The Lost Tomb of Jesus is a documentary co-produced and first broadcast on the Discovery Channel and Vision TV in Canada on March 4, 2007 covering the discovery of the Talpiot Tomb. It was directed by Canadian documentary and film maker Simcha Jacobovici and produced by Felix Golubev and Ric Esther Bienstock, while James Cameron served as executive producer. The film has been released in conjunction with a book about the same subject, The Jesus Family Tomb, issued in late February 2007 and co-authored by Jacobovici and Charles R. Pellegrino. The documentary and book's claims are currently the subject of controversy within the archaeological and theological fields, as well as among linguistic and biblical scholars.
"In their movie they are billing it as 'never before reported information,' but it is not new. I published all the details in the Antiqot journal in 1996, and I didn't say it was the tomb of Jesus' family," said Amos Kloner, now professor of archaeology at Israel's Bar-Ilan University and author of the original excavation report for the predecessor of the Israel Antiquities Authority.
"I think it is very unserious work. I do scholarly work…," Kloner said. "[This film] is all nonsense."
Six of the nine remaining ossuaries have inscriptions. The other three ossuaries have no inscriptions. The Lost Tomb of Jesus posits that three of the ossuaries with inscriptions bear the names of figures from the New Testament. The actual meanings of the epigraphs are disputed. The makers of the documentary claim that four leading epigraphers have corroborated their interpretation of the inscriptions. As translated in The Lost Tomb of Jesus and The Jesus Family Tomb, they read as follows:
Four leading epigraphers have corroborated the ossuary inscriptions for The Lost Tomb of Jesus, according to the Discovery Channel. William G. Dever, a retired professor of archaeology at the University of Arizona who has been excavating ancient sites in Israel for 50 years, said that some of the inscriptions on the Talpiot ossuaries are unclear, but that all of the names are common.
In The Jesus Family Tomb, Simcha Jacobovici claims the James Ossuary would have been a part of this tomb, but was removed by artifact dealers, and thus discovered separately. The James Ossuary's authenticity has been called into question, and one of its past owners has been charged with fraud in connection to the artifact.
Ben Witherington III, who worked with Jacobovici on a Discovery Channel documentary on the James Ossuary, denies this connection on two grounds:
Another consideration was that the measurements of the James Ossuary did not match the measurements listed for the tenth ossuary, which is no longer stored with the rest of the collection. The James Ossuary was listed as being approximately 50 centimeters long by 30 centimeters wide on one end, and 25.5 centimeters on the other end. The tenth ossuary in the Talpiot collection is listed as 60 centimeters long by 26 centimeters by 30 centimeters. Furthermore, Amos Kloner has stated that the tenth ossuary had no inscription. And Joe Zias, former curator of the Rockefeller Museum who received and catalogued the ossuaries, has also refuted this claim on his personal site.
New information has now shown that the discrepancy in the measurements had to do with measuring the base of the ossuary, which is indeed 50 centimeters, rather than the length. The top length of the James ossuary, not the base, which is trapezoid in shape, according to the latest remeasurement carried out by the Israel Antiquities Authority, is 57.5 centimeters. However, this does not in any way prove that the James ossuary is the missing tenth Talpiot ossuary.
However, Dr. Feuerverger later said, "It is not in the purview of statistics to conclude whether or not this tombsite is that of the New Testament family. Any such conclusion much more rightfully belongs to the purview of biblical historical scholars who are in a much better position to assess the assumptions entering into the computations. The role of statistics here is primarily to attempt to assess the odds of an equally (or more) 'compelling' cluster of names arising purely by chance under certain random sampling assumptions and under certain historical assumptions. In this respect I now believe that I should not assert any conclusions connecting this tomb with any hypothetical one of the NT family. Dr. Feuerverger's assessment was based on several assumptions:
Support for these assumptions comes, according to the documentary, from the following claims:
Further information regarding the methodology of this study is due to be published soon.
On February 25, 2007, Andrey Feuerverger, professor of statistics and mathematics at the University of Toronto conducted a statistical calculation on the name cluster as part of The Lost Tomb of Jesus. He concluded that the odds are at least 600 to 1 that the combination of names appeared in the tomb by chance. The methodology of this study has been submitted to a journal, but in the meantime a summary can be found on the Discovery Channel and documentary websites. A more detailed explanation of the statistical approach can be found also on Prof. Andrey Feuerverger's website as well as in a recent interview given to Scientific American. The frequency distribution for names prevalent during the period of time during which ossuary burials took place was inferred by studying two key sources:
According to Prof. Feuerverger, the goal of the statistical analysis is to assess the probability level of a null hypothesis, I quote:
A 'null hypothesis' can be thought of here as asserting that this cluster of names arose purely by chance under random sampling from the onomasticon. The alternative hypothesis is the opposite of this, in some sense. It is not in the purview of statistics to conclude whether or not this tombsite is that of the New Testament family.
Feuerverger multiplied the instances that each name appeared during the tomb's time period with the instances of every other name. He initially found "Jesus Son of Joseph" appeared once out of 190 times, Mariamne appeared once out of 160 times and so on:
|Jesus son of Joseph||Mariamne||Yosah||Maria||Product|
He next divided 2,432,000 by 4 to account for bias in the historical record and further divided that result (608,000) by 1,000 to attempt to account for the number of explored tombs from first century Jerusalem.
Feuerverger's conclusions have been called into question:
Randy Ingermanson and Jay Cost did their own statistical analysis in which they looked at the probabilities given various assumptions.
Stephan Pfann (president of Jerusalem's University of the Holy Land) points out that the commonality of these names suggests that the probability is much lower. "Remarkably, a mere 16 of the 72 personal names [found on ossuaries] account for 75% of the inscribed names." Among these "top 16" names are Mary, Joseph, Jesus, Matthew, and Judas.
|Rank||Name||Total References||Found on Ossuaries||Percent of Total References (2625)|
|Rank||Name||Total References||Found on Ossuaries||Percent of Total References (328)|
Colin Aitken, a professor of forensic statistics at Edinburgh University, stated that the study is based on a number of assumptions, and that, "even if we accept the assumptions, 600 to one is certainly not the odds in favour of this tomb being Jesus. meaning that even if it were true that to find this cluster of names is very unlikely it does not follow that therefore this is probably the tomb of the family of Jesus. According to the Discovery Channel documentary Feuerverger's statistical model concludes that there is only a 1/600 chance that the Talpiot tomb is not the Jesus family tomb if Mariamne can be linked to Mary Magdalene. In his personal website Feuerverger has distanced himself from this claim, explaining: "I now believe that I should not assert any conclusions connecting this tomb with any hypothetical one of the NT family. Also, the Discovery Channel website has removed all previous associations of Feuerverger's name with the 1/600 estimate of the Talpiot tomb not belonging to Jesus family.
The Washington Post in an article of 2/28/07 cites Dever as being "widely considered the dean of biblical archaeology among U.S. scholars" and quotes him as saying, "I just think it's a shame the way this story is being hyped and manipulated" and "all of the names [contained in the tomb] are common."
Alan Cooperman, writer of The Washington Post article also states this: "Similar assessments came yesterday from two Israeli scholars, Amos Kloner, who originally excavated the tomb, and Joe Zias, former curator of archaeology at the Israeli Antiquities Authority. Kloner told the Jerusalem Post that the documentary is "nonsense." Zias described it in an e-mail to The Washington Post as a "hyped up film which is intellectually and scientifically dishonest."
Israeli archaeologist Amos Kloner, who was among the first to examine the tomb when it was first discovered, said the names marked on the coffins were very common at the time. "I don't accept the news that it was used by Jesus or his family," and "The documentary filmmakers are using it to sell their film." he told the BBC News website.
During the documentary The Lost Tomb of Jesus, various professionals had claimed:
During Ted Koppel's critique, The Lost Tomb of Jesus—a Critical Look, Koppel revealed he had denials from these three people Simcha Jacobovici had misquoted in the documentary.
The archaeologist William Dever summed it up when he stated on Koppel's critical analysis, The Lost Tomb of Jesus—A Critical Look, that Jacobovici's and Cameron's "conclusions were already drawn in the beginning" of the inquiry and that their "argument goes far beyond any reasonable interpretation.
With regards to the ascension, however, the documentary's website suggests that while the tomb's discovery does not render impossible the notion of a spiritual ascension, it does do so for those who believe that Jesus physically ascended to heaven.
Michael Licona (Co-author of "The Case for the Resurrection of Jesus") in an interview with Lee Stroebel for his book, "The Case for the Real Jesus" speaks on the empty tomb. He points out that most scholars support the empty tomb theory on the basis that "it would have been impossible for Christianity to get off the ground in Jerusalem if Jesus' body was still in the tomb. The Roman or Jewish authorities could have simply gone over to the tomb, viewed the corpse and the misunderstanding would have been over." Instead we have Peter within a couple weeks of the crucifixtion attesting to a risen Christ and the enemies of Christianity saying the apostles stole it. These same apostles then went to their deaths attesting to a risen Christ and unbelievers such as St. Paul and James (Jesus' own brother) become Christians.
Later in an interview, Simcha Jacobovici said that the film can be seen as a proof for those who question Jesus' existence, and stressed on the idea the film being about science, truth and facts. But it's worth mentioning that only the few lines of theological considerations drawn on the film's website , (resurrecting from a second tomb after being moved or the spiritual only ascent to Heaven) are directly contradicting the majority of Christian views, which make this confirmation of Jesus historicity at least of no use from this perspective, if not tearing apart the belief.
Asked what he believes about the resemblance with The Da Vinci Code, executive producer James Cameron said he looked "at it as paving the way for some of these ideas that some people may consider to be quite radical, but were rather well researched in that movie" and, although the documentary team was working for a year when it was released, they decided to wait for another year "to let these ideas marinate."
The claim that Jesus was married also undermines the theological metaphor of the Church being the "Bride of Christ" (found in the writings of the New Testament). Jimmy Akin, director of Apologetics and Evangelization at Catholic Answers, wrote: "This image would never have arisen if there was a Mrs. Jesus living right there in Jerusalem…. We know about [the wives of religion founders] because they were honored figures as wives of The Founder, and if Jesus had a wife then (a) we would know about it and (b) the whole Church-as-the-Bride-of-Christ metaphor would never have come into existence." As for a possible "son of Jesus," he noted: "We tend to know about even the daughters of religious founders. Muhammad's daughter Fatima comes to mind. It would be much harder to sneak a forgotten son by the eyes of history…. It's not just hard to sneak sons past because patriarchal cultures focus more on sons; it's also because of this: In traditional societies, the son is looked on as the father's natural successor.
When interviewed about the upcoming documentary, Amos Kloner, who oversaw the original archaeological dig of this tomb in 1980 said:
Newsweek reports that the archaeologist who personally numbered the ossuaries dismissed any potential connection:
The aforementioned Joe Zias has published in his own site a "viewers' guide" to the Talpiot Tomb documentary, in which he systematically rebuts the film's argumentation and gives much background information about the people involved in it.
Stephen Pfann, president of Jerusalem's University of the Holy Land and an expert in Semitic languages, who was interviewed in the documentary, also said the film's hypothesis holds little weight:
Pfann also thinks the inscription read as "Jesus" has been misread and suggests that the name "Hanun" might be a more accurate rendering.
The Washington Post reports that William G. Dever (mentioned above as excavating ancient sites in Israel for 50 years) offered the following:
The Archaeological Institute of America, self-described on their website as "North America's oldest and largest organization devoted to the world of archeology," has published online their own criticism of the "Jesus tomb" claim:
"The identification of the Talpiyot tomb as the tomb of Jesus and his family is based on a string of problematic and unsubstantiated claims [...] [It] contradicts the canonical Gospel accounts of the death and burial of Jesus and the earliest Christian traditions about Jesus. This claim is also inconsistent with all of the available information—historical and archaeological—about how Jews in the time of Jesus buried their dead, and specifically the evidence we have about poor, non-Judean families like that of Jesus. It is a sensationalistic claim without any scientific basis or support.
Dr. Darrel L. Bock, a New Testament scholar and research professor of New Testament studies at Dallas Theological Seminary points out some of the inconsistencies, including: "If Jesus' family came from Galilee, why would they have a family tomb in Jerusalem?
Dr. Ben Witherington III points out an inconsistency related to the James Ossuary: He points out that the James Ossuary came from Silwan, not Talpiot. In addition, the James Ossuary had dirt on it that "matched up with the soil in that particular spot in Jerusalem." In his opinion, this is problematic, because "the ossuaries that came out of Talpiot came out of a rock cave from a different place, and without such soil in it." Therefore, he believes that it is difficult to believe that the one known family member of Jesus was buried separately and far away from Jesus' family.
In addition, during the trial of antiquities dealer Oded Golan there has been testimony from former FBI agent Gerald Richard that a photo of the James ossuary, showing it in Golan's home, was taken in the 1970s, based on tests done by the FBI photo lab. This would make it impossible for the James Ossuary to have been discovered with the rest of the Talpiot ossuaries in the 1980s.
With reference to the DNA tests, Witherington wrote in his blog: "[T]he most the DNA evidence can show is that several of these folks are interrelated…. We would need an independent control sample from some member of Jesus' family to confirm that these were members of Jesus' family. We do not have that at all." This quote clarifies the fact that the documentarians do not believe they have tested the DNA and have proven it to be Jesus. They simply used DNA testing to prove that the "Jesus son of Joseph" and the "Mariamne" in this tomb were not maternally related (i.e. that they did not have the same mother or grandmother). The film asserted that this DNA evidence suggests they were probably spouses. Critics contend they could have been paternally related (e.g. father and daughter, or grandfather and granddaughter), or related by someone else's marriage. Mariamne could just as well have been the wife of one of the other two males in the ossuary.
The documentary's director and its driving force, Simcha Jacobovici…, said there was enough mitochondrial DNA for a laboratory in Ontario to conclude that the bodies in the "Jesus" and "Mary Magdalene" ossuaries were not related on their mothers' side. From this, Mr. Jacobovici deduced that they were a couple, because otherwise they would not have been buried together in a family tomb. In an interview, Mr. Jacobovici was asked why the filmmakers did not conduct DNA testing on the other ossuaries to determine whether the one inscribed Judah, son of Jesus was genetically related to either the Jesus or Mary Magdalene boxes; or whether the Jesus remains were actually the offspring of Mary. "We're not scientists. At the end of the day we can't wait till every ossuary is tested for DNA," he said. "We took the story that far. At some point you have to say, I've done my job as a journalist."
In the televised debate following the airing of the film, Ted Koppel pressed Jacobovici on the same question and received the same response. According to the authors of one blog, "the response is manifestly disingenuous. The question, in fact, necessarily arises whether the team or one of its members decided not to proceed with any further DNA tests. Such tests may have revealed that none of the ossuaries are related—hence defeating the underlying presupposition that the crypt was in fact a family tomb, and thereby eliminating any valid basis at all for producing and showing the film."
William G. Dever said that some of the inscriptions on the ossuaries are unclear, but that all of the names are common. "I've known about these ossuaries for many years and so have many other archaeologists, and none of us thought it was much of a story because these are rather common Jewish names from that period. It's a publicity stunt, and it will make these guys very rich, and it will upset millions of innocent people because they don't know enough to separate fact from fiction."
Jodi Magness, an archaeologist at the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill, notes that at the time of Jesus, wealthy families buried their dead in tombs cut by hand from solid rock, putting the bones in niches in the walls and then, later, transferring them to ossuaries. "If Jesus' family had been wealthy enough to afford a rock-cut tomb, it would have been in Nazareth, not Jerusalem," Magness writes.
According to Magness, the names on the Talpiot ossuaries indicate that the tomb belonged to a family from Judea, the area around Jerusalem, where people were known by their first name and father's name. As Galileans, Jesus and his family members would have used their first name and hometown. "This whole case (for the tomb of Jesus) is flawed from beginning to end."
There is no information on analyzing relation of "Mary" and "Jesus son of Joseph" or any other tomb occupants. In Jewish tradition after one year, when bodies in rock-cut tombs were decomposed, bones were collected, cleaned and then finally placed in an ossuary. Due to this conduct there is no real assurance that what scientists have really examined are remnants of "Mariamne e Mara" and "Jesus son of Joseph."
David Mavorah, a curator of the Israel museum in Jerusalem, points out that the names on the ossuaries were extremely common. "We know that Joseph, Jesus and Mariamne were all among the most common names of the period. To start with all these names being together in a single tomb and leap from there to say this is the tomb of Jesus is a little far-fetched, to put it politely." David Mavorah is an expert of Israeli Antiquity, and (presumably) not an expert of statistics. However, Dr. Andrey Feuerverger, the statistician cited by the makers of the documentary, has said that determination of the identity of those in the tomb was the purview of biblical historians, and not statisticians. For another interpretation of the statistics see the statistics section above.
Professor Amos Kloner, former Jerusalem district archaeologist of the Israel Antiquities Authority and the first archaeologist to examine the tomb in 1980, told the Yedioth Ahronoth newspaper that the name Jesus had been found 71 times in burial caves at around that time. Furthermore, he said that the inscription on the ossuary is not clear enough to ascertain, and although the idea fails to hold up by archaeological standards it makes for profitable television. Quote: "The new evidence is not serious, and I do not accept that it is connected to the family of Jesus…. They just want to get money for it."
Dr. Richard Bauckham, professor at the University of St Andrews, catalogued ossuary names from that region since 1980. He records that based on the catalogue, "Jesus" was the 6th most popular name of Jewish men, and "Mary/Mariamne" was the single most popular name of Jewish women at that time. Therefore, finding two ossuaries containing the names "Jesus" and "Mary/Mariamne" is not significant at all, and the chances of it being the ossuaries of Jesus and Mary Magdalene are "very small indeed."
Concerning the inscription attributed to Jesus son of Joseph, Steve Caruso, a professional Aramaic translator using a computer to visualize different interpretations, claims that although it is possible to read it as "Yeshua" that "overall it is a very strong possibility that this inscription is not 'Yeshua` bar Yehosef.'"
Name "Mary" and derivative of it may have been used by 25% of Jewish women at that time.
William G. Dever said, "I'm not a Christian. I'm not a believer. I don't have a dog in this fight. I just think it's a shame the way this story is being hyped and manipulated."
Jodi Magness criticized the decision of the documentary makers to make their claims at a news conference rather than in a peer-reviewed scientific article. By going directly to the media, she said, the filmmakers "have set it up as if it's a legitimate academic debate, when the vast majority of scholars who specialize in archeology of this period have flatly rejected this."
Joe Zias, former curator of archeology at the Israeli Antiquities Authority, described it in an e-mail to The Washington Post as a "hyped-up film which is intellectually and scientifically dishonest." He also wrote an extended Viewers Guide to Understanding the Talpiot Tomb documentary, published on his web site.
François Bovon has also written to say that his comments were misused. In a letter to the Society of Biblical Literature, he wrote:
Following a symposium at Princeton in January 2008 the media interest in the Talpiot tomb was reignited with most notably Time and CNN devoting extensive coverage, hailing the case as being reopened. Following the media's portrayal scholars present at the symposium accused Simcha Jacobovici and James Cameron of misleading the media in claiming the symposium reopened their theory as viable. Several scholars, including significantly all of the archaeologists and epigraphers, who had delivered papers at the symposium issued an open letter of complaint claiming misrepresentation, saying that Jacobovici and Cameron's claims of support from the symposium are "nothing further from the truth.
The list of scholars included:
On March 15, 2007, Discovery Channel released a DVD of the documentary with a listed running time of "2 hours.
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