in search of the historical charlesworth (and the difference between a “mention” and an “endorsement”)

A screen capture of Dr. James H. Charlesworth's Princeton Theological Seminary faculty page.

A screen capture of Dr. James H. Charlesworth's Princeton Theological Seminary faculty page. (Available at: http://www3.ptsem.edu/Content.aspx?id=1917)

My colleague, Dr. Mark Goodacre at Duke University recently raised an interesting question regarding the invoking of the name of Princeton Theological Seminary Professor Dr. James Charlesworth in support of recent claims by Dr. James Tabor and filmmaker Simcha Jacobovici regarding their supposed “Jonah’s Great Fish” ossuary.

Goodacre quite cleverly devised a synoptic comparison between Dr. Charlesworth’s own account of his first viewing of the so-called “Patio Tomb” ossuaries (as narrated in a letter he sent to the members of his Foundation on Judaism and Christian Origins), and the account as narrated by Jacobovici and Tabor on page 70 of their Jesus Discovery book.

You can read Dr. Goodacre’s comparison here.

The questions I have are as follows:

  1. Who shouted?
  2. Who sight-read the inscription?
  3. How did Dr. Charlesworth interpret the inscription?
  4. How did Dr. Charlesworth interpret the image?

(I almost want to highlight the discrepancies in different color highlighter as a nod to Burton Throckmorton, but I do have a question for Dr. Goodacre: what parts of the narrative can we attribute to Q? ;-)

===

The question is important because Dr. Charlesworth (rather surprisingly) appeared to endorse Simcha Jacobovici’s last sensational claim about the discovery of the tomb and bones of Jesus at Talpiot – a claim that nearly all credible scholars rejected outright. Dr. Goodacre reported at the time:

“James Charlesworth of the Princeton Theological Seminary, who also consulted on the film, told Newsweek that the documentary makes a strong case for the biblical lineage, which is supported in part by archaeologists, historians, statisticians and DNA and forensics experts.

“‘A very good claim could be made that this was Jesus’ clan,’ he said.”

It was peculiar because not long after the release of The Lost Tomb of Jesus, Dr. Charlesworth appeared to back away from his support of Simcha’s claims, even going so far as to post a statement on Princeton Theological Seminary’s website (since removed) officially clarifying his position (again, distancing himself from Simcha’s claims). As Dr. Goodacre again recounts:

“Prof. Charlesworth has provided an updated statement on the Princeton Theological Seminary website (also reproduced by permission on Deinde). In the statement, he distances himself from the notion that the “Yeshua” ossuary belonged to Jesus of Nazareth, but suggests that the tomb might still be that of his extended family…”

Dr. Charlesworth concluded:

“My judgment is that this ossuary does not belong to Jesus from Nazareth. Again, the names “Jesus” and “Joseph” are extremely common in the first century….” (emphasis mine).

And now, given the obvious discrepancy between the claims Mr. Jacobovici and Dr. Tabor are making about Dr. Charlesworth’s alleged support for their conclusions about the “Jonah Fish” on page 70 of their book:

“He [Charlesworth] also offered without hesitation the same interpretation of the fish. What we are looking at, he said, appears to be the earliest representation from Jesus’ followers of their faith in his resurrection of the dead. A quiet shudder went through the room as the implications of his conclusion sunk in.” (The Jesus Discovery, p. 70, emphases mine.)

A paragraph from page 70 of "The Jesus Discovery" by James D. Tabor and Simcha Jacobovici

A paragraph from page 70 of "The Jesus Discovery" by James D. Tabor and Simcha Jacobovici

and the rather distant and ambiguous (albeit admittedly promotional) account from Dr. Charlesworth’s Mar. 31, 2012 letter to the members of his Foundation, I cannot help but ask whether or not Dr. Charlesworth is once again backing away from Simcha’s claims and conclusions, or whether he ever really supported them at all.

===

The question becomes one of the difference between a “mention” and an “endorsement.” Mr. Jacobovici seems to consistently (and perhaps deliberately) confuse the two.

For instance, when scholars began to question the recent claims made by Mr. Jacobovici regarding his alleged “discovery” of iconography he claims is a representation of Jonah and his “Great fish,” Dr. Tabor posted a response from Mr. Jacobovici, which at one point reads:

In the words of Yuval Baruch, Jerusalem District Head of the Israel Antiquities Authority, “there’s nothing else like it on an ossuary.” We also found a statement of faith. But even if you say it’s not about resurrection, but some kind of exaltation or testament to an ascension of some kind, there is simply nothing like it on any of the thousands of ossuaries cataloged so far. Again, those are the words of Yuval Baruch.

However, this isn’t exactly an “endorsement.” All Yuval Baruch is saying is that it is “unique.” He’s not saying he agrees with Dr. Tabor and Mr. Jacobovici’s conclusions about the interpretation of the iconography or their reading of the inscription, rather, only that they’ve found something “different.”

Likewise, look at Simcha’s own words on my blog, when he offers a supposed litany of “support” for his claims:

“What psychological landscape do you inhabit? The IAA has licensed our dig. Ha’aretz, Israel’s leading newspaper, put our finding on its front page. Yuval Baruch, IAA Jerusalem district head, has called it “a significant find;” James Charlesworth calls it “a Jonah image” in our film; John Dominic Crossan hails it as an extremely important find. Likewise, Prof. Barrie Wilson….the list goes on.”

However, is this really “support”? Aside from the personal red herrings we’ve all come to expect from Simcha (in this case, questioning my “psychological landscape”), let us examine the supposed “support” Simcha trots out:

“The IAA has licensed our dig.”

Great! They’re not digging illegally, but the IAA website still has no mention of Simcha other than a refutation of an earlier sensational claim Simcha made about discovering the nails from Jesus’ cross (Easter 2011). And they certainly do not agree with Simcha’s interpretation of the iconography or the inscription.

“Ha’aretz, Israel’s leading newspaper, put our finding on its front page.”

Congratulations! They made news. His public relations people did their jobs. But the article did not endorse the conclusions of the find, they simply mentioned that Simcha had made his annual sensational Easter claim. (Cf. “Jesus nails” around Easter 2011; “Finding Atlantis” around Easter 2010; “Lost Tomb of Jesus” around Easter 2007; “Exodus Decoded” around Easter 2006, etc.)

“Yuval Baruch, called it “a significant find.”

Wonderful. It’s “significant.” They do have Jewish ossuaries after all. But, does Yuval Baruch agree with their conclusions?

“James Charlesworth calls it “a Jonah image” in our film.”

Does he? And, does referring to the image in question as “a Jonah image” constitute an endorsement? I, too, refer to it as “a Jonah image” (including the “scare quotes,” and I usually precede it with a ‘so-called’ or ‘purported’), but I am guessing few would interpret my referring to the vessel inscribed on Ossuary 6 as the “Jonah Image” as support for their conclusion. The question is: does Dr. Charlesworth agree with Simcha’s conclusions? If so, will he do so publicly and unequivocally?

“John Dominic Crossan hails it as an “extremely important” find.”

Again, describing something as “extremely important” is little more than a kind way of saying, “Great, you found many nice things.” Again, they did, after all, find ossuaries with an inscription and some engraved images on them. I’d call this “extremely important” as well. But the question is: does Dr. Crossan agree with their conclusions?

“Likewise, Prof. Barrie Wilson….the list goes on.”

Does it? Does it go on? Or is that all they’ve got? So far, the only people that have shown any support whatsoever for Simcha’s claims have received some sort of compensation for doing so, be it cash, honorariums, subsidized trips to Israel or other places, named consulting credits, on-air face time, co-authorships on books, or they work for Associated Producers, Ltd. I have yet to find (and have asked many times) a single scholar who has not been somehow associated with or compensated by Simcha Jacobovici that endorses or agrees with his conclusions regarding this tomb and its ossuaries. And since Barrie Wilson has been working on projects with Simcha, we are still left searching for a single scholar not working with or compensated by Simcha (or his company, Associated Producers, Ltd.) that supports his claims.

Nothing they’ve listed thus far can be considered an endorsement, much less an agreement with their conclusions.

Again, claiming something is “unique” or “significant” is NOT the same as endorsing or agreeing with someone’s conclusions. I’ve dealt with this before.

THERE IS A DIFFERENCE BETWEEN A “MENTION” AND AN “ENDORSEMENT” OR “SCHOLARLY AGREEMENT.”

===

It will be interesting to watch to see if Dr. Charlesworth publicly endorses Dr. Tabor and Mr. Jacobovici’s claims about “Jonah fish” and ossuaries, or if he comments about it as many critics have done. Will Dr. Charlesworth state unequivocally, “This is a representation of Jonah being swallowed by a great fish, which is a symbol for the resurrection of Jesus, meaning this is first century evidence of Christian belief in the resurrection of the very man Mr. Jacobovici claimed was dead and buried a few meters away only a few years ago. Likewise, the inscription says precisely what Dr. Tabor and Simcha say it says”?

Or, will Dr. Charlesworth play the role of the “interested promoter,” stating things like:

I am pleased to announce [the release of] an important documentary.”

And uncommitted, scholarly realities such as:

The meaning of the drawings will need to be debated among specialists.”

And then rather than offer endorsements of Simcha’s conclusions, ask a bunch of questions like:

Is the drawing a sign or a symbol? A sign can mean one and only one thing. A symbol must be interpreted and usually has many meanings. How do we discern the intended, implied, or attributed meaning of an early Jewish drawing?

And then acknowledge that the technology is indeed innovative (without agreeing with Simcha’s conclusions) by asking:

Is not the method of unintrusively exploring an ancient tomb itself ground-breaking?

And then speak to the emotion of peering at a Jewish tomb (note: not a “Jonah image,” but the somber reality of staring at mortal remains), by stating:

I was moved when I looked through a camera on the end of a robotic arm into a pre-70 Jewish tomb.

And finally, ask the question we’ve all been asking:

What was it? What was depicted? What did the early Jew intend to symbolize?

I am very, very curious to see if Dr. Charlesworth says what he says he is saying, or whether he says what Mr. Jacobovici and Dr. Tabor say he said.

Will Dr. Charlesworth declare unequivocally that the image is, in fact, an image of Jonah spitting out a seaweed-wrapped head of a stick man Jonah? Will he even comment at all in the film about the so-called “Jonah image”?

I am equally curious whether Dr. Charlesworth reads the inscription as, “O Divine YHWH, raise up, raise up!” or “The Divine Jehovah raises up to the Holy Place,” or “The Divine Jehovah raises up from [the dead],” as Dr. Tabor suggests, or, whether he suggests it says something else, (as others have suggested here and here and here and here). Does he see the tetragrammaton or not?

Or, will the response more closely resemble a parent’s response to a drawing his or her child made in daycare: “That’s very nice. How unique. This is quite significant. And what is this? Is that a “Jonah image“? Here, let’s put it on the fridge for all to see.”

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15 Responses

  1. I’d not trust anything Simcha says, but that’s just me. I didn’t realise he comments here though. It is funny how he talks about an IAA licence as there are multiple digs run by various people of questionable sanity who also have licences.

    Also, Dr. Cargill, I heard you managed to get a May flight to Israel for about 1.100 USD. How did you accomplish this if you don’t mind my asking? I’m seeing 1.400 for late May with an early August return, but this is by El Al.

  2. lol.

    as for the flight, i got it through expedia.com. it had to have been a one-day sale, b/c it was $1500 one day, and $1,050 the next. united. i jumped when i saw it.

  3. Well said. Simcha seems to always find what he’s looking for, just in time for Easter.
    One question I have from reading multiple posts on various sites: is there some doubt in the scholarly community that 1st century Christians believed in the resurrection of Jesus? It seems like 1 Corinthians 15:3-8 kind of seals that deal. Or are people referring to the absence of artwork or artifacts depicting that belief, physically? So it’s a bit of a holy grail to be the first to find the earliest version, etc…
    I enjoy your blog, thanks.

  4. tim, thanx for your comments.

    christians believed in the resurrection of jesus (at least what became the ‘orthodox’ position did). there was some question of whether you needed a resurrected jesus to be a christian. likewise, there was discussion whether the ‘resurrection’ needed to be a bodily resurrection or a ‘spiritual’ one.

    as scholars, we can’t prove any of it. we can argue what people believed happened. that’s what tabor and simcha are arguing, they just don’t have the evidence. that won’t stop them from claiming that vessels are fish and inscriptions say things it appears they don’t say, but that’ s different ball of wax.

    early christians believed in the resurrection of jesus, and some jews believed in resurrection before christians did.

    cheers,

    bc

  5. I worry about incurring his legal wrath as he undoubtedly gets paid big bucks for his show which promises, but does not deliver, both archaeology and nudity (or maybe he means facts, but there aren’t many of those offered to the viewer either). So I must measure how I express my opinions of the man.

    Ah, an American airline? No thank you. If I’m not clostrophobic now, I’ll acquire this fear flying international on one of our own. Though I guess it’s better than doing Aeroflot as you want to actually arrive at your destination….

  6. Thanks. One thing’s fairly certain: Simcha must be fantastic, downright mesmerizing, in tv/book pitch meetings. Otherwise I cannot understand how he gets his platform.

  7. i’ve never met him, but from what those who have tell me, he’s a very charming, warm, friendly, charismatic man. you wouldn’t be able to tell that in his responses to me, however.
    i don’t dislike him, i just think he’s a filmmaker doing his job: pitching, selling, and making sensational films. and i’m doing my job as a scholar: critiquing them and pointing out their flaws.

    i have nothing against him personally. i keep my critiques of his work to his work and potential motives (which i believe are often financial as a business owner).

    bc

  8. Page 70 of “The Jesus Discovery” says “The inscription seemed to say something like “_The Divine Jehovah raises up_….” Then, the following day, p. 70 continues, James Charlesworth read “_The Divine Jehovah raises up from_ [the dead].”
    In his new statement Charlesworth wrote “I was the one who read the inscription, and I am featured in this documentary.” Are these two accounts synoptic? Does he mean he was the one who read it the second day or the one who read it first? Which would a reader assume from his statement alone?
    Also, promotional materials give the impression the tomb was sealed, though it had been entered before.

  9. stephen,
    you’re absolutely correct. the tomb is NOT (as advertised), a sealed tomb, as kloner was in there in the 80s.

  10. [...] on the other.Bob Cargill blogged about and made a video about digitally-manipulated fish. UPDATE: He also addressed the appeals to James Charlesworth in support of particular interpretations of the ….Mentioning the Talpiot tombs, Mike Kok segues from there to catacombs in Rome and then the question [...]

  11. I call Jacobovici the Jewish Ron Wyatt

  12. [...] for his claims. (You can read more about this near unanimous rejection of Jacobovici’s claims here). “It sounds like they’re trying to act out ‘The Da Vinci Code,’ ” says Robert Cargill, [...]

  13. [...] there’s the joke that Simcha still does not realize the difference between a mention and an endorsement. I’ve addressed this [...]

  14. There you have it, Charlesworth has spoken, saying not only he believes it is an image of Jonah and the big fish, but that the stick man actually reads JONAH in Hebrew

    http://www.theglobeandmail.com/news/world/ancient-ossuary-hints-at-earliest-reference-to-resurrection-of-jesus/article2399269/

    Watch out, the article is digitally altered

  15. ;-). He is a consultant on this show, in fact, I believe he’ll make an appearance, so this is not unexpected.

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