Back from travels

Posted by admin on September 28, 2007

I have returned from some research in Italy. Our staff is on vacation.

In the mean time, AP contacted me on my cell phone, (the journalist was surprised to hear that I was standing below the temples of Demeter and Poseidon at Paestum), about discoveries of an ancient quarry in Jerusalem that had once produced 20 ton stones. No other buildings during the Second Temple period would have been built of such stones other than the Temple and its supporting walls. The nature of the stone, its hardness and color, is important for confirming the find. See AP article.

More coming soon.

S. Pfann

Land, Nature, and Society

Posted by admin on September 21, 2007

Why does Psalm 128 compare children at supper to olive shoots?


I learned why at the Garden of Gethsemane.

Be sure to check out the two UHL courses which focus geography, geology, history, ecology, botany, Bible (and more) as one powerful lens on the ancient world. Spend a couple summer weeks in this pursuit and you may come back for two full semesters!

That's what I did.

For further information, click here and here.

Raiders of the Lost Tomb (and The Lost Chevron) of Jesus, part 3

Posted by shoshiepfann on September 16, 2007

A Visit to the tombs of Dominus Flevit: The Discovery of a Staged Event


On Tuesday, May 1, members of our staff visited Dominus Flevit at the invitation of a film production team from the United States who were filming there. With our staff’s effort to understand the tomb and its ossuaries, and the film crew’s effort to retrace the sequence of events portrayed in the Lost Tomb, a number of “clarifications” may now be offered.

This tomb complex is presented in the film as being connected with the first century Judaeo-Christians, but more specifically, with the group perceived to be first century “Ebionites.” The bones in the niches viewed below are presented in the film as though they belong to these early believers. However, as it turns out, these niches and bones actually belong to the Byzantine monks whose burial chambers were cut down into the first century necropolis.

The film producer who invited us was astonished to point out the fact that the apparent “corridor” is not at all a passageway. The “hole” Jacobovici was entering was nothing but a small, cramped alcove in the cave (in other words, a dead end), which the AP film crew evidently lit with artificial light. It appears that they also blocked the sunlight in the original chamber so that Jacobovici could descend again into the same chamber past the same ossuaries as though it were a new tomb complex, enshrouded in darkness and mystery. To go through such an effort to recreate this fictitious burial chamber with such sincerity alerted us to how important this sequence was to the overall story.

Within this mysterious chamber begins the sequence concerning the ossuary of Simon Peter discovered by Bagatti. However, as it turns out, the inscription on this ossuary was misread. For a detailed article about this ossuary see "Has St. Peter returned to Jerusalem? The final resting place of Simon Peter and the Family of Barzillai"

It is also the chamber where Simcha discovers for the first time the ossuary with the “chevron … identical to the one over the tomb.”

On our visit the same ossuary was indeed up and to the left as we entered the tomb area but in the wrong chamber. (This is ossuary 66 in Bagatti’s publication Gli Scavi del Dominus Flevit.) In the film, Jacobovici finds an ossuary (but without a lid), containing a femur bone and the nozzle of an ancient juglet. The “chevron” is on one of the narrow sides of the ossuary facing outward. This is the state in which we also found the ossuary, with one important exception. We found that the missing, original stone lid was actually in place on the ossuary. This lid does not appear anywhere in the film. In the film, the ossuary was “discovered,” as though the lid were missing or non-existent.


The seemingly lone ossuary was presented in the film as bearing an engraving which has been identified as being the essential symbol of Jesus' original followers, the Ebionites. This symbol an upside down “V” with a dot in the middle, hypothetically connects the Ebionites to the Talpiot tomb, where the apparently same symbol sits above its doorway.

The filmmakers perceived this to be a symbol for Jesus, a stylized “taw” (the last letter of the Hebrew alphabet), since He proclaimed himself to be “the beginning and the end” in the book of Revelation. In the enactment in the film, the “true disciples of Jesus”, the Ebionites, have this symbol made on their foreheads to seal them as members. This symbol is attributed in the film (and, even more so, in the film’s website) to a number of secret societies from the Ebionites to the Templars to the Freemasons, whose secret rites and symbols come down to us today (even though, according to the filmmakers, the true meaning of the symbol has been widely misunderstood through the centuries).

Here is the ossuary as we found it. What’s wrong with this picture?


Here is the ossuary once the lid was turned around.


In the published report of Bagatti, the Dominus Flevit “chevron” is simply a “direction mark,” which normally appear in pairs, one on the lid and one the side (or rim) of the ossuary (Bagatti, p. 63ff.; Rahmani, p. 19). These matching marks were usually letters of the alphabet (Hebrew or Greek), or simply marks like an X, a cross or a zigzag (Rahmani, p.19). These are inscribed on ossuaries when the direction that the lid should be placed is not so obvious. One mark is intended to sit immediately above the other once the lid is placed upon the box at the end of the one-year anniversary ceremony. During that ceremony, when the bones are collected and placed in an ossuary, it is very important to know which direction the lid should go to be securely in place. (If not, the heavy stone lid might fall into the box and break some bones!; see Bagatti, p. 55, No. 66; p. 66; fig. 17, 17-18; Photos 67 and 74) For more on this ossuary and others see these postings.

'Clarifying' the Dominus Flevit Tomb: What’s wrong with this picture?

Chevron Toil

The so-called 'Chevron' and the Simpler Tomb Façades of the upper class

"Chevron" foiled

Also see the forthcoming article by Shimon Gibson concerning this symbol in Near Eastern Archeologist where he gives his own personal account from the discovery to the identification of the ossuaries. There he also debunks the films assertion that the symbol is anything more than a "gable over the door" motif. Also he denies conclusively that this could be the tomb of Jesus and his family.

A more likely identification of the symbol on the ossuary:

Unlike the so-called "chevron' over the opening to the talpiot tomb, which is comprised of a wish-bone shaped gable and a clear circle (probably a wreath), the mark on the Dominus Flevit ossuary is an inverted "V" with a chip out of the middle that may be interpreted as a dot (but not a ring/wreath).



IN ACTUAL FACT AN INVERTED "V" WITH A DOT IN IT MAY SIMPLY BE THE GREEK LETTER "ALPHA" (?!) This letter is similar to the form of the "alpha" that was used on the Greek coins of the period such as on the one coin that is known to everyone who paid the Temple tax in Jerusalem: the Tyrian Shekel. See below "IERAS", (meaning "holy, priestly")



These possibilities were not laid out for the viewer in the film. The filmmakers went through great lengths to push the envelope on their own interpretation of the Dominus Flevit tomb and its relevance for understanding the Talpiot tomb. However:

1) They did so by recreating a tomb complex that did not and does not exist, using Hollywood magic to add a mysterious chamber.

2) They not only avoided evidence but removed the key evidence, the lid of the key ossuary, which provided the true raison d'etre of the symbol "A" on the side of the ossuary.

3) The niches of bones were those of Byzantine monks, not those of Jesus' followers.

4) The discoveries were staged. There were no subtitles provided in the film to tell the viewer that it was a "REENACTMENT."

In summation:

(a) the evidence "found" in the field/stage was reduced down to those elements which support the preconceived picture of the filmmakers. This is called "subjective journalism".

(b) The stage/set was manipulated to present a picture that wasn't really there. This is called "deception".

Remember John Hersey's rule of journalistic ethics:

"There is one sacred rule of journalism. The writer must not invent. The legend on the license must read: NONE OF THIS WAS MADE UP.”

Remember what Roy Peter Clark of the Poynter Institute for Media Studies said:

“If you gather 10 facts but wind up using nine, subjectivity sets in.” The result, he says, is subjective journalism, but journalism nonetheless. However, “When we add a scene that did not occur or a quote that was never uttered, we cross the line into fiction. And we deceive the reader.

Like some of the techniques employed by the "New Journalism," many film producers today believe that any number of artificial reconstructions can be employed in documentaries to provide atmosphere and a believable sense of the setting. This is considered fair play in order to make the film more interesting and to convey a sense of "being there". However, the methods employed in "The Lost Tomb of Jesus" are not quite the same. The methods employed in the making of this film have led the viewer to believe, perhaps to be deceived into believing, a certain interpretation that was posed by manipulating the evidence.

The filmmakers apparently believe that they have been fair with their audience. However, in the light of the clarifications made above, I doubt that the audience would think so.

This posting clarifies the results of the "investigative journalism" that has been posed by the filmmakers in the Dominus Flevit sequence of the film. There is definitely more. Shall we continue our clarifications to other parts of the book and movie? Or is this enough? It's your call. Please feel free to leave your comments below.

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'Super-scope' to see hidden texts?

Posted by admin on September 15, 2007

In an article that was produced by the BBC:

** 'Super-scope' to see hidden texts **

"A light source 10 billion times brighter than the Sun could soon be helping scientists to read ancient manuscripts."

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It seems that journalists are having a field day. However, the Dead Sea Scrolls are actually not the best candidate for this technology.

This is only a hypothetical use of an instrument, the synchrotron, that is normally used for other purposes. The synchrotron has generally been used to identify atomic components (neutrons, neutrinos etc.) and to distinguish and quantify different elements (C14, C12 etc.).

The more likely use of this technology would be on medieval manuscripts originally written on with iron-based, oak gall ink, but which have now lost their ink. This type of ink could leave invisible traces of iron on parchment surfaces. To reconstruct readings on this type of manuscript, other less expensive and less destructive instruments could also be used. Unlike the medieval manuscripts, the Dead Sea Scrolls were written with carbon-based inks. Traces of carbon-based inks are not easily distinguished from the surrounding parchment, by this type of instrumentation, since both the ink and the surface (originally animal skin) are carbon-based. In the case of the Dead Sea Scrolls, the normal visible and invisible light spectra (including especially the infra-red range), are much better for distinguishing the carbon ink from the parchment.

"10 billions times brighter than the sun" is not proper terminology for what the instrument actually produces. Brightness is measured in lumens. The present holders of the Dead Sea Scrolls would not allow the scrolls to be exposed to normal sunlight, let alone an even brighter light source. In most cases brightness adds no advantage to imaging the scrolls. The only potential fragments that may be addressed here are ones that have deteriorated to the extent that the layers cannot be separated (called "wads"). Very few wads exist in the collection. Certainly, the the State of Israel would only permit this technology to be tried on fragments that they would not mind being returned "burnt". Not impossible, but certainly an unlikely scenario.

UHL Staff

Selling the "Chevron"

Religious symbols are static, enduring images, designed to freeze the once-upon-a-time establishment of certain ancient values, and present them as timeless truths to new generation after new generation. As part of the strategic planning necessary to story-telling, the filmmakers evidently felt a need to create such a symbol. They chose for their audience-drawing “hook” a proposed, long-forgotten religious symbol, rediscovered in an almost apocalyptic manner. This symbol was designed to impress itself on this generation and replace long mistaken and dangerous creeds, not with a newly developed set, but with creeds more ancient still.

The three story-lines are woven together like the strands of a strong rope, each carrying out separate assignments in the creation of a credible witness for this symbol. Simcha and crew discover it, report it, and embellish it for the new generation. The archaeologist confirms the fact that its true meaning still remains to be discovered. The new "Gospel" incorporates it as the mark by which every true disciple needs to be sealed (in lieu of baptism).

This initiation rite is performed by marking the sign taw, curiously appearing like the chevron, on the believer's forehead, sealing his faith and commitment for all time.

The producer turns theologian by quoting ancient scriptures: Jesus himself instituted the sign as the enduring symbol for himself, as he speaks to John on Patmos (by the way, the context conveys that Jesus is in his resurrected and ascended form seated at the right hand of God when he speaks these words): "I am the alpha and the omega, the beginning and the end." Jacobovici retroverts this back into Hebrew where Jesus would have said: "I am the alef and the taw." The taw is the cross and it is also the mark that a person can make to indicate his name to seal a contract. Therefore, it is a seal signified by the marking of the symbol of Jesus himself.

James Tabor sets the scene for the viewer to come face to face with the first Christians, ah but much more, the true followers of Jesus who saw him as a Messiah and not as God, followers, who like Jesus himself, die a miserable fate, totally wiped out in a pogram against him and all who dared to believe in him.

Tabor: It’s a terrible thing when a culture is wiped out. And yet you know there’s a sense in what, in which that’s happened to Jesus and his followers. Now that sounds very shocking. Somebody says, “What? Jesus and his followers? They became Christianity. They’re not wiped out." But that original movement, the way they originally were, as Jews, right here in this area, believing in their own version of the Jewish faith but also following Jesus, that’s sort of disappeared. And I think it’s disappeared for theological reasons, even though I think the material evidence is around if we’ll just open our eyes and see it.

Narrator presents a PREMISE:

Could it be that there was a movement made up of Jews who saw Jesus as their Messiah, not their god? And —because this movement largely disappeared from history—we are blind to the archaeological evidence they’ve left behind?

Simcha: If this is a early Judeo-Christian cemetery then that means our tomb is not sitting in some kind of archaeological vacuum. It’s really part of a network of cemeteries. This can provide an archaeological context for our tomb.

Their bones and their ossuaries are all around us, in Talpiot.

In his mode as Indy, Jacobovici must find the link between the sign on this cave and the first believing followers of Jesus buried elswhere in Jerusalem. His instincts lead him to believe that a cluster of burial caves on the western slopes of the Mt. of Olives must hold the answers. Simcha, Felix Golubov and Charles Pellegrino, invigorated by the prospects, set out to find it. They arrive one by one climbing the steep road to the gate of Dominus Flevit. Jacobovici arrives first, excited and stimulated to move on toward their destiny. Pellegrino, clearly out of breath, follows, ready to take a rest.

In the first sequence at Dominus Flevit, Associated Producers director, and star of the film’s ongoing story, Jacobovici, accompanied by team members Pellegrino and Golubov, enters into a well-lit chamber with numerous bones and ossuaries.

We follow Jacobovici as he surveys the cave. Within there are numerous ossuaries, some with lids and some without, and tomb shafts full of bones, (could these be those of the Ebionites who suffered and gave their lives two thousand years ago?) After he ascends into a mysterious dark hole and corridor at the back of the cave (or so the audience is led to believe), he beckons Felix to bring him a flashlight. With the light of the first chamber at his back, Jacobovici descends into yet another chamber of similar size and contents, where the “Simon bar Jonah” sequence begins.

Jacobovici continues his search in the chamber . . . .

Simcha: Okay, you’re not going to believe this.

Felix: What?

Simcha: You’re not going to believe it. I’m imagining it. Can you see?

Felix: Now I see.

Simcha: It’s a … it’s a symbol. A symbol from the tomb on an ossuary.

Felix: This is incredible because the angle, and the thing is identical and the dot inside.

Simcha: Identical. And the dot is deliberately inside. The inverted V with the dot in the middle, the symbol from our tomb right on an ossuary from what is suspected an early cemetery of the followers of Jesus.

However another picture emerged when another investigative team arrived at this tomb in May.

More to come . . . .



The Tale of Three Stories

The film “The Lost Tomb of Jesus” is made up of three stories which are intertwined like the strands of a rope, each one intended to lend support to the others.

The first is the story of the investigative reporter, Simcha Jacobovici, and his team. It is their work which leads to the discovery of the tomb and to the deciphering of its contents. Once hidden, the "true" tomb is now revealed for all to see.

The second story is essentially a new "Gospel," built, in part, upon the New Testament gospels (though, greatly scrutinized and reduced) but merged with legendary morsels derived from apocryphal gospels. These apocryphal gospels, written centuries after the events they depict, were acknowledged to be fictitious stories when they were written. Finally, this already fictionalized story is supplemented by the filmmakers with modern story elements such as the idea of a married Jesus who also has children.

The third story is that of the experts—the scientists, statisticians, archaeologists and epigraphers whose testimonies become the pillars of wisdom which appear to support the investigators and their new Gospel.

The Story of Simcha Jacobovici, Investigative Reporter and His Team

"Now, the missing piece was provided by Simcha,

and I just want to say right now, Simcha is the real live Indiana Jones of this project."

James Cameron

In the film “The Lost Tomb of Jesus,” one of the goals of the production team story was to find a mysterious tomb with a very special symbol above the door, which they had seen in a photograph. The director Simcha Jacobovici and his crew, after a tremendous preparatory effort, set out to find the tomb, zeroing in on the suspected area with ancient maps and builder's scale models of the development where the tomb was first unearthed. The search narrows down to two concealed tombs in a building development in the East Talpiot suburb of Jerusalem. A major setback arises when the investigative team find the wrong tomb and then set out to “find” the other.

Simcha J: Eh?

Felix G: So what’s next?

Simcha J: We’ve got to find the tomb, the Holy Family tomb.

Felix G: We’ve got to be looking 20 meters south.

Crew: It’s going to be on the other side of this building.

Felix G: Yeah. It’s this way. Where are you going? Where the heck are you going, Simcha? That’s the parking lot.

Simcha J: Shouldn’t be a big deal. South is south.

Twenty meters takes us in the garden.

Twenty meters is not much. We’re okay.


The story of the finding of the tomb was very enlightening and entertaining. The director himself climbs distant walls (with the actual tomb in the foreground of the camera all the time!). They stand at a distance talking to neighbors who point out the actual tomb still in the camera’s foreground. Then they intend to "democratize" the inaccessible tomb for all mankind even if it takes breaking the seal on the modern cement structure which is intended to block the world's access to this "Holy Family Tomb", the true tomb of Jesus. The identity of the tomb was stigmatically confirmed by a stylized "cross"—the "chevron" with an "all seeing eye" peering out from its midst. The director himself helps to push the heavy manhole cover away from its opening and sees the sacred emblem for the first time. And then he gasps at what he sees.

SJ: Oh my goodness. No, this is definitely it. Look, there’s the chevron. It’s beautiful; it’s just gorgeous. It’s red. Look!

Felix G.: Just like in the book.

SJ: Just like in the book. Look at it. Felix, we found it. We actually found it. I’m going in.


The chevron’s legend had evidently preceded the “rediscovery” of the Tomb. The story of the chevron and all of its implications continues to grow, in the film, in the book and on the official web site in our very day!

This was nothing more than a staged reenactment of the investigative reporter's activities. However these are mixed with some fictitious elements. The filmmakers actually knew where the tomb was all along. The tomb had been identified for them by photographs taken of the sealed structures a year earlier. But it provided a great dramatic effect, right? Does this artistically disposed reenactment fall under the covering of being the legitimate artistic license of the filmmakers? And if so, perhaps more importantly, how does the audience feel about this presentation of the story? Does this leave them satisfied with the way that the "facts" have been reported to them?

First of all, the viewer does not realize that this was a reenactment. There is no subtitle that informs them of this. They also do not realize the fictitious elements that have been added to the story. And even if they do, they are not in a position to discern what is fact and what is part of artistic license.

The story continues . . . . .

Investigative Journalism under Investigation.

Posted by admin on September 09, 2007

Investigative Journalism under Investigation.

Investigative Journalism

Investigative journalism is a time-honored tradition that goes back at least as far as the 1880s, when photojournalist Jacob Riis captured the plight of slum dwellers in New York City with an early version of the flash camera. Investigative journalism is designed to call the rich and the powerful to task for transgressions they’d prefer to leave swept under the rug. Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein of the Washington Post on Watergate, Bethany McLean of Fortune on Enron: just two of the scandals broken open by the media, in the spirit of public service.

The Center for Investigative Journalism contains the following in its mission statement:

“Certainly, investigative reporting remains one of our democracy's most important tools for providing citizens with the information they need to hold powerful people, governments and corporations accountable. When conducted with seriousness, fairness and tenacity, investigative reporting motivates policy makers and the public to act, hopefully, for positive social change that benefits everyone."

Investigative Journalism: Context and Practice by Hugo De Burgh; Routledge, 2000: "An investigative journalist is a man or woman whose profession it is to discover the truth and to identify lapses from it in whatever media may be available. The act of doing this generally is called investigative journalism and is distinct from apparently similar work done by police, lawyers, auditors and regulatory bodies in that it is not limited as to target, not legally founded and closely connected to publicity".

A sacred trust indeed.

If only the task of journalism were as simple as finding out the truth and reporting it. In reality, even if he has the facts, a journalist faces constant ethical challenges in reporting them, everything from:

- “How much information should I divulge to someone I’m interviewing?” to:

- “Should I correct his grammar when I quote him?” to:

- “Is this person’s need for privacy outweighed by the public’s need to know this information?”

In addition to questions of ethics, a journalist must make aesthetic decisions every time he sets pen to paper, pulls out a microphone, or points a camera. Obviously he wants to make the truth as interesting and coherent as possible, and so he makes choices: what to tell, what not to tell, and how to present it. In a job where competition is high and mere minutes can determine whether or not you get the scoop, split-second decisions with high consequences are all in a day’s work. Even the most idealistic reporter may make a few mistakes.

As difficult as it is to report “the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth,” this is what journalists strive for and what their audiences expect them to pursue. News organizations safeguard public trust in their integrity by formulating guidelines such as these:

- avoid conflict of interest

- talk to both sides of a controversy

- present information neutrally and in context

- be quick to report mistakes

Here’s what the Canadian Broadcasting Service has to say in its guidelines for investigative journalism:

"This is a particularly sensitive type of journalism, which can have a powerful effect upon the public mind and, consequently, upon the livelihood and well-being of individuals and the viability of public institutions and private enterprises. It therefore calls for heightened skills and the maintenance of strict standards of accuracy. Investigative journalism should not be conducted without adequate resources and the time needed for exhaustive research.”

The “New Journalism”

During the 1960s and 1970s, a technique arose called "The New Journalism" by Tom Wolfe (The New Journalism, an anthology, ed. with E. W. Johnson, 1973). According to this new method, the reporter utilizes the techniques of fiction writers but the facts being reported remain non-fiction. Examples of such writers include Wolfe himself, Norman Mailer, Truman Capote and others, whose publications appeared in high-brow magazines rather than newspapers. This journalism utilizes various literary devices to provide elements of character and atmosphere without introducing details which cannot be supported historically.

Take, for example, Stephen Glass, a very young reporter who wrote brilliantly for The New Republic, until he got caught fabricating details left and right (1998). Now he writes novels. After veteran war reporter John Hersey faced his own temptations to fabricate, he invented this now-famous warning: “There is one sacred rule of journalism. The writer must not invent. The legend on the license must read: NONE OF THIS WAS MADE UP.” Today, scholars such Roy Peter Clark of the Poynter Institute for Media Studies continue to sharpen the line between fact and fiction. Elaborating on the subtle distinction Hersey was trying to make, Clark writes, “If you gather 10 facts but wind up using nine, subjectivity sets in.” The result, he says, is subjective journalism, but journalism nonetheless. However, “When we add a scene that did not occur or a quote that was never uttered, we cross the line into fiction. And we deceive the reader.”

Have the filmmakers of The Lost Tomb of Jesus and the writers of The Jesus Family Tomb crossed the line?

If so where?

(Please feel free to leave your comments below.)

UHL Staff

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Truth, Facts and Investigative Reporting: Finding missing links and connecting the dots

Our survey of a week ago brought forth a number of opinions, both on and off line.

First of all, let's look at the opinion of the proponents of this film.

The form and method according to the filmmakers (source: New York Public Library press conference):

James Cameron:

"Now, the missing piece was provided by Simcha, and I just want to say right now, Simcha is the real live Indiana Jones of this project, and he’s, although he will quite humbly, immediately say that he’s not an archaeologist, he happens to know so much about archaeology and, you know, Biblical history that he can compete with them in a conversation without flagging, for hours on end, and as a documentary filmmaker, he has the instincts of an absolute bloodhound. And when he got wind of the fact that there were these ossuaries with these names, he was able through his research group to find the missing piece of information, which is that Mariamne is, according to certain Christian texts, of the early Christian texts such as the Acts of Phillip and the Gospel of Mary Magdalene, Mariamne is the name of Mary Magdalene. So that’s the missing piece, that’s the Ringo, and that’s what set this whole investigation in motion. Now, every film is a journey, every investigation is a journey, and this journey took us into places we didn’t think it was going to go – and I’ll let Simcha unveil some of the aspects of that."

Simcha Jacobovici: Investigative Journalist.

"So before I turn it over to the experts – because I have to say, again – I’m not going to say I’m not an expert. I’ve seen a lot of internet buzz on this. I am an expert. My expertise is investigative journalism. This is what I do for a living, and it’s a skill set that many of the people in this room share. And what we do as journalists and as filmmakers is connect dots and go to experts. Experts often are experts on one dot or another. Our job, like detectives, is to connect the dots and see what picture emerges. I’m not an archaeologist; I’m not a DNA expert; I’m not a statistician. I’m a filmmaker; I’m an journalist, and on this dais and in this room are some of the world’s experts in archaeology. The finder of the tomb is here. One of the – there were three people that went into the tomb in 1980. One has passed away. There’s two left: one is in Israel, and one is on this stage: Professor Shimon Gibson. We have Professor Tabor here, who is the chairman of department at North Carolina in New Testament studies. He is an expert. We have Professor Feuerverger, who is professor of mathematics and statistics, and an expert on probability. We have Charles Pellegrino, who – I’ll tell you in a second about the unique fingerprinting – patina fingerprinting – that he devised, really (and I think will really push forward the science) together with Dr. Bob Genna, who is the head of a CSI lab right here in Suffolk County, New York. I’ve been really privileged to be able to follow their science, all these people’s science, and then to turn it over to them for questions."

Just reporting facts.

"What I’ll do is I’ll lay out the facts of the case, and then you can follow it up with questions.

"The fact is – and it’s a fact, and we are messengers; we’re reporters. The fact is that there was a tomb discovered in Talpiot, Israel – in Jerusalem – in 1980. That’s a fact. And that was discovered by bulldozers in the course of building, but immediately archaeologists came, and they excavated the tomb, and they published the material in ‘96 in the Atiqot in the Israel Antiquities Authority, an academic journal in Israel, and all the ossuaries, including these two that we will unveil shortly, were found, as archaeologists say, in situ. They’re provenanced. They didn’t come up through the antiquities market. We know where they came from because scientists recorded it. The fact is that six of the ten have inscriptions on them that have been recorded and catalogued. One of them says “Jesus, son of Joseph.” Two Marys, a Matthew, a Joseph – or a specific nickname of Joseph: Jose which, as recorded in Mark, the earliest Gospel, is one of the four brothers of Jesus, and a Judah, son of Jesus. Those inscriptions are facts. They’ve been catalogued, they’ve been written by the greatest epigraphers in the world today: Rahmani, Kloner, who was the original archaeologist (who to this day does not believe that this is the tomb of Jesus of Nazareth, but he will not argue about the nature of the inscriptions). Just to be sure, we went to Harvard to Professor Frank Moore Cross, the legendary professor – and he again, he’s in our film; he’s in the book – he stands by the decipherment of these inscriptions. Those inscriptions are facts."

The filmmakers appear to defining this work as:

1) "Investigative journalism"

2) "reporting the facts" based upon the supportive statements of experts (archaeologists, scientists, statisiticians and epigraphers)

But how does one define Investigative Journalism and what are the limits within that discipline?

More to come . . .

UHL Staff

The Importance of Checking One's Sources

Posted by admin on September 04, 2007

Any student of ancient Jewish literature realizes that the proper evaluation of one's sources is essential to the discipline. The earliest literature outside of the DSS which belong to the Jewish tradition is the Tannaitic literature including the Mishnah, the Tosefta and various halakhic commentaries on the Torah. The student will also tell you that he was taught that the best manuscript for the Mishnah, both textually and orthographically, is by far Kaufman A 50. They would also state that the best manuscript of the Tosefta is the Vienna manuscript. The following is excerpted from my earlier May 12th posting on the subject, referred to in James Tabor's post of yesterday.


In Tal Ilan’s treatment under YWSF, the sole form in the ossuaries is spelled Y(W)SH, on two Jerusalem ossuaries (cf. T. Ilan, Lexicon, p. 152 no. 89 [Ilan rightly corrects this reading]; p.154 no. 118, 133). In the early second century Murabba’at papyri, YWSH, but not YWSY, is found (papMur 46). In most of the Tannaitic manuscripts, YWSY is simply an alternative spelling of YWSH, both pronounced the same. YWSH (pointed Yoseh in vocalized versions) is by far the predominant form of the word in the superior Kaufmann manuscript of the Mishna. Prof. Ilan (p. 157 note 3) infers that YWSH is the Palestinian form of the name since it is found in the Vienna manuscript of the Tosefta in place of YWSY (found in the Erfurt manuscript). Unfortunately, Ilan’s numerous examples of YWSY come primarily from the handy concordances of Kasowski which have been the standard source for scholars up until only very recently. The manuscripts that formed the basis for Kasowski’s concordances of the Mishna, the Tosefta, the Mechilta, the Sifra and the Jerusalem Talmud, are today considered inferior and are currently being replaced by electronic concordances which rely upon better manuscripts (e.g., Accordance Bible software now provides the Kaufmann manuscript of the Mishnah). According to Ilan (p. 159 note 96) YWSH is the predominant form used in Galileen synagogue inscriptions (10x) over against YWSF (1x) (cf. Naveh’s corpus in On Stone and Mosaic, p. 152).

We really don’t have any compelling evidence for the use of YWSY, as opposed to YWSH during the Second Temple Period (or even for some time later). In the case of the Talpiot tomb, YWSH should probably be pronounced “Yoseh” following the contemporary Greek pronunciation of that name (which preserves no examples of “Yosah”).

There are so many holes in the film there is no need to add this one to the list. We can, on the other hand, challenge the assertion of the filmmakers that the name Yoseh is so rare. What comes down to us is in Greek. The Gospel of Mark passage is unique with respect to providing this shortened Greek name for Jesus’ brother. However, in Greek inscriptions, the shortened form “Iose/Ioses” is more popular than “Iosepos”.

The full text is found at:

“Yoseh” or “Yosah”?

The simple fact is that an individual might be called by either name since every individual bears both names, Yosef and Yoseh, depending on the occasion, formal or casual,. Parallel to this is the formal and informal forms of the names Mariam/Maria, Yehoshua'/Yeshua', Matitiyahu/Mattiah, Yehochanan/Choni etc. For more on formal and informal use of names during the Second Temple period see the article, "How do you solve a problem like Maria". Also of interest see:

Preliminary Autopsy of CJO 703 (80.502) and CJO 705 (80.504) Mattiah and Yoseh


Demythologizing the Talpiot Tomb: family unit, group No. 1


A Trip to Beth Shemesh


Nuances of certitude

Posted by admin on September 02, 2007

Splitting some rather significant hairs

In the film The Lost Tomb of Jesus Prof. Frank Moore Cross of Harvard University makes the following statement:

"There’s an X here before the name and then the name Yeshua, then the father’s name is perfectly clear, Je-ho-seph, the 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." (from the official transcripts of the film; for a clip of the statement from the film posted at Pseudoscienze cristiane antiche e medievale, see here).

The final cut and edited version of the film does indeed present Prof. Cross as accepting the reading with some degree of confidence. However, he also stated to the filmmakers that he accepts the reading, but not without difficulties. (In fact the film also provides a statement where he says, pointing to the first name, that this part of the inscription is "quite messy".)

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

His other comments which bore some skepticism were heavily edited or deleted. He now voices his regrets at having made any statement at all for these filmmakers (as does his colleague Prof. Bovon).

One should remember that, in English, the phrase "no real doubt" carries the nuance "no doubt of any serious consequence". In a personal conversation with me, Prof. Cross said that his doubt, in fact, still remains as to which stroke should be considered the yodh at the beginning of the inscription.

In The Catalogue of Jewish Ossuaries, Dr. Rahmani provides dots over the yodh and the shin, meaning he has difficulties with the first two letters. This is why he provided a question mark after the translation. He still stands by this today.

As stated in earlier postings, the issue is not whether any given scholar posits the name Yeshua' or not. Most scholars do accept it as the most likely reading, but have spoken of difficulties in reading the inscription (e.g., Naveh, Puech, Yardeni). These difficulties (including differences in style, tool marks, underlying superfluous lines and crowding of letters) have already been detailed in the View from Jerusalem. At the end of the day, Rahmani's question mark after "Yeshua' (?)" still stands.

In my view, these difficulties do not eliminate "Yeshua' (?)" from the final form of the inscription. However, they do bring into serious question that this name was the original one inscribed on the ossuary. These difficulties would imply that on the central ossuary of this burial cave, the all-important name "Yeshua' (?)" was actually added later over an earlier name.

This evidence then creates significant problems for the assertions of the filmmakers as to the identity of this particular individual in history.


Lost Tomb Story: Science, Fact or Fiction?

Posted by admin on August 31, 2007

After all of the talk, exactly what form of reporting or story telling is the film The Lost Tomb of Jesus and the book The Jesus Family Tomb to be classified with (based upon suggestions made by others)?

a) Investigative Journalism*

b) Truth*

c) Documentary

d) Docudrama

e) Creative Nonfiction

f) Historical Fiction

g) Science Fiction

h) Folk legend

i) Spoof

j) Hoax

– Other (please list)

(* = terms used by the filmmakers themselves)

Please leave your response in the "comments" option below. More than one option may be true.

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Yeshua‘ (?) and the Cross on Ossuary CJO 704




In the Catalogue of Jewish Ossuaries Rahmani states simply concerning CJO 704: "The first name, preceded by a large cross-mark, is difficult to read . . . ." There is no hint of understanding that this mark had any religious symbolism whatsoever. (The cross-mark appears in the upper right in the figure above)

However, in the film "The Lost Tomb of Jesus", the cross takes on quite a symbolic role. Although the filmmakers make an effort to disconnect the symbol from the crucifixion, it nonetheless provides, in their interpretation, the symbol for an early religious act of "sealing" of the followers of Jesus.

James Tabor states:

"In the Bible, Ezekiel, there’s a place where God says go to the city and put, like we would say, an X or a cross on the forehead of all the righteous people. Before this is a cross, people are doing X's or crosses, but they’re not thinking of Jesus - the cross at all. What they’re thinking of is it’s the end. The idea of finalizing, right? Stamped, sealed, delivered. And it took on an apocalyptic meaning then. The last letter means that you’re sealed up, that you’re finished, that you’re okay, that you’re waiting maybe for the resurrection. You, know, let’s mark the people that are prepared with the X or the tav."

The film then depicts disciples being marked with a cross on their foreheads. The cross is shown glowing on the ossuary, next to the name "Yeshua' (?)".

The narrator states:

"In the book of Revelation, Jesus declares, 'I am the Alpha and Omega, the first and the last, the beginning and the end.' Alpha and omega are the first and the last letters in the Greek alphabet. Jesus would have declared, 'I am the Aleph and the Taw', as he spoke in Aramaic. And in his time, the symbol 'taw' in Aramaic was drawn as a cross."

The film's in-house expert, Charles Pellegrino, asserts concerning the connection of the "X" with the inscriptions:

"That cross is absolutely part of the original inscription. It’s the same depth and style of the inscription plus the mineral vaporization clearly going deep into all the letters."

However, upon closer examination, point for point, this statement appears to be nothing more than amateurish nonsense.

1. The width, depth and scoring marks within each stroke are clearly different from those of any of the lines of the inscription. In fact, it is not even clear that the two strokes of the X were made by the same tool (or any tool for that matter). It is questionable whether these lines are anything more than accidental scratches.

2. Pellegrino's pointing to the "mineral vaporization" (according to actual professionals who work in the area, the use of this term, as it is used here, is nothing more than "pseudo-professional jargon", a stilted and inappropriate substitution for the normal word "patina") doesn't help his argument, since virtually all scratches on this ossuary—at least 100 in count—have patina deep within them.





On the left: "Yeshua‘ (?)"; on the right the "cross-sign"

Still more ossuaries inscribed with "Jesus", more from Talpiot, more with crosses

There are at least five more ossuaries which bear the name "Jesus", not in Hebrew but in Greek. There are at least three other examples(CJO 56, 113 and 114) of the name "Jesus" on ossuaries with cross-marks. In fact, two of these (CJO 113 and 114) were found in a single tomb in Talpiot (but in 1946). Moreover, these same two appear in the film sitting on the table in the examination room at Beth Shemesh with the other ossuaries (one is labeled "46.173" and the other, 46.174 is inscribed with carbon crosses). We are surprised that there is no mention of these ossuaries in the film or the book.


One of these, CJO 56 bears an "A"(alpha) with the cross-mark. The filmmakers could have better used this ossuary to bolster their story, as they stated: "In the book of Revelation, Jesus declares, 'I am the Alpha and Omega, the first and the last, the beginning and the end.' Alpha and omega are the first and the last letters in the Greek alphabet. Jesus would have declared, 'I am the Aleph and the Taw', as he spoke in Aramaic. And in his time, the symbol 'taw' was drawn as a cross." It is almost as though the narrator was referring to this ossuary and not to the one in the other tomb.

Also, the name IOSHS (Joseh), just as it is spelled in the New Testament, appears on this same ossuary CJO 56 along with the name "Jesus". Remember, Joseh was the name of one of Jesus' brothers! "Could this come from the tomb of Jesus family?" (Too bad that a certain Popelia is mentioned as part of the family as well!) This question has been asked many times before concerning this and the other ossuaries. The multiple and frequent occurrences of these names and symbols merely underscores the relative abundance of these names.

Crosses and X's galore

The cross and the X were used interchangeably as a mark on ossuaries. Also these marks were, by far, the most common found on the ossuaries. Of the 895 ossuaries in the Catalogue of Jewish Ossuaries, Rahmani presents drawings of at least 46 with cross-marks. Twenty-six of those were found in pairs with the cross appearing on both the lid and the edge of the stone boxes. In these cases, their function was to indicate the direction that the lid was to be placed during the reinterment ceremony. In all of these cases, the marks were apparently functional with no symbolic or religious significance implied at all.