“The Lost Tomb of Jesus: Critical Look” – Live Blog 12

Ted Koppel moderating with Simcha Jacobovici, James Tabor, William Dever, and Jonathon Reed.

Koppel begins by asking why they only choose the Mariamne and Jesus ossuaries for the DNA evidence. SJ’s reply is that we just didn’t push the science that far (see also NYTimes in Feb. 27, 2007) and Koppel is pushing him…

Dever is addressed now and states he has “no dog in this fight.” But he has issues with the film because it puts archeology in a bad light. Jonathan Reed has a similar view (calls it archeo-porn!). Both do not like the way it puts forward their conclusions first and (Reed) create a chain of suppositions upon suppositions. Neither believe that it is convincing.

SJ is trying to break in and TK won’t let him. Good TV 🙂

TK is now bringing in a quote from the DNA scientist Matheson who qualified his comments and TK is challenging SJ on his trying to prove a negative and concluding that they were married. Tabor is defending which ossuaries were tested, saying that the others had been “vacuumed out.”

TK: The depictions provided in the film lend a power to their arguments, it is drama not documentation or journalism. This is great for students of journalism. SJ is not addressing that question. I cannot do this justice, but I will say that I find this almost more interesting than the film itself. TK is taking him to task, subtly asking whether SJ is a filmmaker or a journalist.

WD challenges SJ to say that Frank Moore Cross, who is in the film is edited in such a way that, according to WD, he was unable to say that he did not agree with their conclusions.

TK: Moving on to the James ossuary. SJ and TK are arguing over assertions/terms so TK says to roll the tape! Genna, the scientist from the Suffolk Co. crime lab has sent a letter saying that they do NOT conclude that it is a match since they did not have enough data. SJ brings a letter of his own from Genna defining the term “match” and perferring the term “link.”

SJ is asserting again that, like TK, he is a “journalist.” This is a nice theme to be followed up at another time. Is he being a journalist in this film? Peter Klein, a CBS, 60 Minutes producer was our guest at PSU last month. He defined the role of a journalist and documentary film maker as “shedding light” and allowing others to make their own decisions. I don’t think SJ is merely “shedding light” he is

Commercial break.

TK: Is now bringing up Kloner’s testimony that the 10th ossuary is unmarked, etc. But Tabor is offering evidence that only 9 were catalogued. TK pushes back by saying that the important bit is that Kloner says that it was plain, no inscription. Tabor counters that there would have been too much soil on it to be seen. Reed counters that Kloner is too good an archeologist to miss the inscription or the rosette.

TK: Now to statistics. (And they will lose me here, I am afraid.) TK focuses upon the question of whether or not “Mariamne” is Mary Magdalene. Feuerverger wrote to Koppel and told him that if it is just “Maria” than all statistical significance “washes out” completely. Tabor is again taking up the argument. (DVD+R full! Putting in new disk.) Reed and Dever are taking them to task on the names. Again, Tabor is coming in on the defense of the film and he is doing well. Respectful and knowledgable, even while disagreeing with Reed and Dever. Tabor’s argument is that, in the end, it does’t effect the statistics.

SJ does bring a very fair point, which is that this tomb has not received much attention since it was discovered. I think Kloner’s article (write up?) is the only one, but I could be wrong. Does anyone else know of any work on these ossuaries and this tomb prior to SJ’s film?

Commercial break. They will be coming back with three additional professors on religion.

Fr. David O’Connel from President of Catholic U. of America, Darrell Bock from Dallas Theological Seminary, Judy Fentriss-Williams from VTS.

DO: Is not persauded by the movie; it does not rock his faith. TK asked a very prescient question: does your faith preclude the possibility of Jesus having a child OR that if he did it would not matter to your faith.

DB: The resurection is central to the Christian faith. He concludes that he is “schizophrenic” about the program. It is good about showing the problems and questions of archeological work BUT there are so many steps connecting the dots. Hypothesis upon hypothesis.

JF-W: She points out that news and media collide in this. She urges viewers to ask if there are even any archaeologists in the film. Ouch. She comes back to the fact that this is drama, filmmaking, and not scholarship or even news. TK follows by saying that SJ says that “that is what filmmakers do these days” and JF-W responds to this and says that there is a difference between journalism and filmmaking. TK is clearly following his strengths and this is, as I suggested before, an important theme.

TK suggests a multi-step process, the film brings forward questions now it is time for scholars and theologians to discuss it.

TK says that so far to DB is the only one to say that IF it were true, then it would undermine all of Christianity. DB acknowledges that (and JF-W nods as well) and says that the “resurrection” would have to be redefined. Tabor is arguing that the “more sophisticated” way of understanding the resurrection is that the bones etc would be left behind. Tabor argues that Paul is splitting material v. spiritual form. JF-W comes in and says, “this is the conversation that doesn’t come into the film.”

TK asks Fr. O if he would prefer the debate to go on and on, or just pass after a few weeks. Fr. O says he thinks that it will disapate (as do I). He also confirms (contra Tabor) that “most Christians” affirm a bodily resurrection.

{Discussion about faith and if scientific evidence can affirm, counter, challenge, etc. Too difficult to summarize.}

DB comes back to saying that there are too many “ifs” leading to their “then” in the sequence of thought in the film.

TK is now bringing forward the past tendency of religion to try and “eliminate” those from the scientific world who challenge religion, faith. JF-W points out that Christians need to work with science, discovery but that we need to be critical of the interpretive process. TK points out that this is why the dramatization is problematic.

SJ now comes in to say that he is trying to put forward images that are “true,” avoiding “blond hair, blue eyed” Jesus, etc. TK is trying to bring it back to the journalism/argument of the piece. Fr. O speaks to the representation images and quotes Paul, walking by faith and not by sight. It is not the empty tomb, it is that he also appeared to the disciples. DB does not object to the dramatization, but to the things that are left out in the representation. JF-W agrees that what Jesus looks like is important (she is an African-American) and she brings it back to the journalism issue. The piece was put together in order to bring forward a specific conclusion, not allowing the viewers conclude for themselves.

TK has a soliloquy to end with. I will not try and capture it, but instead look for a transcript. We will have to see if Discovery posts it on their site.

All in all the “Critical Look” was very good and a LOT of fun. TK did what I thought was an excellent job. Very fair, albeit an emphasis upon how the media was being used. I am personally very interested in isues of the media and religion so I enjoyed it. The scholars and theologians on the panel were well balanced, imho, and articulate. Tabor presented himself well but SJ seemed always defensive, which I suppose is to be expected. When all is said and done, I think Discovery did a pretty good job in presenting this with the panel following the film. I wonder, however, if when this airs repeatedly over the next many years (or even on DVD) they will also include the “Critical Look.” I hope so, it was arguably the best part. And I already have my answer. the 1 am rebroadcast will NOT have the panel discussion following. Oh well.

(I just noticed that the program that follows this is “Noah’s Ark: The True Story“!)


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12 thoughts on ““The Lost Tomb of Jesus: Critical Look” – Live Blog

  • danutz

    I enjoyed the film the lost tomb of jesus. It was well made and fair. However, the Koppel analysis after the film was horrible. Why does he have problems with adding dramatization to the film? Isn’t this a common practice in any history/discovery channel documentary?

  • Jim

    After enduring the disdainful special I didn’t have it in me to watch the after-show with Ted K. Besides, I get up early!

    So thanks, Chris, for doing a fine job of summarizing. Now I don’t feel as though I missed anything at all.

    Had I been there I would have pressed them on the incredible number of “ifs”. If the Easter bunny and the tooth fairy are real and if Santa is still flying his sled around the world and if the jolly green giant is still climbing vines and if …. then we can all believe in Jacobovici’s fairy tale.

  • Chris Brady

    DaNutz – The film was certainly well made, I think there is no doubt about that from an aesthetic point of view. I have looked at your site and your review there and I would say that there is a fundamental misunderstanding as to expectations. Koppel (and mine and others) criticisms of the dramatization is that if SJ wants this to be seen as “journalism” then he needs to adhere to journalism standards which are to shed light, not to specifically portray events in such as way as to bolster one particular view. Note, as Jim did, SJ’s vacillating between referring to himself as a “journalist” and a “film maker” depending upon whether he was wanting the audience to accept his piece as “just the facts” or his interpretation of matters.

    Furthermore, SJ did nothing to try and represent a balanced view of scholarship regarding these ossuaries. He repeatedly says that he is not an archaeologist/scholar/scientist, etc. in order to defend against his bias, but for a journalist that is not a barrier. Far from it, a real journalist will bring in experts from across the spectrum (as Koppel’s panel did). Again, Jim W. has a great review of this aspect of matters.

    Jim – it is a shame you didn’t stick around if only to know that there were several panelists who pressed home the point that SJ presented a chain of weakly supported suppositions, one atop the other, that cannot stand up as a unit dependent upon one another. I was genuinely impressed with the breadth of the panelists and their unanimity. DaNutz, you yourself pointed that out on your blog that there were folks from Dallas to VTS (not to mention Dever) and I think their combined criticism is rather telling.

  • Chris Brady

    Actually, I was thinking of Kevin Wilson’s blog when I mentioned the review of SJ changing his self reference.

    One of the main things that struck me about the critical look was the way that Jacobovici referred to himself. He called himself a journalist at times, even comparing what he did to what Koppel does. But whenever he was pushed on issues of journalistic responsibility, he would say that he is a filmmaker and was just documenting what happened.
    For instance, he said that they did not have time to do further DNA testing and that this should be done by scientists. But he was not under a time constraint the way journalists are. He did not have to get this film out at any particular time. Why not go ahead and do that testing, especially since it would have shown if Miriamne had any relationship to the other men in the tomb. Jacobovici was very disingenuous at times. He talked about not being an archaeologist and just following where the data led, but throughout the film he seems to be the one driving the research. He was the one who decided to follow certain avenues and not others.

  • Neil

    Where ever the truth lies, the tomb and ossuaries deserve further investigation. The nay sayers protested a little to loudly but failed to provide convincing definitive arguments of their own. DNA testing and further scientific evaluations of the ossuraries will eventually resolve a lot of the questions. If DNA links are present, then we have a credible find. I do not blame Simcha Jacobovici for not completing the DNA work. The results could be very far reaching. Imagine the outcome of a positive match between Joseph and Jesus! My faith is not affected either way by the findings. Modern religion focuses far to much on irrelevant dogma, and does not focus enough on the inspired teachings.

  • Jose

    I watched the critical review and was impressed by the way the documentary was cross examined. Personally I believed that there would be a bias for the film during the discussion but was surprised to find what the experts had to say. I think Ted did an excellent job by talking to the experts quoted in the film and was even more amazed that most of the experts were quoted out of context. The DNA found was fragmented and there wasn’t enough of it, so they had to go through a lengthy process of replication, plus a lack point of reference to compare the DNA to. In any case what I thought to be the most compelling question was when Ted asked Jacobovic if he truly believed that he had found the Tomb of Jesus. If you watch the critical review carefully, he doesn’t answer the question, but avoids it by talking about something else.

  • Casey

    How can your faith not be shaken? Lets say if this is the body of the Jesus. The one and only. That means that he didi not rise from the dead. Ok so lets say he could not rise from the dead then why would he be able to walk on water. Or feed the 5000! I do not think that this report holds water, but like I said if it was correct then Christanity has no place in this world any longer. It was not just the teachings of Jesus. It was the fact that he was God’s son who came to earth to die on a cross for our sins. He was more than just a good man… he was perfect…he was GOD! If this did not happen then the curtain to the holy of holys did not tear and none have any right to talk to God. This is why it is so contriversal. Not because he might have had a son.

  • Chris Brady

    Wondering what will “shake” people’s faith seems to be a recurring theme among comments on the blog lately. I can understand why, these are important issues. I certainly agree Casey (assuming I am reading you correctly) that if it were proved conclusively that the body of Jesus of Nazareth was found then the Christianity game is up, at least for me. Since like the apostle Paul I believe that JC’s rez is crucial (pun intended) to the whole thing.

    1 Cor. 15.13 But if there is no resurrection of the dead, then Christ has not been raised; 14 if Christ has not been raised, then our preaching is in vain and your faith is in vain.

    Now it could be that for many (perhaps Neil above? there is not enough in his comment to say for sure) such a discovery would make no difference. There have been Christian theologians for close to a century (maybe more, this is not my area of expertise) who have been conceiving of ways to reconcile a rejection of a belief in the bodily resurrection of Jesus with continued practice and belief in Christianity. But it is hardly an “orthodox” form of Christianity they are preserving.

    All of that being said, there is no way to know whose remains were found in those ossuaries. As has been said many times, these names were very common in the first century. Jim West has posted a letter from Mike Heiser pointing out that even this clustering of all of these names in a tomb is not new. There was such a find 50 years ago!

    So Casey, your point is well taken. It is one that Ted Koppel posed early on and Darrell Bock replied to very honestly saying much the same as I have above; if Jesus’ body was conclusively shown to still exist then that would change the whole game. But that is far from being proven.

  • Mike

    To the discerning observer, criticism of the documentary `The Lost Tomb of Jesus’ has proven one thing if nothing else about its critics – a profound absence of intellectual honesty and objective thought, underscored by an immutable pathologic obsession with laying waste to empirically based scientific inquiry in an effort to peddle as documentable historical fact, long held personal beliefs, institutional biases, religious and political agendas.

    The fact that an `expert’ may have and eloquently articulate an opinion in front of a camera renders, neither them objective, nor their opinions authoritatively accurate.

    Fraud is revealed in what the perpetrator seeks to obscure from the intended target in order to achieve a net gain at the expense of their victims. Render impermeable the mind of those who seek and are otherwise inclined to accept and be guided by truth and a victim you shall find.

    Post documentary debate has largely been monopolized by a circus of religious ideologues with a financial and political stake in the outcome of the debate. Tactics employed by Israeli authorities regarding the confiscation and destruction of ancient ruins and `reburial’ of non-Jewish remains under the auspices of adhering to `strict Orthodox Jewish Law,’ have been proven profoundly embarrassing to the Israeli Government.

    A significant subtext to the program – A naive public is lead to believe that the burial customs of those who passed 2,000 years ago were somehow `deficient’ and so inconsistent with `strict Orthodox Jewish Law,’ that they warranted the disturbance of their graves, some of which included non-Jews (early Christians), removal of their remains, retention and stacking in government warehouses of the ossuaries inwhich they had been buried, confiscation of the land within which they were entombed, building apartment high rises over top of them, and the reburial of those remains (absent the ossuaries inwhich their familes and loved ones placed them) in anonymous graves and pits at undisclosed locations, if not destruction and disposal of them, is patently absurd, amounting to common grave robbing and plundering of same for profit. What civilized society on the planet permits such activities, let alone engages in it as an official government sanctioned enterprise? This, in large measure, was a primary source of discomfort to Ted Koppel, who is Jewish, about what was revealed in the documentary.

    For Christian archeologists and theologians, the documentary presents a profound dilemma. The universally recognized law – possession is 9/10ths of the law, applies to Israel also. Criticism of official Israeli government policy regarding the exhumation, reburial, and/or destruction of ancient human remains, confiscation, warehousing, and sale of ossuaries, destruction of ancient tombs and significant Christian archaeology sites, confiscation of land over top of and adjacent to them in order to profit from real estate development, are awkward issues subject to aggressive government censorship. Criticism limits access to the country, prohibition from access to the sites, denial and revocation of licenses for engaging in archaeological activities, accelerated government confiscation and plundering of site contents by the Israeli authorities, and construction of commercial enterprises over top of them in order to prevent subsequent access.

    In the case of the program at issue, Ted Koppel’s selection of `experts’ and `citics’ of the documentary achieved the network’s overarching objective – increased viewership and ratings through controversy by any means necessary. If, by the top of the concluding hour, the network can leave the audience wanting more, they and the network’s advertisers will return for more. By any objective measure, they succeeded.

    In the end it wasn’t merely the reputation of Israel which lay in ruin. Ted Koppel, heretofore assumed to be and accepted for decades as the consummate, objective, fact finding inquisitor, revealed three (3) things – what was clearly a religious and politically motivated bias against the producer of the documentary and what was uncovered in it, an extraordinarily ineptitude in his selection of rebuttal `experts,’ and there’s something to be said for retirement.

    After ABC pulled the plug on him, and/or he left the building for the last time of his own free will, he had accrued more than ample empirical evidence regarding sequels. They are compared against, more often diminish, and seldom enhance the original, a second act in a one act play. This Discovery program was one too many sequels for Ted. He became the story within the story. The corrosive effect if his performance invited an overwhelmingly negative public impression of his work, not merely in the future, but through this misstep, the past.