Witherington on Jacobovici’s Latest Claim

Ben Witherington responds to the latest claim by Simcha Jacobovici that the James Ossuary came from the Talpiot Tomb, thereby proving that this was the burial place of Jesus the Messiah.

Of course [Aryeh] Shimron has not published his results yet, nor has there been peer review of them by other scholars, but nonetheless another Jacobvici movie is already in the works. This is not how proper and objective scholarship is done, either in terms of the financing, nor in terms of the announcements of results. You don’t sort of make a bombshell announcement of conclusions to the press on Easter weekend before other peers have had a chance to weigh in on the evidence, unless of course you are trying to make an impression of a certain sort. And there is little doubt that a certain agenda is being pursued here, as has been clear before with previous films, and in all likelihood with the forthcoming one. Disinterested pure science this is not.

James Tabor responds to Witherington here, but he does not address the issues that Witherington has raised in the paragraph above. If the scholarship is so solid, why use such unscholarly methods?

HT: Ted Weis


6 thoughts on “Witherington on Jacobovici’s Latest Claim

  1. Thanks for this Todd. Let me just point out that Simcha Jacobovici has no control over the NYTimes, despite his reputed powers and influence, as to what they publish or when they publish. They have seldom published anything on the Talpiot tombs, and nothing since 2007 that I have seen. The Easter decision was theirs. And this story was entirely built around Dr. Shimron's new scientific work. It is not uncommon for the preliminary results of such work to be discussed in the media, for example results of the C-14 tests done by a lab are often released immediately–as was done in the case of the Tomb of the Shroud or the Turin Shroud, with evaluative scientific publications assessing those results appearing later. In the former case we had the advantage of knowing our burial cloth dated to the 1st century the day the Arizona lab informed us, but the publication came out two years later. Shimron's work was done by the highest quality labs in Israel and the IAA gathered the samples, not him. What he reported to the NYTimes I think was completely proper and had nothing to do with Simcha.

    It is quite common for a TV project to contribute to the costs of running tests on this or that–NatGeo, Discovery, Smithsonian do it all the time. Further Simcha's film has not shown in the USA and had that been his objective, to garner publicity for a film, surely riding on a NYTimes Easter story would have been the move you would want to make.

  2. Thanks, James. I think it is worth noting that this not just any study, but one that claims to overturn the very basis of Christianity—Jesus' resurrection from the dead. The claim is that they have found the bones of Jesus, and as you have said, "If you find the bones of Jesus, the resurrection is off."

    With so much at stake, if the goal is truly to discover the truth, there's no reason to skip the peer-review process and go straight to the press. The advantage of doing it this way, as in previous cases with Jacobovici as well as Karen King, is that you get the publicity and then when the evidence is overturned, the correction goes on page A22. In this case, immediately after the story was released, scholars raised numerous objections, but these did not get the same circulation. Whether or not that was intentionally planned, it has the same effect—readers do not get the full story. So again I ask, if the evidence is so clear, why present it this way?

    Readers interested in some scholarly reactions can see these articles that quote Baden and Moss and Goodacre and Cargill. I'm not sure if any of these scholars actually believe in the bodily resurrection of Jesus, but they do not find the current study to do what it claims.

  3. Todd, thanks for your comment. One important correction, I did not and have never said "the resurrection is off," if the Talpiot tomb contained the bones of Jesus. I was misquoted, partially quoted, what I said was a literal view of the bones of Jesus being raised and taken to heaven was off. I have argued extensively, as you might know, that the earliest view of resurrection, did not necessitate the body of dust/bones/flesh and blood being somehow reconstituted, though it was none the less a body, Paul calls Jesus a "life-giving spirit" and refers to a body of "pneuma" in contrast to flesh and blood. He likens death to leaving the old clothing behind, but not being naked (like the Greek immortal soul idea) but being further clothed. The sea gives up the dead in it–that surely is not finding long perished physical body parts. Jesus said in the resurrection there is no male or female or sexuality, we will be transformed into a whole new existence. See my post http://jamestabor.com/2012/04/14/why-people-are-confused-about-the-earliest-christian-view-of-resurrection-of-the-dead/.

    So far as the timing of the story if you have ever dealt with the mighty NYTimes you will know they do as they wish, when the wish, and can not be controlled or manipulated. And I can assure you if Aryeh's conclusions come to be shown as flawed the the story will not be buried so no one ever hears of it. It will be published all over, prominently, including by me! I want the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth.

  4. Thank you, James, for the correction. I did not mean to perpetuate a misquotation of you (given in this article). But I am quite willing to say it myself: "If you find the bones of Jesus, the resurrection is off." I think that the truth of Christianity rests on a bodily resurrection, as does all of historic, orthodox Christianity for 2,000 years. Your interpretation is a minority view, which is why you must explain it so carefully.

    You claim that your archaeological evidence of Jesus' tomb is primary and the Gospel accounts are late and secondary. But somehow the early church, much of which was founded by Paul, accepted the Gospels which advocated a bodily resurrection that Paul rejected. That, among other statements in your argument, seems highly unlikely.

    I hope that any tempted to accept your view understands that it requires picking and choosing which NT texts to keep and which to discard. I hope they will recognize that it is not archaeological evidence at stake but a (minority) interpretation of that evidence.

    Throughout history the followers of Jesus the Messiah have accepted all of his word, was written by his apostles, and his bodily resurrection that they taught.

  5. Todd, I don't want to misuse your blog as a private forum so I will try to be brief here and I guess we can let this go. I don't agree that my position involves picking and choosing, but it is a careful analysis of all our sources, taken chronologically. The development is pretty clear from a historical standpoint–I am working as a historian, not a theologian. I understand your faith stance. I grew up with it. I know it well, backwards and forwards. There are many faithful, sincere Christians who do not take resurrection as you do here–and I think maybe you don't either–in terms of requiring all the bodies of dust/bones/flesh to somehow be "recovered" in order to be raised in immortal bodies. I am staying with Paul, this body is discarded old clothing, to be left behind. He said that not me. And Jesus is a life-giving Spirit, he said, not me, not a male body of flesh and blood.

    In fact, I don't take the archaeological evidence of the Talpiot tomb as primary, but only correlative. The texts are primary, but I read them critically. I realize you want to "warn people off" my view, lest they be led astray, but at least let it have a fair hearing. I hope to see you at our Mt Zion dig if you are around this summer.

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