If you can appreciate “circular reasoning,” then you’ll love this latest example of “circular citations,” a process referred to by my colleague Steve Caruso as the “Citation Two-step” or the “Feedback Fox Trot,” but what I call the “Evidentiary reach-around.”
By now, many readers have been following the sensational claims made by Simcha Jacobovici and Dr. James Tabor. The pair claim to have discovered (among other things):
- The “Sign of Jonah”
- The “earliest christian symbols ever discovered”
- The “first christian symbol ever found from first century CE Jerusalem”
- The “earliest testimony of faith in the resurrection of Jesus”
- The “earliest record of a teaching or saying of Jesus”
- An inscription calling on “YHWH to raise up”
- And most recently, an “Inscription bearing the name of Jonah”
(see the back cover of The Jesus Discovery for a full list of sensational claims)
Note that none of these claims have been confirmed, and just about all scholars (except those working with or for Simcha on this or another of his film projects) reject these sensational claims outright. I said as much in my live interview with CNN’s Carol Costello on “CNN Newsroom:”
However, the night before the premier of “The Resurrection Tomb Mystery,” (Simcha Jacobovici’s latest documentary on Discovery Channel), apparently not happy with their “stick man Jonah” argument, the team jettisoned that claim and Dr. James Tabor announced via his blog that a “new discovery” had been made by none other than “The Resurrection Tomb Mystery” consultant and collaborator, Dr. James Charlesworth of Princeton Theological Seminary.
And where was this great new discovery published? In a peer-reviewed journal? At a professional conference? How about on a blog? No, the revelation came via an article in the Toronto-based Globe and Mail by Michael Posner entitled, “Ancient ossuary hints at earliest reference to resurrection of Jesus.” In the article, Dr. Charlesworth is quoted as follows:
“Most likely,” says Princeton Theological Seminary scholar James Charlesworth, director of a project on the Dead Sea Scrolls, “we may comprehend the inscription as reading ‘Jonah.’ And I have no doubt it is a fish.”
If Prof. Charlesworth is right, then a consensus may form that the ossuary depicts Jonah being vomited out of the mouth of the fish” (italics mine)
Again, Dr. Charlesworth has yet to publish anything on the supposed “inscription.” There has certainly been no announcement on the two places we would expect to find announcements of this magnitude: the Princeton Theological Seminary website and Dr. Charlesworth’s Foundation on Judaism and Christian Origins. Yet in both places there is nothing. Nothing has been published by Dr. Charlesworth as of yet (although he is said to be presently working on something for publication regarding this inscription.)
And yet, that does not stop the press machine from grinding away.
Dr. Tabor next sends an article to Bible and Interpretation, where it is published citing only a single source: the Globe and Mail article by Toronto’s Michael Posner. Again, not a single shred of evidence or scholarly consensus has been cited other than the claims of Dr. Charlesworth as reported by Dr. Tabor on his blog, by Dr. Tabor on Bible and Interpretation, and by the single article in the Globe and Mail.
In the mean time, the press office at then University of North Carolina, Charlotte issues a press release which parrots the claim of the “discovery” of the “inscription.” Nowhere in the press release is any source cited; the press release quotes only Dr. Tabor, and parrots the announcement that Dr. Charlesworth has made a momentous “discovery.”
And for good reason: Dr. Charlesworth has not yet published anything on the subject. But because the press release is coming from UNC Charlotte to promote its professor and his claimed discovery, the press release is issued without citing anything other than conversations with Drs. Tabor and Charlesworth. And this is all well and good. The UNC Charlotte public relations office is doing its job: announcing the claims of its faculty.
All is well and good.
However, once the press release is issued, it is immediately picked up by science news aggregate website Phys.org. That Phys.org got the story directly from the UNC Charlotte press machine is made fully evident in the last line of this article, which reads:
“Provided by University of North Carolina at Charlotte.”
This means that this “story” was the same written and released by the press office of Dr. Tabor’s home university, The University of North Carolina, Charlotte. What’s more, far from mentioning the overwhelming scholarly rejection of these sensational claims, the press release reads:
“So far, Israeli epigrapher Robert Deutsch has confirmed Charlesworth’s reading of YONAH and Haggai Misgav of Hebrew University says there are definitely letters there although he reads them as ZOLAH rather than YONAH.”
The article does NOT mention the list of epigraphers (see Antonio Lombatti’s list) who reject outright that an inscription even exists, much less says what Drs. Tabor and Charlesworth say it says. Then again, as this press release was composed by UNC Charlotte to promote UNC Charlotte Professor, Dr. James Tabor, we should not expect a hint of objectivity in the press release. Rather, we should expect only Dr. Tabor’s claims and spin to support the claims.
But that does not stop the press machine.
Another Science news aggregator Eurekalert, picks up and parrots the Phys.org story, and even uses the same headline: “Hebrew inscription appears to confirm ‘sign of Jonah’ and Christian reference on ancient artifact.”
“Appears to confirm??” Again, no evidence has been cited, and Dr. Charlesworth still has not published a single word on the matter. But now, despite the overwhelming opposition to the sensational claims, they are apparently “confirmed”??
Meanwhile, science news website LiveScience staff writer, Jennifer Welsh picks up the UNC Charlotte press release that has been parroted by Phys.org and Eurekalert, and publishes her own story entitled, “Ancient ‘Bone Box’ Called Oldest Christian Artifact.”
What?? Despite the fact that the article is largely rehash of the UNC Charlotte press release and now includes graphics taken from Dr. Tabor’s blog, somehow the claims is now “called the oldest Christian Artifact“??
Remember, to this point, the UNC Charlotte press release has been picked up and parroted by three news aggregators, with each one altering the title to make the claim a bit more substantiated, despite the fact that Dr. Charlesworth has still not published a word on the matter and the only source for all of these claims is the same author, Dr. James Tabor, who is selling a book making the claims, and who has utilized the UNC Charlotte press office to promote his claims.
And the press machine grinds on.
Finally, this afternoon, MSNBC re-published the LiveScience article by Jennifer Welsh as its own, this time altering the title to read, “Ossuary confirmed as oldest Christian artifact.”
Did you see that? CONFIRMED!?? While Dr. Charlesworth has still not published a single word on the supposed “inscription” – an inscription mind you that multiple epigraphers and scholars have rejected altogether as an inscription, much less one that reads “Jonah” – the UNC Charlotte press release, which was issued to promote the findings of Dr. Tabor as published in his new book, The Jesus Discovery, has gone from the Globe and Mail‘s headline of “Ancient ossuary hints at earliest reference to resurrection of Jesus,” to MSBNC’s headline of “Ossuary confirmed as oldest Christian artifact.”
(I shake my head.)
And nothing has changed. Not a single thing. Nothing has been published in support of the claim that has not originated from Dr. Tabor and UNC Charlotte. Meanwhile, a host of scholars including myself have published rejections of all of these claims. And yet, there it is: Ossuary confirmed as oldest Christian artifact, all within 24 hours and without a shred of evidence or scholarly support.
Just to sum up:
- Dr. Charlesworth’s has yet to publish anything on a supposed “Jonah inscription.”
- Toronto’s Globe and Mail reports that Dr. Charlesworth has found something.
- Dr. Tabor cites the Globe and Mail article as “breaking news” on his blog.
- Dr. Tabor’s university public relations office at UNC Charlotte issues a press release announcing the “discovery” of the inscription by Charlesworth in support the claims made in Dr. Tabor’s book.
- Phys.org and Eurekalert pick up the UNC Charlotte press release that “confirms” the discovery.
- A LiveScience staff writer re-writes the Phys.org and Eurekalert stories (which were based upon the press release), altering the title.
- MSNBC republishes the LiveScience story with the headline: “Ossuary confirmed as oldest Christian artifact.”
And nothing has changed. Not a shred of evidence has been presented outside of Dr. Tabor’s initial claims about Dr. Charlesworth’s apparent “discovery.’ No publications. No other citations. And yet, despite the chorus of scholarly rejections, the claim is “confirmed” in the press. The same story gets republished and republished, with the headline becoming more and more certain with each regurgitation.
And that, my friends, is what scholars call the “evidentiary end run.”
And that’s how you replace evidence and scholarly consensus with a press release.
Filed under: archaeology, christianity, judaism, pseudoscience Tagged: | Carol Costello, Citation Two-step, cnn, Eurekalert, Evidentiary reach-around, Feedback Fox Trot, Globe and Mai, james charlesworth, James Tabor, Jesus Discovery, jonah, LiveScience, msnbc, Newsroom, ossuary, phys.org, press release, princeton theological seminary, simcha jacobovici, Steve Caruso, The Resurrection Tomb Mystery, UNC Charlotte