Giant Sarcophagus Leads to Discovery of Previously Unknown (and Normal-Sized) Pharaoh

News of this discovery (also here) has been circulating around the web today. An archaeological team from the University of Pennsylvania (on of my alma matres) has uncovered a Second Intermediate Period necropolis at Abydos, Egypt. The discovery includes the remains of a previously unknown pharaoh named Woseribre Senebkay.

I thought it noteworthy to point out that the sarcophagus was over-sized (probably in the 8-9 foot range), but the actual remains of the Pharaoh tell us he was about 5′ 10″. You’ll often see large sarcophagi like this one touted as evidence that the occupant was a giant. Not so. You can’t tell anything about a person’s height from the box he’s buried in. The photos below come from the links above.










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.

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.


Another Reason Why Biblical Studies and Archaeology Should Not Be Done Via the Mainstream Popular Media

Ah, the paleobabbling media now gives us proof that it is also clueless with respect to intellectual discourse. Mark Goodacre reports that Nicole Austin, the Associate Producer on The Resurrection Tomb Mystery documentary (The Jesus Discovery in Canada) has accused him of slander.

So, let me see if I understand the power of Ms. Austin’s contention correctly. Mark and other bloggers have expressed deep doubts and reservations about the claims made in this “documentary,” and have made those reservations public, along with their reasons. And … well … I guess that’s all.

How dare they!

Honestly, I didn’t realize that freedom of speech had been outlawed in Canada, or that expressing one’s opinion about an academic matter was slander. Disagreement means slander?  Really?  Hmmmm. Can we disagree with Ms. Austin about any matter and not be a slanderer?  Like her grasp of what academics do?  Maybe the cure (besides requiring those who disagree to just plug their pie-holes) is that Ms. Austin gets to say things to the public and those who disagree don’t. We can just talk amongst ourselves (with the telescreens off, of course). That will work (in a world where TV channels are all run by a ministry of propaganda anyway).

The fact that some journalists seem unaware that disagreement is a significant part of academic discourse is just another reason why they should not be the starting point for this sort of material. Granted, that would mean less publicity and cash for those initiating the process, or for Ms. Austin’s production company. It may result in fewer DVD sales down the road. What a shame. But things will pick up when this all happens again next Easter season.

Two Items Regarding Talpiot B and James Tabor

I’m just reading James Tabor’s post regarding Prof. James Charlesworth’s apparent discovery of the name “Jonah” on the ossuary that purports to have a fish symbol on it. If that turns out to be a true inscription (looks pretty reasonable to me), then that would definitely help turn the discussion toward favoring a Jonah symbol on the ossuary. I’m wondering what Robert Cargill has to say on this since he has been over the photographs pretty thoroughly. Perhaps he will post something. But as I note in my response to Tabor’s other recent post on resurrection, a Jonah symbol doesn’t prove the tomb is a Christian one (but that isn’t integral to Tabor’s views on a “Talpiot complex” that contained the bones of Jesus). Still, this new discovery, presuming Charlesworth is parsing what he sees correctly, is just the kind of thing that I’ve been asking for: a data-driven argument, where the data aren’t easily co-opted by two or three other interpretations that seem more plausible. Stay tuned!

[Addendum:  Turns out Robert Cargill did indeed comment on the alleged “Jonah” inscription: here and here. I’m still getting caught up on this one! The second post is much more substantive than the first, as it links to other criticisms of the inscription and offers its own plausible critique. Even more helpful is Mark Goodacre’s most recent post (less than fifteen minutes ago by the time of this addendum) on this new proposed inscription, which casts more doubt on it. Looks like this is another stalemate at best, but likely falling short of even that status due to the “broken nun” letter (at least to me). Incidentally, in the Goodacre post, take a look at the CGI composite image of the round blob that both Tabor and Jacobovici say is Jonah, or Jonah’s head, being spit out by the fish. It simply has no features of a head, face, or any other appendage that I can recognize. — MSH]

I’m a bit late on the above post because I’ve been writing a review of Tabor’s stimulating essay on early Jewish and Christian views of resurrection. That review is posted on another blog. Please have a look!

Richard Bauckham on the Flimsy Evidence for Talpiot B as the Tomb of Joseph of Arimathea

I hope you all read the short but clear-headed guest post on Mark Goodacre’s NT Blog by guest blogger Richard Bauckham. Professor Bauckham does a nice job of succinctly demonstrating the tenuous nature of what seems to be the only data point approximating evidence for this identification.

Frankly, I’m getting bored with this topic, but will dutifully post updates (from either side) on the issue. Is there not *one* piece of unassailable evidence in favor of what Jacobovici and Tabor are arguing? Anything that doesn’t simultaneously invite two or three other interpretive options that, when considered, offer a wider body of evidence and greater explanatory power than the originally suggested thesis? It’s not an unreasonable request.

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?



Short Note from James Tabor on the Talpiot B Images

Just so everyone is made aware, Dr. James Tabor just sent me the following note in the comments:

All the photos that Chris and our other consultants have been using are being posted on web site just as soon as possible. They show the inscription from all angles, lighting, and various distances so I hope this will help resolve the matter of the disputed iota/zeta or the iota that Chris thinks is an epsilon. I remain convinced that our initial reading of the letters stands. I look forward to hearing from others.

Stay tuned …

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.