Friday, July 11, 2008

Another Titanic Fraud

2nd August 2007

Oh dear. Here we go again. The Alzheimer's Story-telling troupe are on the march again. You know the ones- they go around to Alzheimer's sufferers and tell them the same story every night and charge them money each time. The patients don't know any different. They think they're hearing a new story.

The mockumentary The Lost Tomb of Jesus is now afflicting commercial television, as if making a big fuss on pay TV's Discovery Channel wasn't enough. Worse, it's executive producer is James Cameron of Titanic fame. As if I needed more reasons to detest that movie. No surprise that the network showing The Lost Tomb, is the one famed for pushing the boundaries of good taste off the edge of a cliff- Channel Ten.

And it's riding on a fresh wave of Jesus-conspiracy-theory-mania caused by the Da Vinci Code, itself a masterpiece of profiteering from old, overdone and completely implausible theories, dusted off and re-branded for a new generation of the unsuspecting...

In a nutshell this "dramatic discovery" that will "rock Christianity to it's core" (ho hum) was the discovery of a tomb in the Talpiot area of Jerusalem. The tomb contained ossuaries (boxes with skeletal remains) etched with names suggesting they belonged to people named Jesus, Joseph and Mary, and another Mary speculated to be Mary Magdelene. Yep- if it was, that means Jesus and M. Magdelene must have been married! Apparently if you piece together enough bits of rubbish, you almost get a fact.

Add to all that some DNA testing of old bones having absolutely nothing to compare them with, some fancy forensic-based technologies falsely linking one ossuary to another to support the speculations and voila, here's a groundbreaking piece of infotainment. One which tells you about the real Jesus, the human Jesus, the revising of history! Be enlightened by prime-time TV, with promos telling you in deep, booming voiceovers that it will "CHALLENGE---- EVERYTHING----YOU-----BELIEVE !!"

I disagree. I believe a fool and his money are soon parted. That hasn't been challenged at all.

So who exactly is making these ground-breaking and controversial and ratings-grabbing speculations? Archaeologists? Historians? Linguistics experts? Nope. Hollywood movie producer James Cameron and writer Simcha Jacobovici.

Here's some snippets from the real world:

Joe Zias, the curator for anthropology and archaeology at the Rockerfeller Museum of Jerusalem from 1972 to 1997, personally handled the Talpiot ossuaries when they were discovered in 1980 (yes, that's right. 1980. Not yesterday). His references to the Lost Tomb of Jesus docko are thus: “Projects like these make a mockery of the archaeological profession.” and "have no credibility whatsoever” and “are intellectually and scientifically dishonest.” I doubt Channel 10 will be using those testimonial soundbytes on their promos. Joe's own summary of the documentary can be found here

Professor Ben Witherington of Asbury Theological Seminary, an expert in early Christian antiquity, pointed out that the names on the ossuaries, which were not so much etched on, rather they were crudely scratched, were in Hebrew, Aramaic and Greek. There is absolutely no reason why a family tomb would have a Greek inscription when the earliest Jewish Christians spoke Aramaic. "This is a story full of holes, conjectures and problems. It will make good TV and involves a bad critical reading of history"

Amos Kloner, the Israeli archaeologist who supervised the original dig in 1980 and authored the official report, pointed out that it was a typical Jewish burial tomb containing some of the top ten most popular names in early Judea, and questioned why a Galilean family's tomb would be in Jerusalem. He said of the documentary in an interview with the Jerusalem Post: “It’s impossible. It’s nonsense.”

Strong words. He obviously knows nothing about television.

Furthermore, Kloner's original report in 1980 claimed the tomb was broken into and vandalised early in it's history.

Vandalised? Crudely scratched names? Interesting.

Wait. There's more. Jacobovici reckons the famous "Ossuary of James" , discovered separately, also belonged in the "Jesus Tomb". You see, James was a brother of Jesus. If it was in the same tomb, it would add weight to the speculation of a family tomb containing a very dead Jesus Christ! A crime lab method called "patina fingerprinting" is used to forensically link that ossuary to the others. This is the film's core reasoning behind this particular claim.

A quick history on the "Ossuary of James". The Israeli Antiquities Authority released a report in 2003 suggesting it was a forgery. The owner of the ossuary, a private collector by the name of Oded Golan, was arrested for forgery relating to other artifacts. In fairness, he was not charged. Personally I couldn't care less if this ossuary is of James brother of Jesus the messiah, or James brother of Jesus the fish salesman from Gaza.

Firstly, Golan had this ossuary in his collection from 1976, way before the Talpiot Tomb was discovered in 1980. And it's characteristics, including it's dimensions, differ it far too much from the Talpiot ossuaries for it to have been included.

But here's the bit that really gives me a giggle. The "Patina fingerprinting" method was a crime lab method never meant for archaeological use. The director of the crime lab consulted by the filmmakers issued a written denial of the docko's claims, saying
he never said the ossuaries were a match and that "much more testing would be needed in order to draw any conclusions".

Naturally this is not the only case of the documentary giving a token academic the appearance of agreeing with the producer's findings, when in fact they don't. Jacobovici
uses footage of distinguished epigrapher Frank Moore Cross reading the script of the ossuary inscribed “Jesus son of Joseph.” It is very clear from the footage, it's intended for the viewer to believe this scholar supports the view of two Hollywood filmmakers.

In fact Cross said to Jacobovici that he found it impossible to make such conclusions about this tomb. He was "upset" at the way Jacobovivi used footage of him. Likewise Isreali scholar Tal Ilan..."outraged" at misuse of her words by Jacobovici. In fact, Joe Zias said the following of the scholars used in the film: "...totally unaware of the premise of the documentary...totally opposed to the evidence as presented...edited in such a way as to give the false impression that they are in agreement with the film"

Yet the New York Times' review reads "almost all of the scholars interviewed support the filmmakers' case". Wrong, wrong and wrong. Still, this is the same newspaper who said The Da Vinci Code was "impeccably researched". I ask again: Who researches the New York Times?

Naturally the docko leans on the Gnostic Gospel craze to support it's Mr. and Mrs. Jesus theory,
that other tired old speculation re-hashed so effectively by the Da Vinci Code. I won't waste time on that, other than what you can read here. I'm sure I saw a Gnostic Gospel for sale in an antique shop once. They really are starting to get up my gnose.

Hershal Shanks is a non-believing Jew from the Biblical Archaeology Society, and a close friend of Simcha Jacobovici. He describes the married-Jesus theories, and
specifically referring to the logic used in Jacobovici's film, as "building very slim possibility upon very slim possibility until likelihood dissolves into evanescence". Amen, Hershal.

There is clearly a big difference between proving your speculation and selling it. James Cameron and Simcha Jacobovici have done a masterly job of selling, but then they had $4 million and a sea of gullibility fresh from the Da Vinci Code. Even a non-believer who would say it's not impossible for this tomb to be that of Jesus of Nazareth, would question why such deception is neccessary to convince people it is.

Personally I'm surprised that Channel Ten didn't wait until Easter to screen this latest piece of re-hashed Jesus conspiracy mania. This is the usual modus operandi of the secular media. But there is actually something comforting for Christians. These very tedious attacks simply prove the very writings that they attempt to undermine. This bit, for example:

Even as there shall be false teachers among you, ... even denying the Lord that bought them, ... And many shall follow their pernicious ways; by reason of whom the way of truth shall be evil spoken of. And through covetousness shall they with feigned words make merchandise of you: - 2 Peter 2:1-3

Spoken by someone a little closer to the facts than the people who do magic tricks using TV. The translated word "pernicious" is reasonably accurate- it refers to a lie that causes great hurt or damage.

I've quoted from a verifiable 2000 year-old document which has already given us all the information we need about the Tomb of Jesus. They found it. It was empty.

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