Friday, March 09, 2012

The Da Vinci Code and the Talpiot Tomb

It is common for New Testament scholars and others to be disparaging about Simcha Jacobovici's claims first to have found the lost tomb of Jesus, and then to have located the tomb of his earliest disciples.  One of their favourite means of criticizing Jacobovici's films is to refer to Dan Brown and the Da Vinci Code.  The point of making this comparison is of course to imply that Jacobovici is simply creating historical fiction, sensationalist stories masquerading as responsible history.

It might surprise some of Jacobovici's critics, therefore, to find out that he actually embraces the comparison with the Da Vinci Code.  Indeed one might say that the book is his inspiration.  When one reviews the comments he has made on these tombs, the Da Vinci Code is repeatedly mentioned, over and over again.

Take, for example, the following interview, from 2007:

Among other things, Jacobovici says here that:
The Da Vinci Code in a way has been very good for this investigation into the Jesus family tomb, into the lost tomb of Jesus.  Why?  Because it is not history but at least it has sensitized millions upon millions of people to the issues.  You know, was Jesus a rabbi?  Was he married?  Is there any reason to believe that he wasn't married?  Was Mary Magdalene downplayed after the resurrection?  Did they have a kid?  All these questions are out there now  . . . . So in a sense the Da Vinci Code has laid the groundwork for this investigation in my film and the book . . . The Da Vinci Code is fiction, thrilling fiction.  This is thrilling reality. 
The interest in The Da Vinci Code may explain why it is that Jacobovici finds his "Lost Tomb of Jesus" theory so compelling.  He has already imagined a reality that he subsequently finds corroborated by his interpretation of a cluster of names in a first century tomb.

What Jacobovici believes he has found, then, is a true-life version of The Da Vinci Code.  This is especially clear in the following interview, also from 2007:

Here, among other things, Jacobovici suggests that The Da Vinci Code is a bore compared to the "Jesus family tomb":
Is this a real life Da Vinci Code?  Is this really happening? Is The Da Vinci code like a bore compared to what's going on here?
I wonder whether the obsession with The Da Vinci Code leads to conceptualizing the investigation of the Talpiot tomb as an exercise in code-breaking, as here, where Jacobovici, Pellegrino and Cameron are "The Decoders":

The danger with this kind of approach is that it conceptualizes history as a code that needs breaking, as a mystery that requires solving.  There are, of course, elements in the historian's task that are like this, but most of the time history is not about "connecting the dots" (another of Jacobovici's favourite images); it is about admitting ignorance, realizing that there are many missing pieces, but trying properly to understand the pieces that we do have in their proper context.

One can see how far The Da Vinci Code influences Jacobovici's thinking by looking at the following video, in which he suggests going beyond Da Vinci to Pontormo to get to the heart of the art and symbolism in the Talpiot Tomb, looking for a kind of "Pontormo Code":

There is one key area of substance, though, where The Da Vinci Code has made too strong an impact, in my view, on Jacobovici's thinking.  It is the idea that Jesus was married to Mary Magdalene.  One can see it in this video on the Discovery site, from which this is a quotation:
There are two Marys in Jesus' life, as everybody knows, one is his mother, you know, the Virgin Mary, and the other is, Mary Magdalene, you know, post Da Vinci Code everybody knows Mary Magdalene. 
(There are several more than two Marys, but that's a story for another day).  It needs to be stressed whenever thinking about the claims about the Talpiot Tombs that there is simply no reliable historical evidence that Jesus was married to Mary Magdalene.  It is not that he could not have been married to someone.  It is that -- if he was -- we have no good historical evidence of it.  The expectation that we would find Mary Magdalene in Jesus' family tomb is not an expectation born out of a study of the early texts.  It is an expectation born out of too strong a devotion to the story from Da Vinci Code.


James D. Tabor said...

Mark, I will of course let Simcha speak for himself but I think you know from my book, The jesus Dynasty, and my various blog posts that if anything, like you, I was predisposed to REJECT the Talpiot tomb evidence because of the Jesus "married with a kid" element. I wrote that the whole idea was long on speculation, short on evidence. Over the past five years I have had reason to reevaluate my position and I have changed. Not because of a subliminal desire to validate the Talpiot tomb but a hard look at the textual evidence. I think we can not overestimate the impact the 70 CE war had on the original Jerusalem community. After that disaster just about everyone was dead--Paul, Peter, James--and I would include Mary the mother of Jesus, and various others. The literary thread, such as it was (Q or any written traditions) were a mere thread. When the Gospels emerge in the 70s-100s we are in a completely different world of Virgin Birth, Descending Ascending Savior, Preexistence, etc. I am not denying that there are authentic sayings of Jesus but in terms of theological affirmations--and anything to do with on Jesus' sexuality, or lack thereof, there is simply no link with the first followers. Everything is overwritten and rewritten. You have read my book so you know my take on this but in the case of the Talpiot tomb I honestly think the archaeology can take its place as potential evidence--and of course I think the clear Jonah image is a new central factor in terms of whoever was maintaining these three tombs. I have learned greatly from DeConick, Schaberg, Graham, Pagels, and other good sisters of our guild and I realize I was in the dark ages in terms of reading some of these texts with a mind open to MM central role.

Mark Goodacre said...

Thanks, James. Yes, it's my perception of your writings that you have come from a different place on this one. On the marriage issue, I certainly wouldn't rule it out in the case of the historical Jesus, but I think there is a world of difference between entertaining the possibility of his marriage to someone, and expecting to find evidence specifically of a marriage to Mary Magdalene. I too have learnt a great deal from those scholars you mention; I'd add also the late Esther de Boer, a fine scholar and a lovely person. Thanks again for your comments.