The Jesus Tomb Fiction Writers Cooperative

Posted by admin on April 29, 2007

James Tabor has published the following on his blog for the Jesus Dynasty: The Talpiot Tomb separating Fact from Fiction. The following line represents the thesis of his article:

"The following is a list of what I judge to be the “top twenty fictions” related to the discussion of the Talpiot tomb."

It seems strange that the professor from North Carolina is accusing the scholars and experts of producing fiction in spite of the fact that the very basis of the film that he and the filmmakers produced was by a veritable fiction writer's association. It should be pointed out at this point that many of the filmmakers and their advisors have a history of being involved in fiction writing. Two are actual fiction writers, James Cameron (science fiction/historical fiction, produced e.g., Aliens, Terminator, Dark Angel; Titanic), Charles Pellegrino (fiction writer and moderates part of a fiction writer's web site. He wrote Dust, Unearthing Atlantis, Ghosts of the Titanic, The Ghosts of Vesuvius; he reportedly conceptualized Jurassic Park and The Titanic). The others, Simcha Jacobovici (creator of award winning documentaries but casting Lost Tomb and Jesus Family Tomb upon his works The Naked Archaeologist and The Exodus Decoded) and James Tabor (author of the highly controversial book and web site, The Jesus Dynasty) have researched and created a new Gospel of the life of Jesus based upon eclectic use of first century sources combined with 3rd to 4th century fictitious gospel texts (that were known to be fictitious theological/philosophical allegories during the very years that they were being written). Their hopes were, with the aid of archaeology and science, to prove their imaginative story to be true. However, in the eyes of the archaeologists and scientists (even those who they chose to appear in the film) the evidence does not support their story. In this way, until more convincing evidence appears, the story remains within the realm of "fiction" (and, since science is being used to support the theory perhaps even "science fiction"). This statement is not intended to be rude. But rather it is intended to encourage the filmmakers be honest as to the nature of their enterprise and to continue to sell their works as such to an audience that enjoys such productions.

In the meantime academics and scientists continue to accept the challenge of the filmmakers and "weigh in" by preparing papers in response to the assertions of the film and book. Unfortunately, the prospects for a fair roundtable discussion are not good. To date, those scholars who have conscientiously prepared and submitted papers have been met with baseless dismissal and ridicule by the filmmakers and their advisors.

Over the coming weeks and days leading up to the re-airing of the film in North America, more facets of this story will continue to be provided on this and other related web sites.

UHL Staff Report


Cardinal Martini weighs in

Posted by admin on April 28, 2007

Carlo Maria c. Martini, S.I.

His Eminence Cardinal Carlo Martini is a noted figure in the church world today. He was archbishop of Milan for many years where he was noted for his open Bible studies with the members of his diocese and for his candid and popular approach to the Biblical text and its application to the life of every individual. He has been credited with the authorship of numerous acclaimed books, both those which he has himself written, and those which others have transcribed from his popular lectures from over the years. He has promoted sensible application of church doctrine in the modern world and, in the last papal election to see who would succeed John Paul II, he was one of the leading contenders.

Aside from his duties to the church as priest, archbishop and cardinal, his actual training, and the most loved vocation in his life, has been as a textual scholar. He has dealt primarily with the task of scrutinizing Greek New Testament manuscripts (including hundreds of papyri, uncial, majuscule and minuscule manuscripts), in order to reconstitute the original text of the Greek Bible in the most careful and judicious manner possible. The world of scholarship, as a whole, knows his name as one of the five editors from the title page of the Greek New Testaments which they have used since their college years. This edition is still used by students, scholars and clerics as the standard critical edition of the New Testament text today. After more that forty years of use, many still simply call this edition: "Aland, Black, Martini, Metzger, and Wikgren". With the passing of Prof. Bruce M. Metzger earlier this year, Cardinal Martini is now the sole surviving member of that team.

Since retiring from his role as archbishop of Milan, Cardinal Martini has chosen to continue his work on the Greek New Testament while residing most of the time here in Jerusalem, at the Pontifical Biblical Institute. He has recently published a new facsimile edition of the Epistles of Peter from the Bodmer Papyri. He is presently working on a new edition of Codex Vaticanus, which stands, alongside Codex Sinaiticus as the premier witness to the text of the Greek Old and New Testaments.

This past week, I sent to him a copy of the latest expanded edition of my paper which deals with the reading of CJO 701 called "Mary Magdalene is Now Missing", and asked for his appraisal. He returned his response by email. I am not one who publishes, nor approves of those who publish, private letters and emails without the express permission of the author to do so. When I asked Cardinal Martini if I could quote his letter, he responded in the affirmative.

Dated April 24th,

"Dear Professor Pfann, Thank you very much for your e-mail and article. I agree with your conclusions and I hope that this discussion will be soon finished. I shall be in Italy for some weeks and hope to see you again in the month of June. Yours Carlo Maria c. Martini, S.I."

I would like to thank Cardinal Martini who, with all due respect to the others, now tops the long list of respected epigraphers and textual scholars (from diverse religious and non-religious backgrounds), who, with me, "among a multitude of witnesses" read "KAI" (i.e., MARIAME KAI MARA, "Mariame and Mara").

Stephen Pfann, Ph.D.

"Refinements" made by Feurverger and others

Posted by admin on April 26, 2007

In a Jerusalem Post Article this week Emmy Award winning film producer, Simcha Jacobovici wanted to respond to a previous JPost article that stated that many of the scientists of his film had "backtracked" from their original statements. He asserted that they had rather "refined" their conclusions.

The Jerusalem Post reported:

"Feuerverger is not giving interviews, but Jacobovici quoted from an e-mail he received from Feuerverger in response to the article, in which the statistician states: "I would like to make it clear that I stand by the statements I had made in my probability calculations. I have retracted nothing." Jacobovici added that Feuerverger was continuing "to refine his calculations in preparation of a scholarly paper destined for publication in a scholarly journal."

"Changes cited in the April 11 article that have been made on the Web site of the Discovery Channel, which broadcast the documentary, relating to Feuerverger's conclusions, said Jacobovici, reflect those refinements. "As he refines his language, Discovery Channel refines its Web site language on the statistics. So what? The bottom line is that Feuerverger does not 'backtrack' on any statement made in the film, nor on the 600 to one probability presented in the film," insisted Jacobovici."

Let's see what is meant by the term "refine" when it is written of Feuerverger, that "As he refines his language, Discovery Channel refines its Web site language on the statistics."

The Discovery Channel, in March, followed the statement of the statistician, as voiced in the film, “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.

After some refining, (which might be said to be "midcourse corrections"; see the earlier blogs of April 21-22) the following changes were made:

According to the Discovery Channel’s website, statistician Prof. Andrey Feuerverger now 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.

This particular type of refining that took place at three places on the Discovery web site, led to the complete removal of any reference to Jesus of Nazareth or his family from the statisticians assertions. (For more detailed quotes see "Cracks in the Foundation" .)

We trust that Professor Feuerverger will not "backtrack" but will continue "to refine his calculations in preparation of a scholarly paper destined for publication in a scholarly journal."

We hope this will also be the case for other scholars in the film, whose initial, premature, observations caught on film, will be replaced by more judicious and refined statements in the peer reviewed scholarly publications.

We also hope that when those who have responded to the filmmaker's invitation to "come to the table" to offer challenges, (or perhaps offer refinements to the film's statements) will not be so quickly and wrongfully belittled and dismissed by the filmmakers, as has been their practice recently. (For Professor Pfann's qualifications in Greek epigraphy see the blog of April 15: "Epigraphy, the microscope and statistics: tools of the trade" and Click to see Dr. Pfann's CV)

We can certainly hope that some of these refinements will be provided in the discussion following the next time the film is shown (which still will be aired without being updated to reflect the scholars' current refined views).

If you would like to hear some of these very scholars update the viewers after the upcoming airing of the film, Write to the Discovery Channel, encourage them, and let them know who you as a viewer would like to hear from.

On the Discovery web site:

“For suggestions regarding programming and all other TV questions, contact Viewer Relations


UHL Staff Report

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Round 2: Lost Tomb long version

Posted by admin on April 25, 2007

Once again and more?


Just in case the public hasn't had enough, the full version of the Lost Tomb of Jesus will be aired in North America in the last week of May. This will be 40 minutes longer than that already shown two months ago.

Here in Jerusalem we have seen the long version twice on channel 8. The first time it aired was a few days after the short version was aired in North America. (This version was also the uncensored form which had such clips as Jesus lying together with Mariamne, Mariamne fully pregnant and the couple with child.) The second time it was aired was on Holy Saturday Evening. (A very insensitive action on the part of the television station).

The Discovery Channel intends to add a 30 minute mini-feature tentatively entitled "The World Reacts" interviewing scholars here in Jerusalem and in North America. This was intended to give the scholars a chance to freely react to the film. This task was assigned to a competent outside producer. It sounded at first like a good opportunity for the original scientists, such as Dr. Feuerverger (statistics) and Dr. Matheson (DNA), who had been filmed with very supportive quotes (due to certain assumptions that were provided to them by the filmmakers) to clarify their positions. However that doesn't seem to be in the books unless the agenda changes. In fact the latest is, Simcha Jacobovici and James Tabor have gained a place on the roster to react to the scholars off line (on top of the two hours that they had in the feature already). How does that sound to you? (Wouldn't we feel a little uneasy to participate in such a program if these two had the last word?)

The Discovery Channel proposed this with the hopes of providing a balance to the assertions advanced in the film.

What would you like to see? Write to the Discovery Channel, encourage them, and let them know what you as a viewer would really like to see.

On the Discovery web site:

"For suggestions regarding programming and all other TV questions, contact Viewer Relations"


UHL Staff report

Reconstructing the First Century

Posted by admin on April 24, 2007

As the University of the Holy Land team began research for Nazareth Village, they developed strict criteria for evaluating the available source material. Each source received an A, B, C, D or N/A (not applicable rating) for its usefulness and reliability.

For instance:

Archaeological evidence received a higher rating, the closer the site to Nazareth itself and the closer its date to the first century.

Literary sources had to have a direct connection to the Jewish culture, the land of Israel, and the first century to score an A rating.

In order to carry the most weight, ethnographic and anthropological sources needed to be universal and in continuous use from the first century to the present.

"The effort to create the atmosphere of a first-century village enriches the New Testament texts as well as Jewish texts, law and custom ..."

Alan Rabinowitz, Jerusalem Post

"Given our respect for those involved, our expectations were lofty. Still, we were truly amazed at Nazareth Village's high quality and archaeological integrity."

President Jimmy Carter

"Nazareth Village is the only archaeologically accurate 'recreated' town in Israel. I couldn't have wished for a better filming environment."

Simcha Jacobovici, President, Associated Producers Ltd.


Time Travel

Posted by admin on April 23, 2007

Have you ever wondered what it was really like to live in the first century?

A decade ago, the remains of a first century farm were discovered in the middle of the crowded modern town of Nazareth - sparking efforts to turn it into a time capsule of life in Nazareth as Jesus would have known it. It has been the privilege of the University of the Holy Land to lay the academic foundation for its construction, based upon archaeology and early Christian and Jewish sources.

Today Nazareth Village welcomes hundreds of visitors from around the world. It has also served as a teaching tool for students and even an inspiration for film crews, of which a notable example is the recent "Nativity Story."


For more information on our research, click here.

For more on Nazareth Village's influence on film, go to the "Nativity Story" website and look under "Videos" for "Featurette: Director Catherine Hardwicke."

Midcourse corrections can eventually lead toward sound final conclusions.

It is astounding that the filmmakers and their advisors, in particular James Tabor, are presently denying that the experts who appeared in the film now want to convey something other than what they originally stated. The filmmaker, Simcha Jacobovici, even continues to insist that "nobody has been able to poke holes" in their assertions.

After reading the previous blog, now read more recent statements by the same experts on the identical topics. The following are some statements that most readers would believe comprise a conscious modification of what was conveyed by their own words by the film.

Professor François Bovon, specialist in ancient apocryphal texts, now clarifies that, “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.” (SBL website)

DNA Scientist Dr. Carney Matheson has offered this clarification concerning the DNA relationship between the “Jesus son of Joseph” ossuary and the assumed Mary Magdalene ossuary: “The only conclusions we made were that these two sets were not maternally related. To me it sounds like absolutely nothing.” (Scientific American website)

Paleontologist Dr. Charles Pellegrino, honestly admitting that the camera caught him during an emotional outburst, now corrects his statement that the patina tests between the “James the son of Joseph, brother of Jesus” ossuary and the “Jesus son of Joseph” ossuary were not actually a "MATCH" but were merely “CONSISTENT."

According to the Discovery Channel's website, statistician Prof. Andrey Feuerverger now 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.

All of these revised statement are backed by "on the record" statements by the experts themseves. But this is just the beginning.

To see more of what they now are wanting to be “on record” as saying see:Cracks in the Foundation

Even these recent corrections and clarifications made by the film's experts should not necessarily be taken as final conclusions but rather as midcourse corrections. "Final conclusions" are not actually being provided by the experts until well documented scientific papers will appear with that intention.

UHL Staff Report

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First Impressions are First Impressions, That's All

Posted by admin on April 21, 2007

The scientist can provide first impressions which can certainly be captured on film. However, these statements should not be presented or received as authoritative, final conclusions.

The interviews on the film were presented in the form of a request for an authoritative expert's final opinion. However the expert was often not able to have first digested the results of his initial observations--to check his results further with his peers and additional data--in order to provide a more exact or guarded statement. Initial observations are just that. Final conclusions can only be achieved with the passage of time and more time in the lab and in the library.

Since the following experts consciously provided clarifications and suggested modifications to their quotations that were presented in the film, we can take that to mean that they have had time to think about what they were quoted to have said and are now progressing closer toward more accurate final conclusions.

In the film, the following statements were made:

Professor Francçois 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."

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."

To see what they now are wanting to be "on record" as saying see:"Cracks in the Foundation"

Or more simply, just ask them.

UHL Staff Report

Many have led us to believe that the name "Jesus, son of Joseph" is unique or very rare


The Catalogue of Jewish Ossuaries lists two “Jesus son of Joseph” ossuaries (nos 9 and 704). In that collection of 895 ossuaries, there are only 231 inscribed ossuaries. Therefore, in that collection there is one Jesus son of Joseph for every 116 inscribed ossuaries. Utilizing a census of 35 burials per tomb (Kloner’s calculation for the Talpiot tomb), that would mean that there would be one “Jesus son of Joseph” for every 3.3 tombs of similar size.

Also these are two of about sixty ossuaries with "X, son of Y"; that means one of every 30 ossuaries that lists father and son is inscribed "Jesus son of Joseph". There are also 3 ossuaries in the catalogue with the name "Jesus" but no father or son named (CJO 56, 114, 140). Theoretically, any one of these could also be a "Jesus, son of Joseph" ossuary.

(The other 664 ossuaries are decorated but not inscribed with names. There are still more ossuaries in the collection but are not catalogued since these are neither inscribed with names nor decorated. Any one of these could also have housed a Jesus, son of Joseph. Amos Kloner knows of at least one or two others by that name from outside the CJO collection.)

Mariame (not Maria or Mariamne) is, by far, the most common Greek equivalent for Mary among the ossuaries.

The Hebrew MARIA (4x) is less common than the Hebrew MARIAM (6x) but certainly not rare.

For more:

The Improper Application of Statistics in "The Lost Tomb of Jesus"

Mary Magdalene is now missing: A corrected reading of Rahmani Ossuary 701″ By Stephen Pfann, Ph.D (See supplementary note as well)

It has been advanced by the filmmakers and their advisers that the name Yose is very rare.

The filmmakers failed to clarify that “Yoseh” (Hebrew) with its equivalent “Iose” (Greek) is by far the most common shortened name for Yehosef/Josef from the second century BCE until the first century. In second to third century Beth Shearim the name “Jose” is actually more common than “Josef”. The New Testament provides both of these names for Jesus’ brother. One Hebrew and three Greek ossuaries with this name are found in the CJO collection.

Stephen Pfann

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Posted by admin on April 19, 2007

The University of the Holy Land is a narrowly focused graduate school with departments in ancient languages, archaeology, Biblical studies and intertestamental literature (including the Dead Sea scrolls) as well as intercultural studies and Jewish studies.

Thanks to a co-operative agreement, many of our classes are held here at Hebrew University's Rothberg International School.



Our offices and library are located at Tantur Ecumenical Institute, 1104 HaRozmarin Street in Jerusalem, on a beautiful hilltop overlooking Bethlehem, Jerusalem, and the Judean wilderness.



Welcome to our classroom--the land of the patriarchs, prophets and apostles.



Photo credits: L. Adams, S. Davidson, R. Adams

Mitochondrial DNA, Mariame and Mara - CJO Ossuary 701

Posted by admin on April 18, 2007

From the Jesus Dynasty Blog (March 13th 2007): “I have just discussed today in an earlier post that the DNA tests on the bone fragments from this ossuary would have shown two individuals, or more, if they were mixed together in one ossuary. The ancient DNA found showed only one person, unrelated maternally to Yeshua son of Joseph.”

The first fact to start with, is that only mitocondrial DNA was successfully retrieved from ossuaries in the Talpiot Tomb.

From my short but still serious two years of college education in Biology, there are some basic facts about DNA that I am quite certain about. Nuclear DNA is unique for every person, so tests can distinguish individuals, one from the other. However, nuclear DNA was not successfully retrieved from any ossuary in the tomb.

On the other hand, mitochondrial DNA was retrieved from two ossuaries. Mitochondrial DNA is always identical among members of single maternal line. Therefore, mitochondrial DNA tests can only distinguish individuals born of different mothers (or more precisely from a different maternal lines), but cannot distinguish individuals born of the same mother/maternal line. Both male and female members of the same maternal line have identical DNA in their mitochondria. This is because each of the numerous mitochondrial organelles found in each cell contain identical DNA, and multiply independently of the cell’s nucleus. Since these are found in the mother’s eggs but not in the father’s sperm, the organelles, along with their identical DNA, are passed on to the children unchanged from their mother and then through the daughters from generation to generation. The fact that only one type of mytochondrial DNA could be identified in the ossuary could mean any of the following:

1) The two individuals Mariame and Mara were two sisters born of the same mother.

2) The two individuals Mariame and Mara were mother and daughter, or mother and granddaughter, etc.

3) The two individuals Mariame and Mara were female relatives of the same maternal line.

4) Not all bone fragments and organic sources in the ossuary were actually tested by the lab.

5) Even if five individuals, or parts thereof, were originally in the same ossuary, potentially, none of the others survived (or the entire remains of other individuals may have been removed.)

In the light of the fact that there are two names written on this inscription, I think the first option is the most preferable scenario (over against numbers 2 and 3), although one must still take into account numbers 4 and 5.


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The Enigma of the Signa: How does a Scratch become a formula?

Sometimes fancy terms have to be investigated before getting bowled over by them.

It doesn't take an experienced epigrapher to see the problems in the original reading and in the film's reading of the inscription of its key, sine qua non, "Ringo", ossuary as MARIAMENOU (H) MARA. The erroneous deductions can be observed by any student of Greek 101, first year Greek. Very basic rules in Greek grammar have been broken here.

A signum is a fancy word for an added second personal name, like a middle name or alias. According to the experts (Schwabe and Lifshitz, Beth Shearim II, p. 64), if it is introduced by the formula H KAI or O KAI "who is also called" then the two personal names are typically foreign to one another, Jewish to Greek, Greek to Jewish, English to French or vice versa. (Schwabe also quotes SAULOS (DE) O KAI PAULOS: "Saul who is also called Paul" from Acts 13:9).

There are several immediate problems, however, in applying the above profile or definition of this term to the inscription of CJO (Rahmani) ossuary 701:

Problem 1: Mariamne and Mara are both Jewish names. This doesn't fit the profile for the suggested H KAI + signum formula in use here.

Problem 2: The two names must be in the same grammatical (especially inflectional case) form but are not. This doesn't fit the profile on a very basic level. (i.e., names in apposition to one another cannot be a mixture of genitive and nominative forms, as has been proposed for this inscription.)

Problem 3: If MARA is taken to be translated by the title "Master" (so Tabor and Pellegrino), then it is not a personal name. It really doesn't fit the profile for signa at all.

Problem 4: In Greek inscriptions of the Second Temple Period, no inadvertent scratch (and there are 47 in this area in and around the inscription), stroke or "clear diacritical mark" is ever substituted for a letter, a word or a phrase (including H or H KAI). This is basic to this time and place.

Add to this the all too numerous other problems incorporated "within the space of two words", already outlined in the preceding blogs, we really need to look for a better alternative for the transcription. According to normal methodology, the reading to be preferred is the one that accounts for the greatest amount of elements with the least number of difficulties. For example, the transcription "MARIAMH KAI MARA" "Mariame and Mara", proposed recently has no such problems. (The only problem is of a different nature: it doesn't fit the Jesus Tomb story). Ringo or not: it sometimes just takes common sense.

It doesn't take an epigrapher like myself to see the inherent problems here. Sadly, the errors are basic enough that any one who has had even a very basic education in Greek, and has done their homework, should have been able to avoid these pitfalls.

It is unfortunate that such sloppy homework by the film's advisers has led to such a waste of time for some and needless aggravation or grief for others.

A more detailed treatment of these points will soon be available.

Stephen Pfann

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