Monday, February 26, 2007

"Jesus' family tomb": how blogging helps

Monday is a heavy teaching day for me and it is rare that I can find a moment to blog during the day, but luckily no one has come along to my office hour and I have time to sneak in a quick blog post before I go to my Historical Jesus class. Of all topics, we are today studying traditions about the family of Jesus. How's that for synergy? If you haven't yet heard about this story, the best place to start is the major new website released today:

The Lost Family Tomb of Jesus

That will tell you everything you need to know, and what's more, you have to admit that it is a gorgeously produced website. Reports about the discovery of Jesus' family tomb are all over the news today, and one is reminded of the alleged discovery of the James ossuary several years ago. One of the major differences between the release of this news and that is that back in 2002 blogging was in its infancy and there were few, if any, biblioblogs. I wasn't blogging. Even Jim Davila wasn't blogging, as far as I can remember. But now things are different, and in a couple of interesting ways. First, there are two bloggers who are actually involved in the project, one of them one of its major participants, James Tabor. His Jesus Dynasty Blog already begins the process of putting the case for the identification, Some Initial Thoughts on the Talpiot Tomb, with special emphasis on the statistical case (which I think flawed for reasons I hope to explain in due course if no one else does). The other is Darrell Bock, who was involved in a consultative capacity and who, like Tabor, was under a no-disclosure rule until today. He is highly sceptical of the claims made in the forthcoming documentary and posts his response on Bock's Blog in a post headed Hollywood Hype: The Oscars and Jesus’ Family Tomb, What Do They Share?.

The other respect in which blogging is already making a difference is in the sheer range of expertise among the bloggers who are gathering to hold the media to account. It is interesting to see the phenomenon of guest blogging here too, with Christopher Rollston on the Talpiot Tomb on Jim West's blog. Meanwhile Tony on Apocryphicity comments on The Jesus Tomb and the Acts of Philip, noting that "the Mariamne of Acts of Philip is not Mary Magdalene but Mary of Bethany", a telling observation given that the documentary makers are apparently drawing attention to the Acts of Philip for their identification.

As I mentioned last night, in a post headed "The Tomb that dare not speak its name", we have had this story before in the UK media, back in 1996. So far I have not seen anything in its new incarnation to persuade me that my scepticism then was misplaced, but one area that does need addressing is the statistical claim, and I'll come back to that later if no one beats me to it.


Anonymous said...

Here's hoping you post your thoughts on the statistics. I'm surely not alone in valuing your expertise and perspective on stories like this one.

Anonymous said...

Thanks Mark for these remarks. I should make clear that the official statistics commissioned by Discovery are not the ones I quote. The former were done by Dr. Andre Feuerberger, Prof. at UToronto. What is on my Blog is reflective of another statistician that I asked to run some numbers for me with a different set of questions I had. I am not a satistician and I stand ready to learn so I welcome your thoughts, though I did not know this was your field either.

Best, James Tabor