Sunday, April 15, 2007

Media Misses again, No "Jesus Tomb"

As you recall, there was a bunch of news and hype during lent about things controversial to the Faith. Every year it seems to happen, this year it was a chocolate Jesus and the family tomb. There has been this and that about various gnostic ideas, the gospel of Judas being an example, also last year I seem to remember something about the Gospel of Mary Magdalen.

These come up all the time, and I tend to ignore them, though they can be interesting in some ways. The thing is, whenever any of this comes up, the media is all over it, and it gets plenty of free publicity because of the controversy. I claim that this is moderately unique to Christian controversy, and that you probably couldn't get away with attacking the core tenants of Islam or Judaism in the same way.

The most recent one was the so called Lost Tomb of Jesus. In this film, a set of ossuaries was found that claim to be Jesus, Mary, Mary Magdalen, James (the brother of Jesus), etc. These claims are backed up by supposed "experts" who claim that the statistical likelihood of finding such a family is extremely low. A recent article has came out, stating that many of the statements from the film are being retracted.

The most astounding revision is that of University of Toronto statistician Andrey Feuerverger, who provided statements that supported the central point of the film.

Feuerverger stated in the film that the odds are 600 to one in favor of the tomb being the family burial cave of Jesus of Nazareth. He now says these figures referred to the probability of a cluster of such names appearing together. ...

The scholars’ revised statements are recorded in the 16-page paper titled "Cracks in the Foundation: How the Lost Tomb of Jesus story is losing its scholarly support". It was compiled by epigrapher Stephen Pfann of the University of the Holy Land in Jerusalem.

I find it terribly unsurprising that after all the run up in the newses about the story before it was played, we hear nothing now that it is done and gone. All too typical.

Israeli archeologists did say, at the time that the documentary was released, that the similarity of the names found inscribed on the ossuaries in the cave to the members of Jesus's family was coincidental, since many of those names were commonplace in the first century CE.

Shimon Gibson, who was on the team that excavated the tomb and also appeared in the film, is quoted in Pfann's report as saying that much more evidence is needed before the tomb can be considered the family tomb of Jesus.

"Personally, I'm skeptical that this is the tomb of Jesus and I made this point very clear to the filmmakers," Gibson is quoted as saying.

In the film, renowned epigrapher Frank Moore Cross, professor emeritus of Hebrew and oriental languages at Harvard University, is shown reading one of the ossuaries and stating that he has "no real doubt" that it reads "Jesus son of Joseph."

But Cross told Pfann in e-mail that he was skeptical about the film's claims because of the ubiquity of Biblical names in that period in Jerusalem.

"It has been reckoned that 25 percent of feminine names in this period were Maria/Miriam, etc. - that is, variants of 'Mary.' So the cited statistics are unpersuasive," Cross is quoted as saying.

Pfann’s paper also includes statements from DNA scientist Dr. Carney Matheson, who supervised the DNA tests carried out for the film from the supposed Jesus and Mary Magdalene ossuaries.

In the documentary, Matheson said: "These two individuals, if they were unrelated, would most likely be husband and wife." He later said: "The only conclusions we made were that these two sets were not maternally related. To me, it sounds like absolutely nothing."

Francois Bovon is a specialist in ancient apocryphal text who said in the film that the ossuary inscription "Mariamne" is the same woman known as Mary Magdalene. Pfann says Bovon later issued a disclaimer stating he did not believe that "Mariamne" stood for Mary Magdalene at all.

It is interesting, and telling, really, about the filmmaker, James Cameron. I saw another show of his, on the Exodus, and the scholarship was shotty at best. There was a sort of "This could explain something, so it must have been what happened" mentality. I sense the same from the Lost Tomb of Jesus. All of these statements are being retracted, probably because they were coerced, or misconstrued, or something like that, and people just nor are realizing that they are all bogus. My guess is that some of this will be found forgered or something like that, like the ossuary of "James, Son of Joseph, Brother of Jesus" a while back.

Wishful thinking does not make real science. You can't pick and choose a couple of favorable opinions and turn them into a piece of scholarly work. I wish this would hear more widespread coverage. The media always jumps on the controversy bandwagon, and you almost never hear the debunking. Sad.


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