Simcha’s Supposed Smoking Templar Firearms

As many longtime rogueclassicism and Explorator readers know, when Easter comes around we usually get one or two claims of varying degrees of credulity having to do with the crucifixion and/or resurrection of Jesus (Explorator readers, e.g., will be getting the latest Shroud of Turin news this weekend). A frequent forayer in this particular milieu is Professor Simcha Jacobovici of Huntington University fame. This year, however, Professor Jacobovici took a somewhat odd turn by riffing on a documentary which appeared on the History Channel relating to assorted (familiar) claims relating to the Templars (Tracking the Templars). He latched onto the image of a coin of some King John and linked it to the first set of Talpiot tombs … ecce:

via SimchajTV

To make a short story even shorter, Professor Jacobovici is now taking his stories into Holy-Blood-Holy-Grail-land and is suggesting a link between his Talpiot tomb and the Templars. You can read about it in more detail here: Smoking Templar Gun. James Tabor has added a bit of detail as well here: John of Brienne, Templar “King of Jerusalem” and the Talpiot “Jesus” Tomb, although he is a bit more conservative in terms of conclusions.

In case you’re wondering what the heck I’m talking about, that little circle in the triangle on John’s crown and on the Talpiot tomb are supposedly a ‘connection’. One very detailed bit of criticism worth reading is Jason Colavito’s spin, which looks at various medieval crowns:What Was Scott Wolter’s “Templar” Coin?.

Quibus rebus cognitis, for what it’s worth, I didn’t intend to blog about this at all — it seems clearly outside of our purview there didn’t seem to be a Classical connection. But then I was stuck in the car this past weekend, on a long road trip back from visiting the protoclassicist, and it struck me that what James Tabor ended his piece with almost/unintentionally hit the point:

There is a much earlier coin of William I “The Conquerer” (1066-1087), minted around 1070 that seems to show the King wearing some kind of crown but with a “temple” like facade behind his head that has some similarities to the Chevron and circle imagery.

Why do we call this ‘chevron and circle’ when even those who see ‘chevron and circle’ can connect it to a temple? Why aren’t we — instead of trying to leap twelve centuries to make a link — looking at some of the coinage from the first couple centuries A.D.? Check this 2nd century coin (one of several) from Pseudo-Autonomous:

via the coinproject

We can list other coins with a circle-in-pediment design (sometimes called a shield rather than a circle) with less ‘pseudo’ images: Alexander Severus, Caracalla, Augustus, and Maxentius (the latter used the image a LOT).

So let’s take the next logical step and suggest that the circle-and-chevron is actually some sort of shorthand for the facade of a temple. Would it be used in a tomb situation? We can point to the 4th century B.C./B.C.E. rock-cut tombs at Kaunos, perhaps, although they technically have a ‘square’ in the pediment:

via Wikipedia

… but the general idea is there. So what, then,  would be a more logical progression: using a tomb facade on a rock cut tomb in imitation of generic temples (even if they might be pagan) seen in coins and probably in countless necropoleis in the Eastern Mediterranean, or make it a specifically-crypto-Christian symbol that the Templars were aware of and passed on (of course) to the Priory of Zion yadda yadda yadda. It’s a generic temple facade, not a ‘templar’ facade. I think we need to start emphasizing a ‘Hellenized Jew’ spin in opposition to Professor Jacobovici’s claims.

Some More Nails for the Ossuary of the Gospel of Jesus’ Wife

The excitement/brouhaha over the purported Gospel of Jesus’ Wife thing has died down a bit, but over the past couple of weeks there have been a couple of developments which are probably of great importance, although we must admit that the ‘waiting for further testing’ tack which seems to have become a drumbeat over the past few weeks continues to be necessary. That said, we would like to focus on a couple of related things, but first we should point folks to our previous coverage (in case this is something new):

… and to the more regular updates of James McGrath (which will provide you with more thorough background to what follows):

With that noted, the major development of the past couple of weeks is an increasingly strong suggestion that the papyrus fragment dubbed the Gospel of Jesus Wife is a forgery.  Before getting to that, though, we must deal with the almost-lone-voice-crying-in-the-wilderness who is objecting to such suggestions: Professor Simcha Jacobovici of Huntington University. Back on October 1, when the ‘forgery’ argument was just developing, Professor Jacobovici — whose self-proclaimed mission is the burst the bubble of the academy — made an important point, but then descended into a diatribe against those he disagrees with and so was pretty much guaranteed no one would comment … inter alia:

So far, they are not accusing King and Bagnall of forgery. They are simply saying that King and Bagnall were fooled by a modern forger, who is smarter than both of them. And what do they base this theory on? Nothing! It seems – surprise, surprise – that the fragment is similar to other non-canonical gospels e.g., the Gospel of Thomas.

So what? If that was a criterion for forgery, all the canonical gospels would have to be disqualified as ancient forgeries since they all resemble each other. This is pure nonsense, but it’s what the professional naysayers do. The sleeper agents of Christian orthodoxy i.e., the theologians masquerading as objective scholars, kick into action whenever their theology is threatened. They’ve learned the trick: shout “forgery!” often enough, repeat it on the internet ad nauseam and on various blogs manned by C-list scholars, and pretty soon you’ve got everyone ignoring the content of the new discovery and focusing on whether it’s real to begin with. Add a couple of charges of “sensationalism” and you’re set.

The important point Professor Jacobovici did make was that similarity to the Gospel of Thomas on its own probably was not sufficient to confidently label the GJW a forgery. Indeed, I jokingly suggested in a private conversation with assorted “C-list scholars” that we could, in theory, be dealing with a “Q” for the Gospel of Thomas or something like that. But the joke didn’t stand for very long as the connection to Michael Grondin’s interlinear translation of the Gospel of Thomas became more apparent (on which more later) and compelling. Once that claim came out — especially as presented by Andrew Bernhard — Professor Jacobovici took a different, and definitely important, tack (on October 16), inter alia:

The pseudo academic babble came in the form of an online article by Andrew Bernhard from Oxford no less ( And what does Andrew say? If I understand him correctly, he argues that something called the Grondin Interlinear version of the Gospel of Thomas has a kind of “typographical error” and that this type of typographical error appears in the Jesus Wife Papyrus. Meaning, someone forged the papyrus and used the Grondin Interlinear Gospel of Thomas as his guide. By copying the typographical error, however, the forger gave himself away. Bernhard’s argument is packaged in some pretty heavy analysis of Coptic writing, enough to scare anyone not at Oxford.

There’s only one slight problem with Bernhard’s analysis. I believe that Grondin’s Interlinear version became widely available online only in 2002, Bernhard says 1997. In any event, this papyrus was already seen in 1982 by Peter Munro, a prominent Egyptologist at the Free University in Berlin and a long time Director of the Kestner Museum in Hannover. More than this, he showed it to a colleague, Gerhard Fecht, who identified the papyrus as a 2nd to 4th century CE (AD) fragment. The collector who owns the papyrus turned over to Prof. King at Harvard Divinity School some signed and dated letters by Prof. Munro and an unsigned, undated note that appears to belong to the same 1982 correspondence. The latter states that “Professor Fecht believes that the small fragment…is the sole example of a text in which Jesus uses direct speech with reference to having a wife” (emphasis added). So when you get rid of the babble, what is Bernhard really saying? He is saying that the fragment was most likely forged “after 1997 when Grondin’s Interlinear was first posted online”. How could someone forge something in 1997, when the “forged” item was already referenced in 1982?

This is an important objection and, of course, is one which really needs some explanation if the ‘forgery’ claims are to be taken seriously. It is necessary, then, to point out that Professor Jacobovici appears to be misreading the information Dr King provides about the origins of the fragment as presented in the online version of her paper (p. 2). Her first statement of importance:

Nothing is known about the circumstances of its discovery, but we have some clues about its modern history.

Gloss: the provenance of the fragment is unknown; as was mentioned in earlier analyses by practically everyone commenting on this, that is a major red flag.

Then comes this:

The current owner possesses a typed and signed letter addressed to H. U. Laukamp dated July 15, 1982, from Prof. Dr. Peter Munro (Freie Universität, Ägyptologisches Seminar, Berlin). The letter states that a colleague, Prof. Fecht, has identified one of Mr. Laukamp’s papyri as a 2nd-4th c. C.E. fragment of the Gospel of John in Coptic. He advises that this fragment be preserved between glass plates in order to protect it from further damage. This fragment of the Gospel of John is now in the collection of the owner of GosJesWife, who acquired it among the same batch of Greek and Coptic papyri.

Gloss: the papyrus which dates to the 2nd-4th century A.D. is not the Gospel of Jesus’ Wife (as Professor Jacobovici’s post seems to imply). Or is it? We then move to the unsigned, undated note which states:

Professor Fecht glaubt, daß der kleine ca. 8 cm große Papyrus das einzige Beispiel für einen Text ist, in dem Jesus die direkte Rede in Bezug auf eine Ehefrau benutzt. Fecht meint, daß dies ein Beweis für eine mögliche Ehe sein könnte.

It’s translated in a footnote:

“Professor Fecht believes that the small fragment, approximately 8 cm in size, is the sole example of a text in which Jesus uses direct speech with reference to having a wife. Fecht is of the opinion that this could be evidence for a possible marriage.”

Actually, in terms of glossing all of this bit, we can look to the article Smithsonian Magazine put out back when this story was young:

[..] Among the papers the collector had sent King was a typed letter to Laukamp from July 1982 from Peter Munro. Munro was a prominent Egyptologist at the Free University Berlin and a longtime director of the Kestner Museum, in Hannover, for which he had acquired a spectacular, 3,000-year-old bust of Akhenaten. Laukamp had apparently consulted Munro about his papyri, and Munro wrote back that a colleague at the Free University, Gerhard Fecht, an expert on Egyptian languages and texts, had identified one of the Coptic papyri as a second-to fourth-century A.D. fragment of the Gospel of John.

The collector also left King an unsigned and undated handwritten note that appears to belong to the same 1982 correspondence—this one concerning a different gospel. “Professor Fecht believes that the small fragment, approximately 8 cm in size, is the sole example of a text in which Jesus uses direct speech with reference to having a wife. Fecht is of the opinion that this could be evidence for a possible marriage.”

In other words, there’s a lot of confusion/cognitive dissonance being thrown at us here. We have dated evidence of a fragment of the Gospel of John (dated to the 2-4th century). We are told that the fragment now known as the Gospel of Jesus’ Wife was part of the same collection by the person who is apparently the current owner. We also have an undated note — which seems kind of convenient — between a couple of dead guys hinting (perhaps) at the authenticity of the fragment known as the Gospel of Jesus’ wife. In other words, we really have nothing remotely reliable in regards to the provenance of this fragment, especially in terms of the date it was acquired by anyone involved. Professor Jacobovici takes Bernhard to task for not analyzing the handwriting of this undated note — which, of course, is beyond Bernhard’s purview — but it does seem like an avenue worth exploring. Dr King apparently has these items in her possession (according to the Smithsonian Magazine piece) so perhaps there are ‘other manuscripts’ she might want to test first.

So given the foregoing, it is not unreasonable to conclude that the lack of any solid dates specifically tied to the Gospel of Jesus’ Wife (as opposed to that Gospel of John that is also mentioned)  pretty much negates Professor Jacobovici’s objection in regards to possible anachronistic forgeries. We probably should also note — since Professor Jacobovici always seems to be impugning the motives of those he disagrees with — that Professor Jacobovici’s support for this fragment being genuine is motivated, of course, by his own controversial theories regarding the Talpiot tombs. He is not a neutral observer in this. (Full disclosure: I am Catholic and  am not currently suffering from  theological trauma of any kind … I am a Classicist by training and have long believed — even before I became a Catholic — that  it would be a likely thing for Jesus to have been married; indeed unusual for him not to be … it doesn’t affect my Catholicity at all one way or the other).

Turning now to the folks looking for forgery, we find most of them are actually one step removed from the blogosphere — i.e. they are degreed folks who have written papers and/or drafts of papers which various bloggers have posted.  As such, it is useful to gather them together at the outset … first we have Francis Watson’s contributions which were shared via Mark Goodacre’s NT Blog:

… we should note some criticism of Watson’s methods by Timo Paananen which were posted on James McGrath’s Exploring Our Matrix blog:

Most recently, however, and the ‘smoking gun’ which gave rise to Professor Jacobovici’s post noted above, was Andrew Bernhard’s article — along with Mark Goodacre’s ‘executive summary’ — which noted that a ‘typo’ in the fragment curiously seems to match a typo in the pdf version of Michael Grondin’s Interlinear English Coptic Translation of the Gospel of Thomas. Mark Goodacre has all the links here:

I encourage all to read the ‘executive summary’ and Andrew Bernhard’s paper itself … I suspect the latter spawned a LiveScience article which appeared in the past couple of days (‘Gospel of Jesus’ Wife’ Faces Authenticity Tests)

Even in the wake of Bernhard’s paper, however, there are some academic heavyweights expressing skepticism at the forgery claim … e.g Dr. Robert Kraft in a comment on Alin Suciu’s most recent post on these matters: Alin Suciu – Hugo Lundhaug: A Peculiar Dialectal Feature in the Gospel of Jesus’s Wife, Line 6 … Dr Kraft thinks it “improbable” that a forger would go to the trouble. I can hardly claim to be an academic heavyweight, and I’ve mentioned consistently that I know nothing about Coptic, but my somewhat-trained eye finds much to support the notion that we’re dealing with a forgery and hopefully this plain ‘visual’ analysis will add further weight to the academic claims of forgery.
To do so, I’ll be posting the same photos over and over so the reader doesn’t ‘lose’ the  train of thought. Photos of the fragments come from that Harvard Divinity School Page: The Gospel of Jesus’s Wife: A New Coptic Gospel Papyrus … and the first thing we need to reiterate (Cato like):


Someone has to adequately explain how the lettering on a page from a Codex (as we are told) can be so well-preserved on one side, and so poorly-preserved on the other side. And just for bonus marks, they have to explain why eight lines seem to fit on the legible side while the other side seems to have problems handling six. In his list of the steps a forger would have to take to pull this off, Dr Kraft suggests:

1. Find an appropriate piece, preferably old with at least one blank side and if it has any writing on its other side, let it be nearly illegible and faded Coptic. (This is perhaps the easiest step — I even have some blank pieces from my eBay purchases.)

… and someone from a nefarious profession probably wouldn’t even have to resort to eBay. In other words, it isn’t difficult to find a medium to ‘add value’ to, as we’ve mentioned in our previous post on these matters. Indeed, I think I’ve beaten that horse pretty badly by now (despite the lack of any response to it) so we can turn to other things that have struck me as odd about this. Here’s the front again:


Something that has been increasingly bothering me over the past week is how neat the right margin is and how nicely it follows the ‘edge’. It gets even more suspicious when one compares it to the transcription/translation that is also provided by the Harvard Divinity School:

The words on the right side are pretty consistent in terms of how dark/legible they are. The letters are almost all complete words (i.e., the word ends at this right margin). By contrast, we get the ‘jagged’ look of the left side, although for the most part we still seem to have complete words. This suggests to me that someone was working from a previously-prepared text and actually writing from right-to-left, whether because they were using a brush and didn’t want to smear as they were going along, or because they were left-handed, or because they came from a culture which naturally wrote things from right to left.

And just to bring the fragments a little closer to their alleged source — Michael Grondin’s translation — consider the following (he said, Bill Nye-like):

Click for a larger version

The papyrus image is line one … coincidentally, it is the line with the possible ‘smoking gun’ of a typo copied from Grondin’s Interlinear translation. The Coptic text above is the last line of p. 18 and the first line of page 19 of the pdf version of Grondin’s translation. As Bernhard and others have noted, the highlighted words make up the line in our papyrus fragment. But perhaps more importantly, it shows that the line length of the papyrus is also possibly identical to the line length in Grondin’s pdf. Other lines are made up of ‘multiple clippings’, so this might not be as apparent.

Last, and certainly not least, is an indication to the average layperson, how easy it would be to alter an existing line from Grondin’s work and give it a rather more spectacular meaning:

The papyrus excerpt is from line 5 … the ‘she will become my disciple’ bit. The top comes from p. 11 of Grondin’s translation, from the line that is 11 from the bottom (I’m not clear how these things should be cited, obviously). As can be seen, all that is required to turn the “he” to “she” is to leave off that one vertical stroke (changing a “fay” to a “sigma”, I am told, by Mark Goodacre).

In other words, there really is an awful lot going on here to suggest a forgery, even to the untrained eye. The right margin is curiously straight while the left margin is jagged. As others have shown, the words of the papyrus seem to be cut and pasted from a readily available online text of the Gospel of Thomas, and even reproduce a typo found therein. Even more, there is a decent hint that the line length of the online version of the Gospel of Thomas is being imitated and to give a gender change to otherwise uncontroversial words really wouldn’t be too difficult. Combining that with the utter lack of confidence we have in terms of the provenance of the fragment, at this point we really can’t be confident of any notions of ‘authenticity’ being attached to this so-called Gospel of Jesus Wife. Of course, we still should await the results of any testing that does occur ‘just to be sure’, but I wouldn’t advise holding breaths on this one. Any testing will either definitely rule it out or — if the forger had the sense to use distilled water and/or ancient recipes for his/her ink — deem the authenticity ‘inconclusive’. The collective analysis of the ‘forgery crowd’ should be enough to override any ‘inconclusive’ judgement.

rogueclassicism Review: The Resurrection Tomb Mystery ~ The Circus

Well then, after six or so weeks of  hype and scholarly scrutiny, Professor Simcha Jacobovici‘s and Dr James Tabor‘s The Resurrection Tomb Mystery documentary finally aired on the Discovery Channel (in the US) and Vision TV (in Canada).  As such, it  is now time to give it a formal review of sorts and try to bring some semblance of order to the claims and scholarly reaction since, of course, this doc will likely live on in repeats for a few years at least and folks will be hitting the interwebs to see what folks who know a lot about the issues think about it. It’s also worth reviewing because in a week, Vision TV in Canada will be airing a 90-minute special on the program and perhaps that might require a followup review.  At the outset, we should draw attention to our previous posts on this, which, as might be suspected, will overlap the current effort to some extent:

We should also note that — like most documentaries of this nature — the show was also the subject of a book treatment. I have not read the book myself, but possibly will in the future, but folks who want a review of that would do well to read Christopher Rollston’s treatment and/or Eric Meyers’ review of same. Also worth a look (although not necessarily specific to the book) is Mark Goodacre’s post: “The Jesus Discovery”: Summary and Top Ten Problems and Thomas Verenna’s What are the Criticisms of the ‘Jonah’ Ossuary?.

In terms of format, I’m going to be doing something similar to my approach in my Cleopatra: Portrait of a Killer review, namely, to give a brief summary of each section and, where appropriate, point out anything worthy of praise or blame. Unlike that review, however, we don’t have the segments available on Youtube (whether they end up on Youtube is another question), but we do have other videos we’ll be bringing up. At the outset, we should also note that a number of our Biblioblogger friends were liveblogging the program as it aired in the U.S. and folks might want to visit those posts just to confirm that I’m not making things up and to see their reactions as well. In no particular order:

We should also note that, in the weeks leading up to the program, Dr James Tabor also published a major article on the tomb which is the focus of the documentary — usually designated as Talpiot or Talpiyot B , a.k.a. ‘The Patio Tomb’ — at the Bible and Interpretation site (which was revised shortly after its initial publication):

… and we should also note the existence of the project’s official website, which includes a press kit, photos, and the like: The Jesus Discovery.  And so, onto this lengthy review, which I’d like to think is the blog equivalent of a review article …

First Segment:

The first minute or so is pretty much the stuff that was in the promo released just prior to the actual show being released, with a sort of dramatization of the crucifixion and the connection to Joseph of Arimathea‘s tomb. They acknowledge the existence and traditions associated with the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, but say that there is no archaeological evidence for it being the tomb of Joseph of Arimathea. Then they flash forward to2007 and Talpiot A stuff and give a quick overview of the so-called ‘Jesus Family Tomb‘ and the suggestion that the people who don’t believe the results of that dig are religious types and controversy over the claims is somewhat downplayed. In light of that, we point people to a page at Biblical Archaeology Magazine’s site which includes a pile of papers/statements by scholars of various stripes given/discussed at a conference organized by the Princeton Theological Seminary:

In the same vein, just prior to this writing ASOR made available for free the issue of Near Eastern Archaeology (NEA 69:3/4 [2006]) which included a number of papers on the subject. It is, alas, no longer free but is accessible via JSTOR should you desire to track it down.

The segment continues with a shot (clearly staged) of the team planning to investigate the other Talpiot tomb (i.e. the one currently of interest) by discussing it over a model of the apartments that were built over it. We then get the story of Amos Kloner’s initial (brief) investigation of the tomb and its subsequent building over  by said apartments. We are told of the ‘ritual pipe’ being put in and being cemented shut (I confess in my notes I have a pile of question marks beside that one).

We then get a scene where James Tabor is on screen and suggests the location of the tomb associates it with Joseph of Arimathea. The tombs (both A and B) are on what was once a first century estate which have a wine press and ritual bath.  From the spot where  Dr Tabor is standing can be seen the Herodium, Temple Mount, and the  Hill of Evil Counsel, which he says have “strategic meaning” and Professor Jacobovici becomes increasingly convinced that this was Joseph of Arimathea’s estate. That said, it is worth noting that neither Talpiot A nor Talpiot B have anything in them — inscription-wise or artifact-wise — which suggests any connection to Joseph of Arimathea. As such, I’m not sure how anyone could connect the  location so specifically to someone we know so little about.

So they make plans to do the dig and get a license to do so, but then we get the drama of the Heredim objecting to what would amount to desecration of a tomb. There’s a scene of some shoving and pushing, and one of the Heredim claim Tabor and Jacobovici are acting like Nazis, which is a rather tasteless comment, given that professor Jacobovici’s parents were Holocaust survivors. This leads to Professor Jacobovici and Dr Felix Golubev meeting with a rabbi, as a result of which they get permission for a limited investigation.

The first segment then ends with a problem: they don’t know where the tomb is and have to relocate it using ground penetrating radar. If the purpose of the opening segment of a documentary is to ‘set the stage’ and sort of prepare the viewer for what to expect as the rest of the story unfolds, this little bit does — but only if one is aware of the previous documentary. I invite readers to consider this excerpt from the first documentary The Lost Tomb of Jesus (the one directed by James Cameron) and fast forward to the 2:00 minute mark and watch for a while:

As can be seen if one has viewed the current documentary (i.e. the Resurrection Tomb Mystery), Professor Jacobovici and team had — back in 2007 — accidentally (?) discovered this tomb already. They had put a camera down the ‘ritual pipe’ (hence my confusion above at it being cemented) and had already seen the ossuaries therein. In other words, claiming they didn’t know where this tomb was was a load of hooey, and claiming they needed ground penetrating radar to locate it is similarly in the realm of hooey. That the gpr may have been needed to establish the best place to drill other holes seems reasonable, but to come up with this easily-disprovable story simply for dramatic effect is our first hint that it’s the ‘story’ that’s more important in this documentary than the scholarship.

Second Segment

The second segment begins with the team locating the tomb with gpr (surprise!) and then they wonder how they can get in. The enlist the talents of Walter Klassen to build a robotic arm on which they are going to put a remotely operated camera (a PTZ model put out by GE, although it really isn’t specified in the documentary). This section is actually really interesting and I do have to stress that I could see this kind of technology having much application in difficult sites in archaeology (e.g. it appears to take much better shots than the similar thing which was used in that so-called Lupercal find a while back).

While the building of the robotic arm is going on, Professor Jacobovici wonders what an early Christian symbol would look like and goes to Rome to meet with Dr Robin Jensen of Vanderbilt University, who shows him around the catacombs.  He’s looking for symbols of early Christianity (not seeming to care or be aware that the Catacomb of San Sebastiano that they’re in is at least a couple of hundred years later than the Talpiot Tombs) like fish  or anchors and eventually settles on Jonah and the Whale. We are then shown images of Jonah from the catacomb of Sts Marcellinus and Peter and the cubiculum of Jonah, and Dr Jensen confirms that Jonah would have been an early Christian symbol.

At this point we have to interrupt the story and alert readers to the fact that Dr Jensen has adamantly dissociated herself from the impression given in the documentary that she supports the theories therein. Here’s an excerpt from a post at the ASOR blog:

[…] At the end of our second day of filming (in the Catacomb of Priscilla), someone suddenly thrust a photograph into my hands and asked me to comment upon it while cameras were running. I was asked if it might be an image of Jonah. I really didn’t know what to say. What I did say was something like this (I don’t recall my actual words):

“If (and it’s a big IF) this were an actual image of Jonah from the first century, it looks nothing like the images we have just been discussing. If this dates to the first century, it also would be two hundred years older (more or less) than the next earliest image of Jonah. It would be unique. I cannot say more than that.”

I did not say that I believed the photograph to show an early Christian image of Jonah. In fact I have not clear idea what the image was that I was shown. I had no opportunity to study the photograph prior to my being asked, on camera, what I thought. In a later meeting, I had a longer time to study and came to the conclusion that the image likely depicted something other than Jonah.

Once I knew how my judgments were going to be used, I persistently tried to get my “handlers” to understand the much later Christian art from Rome is of an entirely different style and content than anything from first-century Palestine. There simply is no significant correlation between them. Because of this, my expertise was totally irrelevant. I know very little about ossuary art and could not possibly verify anything related to their authenticity or their iconography. […]

So just as in the first segment, the second segment has something that’s just not quite right. Even without that, however, the suggestion that Jonah may have been a Christian symbol as early as Professor Jacobovici would like it to be is a little out of whack:

The segment then returns to Jerusalem, where the intention is to look for “Christianity’s ultimate secret”. The team is drilling in the hallway and it’s slow going. Are they in the right place? We get shots of Professor Jacobovici looking pensive. They fiddle with the drilling angle … the moment they’ve been waiting for … dramatic foreshadowing with concerns about the robotic arm, which has only been tested in the lab … then, of course,  a commercial.

Third Segment

After a lengthy recap and review of the technology, they’re through! But … the arm gets stuck. After some tense, dramatic shots and worries the camera will smash, they do manage to get in. The first shot of matters archaeological are what are now known as ossuaries five and six. Then we cut away to some human remains and what is obviously a pelvis morphs into a skull in the dramatic recreation of Jewish burial practices. On to the first niche, where the person who commissioned the tomb would lie — of course, Joseph of Arimathea’s name is dropped here. We get a nice shot of the ossuary, with two rosettes and what is a very stylized ‘nephesh’ between them and we are told the image is a “symbolic reference to the afterlife” (without explanation). What is also odd (to me, anyway) is that this ossuary is remarkably similar to one which is shown in the publicity photos (one apparently from 2005, which includes Professor Jacobovici and Felix Golubev in the IAA’s (I believe) warehouse where they store such things), but no comparison is made in the current documentary (why not?). Whatever the case, after we are told there is no inscription, we move on.

We now go into the second “niche” which has three ossuaries, one with graffiti. One of the ossuaries here, of course, is the one with the Mara inscription. I’m still not clear how they get the full shot of this ossuary in another photo, but before I break my brain on that, they make the link between Mara here and the controversial Mariamne inscription on an ossuary in Talpiot A. And, of course, they take it to its (il)logical conclusion again of a link to Mary Magdalene. Plenty of excitement amongst the folks looking at the screen tracking the camera’s progress — Dr Tabor even takes a photo of the screen with his camera.

On the name ‘Mara’:

As an aside, this, incidentally, likely explains the relatively poor photo quality of all photos which matter (i.e. the ones including inscriptions and others) which have been made available via the Jesus Discovery site. The GE CA-Zoom PTZ camera is capable of taking very high resolution photos, but it certainly isn’t what we are given. In at least one of the inscription photos, e.g., the edge of a computer screen is clearly visible. Such things to have implications for the abilities of other scholars to see and/or criticize claims being made (more on this below).

Back to the show and the claims about Mara — before we have an opportunity to process the claim, we get more drama: the robotic arm snaps and it won’t move: cut to commercial.

Fourth Segment

As might be expected, a good chunk of this segment is devoted to watching/dramatizing the likely very real problem-solving that was needed to get the robotic arm functional again. They are successful, of course, and Walter Klassen and Bill Tarant (from the Ontario branch of GE!) do a great job in a stressful situation.

When the adventure resumes, we see the plain ossuary and a bunch of human remains in kokh three. Then we get to the ‘meat’ of this whole thing: the “niche” ossuaries five and six. There, however, we are told about ossuary four (is that right?) and on one side we see what we are told is an early Christian cross. This is a very important discovery, if true, because, of course, current knowledge suggests the cross would not become a Christian symbol until a couple of centuries after their claimed date of this tomb (which is first century A.D./C.E., of course). We should note that in reportage leading up to the airing of the documentary, Professor Jacobovici seemed to be stressing this cross whenever possible:

Interestingly, in his article on the Bible and Interpretation site (p. 22), Dr Tabor doesn’t really say much about this cross other than to describe it as being a “bell-shaped circle with a cross inside” and to speculate that (along with the other images on the ossuary, which we’ll get to in a second) it forms part of a “resurrection narrative”. It’s interesting, however, to compare the image from the documentary, which is very much like the one at the Jesus Discovery site:

From the Jesus Discovery website:

Actually, the one in the documentary might be even more cropped, so all we see is the cross and none of the border. Figure 23 from Dr Tabor’s article is a useful comparison:

… in which we can clearly see the ‘bell shaped’ thing which ‘frames the frame’ which the cross is actually within. Again, I cannot help but say that something isn’t right about the way it is presented in the documentary, which clearly would lead one to identify it as a cross. When one sees the ‘big picture’ (literally), one sees something quite different, no? I’d say it’s a Roman-style bread oven, but I’m not sure if/when they might have been brought to the area (the sorts of bread ovens used in Jewish homes at the time had the hole in the ‘roof’, as far as I’ve been able to find). Whatever the case, when seen without the cropping, it’s really difficult to identify this as a Christian cross. Again, something isn’t quite right.

Nevertheless, the documentary goes on to compare early images of crosses, including the famous Alexamenos graffito, one from Pozzuoli, and something from Pompeii (all of these shots, incidentally, seem to have been culled from Professor Jacobovici’s other recent documentary Vesuvius and the Fear of God in the Decoding the Ancients series). Then comes the question of whether they actually have discovered the earliest image of a cross ever found. And, of course, that means it’s time for a commercial break.

Fifth Segment

After what seems to be an unnecessarily long recap, we hear the team discussing the nicety of the cross, but that they need more evidence to connect this tomb with Talpiot A. So they go back for another look (supposedly … this is all staged, of course). Professor Jacobovici spots another image on the ossuary — lots of wows all around — and Ravi Arav suggests it’s a nephesh. After assorted agreeing and disagreeing, and mentions of handles, someone suggests it’s a fish. It’s more than a fish, it’s a whale! It’s Jonah! Dr Tabor further identifies it. It has scales and fins and a head wrapped in seaweed. Of course, we get all the photoshopping and odd orientations which we criticized when these images first hit the press a month and a half ago. Still (and again), something ain’t right. At this point, it is also useful to reiterate that a rather large group of more-than-qualified scholars have pointed out that it isn’t even close to being a fish/whale/Jonah but is clearly some sort of vessel. Here’s the list from our previous roundup:

… and Dr Tabor responded to many of these in comments to the above and  at:

… also of note:

… and as we’ve mentioned in the past, it might be suggested that there has been some photomanipulation and/or exploitation of problems of perspective going on to lead viewers to a conclusion:

… and we should point out that it seems pretty convincing that whatever the thing is, it is a vessel with handles:

As for the ‘head wrapped in seaweed’ claim, it has also been pointed out by a number of scholars that it’s just the base of the vessel as portrayed by a less-than-competent artist:

Dr Tabor has responded to many of these suggestions (see the comments to the blog posts above) and I leave it to the reader to decide how convincing his defense of his view actually is. Dr Robert Cargill has responded to Dr Tabor’s responses as well on a couple of occasions:

To further bolster the nautical theme, we are then told of a border of fish also being on the ossuary, and are given a bit of digital ink to help us see what they claim is there. Again, however, other scholars have capably demonstrated that these little fish quite simply are not there:

From all this, the team concludes that this is the “earliest representation of the resurrection”. And so, of course, they also believe they have the connection to Talpiot A and even speculate that since this ossuary was originally in the first ‘niche’, this might have been the actual ossuary of Joseph of Arimathea. Cut to commercial.

Sixth (and final) Segment

After another lengthy recap the documentary finally moves to the inscription. Despite the fact that Dr Tabor seems to have more than adequately been able to explain their view of what the inscription says (see pp 14 ff of his Bible and Interpretation article, where you can also read their version of the transliterated text), they bring in Dr James Charlesworth to explain it all, and it gets really confusing. After going through the Greek line by line and noting things like ‘God’ and ‘Zeus’ and ‘lifted up’, Dr Charlesworth tells us it says “I am lifted up, says Jesus, I am lifted up”. Then we are told it’s alternating lines of Greek and Hebrew with say “God Yahweh raise up, raise up”. Then somehow that gets transmuted into “Lord Jesus, rise up rise up”. And so, we have gone from a very difficult to see and understand inscription to an exhortation to Jesus — who they believe is buried in Talpiot A, of course — to rise from the dead. On the inscription:

… FWIW, I do tend to lean toward Dr Rollston’s interpretation but am still uncomfortable with the reading of a psi in line three of the inscription. I still think the right branch of the psi is a scratch caused by the movement of the ossuaries, but none of the photos that have been provided are clear enough for me to say that with any certainty. The fact that the letter that precedes it isn’t very clear (but likely is an upsilon … is there another stroke after it?) doesn’t help matters much either. Of late I’ve been toying with the idea that the first couple of letters might, in fact, refer to someone name Dion vel simm. and the mysterious final three might be an abbreviation for a place of birth/hometown, but I do not plan to pursue such theories in much detail at the present time — I’ve stared at bad photos for too long!

That said, I also can’t help but wonder about how much this section with Dr Charlesworth was staged … cf, e.g.:

… and Charlesworth’s letter at the Jesus Discovery site which mentions people thinking they were looking at a boat (and I don’t recall hearing that). Something ain’t right.

But back to the program: we then are given a bit of an explanation by Dr Tabor about spiritual vs bodily resurrection and the program comes to a somewhat abrupt end.

The two word summary I ended my notes with: “That’s it?” pretty much says it all. It was an incredibly unsatisfying documentary and, as mentioned throughout the above, was rife with scenes which just weren’t right from a scholarly point of view. I was hoping we’d see some more high res versions of the images which are on the Jesus Discovery website, but we didn’t get any. This thing neither satisfied many outstanding questions that I had nor substantiated/supported any of the claims which have already been made. If nothing else, the claims did lead to some interesting academic discussion — unfortunately, it’s the sort of discussion which probably should have occurred before the book was published and certainly before the documentary was approved.

I’ll conclude by glossing my title: The Resurrection Tomb Mystery ~ The Circus. I called this a circus, because there was much excitement attending its impending arrival and promise of a big show but as far as the show itself went, it wasn’t very good. At the same time, however, every circus has a sideshow of some sort — I’ll be dealing with that in a separate post (I’ll also include links to all the ’roundups’ from the past six or so weeks, so folks who would like to have the ‘full monty’ treatment can have it … look for that post next weekend after the second showing of the documentary and Vision TV’s 90-minute special).

And just as an added bonus, I list below the academic affiliations of the scholars I cite above; any links go to their personal blogs if I’m aware of it:

  • Dr James Tabor, University of North Carolina at Charlotte
  • Thomas Verenna, Independent Scholar and Researcher
  • Dr Robert Cargill, Assistant Professor of Classics and Religious Studies, The University of Iowa
  • Dr Mark Goodacre, Associate Professor of New Testament in the Religion Department at Duke University
  • Steve Caruso, Aramaic Translator, Language Instructor, and Consultant
  • Dr. Christopher A. Rollston, Toyozo Nakarai Professor of Old Testament and Semitic Languages, Emmanuel Christian Seminary, Tennessee
  • H. Gregory Snyder, Professor of Religion, Davidson College
  • Juan V. Fernández de la Gala, Forensic Anthropologist and Zooarchaeologist, Associate Professor of History of Medicine, Universidad de Cádiz, Spain
  • Andrew McGowan, Warden and President of Trinity College at the University of Melbourne
  • Antonio Lombatti
  • Richard Bauckham, Emeritus Professor of New Testament Studies at the University of St Andrews, Scotland
  • Dr. Joan E. Taylor, Dept. of Theology and Religious Studies, King’s College London
  • Robin Jensen, Vanderbilt University
  • April DeConick, Isla Carroll and Percy E. Turner Professor of Biblical Studies at Rice University
  • Eric M.Meyers, Duke University