Crossing the Line on Defamation: The Joe Zias Lawsuit

Scholars in my field of ancient Judaism and early Christianity often sharply disagree on issues. Pointed critiques and exchanges are common and welcome, so long as they remain respectful. This has been the case with the academic discussion of the Talpiot tombs in Jerusalem and their possible relationship to Jesus of Nazareth and his family over the past few years.  You can find a representative archive of strongly differing articles at Bible & Interpretation here.

SnakeProbeJodi Magness and I laid out the parameters of the early stages of the debate, pro and con, on the Society of Biblical Literature web site here and here. Near Eastern Archaeology published a forum involving me and four other scholars on the topic in late 2006, see here. In March 2012 the ASOR Blog devoted the month of March to an intense academic discussion of the new discoveries in the Talpiot “Patio tomb” resulting from the robotic arm probe, see here.  Most recently Prof. James Charlesworth has published the proceedings of the 2008 Princeton Symposium in Jerusalem, The Tomb of Jesus and his Family with over 30 contributions to the discussion, representing a cross sections of interpretations and viewpoints.

PrincetonTalpiotWhat is happily absent from this intense academic discussion is personal defamation, slander, and libel. Unfortunately that has not been the case with Joe Zias, former Israel Antiquities Authority curator, who has publicly and vocally slandered and defamed me as well as my colleague Rami Arav and filmmaker Simcha Jacobovici, in connection with our exploration of the Talpiot tombs. Many of my colleagues have cheered Zias on, mistakenly thinking that he is merely expressing his views and disagreeing with us on the interpretation of evidence.

The truth is Zias has moved way beyond respectful academic critique into defamation, libel, and personal slander. I know this firsthand because I have copies of e-mail and letters he has written to my Dean, Provost, Chancellor, literary agent, and publisher–Simon & Schuster, as well as dozens of colleagues, charging me with “conduct bordering on the criminal,” “planting of evidence,” and calling for my dismissal for academic misconduct. In fact, in those e-mails he even charges that we “faked” the Jonah ossuary image and entered the tomb clandestinely, planting it for later filming and “discovery.” Zias urges Simon & Schuster not to publish our book, The Jesus Discovery, charging that our work is based on fraudulent claims. More recently he has expanded his critique to the commendable work Gene Gallagher and I did on Waco–which was even praised by the FBI–charging that my defense of “cult leaders” before congress gave support to the Oklahoma City bombing. Early on I wrote him a couple of e-mails and urged him to drop the personal attacks and participate in the academic discussion, inviting his critique of any aspect of our archaeological exploration of the “Patio tomb” or our interpretations of these tombs. He replied that my career was ruined, that UNC Charlotte had shown itself to be an institution with no academic standards, and that none of my students would ever find jobs or achieve any respect in our field.

So far as I know, even though Joe Zias is surely the most vocal critic of our work on the Talpiot tombs, he has yet to publish a single scholarly article setting forth his own counter arguments or positions. What he has done is constantly post personal attacks in “Comment” sections of media and blog pieces against me, Rami Arav, Simcha Jacobovici, and those he loosely calls “The BAR Crowd,” (which apparently includes editor Hershel Shanks and anyone who is associated with Biblical Archaeology Review). What is particularly ironic in all this is that Zias, back in 1996, was the first one to speak in favor of the possibility that the Talpiot “Jesus” tomb belonged to Jesus and a likely wife, expressing his amazement at the uniqueness of the “cluster of names” to a BBC film crew.

Last year Simcha Jacobovici decided that enough was enough and filed a libel suit against Zias in the Israeli court system, suing him for $1 million in damages. The lawsuit was never about Zias’s right to strongly express his disagreement with the theses of Simcha’s films on the Talpiot tombs or the books he had co-authored. It was specific in charging Zias with personal libel, slander, and defamation. Zias has a defense fund set up and various colleagues who have negative views of Simcha’s work have mistakenly taken the issue to be that of Zias’s right to the academic freedom of dissent. Joe has charged that “big money” interests have conspired to keep him from speaking out, punishing him for simply expressing his criticisms. Such is simply not the case, as many who have gotten his defamatory e-mails about me can testify.

Just this morning a lengthly analytical piece was published in the Canadian Jewish News that goes a long way toward setting the record straight and clarifying the issues. It shows what one might call a “pattern of defamation” that has become characteristic of Joe Zias–not only against Simcha Jacobovici, but against me and a half dozen other colleagues whose reputations he has slandered. Whether one wants to praise or criticize the views of Simcha Jacobovici, it is surely wrong to support Joe Zias in his methods and tactics involving slander and libel.  Here is the Canadian Jewish News piece in full:

Jacobovici defends his reputation in court

Michael Posner, Special to The CJN, Sunday, February 16, 2014

Documentary filmmaker Simcha Jacobovici shows a life-size replica of one of the ossuaries found in a first-century burial cave located beneath an apartment building in 2012 in Jerusalem. The artifacts, believed to date from the first century, are the subject of his documentary The Resurrection Tomb. [Lior Mizrahi/Flash 90 photo]


Canadian Israeli filmmaker Simcha Jacobovici is no stranger to controversy.

Best known as the host of the TV series The Naked Archaeologist, Jacobovici has directed more than a dozen provocative feature documentaries, including Deadly Currents, Hollywoodism and The Exodus Decoded. Almost all of them have broken new ground or challenged conventional wisdom.

The resulting backlash has inured the three-time Emmy Award-winner to criticism. But he wasn’t prepared for the campaign of vilification mounted by retired Israeli curator Joe Zias after the release of Jacobovici’s most recent docs  – The Lost Tomb of Jesus (2007) and The Jesus Discovery/The Resurrection Tomb Mystery (2012).

A Michigan-born anthropologist who made aliyah in the 1960s, Zias, 72, says Jacobovici is exploiting archeology for financial gain or, in his words, “pimping the Bible.” Specifically, in a series of web postings and emails to Jacobovici’s employers, bloggers and journalists, he accused the filmmaker of “planting archeology,” forgery and inventing a Holocaust story. Although many scholars have derided the films as manipulative and sensationalized, only Zias has actually accused him of fraud.

“I don’t mind being criticized,” Jacobovici, 60, said in a recent interview. “People should be free to say what they want. But there’s a difference between free speech and libel. And when you make these kinds of allegations, you cross the line.”

Last year, the filmmaker formally filed a libel suit against Zias in an Israeli court, seeking $1 million in damages. However, given the glacial pace of Israel’s judicial system, it will likely be months before there is a verdict.

Jacobovici is not the first to feel Zias’s wrath. In the past decade or so, he has charged half a dozen senior archeologists, scientists and religious scholars with deceiving the public. For instance, he accused the late Bar-Ilan University historian Hanan Eshel of forging a Dead Sea Scroll fragment, and lobbied for his dismissal. Aren Maeir, former chair of the university’s department of archeology, confirms that Zias urged him to fire Eshel, the author of more than 200 published papers.

Zias declined to be interviewed about Jacobovici’s libel case, but in various online postings, he has attempted to portray himself as the potential victim of censorship.

“In the search for fame and fortune,” he wrote in one posting, “powerful media and personal interests… have encroached upon what once was a honest profession… In an attempt to silence academic critics, a small but financially powerful group… has chosen to react via libel ligation [sic]…an attempt to silence public criticism and freedom of expression, in order to advance their own parochial interests.”

Zias has been most exercised by Jacobovici’s recent documentaries, which focus on two ancient tombs in Talpiot, just south of Jerusalem, both originally discovered in the early 1980s. These, the films boldly suggest, are the likely resting place of Jesus, his extended family and his earliest followers. The first tomb contained ossuaries (bone boxes) inscribed with a constellation of suggestive names. These included Yeshua bar Yehosef (Jesus, son of Joseph); Maria (Latin form of the Hebrew name Miriam); Yose (a diminutive of Joseph, the name of one of Jesus’ brothers found in Mark 6:3); Yehuda bar Yeshua (Judah son of Jesus); and Mariamene e Mara (possibly Mary of Magdelene).

For orthodox Christians, the very idea of a Jesus family tomb is anathema. Jesus could not have had his bones bundled into a box because, according to church doctrine, he was resurrected and ascended to Heaven. Nor do most mainstream Christians accept what the films imply – that Jesus was ever married, to Mary Magdalene or anyone else, or that he fathered children.

Jacobovici believes the second tomb, so far examined only by a camera attached to a tubular probe – Orthodox activists refused the filmmakers permission to enter the cave physically  – contains the first hard evidence of contemporaneous belief in Jesus by his original Jewish followers. The cave, he posits, may have been on the estate of Joseph of Arimathea who, according to the Gospels, was the affluent member of the Sanhedrin who claimed Jesus’ body after the crucifixion.

By pure coincidence, the same family name – Aramati –  appears on a mailbox in the building constructed over the ancient tomb in the early 1980s. Before the trial started, Zias claimed – in letters sent to Jacobovici’s broadcaster National Geographic, his publisher Simon & Schuster, and others – that the filmmaker had pasted the Aramati name on the mailbox to draw the parallel with the biblical disciple of Jesus.

This act, apparently, is what he meant by “planting archeology.” Jacobovici denied the allegation, noting that the Jerusalem phone book showed a family named Arimathea (in Hebrew Aramati) living at the address long before the documentary was shot. Since then, in court depositions, Zias has admitted that there is such a family living in the building.

In court on Feb. 9, Zias brought what he had billed as a star witness to testify – an American matron named Joanna Garrett. A friend of Jacobovici’s longtime collaborator, Prof. James Tabor, tenured chair of the department of religion at the University of North Carolina (UNC), Garrett spent one day with the crew during the shoot.

Later, she swore an affidavit claiming that the filmmaker had doctored the mailbox nameplate so that the Hebrew name “Aramati” would read “Arimathea” in English. This claim became the remaining basis for Zias’s allegation that Jacobovici had “planted archeology.”

On the witness stand, however, Garrett quickly disavowed her affidavit. Admitting that she never saw a doctored nameplate, she claimed that Jacobovici had said he “intended” to doctor the nameplate. She then conceded she had no knowledge of filmmaking.

In his own depositions, Jacobovici said he used CGI without altering the original nameplate to help viewers understand that the modern Hebrew name Aramati is essentially the same as the ancient Biblical name Arimathea. The two men are next due in the Lod courtroom in early April, under the jurisdiction of Judge Jacob Sheinman.

Zias’s depositions have also backed away from his forgery allegation. By forgery, it turns out, he means that the documentaries used CGI to enhance images carved on the ossuaries. If that constitutes forgery, then half the documentary world will have to plead guilty.

Not long after the first Jesus documentary aired, a leading group of 70 scholars assembled in Jerusalem to discuss the issue. As part of the proceedings, they gave a lifetime achievement award to honour the late archeologist Joseph Gat, who was a member of the team that excavated the first tomb in 1981. Accepting on his behalf, his widow disclosed that, while her husband had never publicly discussed the find, he was convinced they had found Jesus of Nazareth’s family tomb. He never talked about it, she claimed, because he thought the news would unleash a wave of anti-Semitism. Gat was a child survivor of the Holocaust and feared a recurrence.

Zias, who worked for the Israel Antiqui­ties Authority for 25 years, until retiring in 1999, had previously claimed that no serious archeologist supported Jacobovici’s thesis. When the widow’s remarks suggested otherwise, Zias contended that Jacobovici had orchestrated the entire scene to promote his cause – arranged for the award to be given and for her to appear, and had written the script she delivered, including the Holocaust reference.

Jacobovici categorically denies the charge. He is himself the son of Holocaust survivors. Born in Israel, he was raised there and in Montreal, and made his home in Toronto from 1980 to 2006, before making aliyah. He now lives with his wife and five children in Ra’anana.

“It’s one thing to claim this and that. It’s another to accuse a child of Holocaust survivors of inventing Holocaust stories and then argue that a sentence from a woman I met once in my life justifies this language,” Jacobovici said.

As it turns out, support for Jacobovici’s tomb thesis did not come only from Gat’s posthumous musings. Although initial academic and religious response was overwhelmingly dismissive, the ground of opinion may be starting to shift.

Late last year, the official proceedings of the Jerusalem conference were published, edited by Princeton’s James Charlesworth, one of the world’s top New Testament thinkers. The results are surprising because, while the naysayers have dominated headlines and blog postings, 12 of the 28 contributors now concede at least the possibility that the tomb is indeed that of Jesus’ family.

In addition to his charges against Jacobovici and Eshel, Zias has also accused Prof. Richard ­Freund, head of Judaic studies at the University of Hartford, and Canadian geologist Paul Bauman of planting archeology – specifically, of burying a metal casket in a graveyard at Qumran, the ancient Essene encampment on the West Bank.

“We had a film crew there, which tracked [the dig] from the moment we started our work,” Freund said. “I cannot understand why these allegations were ever levelled.” Freund has authored six books on archeology, two on Jewish ethics, more than 100 scholarly articles and appeared in 15 television documentaries.

Bauman, technical director of geophysics in the Calgary office of Worley Parsons, a multinational project management and consulting firm for the resource and energy sectors, said his company works on “gargantuan industrial projects… and top-secret defence sites of multiple nations. Why would I risk all my professional credibility by putting a metal box in a remote cemetery in the desert? I have never received financial compensation for any of the archeology work I’ve participated in outside of North America – [it is] done entirely out of philanthropic intent. I’ve worked with Dr. Freund on at least 15 projects over the last 15 years. The very idea of ‘planting’ a find is inconceivable.”

Then there is Prof. James Tabor, one of the world’s foremost scholars of early Christianity. Zias’s campaign, Tabor says, included “scurrilous letters to my editors at Simon & Schuster, to my agent, to my provost, chancellor and dean, as well as the chair of anthropology, in which he charged that I was guilty of ‘conduct bordering on the criminal’… and that I was interested in only in fame and fortune and was a shame to the profession…Nothing of substance in Joe’s charges was upheld, and he was told so by the [university’s] attorney. He became very strident and threatened to expose our university as not taking responsibility for corruption. He subsequently wrote to UNC officials over the entire state system, making the same charges. ”

Others who have stood in Zias’s line of fire include Rami Arav, professor of archeology at the University of Nebraska, and Magen Broshi, former curator of the Dead Sea Scrolls.

Asked for comment, Zias – in an email exchange – said only that “none of the above have [sic] any respect among colleagues. They are mocked by all.” Later, he added, “Change no respect to little respect.”

Zias also played a central role in spurring the Israel Antiquity Authority to charge collector Oded Golan with forgery in connection with the so-called James ossuary. The IAA spent almost a decade trying to prove that Golan forged the latter part of the box’s inscription, “James, son of Joseph, brother of Jesus.” Among the key witnesses for the prosecution, Zias claimed to have remembered seeing only the first part of the inscription in an Arab-owned Jerusalem antiquities shop.

But as Time magazine later reported, Zias’s testimony fell apart on the witness stand when he confessed that “he could not actually read the Aramaic inscription and that his Hebrew wasn’t good enough to read his own name ‘Joseph’ on the box.” Golan was declared innocent last year, although the IAA continues to insist the inscription has been forged.

North Carolina’s Tabor says he, too, considered suing Zias for libel. “There’s a trail of evidence that is irrefutable, but I’ve chosen to try to counter him in other ways. But Joe has vowed to try to destroy Simcha and boasted that he has done him great damage. I am a tenured professor, whereas Simcha has his own company and its reputation, plus the livelihood of his associates, to consider.”


A Bargain or an Insult–The Jesus Dynasty for $0.01?

I am not insulted in the least. Who does not love a good bargain? I believe this is a fine book and that you can get a hardcover copy, which I recommend because of the front and back end color cover plates, for a Penny–well all to the good. No excuse for not owning your own copy–and the postage will run more than the book! Click on the image and it will take you to Amazon:

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Corpse Revival is Not “Resurrection of the Dead”

In Paul’s view of resurrection of the dead the body is left behind like an old change of clothing, to turn to the dust, whereas the spirit is “reclothed” with a new spiritual body. Resurrection is neither corpse revival nor transformation of the physical “body of dust” into a spiritual form.

cocoonThe Hebrew Bible says very little about resurrection of the dead. The single unambiguous passage is from Daniel, but it is a key to understanding the concept at its core:

And there shall be a time of trouble, such as never has been since there was a nation till that time; but at that time your people shall be delivered, everyone whose name shall be found written in the book. And multitudes of those who sleep in the dust of the earth shall awake, some to everlasting life, and some to shame and everlasting contempt. And those who are wise shall shine like the brightness of the firmament; and those who turn many to righteousness like the stars forever and ever. (Daniel 12:1-4)

The metaphor of “sleeping in the dust of the earth” and then awakening captures precisely the core idea of resurrection of the dead. The bodies of the dead have long ago decayed and turned to dust, so this is no resuscitation of a corpse, nor is it even Ezekiel’s vision of reclothing dry bones with sinew and skin. This is an entirely new concept that has begun to develop in Jewish thought and Jews like Jesus, as well as the Pharisees, believed that on the “last day,” the dead would be raised. What people mix up is the literal idea of resuscitation or the “standing up” of a corpse, and the fully developed Jewish idea of resurrection at the end of days. The latter does not involve collecting the dust, the fragmentary decaying bones, or other remains of the body and somehow restoring their form. According to the book of Revelation, even the “sea” gives up the dead that are in it—which can hardly mean one must search for digested bodies that the fish have eaten and eliminated—as unpleasant as the thought may be (Revelation 20:11-15).

Resurrection of the dead is neither corpse revival or transformation of the physical “body of dust” into a spiritual form. This might be the view of a child who does not yet understand the idea, or metaphorically one could speak of the dead “coming out of their tombs,” as in the famous Michael Jackson video “Thriller,” but no one thought of it literally that way in terms of what would happen at the end of days.

The fully developed view of resurrection of the dead among Jews in the time of Jesus was that at the end of days the dead would come forth from Sheol/Hades—literally the “state of being dead,” and live again in an embodied form. The question was—what kind of a body? And it was there that the debates began. The Sadducees, who denied the resurrection, poked fun at the Pharisees, who affirmed it. How could God raise the dead—what if a woman had had seven husbands in her life, each of whom died and she kept remarrying—in the resurrection whose wife would she be? Jesus was confronted with this question in the gospels (Luke 20:34-40). His answer was clear and unambiguous—when the dead come forth they will be in a transformed body, much like the angels, not the literal physical bodies that they once inhabited—there will be no “marriage or giving in marriage” as there will be no “male or female” in terms of physical sexual gender. There will be no birth, no death, but a new transformed life.

Paul is the crystal clear on this point. Some of his converts in the city of Corinth were denying the resurrection of the dead. They were most likely thinking along the lines of Plato—if the immortal soul is freed from the prison of the body at death, why would it ever return to the body? And yet that is precisely what Paul defended—a return to a body—but as he makes very clear, it is not a natural or “physical body”—the one he calls the body of “dust,” but a spiritual body—literally “wind body,” (pneumatikos), that is transformed and not subject to death (1 Corinthians 15:42-50). One thinks of the “aliens” in Ron Howard’s 1985 film “Cocoon,” in which these “light beings” had form and shape but clearly were beyond any kind of physical or biochemical composition.

Resurrection of the dead, according to both Paul and Jesus, has nothing to do with the former physical body. Paul’s objectors taunted him—“How are the dead raised? In what kind of a body will they come forth?—he called them fools—as obviously they had no clue about the concept of resurrection, mistaking it for corpse revival (1 Corinthians 15:34). Paul says that Jesus had become, what he calls, a life-giving spirit. The difference between this idea and that of the Greek notion of the immortal soul is difficult to understand, but in the Hebraic view of things the distinction was important. Simply put, in Greek thought death was a friend—that released one from the bonds of the lower, mortal, decaying, material world. In Hebrew the created world is good—even very good—and death is seen as enemy—but one that can be conquered. Paul writes that the “last enemy to be destroyed is death,” and then the creation, which is good, will be “released from its bondage to decay” (1 Corinthians 15:26; Romans 8:21).

The whole concept turns on the notion of how the created world is viewed—as something to abandon and escape, or something to be transformed and changed. That is why the Bible speaks of a “new heavens and a new earth,” rather than leaving this earth to go to heaven (Isaiah 65:17; Revelation 21:1). The kingdom of God is when the will of God is done on earth as it is in heaven. In both the Hebrew Bible and the New Testament the ideal future is when God comes down to the renewed creation, not when we leave a hopeless world to join God in heaven (Revelation 21:3).

Paul makes clear that in Christian resurrection the body is left behind like an old change of clothing, to turn to the dust, and the spirit is “reclothed” with a new spiritual body. He compares the physical body to a temporary tent, and the new body is a permanent house (2 Corinthians 5:1-5). He even throws in a polemic against the Greek Platonic view of the “unclothed” or disembodied immortal soul—he says our desire is not to be naked, which is the state of death before resurrection, but to be clothed again! There is a continuity between the old physical body and the new spiritual one–but it is not that the physical is somehow “transformed” into the spiritual. The continuity is the “spirit” of the person, that survives the death and decay of the body and is then subsequently “re-clothed” in a form Paul refers to as a “life-giving spirit.”

This has everything to do with the earliest Christian view of Jesus’ resurrection and the resurrection hope his first followers held. That is why the presence of bones—even the bones of Jesus, next to statements of faith in resurrection, were not a contradiction. The confusion has come over the accounts in the gospels of the empty tomb of Jesus, and his “appearances” to his followers following his resurrection–all of which were written after 70 CE when the links with the faith of the Jerusalem community had been severed.

The confusion has come in the gospels because of a fundamental misunderstanding of the empty tomb. There was an empty tomb—but it was the first tomb, the temporary one in which Joseph of Arimathea placed the corpse of Jesus until the Passover and Sabbath were past. This is no threat to the original Christian resurrection faith, it is actually an affirmation of that faith. Paul knows nothing of that first empty tomb. He knows that Jesus died and was buried and on the third day he was raised up. Paul’s focus is on the heavenly exaltation of Jesus, raised to the right hand of God (Philippians 2:5-10). Jesus then appeared to his followers, not as a resuscitated corpse, but in Paul’s words, as a “life-giving spirit” (1 Corinthians 15:3-8). These words of Paul are our earliest testimony to faith in Jesus’ resurrection. Mark, Matthew, Luke, and John were written between 70-100 CE. The names on the books are traditional. They are not included in the text but added later as “titles” to the manuscripts. In other words, Mark does not begin, “I Mark, having witnessed these things, do hereby write…” Nor does Matthew, Luke, or John. In that sense all four gospels are pseudonymous—we don’t know their real authors.

What is particularly telling is that if you take the gospels in order, beginning with Mark there are no appearances of Jesus—just the statement that he will “go before them to Galilee.” I understand this as a reference to his second coming, namely, the expectation that they will see the “Son of Man coming in the clouds of heaven” as Jesus predicted, parallel to his transfiguration on the high mountain in the Galilee (Mark 9:1; 14:62). In Matthew the women at the tomb see Jesus and later the eleven apostles on a misty mountain top—but some doubted. He gives them their commission to take the gospel to the world (Matthew 28:18-19). Here we have clearly left the world of history and entered the world of theology. The “Great Commission” is Matthew’s view of the Christian mission until the end of the age. Scholars do not take these as words as those spoken by the historical Jesus. Luke expands things further and first introduces the idea that Jesus came back in a physical body—wounds and all and asking for food to eat. He includes Jesus appearing to two men on the road to Emmaus, and then to the eleven apostles and other disciples. They mistake him for a ghost, but he lets them know that he has “flesh and bones” and is not a spirit. He then eats fish in front of them (Luke 24:39). John, like Luke, promotes this same view—that Jesus shows his wounds to Thomas and later meets a group of the apostles on the Sea of Galilee and is cooking fish on the shore on a charcoal fire (John 20:24-25; 21:9-14).  See Deborah Thompson Prince “The ‘Ghost’ of Jesus: Luke 24 in Light of Ancient Narratives of Post-Mortem Apparitions,” Journal for the Study of the New Testament (March 2007) 29:3, pp. 287-301.

What Luke and John introduce here, namely that Jesus appeared in the same body that had been placed in the tomb represents a major departure from early Christian resurrection faith. This understanding of Jesus’ resurrection has led to endless confusion on the part of sincere Christians who do believe Jesus was raised from the dead. These stories are secondary and legendary. We know this because Mark, who wrote decades earlier, does not know them, and Paul, who is still earlier says plainly that the new body is not “flesh and blood” (1 Corinthians 15:50). Apologists have tried to reconcile these accounts by saying Jesus had “bones and flesh” but it was somehow “different” bones and flesh—it was “spiritual” not physical. They have compared it to stories of the appearances of angels or messengers in the Hebrew Bible, who appear, even eat, and then depart (Genesis 18:1-8). The parallel is not valid. The angelic messengers in the Hebrew Bible are often humans, spoken of a mal’akim—the normal word for messenger but mistranslated “angel.” Other times they are portrayed as beings from the other realm who appear and disappear at will, sometimes rising in a puff of smoke (Judges 6:19-22).

These accounts of Luke and John are quite different. They were written for apologetic purposes against pagan critics like Celsus who charged that the “appearances” of Jesus to his followers were merely based on hysteria and delusion. By the time Luke and John wrote, at the turn of the first century or even later, the battle the Christians were fighting was with the non-Christians and Jews who did not accept Jesus born of a virgin or raised from the dead. The pagans charged that the resurrection appearances were delusional but within Jewish tradition it was known that the body was moved. Matthew’s polemic against this view, protesting that it was a Jewish lie, actually testifies to its partial truth (Matthew 28:11-15). Matthew, in his typical anti-Semitic fashion, charges that the Jews were easily bribed for money and willing to spread a lie, saying “The disciples came and stole him away.” Part was true—they did come by night and take the body away, but they hardly stole it. Joseph of Arimathea had been given permission to take care of the burial by the Roman governor himself—Pontius Pilate. When Matthew says the “story” is spread among the Jews to this day,” that is likely also partially true. Jews who lived in Jerusalem knew that Jesus body had been moved, and reverently buried by his family and his followers. What one has to remember is that the gospel writers, removed five or six decades from the events, know nothing of the Christianity in Jerusalem that thrived and grew even before Paul came along. Jesus died in 30 CE, Paul writes in the 50s CE, and the gospels were written between 70-100 CE, or even later. They are far removed from the original followers—most of whom are dead, including Paul, Peter, James, and most other first witnesses.

The question I get asked most in this regard is how could one believe that the followers of Jesus were running around Jerusalem three days after Jesus died claiming he had been raised from the dead if his tomb was just two miles to the south of the Old City. This question assumes a fundamental misunderstanding. It takes legendary accounts written many decades after the events, and the history of the movement as narrated by Luke in the book of Acts, as if it reflects things as they were in the period 30-70 CE. For that Paul and the book of James are our only witnesses, plus the restored document Q.

The Q document and the letter of James are wholly concentrated on the ethical teachings of Jesus. They contain no Christian theology at all. The letter of James only mentions Jesus twice, both times in passing, but says nothing about the resurrection of Jesus. Paul, on the other hand, has begun the development of what we come to know as classic Christian teachings—Christ as the incarnate divine Son of God, his death and resurrection for sins, forgiveness through his blood, baptism as a mystical rite of union, and the Eucharist as eating the body and blood of Christ. Paul is early enough though to have the notion of resurrection of the dead straight and he says he received what he passes on in this regard—presumably from the first witnesses (1 Corinthians 15:1-8).

In an ironic sense, though I believe that Paul’s theology is far removed from that of Jesus first followers, his view of Jesus’ resurrection comes directly from them—and it did not involve bones or corpses being revived. He makes that crystal clear.

I realize it is hard to imagine, given the confusion the later gospel accounts have introduced, that early followers of Jesus would have visited the Jesus family tomb and declared their resurrection faith, while honoring and remembering their revered Teacher, the one they believed was the messiah. When one understands the Jewish culture and context that is precisely what one would expect. Within Judaism the tombs of the zadikim—the righteous ones, are honored, remembered, and considered holy. Accordingly, finding the tomb of Jesus and his family would not be a threat to early Christian faith, but a vehicle for recovering the Jewishness of Jesus and his first followers, serving as a bridge between these two great religions—Christianity and Judaism, as their common roots are better understood. On the probability that the permanent tomb of Jesus and his family has been found south of the Old City of Jerusalem see my overview here, and for the latest evidence, the book, The Jesus Discovery (Simon & Schuster, 2012).

Charlesworth’s Comprehensive Volume on the Talpiot Tombs Is Finally Released

Yesterday I happily received my copy of the long awaited book, The Tomb of Jesus and His Family? edited by James H. Charlesworth (Eerdmans, 2013). From my initial perusal I highly recommend this impressive and comprehensive work for any of my readers who have followed the “Talpiot Jesus tomb” discussion since the publication of my book, The Jesus Dynasty in 2006 and the release of the book and film by Simcha Jacobovici The Family Tomb of Jesus and The Lost Tomb of Jesus in 2007. This thick 592 page volume consists of papers delivered at the  Princeton Theological Seminary Symposium on “Evaluating the Talpiot Tomb in Context.” The focus of the conference was a singular one–as stated by Prof. Charlesworth in his opening remarks–”Is the Talpiot “Jesus” tomb that of Jesus of Nazareth?–What is the Evidence Pro and Con?” This international gathering of scholars was held at the Mishkenot Conference Center in Jerusalem, January 13-16, 2008. The fields of expertise were diverse–historians, biblical scholars, archaeologists, physical scientists, statisticians, epigraphers–and the points of view expressed represented a full range of possible opinions. The conference itself was not without its controversies–see my blog post report here and my response to the confusion and storm of criticisms after the conference on the Society of Biblical Literature website here. Princeton Talpiot VolumeIt is nice to finally have the papers with full documentation and notes, some of which were submitted by those who could not attend but nonetheless sent in their contributions. My own contribution, “The Talpiot “Jesus” Tomb: A Historical Analysis,” is one of the 30 contributions–including a most intriguing typesetting error.[1] My hope is that we can now consider the results of the conference in a calmer and more objective atmosphere at the close of 2013. The only unanimous resolution at the Princeton Jerusalem conference was a voice vote at the closing session that urged exploration of the adjacent “Patio” tomb, just north of the “Jesus” tomb. The results of that effort, subsequently carried out by Rami Arav, Simcha Jacabovici, and me, we survey in our 2012 book, The Jesus Discovery.  I look forward to reading this volume in its entirety over the semester break and I will offer comments and evaluations of all of the contributions in series of reviews on this blog. Simcha Jacobovici, who attended the conference but did not present a paper or response, has already published his initial evaluation of the volume here. Below are preview shots of the Table of Contents:





  1. On p. 259 we read that the Aramaic מרא (mara’) means “sit” or “matter” ?? which is quite a creative and new definition that I am sure my colleague Chris Rollston will enjoy. It took me a while to figure this one out until I realized that these are simple one letter typos for “sir” and “master” by the typesetter! []