One of the traditions here on the NTGateway (well, we did it last year for the Gospel of Judas documentary) is the live blogging of interesting TV documentaries that have been discussed here. So I will be live blogging The Lost Tomb of Jesus, which starts on Discovery Channel at 9 p.m.
9pm: The documentary begins with the story about the disciples stealing Jesus' body in Matthew 28, with some nice dramatization. A shame that this comes right at the beginning of the documentary because it has the unfortunate effect of suggesting that we are dealing with conspiracy from the beginning. There is then a cut to 1980 and a reconstruction of the bulldozers going in to Talpiot and uncovering the tomb; eyewitnesses are interviewed -- Hebrew with subtitles. Shimon Gibson is interviewed, then Tal Ilan, then James Tabor. Frank Moore Cross explains how the "Jesus son of Joseph" inscription is deciphered, Jacobovici looks at it and expresses excitement. John Dominic Crossan says that it would not bother him if Jesus' body were discovered, and some discussion ensues on questions about bodily resurrection and ascension, with James Tabor contributing. It is said that if this was Jesus, then we might expect others of his family to have been buried with him. A nice family tree is done, in which it is asserted that Jesus' sisters were called Miriam and Salome "according to tradition". They then go to the "Maria" ossuary and begin to express some excitement, "Could this be the Virgin Mary's ossuary?" Cut to the first advertisement break, 9.15pm
9.19pm: Amazement is expressed at the notion that we have "Maria", said to be a Latinized version of the Hebrew Miriam, very rare. I think this is incorrect (cf. Bauckham's recent essay). Then they move to Matthew. James Tabor claims that Luke's Genealogy is Mary's genealogy (cf. his Jesus Dynasty) and he notes that there are lots of Matthew type names in that genealogy. The presence of Matthew here therefore supports the identification, he says. Jacobovici then says that not a single name in the tomb contradicts the Gospel story. (WHAT?!) He says that we don't see anything like Daniel. Now we move to Yose, and James Tabor points out that one of Jesus' brothers was called Jose. It is said that this is the only time we find this nickname. End of part two. Second ad break, 9.26 pm.
So far the documentary is making additional claims that I had not previously seen on the website and in interviews, e.g. Matthew is treated positively and not as neutral, the form of Mary is treated as unique, and so on.
9.29pm: Part 3 begins. Summary so far. Maria again said to be "rare Latinized name". Question asked: why didn't anyone notice this stuff in the 1980s? Shimon Gibson notes that there were so many of them at the time, and these inscriptions were common. First appearance from Amos Kloner, saying how common they are. Frank Moore Cross again, to the same effect, and James Tabor says that this needs to be taken seriously. Now we get to the statistics case. Andrey Feuerverger for the first time. The names individually, he says, aren't remarkable. But we need to look at them together. Feuerverger says that we look at how the "factors combine". "It is a possibility . . . that needs to be taken seriously" that this was Jesus' family's tomb. The narrator says we need more evidence. We need to get back to the tomb. But it is under concrete. Did the tomb have access pipes installed? A robotic camera expert is brought in. The idea is to put the camera down the access pipes. End of Part 3. 9.36pm
9.40pm: Part 4. The action has moved to the robotic camera going down to the tomb under the apartment building. Jacobovici is in front of the camera a good deal in this documentary. There is a serious blockage in the tomb. The documentary cuts to James Tabor talking about Caiaphas's tomb having been found by bulldozer in 1990. The ossuary is shown, and there is some explanation of who he is. Jacobovici: there is a double standard -- everyone is convinced that Caiaphas's ossuary is his, but then they don't think that this cluster of names is Jesus's. Curator of Israel museum explains that Caiaphas is unusual. The claim is being made that people are willing to accept ossuaries with anything on them other than Jesus, i.e. people are influenced not by historical considerations. A remarkable claim now in the light of recent discussion of the tomb this week in which it has not just been conservative Christians who have shown concern. End of Part 4, 9.46. Getting shorter all the time, and more adverts.
My major concern at this stage is the less than subtle claim that people are being influenced against the identification for ideological reasons.
9.49pm, Part 5: Now it moves on to Mariamene Mara. Could Mariamne be Mary Magdalene, they ask? It is said to have been likely that people would have written her name in Greek because of the location of Migdal. David Mevorah makes clear that we don't have Mary Magdalene, but that it would be amazing if she were there and then he would be interested. Tal Ilan echoes, Amos Kloner echoes. Back to Feuerverger's statistics. At this point, the powerpoint presentation style figures are those on the website to which I have referred here. The 1 in 600 figure is given, and then there is the big question: but is Mariamne Mary Magdalene. We get the Woman Taken in Adultery from John 8 and the sinner in Luke 7. They explain that those two women are different women from Mary Magdalene (Good). Then some oversimplifications about women being "ordained" in the early years of Christianity. Tal Ilan says she thinks that Mary Magdalene is "the real founder of Christianity". The Church rejected texts that exalted her, Gospel of Mary and Acts of Philip, it is claimed. Francois Bovon is introduced, and talks about the Acts of Philip. Mara is said to be "the master". James Tabor again talking about Mara as Master, a sign of respect for a rabbi or master. Dramatically, it is pointed out that the Acts of Philip identifies Mary Magdalene as Mara. (I am still not convinced that Mary Magdalene is the Mariamne in Acts of Philip, not that that matters for this identification). End of part 5, 9.56. Need to make sure that the DVR is recording Desperate Housewives and Battlestar Galactica, the real Sunday night highlights.
10.01: Part 6: More on Mary Magdalene. She died in Jerusalem. Would it be implausible to find her in the tomb of Jesus with Jesus' family? The statistical probabilities are compelling. Armed with this knowledge, they want to get into the Talpiot tomb. The plumber has cleaned out the pipes. Will the blockage still be there? No, this time they get in. But it's the wrong tomb -- there are ossuaries in there. Jacobovici thinks of it as good news and bad news, good news that it's a new, pristine tomb, bad that it's not the right one. The film cuts to the Mount of Olives, Dominus Flevit, and some general discussion about the ossuaries found there. These ossuaries began to some of the earliest families of Jesus. The Franciscans discovered an ossuary with "Simon bar Jonah" there. James Tabor explains that this is the name of the Simon Peter of the New Testament. The only ossuary ever found with that name, Simon bar Jonah. There is no credible archaeological evidence that he was buried in Rome. Jacobivici finds the symbol from the Talpiot tomb on another ossuary, the circle with a triangle, and expresses major excitement. End of part 6, 10.11.
10.15pm: Part 7. Forensics is introduced. Stephen Pfann is introduced, along with Steven Cox. They decide to get some material from the "Jesus" and "Mary Magdalene" ossuaries. Seeing them talk about this only makes me freshly amazed that they choose a relationship that could not falsify the claim that this was Jesus' family tomb. There is no explanation of the justification for taking those two. Dr Carney Matheson is interviewed, briefly, re this DNA. He is then shown with Jacobovici and James Tabor. Conclusion that they are not related, at least not maternally. Now we get a section on the relationship between Jesus and Mary Magdalene. Perhaps they were married, as the DNA results from the Talpiot ossuary suggest (Circular reasoning). And they had a secret, one we can recover in the tom. (We know what that's going to be -- they had a son, Judas). End of Part 7, 10.22pm
10.24pm, Part 8: Back to the Talpiot apartments. The original builder is found and he shows them where he thinks the tombs were. There is a cement slab. A blind woman says that the tomb is under there. The narrator explains that if we could remove the slab, we could get into the Jesus family tomb. Footage of the breaking away of the slab. They have found the tomb. Jacobovici is thrilled and goes down underneath. End of part 8, 10.30pm. This was the best section in the whole, just an nice interesting segment on the location of the tomb, and footage of its re-discovery.
10.33pm, Part 9: Shimon Gibson talks about the missing tenth ossuary. Cuts to the James ossuary, and Oded Golan. Oded Golan is interviewed. There is some explanation about who James is. If possible, James would have been laid beside Jesus. James Tabor explains that the dimensions of the James ossuary are the same as the dimensions of the missing ossuary. He says that the time is right, the name is right; this would show that it is likely to be Jesus' family. They move now to the question of the patina. Does the patina in the James ossuary match that of the Talpiot family tomb? Charles Pellegrino is introduced. They get some patina from both places, and some random samples of other kinds of patina, at Pellegrino's insistence. Feuerverger then explains that if we could add James to the mix, this would be a "slam dunk". Cuts to adverts, 10.41pm.
10.44pm, Part 10: A CSI lab is going to look at the patina. Mariamne and James: the signatures are the same. None of the random samples has the same signature. We then go from 1/600 to 1/30,000. Cuts to Jacobovici in the tomb, "jewel of a tomb". There are mounds of holy books. A local rabbinic school had thrown them there before the tomb was sealed . End of part 10, 10.50. Not sure where they were going with the holy books thing; presumably they were trying to say that they were symbolic, mysterious, etc., but it's not clear to me why.
10.53pm: They have saved "Judah son of Jesus" for the end. The New Testament didn't say that Jesus had a son, they say, but perhaps archaeology can provide additional information. If Judah was the son of Jesus and Mary Magdalene, the existence of their son would have been kept quiet. So perhaps the unnamed beloved disciple in John is Jesus' son. He remains unnamed to conceal the child's lineage. Jesus is talking to Mary Magdalene and his son from the cross in John 19. Or is it coincidence, the narrator asks, that these names occur together? The implication is that it would be extraordinarily unlikely. Now a representative of the IAA comes to object to their presence. They are asked to seal the tomb again. The credits come up as there is footage of the re-sealing of the tomb. Programme ends at 10.59, with silent, dramatic segue to the Ted Koppel critical look. I am not going to blog the Ted Koppel piece. I'll DVR it and may watch it later, but for now, two hours of this is enough.
I don't have a really strong reaction to the film, not least since I was aware of all the data in this ahead of time, and the film itself added nothing new. If you have not seen the film, you can still gather all the data that you need to assess it on the various outlets. I would have liked to have seen more critical or negative reactions within the film, e.g. people like Amos Kloner and Tal Ilan were only quoted where it supported the line of the film. This is risky because it compromises the good will of the people involved, and can be read as implying their support. The highlights of the film were the factual / descriptive parts, especially the revisiting of the tomb. And the dramatic reconstructions were enjoyable, as always, on such occasions.
My prediction is that this will continue to be discussed for a couple of days after this broadcast, but then interest is going to die down.