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.


“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

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

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.”


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

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.

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.

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.

Rabinovitch, Ari, “Film claims discovery of nails from Jesus’s cross,” Reuters, April 12, 2011.

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.


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.

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!


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.

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:

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,”, 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,”, 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.

Translation of Simcha Jacobovici’s Recent Comments

Simcha Jacobovici recently made some comments in response to Prof. Émile Puech, who accused Mr. Jacobovici of abusing him by “putting my name as a proof for their arguments” during a recent interview.

Mr. Jacobovici then went on to make additional comments in response to criticism from and Dr. Mark Goodacre and me regarding continued claims related to his so-called “Jonah Ossuary”.

However it occurred to me that many of my colleagues, especially my Hebrew speaking colleagues at Tel Aviv University, may not be fluent English speakers, and therefore may not be able to understand Mr. Jacobovici’s comments properly.

Therefore, a friend of my 4-month old daughter, Rory Kate, has volunteered to translate Mr. Jacobovici’s response into your native tongue, which has been captured on video below:

My 2-year old son, Mac, wanted to do it, but he just started a new book.

Mac Reads "The Case Against Q" by Dr. Mark Goodacre

Mac Reads “The Case Against Q” by Dr. Mark Goodacre

I hope my Israeli colleagues appreciate this rather accurate summary of Mr. Jacobovici’s comments.

Perhaps my Hebrew-speaking colleagues can also assist Mr. Jacobovici with the translation of my only tattoo, about which Mr. Jacobovici recently emailed me to complain, “Your tattoo of the Tetragrammaton is insulting to religious Jews”.

Robert Cargill's tattoo reads אהבה, or

Robert Cargill’s tattoo reads אהבה, or “love”.

Investigative journalism and fact checking at its finest!

Apparently, I’m now “The Enforcer”

Go figure.

Steve Caruso has shared with us the following post, which plays on Mr. Simcha Jacobovici’s recent response to Émile Puech’s comments about him.

In Mr. Jacobovici’s response, her refers to me as “The Enforcer”, causing Steve to create the following:

So thanx to Steve for the pic, and thanx to Simcha for the laugh. His comments are always fun to read, although after a while, they do begin to sound like my crying twin 4-month olds.

One Big Balagan: Robert Deutsch, Simcha Jacobovici, and their Campaign of Misinformation against Prof. Yuval Goren

בלגן (balagan): noun. (modern Hebrew, from Russian). 1) a chaotic mess of confusion and nonsense. 2) a state of extreme confusion and disorder.

There is something quite foul coming from Israel, being wafted about by the pages of Biblical Archaeology Review, and perhaps not surprisingly, the stench appears to be pointing back to Robert Deutsch and Simcha Jacobovici.

Archaeology professors from the Nadler Institute of Archaeology at Tel Aviv University recently responded to a cheap and petty series of attacks on the integrity and archaeological methodology of one of their own, Dr. Yuval Goren, Professor of Archaeology at Tel Aviv University.

The attack comes in the form of a paid advertisement published in the most recent issues of Biblical Archaeological Review (BAR), which accuses Prof. Goren of “CATER-PILLAGING the Stratigraphy of Tel Socoh”. The ad features a photo of Prof. Goren standing in front of a JCB, a mechanical backhoe.

An anonymous advertisement depicting Prof. Yuval Goren of Tel Aviv University (later revealed to have been paid for and placed by Robert Deutsch) appears in the May/June 2013 issue of Biblical Archaeology Review on page 29.

An anonymous advertisement depicting Prof. Yuval Goren of Tel Aviv University (later revealed to have been paid for and placed by Robert Deutsch) appears in the May/June 2013 issue of Biblical Archaeology Review on page 29.

The initial publication of this photograph was followed by an email from Robert Deutsch to the Archaeonews list-serv on Saturday, April 20, 2013 at 9:47 AM, which read:

Subject: Re: [Archaeonews] A picture is worth a thousand words

Dear List Members

Attached is a picture which appears on page 29 in the recent May/June 2013 BAR Magazine entitled:

Cater-Pillaging the Stratigraphy of Tel Socho

Socho is a biblical town in the Elah Valley located between the ancient cities of Qeiyafa and Azekah
(Joshua 15:35; 1 Samuel 17:1), some 25 Km. south-west of Jerusalem. Its name is mentioned among the
four towns impressed on the so called royal LMLK jar handles from the time Hezekiah king of Judah.

Instead of advanced nano-archaeological investigation we see destructive mecano-archaeology.

As mentioned in the Subject: “A picture is worth a thousand words”

I will appreciate your comments

Robert Deutsch”

What the anonymous, unsigned ad on the pages of BAR does not state, what the email above Archaeonews email does not claim, but what I confirmed in a phone conversation with an administrator at BAR immediately after the initial appearance of the ad, is that the BAR ad was paid for and placed by none other than Israeli antiquities dealer Robert Deutsch, who was indicted by an Israeli court a few years ago as a co-conspirator with antiquities dealer Oded Golan, who was indicted for, among other things, allegedly forging an inscription that purportedly reads, “Jacob (or James), Son of Joseph, Brother of Joshua (or Jesus)”, on what has come to be called the “James Ossuary“.

I commented publicly on Jim West’s blog on April 28, 2013 that Deutsch was, in fact, behind the purchase and placement of the ad, stating:


BAR didn’t run a story, rather, that photo and the caption around it was actually a 1/4 page ad taken out and paid for by non-other than Robert Deutsch. He had originally spammed a bunch of us trying to get bloggers to give his ‘ad’ a little publicity.

Deutch’s claims are, of course, deliberately misleading.

(NOTE: Don’t miss the bizarre exchange in the comments following my comment, from Robert Deutsch himself. His refusal to claim authorship of the ad and his highly disconnected responses offer a glimpse into irrationality of his argument.)

This week, BAR confirmed that Robert Deutsch did indeed purchase and place the ad in a statement, which reads in part:

“The advertisement in BAR was paid for by Robert Deutsch, a leading Israeli antiquities dealer…”

So we now have confirmation that Robert Deutsch purchased and placed the anonymous, unsigned ads criticizing Prof. Goren in the pages of BAR for using a mechanical excavator.

But why would Robert Deutsch do this? What possible motive would Mr. Deutsch have for attacking a professional archaeologist anonymously?

In 2005, Robert Deutsch promised to take revenge for being indicted in the Oded Golan forgery case, vowing to sue “the IAA [Israel Antiquities Authority] and its agents personally“:

“The public announcements and press conference by the IAA during this last week (December 2004), in which they purposely linked my name to a host of allegedly illegal activities with which the IAA knows that I have absolutely no connection, leaves me no alternative but to immediately file suit against the IAA and its agents personally, for irreversibly damaging my name and reputation and for the serious financial consequences of their malicious and criminal acts.” [Emphasis mine]

Upon his acquittal, Robert Deutsch again promised to have his revenge. In multiple comments (here and here) on the ASOR Blog, Robert Deutsch declared:

“I was acquitted of all the fabricated charges and I will sue the IAA after having my scholarly reputation ruined by the false accusations.”


“They ruin my name and for that I will sue them for all of my expenses and all of my damages.”


“All they were trying to do was spoil my name – and they will pay for that.”


“For all of these things, they will pay, they are the real criminals here, ruining a scholar’s name and reputation. I don’t mind how long it will take, they will pay.”


“No amount of money can compensate enough for all the damage they have caused to me.”

BAR also published Deutsch’s intent to sue the IAA, and followed it with the publication of a separate article entitled “Robert Deutsch to Sue IAA“, which largely echoed comments he made elsewhere on blogs and message boards.

Indeed, can we now state that it appears Mr. Deutsch has begun his campaign of revenge, at least against Prof. Goren?

Golan and Deutsch were acquitted of antiquities forgery at the trial’s conclusion when the judge ruled that there was not enough evidence to prove that Golan executed the inscribed text on the ossuary. However, the judge also warned that the acquittal of Golan on forgery charges should not be read as a judgment on the authenticity of the ossuary nor its inscription, which a healthy majority of scholars consider to be a forgery.

During the trial, Prof. Yuval Goren testified on behalf of the IAA that the inscription was a modern forgery due to issues with the patina covering the inscribed areas. That is, he testified against Golan and Deutsch, on behalf of the IAA. To many readers, this could certainly provide potential motive for Mr. Deutsch’s present campaign against Prof. Goren, especially after repeatedly vowing to have his revenge against those who sought to “damage his name”. (Read Mr. Deutsch’s own words here.)

What is not immediately apparent is that the BAR ad is a complete misrepresentation of the facts, and suggests a number of outright falsehoods.

For one, the piece of equipment is not a Caterpillar, nor a bulldozer, but a JCB backhoe loader with a loader on the front end and a bucket scoop (or “backhoe”) on the back.

Second, the JCB is not on the Sochoh archaeological tel, but in the valley below. Archaeological squares were opened to ensure the careful, controlled excavation of the wadi below.

Third, Prof. Goren’s excavations at Tel Sochoh were carried out using the highest archaeological standards and methodology. As a supervisor at Sochoh’s partner excavation, Tel Azekah (we shared office, lab, and classroom space at Nes Harim), I witnessed daily the extraordinary care taken with the materials and stratigraphic evidence from the Tel Sochoh site. All finds were processed with the highest standards and archaeological contexts were preserved with the utmost detail.

Prof. Yuval Goren works in the archaeological office at Nes Harim, which houses the staff of the Sochoh and Azekah archaeological excavations. I took this photo from my station in the lab.

Prof. Yuval Goren works in the archaeological office at Nes Harim, which houses the staff of the Sochoh and Azekah archaeological excavations. I took this photo from my station in the lab.

Fourth, the use of mechanical excavators is minimal, but common in modern archaeology. Mechanical excavators are commonly used to clean areas in preparation for manual excavation, remove heavy debris like stones and felled trees, to remove previously excavated and replaced backfill documented in prior excavations, and to open controlled test probes for the purposes of determining whether assets should be deployed to new area for the purposes of manual excavation in areas where ground penetrating radar is unable to yield verifiable results.

As Rogue Classicism points out, the Archaeological Institute of America‘s “Ask an Archaeologist” page includes the use of mechanical excavators in modern excavations:

What tools do archaeologists use for excavation?
Archaeologists use a great variety of tools for excavation, depending on the nature of the area in which they are working. The most common digging tools are picks, shovels, and trowels. In areas where there is a lot of sediment or dirt over the sites, archaeologists sometimes use heavy equipment like bulldozers and back hoes, but only to remove earth that shows no signs of human remains. If excavation will be a delicate operation, as during the careful cleaning away of soil from a damaged painting or human skull, archaeologists use dental picks, spoons, brushes, or anything that works. They often improvise based on the situation in which they find themselves. [Emphasis mine]

Nearly every archaeological tel I’ve ever been associated with has used a mechanical excavator at one point or another. This much was made clear by Yuval Goren’s response to the initial ad, demonstrating that nearly every modern excavation in Israel employs mechanical excavators in their excavations.

Prof. Yuval Goren responds to criticism of the use of mechanical excavators with a short article on Scribd, which includes a montage of different modern excavations all using mechanical excavators.

Prof. Yuval Goren responds to criticism of the use of mechanical excavators with a short article on Scribd, which includes a montage of different modern excavations all using mechanical excavators.

Ironically, one archaeological site that Prof. Goren left out of his montage is the site of Bethsaida, excavated by Prof. Rami Arav of the University of Nebraska, Omaha. The Bethsaida Facebook page proudly displays publicly accessible photos of their use of mechanical excavators (JCB backhoe loaders to be precise).

One photo is located here:

JCB mechanical Excavator featured on the Bethsaida Excavations Facebook Page

JCB mechanical Excavator featured on the Bethsaida Excavations Facebook Page

Another photo is located here:

JCB mechanical Excavator featured on the Bethsaida Excavations Facebook Page

JCB mechanical Excavator featured on the Bethsaida Excavations Facebook Page

Prof. Arav just today responded to his own use of mechanical excavators at Bethsaida on Jim West’s blog, stating:

“I am delighted to see the interest in the Bethsaida Excavation Project. This project is an interactive educational project. We have just completed the 27 excavation season. Bethsaida was proved to be the capital city of the kingdom of Geshur. Where else we have a capital city of a kingdom in such a great state of preservation?

(Backhoes are used at Bethsaida only to remove dumps. The picture you see is removing dumps outside of the city walls. All backhoes jobs at Bethsaida are approved and supervised by IAA). Anyway, thanks for your interest at Bethsaida. It is indeed an amazing site without parallel.

Dr. Rami Arav
Director of the Bethsaida Excavations Project” [Emphasis mine]

[A short digression: Quite interestingly, a Co-Director of the Bethsaida excavation, Nicolae Roddy of Creighton University, was quick to follow up about claims that have been made by documentary filmmaker and TV archaeology enthusiast, Simcha Jacobovici, whose autobiographical information and whose PR staff (namely, one of Mr. Jacobovici’s Associate Producers, Nicole Austin, who is always quick to defend Mr. Jacobovici online) continually claim to be a “Co-Director of the Bethsaida excavations”. Prof. Roddy issued the following statement regarding Mr. Jacobovici’s involvement with the Bethsaida excavation:

“For the record, Simcha Jacobovici is not associated with the Bethsaida Excavations Project in any way, let alone as co-director. As co-director myself (for the past seventeen years), I would resign in a heartbeat if this were the case. As for the backhoe, I was there the day it filled in the long furrow left after the extraction of Syrian bunkers. It was not there doing archaeology of any sort.–

Nicolae Roddy, Creighton University”

Simcha Jacobovici's biography at his company's Associated Producers, Ltd.) website claims that he is a "co-director of the Bethsaida Excavation in the Galilee, Israel". Visit for details.

Simcha Jacobovici’s biography at his company’s Associated Producers, Ltd.) website claims that he is a “co-director of the Bethsaida Excavation in the Galilee, Israel”.
Visit for details.

The truth is that Mr. Jacobovici holds the honorary title of “Co-Director of the Bethsaida Excavations” (along with ten other individuals) because he serves as the leader of the Huntington University (of Canada) delegation, which contributed $2000 to the Bethsaida Excavations Consortium. The honorary “Co-Directors” have no authority over the site, nor the excavations. They are invited to attend an annual meeting, and are permitted to list themselves as “Co-Directors” as the leaders of a contributing consortium institutions. Because Mr. Jacobovici states that he was named as an adjunct professor at Huntington University (see image above), and because Huntington University is a contributing consortium member, Simcha Jacobovici can list the title of “Co-Director of the Bethsaida Excavations” on his resume, although the title is largely honorific, similar to those donors who give to a university and are rewarded with a honorific seat on a “University Board”, as opposed to those who are appointed to a university’s “Board of Regents”, and who exercise actual authority over the institution.

So do not be confused: I confirmed this morning that Simcha Jacobovici’s title of “Co-Director of the Bethsaida Excavation” is largely honorary. He has no authority regarding the site, nor the decisions made regarding its excavation. These decisions are left to the professional archaeologists running the excavation, led by Dr. Arav. Huntington University of Canada (where Mr. Jacobovici has been named an adjunct professor) donated $2000 to the consortium, and in exchange Mr. Jacobovici was granted the right to call himself a “Co-Director” with ten other contributing consortium leaders. Here ends my digression.]

Thus, the use of mechanical excavators is endorsed by the Israel Antiquities Authority and is used by the best and most reputable archaeologists in the field.

(NOTE: One should remember that the claim that “no one would go on record endorsing the bulldozer methodology” likely has more to do with the one asking the question (namely, Mr. Jacobovici), and less to do with standard archaeological practice. Given their past experience with certain sensationalizing individuals pretending to be archaeologists on TV, the IAA may very well have developed a practice of not responding to certain archaeological amateurs and others who are only looking to misrepresent any answer the IAA might give. Their silence is likely a result of the person asking the question, not practice in question.

But again, I digress.)

This brings us to the joint response from a host of archaeology professors at Tel Aviv University, which clearly spells out the case I have made above.

In response to the BAR ad, the faculty of the Marco and Sonia Nadler Institute of Archaeology at Tel Aviv University issued the following statement:

Statement by faculty members of the Marco and Sonia Nadler Institute of Archaeology, Tel Aviv University, regarding the alleged use of mechanical excavator at Tel Socoh

A defamatory, anonymous paid advertisement, alleging that Prof. Yuval Goren of the Institute of Archaeology at Tel Aviv University has used a mechanical excavator to “pillage stratigraphy” in the excavation of Tel Socoh in the Shephelah, has again been published in the Biblical Archaeology Review (BAR). Those who read BAR should note that:

1. There was no use of a mechanical excavator on Tel Socoh.

2. The slide shown in the ad illustrates work carried out in a wadi near the mound, as a sequel to a systematic manual excavation from surface to natural soil nearby. The sounding was aimed at detecting pottery and slag in the vicinity of the site. This method is authorized (and endorsed) by the Israel Antiquities Authority.

3. This is a common method in archaeology. Most seasoned archaeologists – regardless of period of research, location on the globe, and institutional affiliation – use mechanical excavators in certain, closely controlled circumstances.

Signed: Oded Lipschits, Erez Ben Yosef, Shlomo Bunimovitz, Yoram Cohen, Alexander Fantalkin, Israel Finkelstein, Moshe Fischer, Yuval Gadot, Amir Gilan, Raphael Greenberg, Zeev Herzog, Dafna Langgut, Nadav Na’aman, Benjamin Sass, Deborah Sweeney, Oren Tal

Thus, it is abundantly clear that mechanical excavators are a part of the standard tool box available to modern, licensed, approved archaeologists. This is not in question. It is legal. It is legitimate. It is approved by the IAA in licensed excavations. Mechanical backhoes are present at some point or another at just about every site. There is nothing wrong with the use of mechanical excavators in controlled archaeological contexts. This is fact. This is standard practice among professional archaeologists.

So we must return to our initial question: Why is Robert Deutsch paying for anonymous ads in Biblical Archaeology Review that accuse Prof. Yuval Goren of “Cater-pillaging” archaeological sites?

Given Mr. Deutch’s history with Prof. Goren, and given his public vow to retaliate against those involved in the IAA’s case against him, one cannot help but consider the possibility that this uninformed, unsigned ad, which is a deliberate misrepresentation of standard archaeological methodology, within the pages of BAR is, in fact, an attempt to sully the name and professional credibility of an established archaeological professional, namely, Prof. Yuval Goren.

If this is the case, one can understand why Robert Deutsch did not want to sign his name to the ad. As it is potentially defamatory, Robert Deutsch would be wise to take all precautions necessary to avoid the appearance that he is paying money to make false accusations and insinuations about the professional practices of Prof. Goren in the pages of BAR.

Of course, the irony is that THERE IS NO CONTROVERSY! It is a completely manufactured attempt at character assassination. Any “controversy” is the contrivance of Robert Deutsch (via his “anonymous” paid advertisements), and the opportunistic bandwagonning of Simcha Jacobovici and his PR machine.

Furthermore, one might conclude that this manufactured controversy may or may not be a continued attempt at retaliation against Prof. Goren for testifying not only against Oded Golan, but against the very authenticity of the so-called “James Ossuary” in an Israel forgery trial that concluded last year. Indeed, the claim of the authenticity of the “James Ossuary” is one thing shared in common by Mr. Deutsch, Mr. Jacobovici, and BAR Editor-In-Chief Hershel Shanks.

The ad is intended to smear the reputation of Prof. Goren. That is its sole purpose. It is not journalism, it is a paid attack ad. And now that the truth has been made public, this causes potential legal trouble for Robert Deutsch and BAR.

And this brings us to the recent efforts of Simcha Jacobovici. Readers should continue to dismiss Mr. Jacobovici’s colorful imagination, who views the facts of this particular case as something that must be obscured until is fits whatever conspiratorial theory he is arguing this week. And this week, it is backhoes at Tel Sochoh (but apparently nowhere else).

At no point is this more evident than Mr. Jacobovici’s recent series of blog posts, in which he compounds mistake upon mistake, and hypocrisy upon hypocrisy. In fact, at one point, Mr. Jacobovici’s attempts at fanning the flames of this manufactured controversy became so irresponsible (and glaringly self-evident), that he has already had to issue an apology for citing a dead woman as testifying in his own defense.

I kid you not!

This past week, Mr. Jacobovici stunningly included archaeologist Orna Zimhoni, M.A. (ז״ל), who passed away in 1996, among a list of scholars that reportedly refused to sign the Tel Aviv statement (seen above). Simcha wrote,

“Also notable by their absence are Tel Aviv archaeologists Ran Barkay, Avi Gopher and Drs. Mario Martin and Orna Zimhoni.”

Now, not only is Mario Martin (as brilliant as he is) a post-doc and not a faculty member at Tel Aviv University, but Mr. Jacobovici appallingly listed the deceased Orna Zimhoni as one who consciously did not sign the statement! (Mr. Jacobovici later issued a apology, but only via email, and not on his blog. Mr. Jacobovici simply corrected his mistake by deleting the name of Ms. Zimhoni from his blog post, and now apparently from his Times of Israel editorial, which now also appears corrected.) This opportunistic, yet highly insensitive attempt to use a deceased archaeologist in support of his claim, only demonstrates Mr. Jacobovici’s lack of research ability and his underscores his careless rush to condemn those with whom he disagrees.

But we have come to expect this of Mr. Jacobovici: facts are merely optional nuisances, and the dead will speak on his behalf if his opportunism finds it convenient. For shame, Simcha, seriously. Is this the kind of “investigative research” we are to expect from Mr. Jacobovici? The dead now speak on your behalf?

I shake my head. But it gets worse.

There is a much greater hypocrisy present in Mr. Jacobovici’s recent blog posts, and I’m not sure whether we’re dealing with sheer ignorance, sheer stupidity, or sheer hypocrisy. I fear we are dealing with all three.

After bloviating incessantly about the use of mechanical excavators in multiple posts on his blog this past week, it was revealed that the very Bethsaida excavation of which Mr. Jacobovici claims to “Co-Director”, ALSO USES MECHANICAL EXCAVATORS!! (See the images above.) Simcha’s ignorance of standard archaeological practice is surpassed only by his own hypocrisy. Rami Arav can use mechanical backhoes at Bethsaida, but Prof. Goren cannot at Tel Sochoh? This makes sense?

I’m stunned.

Simcha Jacobovici has the archaeological credibility of a 30 shekel note*: it appears legit to those who don’t know any better, but anyone who has ever done archaeology in Israel knows that it’s fake, fake, fake. Simcha Jacobovici reminds me of the pundits who appear on CNN during political campaigns right after the debates, whose professional job it is to feign outrage at “controversies” manufactured the campaigns paying them to do so.

I shake my head.

But shaking one’s head is all one can really do for this entire sad, manufactured episode that can only be described with one word: בלגן (balagan), a chaotic mess of confusion and nonsense. The sensationalist, vindictive triumvirate of Robert Deutsch, Simcha Jacobovici, and sadly (and again, surprisingly, given their recent progress), Biblical Archaeology Review, has manufactured a false controversy for the purposes of defaming a good scholar, Prof. Yuval Goren, who happens to disagree with them regarding the James Ossuary. It has become one big balagan, and the only appropriate action for legitimate scholars, real archaeologists, and the public to take is to shake their heads at Mr. Deutsch and Mr. Jacobovici and ignore them. Ignore their false claims. Ignore their manufactured controversies. And ignore their petty, vindictive contrivances.

As for BAR, I do not believe it is necessary for them to apologize, but I do hope they issue a simple statement similar to the statement they released this morning, along the lines of something like, “Given the recent facts that have come to light, and the obvious falsehoods and misrepresentations present in one of our paid, third-party advertisements, BAR will no longer be publishing the paid advertisement placed by Robert Deutsch in the pages of our magazine.” This simple statement alone would demonstrate BAR‘s good faith in this matter, and would do much to correct the misinformation (and potentially actionable defamation) campaign waged by Mr. Deutsch and Mr. Jacobovici, which may have been inadvertently published on several occasions by Biblical Archaeology Review. (I am pleased to see that BAR has at least outed Robert Deutsch as the author of the anonymous ad.)

Robert Deutsch is misrepresenting the work of Prof. Yuval Goren, and yet didn’t even have the backbone to sign or state the origin of his defamatory advert. Likewise, Mr. Jacobovici is taking his typical, opportunistic verbal swings at real archaeologists by parroting Mr. Deutsch’s misrepresentation of the facts. Therefore, it is time for the academic world and the general public once again to ignore Mr. Jacobovici and Mr. Deutsch, as throughout this entire balagan, they have more than demonstrated their lack of credibility, rush to judgment, and mistreatment of simple facts. For them, the truth is a simple nuisance which must be spun, massaged, manipulated, obscured, and sensationalized into armaments for their own personal PR battles.

The best thing to do is to illuminate the truth, expose the facts, demonstrate the PR-driven falsehood of the entire episode, and then ignore them both, for that would be the most powerful and most effective response of all.

And as for Robert Deutsch, the academy should continue to remain vigilant as he continues to exact the retribution he has vowed repeatedly to take. If he attempts another cowardly anonymous campaign of character assassination against someone he feels has wronged him, fear not: just follow the money and shine a light into the darkness, and his duplicity will be exposed, just as it has been in this entire balagan.

For in this regrettable episode, Mr. Deutsch and Mr. Jacobovici have failed in a spectacular way. And they will once again be relegated to the periphery, where the din of the ignorant, the vindictive, and the conspiratorial is occasionally loud, but is ultimately ignored and forgotten.

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.

UPDATE 1: Noah Wiener, the Web Editor for the Biblical Archaeology Society website, contacted me to notify me that he has located the broken link to the “Robert Deutsch to Sue the IAA” article and has fixed it. You can access the article here. To adjust for the correction, I have altered the original line: “(It may be worth noting, however, that a separate BAR article entitled “Robert Deutsch to Sue IAA” has mysteriously disappeared from the BAR website.)” to reflect the corrected link.

*UPDATE 2: It occurs to me that some not familiar with Israeli currency might not realize that there is no such thing as a 30 shekel note. It’s like a $3 bill. They do not exist. Any that do are fake.

kudos to smithsonian channel for putting “gospel of jesus’ wife” documentary on hold

Smithsonian ChannelWord from the Smithsonian Channel is that they’ve decided to shelve a new documentary on the so-called “Gospel of Jesus’ Wife” due, in part, to a high degree of scholarly criticism ranging from claims that the fragment is an outright fake to claims that it appears to be a cut-and-paste job of verses taken from the Gospel of Thomas.

This is a good thing! Kudos to Smithsonian for listening to the facts, weighing the evidence, and evaluating the scholarly critique instead of rushing to air a sensationalized documentary that may turn out to be nothing but an hour of strained speculation sold to a cable channel in the hopes of making quick money, archaeology be damned.

I applaud Smithsonian Channel. And I applaud Harvard Divinity School’s Dr. Karen King. Dr. King released this fragment the way it should be released in this new digital era of immediate feedback: first to a group of scholars for review, and then to a professional conference of her peers for review, and only then to the public.

And, when the scholarly experts began to raise doubts and voice their concerns about the authenticity of the object and its interpretation, the planned documentary was put on hold to preserve the credibility of the network and of the scholar making the claim, despite the fact that there was quick money to be made. There is no highly speculative, popular book to recall because Dr. King went through the academy first. And now that the scholarly community has voiced its desire for more research, Dr. King (who has repeatedly expressed her own doubts about the fragment’s authenticity) appears all the more professional and the Smithsonian Channel looks all the more responsible.

It’s a shame that other networks can’t follow Smithsonian’s lead and cancel other documentaries they believe to be highly problematic, factually challenged, speculative, and mere attempts to make a quick buck on potentially pseudoarchaeological claims.

[N.B.: We have yet to hear if the documentary’s producer has decided to sue Joe Zias for millions of dollars because a growing majority of the scholarly community has questioned the validity of the documentary’s claims, causing it to be shelved and potentially canceled. Because obviously, any documentary related to the Bible and archaeology that is shelved due to a growing critique of the sensational claims by a number of scholars must be Joe’s fault alone. ;-)]

“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”


“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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