In a blog appearing on Times of Israel several days ago, Jesus tomb finds dramatic support, Simcha Jacobovici, following a long historical tradition of duplicity in the desperate Search for the Historical Jesus “research, overdramatized “evidence” periodically appears purporting to finally “prove” that the religious figure, Jesus, once did walk the earth. The claims, clearly exaggerated and entirely unverifiable (Jacobovici’s asserted evidence sits underneath an apartment building whose tenants and owners are unlikely to agree to demolish in order for the claim to be disproved!) inspired my response to the article which appears below.
Mine, and several other responders expressed doubts regarding what appear exaggerated claims, and another member of the archaeological team Prof. James Daniel Tabor, Chairman at the University at North Carolina at Charlotte, joined the fray. The result, I feel, was a productive exchange which I open with my original criticism of the Jacobovici article:
DT: “Not wishing to impugn the reputation and contributions of Fr. Peuch to First Century archaeology revolving around the origins of Christianity, if memory serves the "cross" was only adopted as symbol by the Church in the Fourth Century. If so, then whatever the symbol found on the ossuary, even if that of a crucifix, would still have other possible, even more likely explanation since it was Rome''s chosen execution method for dealing with Jewish resistors of Rome. And since it is not possible, or at least has not yet been done, to date the observable materials that despite the coincidence of the entire family appearing in the tomb it might even have been a "plant" of Constantine''s mother, Helena, who "found and identified," three hundred years after the fact the nails and pieces of the cross of Jesus.
“I can understand the excitement the author feels regarding these finds. But Fr. Peuch is not exactly an "outside" expert. Neither are the other theologians and archaeologists referred to. Then there is the small matter of the absence of so important an historical figure of the First Century as Jesus appearing nowhere in the historical record; the fact that many of the most notable Christian scholars have spent more than two-hundred years in a fruitless search for evidence that Jesus had a human form. The Search for the Historical Jesus continues, and several of the scholars mentioned in the article are prominent in the quest.
“Jesus may or not have been as described by Paul (the gospels are far less reputable) or he may, as I suspect, be a composite of despairing people seeking some form of solace as the war was clearly moving towards disaster. Whatever the truth it serves little to raise expectations and declare "victory" on what is, at best flimsy evidence.”
Tabor: “Just to be clear here. The results of our camera exploration of the sealed Talpiot tomb with this amazing technology using the robotic arm were properly published in an academic forum and reported to the Israel Antiquities Authority. That report is now archived on-line and available to anyone: http://bibleinterp.com/articles/tab368028.shtml. This was followed by a full month of academic discussion on the peer reviewed academic blog of the American Schools of Oriental Research, the preeminent archaeological association in the field. This was all six weeks before the Simcha Jacobovici''s film came out. The film itself is a first rate documentation of our exploration. If others disagree with our conclusions that is fine and proper. That is what academic discussion is all about. Several of the comments and objections here are by individuals who have not read or kept up with even the most basic research, pro and con (why Jesus was buried in Jerusalem not Nazareth, the original resurrection faith of the early followers of Jesus, the cross as a Christian symbol long before the 4th century, etc.). All of these points have been fully addressed. There is a full and balanced archive at http://bibleinterp.com/articles/Talpoit_Articles.shtml. That Prof. Peuch has now spoken in favor of the "Jonah" interpretation is certainly a step forward given his stature as an epigrapher. Previously Prof. Rachel Hachlili, one of the most preeminent experts on Jewish tombs of the period, has also concluded the same. The only two academic papers so far published on the subject, other than my own, have also agreed that the image is one of "Jonah" and reflects an early Judaeo-Christian view of faith in Jesus'' resurrection.”
DT: “Since you note my questioning the claim of the "cross," a symbol I believe not even associated with Christianity before the Fourth Century, appearing in this article as somehow confirming the author''s conclusions, I return to my central doubts and questions: 1. there is no way to even date the materials under discussion in a manner that would confirm the claims being made as "First Century;" ; 2. There is no way to verify if the vessels contain remains by the instrument described and certainly not to compare the remains by DNA if available as what they purport to be, a Jesus, Mary, etc (I suggested Constantine''s mother, "discoverer" of artifacts claimed from the very cross upon Jesus was supposedly crucified as as credible an explanation, and equally unverifiable until that building comes down); 3. But most significantly my own question regarding the issue of Jesus'' historicity: why no direct (other than the claims made in this article) that Jesus ever lived? We have documentary and archaeological evidence for far less prominent persons of the First Century, including several other messianic claimants, or proclaimants. And why the failure of more than two centuries of the scholarly Search for the Historical Jesus to produce anything more credible than that described in this article?
“Dr. Tabor, this is not about you nor Fr. Peuch or any other scholar named above. It is about the criteria of what constitutes "evidence" in the Jesus Search. For centuries the gospels were believed "evidence," Josephus Testimonium, an obvious insert, possibly the creation of a later transcriber to provide something concrete to "prove" Jesus conformed to gospel claims, and did walk the earth. Even Augustine sought to provide "evidence" that, “By their own Scriptures [Jewish survival is] a testimony to us that we have not forged the prophecies about Christ.” This, likely, a response to Paul''s doubters in Corinthians!
“Christianity is on firm ground so long as it rests on faith. Clearly Paul''s encounter with Jesus as mere vision does not serve as "proof," and this lack of material evidence has driven two-thousand years of insecurity. But if Helena with her artifacts and Augustine with his proof of Jewish survival as "evidence" regarding his concern of scriptural "forgeries" was insufficient, how a "tomb" with apparently illegible carvings serve?”
Tabor: “Thanks David, but neither I nor hardly any scholar I know of who works in Christian Origins questions the existence of Jesus as an historical figure. All the relevant issues, pro and con, have been discussed in the greatest of detail in books, articles, and blogs. I don''t intend to take this up and consider it a complete waste of time. One really intelligent response to this is Joseph Hoffmann, see for example, http://rjosephhoffmann.wordpress.com/2013/02/08/the-passion-of-the-christ-deniers/ “
DT: “Your response, I believe, recognizes my doubts "nuanced," rather than dogmatic. In my JPost blog, Antisemitism and Jewish Survival, I have raised the question of Jesus earthly existence not as an attack on your religion but as that which I refer to as Christian Insecurity has impacted Jewish survival for two millennia. Corinthians certainly raises the question. And even Augustine''s "City" falls back on the "weak" explanation for God providing for Jewish survival as "by their own Scriptures a testimony to us that we have not forged the prophecies." And today also Christian scholars post-Holocaust have far more directly raised doubts regarding Christian origins, the narrative of Paul, the obvious legendary character of the gospels. From New Advents, Canon of the New Testament:
“All of the original copies of the gospels were lost. What we have now are handwritten copies, which are an unknown number of replications removed from the originals.”
“But of course you are already aware of the facts of Christian origins. I merely wish to point out that the issue, the problem for Christian theology was and continues the absence of non-Christian sources of a historical Jesus. As a scholar of the period certainly you are open to all possibility?