Sunday, March 04, 2007

The Lost Tomb of Jesus Documentary: Live Blog

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.


Anonymous said...

I missed the first hour of the documentary and checked your blog to see if you had posted anything about it so far--it's pretty neat that you've blogged it all.
Nicole Joy

Anna said...

Going to get interesting to see how they will steer around Kloner stating categorically the tenth ossuary is not missing. Then there is the differances in dimensions between the plain tenth ossuary and the purported James ossuary. Or those 1976 photographs of the James ossuary Golan introduced in his defense.

But what do I know, am an amatuer with hobbyist interests.

Anonymous said...

I've looked closely at the patina fingerprints for the James ossuary in the book The Jesus Family Tomb, and it doesn't give quite as good a match as the authors claim:

1) The James ossuary has a copper peak that is not present at all in either the Jesus ossuary or the Mariamene ossuary.

2) All three of them have a silicon peak, but it is substantially smaller in the James ossuary.

3) All three have an aluminum peak, but it appears to be somewhat smaller in the James ossuary.

I am a physicist. While I'm not an experimental physicist, I can see the peaks in the data (or lack of them) as well as anyone else. The James ossuary appears to have a different chemical fingerprint than the Jesus and Mariamene ossuaries.

Given that Joe Zias has stated pretty clearly that the 10th ossuary was blank when he saw it on the day they dug it up, that does seem to seal it. The Jame ossuary just seems extremely unlikely to be the 10th ossuary.

Anonymous said...

The filmmakers try to tie in "Yose" with the Jesus by claiming this was the same name used in the Gospel of Mark for Jesus' brother Joseph. But when it comes time to talk about mary Magdalene, Mark is thrown away and they resort to a 4th century document to justify calling Magdalene "Mariamne". So if a source supports one of their views, they use it, and then ignore it when that source does NOT support another one of their views. Mark after all does not refer to Magdalene as Mariamne.

Anonymous said...

Not only is Marimne Mary Magdalene, but they seem to rush to the conclusion that "Mariamne" and Jesus were married...all on the basis of a DNA test which can only show these two were not maternally related.
Mariamne could have been an annoying sister-in-law to the Jesus of the tomb!

Anonymous said...

While there are a lot of interesting view points on this most important find, I for one will not lose my faith and beliefs on what some people say is or isn't. My belief is in what the Bible says and that is that. The fact that Jesus’ bone could be found, well, why not? I'm sure they didn't go up with him to dwell in the heavens. That part would not bother me at all if they were in fact found and if it were true. However, I do not like hearing on a marriage of Jesus, this is just so much baloney and true believers will not fall for that blasphemy.

Anonymous said...

The Talpiot tomb show reportedly asserted that everyone agrees that the ossuary
of the High Priest Caiaphas has been found. This has indeed been proposed by
scholars. But, scholars who either strongly question or deny the assertion

Wiliam Horbury, The 'Caiaphas' Ossuaries and Joseph Caiaphas, Palestine
Exploration Quarterly 126 (1994) 32-48.

Emile Puech, A-t-on découvert le tombeau du grand-prêtre Caïphe?,
Le Monde de la Bible 80 (1993) 42-47.

Margaret Williams, The Contribution of Jewish Inscriptions to the Study of
Judaism, in Cambridge History of Judaism volume 3, page 89.

Craig A. Evans, Jesus and the Ossuaries (2003), 107-8.

Did the tomb show producers seek a qualified fact checker?

Stephen Goranson

Anonymous said...

The show's statistician, Andrey Feuerverger, is now backing away from the show's claims too.

Actually, he has been quite clear for awhile (at least since in his Scientific American interview) that he was not asked to, and did not, calculate the odds that this was the tomb of Jesus Christ. The show's claim that he did calculate those odds is, in my opinion, the most egregious misstatement of the many, but because most people don't have a good grasp of statistics, the claim has not been challenged (even by Koppel). As Feuerverger put in Scientific American, the 1 in 600 number "is saying that amongst those people who could afford ossuarial burials [in Jerusalem], the odds that there being another family that appeared in an ossuary that was like that or even more convincing than that, the odds against that are in that order, one in 100, one in 600 or one in 1000, depending on what you allow in your assumptions." See

The 1 in 600 number, in other words, is premised on the assumption that Jesus's family would have had an ossuary in Jersualem. IF Jesus's family had an ossuary in Jersusalem, then there is only a 1 in 600 chance that this one isn't it. But as the reputable biblical scholars will tell you, it is highly unlikely that a poor Galilean family would have had an ossuary in Jersualem. (This also means that the probability that this is the tomb of Jesus can be no higher than the probability that Jesus's family had an ossuary in Jerusalem. If the probabliity of Jesus's family having an ossuary in Jersualem is, say, 10%, the probability that this is the actual tomb of Jesus must be less than 10%.) Furthermore, as many people have pointed out (and as Feuerverger has explained in detail on his website), the 1 in 600 number is also based on a number of other very debatable propositions (Mary Magdalene's name appears on the tomb, etc.).

Here is what a post on Feuerverger's website dated March 4 at 11 pm (right after the show) says: "It is not in the purview of statistics to conclude whether or not this tombsite is that of the New Testament family. ... In this respect I now believe that I should not assert any conclusions connecting this tomb with any hypothetical one of the NT family. The interpretation of the computation should be that it is estimating the probability of there having been another family at the time living in Jerusalem whose tomb this might be, under certain specified assumptions." See

Anonymous said...

By the way, here's a link to another Scientific American article that I forgot to include in my prior post. After an interview with Feuerverger, the article states expressly, "Feuerverger says he was neither asked nor did he attempt to calculate the odds that the Talpiot tomb was the final resting place of Christ, the Messiah."

Feuerverger's website says that the article is a reliable summary of his views: "The website of Scientific American carries the results of an interview with me which seems to be sufficiently accurate to be considered fair."

Eric Rowe said...

Now that Tabor's own statistician is making it explicit that the 600:1 odds are not the odds that this tomb belonged to Jesus's family, is there any explanation for Tabor sticking by that assertion other than that he's lying? Now his latest blog is claiming that his critics are holding his claims to a higher standard than they do other historic claims. Apparently he thinks the scholarly guild just lets other people lie so he should be able to as well.

Anonymous said...

In fairness to Dr. Tabor, I don’t see him suggesting that his statistician was claiming that the 1:600 odds were the odds that this was the tomb of the family of Jesus of Nazareth. Rather Feuerverger calculated the odds that the particular set of names given to him might occur in a particular site; it doesn’t appear that he was asked to do anything more than this. As with many documentaries one needed to distinguish between what various authorities were saying and the interpretations Jacobovici and Tabor were suggesting as plausible. There is a difference between Feuerverger contending that that the odds of these names occurring together was 1:600 and the claim that the odds of this being the tomb of Jesus of Nazareth are 1:600; they are not exactly the same question. Feuerverger can assert the one and still distance himself from the other. The basic point is that one should not accuse Dr. Tabor of lying based on Feuerverger’s distancing himself from Dr. Tabor’s conclusions.

Anonymous said...

In response to the last Anonymous post, Tabor may not have been making that incorrect claim (I just don't know), but Jacobovici and the Discovery Channel have repeatedly been making that claim.

Eric Rowe said...

Tabor specifically makes the claim on a comment in the post two prior to to this one on NTGateway.

Phil said...

Regarding the "Simon bar Jonah" ossuary in Dominus Flevit, and speaking from my own naivete, is this the accepted family name of Simon Peter? Or could it be a nickname that Jesus gave Simon, equating him with the prophet Jonah?

Anonymous said...

Let's look at the statistics of the lost tomb of Jesus. On first studing this story, I found it did great damage to my faith. On careful consideration of the facts, my faith is at least partially restored.

I accept the factor of one in a thousand for the possibly of finding an incription of Jesus son of Joseph. Likewise I accept a factor of one in a thousand as the possibly of finding an inscription of a named son of Jesus.This means that for a thousand tombs, only one would have the inscription of Jesus son of Joseph. Of a thousand tombs, only one would have a named son of Jesus. This means that there would be only one tomb in a million with both incriptions.

For each Mary, there might be one chance in ten that she is mother or wife. The same possibility might apply to the one named brother and grand father. As a result, there is only one chance out of ten thousand million of finding the Jesus tomb. This is like finding a needle in a very very large haystack.

For all practicle purposes this tomb could not have been found even if it existed. In my opinion, its "finding" is a hoax.

Here I have used only information from the tomb. Many oither factors could be considered, but I wanted to evaluate only the tomb and its meaning.

Say that the tomb is real. What is the possibility that it belongs to Christ? Either Mary could be his mther, wife, one of several sisters, daughters, or grand daughters. I say there is one chance in ten that each Mary is his wife or mother. A similar factor could be applied for his gandfather (Mathew) or named brother. This means that there is one chance out of ten thousand possibilities that Mary is his mother or wife, and his named bother and named grand father his actual grand father or brother.
Out of ten thousand tombs, with these inscriptions, only one could be the tomb of Jesus with the relatives of Christ.

I think the best interpretation of statistics indicate strongly that the tomb is a hoax. I do not blame the Discovery team. The hoax could have been developed by someone or a group either very recently or a thousand years ago, but it is a hoax nevertheless in my opinion.

Anonymous said...

In my previous blog, I did not make a point that I feel I need to make.I apologize for my lack of capability in statistics.

The authors of the lost tomb state that the chances of finding the tomb (with the names of Jesus's family)by random chance are so small that the lost tomb is really the "real tomb" of Jesus. Let's call these tombs the "random tomb" (found by random chance)and the "real tomb" (with bones of Jesus and family).

The chances of finding the "real tomb" are important because we might say that the discovered lost tomb is probably the "random tomb" if the chances of finding the "real tomb" are say one in 5 million as compared to one in 2.5 million as reported in the lost tomb book.

The area is large and there are many tombs. What are the chances of finding the "real tomb" in this area?

For the name of Jesus in the "real tomb", there are other names of Jesus. For each such name, ther are say 9 other names. For each name of Mary associated with Jesus, there are 9 other names - and so on. Continuing with this procedure, the statistics in my first blog can be repeated for the "real tomb" as it was done for the "random tomb".

As a result, there is one chance in 2.5 million of finding the "real tomb" of Jesus. As indicated in my previous blog, I believe the number is much larger than 2.5 million.

The "real tomb" of Jesus is also a random tomb because all the names in the tomb are random. By this, I mean that so many variables are involved in selecting a name that it cannot be determined before the naming.

As concluded in my previous blog, the chances of finding a "real tomb" or a random tomb" are so small that I believe the tomb to be a hoax developed recently or in the past.

Anonymous said...

Try the following experiment: Google "john smith", then add "paul smith", then add "anne smith" etc... Even with such common names by the time you have six people's names all with the same surname, the number of hits will be less that 100.
Reguardless of anything else the statistical argument is an amazing fluke.