Review of “The Lost Gospel” by Jacobovici and Wilson

Except it’s NOT lost, and it’s NOT a gospel.

Since I’ve already been bombarded with questions from students and readers about the latest claims made by Simcha Jacobovici and Dr. Barrie Wilson in their new book, The Lost Gospel, I thought I’d post a quick response to this latest round of absurdity by repeating and re-posting some of the comments I made over a year ago in a post announcing my spring 2014 University of Iowa course in Syriac – a post that dealt (almost prophetically) with many of the claims made in this new book.

You can read most of Mr. Jacobovici and Dr. Wilson’s book online (and search for the parts that interest you) at Google Books here.

Mr. Jacobovici’s new book essentially claims that the 6th century CE Syriac language version of a Greek pseudepigraphical story entitled  Joseph and Aseneth (which I discuss in my class “Banned from the Bible: Intro to Pseudepigrapha and Apocrypha” course at Iowa) is a “gospel”, and should be read allegorically, but only after replacing every mention of Joseph with the name “Jesus”, and every mention of Aseneth with “Mary Magdalene”.

Now, if your first thought is, “WTF? This is just as problematic as the Bible Code dude, who attempts to read every passage in the Bible as an allegory for every modern event, from the Invasion of Iraq, to the Wall Street Crash, to President Obama’s election, etc.”, then you’re right on the money. It is precisely that silly – same interpretative technique, same lack of evidence, same wishful speculation. The same guy who claims to have discovered the route of the Exodus, Atlantis, the nails of the cross, the tomb of Jesus (with Jesus still in it!), and another tomb of people celebrating Jesus’ resurrection (with Jesus still in the other tomb), has now written a book claiming “evidence” that Jesus was married to Mary Magdalene, by swapping out the names of Joseph and Aseneth and replacing them with the names of Jesus and Mary Magdalene.

By that same allegorical logic, you could swap out the names of Samson and Delilah and claim that Mary Magdalene cut Jesus’ hair. Or swap out Adam and Eve and conclude that Jesus and Mary Magdalene were the primordial couple. Or read David and Bathsheba allegorically and end up with Jesus having a son named Solomon, who is guarded by the Priory of Sion, and…well, you get the picture.

There is a reason that the scholars of the world are not paying any attention to this latest so-called “discovery”: there’s nothing there.

First things first: Mr. Jacobovici’s The Lost Gospel is neither “lost” nor a “gospel”. Scholars have known about and have studied the Syriac version of Joseph and Aseneth, located in the British Museum, for a very long time. Written by an unknown West Syriac writer dating to the late 6th century CE, the author composed an Ecclesiastical History that included a translation of part of a lost Ecclesiastical History by the Greek writer Zacharias Rhetor. The work is commonly referred to as Pseudo-Zacharias Rhetor. This Syriac text is of interest because books 1-2 of Pseudo-Zacharias Rhetor contain a Syriac translation of the History of Joseph and Aseneth, which was often skipped in English translations because it is already known in the Greek. Keep in mind that the story of Joseph and Aseneth has been well documented over the years, both by my adviser at Pepperdine, Dr. Randy Chesnutt, who wrote his dissertation on Joseph and Aseneth, and by my Duke colleague Dr. Mark Goodacre, who has edited an Aseneth Home Page now for years.

Second: We already know why the story of Joseph and Aseneth was written. The story of Joseph and Aseneth is a well-known, ancient apocryphal expansion of the biblical account of the patriarch Joseph’s marriage to Aseneth, the daughter of the Egyptian Priest of On (Heliopolis). The story of Joseph and Aseneth was composed to solve the later theological problem of Joseph, a Hebrew patriarch, marrying a non-Israelite woman (Aseneth), in direct violation of biblical commands (albeit later commands) that prohibit Hebrews/Jews/Israelites from intermarrying with other peoples, for instance, those found in Deut. 7:3; Josh. 23:12; Ezra 9; and Neh. 13:25. As prohibiting intermarriage became a bigger and bigger deal in the Second Temple period, many Jews began to see the problem with Joseph’s marriage to Aseneth, as Joseph was said to have not only married an Egyptian, but the daughter of an Egyptian priest!

In Gen. 41:45, the Bible says that Pharaoh gave Joseph one of his daughters as a wife:

“Pharaoh gave Joseph the name Zaphenath-paneah; and he gave him Aseneth daughter of Potiphera, priest of On, as his wife.”

Gen. 41:50-52 further says that Joseph’s wife Aseneth bore him two sons: Manasseh and Ephraim, whence we get the tribal names:

“Before the years of famine came, Joseph had two sons, whom Aseneth daughter of Potiphera, priest of On, bore to him. Joseph named the firstborn Manasseh, ‘For,’ he said, ‘God has made me forget all my hardship and all my father’s house.’ The second he named Ephraim, ‘For God has made me fruitful in the land of my misfortunes.'”

As one might imagine, this became a problem for Jews in the Second Temple period. Perhaps many asked, “How can God prohibit us from marrying women of another race when our patriarch Joseph did so?”

Enter Joseph and Aseneth, which was composed like so many pseudepigraphical stories of the Second Temple period and early Christian centuries to “explain away” the problem. We find these same apologetic techniques used in early Rabbinic writings as well as the Aramaic Targums, which clean up the stories of the Jewish Patriarchs by explaining away anything that might be perceived as a misdeed.

The popular ancient love story of Joseph and Aseneth serves an apology explaining why a righteous Israelite patriarch like Joseph would marry the daughter of a pagan priest. And the solution is a simple one: Joseph and Aseneth explains that Joseph’s wife, Aseneth, first converted to monotheism and belief in the Hebrew God before she married Joseph (a detail the Bible obviously “left out”). See? All better.

And that’s basically it. The biblical account says Joseph married an Egyptian woman, so Joseph and Aseneth explains that Aseneth first converted, and therefore was eligible to be married to Joseph.

Third: The Syriac account of Joseph and Aseneth in Pseudo-Zacharias Rhetor does not talk about Jesus and Mary Magdalene, and simply substituting names does not make it so. However, the Syriac account is still noteworthy because just prior to his retelling of the story, the author writes a letter to a certain Moses of Ingila, asking for a translation and whether there is a deeper allegorical (θεωρία) interpretation of the story beyond the literal narrative. Some have argued that Moses of Ingila’s response attempts to interpret the story of Joseph and Aseneth allegorically, as a gnostic union of the soul (represented by Aseneth) with the divine Logos/Word of God (represented by Joseph). Likewise, there have been many who have argued (largely unsuccessfully) that the text is an allegory, with Joseph symbolizing anything from Jesus to the nation of Israel.

For her part, some scholars have understood Aseneth’s description as the “Bride of God” in 4:2 as representative of a redeemed Israel, or of the matriarchs of the Bible, or perhaps even the practice of voluntary virginity, which was increasingly popular in Christian circles in the late first and early second centuries. The simplest answer is that one who is now a “bride of God” is one who is a “daughter of God”, i.e., “a Hebrew” (and no longer an Egyptian, at least for religious purposes), in much the same way that a “son of God” represents any “child of God” in the Hebrew text. Keep in mind that there are many “sons of God” mentioned in the Hebrew Bible/Old Testament that appear to be referring to heavenly beings, from Job 1:6: וַיְהִי הַיּוֹם וַיָּבֹאוּ בְּנֵי הָאֱלֹהִים לְהִתְיַצֵּב עַל-יְהוָה (“Now it fell upon a day, that the sons of God came to present themselves before the LORD”), to Job 38:7: וַיָּרִיעוּ כָּל-בְּנֵי אֱלֹהִים (“and all the sons of God shouted”), to Gen 6:2: וַיִּרְאוּ בְנֵי-הָאֱלֹהִים אֶת-בְּנוֹת הָאָדָם כִּי טֹבֹת הֵנָּה (“and the sons of God saw the daughters of men, because they were fair”), as well as in the New Testament, when human peacemakers come to be called “sons of God”: μακάριοι οἱ εἰρηνοποιοί ὅτι αὐτοὶ υἱοὶ θεοῦ κληθήσονται (“Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called sons of God“).

The use of the phrase “son(s) of God” in the Old and New Testaments does not automatically mean “INSERT JESUS’ NAME HERE”.

Fourth: Simply employing symbolism does not an allegory make. So while some scholars have argued that the text is a distinctly Christian text, most scholars conclude that the text is distinctly Jewish, while allowing that the text may possess some evidence of later Christian tampering and reworking, especially those parts of the text involving Eucharistic interpretations of the meal of bread and wine found within the story. However, the attempts by multiple scholars (cf. Chap 1 of Chesnutt) to interpret the story allegorically ultimately fall short, as any allegorical interpretation must be highly selective of particular details, and therefore necessarily ignores many other details within the story that simply do not fit the supposed allegory, relegating claims of allegory to the realm of wishful thinking. The story must ultimately be read as what it is: a Jewish narrative apology for the patriarch Joseph’s mixed marriage, with possible, occasional Christian reworking.

Keep in mind that there are all kinds of allegorical interpretations of biblical texts in the first centuries BCE and CE. Chapter 15 of the pseudepigraphical Epistle of Barnabas offers an allegorical interpretation of the Creation account from Gen. 1. The first century Jewish scholar Philo of Alexandria also offered allegorical interpretations of biblical events and figures (including Joseph). The difference here is that Mr. Jacobovici and Dr. Wilson are claiming an allegorical interpretation of a pseudepigraphical text, as if the text of Joseph and Aseneth were itself canonical.

When all is said and done, Mr. Jacobovici and Dr. Wilson offer an allegorical interpretation of a Syriac translation of a (likely originally Greek) pseudepigraphical text, written to “clean up” the fact that the Hebrew patriarch Joseph married a non-Hebrew.

Fifth: The text used as “proof” of Jesus’ marriage dates to the 6th century CE, and only hopeful speculation pushes the Syriac version of this text back to earlier centuries. The fact that the Syriac version is composed long after an established minority tradition that depicts Jesus as Mary Magdalene’s κοινωνός, or “companion” in the Gospel of Philip, or the Gospel of Mary, which states that Jesus “loved [Mary] more than the rest of woman” – a tradition that some modern interpreters and fiction writers have argued is evidence that the Mary mentioned is Mary Magdalene, and that the two were married – does not provide “evidence” that Jesus and Mary were married. It simply means that some later author was making a contribution to this tradition. BUT, because it is written after the others, it CANNOT be used as “evidence” of ANYTHING but a continuation of the already late tradition that Jesus was married.

It would be like citing a favorable book review written by followers of Simcha Jacobovici three centuries after the publication of The Lost Gospel, and citing it as evidence that Simcha knows what he’s talking about. Such a review would contribute nothing to Simcha’s credibility, but would only serve as evidence that someone much later liked the book. Similarly, the Syriac version is a translation of a pseudepigraphical apology, upon which is forced Mr. Jacobovici’s allegorical translation. This is evidence of nothing.

Sixth: (And please remember I originally wrote the following over a year ago.) Anyone attempting an allegorical interpretation of Joseph and Aseneth, and arguing for anything other than an apology for why Joseph married a non-Israelite (and the daughter of a pagan priest at that), is grasping at speculative straws, and attempting (like the author of the Syriac text) to stretch the text into something it was never designed to do. Whether it be a gnostic interpretation of the text, or an attempt to argue something truly ridiculous and sensational, for example, that the story somehow represents Jesus and Mary Magdalene (as “Bride of God”, requiring an appeal to separate Gnostic texts like Pistis Sophia, the Gospel of Mary, and the Gospel of Philip), and that this allegorical representation from six centuries after the life of Jesus, relying on the weaving together of multiple Gnostic texts composed a full century after the life of Jesus, somehow provides “evidence” of aspects of Jesus’ actual, historical lifesuch allegorical interpretations are the height of unsubstantiated speculation.

My teacher, Randall Chesnutt, said it best in his conclusion:

“While no one doubts the presence of symbolic and allegorical elements, the trend now is toward a method which recognizes those elements of symbolism and allegory which are straightforward and explicit in the narrative of Aseneth’s conversion rather than those supposed to be encoded deep within it.” (Chesnutt, From Death to Life, p. 45).

Finally: The book’s methodology is highly problematic. Scholars won’t reject Mr. Jacobovici’s findings because of some “theological trauma” or a confessional, apologetic desire to preserve the Jesus described in the Bible. I’m an agnostic. I have no dog in the fight of whether Jesus was married or not. He could be married and have 4 kids like me and I wouldn’t care. The problem is not a theological one, it is one of scholarship, methodology, and the (mis)use of evidence. Scholars won’t reject Mr. Jacobovici’s claims because they want to defend Christianity, scholars will reject Mr. Jacobovici’s speculations because he engages in circular reasoning, lacks evidence, breaks any number of rules of textual criticism, and engages in what I’ve described in the past as “speculation wrapped in hearsay couched in conspiracy masquerading as science ensconced in sensationalism slathered with misinformation” – all of which is designed to sell books and get viewers to watch the accompanying documentary in the weeks leading up to Christmas.

So in my professional opinion as an archaeologist and a tenure-track professor at a major research university (GO HAWKS!), I must recommend against this book. Just don’t bother. Were it a Dan Brown-esque novel, positing a speculative interpretation about the relationship between Jesus and Mary Magdalene utilizing a fanciful allegorical interpretation of a document written six centuries after Jesus came and went, I’d say buy it and have fun. Fiction can be so much fun! But the problem with this book is that Mr. Jacobovici believes what he’s writing. He believes his interpretation is true. He wants it to be true. And that hovers somewhere between comical and scary.

I HAVE read the book and it really is worse than you might imagine. The text in question is neither “lost” nor a “gospel”, and the allegorical reading of the Syriac version of Joseph and Aseneth is little more than a wishful hope that it would be so, employing little more than name substitution and a desire to prove The DaVinci Code true. Absolutely no scholar will take this book seriously. It will not change Christianity. It will not change biblical scholarship. It’s just Simcha doing what he does best: direct-to-the-public pseudoscholarship just in time for Christmas.

Dr. Robin Jensen, Vanderbilt file Motions to Dismiss Lawsuit Filed by Simcha Jacobovici

Dr. Robin Jensen and her employer, Vanderbilt University, have filed motions to dismiss the lawsuit brought against them by pseudoarchaeologist, professional filmmaker, and recent filer of multiple lawsuits against critics who disagree with his conclusions, Mr. Simcha Jacobovici.

These legal court filings are available to the public via the Washington DC court website, but as a public service to my readers, I’m making them available here for download as well:

A quick perusal will demonstrate that there are multiple grounds on which the cases should be dismissed, including, but not limited to:

  1. The case is not in Washington DC’s jurisdiction.
  2. The allegation does not meet the threshold for the alleged “conspiracy” with an “unnamed, but not unknown” co-conspirator (who happens to be Joe Zias, whom Mr. Jacobovici is also suing).
  3. The statute of limitations had expired.

Any of the above three reasons are enough to dismiss (or at least transfer to a different jurisdiction) the conspiratorially-minded, frivolous lawsuit designed to intimidate scholars into not criticizing Jacobovici’s highly speculative films about archaeology.

(To his credit, his company’s non-archaeological documentaries are quite good, but his archaeology documentaries are roundly dismissed by scholars in the field, both in the US and Israel, with the exception of those scholars appearing in them or profiting somehow by working with Jacobovici on his archaeo-fantasies.)

Go and read the motions to dismiss Mr. Jacobovici’s most recent lawsuit against a scholar who once found herself working with him.

 

No, no, you DIDN’T find the Holy Grail

I was interviewed as part of a story this morning on Good Morning America (Twitter) about recent sensational claims about the “discovery” of the Holy Grail in Spain. Yes…that Holy Grail.

ABC’s Paula Faris highlighted the claim made by two Spanish historians. Video is here.

Two historians, Margarita Torres and Jose Manuel Ortega del Rio, authors of the book, “Kings of the Grail,” claim a jewel-encrusted goblet, which has been inside the San Isidoro Basilica, in Leon, Spain, for the last 1,000 years, is the Holy Grail. And just in time for Easter (and I’m guessing a planned renovation of the church in which the cup was ‘discovered’).

Because Jesus was all about golden, jewel encrusted bling. Right?

Of course, claiming to find the Holy Grail is as silly as other pseudoarchaeological claims, like purporting to find the nails of the cross, pieces of the true cross, the Ark of the Covenant, Noah’s Ark, the route of the Exodus, Atlantis, and Jesus’ family tomb. These are fools errands and the realm of the sensationalized absurd.

I’ll be appearing tonight on a segment with Megan Alexander (Twitter | Web ) for Inside Edition (Twitter) on this supposed discovery of the Holy Grail. The segment should air tonight. Thanx Megan and Tyler for the smooth setup and interview!

[UPDATE: Here is Megan Alexander’s interview with me on the “discovery” of the supposed Holy Grail. And, Inside Edition was good enough to post a 3 min. extended clip from our interview on their website. Thanx to Megan!]

And if you’re interested in doing REAL archaeology, join us at Tel Azekah, where you can dig (and smash) to your heart’s content.

 

 

 

Some Old Articles about Noah in Anticipation of the New Movie about Noah

In honor of the nationwide premier of Darren Aronofsky’s new Noah movie, I’m reposting some pieces I’ve written in the past about the subject.

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I’ll actually be providing a review of the movie for ASOR sometime in the next few weeks.

For the time being, allow me a few introductory remarks about some of the reactions we’re beginning to see about the movie.

Religious conservatives always freak out whenever anyone messes with their ancient myths. Well, allow me to clarify: as long as you retell the myth as it is preserved in the Bible, you’re praised as a good and faithful servant and an excellent producer/director/actor.

But should you explain the origins of the myth, or offer your own mythological interpretation of the ancient biblical myth, or vary it in any way, well then you’re a heretic destined for burning flames of hell and the movie is immediately dismissed as the fanciful ravings of a godless atheist.

Remember, a worldwide flood has been disproved time and again. It’s a myth preserved in the Bible, which was based upon much earlier flood myths that were incorporated into the biblical narrative.

So why can’t a modern director offer his own interpretation of the ancient myth? When Baz Luhrmann reinterprets the Descent of Orpheus myth as “Moulin Rouge!“, or the Coen brothers reinterpret Homer’s Odyssey as “O Brother, Where Art Thou?“, everyone cheers (including conservative Christians). But when Darren Aronofsky retells the biblical flood myth as “Noah”, religious conservatives weep and gnash their teeth. And why are biblical myths so sacrosanct?

Because many religious fundamentalists still believe the account of the Flood in the Bible is historical. They believe it really happened, regardless of what science says. The myth is to be believed over science, but only when the myth is preserved in the Bible. If it’s a myth of another religious tradition, then it’s OK to accept science, and even to use science to disprove the myth. But if the myth is in the Bible, science suddenly sucks.

Look, they are myths. And this is modern motion picture art reinterpreting ancient literary art. So relax and enjoy the movie. And trust me, there will be plenty of scholars pointing out the places where the movie deviates from the biblical text and takes artistic liberties. Just please don’t confuse those of us who do this with the religious fundamentalists who criticize the movie because they believe the worldwide flood actually happened.

Cheers.

“Simply pretending to hold a watermelon does not validate your argument.”

“Simply pretending to hold a watermelon does not validate your argument.”
– Steve Caruso

So true. And it’s the funniest thing I’ve seen in a while. :)

(HT: Tom Verenna)

Archaeologist David Ussishkin responds to the use of mechanical excavators…in 2006!

For Simcha Jacobovici, facts apparently mean nothing. He appears to be making this up as he goes... (Photo www.jpost.com)

For Simcha Jacobovici, facts apparently mean nothing. He appears to be making this up as he goes… (Photo http://www.jpost.com)

The recent exposure of paid employees of Simcha Jacobovici attempting to alter the Wikipedia article on “bulldozer archaeology” was as embarrassing for Simcha as it was shameful.

“John” (User: JohnEUnited) and “Nicole” (User: Naustin1980) were caught red-handed in their attempt to manufacture artificial controversy on Simcha’s behalf by creating single-purpose accounts to pepper the Wikipedia article with references to Robert Deutsch’s (previously) anonymous ad in the pages of Biblical Archaeology Review, and Simcha’s bandwagon cheerleading attempts to promote the manufactured controversy.

The publishing of material on Wikipedia for the purposes of self-promoting and/or attacking others is not permitted upon on Wikipedia.

The article has since been restored.

“John” and “Nicole” also attempted to credit Simcha with the neologism “bulldozer archaeology”. That’s right, these champions of “investigative journalism” claimed that bulldozer archaeology was “a term coined by filmmaker Simcha Jacobovici”. I kid you not. John McGinley then graciously spammed an email to a number of archaeologists and scholars touting their weasel works on Wikipedia, claiming, “”Bulldozer Archaeology² [sic] is now a recognized term in Wikipedia…The Goren/Deutsch debate is now in Wikipedia.”

Idiots.

It only took about ten seconds to discover who was behind the changes to the Wikipedia page, AND any number of instances (for instance, this one by Ralph Harrington) of the use of the term “bulldozer archaeology” long before Simcha’s PR team claimed he “coined” the phrase.

Once again, investigative journalism at its finest!

But it was upon perusing this Harrington article that I stumbled upon a citation, which led me to yet another article, in which none other than Tel Aviv University Professor Emeritus of Archaeology Dr. David Ussishkin responded to questions about his use of a mechanical excavator.

You’ll recall that Simcha highlighted the fact that Prof. Ussishkin did not sign the Tel Aviv University statement addressing the use of mechanical excavators in the midst of the Simcha/Deutsch campaign of retaliation against Prof. Goren.

Simcha stated:

“More important than who signed the statement, is who did not sign it. Legendary Tel Aviv archaeologist David Ussishkin – excavator of Lachish and Megiddo – never used a Caterpillar and did not sign the statement. Also notable by their absence are Tel Aviv archaeologists Ran Barkai, Avi Gopher and Dr. Mario Martin.”

[Emphasis mine]

As we see, Simcha invoked the name of Dr. Ussishkin just before he cited a deceased archaeologist as having supported him, and then corrected/deleted it from his blog. But he should have also deleted the claim about Dr. Ussishkin.

That is because not only does the above Harrington article prove that Simcha did not coin the phrase “bulldozer archaeology”, but we also note that in footnote 21 of the same article, which references a blog post entitled, “Archaeologist David Ussishkin Responds to El Haj Accusations“,  Dr. Ussishkin states:

“5. I believe the use of a JCB to determine the line of the rock-cut Iron Age moat was justified. It was essential to establish the size of the Iron Age enclosure in order to understand properly the site. In most of the area to the south of the site where this work took place bulldozers had removed and disturbed the debris during development works which had taken place here prior to the beginning of the excavation project. In view of the nature of the debris here it would have been impossible to accomplish the work with the aid of students/volunteers. A JCB with a long arm working delicately under archaeological supervision was the right solution: it can do useful work without damaging ancient remains, and I believe that this was the case here. Some later wall remains were exposed and recorded but were mostly left unexcavated – they probably belong to Byzantine domestic remains in the Iron Age moat or along its inner side. They all remain buried for future excavations.”

With all best wishes,

David Ussishkin

[emphasis mine]

Now I ask you: how many times can Simcha Jacobovici shoot himself in the foot trying to attack professor Yuval Goren? How hard is it to check to see if David Ussishkin ever endorsed the use of a mechanical excavator?

And how long will he rely on his bumbling employees to spam out emails about Wikipedia pages they marked up without even doing a minimal amount of simple research before they go embarrassing Simcha by making claims about him that take ten seconds to debunk?

Today we not only learned that Simcha is not beyond having his employees credit with something he did not do (coin the phrase “bulldozer archaeology,”), but that Simcha was wrong about claiming that Prof. Ussishkin never used mechanical excavators; clearly, David Ussishkin feels that:

“A JCB with a long arm working delicately under archaeological supervision was the right solution.”

Investigative journalism at its finest. lol.

Once again, how can we ever trust ANYTHING Simcha says?

I shake my head.

The Rhetoric of Simcha Jacobovici: A Quick Study

It occurs to me that those not familiar with my history with Simcha Jacobovici may not completely comprehend the fanciful rhetoric employed by Mr. Jacobovici in his recent comments, which he wrote in response to being criticized over any number of recent claims regarding the so-called Talpiyot Tombs in East Jerusalem, which he claims contains the dead and buried remains of Jesus, and next to which contains an ossuary with a picture of “Jonah’s Fish” on it, created by Christians who knew Jesus was dead and buried next door, but who celebrated his spiritual, not physical resurrection from the dead.

Simcha recently made three claims and a summary regarding exchanges we’ve had over the past few years. And yet, he cited or linked to none of them. I believe this is because the last thing Mr. Jacobovici wants is for people to read what I actually wrote and discover that Simcha is either highly misrepresenting what I said, or telling outright lies.

His three claims are as follows:

  1. “Dr. Robert Cargill made fun of my kippah/yarmulke.”
  2. “He accused me of faking a Jerusalem mailbox in order to argue that a family named “Arimathea” lives in an apartment over the tomb.”
  3. “Dr. Cargill incited his blog readers to treat me like a piece of “basalt” and “sledge” me with a hammer.”

This was followed by a summary that stated I was “making fun of [his] religion”.

Therefore, I thought I’d use this opportunity as a teachable moment to illustrate to my readers precisely how Simcha Jacobovici utilizes rhetoric and lies to twist the words of those who may criticize his pseudoarchaeological claims.

1. Let’s begin with the first claim.

Mr. Jacobovici stated:

“A few years ago, Dr. Robert Cargill made fun of my kippah/yarmulke.”

Jacobovici, Simcha, "Pants on Fire", Sept. 17, 2013. http://www.simchajtv.com/pants-on-fire/

Jacobovici, Simcha, “Pants on Fire”, Sept. 17, 2013.
http://www.simchajtv.com/pants-on-fire/

But is that true? And why didn’t Simcha provide any evidence of this claim?

Mr. Jacobovici is referring to a paragraph in an article I wrote for Bible and Interpretation entitled, “A Critique of Simcha Jacobovici’s Secrets of Christianity: Nails of the Cross“, in May 2011.

Simcha’s “offending quote”, to which he didn’t bother to link, is as follows:

“Winston Churchill once described Russia as “a riddle wrapped in a mystery inside an enigma.” Simcha Jacobovici’s claim of the discovery of the “Lost Nails of the Crucifixion” is speculation wrapped in hearsay couched in conspiracy masquerading as science ensconced in sensationalism slathered with misinformation and topped with a colorful hat.”

Cargill, Robert R., "A Critique of Simcha Jacobovici’s Secrets of Christianity: Nails of the Cross", Bible and Interpretation, May 2011. http://www.bibleinterp.com/articles/simcha358005.shtml

Cargill, Robert R., “A Critique of Simcha Jacobovici’s Secrets of Christianity: Nails of the Cross”, Bible and Interpretation, May 2011. http://www.bibleinterp.com/articles/simcha358005.shtml

Simcha responded with a lengthy defense of his pseudoarchaeological claims, which was posted by Dr. James Tabor (his Jesus Discovery partner) on his blog, in which he accused me of anti-Semitism (cf. pp. 41-42).

I did mention Simcha’s hat. This is not in question. But why did I mention Simcha’s hat? And does that constitute “anti-Semitism”?

My mentioning of Mr. Jacobovici’s hat was in response to a promotional fluff piece written by Ari Rabinovitch for Reuters, which referred to Simcha’s “trademark traditional knitted cap”.

Rabinovitch, Ari, “Film claims discovery of nails from Jesus's cross,” Reuters, April 12, 2011. http://in.mobile.reuters.com/article/topNews/idINIndia-56286220110412

Rabinovitch, Ari, “Film claims discovery of nails from Jesus’s cross,” Reuters, April 12, 2011. http://in.mobile.reuters.com/article/topNews/idINIndia-56286220110412

But note how there was NO outrage whatsoever from Mr. Jacobovici when a promotional article mentioned his hat. BUT, when my critical article did the exact same thing and simply mentioned his hat in passing, Simcha considers this as “he made fun of my kippah/yarmulke.”

That’s it. “Colorful hat”. That’s what I said. Just like Ari Rabinovitch, I made a reference to his hat. Note that neither of us called it a kippah or yarmulke. There was no religious overtone whatsoever. I made a passing reference to his hat. When Ari Rabinovitch does it, no problem. But when I do it, Simcha interprets it as “making fun of my religion”.

Jacobovici, Simcha, "Pants on Fire", Sept. 17, 2013.

Jacobovici, Simcha, “Pants on Fire”, Sept. 17, 2013.

I’ve never made fun of Mr. Jacobovici’s religion. Rather, I’ve spent my lifetime and career studying Judaism, understanding Judaism, teaching about Judaism, lecturing about Judaism, and publishing about Judaism. But Mr. Jacobovici wants to see it as “making fun” because it helps him rhetorically.

Go figure.

Of course, if I wanted to mirror Mr. Rabinovitch’s quote precisely, I could have replaced “colorful” with “his trademark traditional knitted cap”. However, since I’ve frequently described both Simcha’s personality and imagination as colorful, I chose the word “colorful”. And his hat is colorful. But this doesn’t matter. Simcha sought out an opportunity to be offended, and did so.

But note that this offense is completely hypocritical: when a promotional article mentions Simcha’s hat, there is no outrage. BUT when a critical article mentions Simcha’s hat, all of a sudden it’s “Dr. Robert Cargill made fun of my kippah/yarmulke.”

There was no “making fun”. Such a claim is obviously out of place and absurd, and is again likely why Simcha didn’t link to the actual comment: he didn’t want his readers to actually SEE the evidence/quote.

Likewise, there was no “mock[ing of] his religious head covering” as Simcha’s paid employee, Nicole Austin rhetorically claimed this morning.

nicole_mock2

No such thing ever happened. But facts and truth are secondary to the rhetorical tale that must be spun by Simcha and his employees.

Never mind that more than one of my children have Semitic names. Never mind that I have Hebrew tattooed to my arm. (The fact that Simcha can’t read it is irrelevant.) Never mind that I am invited to speak at the Iowa City synagogue on a regular basis. None of this matters. If you criticize Simcha, he may call you anti-Semitic, no matter how much of your life and career you give to studying Semitic languages or studying ancient Israel archaeologically; it is my experience that Simcha will resort to calling his opponents “anti-Semitic” if it helps him rhetorically. It’s an absurd charge, but he knows it carries weight in circles that don’t bother to check the facts, and so he plays the anti-Semite card when he thinks it will damage his opponent and earn him sympathy.

But this is how Simcha operates. This is how his mind works.

And THIS is the narrative Simcha NEEDS in order to play the victim, and recast his critics’ academic observations as “personal attacks”. Mentioning a hat is not “making fun of a religion.” But to Simcha, who has repeatedly demonstrated an inability, or lack of desire, to argue on the merits of the claim and the archaeological facts, he MUST try and turn it into a personal smear, so that he can, at the very least, claim that those scholars who are critiquing him are somehow smearing him personally.

It’s all rhetorically feigned outrage. But it’s part of dealing with Simcha.

2. Let’s now turn to the second claim made by Simcha in his rhetorical rant.

Simcha stated:

“Last year, he accused me of faking a Jerusalem mailbox in order to argue that a family named “Arimathea” lives in an apartment over the tomb. They do live there and it’s a curious coincidence because we believe that the tomb under the building belongs to Joseph of Arimathea, the man who buried Jesus. Cargill said that no such family lives over the tomb and that I manipulated the evidence so as to create a coincidence of metaphysical proportions. All he had to do is look in the Israeli telephone book to ascertain whether I was reporting truthfully. Instead, he implied that I planted the names on the mailbox. When I sent him the relevant page from the phonebook, he refused to apologize or to report the truth to his readers.”

Jacobovici, Simcha, "Pants on Fire", Sept. 17, 2013.

Jacobovici, Simcha, “Pants on Fire”, Sept. 17, 2013.

But is this entirely true? In fact, is it even remotely true?

Again, Simcha didn’t bother to cite or link to my supposed “accusation” because he fears that readers will actually read what I wrote and see for themselves that I said no such thing!

In fact, I said entirely the opposite:

Now, it could very well be the case that a new family coincidentally named “Arimathea” moved into the apartment after everyone else (which would explain the replaced, slightly lighter green signs), but I would consider this to be highly coincidental, and certainly would not be evidence that the tomb beneath the apartment has been in the “Arimathea” family since the first century.” [Emphasis mine!]

Cargill, Robert R., "“Joseph of Arimathea,” mailboxes, close-ups, camera tricks, and the integrity of digital images", XKV8R, April 26, 2012. http://robertcargill.com/2012/04/26/joseph-of-arimathea-mailboxes-close-ups-camera-tricks-and-the-integrity-of-digital-images/

Cargill, Robert R., ““Joseph of Arimathea,” mailboxes, close-ups, camera tricks, and the integrity of digital images”, XKV8R, April 26, 2012. http://robertcargill.com/2012/04/26/joseph-of-arimathea-mailboxes-close-ups-camera-tricks-and-the-integrity-of-digital-images/

Do you see it? Either Simcha is lying, or he’s not a very careful reader.

I never said that there was no family named “Arimathea” or “הרמתי” living there! Read it!

In fact, I said, “It could very well be the case that a new family coincidentally named “Arimathea” moved into the apartment after everyone else“!!!

So where does Simcha get such a preposterous lie? And why would he lie in such a contradictory fashion?

Simcha is upset because Joe Zias used the above post as evidence in court in his own defense against a lawsuit that none other than Simcha Jacobovici brought against him. Now, what Joe Zias may or may not have said about my post regarding whether or not a family named Arimathea or הרמתי actually lived there is Mr. Zias’ business, not mine. Yet, Simcha deliberately misattributes what Joe Zias may have said to my blog post!

In his post, Simcha acknowledges emailing me repeatedly on July 22, 2013 asking for a public apology for:

“thinking that there was no Arimathea family living in that building. The uncontestable [sic] fact is that there is. I would very much appreciate an apology and a correction”.

(Note: this is also the same series of email exchanges where Simcha feigned outrage after misreading my tattoo.)

Now, I want to spend a moment examining the email that Simcha sent to me, as it is very telling about how he is manipulating the words of my post.

Simcha’s email opens:

On April 26, 2012 you wrote a long piece suggesting that I “added/replaced” signs on the mailbox in the apartment over the patio tomb. According to this view, I perpetrated this act of fraud in order to imply that an Aramati/Arimathea family lives there today. The implication of your piece was that there was no such family living there today.

Small excerpt from email sent by Simcha Jacobovici to Robert Cargill on July 22, 2013.

Small excerpt from email sent by Simcha Jacobovici to Robert Cargill on July 22, 2013.

But note that Simcha jumps to three separate incorrect conclusions.

  1. First he says, “suggesting that I “added/replaced” signs on the mailbox“. This is not true. Read it carefully. I said “someone” replaced them. And according to records of ownership that Mr. Jacobovici sent me (which he mentions in his post), it appears that someone, in fact, DID replace the signs. I never said Simcha did it. But in his mind, I did.
  2. Then he continues, “According to this view, I perpetrated this act of fraud in order to imply that an Aramati/Arimathea family lives there today.” Notice Simcha’s very careful rhetorical qualification here: “According to this view, I perpetrated this act of fraud…” What view? According to whom? I just demonstrated that the preceding underlying premise is false. So the subsequent “view” is also false. Simcha attempts to use his initial falsehood to imply a rhetorical accusation, but this is merely rhetoric compounded upon a false premise, and his underlying logic is fundamentally flawed. Thus, I did not imply that Simcha perpetrated an act of fraud. But in his mind, I did.
  3. Finally, he concludes, “The implication of your piece was that there was no such family living there today“. Once again, Simcha’s conclusion is fraught with logical fallacies. First, Simcha assumes an “implication” that is not only based on the above demonstrated underlying falsehoods, but it is also his implication, not mine. Second, Simcha continues with the fallacious logic by concluding, “there was no such family living there today”. In reality, I explicitly stated the exact opposite! I said there very well could be an Arimathea family living there today, BUT that it doesn’t matter and is irrelevant to the argument.

Thus the opening paragraph of Simcha’s email is based upon an underlying falsehood, which is followed by logical assumption after logical fallacy after factual inaccuracy. And this is the basis of his accusation toward me. The problem is, as I’ve thoroughly demonstrated above with the actual words to which Simcha claims to have been responding, it’s all false!

QED

Simcha’s memory has either completely failed him and he made a mistake, or he’s deliberately lying. It’s one or the other.

I have no business with his lawsuit against Joe Zias, nor Mr. Zias’ defense against Simcha. What materials Mr. Zias brings to court in his own defense and how he uses them is entirely none of my business. All I said was that arguing that a family named Arimathea moving into an apartment above an ancient tomb is somehow evidence that the ancient tomb was owned by Joseph of Arimathea is just as patently absurd as arguing that a modern family named Cohen moving into that same apartment is somehow evidence that the tomb belonged to the High Priest Caiaphas.

It’s sheer ridiculous logic, but this is how Simcha’s mind works. The “curious coincidence” of a family named “Arimathea” living in a modern apartment has no bearing whatsoever on the ownership of a tomb that predates the apartment by 2000 years! And yet, Simcha will deliberately misrepresent my words lie just to score cheap rhetorical points and hopefully win some money in court.

3. Let’s now turn to the third and final claim made by Mr. Jacobovici.

He states:

“Dr. Cargill incited his blog readers to treat me like a piece of “basalt” and “sledge” me with a hammer.”

Jacobovici, Simcha, "Pants on Fire", Sept. 17, 2013.

Jacobovici, Simcha, “Pants on Fire”, Sept. 17, 2013.

Note once again that Mr. Jacobovici cites no evidence, and offers no context. I must assume that the reason for this is that this third claim is so easily debunked, and is such a ridiculously obvious rhetorical attempt to read an explicit analogy literally for the express purpose of deliberately misrepresenting the metaphor as violence toward an individual, that it’s patently absurd.

The statement to which Mr. Jacobovici is referring is a blog post I wrote in response to a manufactured controversy kindled by Dr. Robert Deutsch toward my Tel Aviv University colleague, Dr. Yuval Goren – a balagan into which Mr. Jacobovici has been one of the only individuals siding with Dr. Deutsch.

The title of the article is, “One Big Balagan: Robert Deutsch, Simcha Jacobovici, and their Campaign of Misinformation against Prof. Yuval Goren“. I conclude the article with a metaphor, and it is to this metaphor that Simcha is referring on his blog.

The metaphor reads:

“So, to what shall I compare the archaeological credibility of Mr. Jacobovici and Mr. Deutsch following this entire balagan perpetrated by their own self interests? They are not unlike a piece of basalt, which at first appeared shiny and impressive in the archaeological square. But after archaeologists and scholars dug a little deeper, they soon realized the basalt was a hard, stubborn, intrusive nuisance to the remainder of the archaeological activity being done all around it. So what did they do? And what became of the piece of intrusive basalt? The archaeologists sledged it repeatedly (with logic, of course) until it was broken it into multiple fragments (of debunked rhetoric, of course), and safely removed it from the archaeological square…with a JCB, of course.” [Emphasis mine]

Cargill, Robert R., "One Big Balagan: Robert Deutsch, Simcha Jacobovici, and their Campaign of Misinformation against Prof. Yuval Goren", XKV8R, Aug. 26, 2013. http://robertcargill.com/2013/08/26/one-big-balagan-robert-deutsch-simcha-jacobovici-and-their-campaign-of-misinformation-against-prof-yuval-goren/

Cargill, Robert R., “One Big Balagan: Robert Deutsch, Simcha Jacobovici, and their Campaign of Misinformation against Prof. Yuval Goren”, XKV8R, Aug. 26, 2013. http://robertcargill.com/2013/08/26/one-big-balagan-robert-deutsch-simcha-jacobovici-and-their-campaign-of-misinformation-against-prof-yuval-goren/

The problem with Simcha’s misrepresentation of this analogy is twofold:

First, This is actually a simple case of Simcha attempting to interpret literally what is plainly meant metaphorically. In fact, I even began the analogy with the common biblical line, “To what shall I compare…” (cf. Matt. 11:16).

Second, the analogy clearly states in the opening line that it is not about Mr. Jacobovici, but about his and Dr. Deutsch’s “archaeological credibility“. Of course, this point is deliberately overlooked by Mr. Jacobovici, because he wants the “Parable of the Basalt” to be about him, personally, and literally, and not about his archaeological credibility. So, he retells my parable by altering it (SHOCKER! that he’d alter something!) rhetorically to his advantage, and summarizing it as, “Dr. Cargill incited his blog readers to treat me like a piece of “basalt” and “sledge” me with a hammer.”

The only problem is I never said any such thing!! But, once again, evidence and facts and words and truth only get in the way of what Simcha wants me to have said, so that he can once again feign outrage, play the victim, and accuse those academics who are critical of him of goading others to “sledge me [Simcha] with a hammer”, rather than what it is: a metaphorical analogy about Simcha’s archaeological credibility.

Thus, I have thoroughly demonstrated above that Simcha is either conveniently forgetful, he cannot read (which is a distinct possibility given his translation of my tattoo), or he is an outright liar. I’ll let my readers decide which it is.

But this should serve as a lesson in dealing with Mr. Jacobovici: In my professional opinion, his entire pseudoarchaeological campaign is one big exercise in spin and rhetoric. When you read what Mr. Jacobovici writes, you must read it as you would words from a dishonest salesman or a politician; examine very carefully what he says, and what he does not say, and how he says it. Mr. Jacobovici is not dumb; every claim is carefully worded to project maximum credibility, while maintaining maximum deniability. Likewise, he ignores data that clearly refutes his claims, and has shown a tendency to manipulate data to fit other claims. (In fact, in the case of the instance I cite here, Mr. Jacobovici actually took steps to correct his earlier digital manipulation by uploading previously unpublished photos of the “Fish in the Margins” without the digital manipulation, and even took the extraordinary step, as illustrated by my Duke University colleague Dr. Mark Goodacre, to create a new museum quality replica, different from the first, with the digitally manipulated fish in the margins corrected to something closer to reality.)

Photos of Jacobovici and Tabor's "Replica 1" (top) and "Replica 2". Photos available at: http://www.ntweblog.blogspot.com/2013/09/a-tale-of-two-replicas.html

Photos of Jacobovici and Tabor’s “Replica 1″ (top) and “Replica 2″. Photos available at: http://www.ntweblog.blogspot.com/2013/09/a-tale-of-two-replicas.html

Given the rhetorical misrepresentation above, and digital manipulation of data that has been documented, and to which Mr. Jacobovici has taken steps to correct (thereby acknowledging the earlier manipulation of data), how can anyone trust anything he says about anything ever? If in a single blog post, I can refute with hard evidence three separate instances of deliberate rhetorical misrepresentation from a single paragraph of Mr. Jacobovici’s blog – qal v’homer! – how many more instances of deception and misrepresentation are the in everything else he’s said?

In the end, one statement by Mr. Jacobovici – in his own words - remains perhaps the truest thing he’s ever said:

"For the record, I am not an archaeologist, nor am I an academic." - Simcha Jacobovici, “The Nails of the Cross: A Response to the Criticisms of the Film,” jamestabor.com, June 22, 2011, p. 45.

“For the record, I am not an archaeologist, nor am I an academic.” – Simcha Jacobovici, “The Nails of the Cross: A Response to the
Criticisms of the Film,” jamestabor.com, June 22, 2011, p. 45.

“For the record, I am not an archaeologist, nor am I an academic.”
- Simcha Jacobovici, “The Nails of the Cross: A Response to the Criticisms of the Film,” jamestabor.com, June 22, 2011, p. 45.

This statement speaks volumes regarding the trustworthiness of Mr. Jacobovici’s rhetorical claims. He states himself that he is not an academic. Perhaps we should stop expecting him to argue like one.

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