Templar and Talpiot Twaddle: It Must be Easter

Ah, it’s that time of year again.

Readers will be thrilled to know that Simcha Jacobovici is keeping his “just so you know that Easter is really about me and my ideas” streak alive. In the past, Simcha has partnered with James Tabor to bunny hop all over the Christian holy day. James is along for the ride again, but keeping a bit of distance. A good idea, since Simcha’s newest academic resource is Scott Wolter, a researcher with a reputation for shell-game research and less-than-coherent thinking about ancient America and masonic conspiracies.1

This time Simcha and James want the world to know that Scott has made an amazing discovery that validates their earlier interpretation of the “Jesus Family Tomb” of East Talpiot: a “Knights Templar” coin that pictures Jesus emerging from a tomb — and it must be the Talpiot tomb, since the coin bears a Chevron symbol.


Setting aside the fact that Simcha and James deny that Jesus emerged from the Talpiot tomb — which would slightly mar the new analogy just a bit — there are problems with Wolter’s idea.

Jason Colavito has put together a worthwhile essay addressing this claim. As Jason so succinctly puts it, “The longer you look the less there is to see.” Indeed. Any leap from the first century to the high Middle Ages is problematic. But for so many who want to connect dots no matter where in space and time that they are, a non-sequitur is a bridge to understanding.2

  1. Jason Colavito has documented Wolter’s flawed material and its presentation in a number of posts on his blog.
  2. And think about this case: “That shape on a medieval coin looks like that shape on a first century tomb — they must be related.” Pretty stunning. I’m glad we don’t have people who think like this working on the space shuttle or doing internal medicine. I’m happy to keep them in Washington, DC and the History Channel.

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Simcha Jacobovici Sues Archaeologist Joe Zias

You can read the story here.

In a nutshell, Jacobovici is torqued that Zias’ criticisms of the former’s archaeological claims as erroneous and goofy have cost him money. Since Zias (unlike me) is a professional archaeologist, his criticisms about Jacobovici’s archaeological documentaries have had enough weight to television executives skittish. From the article:

Simcha Jacobovici, a Canadian documentary maker specializing in biblical archaeology, is suing a retired scientist and former archaeological museum curator named Joe Zias, who has accused him of publicizing scientifically dubious theories. Many of Jacobovici’s documentaries have focused on artifacts that purport to reveal new interpretations of early Christianity, including the notion that the remains of Jesus and his family were buried in a tomb underneath modern-day Jerusalem. Jacobovici claims that Zias’ criticisms are libelous and have cost him television contracts and money.

Who could have foreseen that? I’m hoping this is a constructive lesson for Jacobovici. If he put out his findings in a less sensationalistic and more responsible way (i.e., submit things to peer review before going to prime time TV), then this wouldn’t happen (presuming what you have to say passes muster, or at least isn’t an easy target) and he might be taken more seriously.

Doesn’t seem like a complicated formula to me.


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Simcha Jacobovici’s Conspiracy Fantasy

I recommend readers have a look at this recent post by Dr. Larry Hurtado. It begins this way:

If you want to see a good example of what be-devils any scholarly analysis of practically anything to do with Jesus and early Christianity, have a read of the postings of the Canadian TV self-promoter, Simcha Jacobovici here. . . . [Jacobovici] trashes all the scholars and queries as “sleeper agents of Christian orthodoxy”.

Sleeper agents of Christian orthodoxy? Really? What’s next from Jacobovici? Producing another spell-binding documentary promoting his own heroism against this vast conspiracy? Will we see Fabio play the lead?

It doesn’t get much more inconsequential and insipid than this.

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Update on Talpiot B: James Charlesworth’s Report and Responses

I’m a bit behind on posting these items, so my apologies. But I have to admit I’ve basically lost interest in it. I see nothing compelling in Charlesworth’s report, but you can read it for yourself. James Tabor naturally linked to it and has some commentary of his own. Mark Goodacre posted his thoughts here and here.

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Prof. Robert Cargill on the Alleged Talpiot B Inscription: “How to Substitute Press Releases for Evidence”

You can tell from the title of Cargill’s post that its content is pretty brutal. Readers know how I feel about using the popular media for “doing ancient studies” so no one should be surprised that I’m in agreement with his overall gripe. Like I’ve said on this blog many times — it matters not that material gets debated after the fact, because most of the public will never follow the debate; the original pop-media blather will become their truth on whatever the subject is. And that’s pathetic.

I’m a bit perplexed as to how James Charlesworth allowed himself to be put in this awkward situation. I can’t believe he wouldn’t know that his words wouldn’t get sensationalized to some extent. Hopefully whatever he publishes will be accessible to the public — it would add to the problem if he publishes in some journal that the masses don’t even know exists, and even if that wasn’t the case, most wouldn’t have access to the material anyway without a university ID. Let’s hope that much forethought was put into this.

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Is “Jesus Archaeology” Becoming Like Professional Wrestling?

That was the thought that hit me after reading “Scientists say Turin Shroud is Supernatural.” Now, you all know that I’m interested in the Shroud of Turin. (How could I not be when I write a blog like this?) Despite my ambivalence toward the object (I lean toward the skeptical end of the spectrum), occasionally something turns up that makes me think the Shroud warrants more study. This isn’t one of those occasions. The timing makes the motive seem pretty obvious.

If you’ll pardon my cynicism, this seems to be merely the “good guy Jesus archaeologist-wrestler” getting off the mat to drop-kick the Talpiot “villain” in a preliminary skirmish that will no doubt lead to a cage match, a lumberjack match, a scaffold match, or the ever-popular no-disqualification match. Yep, a good ol’ fashioned donnybrook is brewing. The soap opera script is getting some plot development just in time for Good Friday and Easter — in response of course to the Discovery Channel’s airing of Jacobovici’s latest “Christianity’s face goes into the turnbuckle” documentary. Are there any breath-taking barely-clad “managers” waiting in the wings to get involved? I did hear this week that Megan Fox wanted to do some archaeology, so give her a call, $imcha, it’s your turn to add to the drama.  I can hardly wait for the pay-per-view (until next time) finale! Spade-o-Mania time! (I guess you can all tell what I was watching during my junior high years by now).

Actually, none of this should be a surprise. One side will say this sort of archaeological chair-throwing is merited as a response to Jacobivici’s P. T. Barnum approach to archaeology. But is Vince McMahon the answer?



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Update on the Talpiot B Tomb Inscription

For those of you interested in epigraphy, especially that of the Talpiot B “disciples’ tomb,” here are two follow-up posts in response to the recent offering of Richard Bauckham.  One of the major points of contention in the inscription is whether or not the divine name is present — which hinges on whether the first letter in the relevant line is an “I” (iota). Christopher Rollston, whose post began the discussion, did not (and still does not — see below) see a iota for this letter. His view was based on his assertion that the epigraphic iota does not have a top and bottom line appending the vertical line. Bauckham was able to find some examples to the contrary.

Now Rollston responds in a new post, noting that, while Bauckham did succeed in finding some examples, the real issue is that the “IAIO” (“Yahweh”) spelling has two iotas — and if Bauckham is to be believed, the scribe wrote the two iotas differently in the name (the second iota clearly has no lines at top or bottom). Rollston says this would be utterly unique, and so rejects the idea as completely anomalous (see his post for how he translates the inscription). In addition to Rollston’s new post, H. Gregory Snyder offers his own thoughts in defense of an initial iota (but does not address the anomaly of the scribe writing the same letter in one four-letter name two different ways).

This is a good example of scholarly give-and-take. I’m guessing this won’t be resolved unless new pictures are obtained.

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Something Fishy in Talpiot Tomb B

[UPDATE 3/16/2012: Click here for Prof. James Tabor's response to Robert Cargill's expose, the subject of the original post.]

A busy day for Talpiot-related news!

Not only did we have the verdict of the James ossuary trial, but yesterday Prof. Robert Cargill posted a very lengthy and devastating analysis of the various image alterations of the Talpiot B tomb “fish art” in this most recent tomb (with many images and illustrations).  The stench has become truly overwhelming. Some excerpts are worth including here (boldfacing is Cargill’s):

One can clearly see that the image has been drawn to suggest a “Jesus fish” image where there clearly is none. The “Fish in the margins” image contains artificially added, digitally “inked” lines colored to resemble naturally engraved limestone lines, which do not correspond to the engraved lines on the ossuary. The digital “ink” extends well beyond the engraved lines of the actual image, which do NOT overlap. This means that the image was digitally altered to generate the illusion of small “fishes swimming” around the edges of the ossuary, perhaps to support the illusion that the image just beneath them is a “fish” and not some sort of vessel.

The evidence of commission presented above is indisputable. An unacknowledged digital alteration was clearly made to the “Fish in the margins” image to create the illusion that there are fishes swimming around the edges of the ossuary. And again, this digital manipulation is nowhere acknowledged in the image or its caption. This is textbook digital manipulation of a image for the purposes of supporting a particular claim.


Thus, despite the fact that the engraved lines comprising the oval loop handle are as clearly visible at the same angle and in the same light as other engraved lines comprising so-called “fish’s tail,” and despite the fact that the same engraved oval loop and handles are also clearly visible on the so-called “half fish” on a different panel of the same ossuary, for some reason, Mr. Jacobovici and Dr. Tabor chose to omit this evidence from their representations, and chose not to represent the evidence in the heavily Photoshopped “CGI” “computer enhanced” “composite image” they have been offering to the press.


Cargill’s treatment is supplemented by another analysis of the alleged ossuary fish by Juan V. Fernández de la Gala, Forensic Anthropologist and Zooarchaeologist.

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Talpiot B Fish – With Handles?

Those of you who have been following the discussion over the Talpiot B “fish symbol” will find this of interest. Kudos to Mark Goodacre for posting Amos Kloner’s 1980 photograph inside this tomb before it was sealed (see Tabor’s report) that is available on the “Jesus Discovery” website (NOTE per Mark Goodacre in the comments: this “fish” is the “half fish” on the side of the ossuary rather than the so called “Jonah fish” on its front facade). The “fish” symbol is visible in the photo. You can go to the post and click on Goodacre’s link to a high resolution image of the “fish” to see the point Goodacre is making — the “fish” has handles. This of course would be no surprise if the “fish” is an unguentarium ( a flask), but it’s not expected (!) for a fish.

I took the liberty of adding lines to the left and right-hand of the image so readers could see the point Goodacre is making (click on the links). While the (larger image) left-hand side has the most visibly clear lines (of a handle)

I think the (larger image) right-hand side does as well:


Looking less like a fish all the time.

And then there’s the issue of photo-shopped images of the fish symbol released to the public, as ably pointed out by Robert Cargill.

If you could see me now, I don’t have a surprised look on my face.

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Richard Bauckham on the Talpiot B Inscription

I just read the the lengthy essay by Richard Bauckham entitled, “The Four Line Ossuary Inscription from Talpiyot Tomb B: An Interpretation” posted on the ASOR blog today. It’s fascinating, and exactly what I was hoping would follow the Rollston article. Bauckham comes up with some examples of what Rollston was sure did not exist — the letter iota with top and bottom horizontal strokes — and so the reading IAIO seems secure in my mind. This is what ought to happen in interchanges between scholars; one corrects another, and they collectively lay out the strengths and weaknesses. Unfortunately, for the millions who read only the first headline and its content, framed by whatever archaeo-bungling, headline-seeking journalist who wrote it, articles like this might as well not exist. That headline is now their truth. It’s appalling when that happens, but to deliberately cause it to happen is unconscionable. But I digress.

I would recommend the Bauckham article to all. It’s technical, but worth it even for non-specialists. His conclusion is that the inscription is rare since it couples the divine name, Yahweh, with Zeus. But he allows for another take on it. If Bauckham’s preference (the Zeus reading) is correct, why that coupling may have been done receives considerable attention. Such conceptual linkages were not that unusual. It made me think of how, iconographically, Yahweh is associated with Sol Invictus in certain Jewish synagogues that have zodiac mosaics. Such a linkage need not be seen as an expression of the theological compromise of Yahwism (it certainly wasn’t in a synagogue). What is unusual in the present case is the coupling on an ossuary inscription. Bauckham also concludes that the inscription has nothing to do with Jesus or early Christianity. To date there is nothing in Talpiot B that does. As I noted in a recent reply to James Tabor in the comments, even if the symbol is the sign of Jonah, a Jew could have thought of that story in resurrection terms (and connected it to three days via Hosea 6:2). Frankly, for Jesus’ statement about the sign of Jonah to have any impact (Matt 12:39), it couldn’t have been a Christian symbol at the time of the speaking. He was speaking to JEWS (Matt 12:38) — and so it would have had to mean something to that audience.  But I still don’t see a fish spitting out a man. The “man” seems like a blob to me.

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