“Jesus Tomb” Controversy Erupts—Again
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The day before the symposium opened I was sent by one of Tabor’s supporters in the US a memo composed by Tabor in which he stated “This is a dream come through (sic) for me and something Simcha and I have worked for, behind the scenes, with Prof. James Charlesworth.” I immediately forwarded it to Professor Charlesworth, believing that this was proof of what I had suspected all along, i.e., outside intervention by Simcha and Tabor in order to distort the agenda and skew the proceedings in a way that was favorable to their pre-conceived plan. Charlesworth, previously unaware of this communication, forwarded it to Tabor. However by this time, many things, we later learned, had already been set in motion. For example, on the first day there was a panel discussion of the Talpiot tomb in which one panelist with no experience whatsoever with the topic or any peer reviewed published research articles appeared as an expert. He, unknown to all of us in the world of archaeology both here and abroad, was the lone supporter of Simcha and Tabor. According to his short resume which was handed out to participants, it would appear that he, like Simcha, is from the world of journalism as his handout mentions “over 1,000 articles in newspapers and magazines” that have nothing to do with Second Temple archaeology. By this time, my worst expectations were coming true as several sound and cameramen with whom I had known previously suddenly appeared on the scene, now working for Simcha Jacobovici.
The Lifetime Achievement Award presented to Mrs. Josef Gat on behalf of her late husband had to be one of the lowest depths to which archaeology has descended in over 30 years. I had known Josef Gat and worked with him in the Dept. of Antiquities until his retirement in 1988. He was a quiet, honest, hard-working man upon whom one could depend. Most of the time, his work was centered in Jerusalem and his job was that of inspector/field archaeologist, which meant following the bulldozers and an occasional salvage excavation. Because Jerusalem was in the midst of an unprecedented building boom and we were always short handed, he on occasion was asked to clear a tomb that had been accidentally discovered by building contractors. Such was the case with the Talpiot tomb. As Josef, despite his many years with the Dept. of Antiquities had solely authored but one very short article and a few popular articles in the press it was a mystery to all of us, why he was receiving posthumously such an award. The acceptance speech by his elderly wife that he had known about the importance of the find and it’s implications but kept quiet, is hard to understand even though the ossuary inscriptions had been deciphered by expert’s years earlier. Josef failed to publish any scientific peer reviewed articles following his retirement in 1988, not only on the Talpiot tomb but other projects in which he was involved. Josef passed away in the summer of 1993 one year before LY Rahmani’s monumental corpus of the ossuaries in 1994 in which the Talpiot ossuaries were first exposed to the public. The cynical use of the Holocaust story as to why Josef kept quiet, over something he was unable to decipher, should be clear to all, the lengths to which the film makers will go in order to be, in the words of Simcha ,”vindicated”, a phrase which was immediately ‘leaked’ to the press. The first media release was, without delay, sent off by an organization J9, which is the same organization, which sent out PR releases on two of his earlier documentaries. The second (“I’m vindicated”) article was written by a long -time personal friend of Simcha’s and it included some rather interesting quotes from an anonymous source quoting the late Amir Drori, supporting his ‘vindication’. So we now have ‘proof’, from two deceased archaeologists and an anonymous source, in the style of the filmmaker Oliver Stone that the whole thing was a conspiracy designed to cover up something, which ‘would harm Vatican relations and promote anti-Semitism.’ Josef Gat, a man of known integrity would have not agreed nor accepted such a cynical award. Now that the damage has been done the sponsors behind the Talpiot tomb publicity stunt are claiming on their blogs that they were misunderstood, ill advised etc. and that the jury is still out on their claim, whereas the truth is just the opposite, the overwhelming majority, if not nearly all scholars present, except one, regarded this as but a shameful and distasteful attempt to achieve fame and fortune at the expense of colleagues, the Holocaust and the profession.
Lastly, James Cameron, The Discovery Channel, Simcha Jacobovici, James Tabor and certain sectors of the media have an enormous financial interest at stake here, not including their tarnished reputations. Moreover, the public should be aware that the first mention of this find in the media surfaced in 1996, (a few years before Dan Brown), in a front page article in the British press, with minimal hype, sans the book, marketing agents, PR firms and mega advances from publishers; it was a dead story within 48 hours until it was ‘resurrected’ by the above. It’s time we rebury the idea, as in the academic world, it was from the beginning but a ‘rehash for cash’ which utterly destroyed the credibility of a colleague or two, who once held promising academic careers.
(A critique of the Discovery documentary which was shown at the conference can be obtained from the producer [email protected]. I highly recommend it for students of biblical archaeology).
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