A Comprehensive Analysis of the Talpiot “Jesus Family” Tombs

You have heard about the “Jesus family tomb,” but If you have not read the book, check it out. It covers all the latest discoveries as well as a full and documented discussion of the three tombs on the ancient estate in East Talpiot, south of Jerusalem–plus related discussions, from Mary Magdalene to latest DNA results, to the James ossuary. No matter what your conclusion it remains the most comprehensive discussion in print on the “Talpiot tombs.”  You will find links and lots of additional information here at jesusdiscoverybook.com/

Jesus Discovery Paper RD

The Jacobovici v. Zias Lawsuit: Why it Has Nothing to Do with Freedom of Speech

Predictably, as the Zias lawsuit picks up again here in Israel on Wednesday one can expect to hear it characterized by many in the press, as well as colleagues in the field who should know better, as an issue of “freedom of speech,” see the latest inaccurate story here. Joe is desperate to cast things that way so he can appear the victim rather than the perpetrator–of slander and defamation–which he most surely is.  If you are interested in the facts, here they are. I know only too well what is at stake here because I have been the victim of Joe’s slander myself, having been a close friend of his for over 20 years. The only difference is Simcha Jacobovici decided to sue Joe whereas I have chosen to ignore Joe’s ugly behavior as much as possible while providing those interested in the facts of the case as I know them.

Zias & Tabor at Qumran

Zias & Tabor at Qumran

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.

Jodi 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.

Recently 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.”

http://www.cjnews.com/node/122185

 

Talpiot Tomb Talk: The Assumptions of Language and the Language of Assumptions

No one maintains that the tomb of Joseph Caiaphas, discovered just south of the Old City of Jerusalem at Abu Tor on a cold November day in 1990 can not be the tomb of the New Testament High Priest Caiaphas because they believe that Caiaphas was taken bodily up to heaven, or that the inscription is too sloppy, or that he would have been buried in a more monumental tomb given his status.

Language is as tricky and misleading as it is vital and essential. This is so much more the case when it comes to controversial topics such as evaluating the Talpiot tomb with regard to its possible identification as the family tomb of Jesus of Nazareth.  If we were talking about the tomb of a Hillel or a Socrates that had been potentially discovered in Jerusalem or Athens, much of the discussion, and thus the language, would dramatically shift to neutral.

TalpiotTombOldCity

The two Talpiot tombs located on an ancient rich family estate just south of the Herodian Walls of the Old City of Jerusalem overlooking the main road to Mar Saba and the Dead Sea

A helpful analogue is the 1990 discovery of a tomb just south of the Old City with ossuaries and inscriptions that some excavators and scholars identified as the family tomb of Caiaphas, including the bones of a Joseph Caiaphas, the same name as the high priest who presided over the trial of Jesus according to the gospels. Is it possible, or even likely, that this tomb is that of the Caiaphas of the New Testament? Is the evidence compelling? What are the objections and problems with such an identification? Most of that has now been sorted out, but no one maintains that it “can’t be” the tomb of Caiaphas for theological reasons–that he was taken bodily to heaven. There are in fact a few scholars who have questioned the identification with the N.T. Caiaphas. They have argued that the evidence is not sufficiently compelling to draw that conclusion, and would hold it is “a Caiaphas” family but not necessarily the Caiaphas family. I am aware of no one who has argued that it “can not be” the Caiaphas family tomb.

With the Talpiot Jesus tomb things are dramatically different–and understandably so. Because the topic is so potentially “hot” various sides have much invested in the outcome. For many, even among the scholars who have weighed in on the topic, their declared belief that Jesus rose bodily to heaven, precludes from the outset, even before any examination of evidence, that this tomb belonged to Jesus of Nazareth. Most of the academics in this category would affirm that such beliefs have absolutely nothing to do with their position that this “could not be” the Talpiot tomb. There are other sensitive issues such as a potential backlash of antisemitism, since this tomb is part of an official excavation of the Israel Antiquities Authority (Dept of Antiquities in 1980). Is holding custody of a “tomb of Jesus,” and dealing with bones of the Holy Family, really something that the Jewish State of Israel needs to be involved in? There is also a tendency among scholars to avoid sensational topics, particularly those vetted in the media (“Ark of the Covenant” “Gold of the Exodus” “Holy Blood, Holy Grail” “The Davinci Code”), so that to suggest serious consideration of this ultimate “sensational” site, a family tomb of Jesus, is bound to generate lots of scoffing and outright dismissal. The Academy is accustomed to consider far more standard subjects. And then there are the skeptics and anti-Christian folk who would dearly love it if the tomb of Jesus were found, as a way of poking the eye of evangelical and orthodox Christian believers. Finally, in a matter this sensitive, where there are no in situ photos of the excavation with the ossuaries intact, no bone reports, no official DNA tests, and no correlation record of where in the tomb a given cataloged ossuary was found, those responsible have been put on the defensive to explain the hows and whys, with resulting emotions and tensions.

Consider the following three statements, from one single prominent academic colleague who has written extensively on the Talpiot Jesus tomb:

  • “I think we have to remain open to the possibility that this tomb is that of Jesus but so far we are lacking compelling evidence and many of the assertions of the film have been shown to be questionable.”
  • “There is a near universal scholarly consensus that the Talpiot tomb could not be the Tomb of Jesus”
  • “My conclusion is that in no way can we say that the lost tomb of Jesus is the same as the one in East Talpiot”

Is this to say then such an identification is possible but not compelling, or “impossible.” The language is not clear. Others have said the identification thesis is “possibly but not likely,” “very improbable,” or “unlikely.”

Always in the background, and often in the foreground, is the Cameron-Jacobovici film with its various assertions and claims. It is entirely possible to question any number of the theses or assertions in the film but nonetheless to conclude that a scientific evaluation of the tomb itself does yield evidence in favor of the Jesus family identification. It might be beneficial to try and move the film from the center of the academic discussion, whether one views it as good, bad, or ugly. The heated emotions, provoked by the film, have seemed to shift the agenda to the filmmakers rather than an evaluation of the site.

All this aside it seems to me that we have the following range of language that might help shed some light on “Evaluating the Talpiot tomb in context,” the title of the 2008 Jerusalem Symposium, the papers from which are now published by James Charlesworth in his edited volume, The Tomb of Jesus and His Family? Exploring Ancient Jewish Tombs Near Jerusalem’s Walls, Fourth Princeton Symposium on Judaism and Christian Origins (Grand Rapids/Cambridge, UK: Eerdmans, 2013). I highly recommend interested readers get a copy of this volume and read it through carefully. The volume runs over 500 pages with abundant illustrations so it is well worth the price. After the conference several scholars who attended published a statement denying that the evidence for any identification with Jesus of Nazareth was convincing, though since some of the “signatories” have subsequently clarified that they do not agree with the statement and their names were mistakenly included. See the Duke University blog here and be sure to read the comments (especially that of Itamar Bernstein), as well as my own formal response on the SBL site here.

Given the question: “Can the Talpiot tomb arguably be identified with a family tomb of Jesus?” one might propose the following grid of responses, beyond “Definitely not.” After all, one might hold that such an identification is “definitely not” supported by the evidence, yet still consider it possible but just not proved. Or, another might totally reject the identification for compelling negative reasons.

Impossible: strong negative evidence to the contrary
Improbable: weight of the evidence does not support the thesis with some negatives weighing against

Possible but not compelling: evidence in favor is there but just not enough data and information to so conclude
Possible and compelling: bulk of the evidence fits with no serious negatives

One of the clearest ways of approaching this questing is just to list the positives and the negatives. If indeed, as some have argued, Jesus could not have been buried in a rock hewn tomb, or in Jerusalem itself, then clearly this “could not be” the tomb. However, there is a wide range between “could not be” and “not enough positive evidence.”

I want to point out that I am using “possible” in the scientific/academic sense, not in the unrestricted sense, “Well, anything is possible.” One might say, for example, it is “possible” that atoms move because they are pushed by invisible demon forces,” and there is no way to “falsify” such an assertion. But in the world of science, such a “hypothesis” can not be taken seriously. In terms of the Talpiot tomb, the notion that this “could not be” the Jesus’ tomb because he was taken bodily to heaven is not on the academic table, so that the “anything is possible” refrain does not apply.

The Encyclopedia Britannica offers the following on the all-important “Principle of Falsification,” which is the bedrock of science. Those of us who are historians, working in the “soft sciences,” utilize this principle as an ideal, though often we have no methods for testing:

“Being unrestricted, scientific theories cannot be verified by any possible accumulation of observational evidence. The formation of hypothesis is a creative process of the imagination and is not a passive reaction to observed regularities. A scientific test consists in a persevering search for negative, falsifying instances. If a hypothesis survives continuing and serious attempts to falsify it, then it has “proved its mettle” and can be provisionally accepted, but it can never be established conclusively.”

What I have suggested is that we begin with a “hypothetical pre-70 CE tomb of the Jesus family,” and then compare it to the Talpiot tomb. This is the method I pursue in my article, “Testing a Hypothesis,” published in Near Eastern Archaeology way back in 2006. I have not found reason to change my mind, but to the contrary, since that paper was published the evidence that can be brought into consideration using this method has greatly expanded, see the book, The Jesus Discovery, and summarized in my ASOR paper here.

Such an approach does not mean that the results are merely “hypothetical,” in some reduced sense of the term, since all scientific and historical conclusions are by definition hypothetical. Just to pose the question: Can we identify this tomb with that of Jesus?” already presupposes we are considering something “hypothetical.” One has to have a method, otherwise one’s conclusions can tend to be impressionistic and unsystematic.

The use of the principle of falsification, so much as the evidence allows, offers a way to bring some clarity into our deliberations. Working with the historically constructed model of a hypothetical “Jesus family tomb” does not mean that one begins with the assumption that the Talpiot tomb is that tomb, thus “stacking the deck” in favor, as some have argued. This is simply the way that science proceeds, never with certainty, but one hopes, as my teacher Jonathan Z. Smith used to say, “in the direction of the truth.”

What this means, in the case of the Talpiot tomb, is that falsifying or negative instances, of sufficient force and certainty, would make impossible or highly improbable the identification with Jesus. What one must then do is “test” all possible “falsifications” against the evidence we have, as best we can.
A few of the proposed falsifications most often voiced by colleagues are the following:

  • Jesus could not be buried in Jerusalem at all, his family tomb would be in Nazareth
  • Jesus would have been put in a trench grave, not a rock-hewn tomb
  • Yose is a very common form of Yehosef and thus carries no statistical weight
  • Jesus of Nazareth was never married and thus could not have had a son named Judah
  • Jesus was buried in the location in the Church of the Holy Sepulcher so could not be in a tomb in Talpiot

If any of these could be established and be of sufficient weight to falsify the hypothesis being tested then one would have to conclude, depending on the certainty of the falsification, that the Talpiot tomb either “can not be” or “is highly unlikely to be” that of Jesus. So the question is, are these “falsifications” sufficient and valid? The fact is all of them have been shown to be invalid despite their constant repetition by critics of the “Talpiot tomb theory” as it is often called. We address each of these in detail in The Jesus Discovery.

Unfortunately, in the case of the Talpiot tomb there are any number of “falsification” possibilities that are not available to us–full DNA testing, examination of the bones in the tomb, and documented evidence of the positioning of the ossuaries in situ. If we even knew how the 10 ossuaries were grouped in the niches of the tomb it might tell us volumes about the relationships between the six named individuals. The tomb adjacent to the Talpiot tomb, now explored in a preliminary way by camera, has in fact brought us significant new evidence to supplement our addressing the question, “Is this likely the family tomb of Jesus?”

April DeConick Talks Some Sense on the Gospel of Jesus’ Wife Fragment

 I have kept a low profile on my blog about this fragment because I do not think that the blog is the best venue to vet manuscript finds like this.  Why?  Because the distribution of knowledge happens too quickly on blogs, before we have had time to really sort through everything, test our hypotheses, ask more questions that our hypotheses raise, and change them as necessary.  People make fast claims to be the first like a “news flash”, sometimes very bold and sensational, and then, because blog posts are public, reputations end up on the line.  So it becomes personal very fast. And this can crowd out the truth which most often is slow in coming after a long process of reflection and revising. Prof. April DeConick, Rice University

Screen Shot 2014-05-08 at 12.18.17 PMApril Deconick, as ever, talks some sense about the “Gospel of Jesus Wife” fragment and it sounds like some of the bloggers out there need to slow down a bit–especially those who have declared the case “closed” and are giving one another “high fives” for exposing the twin forgeries of the Gospel of John and the Gospel of Jesus’ Wife fragments. Assertions about “the same hand,” an “identical pen,” and “the same ink” seem a bit astounding coming from folks who presumably have no expertise or training in such areas. By and large the physical evidence published in the special issue of Harvard Theological Review is being ignored. Anyway, here is April’s very perceptive piece and one can only hope her cautionary warnings will have some effect:

On the “Ugly Sister” issue don’t miss this perceptive piece by Eva Mroczek–maybe the most important thing I have seen in print on the subject this week: “”Gospel of Jesus’ Wife” Less Durable Than Sexism Surrounding It, as well as the totally off-base response of Jim West here, missing all her major points and basically demonstrating the case she makes, plus Deconick’s response to responses like West’s here.

Finally, on the whole complex and crazy controversy with all the players laid out, and all the relevant links, see Michael Grondin’s absolutely wonderful summary account here. Thanks Michael, from us all!

P.S. And while you are at April’s blog notice the wonderful new format and be sure and subscribe to her e-mail alerts–and no, she did not pay me to say this.