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.


Cherry Picking: The Fallacy of an Inconsistent Hermeneutic

Man tattoos Lev. 18:22 to his arm.

Man tattoos Lev. 18:22 to his arm.

A 2009 story ran in the Advocate (later picked up by other outlets) of a man named Marcel Gelmi who SO homophobic, and SO ready to use a passage from the Bible to defend his hatred of homosexuality, that he (I kid you not) TATTOOED LEVITICUS 18:22 ON HIS ARM in a highly visible area to remind all who look his direction that:

You shall not lie with a male as with a woman; it is an abomination. Leviticus 18:22

Furthermore, Gelmi is a friend of a suspect in a brutal hate crime in Queens, N.Y. He insists that the assault was, in fact, not a hate crime, but that the openly gay victim deserved what he calls a “beat down” explaining:

“I mean, I don’t want no man blowing me a kiss either. I mean, things happen,” he said. “I’ve been beat up like that too, but you don’t see me on the news and my family crying and this and that. Wounds heal.”

So, he tattooed the NRSV text of Lev. 18:22 on his arm, thereby justifying his stance on homosexuality.

However, this act of TATTOOING a particular verse to one’s arm (or on one’s mind and constantly repeating it like a mantra in debates) demonstrates perfectly one of the problems I have with the opponents of same-sex marriage (beyond the fundamentalist/literal reading of Iron Age social religious regulations and insisting that they become the modern law of a secular government supposedly separate from the rules of any specific religion like the Christian equivalent of Islamic Sharia law).

The problem is with “cherry picking,” or more specifically, the inconsistent use of a biblical hermeneutic (way of reading the Bible) to promote one particular verse in the Bible over, and at times, to the complete neglect, of another verse. (Of course, you can do this if you concede that the Bible contains numerous errors, is not infallible, and was written by a number of different people over a great period of time and was later edited and redacted by a host of anonymous others, and therefore some verses are more applicable and relevant than others. BUT since there is a very high correlation between people arguing against same-sex marriage and a belief in biblical inerrancy, that the Bible is the inspired and infallible “Word of God,” and that “All scripture is inspired by God and is useful for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness,” (2 Tim. 3:16) and therefore every command is apodictic and applicable for all time, I’m guessing many will succumb to the temptation of cherry picking.)

One argument I make consistently to those who would seek to use the Bible to suppress the civil rights of modern Americans is, “Choose a hermeneutic and stick to it. However you choose to read the Bible and interpret this verse, use that same interpretative hermeneutic to interpret all of its verses.” Put simply, you can’t read one verse in the Bible and say, “This is binding for all time,” and then read the very next verse in the same chapter of the same book and declare, “Well, that was just part of that particular cultural context. We don’t need to obey that command today.”

Choose a hermeneutic and stick to it.

(Again, we’re not talking about mixing genres here, where one verse is obviously poetry and the other verse is a list of apodictic legal commands. I’m speaking of two verses in the same literary genre and context.)

For instance, if you’re going to argue that “Wives, be subject to your husbands, as is fitting in the Lord.” (Col. 3:18) is still binding, as it is a command from the inspired apostle pseudo-Paul, then you probably should be prepared to defend the command that appears only a few verses later that says, “Slaves, obey your earthly masters in everything, not only while being watched and in order to please them, but wholeheartedly, fearing the Lord.” (Col 3:22) That is, it’s very difficult to argue that one verse is still binding and the other is not, and still maintain any semblance of credibility.

If you use one hermeneutic (e.g., “This is absolutely binding apodictic law for all time because that is the way God made it”) to interpret one verse, and use a completely different hermeneutic to interpret the very next verse (e.g., “Well, this is obviously terrible and was simply a part of the ancient context and therefore we don’t need to follow the teachings of this verse”), then you betray the glaring inconsistency of the way in which you read the Bible. You pick and choose (cherry pick) the verses you feel should still be binding upon modern civil society, while dismissing the verses you don’t agree with as dated and oppressive.

The point is that the Bible didn’t stop saying “Slaves, obey your masters” during the Civil War. It’s always been there. We simply learned to “read around” that verse. Most have learned and agreed to read the verse calling slaves to obey their masters as a product of an oppressive cultural context that endorsed slavery. But, here’s the good news: we changed! While the Bible still says “Slaves, obey your masters,” we took it upon ourselves to agree that slavery is evil (despite the fact that God himself gives instructions on how to make a slave in Exod. 21:2 and Exod 21:7) and to fundamentally ignore the verses that dictate how we should make slaves and that slaves should continue to obey their masters. We moved away from a literalist “God said it, that settles it” mentality and moved toward a progressive reading of the text that concedes that portions of the Bible may have captured some less than ideal elements of the ancient world, such as slavery or the victimless act of two consensual adults loving one another.

Because if you’re going to claim that there should be a law against same-sex marriage because God explicitly prohibited it a couple of thousand years ago, then it’s probably not a good idea to TATTOO a prohibition onto your arm that is only a few verses before this one:

You shall not make any gashes in your flesh for the dead or tattoo any marks upon you: I am the LORD. (Lev. 19:28)

I know of no New Testament command countermanding or otherwise “trumping” this law against tattoos. And yet, this particular tattooed “cherry picker” violates one outright command so that he can advertise his endorsement of another.

This individual is SO consumed with hate for homosexuals, that he violates the latter command against tattoos to express his disgust of the violation of the former.

Sheer and utter hypocrisy.

But that’s what we’ve come to expect from many who want to use the Bible to legislate against the single issue of same-sex marriage, while they completely ignore commands against other equally “abominable” practices, and do not seek to legislate against them.

And THAT is cherry picking and the fallacy of an inconsistent hermeneutic.

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