What do Jonah and the Whale have to do with where Jesus was buried and a trip to Rome? Cross-examination on Sunday in the defamation lawsuit of filmmaker-journalist Simcha Jacobovici against Joe Zias, a former Antiquities Authority official, went to the heart of these issues.
Jacobovici’s suit, which began in 2011, proceeded in court on Sunday, and harsh allegations were once again hurled at Zias, who according to Jacobovici defamed him by initiating a broad-based campaign to directly sabotage lucrative contracts he had already signed and was executing.
In 2007, Jacobovici’s documentary The Lost Tomb of Jesus was aired with the conclusion that, based on archeological finds dating back to 1980, Jesus had been buried and had a tomb.
In Jacobovici’s 2012 film The Jesus Discovery, also known as The Resurrection Tomb Mystery, Jacobovici implied that the tomb was on the estate of Joseph of Arimathea, who according to the New Testament was a member of the Sanhedrin who claimed Jesus’s body after he was crucified.
Jacobovici also claimed that a second nearby tomb contained a symbol relating to Jonah and the Whale, which, if true, could date that tomb and possibly become the earliest tomb associated with Christianity.
Such evidence could strengthen a variety of Jacobovici’s conclusions, including that there was significant evidence that Jesus had been married to Mary Magdalene and had children, all of whom were buried together in the Talpiot neighborhood of Jerusalem.
The conclusions struck at many of the core beliefs of the largest sects of Christianity, according to which Jesus was resurrected, never married and had no children. The theories were not new, but Jacobovici’s films were some of the largest stages the ideas had been given, and were extensively covered by international media.
A vast majority of academics said that the films’ conclusions were flawed, but a small minority strongly defend Jacobovici’s conclusions.
In October 2011, Jacobovici filed a defamation suit against Zias, his harshest critic, claiming damage of NIS 8.57 million and demanding NIS 3.5m.
The case was brought before Lod District Court Judge Jacob Shienman.
The filmmaker claims that while others have disparaged his ideas in a reasonable manner, Zias went beyond legitimate debate and defamed him to sabotage his contracts.
Zias’s “tip-off” about some of Jacobovici’s alleged conspiracies came from Joanna Garrett, a woman who was originally a supporter of Jacobovici’s theories, but who then fell out with him.
Jacobovici said that Zias contacted his broadcaster, National Geographic, his publisher, Simon & Schuster, as well as others, and defamed him with a wide array of false accusations, such as elaborate forgery, paying off people, and manipulating people and events to try to build his credibility.
That is where the trip to Rome comes in.
Vanderbilt Prof. Robin Jensen, an expert in early Christian art and one of several panelists for National Geographic to evaluate the veracity of Jacobovici’s 2012 film, is featured in that film commenting on the symbol of Jonah and the Whale, implying it could be unique as it could be two hundred years older than any other earlier finding of similar Jonah symbols.
However, Jensen has since repudiated that she agreed with Jacobovici’s theories that the symbol depicts Jonah and the Whale and claimed that she was in Rome to review symbols in Rome, not to opine on symbols in Jerusalem for which she felt unqualified.
Jensen portrayed her interview in the film while in Rome as sprung on her with little preparation.
Based on public attacks she has made, Jacobovici has sued her in a separate defamation case in the US, for which she has filed a motion to dismiss that has not yet been ruled on.
Sunday’s testimony focused on Jacobovici’s attack on Zias – that Zias passed on unsubstantiated rumors from Garrett to Jensen, which changed Jensen’s mind and that of the other National Geographic panelists sufficiently to lead to National Geographic not airing the film and Jacobovici moving the film to the Discovery Channel.
Jacobovici’s lawyer bore down on Zias for claiming to have lost certain emails between himself and Jensen that he claimed could have helped show Zias’s allegedly damaging interference.
Zias said his email account was hacked multiple times, that the attack was a sideshow and that the whole panel, who could think for themselves, had rejected Jacobovici’s film, not just Jensen, who was the only panelist he was directly in touch with.
Still, Jacobovici’s lawyer focused on a preserved email in which he implied that Jensen told Zias she had passed on Zias’s allegations to the other panelists, which impliedly turned them against Jacobovici.
During a break, Zias alleged that National Geographic gave Jacobovici a chance to air his film – cut from two hours to one – and with a disclaimer about the film’s veracity, while Jacobovici said “that’s not what happened.”sign up to our newsletter