Jerusalem Tomb Stirs Controversy

Posted on Fri, Mar 30, 2007 @ 03:58 PM
Conflict, not illumination, is the end result of an impoverished approach to research.

Vision Magazine

Reading archaeologist Leen Ritmeyer’s blog posting about the supposed Jesus Tomb in Jerusalem of March 27, I noted the following with interest: 

“Insights such as these [about how people in the Golan lived in early New Testament times] take rather longer to glean than the instant sensationalist discovery of the Talpiot tomb, which contained ossuaries bearing those ‘resonant’ names. As Samuel Johnson, the brilliant 18th century literary figure observed: ‘Excellence in any department can be attained only by the labour of a lifetime; it is not to be purchased at a lesser price.’ Or again in Johnson’s words, only more concisely, ‘What is easy is seldom excellent.’” 

This expresses well the motivation and underlying modus operandi of the quarterly Vision, which I publish on the web and in print. Pursuing excellence is extremely hard work. We require our writers to check sources thoroughly and not to rely on secondary ones without verification. Over the years our experience has been that there are far too many authors who do not follow this simple route to excellence. We have been unable to use their work without carefully double-checking and have often found them wanting when we have.  

The difficulty we have had with the content of the documentary The Lost Tomb of Jesus is a good example. Despite the fact that the film was three years in the making, what Ritmeyer terms its “sensationalism” caused many scholars to immediately question its central assumptions.

Some of the experts interviewed in the program have distanced themselves from its “findings” in subsequent discussions. It begs the question whether the kind of careful, thoughtful work that Ritmeyer refers to was undertaken during those three years. When we followed up with two experts directly involved with tomb’s 1980 excavation and the examination of its human remains, rather different conclusions emerged.  

Dr. Johnson’s comments about excellence have the ring of truth. Achieving it is painstakingly hard work.  Conflict, not illumination, was the end result of the approach taken in The Lost Tomb of Jesus. 

Tags: jerusalem, Leen Ritmeyer, Jesus, conflict, Talpiot Tomb, The Lost Tomb of Jesus

Lost Tomb of Jesus Brings More Conflict

Posted on Wed, Mar 07, 2007 @ 04:00 PM

Talpiot  Tomb

Jerusalem is at the center of yet another archeological conflict as a result of the U.S. Discovery Channel’s March 4 airing of The Lost Tomb of Jesus. The program was directed by the award-winning Canadian filmmaker Simcha Jacobovici, with the backing of Hollywood producer, James Cameron of Titanic and The Terminator fame.

The two hour program was followed by a one hour discussion between veteran broadcaster Ted Koppel, Jacobovici and several scholars. At the close of the three hours, Koppel’s summary told us that not much was going to change in religion or archeology as a result of the three year film project. 

The Lost Tomb of Jesus was an interesting exercise in religious documentary filmmaking of the kind that has become all too common. Combining hypotheses that challenge long held religious beliefs, dramatic reenactments, scholarly opinion, on location discoveries, DNA evidence and statistical procedures, the production teetered between professed objectivity and what the New Testament calls “doubtful disputation.” 

Disavowing Da Vinci Code invention, the producer nevertheless guided us through a creative maze of speculation to the likely conclusion that Jesus and his extended family were buried in several limestone ossuaries or bone boxes in a first century tomb just south of the Old City of Jerusalem at Talpiot. The 1980 discovery of the boxes, most with Hebrew lettering and names corresponding to members of Jesus’ family had mysteriously been overlooked by the Israel Antiquities Authority. In an effort to reveal the truth, the filmmakers’ art was brought to bear. 

My colleague Peter Nathan has posted his own evaluation of some of the central linguistic evidence. Suffice it to say here that there are few scholars who support the thrust of the film and many people of common sense and belief who could, as they say, drive a truck through its logic. 

One thing I had drummed into me in Graduate School is the need to research and quote primary sources over secondary ones. One thing I have noticed in my work as publisher, editor and documentary maker is the common failure to do just that.  For example, it’s a rare person who takes the New Testament at its word. Richard Bauckham’s Jesus and the Eyewitnesses: The Gospels as Eyewitness Testimony is a step in the right direction. 

As a piece to be taken seriously, The Lost Tomb of Jesus lost me early on. As one who enjoys a good detective fiction, I found it entertaining. 

Sadly, if there’s one thing the Middle East does not need, it is ill-considered and ill-founded speculation about matters of faith that attempt to shake identity and in the process do disservice to the craft of archeology.

Tags: Talpiot, James Cameron, Jerusalem conflict, Lost Tomb of Jesus, Jesus Tomb