Cracks in the Foundation: The Jesus Family Tomb Story

The Experts Weigh In and Bow Out

Disclaimers from the Film's Own Experts - On the record

At the release of the Discovery Channel film "The Lost Tomb of Jesus," James Cameron and Simcha Jacobovici, its producers, posted a challenge that the scientists and the academics should bring their skills to bear on the issue of this tomb and the claims of the film and book. These after-the-fact challenges came in place of open peer review, which according to some, should have taken place before the film and book were released.

Part 1: The Production's Scholars Weigh In

During the The Lost Tomb of Jesus a number of specialists, academics and scientists weighed in to say the following about the Talpiot Tomb:

Renowned epigrapher Prof. Frank Moore Cross read one of the ossuaries and said, ".... I have no real doubt that this is to be read Yeshua and then Yeshua bar Yehoseph, that is Jesus son of Joseph."

Professor François Bovon, specialist in ancient apocryphal texts, stated concerning the role of Mariamne whom he determined to be Mary Magdalene, (connected by the filmmakers with the ossuary identified as "Mariamene" from the Talpiot tomb), "Mariamne is the same woman as Mary of Magdala or Mary Magdalene in the synoptic Gospels and in some non-canonical texts like the Gospel of Mary, Pistis Sophia, etc."

DNA Scientist Dr. Carney Matheson offered his decision concerning the DNA relationship between the "Jesus son of Joseph" ossuary and the assumed Mary Magdalene ossuary: "So for these particular samples, because they’ve come from the same tomb and we suspect it to be a familial tomb, these two individuals, if they were unrelated, would most likely be husband and wife."

Forensic Scientist Dr. Robert Genna stated, concerning the relationship between the "James the son of Joseph, brother of Jesus ossuary and the "Jesus son of Joseph" ossuary, were "consistent."

Paleontologist Dr. Charles Pellegrino exclaimed that the patina tests between the "James the son of Joseph, brother of Jesus" ossuary and the "Jesus son of Joseph" ossuary were "A MATCH."

Statistician Prof. Andrey Feuerverger's conclusions: "Based upon the assumptions given to me, the odds are 600 to one in favor of this tomb being the family tomb of Jesus of Nazareth."

The Filmmakers Confidently Raise the Challenge:

This, then, is the central challenge of the filmmakers, that additional experts to come to the table to (1) study and challenge their own assumptions that they gave to the experts (e.g., that they have substantiated that one of the ossuaries contained the remains of Mary Magdalene) and (2) study and test the statements made by their experts who went on to support, or apparently support, their claims (especially Feuerverger, Matheson, Pellegrino, Bovon and Cross). As we shall see below, in some cases, the support for the filmmakers’ assertions are not expressly stated by the experts themselves. But, rather the assertions are made by the filmmakers by extending the statements of the experts to make claims that they never intended to make.

There have been many who have risen to the challenge and are presently working on papers that will deal with the issues involved in various fields of research. These will be published over the coming months.

There are also views that are shared by certain scholars outside of the film that have typified the work of the film as "archaeoporn" or "pimping the Bible." These are unscientific typifications of the work that don't help the scholarly community to move forward in response to the challenge of the filmmakers.

However, a rather telling phenomenon is taking place already that actually may take the wind out of the sails of some of these film producers. With the exception of the actual filmmakers and authors themselves, just about every one of the experts who appeared in the documentary has published an attack on the claims of the film or, even more telling, a disclaimer on what they either said or were purported to have said in the film.

Below is part of the growing list of these statements by the specialists who appeared in the film itself (with published sources included):

Part 2: The Film's Scholars Bow Out!

Archaeology

Amos Kloner

Kloner, who excavated the tomb in 1980 together with Yosef Gath and Shimon Gibson, was the chief archaeologist in the Jerusalem district. He published the final report on the tomb in ‘Atiquot 1998. He was questioned in the film concerning his position on the tomb. He admitted that if the filmmakers could produce the ossuary of Mary Magdalene, it "would be very interesting," but his tone was one of disbelief.

When questioned if the combination of names found on the ossuaries of the Talpiot tomb was significant enough to identify it as the tomb of Jesus' family Kloner stated:

"It makes a great story for a TV film. But it's completely impossible. It's nonsense." He continued "'Jesus son of Joseph' has been found on three or four ossuaries. These are common names." (David Horowitz, The Jerusalem Post, February 27, 2007)

Shimon Gibson

What the Tomb Can and Cannot Say

Gibson was part of the team that excavated the tomb in 1980; he also drew the original plans of the tomb. He appeared several times as an expert eye witness to the discovery and the excavation. He stated he was very skeptical but was open to discussing the facts on the ground.

In an interview, Gibson asserted:

"The idea that the Talpiot tomb might be the family tomb of Jesus is the main thrust of the television documentary made by Simcha Jacobovici and James Cameron. They have been very clear in interviews that they are not archaeologists but investigative journalists and filmmakers. As such they have done a good job, and I think with integrity and vision. They don’t always make use of the full gamut of archaeological knowledge, but that’s to be expected. Hence, I would say to people reading this interview that they should keep an open mind and not get too emotional; after all, with all due respect to the filmmakers, it is still just a television documentary. Personally, I’m skeptical that this is the tomb of Jesus and I made this point very clear to the filmmakers. When I arrived in New York, I said to Cameron, “I’m skeptical; I don’t think this is the tomb of Jesus, but I’m keeping an open mind. I’ll be positive about things I can be positive about, and I’ll be very skeptical about things that deserve my skepticism based on the knowledge I’ve acquired over the last 20-odd years in the field of archaeology. . .

"One could say that if Jesus was indeed buried in Jerusalem, and I think we cannot doubt the evidence as presented in the Gospels (I cannot really comment on the matter of the resurrection), when the time came for the immediate family of Jesus to be buried, including Joseph and Mary, and later James and other family members, they had to be buried somewhere. And why not in Jerusalem? Hence, theoretically I would say that while the tomb of Jesus was situated in the area of the Church of the Holy Sepulcher, his immediate and extended family might have been buried in a burial cave in the vicinity of the city of Jerusalem.

"I have to add that the way I have separated “the tomb of Jesus” from “the family tomb of Jesus” is not something that is done by the makers of the documentary. They actually see the two as one and the same. Partly this is because of the appearance of the inscription “Jesus, son of Joseph” on one of the ossuaries from the tomb, but Jesus and Joseph were extremely common names at that time. And even if the documentary makers are correct and this is the family tomb of Jesus, it doesn’t mean that the Jesus who is named on one ossuary is the same as the more illustrious Jesus himself. Hence you could have two, perhaps even three Jesuses within the same extended family, especially if this is a burial cave that was used for a number of generations.

I remain open to the possibility that there was a family tomb of Jesus in the area of Jerusalem, with the tomb of Jesus (himself, ed.) situated at the traditional site of the Church of the Holy Sepulcher. We need much more evidence before we can say that the Talpiot tomb might be the family tomb of Jesus."

Physical Anthropology

Joe Zias (not in film)

Dr. Zias was the chief anthropologist for the Israel Antiquities Authority at the time of the Talpiot tomb's discovery. He did not appear in this film but did appear 10 years ago in the previous film on the same tomb by British Television producers (which proposed similar claims).

In an interview, Zias was asked: “Is it fair to say that ossuaries like those found at Talpiot were used for more than one person?”

Zias:  “More than one person! In fact, if you reference ‘Atiqot, 1992, Volume 21, you will find a report of a tomb that was undisturbed in antiquity, which I excavated along with Varda Sussman. She did the archaeology; I did the anthropology. In it was one of the most beautiful hard stone ossuaries ever discovered. It says, “This is the ossuary of Yehosef Bar-Hanania.” Along with Yehosef, another five people are in it. That’s the reason the DNA stuff is just not evidence.”

Interviewer: “We don’t know whose DNA it is.”

Zias: “Exactly. I have to laugh when they go and DNA an ossuary, and they say they found the remains of a woman. Well, there may be two men and three women in there. When I say six people, it’s bits and pieces of another five people. It’s very rare to find an ossuary with one person in it, even if it says “Martha” or “Yehosef” or something like that. Out of the 15 ossuaries [found in that excavation], I think three of them had at least five or six people in them. So, will the real Yehosef stand up? There are 88 people in the tomb. Fifteen ossuaries, 88 people! And most of them obviously are not in the ossuaries. There are at least four or five generations here. These folks are not a nuclear family; these are all extended families. And another thing—there’s a rule in Judaism that you can be buried with whomever you sleep with. So, for example, two brothers who may have grown up together, sleeping in the same bed; a husband and wife; a mother with three kids who died before the age of five.”

 Interviewer: “So on that basis a husband and wife would probably end up in one ossuary.”

 Zias:  “Along with a few others. You have to understand, these people did not understand anatomy. I mean, you find stones in ossuaries, you find tree roots in ossuaries, you find parasites in ossuaries—calcified parasite eggs. You find a lot of stuff. It’s very, very rare to find an ossuary with one person in it. That is really the exception. There’s also no way of telling relationships. Just because it says “Jesus, son of Joseph,” it doesn’t mean that there is any relationship between that and the ossuary that says “Joseph.” The ossuary that says “Joseph” may have been two or three generations before him. There’s no way of telling. That Joseph could have been an uncle, a second cousin, so on.”

Epigraphy

Frank Moore Cross

Professor Emeritus of Hebrew and Oriental Languages, Harvard University

When asked in the film concerning the "bar Yehosef" and then the "Yeshua" parts of the inscription, Prof. Cross answered:

"This being quite informal and this particular one quite messy."

After exhibiting a certain amount of difficulty locating certain letters in the name, he was then asked to articulate the full name. This time he said with some confidence:

"There’s an X here before the name and then the name Yeshua then the father’s name is perfectly clear, Je-ho-sephthe son of Joseph. I have no real doubt that this is to be read Yeshua and then Yeshua bar Yehoseph, that is Jesus son of Joseph."

However, afterwards, in critique of this segment of the film, The National Review notes:

"Harvard’s Frank Moore Cross, for instance, makes several on-screen appearances, mostly to read the inscriptions on the ossuaries. The presence of Cross, a distinguished scholar at a top-notch university, is meant to provide intellectual heft to the program. Yet Jacobovici merely has him read the words on the ossuaries. As it happens, nobody denies that they carry these names. But are they actually the ossuaries of the son of God and his earthly parents? Jacobovici doesn’t get around to asking Cross, this eminent professor, for an opinion. So I did. Here’s how Cross replied in an e-mail:

"I am skeptical about Jacobovici’s claims, not because of a faulty reading of the ossuary which reads yeshua’ bar yosep [Jesus son of Joseph] I believe, but because the onomasticon [list of proper names] in his period in Jerusalem is exceedingly narrow. Patriarchal names and biblical names repeat ad nauseam. It has been reckoned that 25% of feminine names in this period were Maria/Miryam, etc., that is variants of Mary. So the cited statistics are unpersuasive. You know the saying: lies, damned lies, and statistics."

"For some reason, Cross doesn’t have a chance to say this on camera."

For more, see the full article at the National Review’s website.

Stephen Pfann

Epigrapher, University of the Holy Land, was called upon to read the inscriptions and examine the ossuaries for the film. He notified the filmmakers that he had discovered different readings on at least one of the ossuaries in the light of new photographs. He asked he asked that he not be quoted and the filmmakers honored his request. Although the film says otherwise, he was not assisting Steven Cox.

"Have the remains of Jesus and Mary Magdalene been found on the outskirts of modern Jerusalem? Yes, say James Cameron and Simcha Jacobovici in their controversial new documentary, The Lost Tomb of Jesus. They claim that the name Mariamene, more specifically "Mary, the Master," was a key designation for Mary Magdalene. For the filmmakers, the existence of an ossuary with this rare name, along with the combination of names on the other ossuaries, clinches the claim that this is the family tomb of Jesus. Without it, they maintain it would be difficult to assert this claim. It was called the "Ringo" of the hypothesis, the name that changes the combination "John, Paul, and George" from being ordinary to being the "Beatles".

"However here are Prof. Pfann's observations in brief:

*The original transcription of the inscription was incorrect.

*The inscription does not read “Mariamene the Master,” nor do the names Mariamene or Mariamne appear on the ossuary at all.

*The inscription reflects the writing of two distinct scribes who wrote in different forms of the Greek script.

*Based on parallels from contemporary inscriptions and documents, the correct reading of the inscription is “Mariame and Mara.”

*The ossuary thus contained the bones of at least two different women, interred at two separate times: one named Mariame and the other Mara.

*No support exists for ascribing the ossuary to Mary Magdalene.

Conclusion:

"The so-called “Mariamene” ossuary contained the names and remains of two distinct individuals. The first name on the ossuary, “MARIAME,” was written in the common Greek documentary script of the period on the occasion of the interment of the bones of this woman. The second and third words, “KAI MARA,” were added sometime later by a second scribe, when the bones of the second woman Mara were added to the ossuary. This scribe’s handwriting includes numerous cursive elements not exhibited by the first scribe who wrote “Mariame.”

"In view of the above, there is no longer any reason to be tempted to link this ossuary (nor the ambiguous traces of DNA inside) to Mary Magdalene or any other person in Biblical, non-Biblical or church tradition."

“I was reluctant that my own initial observations should be included in the film, since I had had gained access to better photos and could check my observations against additional inscriptions. “

“Unwilling to incorporate my more recent observations concerning the ossuaries, the filmmakers respectfully removed the footage of my statements from the film. They did, however, rename my role in the film. Initially, I was invited by them to make statements on paleography and epigraphy, which I did. However, my final role seems to have curiously and fictitiously become "assistant to Steven Cox, Forensic Expert,” which was far from the case.”

See the complete paper here

DNA Evidence

Carney Matheson

Forensic Examiner and Scientific Officer at Lakehead University's Paleo-DNA Laboratory and Associate Professor in the Department of Anthropology, Thunder Bay, Ontario.

Matheson supervised the DNA tests and interpreted the results in the film.

Dr. Matheson is quoted in the Scientific American blog:

"Finally, Carney Matheson, whose titles include everything from mortuary archaeologist to forensic examiner, conducted the DNA examination the film cites. Basically, the filmmakers scraped a tiny amount of biological material out of the ossuary (or bone box) labeled Jesus, and a tiny amount out of the one that they think belonged to Mary Magdalene. Matheson then sequenced the mitochondrial DNA in both samples in order to establish that whoever those two boxes once contained was not related on their mother's side--in other words, they're not family. It's a negative result that doesn't say much (and it begs the question - if you were gathering material for testing, why not test the boxes that you believed belonged to related people, such as Jesus and his mother, as well?)

"Matheson had this to say:

“The only conclusions we made were that these two sets were not maternally related. To me it sounds like absolutely nothing.”

To read more, go to the Scientific American blog for March 2, 2007.

Charles Pellegrino

Paleontologist,  Author

He was both advisor and participant in the film, and coauthor of the book with Simcha Jacobovici. He writes:

"I have not personally had a chance to examine the fragments studied by Carney Matheson at the Thunder Bay lab. They may in fact be small fragments of bone. I can only speak for the material I have personally examined. Not only have I (so far) encountered a complete absence of bone material - but a complete absence of the usual biological signatures of bone deteriorating in an ossuary (nematode traces, etc). Additionally, the fibers in the concretion samples are inconsistent with what normally happens to fibers during the year long period of primary burial (half of its mass is usually bundles of black mold stems; whereas the Jesus fibers, though ancient and enclosed by minerals, are pristine). If there were bones in the Jesus ossuary, then the greater mass of bones that should have been there was removed by someone, many centuries ago. We're still trying to explain this; but there is a significant anomaly in the Jesus ossuary."

Patina Analysis

[Steven Cox and Charles Pellegrino were shown extracting various samples from ossuaries and commenting on what they were doing. Pellegrino brought the samples of the patina from the storerooms at Beth Shemesh to Dr. Robert Genna in New York for analysis. Director of the Suffolk County, New York State Forensic Lab. He was active in the film in conversation with Charles Pelegrino over the results obtained in the lab from certain of the ossuaries using a Scanning Electron Microscope (SEM) in conjuction with Energy Dispersive Spectroscopy (EDS).

Robert Genna

Although he had earlier pointed out the consistencies between the readings from two of the ossuaries (i.e., "Jesus son of Joseph" and "James son of Joseph and brother of Jesus", from an unknown tomb) he later had to clarify his statement due to certain misunderstandings that had been broadcast.

"The elemental composition of some of the samples we tested from the ossuaries are consistent with each other. But I would never say they’re a match… No scientist would ever say definitively that one ossuary came from the same tomb as another...We didn’t do enough sampling to see if in fact there were other tombs that had similar elemental compositions...The only samples we can positively say are a ‘match’ from a single source are fingerprints and DNA."

The preceding is an excerpt from Ted Koppel interview with Dr. Genna that had been broadcast following the film's broadcast.

Charles Pellegrino

Paleontologist and "polymath" was featured in several scenes, sampling an ossuary and monitoring patina results.

He exclaimed that the patina tests between the "James the son of Joseph, brother of Jesus ossuary and the "Jesus son of Joseph" ossuary were "A MATCH."

"Now: One thing I must point out, about the film. When I exclaimed, in the lab, that it [the James patina] "matches," I was acting out of excitement. I had fully expected James not to match the Talpiot tomb at all. Forensically speaking, when it comes to a method still under development, the word "match" should not be included in narration or in narrative text (or in interviews). "Match" is what you would say about a more developed method, with a proven track record stretching back about seven years or more - such as fingerprinting or DNA typing. At this stage, when discussing actual results, you should be referring to an elemental spectrum that echoes the rest of the tomb, or the James ossuary. Please use the term, "this is consistent," rather than, "this is a match."...

See you later,

Charlie P.

To read the entire discussion, go here.

Steven Cox

Forensic Scientist, University of the Holy Land

With regard to the suggested “match” between the James, son of Joseph, brother of Jesus ossuary and that of Jesus, son of Joseph, Mr. Cox notes:

"The ultimate forensic decision which could be derived from the examination of the ossuary samples that showed a consistent EDS spectra is as follows.  The collected samples purported to have been collected from the ossuaries, untraceable to source and unidentified in orientation, indicate the ossuaries could have originated from the same quarry from whence they were hewn.  To arrive at a an opinion exhibiting a unique common origin would require more testing of known samples of ossuary stone from numerous quarry sites. This would allow a database which would paint a more confident chemical profile than what was done in documentary.

In a paper on the UHL website, Steven Cox has cited a number of systematic errors and misinterpretations of results exhibited in the film.

Observations of Error

Underlying logical errors

A conclusion was formed first through speculation and conjecture, then facts were sought to support the preconceived notion.

Speculation and conjecture are converted into FACTS without supporting logic or confirmed scientific methodology.

Sample collection errors

Sample contamination errors

Sample preparation errors

Sample orientation errors

It should be very evident at this point that the The Lost Tomb of Jesus (TLTJ) team’s statement is, at best, an overstatement of opinion based on limited fact, poor scientific protocol, unresolved sources of error and shrouded in poor research. In my opinion, one of the greatest tools a forensic scientist learns is not how to operate an instrument. Rather, it is how to logically assess the weight of the result derived from examining evidence or artifacts. In forensic work, someone’s life hangs in the scales of justice. Be it a suspect or a victim of crime, the result and the following testimony will effect that persons’ life forever. So, a forensic scientist has to take making conclusions and opinions very, very seriously. If this type of conservative and cautious reporting were applied to the TLTJ documentary, the program probably wouldn’t have gotten much notice or, at best, it would have produced more responsible journalism."

To read the entire paper, go to the UHL blog.

Prosopography

Tal Ilan

Professor of Jewish Studies, Free University, Berlin; made comments in the film on the ossuary names and their significance.

Afterwards, Prof. Ilan was featured in the Scientific American blog on the ossuary.

Of special note was Tal Ilan, whose Lexicon of Jewish Names was essential to the statistical calculation made by Andrey Feuerverger, the U. of Toronto professor of statistics and mathematics who is quoted in the documentary as saying that the odds that any family other than that of the historical Jesus family would have the same names as that family, and be buried in the tomb the documentary covers, are 600 to 1. In other words, that number argues, the odds are slim that this isn't the tomb of Jesus. . .

In an interview I conducted this morning, the scholar Tal Ilan, without whose work these calculations would have been impossible, expressed outrage over the film and its use of her work--"I think it's completely mishandled. I am angry."

To read more, go to the Scientific American blog for March 2, 2007.

Statistical Analysis

Andrey Feuerverger

Professor of Statistics, University of Toronto figured centrally in the film by producing statistics which provide the 600:1 odds against the possibility that the Talpiot tomb can be of any other family than that of Jesus of Nazareth.

Dr. Joe D’Mello, a statistician from Chicago, pointed out that Prof. Feuerverger had recalculated the odds and that the Discovery Channel fully dissociated the 600:1 odds claim from Jesus.

(See Thursday, March 15, 2007, Post #5045 on Darrell Bock’s blog. Published here with Dr. D'Mello's permission.)

“I am happy to report that Discovery Channel has now removed ALL claims on its website that the 600:1 odds have any specific bearing to the "Lost Tomb" being that of the Jesus family.

“You may recall that I had engaged in a discussion with Dr. Andrey Feuerverger (the show's in-house statistician), and he and I agreed that Discovery's original interpretation of the 600:1 odds on its site was statistically incorrect and highly misleading to the public. For your benefit, I am reproducing below the original wording and the new wording of three changed paragraphs. Note that all references to the Jesus tomb have been removed! Thanks again to Andrey and also to Discovery Channel for making these changes happen!


“Now that Discovery Channel has backed away from its 600:1 odds claim (which was the bedrock of its case!) that this was the Jesus family tomb, one cannot but wonder what this show had to do with Jesus in the first place. With these changes, the show, in essence, has now dwindled to a documentary on a ‘surprising cluster of names’!”
 

The following changes on the Discovery Channel website resulted from Prof. Feuerverger’s recalculations, as noted by Dr. D’Mello.

Change 1:

"Dr. Andrey Feuerverger, professor of statistics & mathematics at the University of toronto, has concluded a high statistical probability that the Talpiot tomb is the JESUS FAMILY TOMB."

changed to

"Dr. Andrey Feuerverger, professor of statistics at the University of Toronto, has concluded (subject to the stated historical assumptions) that it is unlikely that an equally ”surprising” cluster of names would have arisen by chance under purely random sampling."

Change 2:

"Taking into account the chances that these names would be clustered together in a family tomb, this statistical study concludes that the odds – on the most conservative basis – are 600 to 1 in favor of this being the JESUS FAMILY TOMB. A statistical probability of 600 to 1 means that this conclusion works 599 times out of 600."

changed to

"Taking into account the chances that these names would be clustered together in a family tomb, this statistical study concludes that the probability under random chance of observing a cluster of names as compelling as this one within the given population parameters is 600 to 1, meaning that this conclusion works 599 times out of 600."

Change 3:

"A statistical study commissioned by the broadcasters (Discovery Channel/Vision Canada/C4 UK) concludes that the probability factor is 600 to 1 in favor of this tomb being the tomb of Jesus of Nazareth and his family."

changed to

"A statistical study commissioned by the broadcasters (Discovery Channel/Vision Canada/C4 UK) concludes that the probability factor is in the order of 600 to 1 that an equally "surprising" cluster of names would arise purely by chance under given assumptions."

Apocryphal Gospels

François Bovon

Professor of the History of Religion, Harvard University, was featured in the film speaking on the "Mariamne" of the fourth century document The Acts of Philip.

The filmmakers of “The Lost Tomb of Jesus” and their advisers have asserted that Mary Magdalene’s name in the apocryphal Acts of Philip was “Mariamne,” and that this was also the current and accurate name for the actual historical person of the first century. They based this upon the important work of Prof. François Bovon of Harvard University, who recently discovered and published the first complete copy of the Acts of Philip.

However, Prof. Bovon wants to clarify that he did not in any way state that the name “Mariamne” of the Acts of Philip should be the linked to the historical Mary Magdalene of the first century. In fact, the Acts of Philip presents the geographically improbable assertion that the figure “Mariamne” was both the sister of Philip of Bethsaida and of Martha of Bethany. In reality, Bovon proposed that this Mariamne, who both evangelized and baptised, was the same character whose persona in time evolved to become the fictitious Gnostic sage and evangelist, more closely linked to the gnostic Mary of Magdala of  the Manichean Psalms, the Gospel of Mary, and the Pistis Sofia.

Based upon apocryphal stories such as these, which speak of a close relationship between Mary Magdalene and Jesus, and which give a high prominence to her in the early church, the storywriters of “The Lost Tomb of Jesus” have surmised that Jesus and Mary were married and even produced a family. Of these three assumptions—(1) that the name of Mary Magdalene was not Maria or Mariam, as recorded in the Gospels, but rather Mariamne; (2) that the Mariamne of the Acts of Philip is to be identified with Mary Magdalene, though the Acts of Philip never says so explicitly, and (3) that Jesus was married and fathered a child—none is supported by any of the earliest records dealing with these individuals, namely the canonical Gospels and Josephus.

For further reading, see the UHL blog.

See Bovon’s full disclaimer on this issue at the Society of Biblical Literature Forum, which is quoted below:

“As I was interviewed for the Discovery Channel's program The Lost Tomb of Jesus, I would like to express my opinion here.

“First, I have now seen the program and am not convinced of its main thesis. When I was questioned by Simcha Jacobovici and his team the questions were directed toward the Acts of Philip and the role of Mariamne in this text. I was not informed of the whole program and the orientation of the script......

“Fourth, I do not believe that Mariamne is the real name of Mary of Magdalene. Mariamne is, besides Maria or Mariam, a possible Greek equivalent, attested by Josephus, Origen, and the Acts of Philip, for the Semitic Myriam.

“Fifth, the Mariamne of the Acts of Philip is part of the apostolic team with Philip and Bartholomew; she teaches and baptizes. In the beginning, her faith is stronger than Philip's faith. This portrayal of Mariamne fits very well with the portrayal of Mary of Magdala in the Manichean Psalms, the Gospel of Mary, and Pistis Sophia. My interest is not historical, but on the level of literary traditions. I have suggested this identification in 1984 already in an article of New Testament Studies.”

The fact is that any scholarly challenge to their own premises, rather than being dealt with scientifically, has been publicly dismissed out-of-hand by the core team members of the film.

It seems that the only participants in the film that are left supporting the premises of the film and the book are the makers of the film "The Lost Tomb of Jesus" (J. Cameron and S. Jacobovici), the authors of the book "The Jesus Family Tomb" (C. Pellegrino and S. Jacobovici) and their historical advisor James Tabor (author of the recent book The Jesus Dynasty, which the film supports). It is worthwhile to note that the Discovery Channel has cancelled the second airing of the film and has postponed the DVD. The book, although it is still being read, it is no longer on the New York Times bestseller list.

In Conclusion

Why do so many scholars have to retract their statements made on this film? Several factors affect the way the statements of scholars appear on film.

1. First of all, when the interviewer asks a question, the scholar often does not have any idea as to the direction that the discussion is headed.

2. The interview is often presented in the form of a request for an authoritative expert's opinion. However the expert has often not been able to digest the results of his initial observations, (to check his results further with his peers and additional data) in order to provided a more exact or guarded statement. Initial observations are just that. Final conclusions can be achieved with the passage of time and more time in the lab and in the library.

3. There is always further editing of the interviews, in which editing and re-contextualization of the statements of the scholars by the filmmakers will at times create a misleading impression. 

UHL Staff