Alpha & Omega Ministries Apologetics Blog
Oh My Goodness
02/28/2007 - James WhiteI am boarding my flight back east and just wanted to report that James Cameron's preface to the tomb book can only be described as "sadly naïve.". Wide-eyed acceptance of absurd claims joined with a gross and abysmal ignorance of simple historical facts and methodology. A bad start to be sure! More when we land.
Live Blogging Larry King
02/26/2007 - James WhiteI am listening to Larry King Live. At least the outlines are becoming very clear, even before the release of the video. (I find it ironic that Jacobovici keeps pointing out people who are responding to his claims have not seen the film as if that means something. Well, try following the normal canons of scholarship so that those responding to your claims have your data before you are producing movies presenting your conclusions!). Evidently, they could only "test" the two ossuaries they claim are of Jesus and Mary (Mariamne). Jacobovici just said Mariamne is the real name of Mary Magdalene, but, as yet, no one has explained how they know this.
Al Mohler is now coming on. Cameron is now responding. Cameron is now claiming Jesus, Mary Magdalene, and Mary were "leaders" of an oppressed movement. No one, not even the Jewish opponents of the time, ever made such a claim. Now he is saying that in later years they would have had the "resources" to have such a tomb. Of course, he is ignoring the realities of first century Israel, politics, etc. Jacobovici is now doing the "you haven't seen it yet" thing again. They keep going back to the "name cluster" idea. We need to remember this: the "chance" of your family names, your "cluster," coming into existence by chance, is very high. Yet, you have parents with names, do you not? You have a name as well, do you not? This kind of statistical abuse is so obvious!
James Tabor is up next (see my previous blog reference to him). Three on one against Mohler. That's ol' Larry King. "Renowned" theologian? Goodness, does King have any idea how grossly biased he is? Mohler just accurately points out Tabor's idea that Jesus was the son of Pantera, and that he said the proper tomb for Jesus would be in Galilee. Here comes the false statistics argument again. I am getting tired of the "I am not a theologian, I am not a statistician, I am not an archaeologist" thing. I don't think Dr. Mohler has had the time to consider the error of this statistical argument. What we need to do is take another tomb that has been found, at random, put the names together, and run the statistics on it as well.
Now Bill Donahue is blowing a cork, unfortunately. He has rightly raised the James issue and the questions about its accuracy. But he is coming across as quite belligerent. King is such a royal post-modernist. Donohue is correct about the "making connections" argument.
Jacobovici is clearly clueless about Christian theology. This "we are not challenging the resurrection" argument is grossly false.
If this is a good example of the viewpoint of these men, we now know, before the film, exactly what the key elements are: does Mariamne mean Mary Magdalene? How accurate are the inscriptions? And can we get a statistician to run the "chances" of the "name cluster" of a few representative families today to demonstrate the misuse of this kind of argumentation?
What To Say
02/26/2007 - James WhiteI've created a blog category "Tomb Issues" for the on-going discussion of the claims regarding the 1980 ossuary finds. Unless the on-going fraud trial in Israel right now turns up conclusive evidence of tampering regarding the inscription on the James ossuary (and hence blows this entire thing up--which may, I emphasize may, explain in part the speed at which this film has come out), this will be the most talked about apologetic subject of our generation, and possibly generations to come.
So what about today, nearly a week before us normal humans even get to see this film, or purchase the book and begin the long and careful process that has been so glibly by-passed by Cameron and Jacobovici called scholarship? Serious minded folks will be willing to withhold judgment and ask for a full hearing of the facts. But serious minded people are the vast minority in decadent Western culture. Microwave mentality reigns. Get it fast, get it easy. So what do you say to the co-worker who, knowing you are a Christian, wants to know when you are going to admit you were wrong all along? Here's one I'd suggest:
Important and world-changing issues are not decided by filmmakers over the course of 90 minutes. The process that should have taken place, the normal, proper process wherein claims are examined critically over time, has been by-passed for reasons that are not at all clear at this time. So the only person who is going to be swayed by the opening argument of one side that has a vested interest and has already broken the rules of scholarly engagement without even waiting for the other side to respond is obviously a person looking for a reason to disbelieve.
There are many others. In passing, I saw Cameron and Jacobovici on the Today Show this morning, and caught Cameron, if I recall correctly, throwing out the "Acts of Philip" as a decisive resource in their "evidence," and credited Jacobovici with "finding" this source. Ever read the Acts of Philip? Here, it will, in the words of one, make your brain itch. Date? The earliest manuscript is 14th century. Some, for reasons unclear, claim it could be as old as the fourth century. But no evidence of this is to be found. But let's give it the benefit of the doubt. A text, removed in all probability by half a millennium from the actual events, which never once identifies this "Mariamne" as Mary Magdalene, but instead reports that this Marianme will die in the Jordan river and that, when she was threatened, turned into a glass box or a cloud of fire, was a vital piece of the puzzle that allowed Jacobovici to see in the ossuaries what the original trained archaeologists did not? This is a better "fit" to the evidence than "Mariamne the Master was a woman of Greek origin or extraction who lived in Jerusalem in the first century and was probably master over the house" (not Mary Magdalene)?
More Outlandish Discovery Channel Claims
02/26/2007 - James WhiteAt this very moment, in New York City, a press conference is getting underway. Some ancient ossuaries are being displayed, and the key men involved in the production of The Lost Tomb of Jesus. Here are a couple of links (here / here).
A statement in the Discovery Channel press release immediately makes any sober-minded person sigh in frustration and, in light of the obvious intentions of this project, not a small amount of disgust as well. Here it is:
A statistical study commissioned by the broadcasters (Discovery Channel/Vision Canada/C4 UK) concludes that the probability factor is 600 to 1 in favor of this tomb being the tomb of Jesus of Nazareth and his family.The statistical analysis (I discussed it in the preceding entry) is about the possibility of names appearing in a single tomb. How on earth can any rational person leap from this to "in favor of this tomb being the tomb of Jesus of Nazareth and his family"? The leap is breath-taking, and utterly without warrant. When statisticians start determining ancient history without the slightest bit of meaningful context you can be certain you have encountered a true "rush to judgment."
They've uncovered evidence on which a "conservative" statistical analysis has placed 600-to-one odds in favour of being the family tomb of Jesus.
The statistical possibilities of any mixture of names appearing in a particular tomb would be large, and yet, all of our families have names, do they not? This kind of argumentation is particularly vacuous, and yet, it is given prominence in the writing of those promoting this new film. The lack of even semi-scholarly fairness is glaring.
We are also seeing the danger of investing Hollywood celebrities with nigh unto divine powers. James Cameron brought us Terminator and Titanic, but now he seems to have become an archaeologist and theologian as well. He is quoted as saying, "It doesn't get bigger than this. We've done our homework; we've made the case; and now it's time for the debate to begin." Well, if a true scholarly debate is what they wanted, they would have presented this material first in a completely different context. They don't want debate anymore than Dan Brown did. They want money, they want power, and evidently, they know the best way to get it these days is to join the "attack Christianity" bandwagon. They have presented their conclusions before the debate itself, and that is so that they can poison the well. When the debate finally begins, the money will already be in their pockets, the damage done, and for the foreseeable future we will be dealing with people repeating their claims as established facts.
The Lost Tomb of Jesus
02/26/2007 - James WhitePrepare for a flood of media coverage of the Cameron/Jacobovici film, The Lost Tomb of Jesus. Fox News has already picked it up, and I imagine you will be deluged with pictures of the ossuaries in question by tonight, with the major news outlets grabbing various folks with the film to do the morning shows on Tuesday and Wednesday. Don't expect them to be looking for the best Christian apologists to give an answer, either. You know how the media works.
As more of the storyline of The Lost Tomb of Jesus comes out, my suspicions are being confirmed. As I saw the list of "experts" in the article I cited yesterday, I had to try to figure out how their fields of expertise would be relevant to empty ossuaries. Two caught my attention immediately: DNA experts, and statistical experts. I theorized that statistics would be used on the names allegedly (I will explain the use of allegedly below) found on the ossuaries, and in reading a Canadian interview with "the Naked Archaeologist," Simcha Jacobovici, I have found this is the case. The film will present probabilities of finding these specific names together in the same tomb. Of course, this raises the question about how you determine the names of Jews in the first century. Sure, you can come up with a list of names that have been found in various forms from history, from monuments, documents, ossuaries, and chiseled in stone on ossuaries, sepulchres, walls of homes, etc. But this hardly gives you a database that is overly relevant. Why? Well, outside of graffitti, poor folks don't show up in historical documents and chiseled in stone nearly as often as the rich do. Jesus was not rich. His followers were not either. Remember the famine in Jerusalem requiring Paul to collect an offering for their assistance? Same time period, and things didn't get much better in Jerusalem before its destruction in AD 70). The whole idea that Jesus would ever be buried in Jerusalem years later along with a family runs counter to every single fact we have from every other source known to us, which highlights the speculative nature of the argumentation of the film. In any case, the statistician would be giving us nothing but an educated guess and that without sufficient evidence in the social strata to which Jesus belonged to be even slightly relevant. Given that the number of entire families that have been unearthed is but a tiny percentage of the actual number of people who lived, it would be like concluding that a family with a father named Earl and a mother named Sarah and a boy named Michael could only have existed once in a particular part of the country, never twice. It is the kind of argumentation that while mildly interesting, is really only produced by those who are weaving a tapestry of wild possibilities, hoping you will be so mesmerized you won't notice you are having your pockets picked. In any case, my suspicions were correct, and this is how the "statistics experts" will be used in the film.
The next group is the DNA experts. My theory here was pretty easy, for anyone who has seen CSI half a dozen times: find "traces" of DNA in the ossuaries; prove the Joshua/Jesus ossuary contained bones (remember, the bones are gone--these would have to be nothing more than small bone fragments) that were not genetically related to Maria, and then try to prove that the ostensible offspring is related to Joshua/Jesus and Mariamne. Most, upon hearing about "DNA," immediately assume there is some attempt to "identify" Jesus directly, which, of course, would be impossible. But that would be impossible, of course. And once again, this is what is coming out. The above linked article notes,
DNA tests conducted for the documentary at Lakehead University on two ossuaries — one inscribed Jesus son of Joseph and the other Mariamne, or Mary — confirm that the two were not related by blood, so were probably married....
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A Couple of Links on the Cameron Film
02/24/2007 - James WhiteWell, it isn't a joke. Looked like it, but it's not. Here's a Time article, which links to this blog entry. The utter lack of scholarly approach in this stuff is very troubling. It may take years to dig through the fiction to get to the facts. Of course, that won't stop folks from claiming the fiction is itself factual, but that is nothing new.
Oh Brother, Here We Go Again--or Do We? (Updated Below)
02/24/2007 - James WhiteIs this a joke? Maybe---but, it is too early to tell. Indications exist that this might be a spoof, and given that no details at all are given as to where this "press conference" is going to take place, that might be the case. However, this link suggests the film is real. So it is very hard to say.
We have an article here making rather grandiose archaeological claims. One is immediately struck with the "showiness" of the piece. This isn't a sober, scholarly work, and they seem to know it, since they do all they can to try to prop up their storyline even in announcing a press conference! "Decades of research" and repeated references to experts makes it clear these folks have an agenda right from the start. A few obvious questions would be, Who are the experts who have so far had access to these alleged caskets? How were they dated? Why were they kept secret and under the control of Jewish authorities for so long? Interestingly, one of the names cited in the article, Professor Amos Kloner, is also associated with the finding of the "James, the brother of Jesus" ossuary a few years ago, and in his report on that finding, made this comment, seemingly only four years ago:
The family of Jesus and James had no burial cave in first century Jerusalem and it is known that about a generation elapsed between the death of Jesus and that of James. It is not known from the details of their lives that the family moved from Nazareth to Jerusalem. It is thus not likely that in the space of thirty years the burial of a large family related to Jesus and his brother James developed in Jerusalem, that made it necessary to write the deceased’s name on the ossuary in order to distinguish him from others. According to the above proposal, that such an ossuary would derive from a large group, it is unlikely that the present ossuary of Ya‘acov son of Yosef originates in the burial cave of the above family. The rationalization that early Christians were buried in Jerusalem according to their own rites still lacks proof or evidence. The possibility of a sectarian burial exists, but it doesn’t seem likely that an ossuary would be inscribed in this special way, that normally would belong to a family burial. (reference)Yet, the article says he announced this finding ten years ago. Something smells a tad bit fishy here, if you ask me. The whole idea of families in caskets sounds so wonderfully Western, but, it isn't the way of poor folks in first century Israel. What are these alleged caskets made of? They surely could not be made of wood, as they would not have lasted in the moist environment of Jerusalem (see Steven Fine's "Why Bone Boxes?" BAR 27:05, Sep/Oct 2001). Are these ossuaries (hence, not caskets at all)? Use of ossuaries (as in the photo above) flourished around Jerusalem in the first century. They are in essence "bone boxes," where the bones of the decomposed body were collected about a year after initial burial on a flat slab. Is that what is being claimed? We are left without sufficient information to even begin to ask the best questions, let alone respond. And it all points to this being, as one commentator on the article says, a "Purim joke." Maybe. But it would also be perfectly logical to launch an attack like this in film, put it out there before any rebuttal can even be organized, just to have "maximum effect." That is not the way of sober scholarship, of course, but it is the way of the world.
In any case, here's my prediction if this is not, in fact, a mere joke. If there is some big press conference and the film has already been produced, this will get lots of airplay because of the allegation that here is more "proof" that Jesus was married to Mary Magdalene and had children. "See, we told you!" will be the cry of the wild-eyed Da Vinci Code addicts. Then the scholarly challenges will come, examinations will be made by those without a financial investment to protect, and once the truth is known, the media will be...oddly busy that day/week, etc. But the problem will be that without any substantiation or study, this kind of allegation will be taken as "fact" and repeated ad nauseum for the foreseeable future. Sound like a decent prediction? But, if this is just a joke, well, at least you can now amaze your friends by knowing what an ossuary is!
It seems old stories never die. In point of fact, ten years ago this story surfaced. I have the feeling it was the money connected with The Da Vinci Code that raised this story back to life (pun fully intended). Here are two stories from 1996 giving the background: ...
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