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“Jesus Tomb” Controversy Erupts—Again

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The Tomb Controversy and Personal Attitudes

When I received the invitation to the symposium, I believed every scholar invited was as pleased as I was. As a Ph.D student, I was really excited to meet some of the great names responsible for the books and articles I read and study. Others were new to me—meeting so many scholars who are studying the subjects and fields connected to the controversy was a great surprise to me. On top of everything, I had no idea of the number of scholars who are studying ancient Judaism. The atmosphere at the opening reception was very good and truly scholarly.

The scholars who believe the Talpiot Tomb might be Jesus’ tomb were and are still a minority. I happen to be one of them. Like every participant, we wished to convince others of our view. And this is not to say we do not have any disagreements among us as well. The vast majority of participants, no matter what their stands were, kept debating the core points. Some of them had really strong points. I believe most of them received new insights from each other, just as I did.

Many of us were deeply disappointed by the fact that some of the participants tried to shift the attention from the core points to personalities. The main subject of this shift was Mr. Simcha Jacobovici, the documentary maker, his interests and income. I’m not a filmmaker, but I guess filmmakers make mistake like all of us. But: Simcha’s expertise was not under discussion, nor his interests and incomes. The great problem connected to Simcha was (and still is) a simple fact: though the Tomb has been discovered 28 years ago, no professional made any effort to study it seriously. As a result, only a handful of professionals ever knew something about it. Then along came a filmmaker and aired his film, by which pushed the subject to the front of what should have been a scholarly debate. This is Simcha’s “great sin”.

For 28 years the finds from the Tomb could have been studied—but no one studied them. Can any scholar claim that someone prevented any research on the Tomb and its finds? The inscription has been in the IAA warehouse for 28 years. So why did nobody ever claim it does not read “Yeshua bar Yehosef” but something else before the film was aired? The same question pertains, of course, to every inscription connected to the Tomb.

The attempt to shift the attention from the core points to personalities was very clear during the symposium, and is still now. Immediately after the symposium concluded, vicious rumors were spread around regarding the minority who held the “possible” stand. The debate turned into a rivalry, a very heated one. As far as I’m concerned, it reached its lowest point when a very important rival entered my department at Bar Ilan University to investigate my background. But it is not the only act of rivalry. Distinguished scholars signed a declaration of disagreement against the symposium’s conclusion, though what they have presented were parts of the general insight the symposium yielded. Later they attacked the Biblical Archaeology Society for maintaining the debate on its Web site. All so personal and really so “academic”.

I have no intention to address others personally any longer. Therefore I will not mention any names. But there are some general questions: Are some of the participants so fluent with the sources they quoted? Aren’t professionals obliged to stick closely only to their expertise? Would a reasonable person take a mailman to be his lawyer?

I just wish to shift the attention back to the question under discussion. Thus we are still left with simple questions, leaving theology aside.

1. Can any epigrapher, based on her/his expertise, totally dismiss the possibility that the Talpiot Tomb is Jesus’tomb?

2. Can any archaeologist, based on her/his expertise, totally dismiss the possibility that the Talpiot Tomb is Jesus’ tomb?

3. Can any historian, based on her/his expertise, totally dismiss the possibility that the Talpiot Tomb is Jesus’ tomb?

4. Can any person say is it reasonable that a Second Temple period scholar “bumps” into the Taliot Tomb names cluster and nothing crossed his mind?

I wish us all fruitful academic debates, no matter what the subject and what the conclusion may be.

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