Sneak Peek of “Bible Secrets Revealed” on History, beginning Nov 13, 2013

Dr. Bart Erhman (UNC, Chapel Hill) appears on

Dr. Bart Erhman (UNC, Chapel Hill) appears on “Bible Secrets Revealed” airing on History beginning Nov 11, 2013.

You can sneak a peek at the first teaser/trailer of “Bible Secrets Revealed” on the History web site.

Drs. Bart Ehrman, Candida Moss, Francesca Stavrakopoulou, and Reza Aslan are shown inviting viewers to come and watch.

The series begins airing on Nov 13, 2013 at 10/9c. The series airs every Wednesday for the next six weeks.

I can also reveal a list of some of those scholars who will be appearing in the series. This partial list (in alpha order) includes:

Reza Aslan (University of California, Riverside)
Gary Burge (Wheaton College)
Robert R. Cargill (University of Iowa)
Bart Ehrman (University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill)
Lori Anne Ferrell (Claremont Graduate University)
Israel Finkelstein (Tel Aviv University)
William Fulco (Loyola Marymount University)
Jeffrey C. Geoghegan (Boston College)
Bryan Givens (Pepperdine University)
Mark Goodacre (Duke University)
Bradley Hale (Azusa Pacific University)
James Hoffmeier (Trinity Evangelical Divinity School)
Amir Hussain (Loyola Marymount University)
Alvin Kass (NYPD)
Chris Keith (St. Mary’s University College)
Peter Lanfer (University of California, Los Angeles)
Jodi Magness (University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill)
Dale Martin (Yale University)
Candida Moss (University of Notre Dame)
Bob Mullins (Azusa Pacific University)
Elaine Pagels (Princeton University)
Yuval Peleg (Israel Antiquities Authority)
Pnina Shor (Israel Antiquities Authority)
Jordan Smith (University of Iowa)
Daniel L. Smith-Christopher (Loyola Marymount University)
Francesca Stavrakopoulou (University of Exeter, UK)
James Tabor (University of North Carolina, Charlotte)
David Wolpe (Sinai Temple, Los Angeles)
Jennifer Wright-Knust (Boston University)

I invite those of all faith traditions, sects, and denominations, as well as atheists, agnostics, secular humanists to watch the series, as History presents a scholarly look at the difficult texts and traditions within the Bible.

Advertisements

New History Channel Documentary “Bible Secrets Revealed” Begins Airing November 11

History logoI’m pleased to announce that a new documentary series will begin airing on History beginning Monday, November 11, 2013 at 10:00pm / 9:00 Central.

The series is entitled, Bible Secrets Revealed, and is produced by Prometheus Entertainment for the History channel.

The titles of the six episodes and their schedule of appearance are as follows:

“Lost in Translation” – November 11, 2013
“The Promised Land” – November 18, 2013
“The Forbidden Scriptures” – November 25, 2013
“The Real Jesus” – December 2, 2013
“Mysterious Prophecies” – December 16, 2013
“Sex and the Bible” – December 23, 2013

The documentary features dozens of the world’s top biblical scholars, religious studies scholars, archaeologists, and historians, who offer different points of view while addressing some of the more difficult readings in the biblical and extra-biblical texts.

It is also worth note that portions of the documentary were filmed on site during the 2013 season of archaeological excavation at Tel Azekah.

Please tune in to this documentary, which seeks to address difficult biblical scriptures and teachings in a responsible, academic, yet entertaining manner. The series is certain to be compelling as much for its scholarship as for its examination of secrets buried deep within the biblical texts, that have often traditionally been known only to scholars.

The Rhetoric of Simcha Jacobovici: A Quick Study

Mr. Simcha Jacobovici.

Mr. Simcha Jacobovici.

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,

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.,

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,

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,

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.,

Cargill, Robert R., ““Joseph of Arimathea,” mailboxes, close-ups, camera tricks, and the integrity of digital images”, XKV8R, April 26, 2012. https://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,

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.,

Cargill, Robert R., “One Big Balagan: Robert Deutsch, Simcha Jacobovici, and their Campaign of Misinformation against Prof. Yuval Goren”, XKV8R, Aug. 26, 2013. https://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

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.

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.

“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.

With Each New “Jonah Ossuary” Photo, Multiple New Problems

With each new photo released by the Jesus Discovery/Restoration Tomb Mystery team, we are presented with multiple new problems.

I’ve put most of the text of my argument into the graphic on this one, but click on the image for a larger version. I’ve listed the four main discrepancies below.

Comparing pictures of the bottom of the inscribed image on Ossuary 6 from the so-called "Patio Tomb" in Talpiot, Jerusalem.

Comparing pictures of the bottom of the inscribed image on Ossuary 6 from the so-called "Patio Tomb" in Talpiot, Jerusalem.

Comparing the original image of the bottom of the inscribed image on Ossuary 6 published on the thejesusdiscovery.org website, with the a newly released image captioned “Untouched Photo from HiDef Camera” on James Tabor’s blog, with Dr. Tabor’s drawing (from his blog) of his desired interpretation of the lines comprising the image, we are presented with a number of new discrepancies:

1. Supposed “Yod”
The lines appear about the same in Original and HiDef images, but for some strange reason, Dr. Tabor’s drawing shows a ‘looped’ area, while arbitrarily ignoring half of the remainder of the line.

2. Supposed “Waw”
The line in the Original appears to fade toward the right. However, the HiDef image now appears to extend all the way to the right border! But, Dr. Tabor’s drawing stops well short of right border. So which is it?

3. Supposed “Nun”
The Original image appears to be made with two strokes, with the top stroke extending down past the bottom stroke. However, the HiDef image shows the strokes connecting, the desired interpretation Dr. Tabor records in his drawing.

4. Several lines must be deliberately ignored to even make supposed “inscription” possible.

It’s becoming a case of one step forward, two steps back. And with each new image released by the Jesus Discovery/Resurrection Tomb Mystery team, the data gets more confusing, and the arguments change and change again. First no inscription, then suddenly an inscription. First stick man arms and legs, then suddenly they are letters. First the arms and legs are here, then they are here. First the letters are here, then they extend to here. First these lines aren’t connected, then suddenly they are connected. Which is it?

Once again I must reiterate the importance of the integrity and full transparency of digital imagery used in archaeology. Why weren’t these images released all at once at the outset? Why are they trickling out to the public one at a time?

Next Stop: The “Sign of Jonah” Corporate Logo

The "Sign of Jonah Corporate Logo" (based upon the image publicly available here: http://jamestabor.com/2012/04/11/name-of-jonah-encrypted-on-the-jonah-and-the-fish-image/) is one possible design for the hypothetical argument that a graffito artist INTENTIONALLY attempted to incorporate a typographically hidden name of "Yonah" vertically and without a standardized linear guideline into the arms and legs of an upside-down anthropomorphic seaweed wrapped stick man image with the DELIBERATE purpose creating a symbol that represented early Christian belief in Jesus' resurrection.

The "'Sign of Jonah' corporate logo" (satirically based upon the image publicly available here: http://jamestabor.com/2012/04/11/name-of-jonah-encrypted-on-the-jonah-and-the-fish-image/) is one possible design for the hypothetical argument that a graffito artist INTENTIONALLY attempted to incorporate a typographically hidden name of "Yonah" vertically and without a standardized linear guideline into the arms and legs of an upside-down anthropomorphic seaweed-wrapped stick man image with the DELIBERATE purpose creating a symbol that represented early Christian belief in Jesus' resurrection.

I’d like to make a prediction: the next argument we’re going to hear from Dr. James Tabor is what I’m referring to as the “Sign of Jonah” corporate logo theory.

Simply put, the theory will sound something like this:

A graffito artist intentionally attempted to incorporate a typographically hidden name of “Yonah” (vertically and without a standardized linear topline) into the arms and legs of an upside-down anthropomorphic seaweed-wrapped stick man image with the deliberate purpose creating a symbol that represented early Christian belief in Jesus’ resurrection.

That’s my prediction. Here’s my rationale:

In the beginning, Dr. Tabor saw a “stick man Jonah” with a “seaweed-wrapped head” coming down and out of the closed mouth of “Jonah’s great fish.” (Other scholars have called this a depiction of a vessel of some sort (complete with handles), complete with a base and decorative motifs. Other scholars have suggested the image is the representation of a nephesh.)

Dr. Tabor and his partner, filmmaker Simcha Jacobovici, went to press with a book (The Jesus Discovery) and broadcast a documentary (The Resurrection Tomb Mystery) making this claim.

However, a few days before the airing of the The Resurrection Tomb Mystery documentary (and six weeks after withering critiques of their The Jesus Discovery book, much of which focused upon their iconographic interpretations including the claim of a “seaweed-wrapped head of a stick figure Jonah“), attention turned to a new discovery credited by Dr. Tabor to Dr. James Charlesworth of Princeton Theological Seminary, who purportedly noticed an inscription made up of the letters yod (“Y”), waw (“O”), nun (“N”), and heh (“H”), spelling יונה (“YONH,” or “Jonah”). (I critiqued this claim earlier.)

The problem was that this discovery came long after the publication of the book, and after the final cut of Mr. Jacobovici’s documentary had been sent to Discovery Channel for broadcast. However, Dr. Tabor quickly came to favor Dr. Charlesworth’s observation, perhaps assuming that it was more likely to be adopted by others as a credible possibility. However, because Dr. Tabor had already published the “seaweed-wrapped head of a stick figure Jonah” argument and wasn’t ready to jettison it in favor of Dr. Charlesworth’s “Jonah Inscription” theory, he needs a plan to integrate them together into a single Jonah Fish Grand Unifying Theory (AKA Jonah Fish GUT).

Thus, I predict, Dr. Tabor will attempt to incorporate both theories, blending Dr. Charlesworth’s “Jonah Inscription” theory into his existing “seaweed-wrapped head of a stick figure Jonah” argument. Dr. Tabor has already argued in response to Dr. Mark Goodacre’s critique of some migrating arms and legs, arguing that although he now assigns different lines to the stick figure’s arms and legs, this is not incompatible with his original “stick man Jonah” theory. I argue that this tactic would be better named the “Mr. Potato Head Jonah,” and one can rearrange arms and legs as needed to fit whatever theory is being argued this week.

Mr. Potato Head Jonah. Simply rearrange arms and legs as needed to fit whatever theory is being argued this week.

Mr. Potato Head Jonah. Simply rearrange arms and legs as needed to fit whatever theory is being argued this week.

I am also guessing that Dr. Tabor will, no doubt, attempt to call it, “yet one more piece of evidence all pointing to their original conclusion…”

So, because Dr. Tabor can’t claim that he saw the purported “Jonah inscription” or knew about it beforehand, they’ll attempt to accept the new “Jonah inscription” theory while retaining the original “stick man Jonah” theory using the same technique that apologists have used for years: harmonization. In fact, Dr. Tabor has already hinted at this tactic in an earlier blog post.

I believe the next logical step for the Jesus Discovery/Resurrection Tomb Mystery folks will be to claim that the ancient graffito artist deliberately intended to craft together an anthropomorphic / typographic logo or symbol of letters that incorporates both theories: a stick-man anthropomorphic image made of poorly executed, misaligned letters spelling out the name of Jonah.

I believe this is where they’re headed, and Dr. Charlesworth himself may argue this harmonization in his forthcoming article.

Of course, this will leave us with a few questions:

1) Why would the graffito artist choose to hide a poorly executed and misaligned name in the base of the image, when he took the time to create a rather well planned horizontal area in the center of the image where he could inscribe letters? (Note: The artist chose to fill this area with additional geometric design motifs.)

Why would the artist hide a name at the bottom of the image using very poorly executed and misaligned letters when he demonstrates he is perfectly capable of inscribing a linear area in the middle of the image far better suited for an inscription?

Why would the artist hide a name at the bottom of the image using very poorly executed and misaligned letters when he demonstrates he is perfectly capable of inscribing a linear area in the middle of the image far better suited for an inscription?

2) If we are going to engage in Rorschach Test archaeology and try to make decorative lines into a name with little care for letter shape, rotation, and linear guidelines, then why can’t we find other lines that spell other names like “Yo Yo Ma“? (In fact, I’m almost tempted to start a contest where viewers can send in their best “THE JONAH CODE” hidden inscriptions…)

Inscribed name of Yo Yo Ma "discovered" in so-called "Jonah Ossuary." This is obviously a prophetic motif symbolizing the spread of Christianity as Yo Yo Ma was born in Paris to Chinese parents before moving to the United States.

Inscribed name of Yo Yo Ma "discovered" in so-called "Jonah Ossuary." This is obviously a prophetic motif symbolizing the multicultural spread of Christianity as Yo Yo Ma was born in Paris to Chinese parents before moving to the United States.

Thus, much like the typographic/anthropomorphic elements used in making the famed letters of YMCA, I predict this argument will gravitate toward a Y-O-N-A explanation – where arms and legs form the shape of letters – and linger there for a little while longer.

YMCA of the Rockies statue

YMCA of the Rockies statue

how to substitute press releases for evidence

The supposed "Jonah inscription"

The supposed "Jonah inscription"

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):

  1. The “Sign of Jonah”
  2. The “earliest christian symbols ever discovered”
  3. The “first christian symbol ever found from first century CE Jerusalem”
  4. The “earliest testimony of faith in the resurrection of Jesus”
  5. The “earliest record of a teaching or saying of Jesus”
  6. An inscription calling on “YHWH to raise up”
  7. 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.”

WHAT???

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.

Un-believable!

Just to sum up:

  1. Dr. Charlesworth’s has yet to publish anything on a supposed “Jonah inscription.”
  2. Toronto’s Globe and Mail reports that Dr. Charlesworth has found something.
  3. Dr. Tabor cites the Globe and Mail article as “breaking news” on his blog.
  4. 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.
  5. Phys.org and Eurekalert pick up the UNC Charlotte press release that “confirms” the discovery.
  6. A LiveScience staff writer re-writes the Phys.org and Eurekalert stories (which were based upon the press release), altering the title.
  7. 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.

%d bloggers like this: