“Joseph of Arimathea,” mailboxes, close-ups, camera tricks, and the integrity of digital images

Jim West recently posted a rather troubling exposé of a particular scene in the recent The Resurrection Tomb Mystery/The Jesus Discovery documentary. As a side note, it involved an image to which Dr. James Tabor himself publicly scolded Dr. West for publishing, claiming (among other things):

“this is a lie, an absolute untruth”

and

“It is odd that such a family of that name lived in that building but we made nothing of it other than it was interesting–it is not in the film.” (Emphasis mine).

Apparently, it was NOT a lie (as we shall see below), and (as we shall also see below) Dr. Tabor’s statement that the claim involving Joseph of Arimathea and the mailbox not being “in the film” wasn’t exactly accurate. (Either that, or it was grossly misinformed.)

Jim’s post was interesting to me because it answered a question I had asked during my live blog of the American version of the The Resurrection Tomb Mystery documentary, namely, why are there so many references to Joseph of Arimathea when not a single shred of evidence was put forth in support of that claim during the documentary? Jim’s post revealed what I had suspected during the live blog (see the summary): there had been a segment dedicated to attempting to tie Joseph of Arimathea to the tomb, but it was apparently edited out/deleted from the American version of the documentary. However, the Canadian version of the documentary retained the segment (in contradiction of Dr. Tabor’s comments on Jim West’s blog).

I updated my live blog with the text below, but have elevated that update to this full post.

April 26, 2012 – Jim West is reporting that in the Canadian 90-minute version of the documentary, there IS, in fact, a segment dedicated to the signs on the apartment mailbox and buzzer that have little signs that say הרמתי, or “Arimathea” on them.

An image of the mailboxes and doorbells of the apartment that sits above the so-called "Patio Tomb" in East Talpiot, Jerusalem. Note the different shade of green, typeset/font of the inscribed letters on mailbox 4 in comparison to the other signs. Note also the color of the slightly greener sign next to the doorbells.

An image of the mailboxes and doorbells of the apartment that sits above the so-called “Patio Tomb” in East Talpiot, Jerusalem. Note the different shade of green, typeset/font of the inscribed letters on mailbox 4 in comparison to the other signs. Note also the color of the slightly greener sign next to the doorbells.

A screen capture image from the Canadian version of "The Jesus Discovery" documentary of the doorbell of the apartment that sits atop the so-called "Patio-Tomb" in East Talpiot, Jerusalem.

A screen capture of an animation offering a closeup of the “Harmatai” or “Arimathea” name from the Canadian version of “The Jesus Discovery” documentary of the doorbell of the apartment that sits atop the so-called “Patio-Tomb” in East Talpiot, Jerusalem.

The green sign above mailbox 4 appears to be a little different shade of green than the rest of the green mailbox signs. Likewise, the little green sign to the left of the buzzer seems to be a slightly lighter shade of green than the rest of the buzzer signs. A screen capture image of the apartment mailbox and buzzer system from the Canadian The Jesus Discovery documentary appears to reveal that the small green doorbell sign that read “Arimathea” may have been added/replaced more recently than the other signs above and below it (which would explain the slightly different color and typeset/font).

What is more, note that when the camera zooms in on the buzzer, there appears to be an animated over-sized sign that reads הרמתי, which is blown up so large that it now partially covers the speaker!!! Likewise, the names of the other folks appear to be blank, while the enhanced הרמתי sign is clearly visible.

So, based upon this comparative evidence, I shall speculate (and mind you this is only speculation) the following:

  1. It appears that someone replaced the standard/old green sign (that appear on nearly all of the other mailboxes) on the apartment #4 mailbox with a more recent, slightly lighter green הרמתי (“Arimathea”) sign in a slightly different typeset/font. (We don’t know who or why it was added/replaced, but it appears to have been done.)
  2. It appears that someone replaced one of the smaller standard/old green doorbell/buzzer signs (that appear next to nearly all of the other doorbells) with a more recent, slightly lighter green sign. (Again, we don’t know who or why it was added/replaced, but it appears to have been done.)
  3. Furthermore, it appears that the new, slightly lighter green הרמתי (“Arimathea”) sign wasn’t enough to convince viewers, so for the close up of the buzzer, an ADDITIONAL zoom of a much larger, possibly handwritten(?) הרמתי (“Arimathea”) sign was placed next to the doorbell with the slightly greener doorbell sign beside it, AND, all of the other doorbell signs are somewhat obscured. Again, the side-by-side images on Dr. West’s blog clearly show that a larger “Arimathea” sign has been digitally zoomed next to the doorbell for the documentary close-up.

Also note that all of this supposed “evidence” is referred to by the documentary as an “omen,” as if the fact that someone named הרמתי (“Arimathea”) lived in this apartment for the past 2000 years, and that fact is supposedly further evidence that the tomb beneath the East Jerusalem apartment is the tomb of Jesus.

But let’s be honest – that’s IMPOSSIBLE given the fact that:

  1. It appears the הרמתי (“Arimathea”) signs were added/replaced more recently than the remainder of the mailbox and doorbell signs.
  2. The apartment has only been around since around 1980! Remember the tomb was DISCOVERED when construction workers were building the new apartment in East Talpiot (or Armon HaNetziv), East Jerusalem, a West Bank neighborhood that was annexed by Israel following the Six Day War. The apartment is only a few decades old, and the הרמתי (“Arimathea”) signs appear to be even more recent than that. 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.

And yet, this is all some sort of “omen” that Simcha and his camera crew are on the right track in finding the “Tomb of Jesus.” This is similar to other suggestions Simcha has made in the past, like those he made in this interview with Drew Marshall (see the 1:40 and 8:43 marks), where he suggests that the “timing” of the Talpiot Tomb discoveries themselves was some sort of more-than-coincidental, “strange” omen, and not the product of a well-organized production schedule and press campaign designed to broadcast documentaries in the weeks before and after Easter.

This is all literally UN-believable.

So, not only does this “Joseph of Arimathea” segment appear to have been deleted/edited out of the American 60-minute version of the film (which would explain the absence of any “evidence” for Joseph of Arimathea despite the multiple reference to Joseph of Arimathea throughout the documentary), but it also appears to have been enhanced (at least the digitally enlarged הרמתי sign) specifically for the documentary.

It appears we have yet another example of camera tricks involving lighting, angles, zooming, and framing to support a particular claim, which is then contradicted by subsequently released photos of the same object. Unfortunately, it appears to be a systemic problem of the entire expedition, and the credibility and integrity of all of the images involved with the documentary are damaged by these quite amateurish camera tricks and film making blunders.

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the archaeology of qumran on discovery canada

Dr. Robert R. Cargill (UCLA) appears on Discovery Canada's 'Daily Planet' program to discuss Qumran and the Dead Sea Scrolls

Dr. Robert R. Cargill (UCLA) appears on Discovery Canada's 'Daily Planet' program to discuss Qumran and the Dead Sea Scrolls.

the daily planet program on discovery canada has not one, but two segments on qumran and the origin of the dead sea scrolls. the first segment pits archaeologists jodi magness and yuval peleg against one another in an on-site tour and explanation of the site. the two scholars are interviewed separately and both give their scholarly interpretation of the site. magness argues that the site was the home of a sectarian jewish community responsible for the dead sea scrolls. peleg argues that the site was a pottery production plant and that the scrolls have nothing to do with the site. (for those keeping score at home, dr. magness wins this round ;-)

then, after a segment on the recently named 2009 nobel prize winners for physics (british-american charles k. kao, canadian-american willard s. boyle and american george e. smith for breakthroughs in fiber optics and the invention of an imaging semiconductor circuit), the show highlights my graduate research at ucla, the qumran visualization project, presenting it as a new, collaborative, third option that could possibly bring the two warring sides together and resolve at least some of the interpretative issues regarding qumran. using video clips generated by the qumran digital model, the show pieced together an interview i did a few months ago to present my position on qumran, which understands the remains to be those of a hasmonean fort that was abandoned, and then recoccupied and expanded by jewish sectarians. these conclusions are detailed in my book, qumran through (real) time (gorgias press).

at the end, the show’s hosts, jay ingram and ziya tong discuss my approach. they conclude that while i attempt to bring all of the data together in an objective manner, archaeologists like magness and peleg will probably remain unconvinced, and will consider my approach to be simply one more subjective offering into the mix. of course, i disagree, but they’re the hosts; they get to say what they want. besides, i’ll do my responding in new orleans at this year’s 2009 sbl annual meeting ;-)

(n.b. qumran commentator and defender of the so-called ‘jerusalem theory,’ ‘charles gadda,’ was not interviewed for this segment.)

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