Simcha Jacobovici’s Circular Responses During Interview with Canada’s Drew Marshall

I just finished listening to Canadian talk show host Drew Marshall‘s interview with Simcha Jacobovici and Dr. Craig Evans.

This was my first time listening to Drew Marshall, and let me say he was a gracious host, and yet he didn’t let Simcha off the hook (my only fish pun). He actually called Simcha on a couple of things, but of course, that didn’t stop Simcha from entering into his obstinate alternate reality and completely dodge the questions and spin some answer that only a six-year old would accept as valid.

Listen to the interview. Read my marked-up comments.

Please keep in mind that in addition to being Assistant Professor of Classics and Religious Studies at the University of Iowa, I am also part of the “Digital Public Humanities” consortium here at Iowa. This means that part of my job as a scholar (in addition to teaching and researching and writing and excavating with Dr. Oded Lipschits at Tel Azakah in Israel) is responding to claims made in the public sphere (and if necessary, critiquing them) that involve technology and the humanities (i.e., the Digital Public Humanities), particularly in the fields of religion and archaeology. Simcha Jacobovici’s latest Discovery Channel documentary, The Resurrection Tomb Mystery (alternatively titled The Jesus Discovery in Canada) makes a sensational religious/archaeological claim involving innovative technology directly to the public, bypassing scholarly conventions of peer-review in refereed journals and professional conferences.

The above video is a critique of a publicly broadcast interview where filmmaker Simcha Jacobovici attempts to present ‘evidence’ for his latest pseudo-archaeological claim.

A couple of things to listen for:

At the 22:43 mark, Simcha mentions me by name, stating in the interview:

Even my worst detractors are saying, this – this guy Cargill he spends all of his days on his blog attacking me – even he says in the pages of the Washington Post, ‘This is important. This is different’.”  – Simcha Jacobovici, The Drew Marshall Show, April 7, 2012

Of course, I never said that. My four quotes from the April 5, 2012 Washington Post article by Nicolas Brulliard are as follows:

“It sounds like they’re trying to act out ‘The Da Vinci Code’.”

“The image on ossuary 6 is not Jonah’s great fish spitting out a seaweed-wrapped head of Jonah,” says Cargill, who favors the Greek vessel interpretation.

“Fish don’t have handles.”

“Cargill also says that the inscription and carvings found in the tomb are significant regardless of their interpretation.”

This is a typical example of how Simcha mishandles information. I obviously don’t agree with Simcha, but that doesn’t stop him from claiming I said: “This is important. This is different,” and spinning it into some kind of support for him.

(But, it’s always good to know that Simcha is paying attention. ;)

So there’s the joke that Simcha still does not realize the difference between a mention and an endorsement. I’ve addressed this elsewhere.

Second: I about fell out of my chair laughing at Simcha’s insistence that his 6-year old daughter’s assessment that the image on the ossuary is a fish was the “ultimate test”. Then again, that fact alone really does explain a lot about these sensational claims. Forget scholars and trained professionals. We don’t need no stinking scholars! (Because we scholars disagree with his conclusions.) So, he turns to his daughter. And she accepts that it is a fish. Case closed. Again, the “Mishi Test” (his words (on multiple occasions), not mine) alone trumps all the education and all the scholars in the world.

(BTW, and I mention this in the video: To be really honest, this is not a bad rhetorical tactic on Simcha’s part. Because now, if anyone ever calls Simcha on the fact that he consulted his six-year old daughter regarding ancient Jewish burial iconography, he can claim, “You’re personally attacking members of my family. How dare you!” or something like that.

Simcha invoked his six-year-old daughter’s professional(?) testimony as evidence in his interpretation of the image inscribed on Ossuary 6, but if you call him on it, he might try claiming “personal attack.” (And the less discerning among us might even buy it!) But I really wonder if he’d actually go there? I mean, it’d be a fairly obvious double standard and disingenuous retreat to a feigned offense designed to distract from his lack of evidence and circular reasoning. And yet, I’m torn about whether he’d actually do it. Maybe one of his doting fans (or employees) will claim “personal attack” for him? At least we’d know of its disingenuous nature beforehand.)

Finally, the sad fact that Simcha absolutely refuses to listen to ANY OTHER POSSIBLE EXPLANATION or interpretation regarding his “Jonah Fish” image is, with all due respect, laughable. In fact, if you listen to me on the video, you’ll hear me quite literally laughing out loud. Simcha actually tries to compare “that Drew Marshall exists” to his claim that the inscribed image on Ossuary 6 “is a fish.” Both are unquestionable facts in Simcha’s mind. In fact, he says that any other interpretation than ‘fish’ is “silliness,” and he refuses to entertain any further discussion about it. There is no other possible interpretation in Simcha’s mind. It’s a fish. End of story. (Did I mention he admitted he’s NOT an academic and NOT an archaeologist?)

The fact that Simcha absolutely refuses (and says so in the interview) to see anything other than what he ABSOLUTELY MUST see in order for his speculative theory to work essentially explains everything you need to know about both Simcha and this entire project.

In the video, Simcha admits he is “not a theologian, not a Christian,” and of course, elsewhere has admitted he is “not an archaeologist, nor an academic.” (Simcha Jacobovici, “The Nails of the Cross: A Response to the Criticisms of the Film,” jamestabor.com, June 22, 2011, p. 45.) And yet, if any theologian, Christian, academic, archaeologist, or any one else trained in these fields suggests anything other than “it’s a fish,” Simcha will have nothing to do with it.

That’s how desperate and precarious their theory has become…and the documentary hasn’t even aired yet.

Drew Marshall’s interview with Simcha Jacobovici will be remembered as THE moment that the delusional obstinate stubbornness of Simcha Jacobovici became self-manifest. He said it himself. He doesn’t want to hear anyone tell him it’s not a fish. It just is. Oh, and because it’s a fish, it’s a “Christian tomb,” “owned by Joseph of Arimathea,” those buried inside “knew Jesus” and “heard him preach,” and therefore the tomb next to it “contains the bones of Jesus.”

Do we really need to say more?

in search of the historical charlesworth (and the difference between a “mention” and an “endorsement”)

A screen capture of Dr. James H. Charlesworth's Princeton Theological Seminary faculty page.

A screen capture of Dr. James H. Charlesworth's Princeton Theological Seminary faculty page. (Available at: http://www3.ptsem.edu/Content.aspx?id=1917)

My colleague, Dr. Mark Goodacre at Duke University recently raised an interesting question regarding the invoking of the name of Princeton Theological Seminary Professor Dr. James Charlesworth in support of recent claims by Dr. James Tabor and filmmaker Simcha Jacobovici regarding their supposed “Jonah’s Great Fish” ossuary.

Goodacre quite cleverly devised a synoptic comparison between Dr. Charlesworth’s own account of his first viewing of the so-called “Patio Tomb” ossuaries (as narrated in a letter he sent to the members of his Foundation on Judaism and Christian Origins), and the account as narrated by Jacobovici and Tabor on page 70 of their Jesus Discovery book.

You can read Dr. Goodacre’s comparison here.

The questions I have are as follows:

  1. Who shouted?
  2. Who sight-read the inscription?
  3. How did Dr. Charlesworth interpret the inscription?
  4. How did Dr. Charlesworth interpret the image?

(I almost want to highlight the discrepancies in different color highlighter as a nod to Burton Throckmorton, but I do have a question for Dr. Goodacre: what parts of the narrative can we attribute to Q? ;-)

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The question is important because Dr. Charlesworth (rather surprisingly) appeared to endorse Simcha Jacobovici’s last sensational claim about the discovery of the tomb and bones of Jesus at Talpiot – a claim that nearly all credible scholars rejected outright. Dr. Goodacre reported at the time:

“James Charlesworth of the Princeton Theological Seminary, who also consulted on the film, told Newsweek that the documentary makes a strong case for the biblical lineage, which is supported in part by archaeologists, historians, statisticians and DNA and forensics experts.

“‘A very good claim could be made that this was Jesus’ clan,’ he said.”

It was peculiar because not long after the release of The Lost Tomb of Jesus, Dr. Charlesworth appeared to back away from his support of Simcha’s claims, even going so far as to post a statement on Princeton Theological Seminary’s website (since removed) officially clarifying his position (again, distancing himself from Simcha’s claims). As Dr. Goodacre again recounts:

“Prof. Charlesworth has provided an updated statement on the Princeton Theological Seminary website (also reproduced by permission on Deinde). In the statement, he distances himself from the notion that the “Yeshua” ossuary belonged to Jesus of Nazareth, but suggests that the tomb might still be that of his extended family…”

Dr. Charlesworth concluded:

“My judgment is that this ossuary does not belong to Jesus from Nazareth. Again, the names “Jesus” and “Joseph” are extremely common in the first century….” (emphasis mine).

And now, given the obvious discrepancy between the claims Mr. Jacobovici and Dr. Tabor are making about Dr. Charlesworth’s alleged support for their conclusions about the “Jonah Fish” on page 70 of their book:

“He [Charlesworth] also offered without hesitation the same interpretation of the fish. What we are looking at, he said, appears to be the earliest representation from Jesus’ followers of their faith in his resurrection of the dead. A quiet shudder went through the room as the implications of his conclusion sunk in.” (The Jesus Discovery, p. 70, emphases mine.)

A paragraph from page 70 of "The Jesus Discovery" by James D. Tabor and Simcha Jacobovici

A paragraph from page 70 of "The Jesus Discovery" by James D. Tabor and Simcha Jacobovici

and the rather distant and ambiguous (albeit admittedly promotional) account from Dr. Charlesworth’s Mar. 31, 2012 letter to the members of his Foundation, I cannot help but ask whether or not Dr. Charlesworth is once again backing away from Simcha’s claims and conclusions, or whether he ever really supported them at all.

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The question becomes one of the difference between a “mention” and an “endorsement.” Mr. Jacobovici seems to consistently (and perhaps deliberately) confuse the two.

For instance, when scholars began to question the recent claims made by Mr. Jacobovici regarding his alleged “discovery” of iconography he claims is a representation of Jonah and his “Great fish,” Dr. Tabor posted a response from Mr. Jacobovici, which at one point reads:

In the words of Yuval Baruch, Jerusalem District Head of the Israel Antiquities Authority, “there’s nothing else like it on an ossuary.” We also found a statement of faith. But even if you say it’s not about resurrection, but some kind of exaltation or testament to an ascension of some kind, there is simply nothing like it on any of the thousands of ossuaries cataloged so far. Again, those are the words of Yuval Baruch.

However, this isn’t exactly an “endorsement.” All Yuval Baruch is saying is that it is “unique.” He’s not saying he agrees with Dr. Tabor and Mr. Jacobovici’s conclusions about the interpretation of the iconography or their reading of the inscription, rather, only that they’ve found something “different.”

Likewise, look at Simcha’s own words on my blog, when he offers a supposed litany of “support” for his claims:

“What psychological landscape do you inhabit? The IAA has licensed our dig. Ha’aretz, Israel’s leading newspaper, put our finding on its front page. Yuval Baruch, IAA Jerusalem district head, has called it “a significant find;” James Charlesworth calls it “a Jonah image” in our film; John Dominic Crossan hails it as an extremely important find. Likewise, Prof. Barrie Wilson….the list goes on.”

However, is this really “support”? Aside from the personal red herrings we’ve all come to expect from Simcha (in this case, questioning my “psychological landscape”), let us examine the supposed “support” Simcha trots out:

“The IAA has licensed our dig.”

Great! They’re not digging illegally, but the IAA website still has no mention of Simcha other than a refutation of an earlier sensational claim Simcha made about discovering the nails from Jesus’ cross (Easter 2011). And they certainly do not agree with Simcha’s interpretation of the iconography or the inscription.

“Ha’aretz, Israel’s leading newspaper, put our finding on its front page.”

Congratulations! They made news. His public relations people did their jobs. But the article did not endorse the conclusions of the find, they simply mentioned that Simcha had made his annual sensational Easter claim. (Cf. “Jesus nails” around Easter 2011; “Finding Atlantis” around Easter 2010; “Lost Tomb of Jesus” around Easter 2007; “Exodus Decoded” around Easter 2006, etc.)

“Yuval Baruch, called it “a significant find.”

Wonderful. It’s “significant.” They do have Jewish ossuaries after all. But, does Yuval Baruch agree with their conclusions?

“James Charlesworth calls it “a Jonah image” in our film.”

Does he? And, does referring to the image in question as “a Jonah image” constitute an endorsement? I, too, refer to it as “a Jonah image” (including the “scare quotes,” and I usually precede it with a ‘so-called’ or ‘purported’), but I am guessing few would interpret my referring to the vessel inscribed on Ossuary 6 as the “Jonah Image” as support for their conclusion. The question is: does Dr. Charlesworth agree with Simcha’s conclusions? If so, will he do so publicly and unequivocally?

“John Dominic Crossan hails it as an “extremely important” find.”

Again, describing something as “extremely important” is little more than a kind way of saying, “Great, you found many nice things.” Again, they did, after all, find ossuaries with an inscription and some engraved images on them. I’d call this “extremely important” as well. But the question is: does Dr. Crossan agree with their conclusions?

“Likewise, Prof. Barrie Wilson….the list goes on.”

Does it? Does it go on? Or is that all they’ve got? So far, the only people that have shown any support whatsoever for Simcha’s claims have received some sort of compensation for doing so, be it cash, honorariums, subsidized trips to Israel or other places, named consulting credits, on-air face time, co-authorships on books, or they work for Associated Producers, Ltd. I have yet to find (and have asked many times) a single scholar who has not been somehow associated with or compensated by Simcha Jacobovici that endorses or agrees with his conclusions regarding this tomb and its ossuaries. And since Barrie Wilson has been working on projects with Simcha, we are still left searching for a single scholar not working with or compensated by Simcha (or his company, Associated Producers, Ltd.) that supports his claims.

Nothing they’ve listed thus far can be considered an endorsement, much less an agreement with their conclusions.

Again, claiming something is “unique” or “significant” is NOT the same as endorsing or agreeing with someone’s conclusions. I’ve dealt with this before.

THERE IS A DIFFERENCE BETWEEN A “MENTION” AND AN “ENDORSEMENT” OR “SCHOLARLY AGREEMENT.”

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It will be interesting to watch to see if Dr. Charlesworth publicly endorses Dr. Tabor and Mr. Jacobovici’s claims about “Jonah fish” and ossuaries, or if he comments about it as many critics have done. Will Dr. Charlesworth state unequivocally, “This is a representation of Jonah being swallowed by a great fish, which is a symbol for the resurrection of Jesus, meaning this is first century evidence of Christian belief in the resurrection of the very man Mr. Jacobovici claimed was dead and buried a few meters away only a few years ago. Likewise, the inscription says precisely what Dr. Tabor and Simcha say it says”?

Or, will Dr. Charlesworth play the role of the “interested promoter,” stating things like:

I am pleased to announce [the release of] an important documentary.”

And uncommitted, scholarly realities such as:

The meaning of the drawings will need to be debated among specialists.”

And then rather than offer endorsements of Simcha’s conclusions, ask a bunch of questions like:

Is the drawing a sign or a symbol? A sign can mean one and only one thing. A symbol must be interpreted and usually has many meanings. How do we discern the intended, implied, or attributed meaning of an early Jewish drawing?

And then acknowledge that the technology is indeed innovative (without agreeing with Simcha’s conclusions) by asking:

Is not the method of unintrusively exploring an ancient tomb itself ground-breaking?

And then speak to the emotion of peering at a Jewish tomb (note: not a “Jonah image,” but the somber reality of staring at mortal remains), by stating:

I was moved when I looked through a camera on the end of a robotic arm into a pre-70 Jewish tomb.

And finally, ask the question we’ve all been asking:

What was it? What was depicted? What did the early Jew intend to symbolize?

I am very, very curious to see if Dr. Charlesworth says what he says he is saying, or whether he says what Mr. Jacobovici and Dr. Tabor say he said.

Will Dr. Charlesworth declare unequivocally that the image is, in fact, an image of Jonah spitting out a seaweed-wrapped head of a stick man Jonah? Will he even comment at all in the film about the so-called “Jonah image”?

I am equally curious whether Dr. Charlesworth reads the inscription as, “O Divine YHWH, raise up, raise up!” or “The Divine Jehovah raises up to the Holy Place,” or “The Divine Jehovah raises up from [the dead],” as Dr. Tabor suggests, or, whether he suggests it says something else, (as others have suggested here and here and here and here). Does he see the tetragrammaton or not?

Or, will the response more closely resemble a parent’s response to a drawing his or her child made in daycare: “That’s very nice. How unique. This is quite significant. And what is this? Is that a “Jonah image“? Here, let’s put it on the fridge for all to see.”

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