Wednesday, September 18, 2013

Response to Simcha Jacobovici's "Pants on Fire"

I am grateful to Simcha Jacobovici for taking the time to respond to my blog post A Tale of Two Replicas in which I detailed the differences between the two replicas of Ossuary 6 from Talpiot Tomb B and asked some questions about them.  I have been blogging and writing about the Talpiot Tombs for several years now and although I have sometimes received indirect responses from members of his production team, this is the first time that Jacobovici has responded himself.  I had always assumed that he did not read my blog, especially as I have often engaged with his theories about the tombs, so it was a honour to receive a public response to my most recent post.

Jacobovici's post is entitled Pants on Fire.  Although the primary reference is presumably to the rhyme, "Liar, liar, pants on fire", from the school playground, it is also a clever and amusing allusion to Jacobovici's characterization of his critics as underwear bloggers, and I am apparently a member of this group.

Most of Jacobovici's post is general abuse, some of it quite funny, some of it puzzling, most of it presumably intended to provoke a reaction.  I am grouped together with others like Prof. Robert Cargill and we are regarded as "personal and hysterical", "masquerading as scholars", "enforcers of Pauline theology" (?) who make "libelous statements".  It is "pseudo-scholarship" that aims "to rewrite history in Orwellian fashion".  Jacobovici ends the post by planning to take a shower "because I feel slimed by these guys".

Although most of the post is in that vein and so of limited use in the actual discussion, there is some content.  I am pleased to see my basic contention verified, that there were indeed two separate replicas made of the ossuary in question, and that there were significant differences between them.  Replica 1 was produced first and Replica 2 later, in April 2012.  Prof. James Tabor kindly clarifies the matter further in a useful comment to my post, and he expresses some surprise that I had not realized that there were two different replicas.

I suppose that I in turn should express some surprise at Tabor's and Jacobovici's surprise.  They have consistently talked about the museum quality replica as if there were only one and before posting on the topic, I reviewed everything that I could find.  I could not find any statement anywhere about the production of a second replica, in the media, in the blogs, in correspondence, in the official website.  They repeatedly and consistently talk about just the one replica.  And from the reactions more broadly to my post, I can tell that no one else seemed to realize that there was more than one replica.

However, it turns out that I had in fact missed something, and for this I apologize.  About half-way through a lengthy post on another subject on 4 January 2013, nine months after Replica 2 was produced, James Tabor mentions the two replicas, and provides a picture of each, with a view to making some insinuations about Amos Kloner.  I had missed that paragraph in my research.  Mea culpa.  And it turns out that while Jacobovici himself had not talked about the two replicas (again, subject to correction, as always), he did re-blog Tabor's blog post in which that paragraph appeared, at the same time, ninth months after its production.

The point of my post, though, was to draw attention to differences between the two replicas and to ask some questions about them.  Tabor confirms my point that the "fish in the margins" were adjusted between the production of the two replicas, apparently in response to scholarly critique of the way that they had been represented (the critique was by Robert Cargill, though neither Tabor nor Jacobovici mention this), and it is useful to know that.

My key question related to the replica shown to Prof. Émile Puech.  Since it is on video, there is no doubt at all that the replica is informing the discussion.  It is clearly Replica 2, the replica that features an apparent attempt to spell out "YWNH" (Jonah), in contrast to Replica 1, which does not have it, and which was produced before the "YWNH" inscription theory had emerged.  Jacobovici does not comment on this issue, the relationship between Puech's statement and Replica 2.

A further issue does arise from this about how accurate the "museum quality replicas" really are, but that's a blog post for another day.


Richard Budelberger said...

Sorry for you, Dr Goodacre ! It was so easy to Google search for « "Jonah" "replicas" site: »…

Mark Goodacre said...

Good point, Richard. Well, we all live and learn. And in any case, that is -- of course -- not the point of my post.

Keen Reader said...

So Tabor scores one very minor point -- after losing about twenty others.

James D. Tabor said...

Mark, if you watch the video you will see that Puech is reading the inscription from the photo, which is the only proper way to study any inscription. I am sorry you did not realize there were two replicas. I just thought it was obvious, even at a glance, because of that "right panel" which caused no end of confusion with its "gallows" inside that people were interpreting as having some meaning when it was the Discovery Times Square technicians attempt to show the tiny bit of border of something you can see inside the right panel, blocked by the adjacent ossuary. As soon as AP made the new replica, so they would be able to have something for the release of the film to show at the press conference in Israel, that left that panel blank, I began using it for that reason and I think in general it is better done, with no offense to those who did the previous one. It is very difficult work I think. The replica is mainly useful for understanding the placement of the various parts of the decoration--where they are, the orientation of the "fish," etc. If one just looks at the many photos we released, at it is not easy to tell what goes where. I am looking forward to the day when you and I can stand in the Israel Museum, or even in the warehouse at Bet Shemesh, side by side, looking at the actual ossuaries, retrieved from the tomb. I can tell you sincerely I have tried my best, with all honesty and good effort, to present and represent the best we have from the photos. It is unfortunate that ugly exchanges have muddied the waters with mocking, ugly language, personal charges of fraud, corruption, intent to deceive, and financial greed.

J. L. Watts said...

yes, Dr. Tabor - it would be nice to not have charges of anti-semitism thrown around, along with the notion that scholars are serving a secret religious agenda because they dare to question what has thus far never been accurately shown, only changed to meet the criticisms leveled at it.

Further, as far as seeing the original ossuaries, might it be possibly someone at the site already has? I mean, face-to-ossuary face? From the original pictures, it looks like someone could have easily made their way down the hole.

James D. Tabor said...

Not since Kloner and his team in 1980. Look again at our "holes," they are less than 12 inches in diameter...none of us could pass that waistline test :-)

Jim Deardorff said...


Isn’t it rather evident what Simcha Jacobovici meant by accusing you and others of being "enforcers of Pauline theology"? Surely he was just expressing the view that most NT scholars spend little time arguing against Paul’s theology of Jesus being the divine Son of God who was resurrected, but tend to accept it and go on from there in their research. In contrast, they could be pursuing the pro-Jewish view that Paul was mistaken in the basics of his gospel. By not doing so, such scholars are reinforcing the Christian view.