Have you ever tried to imagine what people from Biblical times looked like? Emmy
award winning filmmaker Simcha Jacobovici thinks he may have an answer, or at
least some educated guesses.
Lost Faces of the Bible, a four-part series
on the National Geographic channel, follows forensic and facial reconstruction
experts as they analyze four ancient skulls from the Land of Israel and create a
face to match them based on information they gather from the find, such as its
gender, age and health defects. Professor Israel Hershkovitz from the Department
of Anatomy and Anthropology at Tel Aviv University’s Sackler Medical School
conducts a CAT scan on the skull in each episode, after which Victoria Lywood, a
forensic artist based in Montreal, creates an extremely realistic looking face,
including the hair, skin and even wrinkles. Simultaneously, another expert
creates a three-dimensional printing of a replica of the skull to compare to
The Israeli-Canadian Jacobovici, a journalist by training who
calls himself an investigative archeologist, makes documentary films dealing
with archeological finds surrounding Jesus and the Land of Israel. Since 2005 he
has hosted the series The Naked Archaeologist, in which he discusses Biblical
stories and looks for evidence they occurred by exploring the Holy Land’s
archeological finds and interviewing scholars. It airs on Canada’s VisionTV,
History International in the US and just started airing in
Jacobovici, an Orthodox Jew born in Petah Tikvah, lives in the
In the new project, Jacobovici says conducting a CAT scan
on the skulls allows the academics and artists to avoid doing work on the actual
skull – a point of controversy for ultra-Orthodox Jews in Israel. Through facial
reconstruction, Hershkovitz avoids any manipulation of bones, and Jacobovici
says it’s a common practice for archeologists the world over, except for in
“It’s a first,” says Jacobovici, whose controversial 2007
documentary The Lost Tomb of Jesus claimed that Jesus and his family were buried
under an apartment building in Jerusalem’s Talpiyot neighborhood. “No one’s ever
done it in Israel.”
However, some academics take issue with this
assertion, Jacobovici’s use of facial reconstruction as a legitimate method in
archeology and his films in general.
Joe Zias, a retired physical
anthropologist and former archeological museum curator for the Antiquities
Authority, claims he conducted the first facial reconstruction – which recreated
a face to resemble a man who lived at the time of Jesus – for a BBC documentary
in 1981 with Hershkovitz.
But he says he’ll never do one again because of
how inaccurate it was.
“It’s on par with astrology and palm reading,”
says Zias in an interview in his Jerusalem apartment. “It’s not likely the
reconstruction will resemble the real person… It’s totally, totally
This isn’t the first time Zias has taken issue with
Jacobovici, whose films and television series he calls pseudo-archeology and
purport false claims. Jacobovici sued Zias for defamation in 2010, as he
publicly attacked his film project on the James Ossuary. Zias also went to the
police over the film. The $2.5 million lawsuit against Zias in Israel is still
ongoing with a hearing coming up in July in Petah Tikvah.
National Geographic dropped a Jacobovici project about the early Christian relic
because Zias and others expressed concerns to the network. However, The Jesus
Discovery, which argues that an ossuary found in a tomb underneath a Jerusalem
apartment building is the earliest known example of an object bearing a
Christian symbol referring to the resurrection, eventually aired in 2012 on the
Zias sees the suit as an attempt by Jacobovici to
blame him for all criticism he has received for his projects. “They decided they
needed to shut someone up and I became the one they wanted to shut up,” he
Jacobovici’s new show, which claims to present “myth-busting
archeology,” reconstructs the face of a Philistine woman who lived at the time
of Delilah, a man whose skull was found in the Galilee and could be dated to the
time of Jesus via Carbon-14 dating, a baby found in an ancient Canaanite jar,
and a 6,000-year-old man whose Pre- Canaanite remains were found in a desert
cave. When the skull is given a Biblical “hook,” linking it to a figure it may
resemble, Jacobovici says it allows the viewer to connect to a familiar name,
but he is not claiming the skull belongs to that figure.
storytelling,” he says. “I can’t prove it. I don’t have Jesus’s diary. But it’s
a reasonable stretch. We don’t make anything more of it than he lived at the
same time in the same place and therefore might very well have come into contact
David Berman, an actor on CSI: Crime Scene Investigation,
hosts the series, which was four years in the making, according to Jacobovici,
who says he does not see anything controversial in the project, as facial
reconstruction is an accepted method done by police and forensic scientists the
In this case, he says, it restores the humanity to millennia
“You look at a skull and
it’s an artifact.
You look at a face and it’s a human being,” he
explains. “By resurrecting them so to speak, by seeing their face, this is a
face that somebody loved. It probably had children.
Somebody cared about
It’s nothing scientific. By seeing a face we open a whole
world, a whole audience to seeing these faces.”
Archeologists conducted a
CT scan and utilized facial reconstruction recently on the remains of Richard
III, whose skeleton was found in a parking lot in Leicester. Zias dismisses this
as show business.
“That’s Hollywood is what it is,” he says.
men accuse the other of stifling academic debate, with Jacobovici arguing that
Zias is a serial defamer of credible academics and Zias countering that
Jacobovici pays academics for their participation in his projects, but forces
them to sign nondisclosure agreements. He says Jacobovici offered him “a large
sum of money” to be interviewed in the James Ossuary film, but the interview was
dependent on his signing the form and not talking to anybody.
ways of muzzling people,” Zias says, adding that those who agree with him are
too intimidated by Jacobovici to come forward with their concerns. “It goes
against the whole ethics of what you do.”
But Jacobovici says he just
wants a true academic debate about his work without personal attacks.
can disagree with everything that I do. He has a right to and I frankly don’t
care,” he says. “The law suit is about certain charges that he made which were
libelous, and democracy ends where libel begins.”
He says most tips he
receives that inspire his projects come from scholars who wish not to be on
camera. “I have to persuade people,” he says. “The minute you lose your
anonymity you become an object of criticism and a lot of people don’t want
Hershkovitz did not respond to multiple requests for
What’s next for the naked archeologist? A four-part series on
archeological mysteries, he says, will come out next year.