Teaser of my Jesus Tomb blog entry
Mark smiled broadly as he walked towards his next class. He had been waiting for this all day long, since he first had witnessed the great speech given by a new political party the night before. He had anxiously waited in study hall that morning, and later he picked at his food and tapped a fork on the lunch table, hoping these periods would pass swiftly and bring about his Social Studies course. But the time had passed by slowly.
Even still, he had finally made it. And although he was slightly hunched over due to extensive homework assignments he had picked up during the various courses of the day he didn’t let it bother him. All week perhaps he would have scrapped his feet and moved a little slower, but today he tried to move at a heightened pace.
His smile widened only slightly as he entered the classroom to see it was fairly empty. In fact he was the second student to arrive; the first student seemed to have her head down on her desk as if she were trying to shut her eyes for a bit before the bell rang. Mrs. Hansel stood behind a desk, going over some notes for the day’s lesson. On the chalk board in big letters was written, “Presentation Day.”
Mark was pleased as he read the words on the board, that he had spent so long preparing the previous night. He had not had a subject for his presentation until he had gone to the political rally with his parents, and was so inspired by the words he decided to do it on that. He poured over tons of papers and pamphlets the political movement was giving out. He knew his subject matter was controversial but it was important to spread the news, just as the party candidate had explained.
Mrs. Hansel gave a faint smile as Mark walked into the room. Although today, Hansel did not return her smile. He used to like Mrs. Hansel, but now he was uncertain as to her intentions. He started questioning her motives, that perhaps she had a grudge against him – thought she were so superior to him because she was who she was. His father had told Mark that Mrs. Hansel was not to be trusted after a parent-teacher meeting, but Mark didn’t understand why, until he failed the first test. He had just written down the things he had learned from growing up, and even studied a few books in his father’s library.
“Are you ready to give your presentation today, Mark?” She asked?
“I am, Mrs. Hansel. I’d like to go first.”
Mrs. Hansel pursed her lips, perhaps wondering if what Mark was going to try to embarrass her again, as he generally tried to do. But he wasn’t the only one, others did as well, including other teachers at times. She nodded slowly, “Okay Mark, have a seat by the podium and we’ll start in a minute.”
Mark walked over and sat down, dropping his backpack hard to the ground next to the wooden chair. He pulled out his notes and various pamphlets he’d collected the previous night. Upon the last student entering, Mrs. Hansel announced Mark’s presentation and Mark stood up, knowing full well he was prepared. Even still, he had some butterflies in his stomach, of which he tried his best to repress.
He set his notes down on the podium and handed Mrs. Hansel some fliers to pass out. Mrs. Hansel looked at the pamphlets and frowned deeply. She peered at them closer, and Mark smiled as he saw the color drain from her face. He didn’t wait for her to look up, and started as quickly as he could.
“My presentation is on the superiority of the German people, and why Jews are genetically and spiritually inferior our race.” A small round of applause came up from the classroom, except from Mrs. Hansel. “Last night I attended a political rally for the Nazi Party. Here is what I learned….”
II. WHY WE SHOULD CARE
The above story is a bit dramatic, but this is an example of what happens when people have false information and build a foundation of understanding off that false information. Granted this is, again, an extreme case, but still of similar importance.
The boy in this story is an 18 year old student in 1933 Germany. His teacher, Mrs. Hansel, is a Jew although married to a non-Jew (hence the name). This story echoes the effects of the purely fantastic campaigning of the Nazi Party in Germany before the outbreak of World War II. They had the ability to make false points using intense emotional pleas and pseudo-science. They used religion to play off people (although they definitely believed in the Christian God), and worked hard to use good visual stunts to draw more attention, including what they wore, what sort of activities would happen at rallies, posters and brochures.
But most importantly they used words to entice audiences.
Like I said, this may be an extreme example, but there are other less extreme but equally important examples, like people who watch documentaries on the History Channel about Alien races building pyramids or Roswell. Or, like the show that preceded the Lost Tomb of Jesus special, people watch a show about Freemasonry and think they know something about it based on the incredibly false information they put forward.
People, like Dan Brown, and the shows mentioned above, do what they do best: Look at the evidence available and say “Well what if this was really this…” and from this premise build one link after another and as Prof. Reed put it in the Critical Analysis after the documentary, “build a chain” of false information that spans a long way. This is rather important to understand, because this is how not to do a historical documentary.
Upon the review of Dan Brown’s book, “The Da Vinci Code,” Dr. Robert Price stated:
“These authors seem unacquainted with inductive historical method. They proceed instead, as they themselves recount the evolution of their hypothesis, more in a novelistic fashion, just like their recent disciple Dan Brown. That is, Baigent, Leigh, and Lincoln constantly connect the dots of data provided by medieval chronicles, etc., linking them with one speculation after another: "What if A were really B?" "What if B were really C?" "It is not impossible that…" "If so-and-so were the case, this would certainly explain that and that." … But what are the chances that this is the explanation? It is a shot in the dark, seeking to explain one unknown by a bigger one. We are familiar with this logic from tabloid theories that space aliens built the pyramids. Or that we may explain the Big Bang by positing that God lit the fuse.”
This is simply not how history is ‘done.’ Real historians need to instead deduce information based on the facts and not alter the facts to fit conclusions. Instead every possibility needs to be weighed against another. This method is explained:
“…Some people are inclined simply to believe anything found in a canonical source (whether it is the writings of Julius Caesar, George Washington, or the Bible), whereas others are inclined to believe anything that contradicts a canonical source. This latter approach is especially favored by people who are attracted to conspiracy theories – but also by intellectually curious people who believe the maxim that “the winners write the history” and are therefore intrigued by the possibility of recovering the “other side” of the story. Critical historians can’t approach sources in that way, automatically favoring one side against the other. Instead, every source has to be carefully weighed and evaluated….The critical historian looks at all of these sources, comparing them carefully with one another, determining which ones can be trusted as reliable and which ones need to be taken with a pound of salt.” (Ehrman, Truth and Fiction in the Da Vinci Code, Pp. xxiii)
Manuscripts are compared to other manuscripts and contradictions or altercations must be noted. Not only that fact, but the issues of original language also must be understood. Most people don’t understand the structure of ancient languages, let alone the other aspects involved in determining the value of their meaning. Richard Carrier explains this extremely well in his essay on www.infidels.org:
“And the fact remains that no translation, no matter how faithful, can ever truly replicate what the bible actually says in the Greek. This is a serious problem, for it means that no Christian ignorant of Greek has ever read the actual bible. Even the Muslims realize this, and hence have required that the Koran always be read by serious believers in the original Arabic. And it is not enough of a solution to merely learn Greek, for the meaning of allusions and words and grammatical constructions in 1st century Koine Greek is often inexorably tied to an understanding of how the language and associated ideas were used and understood in the 1st century. In other words, one must study Greek literature at the time, and social and economic and political history, and religious and philosophical history, to really start to grasp many of the nuances in the Greek…. Proper interpretation requires such an understanding.” (Richard Carrier, Two Examples of Faulty Bible Scholarship)
This is what Jacobovici doesn’t understand. This isn’t connecting dots through speculation, but connecting dots through data. Most of the time, that data first must be weighed and must have been shown to have some verisimilitude on an individual level before looked at in a larger scale. This is not what the film makers did. Instead they took all the data and lumped it into a category “family tomb” – and from that first speculation they through in all these other variables such as Jose being the brother of Christ, and Mariamne being Mary of Magdella, and Mattia being a family friend or some distant relative via the family tree in Luke (which errantly they claim points to Mary).
Today, in this article we will weigh these claims out individually instead of in one lump category. And when we weigh these claims out we will come to one of two conclusions. Either the evidence presented in the film is accurate or it’s not. If it is not accurate, we must admit that the general claim they are making is fraudulent and falsifiable. If it is accurate, it will change the course of Christianity forever.
There are several things we must come to an agreement on, as both you the reader, and I the historian before we move forward to that however. The first of which is why such a thing is even important. Why is such a ‘docu-drama’ the cause of so much controversy, and – as you might wonder – if I’m not a believer why should I care whether the information is true or not?
This is a good question – why should we be concerned? Is this simply because I have an ego as a historian and feel I must put a mark in this controversy? Of course not. There are tons of other books I’ve read and documentaries I’ve seen that I disagree with. And there is no way I can ever get to them all. My ego has no bearing on this issue as it stands.
In fact, what bothers me is that this documentary – if it can be called that – is itself a play off of the inaccuracies of another popular pseudo-historical work, Dan Brown’s “The DaVinci Code.” The producer and director of this film were not thinking whether or not the claims of Dan Brown’ book were already refuted, or if the claims he made were even in dispute. Rather, they simply accepted the idea that they were probably correct and went along with it.
So not only is their general source of information inaccurate, but now they are building a case of “what-if’s” off this fallacious work of fiction (as the writer himself states it is). So now we have, in actuality, a false premise built off another false premise. And that false premise is that there is sufficient evidence in the Gospels and various other accounts of early Christianity and Christ to suppose his existence. This very premise alone is a poor one to conclude.
Also, there is a lot to be said about a film and how people learn about history. In his book,
“Truth and Fiction in The Da Vinci Code,” Bart Ehrman states, “I know a lot of people learn about the past from works of fiction or from film. Just as The Da Vinci Code was hitting its stride, Mel Gibson’s movie The Passion of the Christ made its own debut….How will such people, probably for the rest of their lives, think about Jesus’ last hours? They’ll think about them in light of what they saw portrayed on the big screen. Mel Gibson, much more then Matthew, Mark, Luke, or John, will effect how people understand Jesus’ death, for at least the coming generation.
“The ability of film directors and book authors to affect public sentiment and to shift public thinking is neither a good thing nor a bad one; it is simply a reality of the times. But when the images they create for their viewers or readers are erroneous – well, it means people misunderstand history as it really was and substitute fiction for fact…for those of us who spend our lives studying the history, it can grate a bit on the nerves.” (Bart Ehrman, “Truth and Fiction in The Da Vinci Code,” Pp. xvi)
And that is what this comes down to. Although Bart Ehrman wonders if there is any harm there, I am certain there is. The harm is not necessarily physical although it can be – if you are told in a film using the same sort of pseudo-science that eating chocolate ten times a day is good for you, and you buy into it’s dramatic appeal and do it physical harm and ensue – rather this harm is done mentally.
This sort of documentary promotes a bit of intellectual laziness. They make it appear as if all the research is already done, that the work is already finished for you. And all the conclusions that could have been made have already been suggested and weighed. Opinions of the cast and crew are stated as fact in this film and others like it, and as such viewers will pick up on these opinions as if they are, in fact, substantiated by the ‘evidence’ presented.
If, over and over again, the film narrator states that the tomb is a family tomb, one begins to say “Yeah…a family tomb” instead of “Why do they claim this to be a family tomb?” Questions cease to be asked and instead people begin to think the evidence is compelling enough to believe it. It’s obvious that Tabor and Jacobovici feel this way – although one can question their motivation. Even Jacobovici stated in the follow-up discussion that he felt the evidence was compelling.
Some people will claim that the danger is minimal compared to the gain. And that gain, as they would say, is that it will possibly produce deconversions from Christianity to atheism. That this will rock Christianity to its core, therefore, we should allow the film makers to continue such a façade because the benefit gained outweighs the lack of evidence presented.
Personally I find such an approach dishonest and lacking integrity. The very idea of promoting lies to gain ‘converts’ is exactly how Christianity grew to become so huge in the first place. As Celsus points out in his “On the True Doctrine:”
“Now it will be wondered how men so disparate in beliefs (the Christians – Ed) can persuade others to join their rank. The Christians use sundry methods of persuasion, and invent a number of terrifying incentives.” (Celsus, On the True Doctrine; Christian Doctrine Compared to that of the Greeks, Translated by Joseph Hoffman)
It’s this reason why such ideology via allowing lies to exist to gain advantages should be shunned. As free-thinkers we should be working to advance intellectual integrity and not cheapen it with false or pseudo information. We claim, after all, to seek education over faith, and to just allow people to attain the intellectual laziness this film infects the viewers with is not staying true to that foundational maxim.
Also, the question has been raised that Christians are also doing what I’m doing, and wouldn’t I be basically clarifying for the Christian their faith in debunking this film? The answer is plainly: no. Although many a Christian apologetic has attacked the film, most of the Christian responses have been very motivated towards doing exactly that – justifying their faith. And albeit some my have used history, they aren’t going to use history in the right manner, as stated above, generally their methods involve the same sort of dishonest pseudo-truths that Jacobovici used in his movie.
What do I mean? Well take the debate that the Rational Response Squad had with Ergun Caner. Ergun stated his expertise was within the history of Christianity, yet when he and I squared off on the subject of the veracity of the New Testament, I quoted the fact that the Sinaiticus compared to the Vaticanus codices were not comparatively accurate and in fact had many differences. His rebuttal to that was that Metzger had studied the Bible his whole life and eventually came to find God – how is that a valid refutation? This is no more a refutation of my statement then had he said “Your dog’s smell funny.” Appeals to emotion are not valid historical arguments – yet to a Christian this appeal to emotion may actually sound like a refutation.
Another example is when we were discussing the dating of the Gospels – he argued for the dating to be within the first century, very early, for the manuscripts. The problem is, all authoritative works like that of the Oxford Dictionary of the Christian Church and Eerdman’s Dictionary of the Bible all point to these Gospels being late first century early second century (in the case of John), and scholarship by that of Price, Pervo and Tyson all show very strong evidence for a second century dating of Luke-Acts anti-Marcionite works.
And when presented with this evidence, he cites two Scholars: John Robinson and William Albright. Note that both of these scholars are not only deceased, but held positions of scholarship decades ago – as any historian will tell you, History is a science. If you don’t stay up on scholarship you become, essentially, a fossil. Both of these scholars are not only past the ability to credibly analyze the scholarship out there now, but also unable to present criticism against it. So using these scholars is already an issue.
Further, Robinson makes the absurd claim that all the Gospels were written before 65 CE and all of the books with Paul’s name are suggestively Paul – even the ones that we know are fraudulent pseudononymous works. Yet this is the scholarly resources he draws upon, and if I didn’t know better I might have been caught up in the misinformation. This is just two examples out of the many one can list as to why Christian scholarship needs to be looked at critically and why I do not hold to the fact that it is generally even worthwhile.
What I am going to do is weigh the information with little bias, because lets face it, everyone has bias. There is no such thing as a human without bias. However we can all do our best to withhold that bias judgment while evidence is looked at critically and information can readily be attained.
So over all, I feel that this is the harm in allowing this sort of tripe to air and remain unattended by scholarship- especially free-thinking scholarship - in that it causes and promotes intellectual laziness, and also that it allows for only one bias to examine the evidence (The Christians) without any real skeptical inquiry into the real historical situation by which the film is making claims to, which now brings us to the other subject we must examine and decide.
The second thing we must come to an agreement on is exactly what their general claim is. This is tricky because there are lots of positive claims they are making, we are forced to really weigh this all out and decide not only what their general claim is, but what smaller ones we need to weigh to determine what the big claim is.
The most obvious option is the claim that they found the family tomb of Jesus Christ. This can be rationally concluded to be one of their biggest claims to stake, but really this is only a small part of the claim. I say that because although it is rather large, it is a smaller part of a much larger claim that they are presupposing. So to help us figure out the real culprit behind this film, we must first look at the smaller speculative assertions put forth by Jacobovici before moving on.
Jacobivici has put forth the following news brief on this film:
In 1980, in East Talpiot, Jerusalem, a bulldozer accidentally uncovered what may be the most explosive archaeological discovery of all time.
Of the ten ossuaries, or stone coffins, found inside the first-century tomb, six bore inscriptions: Jesus, son of Joseph; Maria; Mariamene (the name by which Mary Magdalene was known), Joseph, Matthew, and Judah, son of Jesus. At first dismissed by archaeologists as coincidence, the ossuaries were deposited in the endless warehouses of the Israel Antiquities Association and forgotten.
Twenty-five years later, Emmy-winning journalist Simcha Jacobovici and his team, Felix Golubev, journalist and producer; Hollywood kingpin James Cameron; Paleo-biologist and best-selling author Charles Pellegrino; and renowned Biblical scholar James Tabor, took a fresh look at this astounding cluster of New Testament names.
Granted unparalleled access, but battling a host of problems, the team goes in search of the ossuaries…and the lost tomb…
Their adversaries range from the Israel Antiquities Authority to hard-to-read municipal maps to condo association regulations, the Jerusalem plumber shortage, depleted DNA samples, nosy neighbours, wrong information, and a whole lot of preconceived notions.
But one by one, the Tomb team defeats, pays off, or wins over each opponent. Finally, they arrive at the door to the tomb that once held what may be the remains of history’s most famous person.
What they find is the discovery of a lifetime, and raises questions about the historical Jesus. Is the Mariamne Mary Magdalene? Is the child’s ossuary, Judah, son of Jesus, offspring of the Christian Savior?
Assembling a remarkable team of experts, including scientists, archaeologists, historians, filmmakers, and epigraphers, the filmmakers unite the dust of history with cutting edge science to shed light on one of the world’s most powerfully guarded secrets.
Through paleo-DNA tests, high-tech robo-cams, crime lab analyses, linguistics, and theological study, the Tomb team arrived at a shocking conclusion….
We’ll go through their claims one by one. The first is that the ossuary inscriptions say what they claim to say, and that they are what they say they are. The second is that the experts they gathered said what they said – and whether they are really experts. The third claim is that they defeat their preconceived notions, as if they didn’t then we wouldn’t be discussing this, and the forth is that they’ve raised questions. There are of course smaller claims within these four, but these actually deal with the core ideas of the program.
The first mentioned, that the ossuaries are what the Producers say they are, will be heavily discussed in the next section, but by no means is this the foundation of their claims. Although it’s important to the story, as the fact that if the ossuaries were somehow different then the way the Producers explain them, the show has no standing, this is still a link in the chain as a whole which is supporting something, and what that chain is supporting is the claim we seek.
Next we have the claim that the experts have some sort of authority in the area, mainly Tabor and Jacobovici as they are generally the two which stand out the most for their findings. But also, those who they gathered in to look at the inscriptions and such, are they represented correctly? This will also be weighed in the next section, and again, this is simply another link in the chain.
The forth assertion, that they’ve raised questions, is really a false statement. As shown above, and I’ll show below, they’ve merely denied the ability to question and promote intellectual laziness. Some examples of such promoting can be found within the show and the discussion following it. Here are a few:
• “That’s quite amazing eh?” asked one of the men, “Amazing is not the word for it” states Jacobovici – this is a conversation between film makers when they came upon Jesus’ ossuary at the IAA (Israeli Antiquities Authority). What exactly is the word for it? The idea here is not to assume the findings at the start of the flick, but to approach it skeptically – instead this seems to be an authoritative suggestion – i.e. it’s amazing because we’re looking at the tomb of the Jesus instead of a tomb of a Jesus.
• “If you’re going to be historical and realistic,” Prof. Tabor suggests that the way to do this is to accept the evidence which he later suggests is compelling in the follow up discussion. This is promoting the idea that the only way to look at the evidence historically is his way.
• “They would have to be all family members of Jesus” and of the “family tree of Jesus” in the ossuary, according to the film. Yet how can they make this assumption? This is again promoting the idea to the viewers that they don’t need to question; this is apparently something the filmmakers feel is beyond dispute to make such claims. Yet this is really what part of the debate is in the first place.
The value of this statement will be discussed in the following section, but one can easily see the sort of appeals they make. They are so subtle to the layman, that upon first hearing it you may even accept it without question. This is why this claim is so important – and although it is important is it not the overall claim, however it is one that deserves a lot of attention which is why we have a section dedicated to it.
That leaves only one assertion left – the assertion that they have removed all preconceived notions they had. However there is one presupposition that remains and has been overlooked by not only Dan Brown who initially revised the idea of the Jesus-Mary relationship, but by Jacobovici and Tabor as well.
It appears in the third to last paragraph in the above press release on their website, but also it’s one of the very first statements made in the film – can you see it?
That’s it: “The most famous death in history is the death of Jesus of Nazareth. 2,000 years ago, in first century Jerusalem, he was crucified by the romans.”
And also: “What they find is the discovery of a lifetime, and raises questions about the historical Jesus.”
Right. They are claiming lots of things, but the thing that is resting on the chain of presuppositions and speculations, and the mounds of misinformation is the idea that Christ even existed. This is their claim – that Jesus existed and was a man. That he was born, lived and died (by the Romans?) and as such they are already starting from a position of ignorance.
This is their main claim – not that they discovered the tomb of Jesus, because really that is just a part of the claim, and not really the bulk of it – rather that this tomb proves that he lived. Up until this point, no good argument can be made historically for the existence of a Jesus of the New Testament. And although many have tried, there was simply no real evidence to use to make the case.
This story has put forth evidence, or what it considers evidence, for the existence of not only Christ but other New Testament characters as well. Such a thing is very important, and if anybody has any knowledge as to what sort of work I do, it focus’ mainly on the origins of Christianity, and my position has been of late that the Mythicist position has held more water and is more probable then a historicists.
And if you know my stance, you also know the amount of knowledge I have on this subject, and I hope you know you’ll get some of the knowledge today as we examine this issue from all angles. I hope you enjoy this discussion, and at the end we’ll see if their claim holds any ground, and how we’ll do that is by breaking down all their smaller claims one by one.
III. THE TOMB, THE OSSUARIES, AND THE WAREDROBE