The general response from Simcha Jacobovici himself has either been dismissal or mockery. Although he asked his critics to point out the mistakes, he has never responded to my attempts to explain why I am unconvinced by his claims, preferring instead either to ignore the critical response or to mock what he calls underwear bloggers. That's me, and people like me, sitting on the couch, blogging in our underpants while we eat takeaway pizza!
In a post published yesterday, Jacobovici draws attention to a new interview with Professor Émile Puech of the École Biblique in Jerusalem, Jesus Tomb Finds Dramatic Support. The post includes a video interview with Prof. Puech, who explains Jacobovici's theory about the tomb, indicating his own support for this interpretation, that the controversial image is actually an upside-down fish spitting out a stick-figure Jonah. It is not a standard vase or vessel. Moreover, Prof. Puech lends his support to the suggestion that the name "Jonah" is spelled out in Hebrew on the "head" of the "fish".
I must admit that I was a little surprised to see an esteemed, senior figure like Prof. Puech supporting Jacobovici's interpretation of the ossuary. I accept that there will be disagreements in the guild, and that this is the stuff of academic debate. I would love to be able to ask Prof. Puech what he makes of things like repeated geometrical shapes in the body of the "fish" that correspond to the same geometrical patterns on the borders of the ossuary, or the handles on the "half-fish", which make the Jacobovici interpretation so problematic for many of us, but I doubt that I will get the opportunity.
Nevertheless, that's the substance of academic debate, and I accept that academics just disagree with one another. I should perhaps admit also that I was disappointed that there was no new substance in Prof. Puech's interview, i.e. there was nothing to refute those who have argued against Jacobovici. It is interesting nevertheless that Prof. Puech is convinced by Jacobovici's unusual claims. I find it surprising, baffling even, but there we are. That's life in academia.
However, I do want to draw attention to elements in Jacobovici's post that I think problematic. He attempts to summarize the debate so far, incorporating discussion of both Talpiot Tombs, and drawing attention to why he sees the case for the identification with Jesus and the Jesus movement to be so strong.
There are three particular elements I would like to draw attention to. These are all elements that have been criticized in the past. To suggest that each point is self-evident is the real problem here. In summarizing the case for the identification of Talpiot Tomb A with Jesus and his family, Jacobovici writes:
(1) "Six of them have inscriptions. One of them explicitly states; 'Jesus, son of Joseph'"
The difficulty with this statement is that the inscription is really difficult to decipher. Indeed Émile Puech himself is on record as doubting the clarity of this inscription, for example here:
Another prominent expert whom Jacobovici did not consult, across town in the tranquil offices of the French Biblical and Archeological School in east Jerusalem, was Prof. Emile Puech. His response to the inscription was much the same as Naveh’s. ‘It’s very crude lettering,’ said the bearded, French-born Father Puech. ‘The ‘Joseph’ is clear. The ‘son of’ is no problem. The ‘Jesus?’ It’s certainly possible to read it that way.’It may be that Prof. Puech has changed his mind about this but, if so, there is no indication of this in the current article. This is not to say that the inscription could not be "Jesus" but just to draw attention to our uncertainty about the reading. It is absolutely not "explicit".
He also writes:
(2): "A third has 'Yose', a very rare version of Joseph. 'Yose', 'Joses' in the King James version of the Gospels, is described as a 'brother of Jesus' by the Gospels of Mark (6:3) and Matthew (13:55-56)".
This is incorrect. Only Mark has "Joses". Matthew has "Joseph". And the textual witnesses demonstrate unequivocally that the two names were regarded as interchangeable.
Jacobovici also claims:
(3): "If this is not enough, there was an inscription in Greek of a certain Mary called 'Mariamene'. In all of Greek literature, this particular spelling of Mary is used in reference to Mary Magdalene and no one else."
This is false. The word "Mariamne" is used twice in early Christian literature, once by Hippolytus (third century) and once in the Acts of Philip (fourth). On neither occasion does the author say that this Mary is "Mary Magdalene". Indeed, both authors, Hippolytus and the author of the Acts of Philip, depict Mariamne as having a sister named Martha, which illustrates that they are not talking about the historical first century figure of Mary Magdalene but the later, composite literary figure of the apocryphal Mary who incorporates characteristics from the full range of Marys.
Now of course it could be the case that my readings of the primary texts are wrong, in which case I would welcome some good, robust, critical engagement. My guess is that I am more likely to receive dismissal or abuse, which is the norm, but I am always happy to be surprised.