpiot tomb. I have offered an extensive discussion of this in earlier blog posts so I won’t repeat it all again here, but even better are Dr. Feuerverger’s own words on the subject that I just received today: “I would like to make it clear that I stand by the statements I had made in my probability calculations. I have retracted nothing. My website makes clear the assumptions of my calculations. Subject to these assumptions, my estimates have not changed.”

Prof. Frank Cross of Harvard, a renowned epigrapher of Hebrew and Aramaic of this period, provided readings for the ossuary inscriptions including “Jesus son of Joseph.” He has not in the slightest way changed his views on these readings so to cast him as one of a group of scholars who have revised their views as stated in the film is totally irresponsible. Cross said in the film that the names were common, indicating his own view that connecting this particular “Jesus son of Joseph” to the one in the New Testament is not a self-evident task. I have discussed this with him and he is rightly skeptical of statistical claims in any field, but he would be the first to admit that he is not a statistician and anyone who knows Frank Cross knows that he keeps an open mind. His official position is that he stands by the readings and what he says in the film and that his business is not to draw conclusions about whether this is or is not a tomb connected to Jesus of Nazareth.

Dr. Carney Matheson, who supervised the DNA tests on the bone fragments in the Yeshua and Mariamene ossuaries, has not backed off in the least from the results achieved by his laboratory. I have been involved in the whole thing from start to finish and I was present when his results were presented. I have also since been in touch with Dr. Matheson, to be sure he is okay with what I write here. When Dr. Carney Matheson first broke the news of the DNA test results live on camera in his laboratory he offered the passing observation that given the small grouping in that tomb, with only two women named, it was possible the two were “husband and wife.” He did not intend to be understood to say that was the only possibility, and he would be the first to make clear that DNA tests often eliminate relationships as well as establish them. Some times, in that sense “no match” can be as informative as a “match.” The DNA results did not tell us what the relationship between the two was, but what it was not—the female sample was neither the mother nor the maternal sister of the male. At that time I am not sure if he even knew anything about the possible identity of the samples. Had the two turned out to be related then we would have been able to add another “relationship” to our statistics. As it stands two relations were eliminated making the husband and wife one of the possibilities, but certainly not the only possibility. However, as I have often pointed out, since Jesus had three “intimate” Marys in his life, his mother, his sister, and Mary Magdalene, in this case, getting “absolutely nothing” in terms of a maternal match between Yeshua and Mariamene does indeed turn out to be quite significant for overall possibilities of interpretation.

Finally, Professor Francois Bovon has not in any way backed off from what he said in the film regarding the use of the name Mariamne as an appropriate name for Mary Magdalene in later Christian sources. His article is on the SBL Web site for anyone to read. What Bovon has clarified is that he is dealing with literary sources and traditions, and in his work in that regard he does not intend to claim that the historical Mary Magdalene was called by this name in her own lifetime. But he has reiterated his view that Mariamne, besides Maria or Mariam, is a Greek equivalent, attested by Josephus, Origen, and the Acts of Philip, for the Semitic Myriam, and that the portrayal of Mariamne in the Acts of Philip fits very well with the portrayal of Mary of Magdala in the Manichean Psalms, the Gospel of Mary, and Pistis Sophia. Professor Bovon does not accept the overall thesis of the film, either that Jesus was reburied in a second tomb or that he was married to Mary Magdalene and had a child with her.

There is no doubt that Jacobovici’s film has a point of view and that it seeks to present a case, namely that the Yeshua of the Talpiot tomb is indeed Jesus of Nazareth, and that based on evidence in this tomb he had a child, most likely with the one we know as Mary Magdalene in the N.T. gospels. How well he makes that case is subject to debate and discussion. However, it is ludicrous to fault Jacobovici, who is neither archaeologist, epigrapher, statistician, DNA expert, nor historian for consulting with those experts considered among the best in each of these areas, presenting the results of their work, and then making use of that data in formulating his own presentation. In the same way, if I consult a lexicon or translation of an ancient work from a language in which I am not trained, even as a scholar and a historian, by using such a source, I am not implying the editors of these works somehow agree with some historically reconstructed model that I might construct, based on such linguistic evidence.


Jerusalem Post Update on “Backtracking Scholars”

Posted on April 25, 2007 by JDT

Last week I offered my own response to the April 11th story in the Jerusalem Post claiming that most of the scholars appearing in “The Lost Tomb of Jesus” Discovery TV special had now “backtracked” on their statements and positions as portrayed in the film. Here is an update on that story from the Post.

‘ No Scholars Backtracked on Jesus Film’

Jerusalem Post staff, THE JERUSALEM POST
Apr. 24, 2007

The director of the Lost Tomb of Jesus documentary, which claims that Jesus of Nazareth and his family were laid to rest in a burial tomb in what is today the Jerusalem neighborhood of East Talpiot, has rejected claims that scholars who were interviewed in the film have now backtracked and revised their conclusions.

“Not a single scholar that appears in the film has backtracked on any statement made in the film,” the Canadian filmmaker Simcha Jacobovici stated in an e-mail to The Jerusalem Post. “Not a single scholar has retracted a single word.”

Jacobovici was responding to an article that appeared in the Post of April 11, which stated that several scholars who had [sic “been”] featured in the film had backtracked and were now stepping away from the filmmakers’ “Jesus and family were buried here” theory. The article cited a paper entitled “Cracks in the Foundation: How the Lost Tomb of Jesus is losing its scholarly support” compiled by epigrapher Stephen Pfann of the University of the Holy Land in Jerusalem.

Jacobovici, who could not be reached for comment in the original April 11 article, rejected the assertion that the University of Toronto statistician Prof. Andrey Feuerverger, who claims in the film that the odds are 600:1 in favor of the tomb being the family burial cave of Jesus of Nazareth, has now undergone a “startling change of opinion.” “What is ‘startling’ about this statement,” said Jacobovici, “is that it’s completely false.”

Feuerverger is not giving interviews, but Jacobovici quoted from an e-mail he received from Feuerverger in response to the article, in which the statistician states: “I would like to make it clear that I stand by the statements I had made in my probability calculations. I have retracted nothing.” Jacobovici added that Feuerverger was continuing “to refine his calculations in preparation of a scholarly paper destined for publication in a scholarly journal.”

Changes cited in the April 11 article that have been made on the Web site of the Discovery Channel, which broadcast the documentary, relating to Feuerverger’s conclusions, said Jacobovici, reflect those refinements. “As he refines his language, Discovery Channel refines its Web site language on the statistics. So what? The bottom line is that Feuerverger does not ‘backtrack’ on any statement made in the film, nor on the 600 to one probability presented in the film,” insisted Jacobovici.

Relating to the critique that Israeli archeologists have called the similarity between the names in the Talpiot tomb and the Jesus family “coincidental,” Jacobovici noted that several prominent experts were given the opportunity to level precisely this objection in the film itself and did so. But “the fact is that the cluster of names found in the Talpiot tomb is not only rare, it is unique,” said the filmmaker. “The fact is that in 100 years of Jerusalem archeology, only one ‘Jesus, son of Joseph’ ossuary has ever been found in situ. Only one other [such ossuary] emerged unprovenanced in a warehouse.” Similarly, there is only one ossuary inscribed “Yose,” said by the filmmakers to relate to one of Jesus’s brothers, and “even the so-called Mary ossuaries are extremely rare,” said Jacobovici.

Jacobovici also stated that reservations raised by other experts in the Pfann paper and the subsequent Post article relate to matters outside their field of expertise. For instance, epigrapher Prof. Frank Moore Cross has said that he is not persuaded by the statistics. But, noted Jacobovici, “Cross is not a statistician. I respect him as a scholar but I would never turn to him for an opinion on statistics. I went to him to confirm the reading of the inscriptions.”

In similar vein, the dismissal of aspects of the Jesus family theory by DNA scientist Dr. Carney Matheson, who supervised DNA testing carried out for the film from the supposed Jesus and Mary Magdalene ossuaries, is “nonsense,” according to Jacobovici, who noted that “Matheson, in my film, makes statements that are limited to his expertise in DNA.” And in that specific area, “he hasn’t retracted a single word.”

Jacobovici also countered the assertion that Prof. Francois Bovon – who is quoted in the film as saying that “Mariamene” is the name given in the Acts of Philip to Mary Magdalene, and that she is differentiated from the mother of Jesus who is called “Maria” – has changed his mind. “All that has happened is that Prof. Bovon now states that his references to Mary Magdalene’s name being ‘Mariamene’ have to do with a literary tradition, not a historical one,” said Jacobovici. “But that’s all we asked him.”

Jacobovici also noted that Pfann challenges the reading of the “Mariamene” inscription, and stated that “It’s good for scholars to give various opinions. That’s what scholarly debate is all about… But the fact is that Pfann is not an expert on Greek inscriptions. The inscription in question has been categorically identified as ‘Mariamene’ by Dr. Rahmani in the IAA official catalogue of ossuaries.”

One scholar who has been skeptical all along about the “Jesus family tomb” claims is Dr. Shimon Gibson, who was one of the original team that worked at the tomb when it was first discovered in 1980, appears in the film and sat on Jacobovici’s panel when the documentary was launched at a New York press conference in February.

In a recent e-mail to Jacobovici, Gibson states that: “My professional assessment of the facts available about this tomb, based on having dug there, and on some 30 years of experience studying Second Temple tombs around Jerusalem, is that the Talpiot Tomb is not the Jesus family tomb.” Gibson adds that, “At the moment, I think the facts stack up against the Talpiot tomb being the family tomb of Jesus. But the filmmakers do have a right to do their investigative journalism, and we, as scholars, must now check out their claims and make balanced arguments for or against the ideas, as the case may be.”

Jacobovici said that this does not represent backtracking, since “Gibson never says it is the tomb of Jesus in the film. I never quote Gibson saying anything about the probability that this is the tomb of Jesus.”

Meanwhile, Jacobovici added, an attempt by certain “religious groups” to block a screening of the film in Chile next week on Discovery Latin America has been thrown out by the local courts.