Tuesday, March 6, 2007

"Lost Tomb of Jesus" fraud tied to Essene toilet claim

Breaking news: Same group behind phony "Jesus crypt" claim and so-called "Essene toilet" find. Group may also be linked to biased Dead Sea Scrolls exhibits that public is paying millions of dollars to see.

A recent press blitz has surrounded the March 4, 2007, Discovery Channel showing of James Cameron's "documentary" on the claim that a crypt found in Jerusalem contains the ossuaries of Jesus, his wife and other purported members of his family.

The name "Jesus" is in fact not legible on the ossuary described in the film as being that of "Jesus, son of Joseph" -- for details, click here.

A debate (moderated by Ted Koppel) on the Jesus-crypt claim immediately followed the Cameron film. Defending the claim were Simcha Jacobovici, the film's producer, and Professor James Tabor, Chair of the Department of Religious Studies at the University of North Carolina at Charlotte, the same figure who is part of the "Essene-latrine" duo featured in recent news items. We remind readers that the Essene toilet "evidence" has been debunked by various scholars (cf., for example, K. Galor and J. Zangenberg at http://www.forward.com/articles/led-astray-by-a-dead-sea-latrine/, or the most recent article by N. Golb on the Oriental Institute website, http://oi.uchicago.edu/research/projects/scr/).

What readers may not know, however, is that Tabor also appears to have been a key supporter of the current spate of biased Dead Sea Scrolls exhibits touring the country. The first major exhibit in this series was held precisely in Tabor's hometown, Charlotte; Tabor was featured in news articles and television interviews publicizing the event and, naturally, he gave the concluding talk (entitled "The Messiahs of the Dead Sea Scrolls: Understanding the Religious World of Jesus") in the lecture program accompanying the exhibit.

Although it is unknown whether or to what extent Tabor was involved in the drafting of the explanatory material in the exhibit (which was prepared in partnership with the Pacific Science Center), it appears likely that he played at least an advisory role, and therefore shares responsibility for the false and misleading claims made in it -- claims that the public has now been hoodwinked into accepting as "scientific facts" in each of the new exhibits being presented in cities across the country from Seattle and San Diego to Kansas City and Fort Lauterdale. For further details, click here.

By the same token, the question must be asked whether Tabor is in any way responsible for the policy of bias and exclusion adopted by an entire array of the nation's most prestigious "science centers" in direct violation of the American Association of Museums' policy of transparency. Each of the new exhibits is essentially a reproduction of the one presented in Charlotte, and so the suspicion naturally arises that the entire process may result from a series of contractual arrangements, and that Tabor and other associated figures may be profiting financially from this nationwide "scientific" scam.

Misleading DNA claims

Numerous scholars have now exposed the claim featured in "The Lost Tomb of Jesus" as a sham based on shoddy research that fails to meet elementary scientific criteria. The name "Jesus" was a common name in the first century and has been found in over 70 crypts to date. But the most damning piece of evidence against the claim was revealed in the New York Times article of February 27 (reprinted on many websites).

The article states (we put the crucial words in bold):

the documentary's director and its driving force, Simcha Jacobovici ... said there was enough mitochondrial DNA for a laboratory in Ontario to conclude that the bodies in the "Jesus" and "Mary Magdalene" ossuaries were not related on their mothers' side. From this, Mr. Jacobovici deduced that they were a couple, because otherwise they would not have been buried together in a family tomb. In an interview, Mr. Jacobovici was asked why the filmmakers did not conduct DNA testing on the other ossuaries to determine whether the one inscribed Judah, son of Jesus was genetically related to either the Jesus or Mary Magdalene boxes; or whether the Jesus remains were actually the offspring of Mary. "Were not scientists. At the end of the day we can't wait till every ossuary is tested for DNA," he said. "We took the story that far. At some point you have to say, I've done my job as a journalist."
In the televised debate, Mr. Koppel pressed Jacobovici on the same point and received the same response. But the response is manifestly disingenuous. The question, in fact, necessarily arises whether the team or one of its members decided not to proceed with any further DNA tests. Such tests may have revealed that none of the ossuaries are related -- hence defeating the underlying presupposition that the crypt was in fact a "family tomb", and thereby eliminating any valid basis at all for producing and showing the film. Mr. Jacobovici's response can hardly fool anyone with a thinking head on his shoulders.

Does the reader have a vague feeling that he's seen something like this before? Well, he has! Similarly "discontinued" DNA claims were made around ten years ago by none other than Tabor's partner in the widely publicized "Essene-toilet" scam. For details, see the Golb article referred to above, where two cases of purported DNA "evidence" relating to Qumran figure in a series of improper evidentiary abuses engaged in over the past decade by traditional Qumranologists to support their collapsing "Qumran-Essene" theory.

Naturally, the nation's newspapers imbibe and disseminate these fraudulent claims with steadfast enthusiasm -- after all, "journalists are not scientists" and if newspapers can make money by offering a platform for charlatanry, so much the better for them, not so?

What is highly worrisome, however, is that the same shoddy research methods are at the core of an entire series of major museum exhibits, and that the group of scholars who have exposed this widening scam -- including some of the world's most prestigious archaeologists and historians of antiquity -- are precisely the ones who have been carefully excluded from the recommended reading lists and lecture series accompanying most of these exhibits. Since when has it become the policy of American museums to abdicate their scientific and educational responsibility in favor of an outrageous campaign of misinformation and one-sided, pseudo-scientific indoctrination?