Tuesday, April 03, 2012

Tabor vs Charlesworth on the Talpiot Tomb discoveries

OK, I admit that my title is a little facetious, but regular readers will know of my interest in Synoptic issues, i.e. accounts that differ in minor details, not only Matthew vs. Mark, Mark vs. Luke and Matthew vs. Luke, but also Acts vs. Galatians, Thomas vs. the Synoptics and so on.

And I must admit that I could not resist drawing attention to a nice modern day example of minor differences in two accounts of the same event.  Regular readers will also know of my interest in the Talpiot tomb, and recently of the book, websites and forthcoming Discovery channel documentary on Talpiot Tomb B.  It's in relation to that material that I found this enjoyable example of two differing accounts of the same event, and something that I may be tempted to use as an analogy in my teaching on the Synoptics.
Charlesworth Tabor and Jacobovici
I was moved when I looked through a camera on the end of a robotic arm into a pre-70 Jewish tomb. There in the darkness below my feet was an ancient tomb with bone boxes (ossuaries) clearly made before the massive revolt against Rome in 66 CE. As the camera turned, I saw a door that sealed the tomb in antiquity. Then the camera moved silently past ossuaries. A shout was heard by colleagues near me as an inscription came into view. Then, not much later the robotic arm moved again, being directed by a scientist. None of us could believe our eyes. We were all riveted to a drawing that ostensibly broke the second commandment. What was it? What was depicted? What did the early Jew intend to symbolize? The following day we called in Professor James Charlesworth, an expert in Greek and early Christianity, who was in Jerusalem doing research on the Dead Sea Scrolls. After reinserting the robotic arm and swinging the camera once again over to the third niche, we showed him what we had discovered: first the inscription, then the image. He immediately and independently offered the same interpretation we had come to the day before. He excitedly sight-read the inscription. “The Divine Jehovah raises up from [the dead].” He also offered without hesitation the same interpretation of the fish. What we are looking at, he said, appears to be the earliest representation from Jesus’ followers of their faith in his resurrection of the dead. A quiet shudder went through the room as the implications of his conclusion sunk in.
The Charlesworth account is from the Letter from James Charlesworth, Mar. 31, 2012 on the Foundation on Judaism and Christian Origins website.  The Tabor and Jacobovici account is from James D. Tabor and Simcha Jacobovici, The Jesus Discovery: The New Archaeological Find That Reveals the Birth of Christianity (New York: Simon & Schuster, 2012): 70.

There are major points of contact between the two accounts, the camera, the robotic arm, "None of us could believe our eyes" and "What we are looking at", the tone.  But there are also points of divergence.  In the Charlesworth account, some readers might infer that he was present when everyone was seeing this for the first time, whereas it is clear in the Tabor and Jacobovici account that it was a day later.  In the Charlesworth account, "a shout was heard" whereas in the Tabor and Jacobovici account there was "a quiet shudder".

Indeed, as in the Synoptic comparisons, or the Acts vs. Paul comparisons, there are elements in Charlesworth's acccount that appear earlier in the Tabor and Jacobovici account, which suggests, of course, that the Charlesworth account is somewhat compressed.  In Tabor and Jacobovici, "A shout went up in the cramped corridor when we read the inscription" the day before, and similarly "As our camera passed along its fa├žade, a shout went up . . ."

I hope readers will forgive me the indulgence of finding this analogy from our own time enjoyable and potentially useful.  For what it's worth, the lack of verbatim agreement between the two accounts is a sure indicator of their literary independence from one another.


Jim said...

well that says rather a lot doesn't it. fine work mark. really revelatory.

Unknown said...

Here are my synoptic questions:

1. Who shouted?

2. Who sight read the inscription?

3. How did Charlesworth interpret the inscription?

4. How did Charlesworth interpret the image?

I remember reading your blog when you noted that Dr. Charlesworth (rather surprisingly) appeared to endorse Simcha's last sensational claim about the discovery of the tomb and bones of Jesus at Talpiot (http://ntweblog.blogspot.com/2007/03/james-charlesworth-on-jesus-family-tomb.html):

"James Charlesworth of the Princeton Theological Seminary, who also consulted on the film, told Newsweek that the documentary makes a strong case for the biblical lineage, which is supported in part by archaeologists, historians, statisticians and DNA and forensics experts.

"A very good claim could be made that this was Jesus' clan," he said."

I also remember reading the follow-up piece you posted after Dr. Charlesworth appeared to have backed off his support of Simcha's claims, and even posted a statement on Princeton Theological Seminary's website officially clarifying his position (again, distancing himself from Simcha's claims) (http://ntweblog.blogspot.com/2007/03/james-charlesworth-on-jesus-family-tomb_10.html):

"Prof. Charlesworth has provided an updated statement on the Princeton Theological Seminary website (also reproduced by permission on Deinde). In the statement, he distances himself from the notion that the "Yeshua" ossuary belonged to Jesus of Nazareth, but suggests that the tomb might still be that of his extended family..."

"My judgment is that this ossuary does not belong to Jesus from Nazareth. Again, the names “Jesus” and “Joseph” are extremely common in the first century...."

Given the obvious discrepancy of the claims Mr. Jacobovici and Dr. Tabor are making about Dr. Charlesworth's alleged support for their conclusions about the "Jonah Fish" on page 70 of their book, and the rather distant and ambiguous (albeit admittedly promotional) account from Dr. Charlesworth's Mar. 31, 2012 Letter to the members of his Foundation, I cannot help but ask whether or not Dr. Charlesworth is once again backing away from Simcha's claims and conclusions, or whether he ever really supported them at all.

Mr. Jacobovici certainly claims that Dr. Charlesworth supports his conclusions unwaveringly, as he states in comments made on my blog, where he states:

"James Charlesworth calls it “a Jonah image” in our film."

But does referring to the image in question as "a Jonah image" constitute an endorsement? I too refer to it as "a Jonah image" (including the scare quotes and usually with a 'so-called' or 'purported' preceding it), but I am guessing few would interpret my referring to the vessel inscribed on Ossuary 6 as the "Jonah Image" as support for their conclusion...

Unknown said...

In an e-mail from James dated June 2010, he writes that he has just returned from Jerusalem on a highly secretive mission. He describes how he and Simcha got into the tomb in question. It appears they entered without the consent or knowledge of the IAA or Haradim. He describes with excitement a discovery made, though it wasn't until a few months later that he shared the "secret" which he said was a fish inscription that could be interpreted as the sign of Jonah. During other candid conversations James said, "We are standing on the edge of a discovery that will re-write the way we've viewed Western history for the last 2000 years." He also shared that he and Simcha had been quite disappointed that the first tomb discovery had been so poorly receieved. They had expected, since this followed on the heels of the Da Vinci Code, a sweeping response where they would be seen as heroic modern day prophets for having "kicked the crutch" from under the Roman Catholic Church. The crutch being the dogma of the bodily resurrection. James saw himself as fulfilling a messianic role, shaking the foundations of Christianity to pave the way for a return to Yahweh. This would be the first step to precipitate a "return of the Lost Tribes to the Land." James and Simcha (according to James) felt that they had been chosen by the Yod Tova (Hand of God) to be the ones to fulfil the ancient messianic plan laid out by the Hebrew prophets. According to James Simcha was being "divinely guided" and when the IAA finally granted them the licence with tremendous ease he saw it as a sign from God that Simcah, as a Jew, had God's consent to press on with this revelation that would rock the world of Christianity. When the so called "evidence" for the bodily resurrection was so violently rejected they looked for a softer approach. In other words, they thought if they could offer something that would cushion the blow, like a sign of a spiritual resurrection, the whole package--bones and all, could be delivered up and offered as an historical fact. They were looking for a "sign" themselves, and when they saw what they thought looked like a fish in the second tomb, they were stunned, awed and humbled to think that God had indeed given them just what they so desperately needed.

Unknown said...

are saying that dr. tabor has, in fact, ENTERED the tomb? WITH SIMCHA?

contrary to what they said on page 61 of their book, and contrary to the promises they made the haredim and the residents of the apartment?

and that they saw themselves as religious instruments attempting to act out the fictional musings suggested in the da vinci code?

that is rather hard to absorb, no? i mean, simcha does appear to have a thing for the davinci code, but to enter the tomb AND live out dan brown's fictional character???

that's rather inconceivable (with all due respect).

Unknown said...

Dr. Cargill,

They entered the tomb in June 2010. It was suppose to be a "secret mission" according to James' e-mail, and was conducted over a weekend. James seemed somewhat nervous about the plan but woke up the morning of the flight at 3.33AM. He took this to be a sign as the number 33 had become a guide post and marker on the journey towards the fulfilment of the return of the LTs. He was following in the legacy of his teacher and spiritual father, David Horowitz, author of Thirty-three Candles. The number 33 signalled for James the Yod Tova--the Hand of God.
Although this sounds odd for an academic, James did have, and I assume still does, a innocent and rather childlike faith in his own destiny which in many ways is quite endearing.

The e-mail mentions three 8 inch holes.

Unknown said...


Mike Gantt said...

Thanks for the excellent post, Mark. It puts the "discrepancies in the gospel accounts" issue into perspective.

Unknown said...

I'm not particularly interested on one's personal religious beliefs, personal faith, etc., as long as scholars follow the rules of evidence, scientific method, etc.

For me, what one personally believes is their business, and I don't mention it.

However, if they allegedly entered the tomb, then any credibility is lost.

We know that it is NOT a 'sealed' tomb, as all parties know that Amos Kloner was in it years ago.

But Simcha and Tabor made very clear that they never entered the tomb and never moved a thing inside the tomb.

If that is not true, then what is there left to accept as remotely credible?

Anonymous said...

Here is the money-making textual variation, the new gospel, that makes this new religion so popular: in some of the original Tabor's accounts, the tomb is claimed to be only an early Christian tomb, "connected to followers of Jesus." It is only after a second apostle - roving popularizer, filmmaker Cameron (SP?) etc. - appears, that the message of the empty tomb, is transformed. Into, possibly, the tomb of God himself, of Jesus. Ultimately, it is only when this far more dramatic message is distributed, that huge numbers of followers appear, and the religion catches on. And dollars flow in. http://jamestabor.com/2012/02/29/talpiot-tomb-ossuaries-in-new-york-what-are-the-chances/

Unknown said...

The e-mail pertaining to the tomb entry in June 2010, while declaring "we got in," goes on to say that they drilled three 8 inch holes. It is, however unclear whether they physically entered, and although on occassion during casual candid dialogue, James used language to suggest they went in, I have no email correspondance to support that.

Again, it needs to be reiterated that James has spent much of his career looking for the bones of Jesus and he tells a very compelling story which he himself believes wholeheartedly. The problem arises though, when an academic uses his position as the Chair of a tax payer funded department of religion to "spin" a scenario for some sort of religious self promotion to fulfil a "God" ordained role. Some of you may be familiar with the role James played as a liason between the FBI and David Koresh. James defended DK in a book he co-authored titled, Why Waco? He was much impressed with DK and gave me, as a gift, a CD of a voice recording and some of DK's music. He was a bit of a fan in a peculiar way, in a way I found rather disturbing. It seems we are often attracted to personalities that mirror aspects of our own. And yes, I felt drawn into the Talpiot saga out of my own interest in Mary Magdalene and the possibility of an inscription referencing her as "Mara" meaning Lordess or Master in the feminine form. I had been curious over her role and inspired by the accounts of her possible relationship to Jesus alluded to in the Gospel of Thomas and the Gospel of Philip. No doubt I allowed my imagination to run a little wild, and James also had a fertile imagination for a good and timely story and the Resurrection Tomb story offered James a "reality" stranger and more wonderous that the best selling fiction of Dan Brown.

Skeptic said...

Unknown, without this information from you an another individual Joanna Wail, which was received well over a year ago and a few individuals in bldg number 8, we'd be in the dark. Your courage to take a stand is commendable and remember the words of Seneca 'academics should be lawyers for the masses'
There should be a preview of their press conference soon on youtube, a preview of coming attractions. When its up and running we will bring it to the attention of the lists.


Anonymous said...

The whole idea of entering a previously-unpenetrated dark space or tomb, is a major motiff or trick in horror and suspense movies. It accentuates the mystery.

Tabor of course, inspired and then worked with James Cameron, the famous movie director; who often used this trick in movies like "Titanic." And his own recent trip to the bottom of the ocean.

Likely Cameron and his staff were probably, as much as anyone, responsible for accentuating the "unpenetrated" motiff. (And then for suggesting this was the tomb of Jesus himself.) Though certainly the insistence of government antiquities officials, that the tomb be undisturbed by most, had something to do with it as well.

Could it finally be the tomb of Jesus? It is possible perhaps, but not as likely as many thought. Much of the evidence submitted for this, depended on a statistical analysis. That suggested that the likihood of a single related tomb at random containing a "Mary," a "Joseph," and a "Jesus," among others, was very small. As indeed it would be, we should note here... until just a few years after the death of Jesus. When many followers, might have begun giving many of their children such names.

When you know a little background, much of the mystery all but evaporates. Though to be sure? There is always a remote possibility that there is something useful there, in the tomb.

Though? With a famous and sensationalistic director standing right behind Tabor? And millions of dollars at stake? And with a very, very strong desire to Believe?

Unknown said...

I decided to make the extra effort and actually rummage through a stack of papers to find the e-mail from James.

It is dated May 19, 2010. This is the actual quotation from James, "I made a "secret" three day trip to Israel, tomb related, weekend before last. We got in the porch tomb by drilling. A first. Fabulous photos, completely undisturbed. Will enter B"H, in June with full IAA approval. More DNA, more everything. All has to be totally confidential as the enemies are many. YHVH is opening closed doors and Simcha is being used in amazing ways..."

It was later, once they had IAA approval, that they went in via three 8inch holes I suppose. I seem to recall James mentioning this along the way. The first entry though, as this e-mail seems to suggest, was a physical one, perhaps through the kitchen floor of the apartment above.

J. Phillip Arnold, Ph.D. said...

Come now, Tabor means that he "got in" with a camera through the drilling of the holes. And you imagine he crashed in through the kitchen floor! Had he strode around in the tomb, you can bet that he would have added some more descriptions about the experience.

Unknown said...

Yes Philip, you're absolutely right, it could be read as he "got in" by dropping a camera down a drilled hole.

I don't "believe" anything. What fascinates me is the story behind the story since that's all that's "real" anyway. The various personalities; what drives and inspires them, their mental conditioning and how they poject that into their story, book or documentary, is ALL that's of interest to me.

Anonymous said...


Thanks for your wonderful reportage of the inside-story E-mails from Tabor.

Likely? Tabor wants to speak as if he got in, 1) by way of camera holes only, at first. While appearing to honor antiquities regulations against entry, in Israel. One hopes that 2) he did in fact wait for official approval, before physically entering, himself.

Though? Now and then even a semi-serious investigator will break a few government rules....

Dr. Tabor: As you have personally replied to other posts here? Would you like to, here in this very forum, clearly and unambiguously distinguish between your own, presumably scholarly point of view ... from what is being sensationalistically reported and done by James Cameron's associates?