Defending the Theistic View

Simcha Jacabovici

I’m Moving my Blog!

Actually, I am transfering to two separate blogs with two different themes.

For posts on Biblical history, I will he posting here:

As for posts debunking the “Jesus Myth,” I’ll be posting here:

Well, see you there.


Jesus’ lost Talpiot tomb — Part 2

In my previous blog post on Jesus’ Lost Talpiot Tomb I start giving  my reasons for not believing the claim that the Talpiot tomb discovered in 1980 in Jerusalem is the family tomb of Jesus. I remark that according to Judean custom, people from outside Judea that died and were buried in said area were refered to by their places of origin. Hence Jesus’ ossury should therefore say “Jesus of Nazareth son of Joseph” in stead of simply “Jesus son of Joseph.” 

Now I will go into another key point which is presented in the Lost Tomb of Jesus. It is another ossuary with a name written in Greek. The Lost Tomb of Jesus then idententifies the name as “Mariamne,” a form of Mary. But there was another “Mary” found in the tomb with the incription “Maria.” The question then becomes: “Did Jesus have two women in his life named Mary?”

The answer, according to the documentary is “yes.” — That is to say that “Maria” is Jesus’ mother and that “Mariamne” is in fact Mary Magdalene. Simcha Jacabovici takes an interest in this and virtually comes to Ban Brown/DaVinci Code conclusion by assuming that Jesus and Mariamne (a.k.a. Mary Magdalene) were married.

To support the idea that they were married Jacabovici had samples of the human remains taken to Lakehead University’s Paleo-DNA Laboratory for Mitochondrial DNA (mtDNA) testing. The results showed that the two were not maternally related and that their being husband and wife could not be ruled out. — Of course the documentary crew jumped at this and presented it as proof that Jesus and Mariamne (i.e., Mary Magdalene) were indeed married.

Here is were the problem comes in: Mitochondrial DNA testing is only to show if two people are maternally related. This by no means shows that they were married because there are several ways that a man and a woman may be related without having the same mother. For example, they could have been half-brother and sister with the same father, or Mariamne could have been his grandmother on his father’s side. 

But even Matheson doesn’t believe this shows they were married because a March 2, 2007 entry on the Scientific American blog reveals that he said, “The only conclusions we made were that two sets were not maternally related. To me it sounds like absolutely nothing.” — At this point, it seems like any attempt to argue that these two were married is futile. A New York Times article reveals Jacabovici’s real basis for assuming that they were married:

[Jacabovici] 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.

Of course, as if two people had to have the same mother to buried in the same family tomb. I guess the Jewish attitude would have been “If we don’t share the same mother, Adios! You’re not getting buried here.” Imagine the number of Jewish families this would have torn apart. So his conclusion is basically a baseless over-generalization.

Another weakness with this is that Jocabovici didn’t even further test his hypothesis especially since it would have been very possible for him to do it. — That is because another ossuary from the tomb is inscribed as “Judah son of Jesus.”

Since this was a family tomb, there is no doubt that this Jesus and Judah were father and son. So therefore if Jesus and Mariamne were indeed married then mtDNA from Judah would have been able to confirm the hypothesis. And yet this didn’t happen. The New York Times further reported that:

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.

“We’re 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.’ ”

Science writer Carl Zimmer, on his science blog, criticized Jacabovici’s attitude on this

It’s up to him to make sure that the DNA has not been contaminated by archaeologists It’s up to him to pass the judgment of scientific experts in the field. And at the very least, it’s up to him to test all the remains–including the ones that supposedly belonged to the son of Jesus. To step back suddenly and say, “I’ve done my job as a journalist” is utterly absurd.

So, now at this point, it has become clear that Jacabovici was to sloppy in his research for the Lost Tomb of Jesus. It is especially apparent now that the scientific community doesn’t seem to support him. To me this shows that Simcha Jacabovici’sbeing overly selective in his research and is therefore not trustworthy. Because of this there is no evidence that Jesus and Mariamne were married and Jacabovici’s hypothesis still lacks any credible support.

The Lost Tomb of Jesus prefers to just assume that Jesus and Mariamne (identified as Mary Magdalene) were married and had a son named Judah. The film goes into a DaVinci Code like conspiracy to suggest that Judah was kept secret from the Romans to hide a “secret dynasty.” — But if you’re a believer in the DaVinci Code then you may not buy into this. After all, Jesus had a daughter, not a son.

However, there are  problems with Jacabovici’s assumption that “Mariamne” can be identified as Mary Magdalene. As emphasized before in my last post, when an outsider died within Judea and was buried there the ossuary was to identify the place of origin. Mary Magdalene was from Migdol which was in Galilee right by the Sea of Tiberias and therefore not from Judea. So therefore the Mariamne ossurary should therefore identify her as “Mary of Migdol” or “Mary Magdalene” as she is called in the gospels. But she is not, so this woman cannot be her.

Second, paleographer Stephen Pfann who appears in the Lost Tomb of Jesus in a paper he wrote argues that the inscription on the ossuary doesn’t even say “Mariamne.” He shows that it is actually inscribed with two names, the first one being “MARIAME” which was written “in the common Greek documentary script of the period.” The next two words “KAI MARA” were written later by a different scribe in different handwriting which “includes numerous cursive elements not exhibited by the first scribe.” — And unlike what the Lost Tomb of Jesus insists, “MARA” is not a used on the ossuary as a title for “master” to emphasize the importance of Mary Magdalene in early Christianity. Rather it is just a variant of the name “Martha,” the second woman buried in the ossuary.

The truth is there is no real evidence that Mary Magdalene was called “Mariamne.” The only “proof” that the Lost Tomb of Jesus cites is the Apocryphal Acts of Philip which is from the fourth century and is therefore from a time too late to be of any relevance. Also, the claim the documentary makes that it is “unmarred by later Christian tradition” is unfounded and is based only on wishful thinking. Not to mention the DNA tests leave out the other family members of the Talpiot tomb therefore leaving any evidence incomplete with too many holes in it.

Jesus’ lost Talpiot tomb — Part 1

In 2007, Simcha Jacabovici, the maker of the “Exodus Decoded” released a documentary called the Lost Tomb of Jesus. The claim in his film is that in 1980 the lost family tomb of Jesus’ family had been found but that this fact had been ignored.

The film begins by saying that one gospel (namely Matthew) mentions that after Jesus’ death there were two stories about how his body was removed from the tomb of Joseph of Arimathea. It suggests that although the gospel calls it a lie that Jesus’ disciples may have stolen the body of their master and given it a burial in a family tomb. Later, Jesus’ family would have performed the last ceremony over his remains.

Despite the implications for Christianity if proved to be true, the documentary assures its viewers that it is possible to believe in Christianity without believing in Christ’s bodily resurrection. In theory, it says, the resurrection may have been spiritual though this flies in the face of John 2: 19, 21 which says that Jesus himself predicted his own bodily resurrection. It then cites Professor John Dominic Crossan of DePaul University who says:

If the bones of Jesus were found in an ossuary in Jerusalem tomorrow — and without doubt let’s say they are definitely agreed to be the bones of Jesus — would that destroy Christian faith? It certainly would not destroy my Christian faith. I leave what happens to bodies up to God.

The truth of the matter is this documentary has come under fire, not just under Christian apologists, but also by secular scholars. The reasons why both secular and Christian scholars reject the Lost Tomb of Jesus are identical. And in this post I plan on showing why.

Of interest to Simcha’s conclusion were the names on the ossuaries from the tomb. And of most interest was one with the Aramaic inscription “Yeshua bar Yosef” (or Jesus son of Joseph.) — Apparently this was enough to make Jacabovici suspect that this was the tomb of Jesus. Also, there are other names on the other orssuaries that seem to resemble names  from Jesus’ family such as “Maria” and “Yoseh.”

There has been some criticism of Jesus of Nazareth with the ossurary of Jesus son of Joseph on the basis that there is no evidence that he was known as the son of Joseph by his early followers. — Personally I do not have a problem with him being called “the son of Joseph” because, in a sence, he was because Joseph was the man who raised him. But the problems of the identification of this ossuary go beyond this.

In an article from the Archaeological Institute of America written by Jodi Magness, a distinguished Professor of the University of North Carolina in the Department of Religious Studies shows other problems with the identification of this tomb as Jesus’ family tomb. She says:

Had Jesus’ family owned a rock-cut tomb, it would have been located in their hometown of Nazareth, not in Jerusalem. For example, when Simon, the last of the Maccabean brothers and one of the Hasmonean rulers built a large tomb or mausoleum for his family, he constructed it in their hometown of Modiin. In fact, the Gospel accounts clearly indicate that Jesus’ family did not own a rock-cut tomb in Jerusalem –for if they had, there would have been no need for Joseph of Arimathea to take Jesus’ body and place it in his own family’s rock-cut tomb!If Jesus’ family did not own a rock-cut tomb, it means they also had no ossuaries. (Emphasis mine)

She shows even more inconsistencies between the assumption that the ossuary of Jesus son of Joseph with that of the Jesus of the New Testament:

L. Y. Rahmani, an Israeli archaeologist who compiled a catalogue of all of the ossuaries in the collections of the state of Israel, observed that “In Jerusalem’s tombs, the deceased’s place of origin was noted when someone from outside Jerusalem was interred in a local tomb.” On ossuaries in rock-cut tombs that belonged to Judean families, it was customary to indicate the ancestry or lineage of the deceased by naming the father, as, for example, Judah son of John (Yohanan); Honya son of Alexa; and Martha daughter of Hananya. But in rock-cut tombs owned by non-Judean families (or which contained the remains of relatives from outside Judea), it was customary to indicate the deceased’s place of origin, as, for example, Simon of Ptolemais; Papias the Bethshanite (of Beth Shean); and Gaios son of Artemon from Berenike. Our historical and literary sources (such as the Gospels, Flavius Josephus, etc.) often make the same distinctions between Judeans and non-Judeans (for example, Galileans, Idumaeans, Saul of Tarsus, Simon of Cyrene, and so on). If the Talpiyot tomb is indeed the tomb of Jesus and his family, we would expect at least some of the ossuary inscriptions to reflect their Galilean origins, by reading, for example, Jesus [son of Joseph] of Nazareth (or Jesus the Nazarene), Mary of Magdala, and so on. However, the inscriptions provide no indication that this is the tomb of a Galilean family and instead point to a Judean family.

So if this were the Jesus of the New Testament, due to the customs of the time, his ossuary inscription should therefore say “Jesus of Nazareth son of Joseph” because he was a Galilean that died and was buried in Judea. Since this isn’t the case with the Talpiot Tomb this means that this “Jesus son of Joseph” is a Judean, not a Galilean. — In my opinion, these facts alone are enough to disqualify the Talpiot tomb with that of Jesus of Nazareth. But, these facts, that it makes no sense for a Galilean family to have a family tomb so far from home, and that on Judean ossuaries the origins of outsiders that died in Judea were customarily identified are never mentioned in the documentary. This is most probably because the entire premise of the film would have been defeated.

Another final problem with the assumption that this ossuary is that of Jesus of Nazareth is pointed out by Professor Amos Kloner, who supervised archeological work at the tomb when it was discovered in 1980, in an article for the Jerusalem Post said that:

The name “Jesus son of Joseph” has been found on three or four ossuaries. These are common names. There were huge headlines in the 1940s surrounding another Jesus ossuary, cited as the first evidence of Christianity. There was another Jesus tomb. Months later it was dismissed. Give me scientific evidence, and I’ll grapple with it. But this is manufactured. (Emphasis mine)

So assuming that one of these ossuaries is of Jesus of Nazareth, there is only a 1 in 3, (or even 1 in 4) chance of the Talpiot ossuary being that Jesus Christ, and therefore there would be a negative chance of 3 to 1 (or even 4 to 1) that it isn’t.

The chances are reduced even further when one takes into account the fact that Jesus was a poor carpenter and would not have had a family rock cut tomb because, as Jodi Magness points out, even modest tombs like this would have been way to costly. — Also, Professor Amos Kloner also mentions:

There is no likelihood that Jesus and his relatives had a family tomb. They were a Galilee family with no ties in Jerusalem. The Talpiot tomb belonged to a middle class family from the 1st century CE.

So far, the evidence is definately negative. It does not seem likely that this is the family tomb of Jesus. And in later posts I plan on giving more negative evidence on the identification of the Talpiot tomb as the burial place of Jesus.

Who was the Pharaoh of the Exodus — Part 3

Ahmose Stela reconstructedIn my last two posts entitled Who was the Pharaoh of the Exodus? and in Who was the Pharaoh of the Exodus — Part 2 I narrowed the list of suspects of Pharoahs of the time period that may have been the monarch that could have confronted Moses.

Now, in part 3, I am going to confirm or deny a third candidate that has been mentioned my some.

In the History Channel documentary “The Exodus Decoded” Simcha Jacobovici attempts to identify the Pharaoh of the Exodus by citing The Tempest Stela of Ahmose. He says in the documentary that he attempted to get access to the ancient stela which lies abandoned in the basement at the Cairo Museum. Since he couldn’t get access to it, he reconstructed it, apparently from descriptions of the archaeologist that had discovered it. (The reconstruction is the picture on the side.)

— He attempts to connect the disaster that the stela speaks about to the ten plagues of Egypt that Moses inflicted. These are the points that Simcha Jacabovici uses to tie the Exodus to the Ahmose Stela:

  • “The Bible says that at the time of the Exodus there was a great storm. Ahmose’ stela also speaks of a great storm . . .”
  • The Bible says that Egypt was enshrouded in darkness. Ahmose’ stela says that Egypt was covered in darkness.
  • The Stela says that even though the Egyptians worshiped many gods, that this disaster happened when “God, in the singular, manifested his power.”

Simcha Jacabovici continues, saying:

The Bible describes Pharaoh, but never names him. Because of this stela we now know his name: Ahmose.

Now that we know a major claim that is used to justify the identification of Ahmose as the Pharaoh of the Exodus, we should now see if the Stela that Jacabovici cites actually supports what he claims. — As a matter of fact, the Tempest Stela of Ahmose I does in fact not seem to parallel the Exodus plagues. My personal reading of it only describes a rain storm:

The gods (made?) the sky come with a tempest of (rain?); it caused darkness in the Western region; the sky was unleashed, without [ . . .] more than the roar of the crowd; [. . .] was powerful [. . .] on the mountains more than the turbulence of the cataract which is at Elephantine. Each house, [. . .] each shelter (or each covered place) that they reached [. . .] were floating in the water like the barks of papyrus (on the outside?) of the royal residence for [. . .] day(s), with no one able to light the torch anywhere.

His citation of the stela saying that the storm happened when “god” manifested his power seems to be the strongest evidence to back him up:

Then His Majesty said: ‘How these (events) surpass the power of the great god and the wills of the divinities!’ And His Majesty descended in his boat, his council following him. The (people were?) at the east and the west, silent, for they had no more clothes (?) on them after the power of the god was manifested.

But the problem is that this mention seems to be the only somewhat strong evidence that Jacabovici has from the stela to affirm his belief that Ahmose is the Pharaoh that confronted Moses. But when the entire stela is understood, I just don’t find that claim credible.

Christopher Heard, in his extended review of “The Exodus Decoded”, says:

It should be clear that Jacobovici’s claim that the Tempest Stela of Ahmose reports, from an Egyptian perspective, the same events as the biblical ten plagues story hangs by the slimmest of threads. The Tempest Stela’s catastrophe could, at most, be seen as vaguely parallel to the plagues of hail and darkness, but even here there are enough significant differences to cast serious doubt on the suggested parallel. To try to connect the Tempest Stela with the ten plagues story as a whole, one must suppose either that the Tempest Stela (whose inscription dates within Ahmose’s twenty-five-year reign, as does the catastrophe itself) presents an exaggerated version of only one of ten catastrophes, or perhaps a mangled conflation of two of them, or that the biblical version (whose linguistic properties are characteristic of an era hundreds of years later than any proposed time frame for the exodus) presents a vastly expanded list of plagues based on a single, albeit devastating, thunderstorm.

So, I’m not the only one that disagrees with Simcha Jacabovici. Several learned people, even many who believe that the Exodus story is true, do not think that the connection is there. The fact is that there is no thunderstorm described in the Book of Exodus for any of the ten plagues. — To be fair, Simcha doesn’t say that, but that is what would be implied if, in fact, the Tempest Stela is indeed describing the Exodus story.

But moving on, just because the Ahmose Stela isn’t connected to the Exodus, that doesn’t show that Pharaoh Ahmose isn’t the Pharaoh of the Exodus. — Another basis that Jacabovici has that he is the Exodus Pharaoh is that he was the Pharaoh that expelled a Semitic race of people called the Hyksos. He believes that the Hyksos are, in fact, the Israelites.

He complains that many historians say the two peoples cannot be equated because the Hyksos and the Hebrews left Egypt separated by hundreds of years. — Just then a skeptic of the Exodus appears on a screen and says that even though one could play with Egyptian dates by moving them by ten years but that they couldn’t be moved by 50 or 100 years. But Jacabovici responds, saying:

But maybe we have to. What if scholars are placing the exodus in the wrong time period? Imagine the confusion if in the future scholars date World War II to the 1990s. They’ll never find any evidence that it actually happened.

Mentioning that many believe that the Exodus happened in the 13thcentury B.C. in the time of Ramses II he also correctly mentions that some scholars “are now breaking with that consensus.” He mentions a calculation that places the Exodus in 1470 B.C. (Hint: that is 23 to 32 years way to early) and then mentioned that the Hyksos expulsion traditionally happened less than a century before. He then says that the events happened to closely together to be a coincidence, so he now has a new date for the Exodus: 1500 B.C.  

There several problems with accepting Jacabovici’s conclusions. The first one is the major differences of the “exodus'” of the Hebrews to that of the Hyksos. — The Exodus story clearly shows that Pharaoh lost his will to fight against Yahweh and let the Israelites go. However, in the case of the Hyksos, The Encyclopedia Britannica shows that Ahmose rebelled against the Hyksos and forced them out of Avaris by force of arms.

The second problem is chronological. According to the most reliable Biblical dating, the Exodus happened between 1446 B.C. to 1437, and the Hyksos were expelled from Egypt in 1521 B.C., 75 to 84 years before the Exodus. Jocabovici realizes this but prefers to say that these events that happened nearly a century apart really occurred at the same time and that time was 1500 B.C. He also ignores, or at least overlooks, the the fact that the Hyksos were expelled by war, unlike the Hebrews.

So basically, I cannot agree with Simcha Jacabovici that Ahmose is the Pharaoh of the Exodus. The fact is that none of the “evidence” he presents to support his suggestion really isn’t as strong as he thinks it is.