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.
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.”
(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.