Alpha & Omega Ministries Apologetics Blog
Apologetics Roman Style
03/30/2007 - James WhiteEnough of demonstrating that you can find sophistry alive and well even in Texas. But I did notice this wonderful comment from Prejean that brings us full circle:
Regarding Catholic responses to the Jesus Tomb story, that's another example of laughable scholarship, so the most common Catholic response has been to laugh it off.
If you follow the link it is to Mark Shea. In the first paragraph Shea demonstrates that he really has no idea what the argument is from Jacobovici (he seems to think Cameron is the brain child of the film and book, which is untrue), and even misrepresents it.
This is a very common means of responding to the Talpiot Theory. I call it the Ostrich Defense. Just stick your head in the sand and laugh about how "silly" the argument is. I mean, isn't that what Barbour and Madrid and Prejean have done with the criticisms of Roman Catholic positions offered by myself, Eric Svendsen, Bill Webster, etc.? Of course. Mockery is a great defense when you are only concerned about keeping your core constituency happy. But it is not an actual apologetic. It does not fit with the command in 1 Peter 3:15, does it? Most assuredly not. It surely does not help those who are confused by such attacks, and it does not help the saints to grow in grace and knowledge. You do not become deeply rooted in truth with your head stuck in the sand.
Let's say the scholarship in The Lost Tomb of Jesus is laughable. So what? Do you respond to laughable scholarship with...laughter? Or do you respond with sober, sound examination that demonstrates the inconsistencies of the argumentation? The Ostrich Defense has led to the situation we face in education today. We raise our children in the church, send them off to the local college or university, and there they find themselves unarmed and ill prepared to deal with the gun-slinging professor of philosophy and world religions who has The Lost Tomb of Jesus on constant reruns in his classroom and whose bookshelf is filled with the works of John Shelby Spong and The Jesus Seminar. Many find Mormonism as a religion laughable, too. That does not mean you do not prepare yourself to give a reasoned response to their claims.
It does not surprise me that this is the popular view from Rome, for in reality, she has no foundation upon which to do apologetics anyway, given the mythical character of her own definitional, self-defined dogmas. When you have to play so fast and loose with history as Rome's defenders do, you are crippled when it comes to meaningful apologetics. But there is no reason for those outside of Rome's sphere of power to behave in such a fashion. The Talpiot Theory gives us a chance to proclaim the truth about the very central affirmation of the faith. It is hard to do that with your head in the sand.
Prejudging and Missing the Point
03/22/2007 - James WhiteMark, an anonymous poster over on TQuid's blog, has commented about From Toronto to Emmaus:
I've been reading your blog for a little while now and appreciate some of the stuff you do. This probably doesn't go in this comment box, but I'm not sure where else to put. I know that you are associated with Mr. James White, and I just have a quick question about something he is doing. While I completely agree with his position regarding the tomb controversy, what is the deal with his new book. He is supposedly publishing a scholarly, well-research book of 160 pages after writing for a grand total of 15 days. I appreciate a lot of the stuff that he does, but how can anyone take him seriously when his book is written in such a ridiculously short time. Anyone who has written a scholarly book knows that these things take months, if not years to fully research and write. Can you possibly explain why he would do something so silly as write a "scholarly" work in 16 days. This book will only serve to make non-Christians view Christians as even more ridiculous than they already do. It kind of makes me wonder how long he spent researching and writing those other books. Anyway, thanks for what you do and for the input.It would be nice to think someone might actually read the book, but that's the way things go. I was falsely accused by an LDS scholar of pre-judging Peterson's new book on Muhammad, for example, when I had only indicated I had ordered it (it arrived two days ago) and would be reviewing it when it arrived, and that I would find it interesting to read an LDS take on Islam (let alone one published by Eerdmans).
In any case, Mark has missed the point. Yes, the book was written in a very brief period of time. However, has he read The Jesus Family Tomb? I did. Does he know what areas of study a response to it would involve? If he has read it, he would know it would involve the following: church history, Second Temple history (first century Palestine), Gnostic literature, Greek, Hebrew, DNA analysis, statistical analysis of names, ossuaries, and general apologetics information. My library already contains a great deal of information relevant to the topic, including the TLG CD-ROM, for example, the early church fathers, all the major Gnostic works, etc. What I did not have, I obtained. A&O spent hundreds of dollars on original resources. Folks were sending me scans from very difficult to obtain sources in major libraries across the country within the first few days of the work. ...
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As a Traveler Rejoices Upon Arriving at His Destination...
03/20/2007 - James White...so is the end of a book for him who toils at writing. That's a fairly close recreation of a common colophon found in handwritten manuscripts of the New Testament, and I fully understand the sentiment. And with that I am announcing that I have finished writing From Toronto to Emmaus: the Empty Tomb and the Journey from Skepticism to Faith. What an intensive sixteen days! The final came out, ironically, to the exact same size as Pulpit Crimes, 158 pages! That's about ten pages a day, and if you know much about writing, especially writing material that requires documentation, you know I will probably be taking a few days off to recoup! But it has been wonderful to get to tackle this subject, and I must admit, I do not believe I have ever enjoyed writing a chapter more than the final chapter of this book wherein I get to speak of my faith in the risen Lord! Just wonderful.
So, we should be making a pre-order page available soon, so keep checking the blog for details!
Also, I mentioned on the DL that I put together a bulleted list of the major problems with the Talpiot theory. Here it is:
Summary of Errors, Problems, Contradictions, and Half Truths in the Tomb Theory
· The book and film were not subjected to serious scholarly examination prior to release to the public.
· Many scholars cited in the film and book have affirmed that they were not told the full story, and that their statements have been used out of context.
· The theory uses double standards in its tremendously inconsistent use of the New Testament, at times accepting its accuracy on one point, then rejecting it on the next, without following any logical standards.
· The film and book demonstrate a consistent willingness to document only particular facts related to its conclusions, ignoring those facts that are contrary to its conclusions.
· The central argument of the film (that Mariamne is the original name of Mary Magdalene) is subject to numerous counter-arguments and explanations.
· The inscription on the Mariamne ossuary can be read at least three ways, and the first two, which leave the entire theory without any ground, are more likely than the third, upon which the theory depends.
· Even taking the inscription as the theory does, there is no reason whatsoever to believe a fourth century work of fiction, The Acts of Philip, is relevant to first century Jerusalem.
· The Acts of Philip nowhere refers to, or identifies Mariamne as, Mary Magdalene. The name Mary Magdalene never appears in The Acts of Philip.
· The Acts of Philip say Mariamne could turn into an ark of glass and a pillar of fire. Do the theorists think Mary Magdalene could do this?
· The film misrepresents Francois Bovon of Harvard who has confirmed that he is only referring to the Mariamne/Magdalene connection in the realm of literary parallels, not history.
· Bovon refers to the theorys claims that Jesus and Mary Magdalene had a child as "science fiction."
· The film misrepresents even the existing text of The Acts of Philip by saying the book says Mary Magdalene (which it never mentions) would be buried in Jerusalem. It actually says Mariamne would die in the Jordan River (which does not flow through Jerusalem).
· The theory's willingness to abandon first century documents directly related to Jesus and his original followers (the New Testament) in favor of a work of fiction from the Encratite community of Asia Minor three hundred years later is a clear indication of its bias.
· The film and book misrepresent the nature and capacities of forensic mitochondrial DNA testing.
· Simcha Jacobovici claims Carney Matheson concluded that the genetic testing shows Yeshua bar Yosef and Mariamne were married. Matheson denies this conclusion forcefully.
· Mitochondrial DNA testing can only address maternal relationships, not paternal ones. Hence, the two genotypes tested could have included a father/daughter relationship, a fact inexplicably left out of the discussion by the film and book.
· The names of Jesus, Mary, Joseph, etc., have been found in other burial sites in Jerusalem in the past, including Dominus Flevit.
· All of the names in the Talpiot tomb are found amongst the top ten most popular names for men and women in the time period of the first century in Jerusalem.
· The argument that there is at least a 600:1 chance that this is the Jesus family tomb is based upon the assumption that 1) there is a Jesus family tomb in Jerusalem, and 2) it has been found. That is, the statistical argument assumes its own conclusion so as to have validity!
· There is no reason whatsoever to believe Jesus would own a multi-generational tomb in Jerusalem. He was from Nazareth, 120 miles to the north, in Galilee, and only visited Jerusalem.
· The theories propounded in the book concerning the Knights Templar are presented without even the pretense of factual or historical foundation, and as such, have as much validity as The Da Vinci Code. They are pure fiction.
· The alleged cross symbol on the Jesus ossuary is far more likely the simple "this side forward" mark to indicate which way to slide the lid so that it would fit.
· The idea that the Judah, son of Jesus in the Talpiot tomb, is the author of the Gospel of Thomas, which was written in AD 165, a century after the Talpiot tomb was sealed, is emblematic of the kind of scholarship represented in The Family Tomb of Jesus.
· The film and book desperately seek to avoid honestly stating the only possible ramification of their theory: that Christianity's primary claim in the resurrection of Jesus Christ is false, and hence Christianity is a false religion.
Interpreter of Gnostic Texts: Simcha Jacobovici
03/19/2007 - James SwanIt pains me to explore the content of the Gospel of Thomas, as if it actually contained historical facts (it does not). Simcha Jacobovici thinks it does, and has put forth a story grid to fit the facts from this Gnostic book. For example, on page 98 in The Jesus Family Tomb, Jacobovici creates a story around facts culled from this alleged gospel. He speculates the spiritual and physical journey of Mary Magdalene had been "unusually difficult":
"As recorded in the Gospel of Thomas, Simon and Peter, in sayings 22 and 114, eventually rose and spoke out against Mary Magdalene. Declaring that a woman was not worthy of spirit-life, the two men demanded that Mary be ejected from the congregation. And Jesus replied, with more than a hint of wry humor, 'Behold! I shall guide her as to make her male, that she too may become a living spirit like you men- and...male and female [are made] into a single one, so that the male will not be male and the female will not be female' (Gospel of Thomas, saying 114)."
The Gospel of Thomas can be found here. Let's take a look at the citations offered.
Jesus saw some babies nursing. He said to his disciples, "These nursing babies are like those who enter the (Father's) kingdom." They said to him, "Then shall we enter the (Father's) kingdom as babies?" Jesus said to them, "When you make the two into one, and when you make the inner like the outer and the outer like the inner, and the upper like the lower, and when you make male and female into a single one, so that the male will not be male nor the female be female, when you make eyes in place of an eye, a hand in place of a hand, a foot in place of a foot, an image in place of an image, then you will enter [the kingdom]."
Simon Peter said to them, "Make Mary leave us, for females don't deserve life." Jesus said, "Look, I will guide her to make her male, so that she too may become a living spirit resembling you males. For every female who makes herself male will enter the kingdom of Heaven."
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Darrell Bock Interviews Amos Kloner
03/18/2007 - James WhiteFor those following the story, this is an interesting interview.
Evidence of Progress
03/16/2007 - James WhiteOK, I know this is dangerous. I am posting ten pages of a freshly written, completely unedited and unproofed chapter, but hey, I am used to the howls of my enemies, and I really don't post here for them anyway. For those who are praying for this project, I thought I'd throw out a PDF of what I wrote last night--ok, only a portion of it, actually, ten pages. But it gives you a "feel" for the book. And I repeat myself, this is raw. Not even a first reading, let alone a second. In fact, some of you might find it mildly interesting that this is how I write. I set up my page to mimic the actual page size and I write in this format, directly to type-set margins. So this is the first draft, first run, of this material. Here is a pdf of the first ten pages of the chapter on the Mariamne/Mary Magdalene/Acts of Philip chapter.
An Insight into the Mindset of "Tomb Believers"
03/15/2007 - James WhiteAs my readers know, I have been working very hard on the tomb story, doing the kind of background reading and research necessary to provide a sound response. But, despite the energy I have been investing, some think we are merely providing a "knee jerk" reaction. Here is an e-mail that came in last night:
Yea, okay. Let me first start out by saying. I'm no [sic] suprised [sic] at the close-minded repplies [sic] the "Christian" population is spewing from the bowls [sic? probably meant "bowels"] of ignorance. my [sic] reason for saying this? well [sic--broken caps key?] you people are close minded of course. and [sic] any notion that your words and "laws" are wrong is an insult and you point out some strong points just to cast doubt on this find. I have not 1% [sic] shred of doubt this is the tomb of Jesus. becuase [sic and sic] I know Moses started this christianity [sic] c**p [edited] and people picked up on it to be the "out-casts" to oppose the rulers of their time. It would have died out if it wasnt [sic] for the Roman Emperor ( forgot his name ) google it, he proclaimed that jesus [sic] WAS the son of the ONE true god and they all had to follow him or die. On another area of this Tomb business. Is why [sic] is it so hard to accept that its true. [sic] how [sic] incredible are the odds that this is NOT the tomb.... how many families back then would have all the names correct... honestly are you people this thick headed? wake [sic] up and accept that there is no purpose or god. we [sic] evolved and maybe yes something created us. but [sic] why the h**l [edited] would there be millions of stars and one belief? there [sic] isn't imagine [sic] another world of intelligent people. and [sic] think of their religions. yea [sic].... was their jesus [sic] green?And here I am documenting facts about inscriptions, the encratite community of Asia minor (source of The Acts of Philip), Gelasius' condemnation thereof, and mitochondrial DNA! Goodness.
The Final Nail in the...Ossuary
03/14/2007 - James WhiteFor the serious minded person, this controversy is over. Finished. Dr. Stephen J. Pfann of the University of the Holy Land in Jerusalem has just posted his paper, "Mary Magdalene is Now Missing: A Corrected Reading of Rahmani Ossuary 701" here. And with this information the case is quite literally closed. Without Mariamne, Jacobovici and his team have nothing whatsoever. Pfann makes a compelling case that the proper reading is "Mariame and Mara (Martha)," and given that Mariame is a normative form, the discussion is truly over, for as I have said repeatedly, the Mariamne identification is the heart of their theory. It was already a done deal in that the Acts of Philip do not, in fact, provide them with what they need in any way, shape, or form, but now that issue is irrelevant as well, in the sense that they can't even get to the Acts of Philip with a compelling counter-reading of the ossuary staring them in the face.
I have been focusing upon The Acts of Philip, the DNA evidence, etc., and all of that is, in fact, important. But the one area I knew I would not be able to address to any depth was that of the inscriptions, and the reason is not difficult to see:
Without the ability to use different angles of light, or at least have multiple very high-resolution scans, people remote from the actual inscriptions are at the mercy of those who have actually examined the inscriptions "up close and personal." Most of the images I have seen have either been moving (in video), or were not high enough resolution scans to allow any kind of close examination, as in the image above. While you can make out the broad strokes, any kind of critique of the reading is difficult to do. I had seen alternative readings. Bauckham had suggested Mariamenou Mara, and this made sense, grammatically, in Greek. There was no question that Mara was a full name, not a title, as suggested by Tabor and the Jacobovici team. But Pfann's very clear reading helps a great deal. Here is the inscription again:
Pfann points out the differences in orthography between Mariame and the following kai Mara, and he is quite right. But since most do not read Greek, here is his colorized tracing of the text:
This should help you to see the terms in perspective. Now, "kai" doesn't look a lot like kai, but Pfann goes into detail on other examples of this connetive being written this way. The fact that kai is a connective (the word "and") means that just as in English, it could be abbreviated or shortened, similar to our own "&."
So what we have is a second hand adding "and Mara," which would indicate that first Mariame's bones were placed in this ossuary then, at a later time, Mara's were added. It is not uncommon to find the remains of multiple people in a single ossuary (amazing how small we are when reduced to our skeletal remains), and as I have noted, Kloner's article averages 1.7 people/ossuary in the Talpiot tomb. So whose remains were tested via mitochondrial DNA analysis? Mariame? Mara? We have no way of knowing, since we don't even know they were the only people in the ossuary. One thing is for certain, it wasn't Mary Magdalene.
Of course, this is not going to slow me down on the book. This information must come out, and, what is more, this entire situation provides us with a glowing example of the kind of apologetic challenge to the faith we can expect in the future. What is more, do you really think those who want to disbelieve will be convinced by this kind of evidence? Did truth stop Dan Brown? Not at all. What is more, do not under estimate the human mind. "Mary...Martha...Mary and Martha! That's Mary and Martha, so, Lazarus must have been in one of the unmarked ossuaries, so, it is the family tomb of Jesus after all!" Stranger things have happened.
In any case, it is fascinating to read the response posted on the Discovery website. First, they finally admit that the film and book do, in fact, directly contradict Christianity:
The film and book suggest that a first-century ossuary found in a south Jerusalem cave in 1980 contained the remains of Jesus, contradicting the Christian belief that he was resurrected and ascended to heaven. Ossuaries are stone boxes used at the time to store the bones of the dead.Then the article reports,
In Israel on Tuesday for a screening of the film, the Toronto-based Jacobovici welcomed Pfann's criticism, saying "every inscription should be re-examined."Democtratizing this knowledge? Or pandering falsehoods for money? That's the question.
But Jacobovici said scholars who researched the ossuary in the past agreed with the film's reading. "Anyone who looks at it can see that the script was written by the same hand," he added.
Jacobovici has faced criticism much tougher than Pfann's academic critique. The film has been termed "archaeo-porn," and Jacobovici has been accused of "pimping the Bible."
Jacobovici attributes most of the criticism to scholars' discomfort with journalists "casting light into their ossuary monopoly."
"What we're doing is democratizing this knowledge, and this is driving some people crazy," he said.
For Use on Today's DL: More Tomb Errors
03/13/2007 - James WhiteHere is more evidence of the errors of the tomb film, this time in spinning such a wild web of conspiracy theories that they can't keep time frames and simple logic together. They throw John the Baptist's death (pre-Christian, politically driven, not due to his relationship to Jesus) in with James' (post-cross) and then a tradition about Simon's death. Then they graphically present the great danger to Jesus' "son," Judah. Mary hides Judah when a Roman soldier just happens to walk past. But then the producers seem to blow a logic fuse. How? They spin a wild tale from John 19:
John 19:25-27 25 Therefore the soldiers did these things. But standing by the cross of Jesus were His mother, and His mother's sister, Mary the wife of Clopas, and Mary Magdalene. 26 When Jesus then saw His mother, and the disciple whom He loved standing nearby, He said to His mother, "Woman, behold, your son!" 27 Then He said to the disciple, "Behold, your mother!" From that hour the disciple took her into his own household.Now, of course a first-century document that does not support their fanciful theories cannot be trusted, so they run off to wild speculations that lack even a foundation in something as wonderfully trustworthy on a historical level of the Acts of Philip! Though John tells us Mary Magdalene is there along with Mary, the mother of Jesus, the film decides to throw out the idea that Jesus is talking to Mary Magdalene about Judah, who are both at the foot of the cross! Here is the recreation:
Excuse me, but there are Roman soldiers standing around guarding those being crucified (if they left, the families would remove the prisoners from the crosses and try to save their lives). So we are supposed to believe that while Mary will hide Judah from a passing Roman soldier in a marketplace for fear of exposure, Jesus will address her as his wife, and make reference to his son, right there in front of Roman soldiers at the crucifixion? I'm sorry, but the utter inanity of such wild-eyed speculation leaves one breathless, especially when it is placed in the context of a bold, well-funded, yet groundless attack upon the very heart of the Christian faith.
Making It Up Out of Whole Cloth
03/13/2007 - James WhiteWork on the book progresses (those of you waiting for e-mail replies from me, please be patient! There are only so many hours in a day). My biggest problem is choosing which errors of logic, fact, and argumentation, to leave out simply due to a lack of time. Here's one that would be a real hoot if not for the fact that gullible folks will be repeating this stuff for years to come. Here is one reading (the text of the Acts of Philip is very corrupt) of verses 137 and 138:
137 And the Lord said: Since you have been unforgiving and wrathful, you shall indeed die in glory and be taken by angels to paradise, but shall remain outside it forty days, in fear of the flaming sword, and then I will send Michael and he shall let you in. And Bartholomew shall go to Lycaonia and be crucified there, and Mariamne's body shall be laid up in the river Jordan. And I shall bring back those who have been swallowed up. 138 And he drew a cross in the air, reaching down into the abyss, and it was filled with light, and the cross was like a ladder. And Jesus called the people, and they all came up, save the proconsul and the Viper And seeing the apostles they mourned and repented.Now, notice, Mariamne is prophecied to be "laid up in the river Jordan." This is in the context of the deaths of Philip, Bartholomew, and Mariamne. Now remember, this book is fiction. It is not history. Jacobovici and Pellegrino call this an "account" of Mary Magdalene's travels! It is a fictional work about Mariamne, a gnostic-inspired fictional character! But even with all of this, listen to what this film claims:
When you can turn Mariamne into Mary Magdalene and Jerusalem into the Jordan River (a day's journey away in the ancient world), there is no end to the theories you can spin.
More on the Abuse of Truth in The Lost Tomb of Jesus
03/12/2007 - James WhiteWe all know James Cameron knows how to use a camera to create an emotional impact. Sadly, when his starting information is grossly flawed, the results can be downright deceptive. Let's take the Mariamne inscription. Fourth century encratite text--a group of ascetics condemned by the orthodox followers of Jesus, and that quite rightly; that is, the author(s) of The Acts of Philip were vegetarians who disallowed marriage and procreation, and as such, were rightly condemned, given the plain teaching of New Testament texts on the propriety of marriage, and the fact that meats are given to men to be used for his life and health, see Hebrews 13:4, Col 2:16. They are not even remotely connected to the first century; they are not carrying some "tradition" that goes back in history. They are creating fictional stories to promote their movement, nothing more. Francois Bovon, the leading scholar on the Acts of Philip, has written to me just recently, indicating that his identification of Mary Magdalene with Mariamne of The Acts of Philip is "on the level of literary traditions and not on the level of history" (e-mail from Francois Bovon to James White, March 8, 2007). Bovon is talking about literary connections between texts like the Gospel of Thomas, the Gospel of Mary Magdala, etc., all texts far removed from the first century and the events of Jesus' life. The Mary Magdalene they fabricate shares only one thing with the Mary Magdalene of history: her name. The gnostics loved latching onto names in the New Testament about whom we know little; they would then fill the name with fanciful stories, all designed to give a "spin" that would support their own theology. They could not make their case from the original followers of Jesus, so, they had to fictionalize stories to gain followers. The Acts of Philip draws upon preceding texts that have already fictionalized Mary Magdalene, and, in the opinion of Bovon, fills its own woman, Mariamne, with the characteristics of the previously created gnostic version of Mary Magdalene. But Bovon recognizes this is a literary connection, not a historical one, and further, he admits that "the name Magdala does not appear in the Acts of Philip."
So are the viewers of the tomb film given a fair, balanced, accurate picture of the sources being used to make wild historical connections in the theory of the filmmakers? Judge for yourself:
By the way, the book and film loves to talk about how many names have been found on ossuaries. What you need to keep in mind is that only around 250 incriptions have been found, mostly of men (ie., 1000 ossuaries, 20-25% with inscriptions = 250 inscriptions). The database is therefore quite small, so to find an "unusual" inscription is only relevant---if you already have the conclusion you are wanting to find in the "evidence."
Hey, I Even Suggested This!
03/11/2007 - James WhiteOne of the regulars in our channel has a Cafepress shop and designs shirts. On a lark, when I saw her come into channel earlier today I said, "Hey, Carla should design an 'I Survived the Tomb Story' t-shirt!" Well, she took me seriously and did a great job with it. So, if you've been reading all of my blog entries on the tomb story, and want to make your faith known, here's a nicely done t-shirt! Here's the link to a number of items you can order, even a coffee mug, with this graphic on it. No, this isn't associated with A&O, but that is only because we weren't fast enough to come up with such a great graphic! Yes, I've ordered one for myself. I can't wait for the first conversation that comes up because someone sees me wearing it who likewise saw the "documentary."
An Excellent Example of the Scholarship of The Tomb
03/11/2007 - James WhiteTo say that The Lost Tomb of Jesus is a biased work is to engage in a tremendous understatement. It is very easy to document the bias of this work, and its incredible level of inaccuracy when presenting historical subjects related to the Christian faith. It lives and breathes in the air of the "Gnostic Academy," that popular area of religious study focused upon resurrecting the heresies of the early gnostics and investing in their every word authority far beyond anything granted to orthodox Christian writings.
Here is an excellent example. Watch this video carefully. You have hooded monks in the darkness committing ancient texts to the flames while the narrator speaks of "church fathers" in the "second century." The intention of the filmmakers is anything but merely presenting "facts." See for yourself:
Let's consider the facts. The second century was a difficult time for Christianity. This was the century of severe persecution in many portions of the Roman empire. The church was racked with the struggles produced by trying to answer the question, "What do you do with those who give in under torture?" This was a movement without political power, and without the ability to be "suppressing" anything at all. While the filmmakers directly assert editing of the gospels by these same men, they do not offer a scintilla of argument in support of their accusations against them. Evidently, Christian martyrs, as long as they are orthodox in their theology, can be slandered and lied about with impugnity in the Discovery Channel universe.
But most amazing is the assertion that the church "suppressed" two documents in the second century: the Gospel of Mary Magdala, and the Acts of Philip. Just how did this allegedly happen? You see, the Gospel of Mary Magdala was written in the middle of the second century at the earliest. This would mean its distribution, even amongst the minority gnostic community, would take time. What evidence is provided that a book that may not have even been written during the second century was "suppressed" by a persecuted Christian church during the second century? This is even more so the case with The Acts of Philip which Francois Bovon, the Harvard scholar featured in the film itself, identifies as a fourth century work. Were these hooded monks of the second century (monasticism was just developing at this time) prophetic so as to suppress a book that would not be written for more than a century in the future? (Ironically, the narrator, less than a minute later, identifies the Acts of Philip as a fourth century text.) This kind of wide-eyed abuse of history would be humorous, if it was not placed in the context of attacking the very heart of the Christian faith.
The reality is that the popularity of these ancient gnostic texts, which themselves are unconcerned with history (being written long after the events they portray), derives from the contemporary rise in "women's studies" in the academy. The pagan foundations of gnosticism included the concept of "the divine feminine," and hence, in today's academic climate, those gnostics were cutting edge! The gnostic texts of Nag Hammadi and elsewhere do portray conflicts between male leaders, like the Apostles, and women like Mary Magdalene. But rather than this representing a true historical connection to the events that took place in Judea in the early decades of the first century, it represents the conflict between the very commandments of Christ and His Apostles recorded in the New Testament and those who wished to overthrow their authority in later cults and schisms. They created "myths" to attempt to establish their beliefs, and both The Gospel of Mary Magdala and The Acts of Philip are nothing more than apologetic tracts written by idiosyncratic groups at a later time in the history of the church. They contain no meaningful history and have no meaningful connection to Jesus and the Apostles. To grant them equality with the gospels in authority or relevance is the height of absurdity; but to given them more authority and relevance, as has been done in this film and book, demonstrates either a historical naivete of shocking depth or, more likely, a bias and prejudice that goes well into the realm of simple dishonesty in the name of making money.
A Reason for Concern
03/10/2007 - James WhiteI must confess, I am concerned. Over the past few days as I have been writing, gathering primary resources, and in general immersed in this project, I have taken the time to listen to the responses being offered by others. I am desirous of learning as much as I can from others, and I am truly hopeful that others will provide strong replies for the benefit of God's people as well. But to be honest, I have been disappointed by what I have heard.
Today while riding I listened to a two hour response from a national program aired the Sunday night the film aired on the Discovery Channel in the US. Now, granted, the book had only been out for four days at that point, and while I had obtained it that day and had it read by the evening of the next, I am focused upon this topic. Others might have other projects "in the way," so it was not too surprising that the scholar being interviewed showed no familiarity with the book. As a result, some of the responses were far less "full" than they could have been, and some were just not accurate. That is understandable: all of us "pre-book" and "pre-movie" were going only on what was currently available. But we are now "post-book" and we should be hearing focused, clear, compelling refutations.
Then, on Friday of this week, I listened to an hour long discussion of the tomb issue on a much more widely heard program. Now we are talking about a program that, unless it was not live at all, took place a full ten days after the book came out, and almost a week after the film aired. And once again, the scholar being interviewed gave not the slightest sign of having read the book, watched the film, watched the Today Show segment, the Larry King program---nothing. He could not even pronounce "Jacobovici" correctly. He knew nothing about mitochondrial DNA or the limitations of its ability to speak to familial relationships; he never mentioned (in what I heard) the true nature of the Acts of Philip, Francois Bovon, etc. Instead of providing in-depth refutation of the film and book based upon actual research and simply doing your homework, the premise was mocked and ridiculed. A wonderful opportunity for education was completely missed.
I am very concerned that many in the post-evangelical church are taking the "mock it, dismiss it" route in response to the film. We have an opportunity here, and I, for one, do not wish to see it wasted. You see, we all know that this will not be the last time this kind of attack is launched. Someone will undoubtedly take this story and re-work it, remove some of the more obvious errors that come from Jacobovici and Pellegrino lacking any and all theological knowledge, repackage it, add in a few twists, and another book will come out. What is accomplished if all you did last time was mock the argument? But if we take this time to expose the roots of this kind of abuse of history, educate serious believers about how to do their own digging, their own thinking, their own de-mythologizing of supposed scholarship, you have equipped them to handle the next attack before it even comes, while rooting and grounding them in the faith. It is like the old saying: Give a man a fish and he eats for a day. Teach a man to fish and he eats for a lifetime. Give a surface-level, "easy" response to the tomb story now, and you might keep people happy. Teach them to think through these things and learn about the groups that existed outside the church and whose writings are the darlings of the current crop of unbelieving anti-Christians and you equip them to deal with the next dozen attacks upon the faith that will come out.
That is why just this evening I corresponded again with Dr. Carney Matheson about the DNA evidence. I realized earlier today that I had not seen the slightest bit of discussion about how they would handle multiple people's bones being placed in the same ossuary. He was kind enough to respond and clarify. Yesterday I was corresponding with Francois Bovon of Harvard, and I was gathering original text materials in Greek and French for the chapter on the very heart of the Jacobovici/Pellegrino/Cameron argument: that Mariamne is Mary Magdalene. I will be providing information on the Acts of Philip regarding its textual history and character, and the world-view from which it arises. I have found that it is not technically "gnostic" as in virtually identical to the Nag Hammadi texts, the Gospel of Thomas, etc. Same general genre, but this comes from an encratite group, a group of vegetarian acetics who eschewed sex and marriage (a really good way to make sure your movement does not last very long). Is it not obvious that a text that presents Mariamne as a virtuous icon would not fit in with the idea of her being the wife of Jesus and the mother of a son? That is why Bovon says his identification of Mariamne as Mary Magdalene is not an identification relevant to history but solely a literary parallel. For that matter, in his article on the subject he draws a number of parallels between the Mariamne of this fourth century fictional literature and the Virgin Mary. Hardly the kind of thing you will find in the tomb movie.
In any case, it is my intention to once again take the offensive and use this attack upon our faith as a means of presenting its truth. But to do this properly we must do our homework and engage the topic without giving in to the temptation to simply "mock" it. So I ask for your continued prayer and support while I seek to put all this information into a readable, usable form.
Another Commentator on the Tomb Story
03/07/2007 - James White
I would like to comment on your Jesus family tomb article. You can always find arguments to support your belief system and disregard other arguments that do not fit in with your beliefs. This is only natural. Because you only chose to choose quotes from people that would like to discredit the documentary it is clear where you stand. I found the film to have a very compelling argument. The filmmakers truly believed they 'may have' found something profound. They are not saying it is definitive proof but encourage discussions and further scientific study. It amazes me how many had their minds made up before it even aired.... I'll continue to view this issue with an open mind and the question.. what if? JohnWell, John, I suppose I could pull a Simcha here and say, "Hey, you haven't read my book, so you really can't say anything," but I'll avoid that.
Most of my commentary on the topic has been done on radio programs and web casts, actually, and in those programs I have played every bit of audio recording I could find, allowing Jacobovici and Pellegrino and Cameron and Tabor to define their own terms and make their own claims. So it is simply false to say I have only quoted those who "agree" with me. The fact is, John, I was writing about this before there were others to agree with me in the first place! The problem is that Jacobovici et al are making wild claims that even secular scholars identify as far-fetched, and part of their M.O. has been to play fast and loose with the data they have at hand (such as the mitochondrial DNA evidence). Further, I have quoted from men like Carney Matheson, from correspondence I have had with him, and he was the DNA expert used in the film! So how can you possibly make the assertion you have? ...
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Some E-Mail, More Links
03/06/2007 - James WhiteThis is one of the reasons I am working on a book: there are so many little tidbits of important information floating about on the net, in this book, that article, this old journal entry, that trying to keep it all straight is pretty difficult. That is part and parcel of the problem with the Jacobovici/Cameron/Tabor/Pellegrino project: it merrily skipped right on past the necessary academic examination to its publicly presented conclusions. In any case, these links are important: Joe Zias and a statistical examination.
Meanwhile, I got the following e-mail from "Lawrence":
This is about your so called conclusion about the lost tomb of jesus. It is funny to me how many of you control freaks will dismiss the facts when faced with them. Not that the tomb has rendered facts yet,but that you stand ready to dismiss them before they can be proven. Because it may hurt your beliefs,or your control over others beliefs. There is no other documentation that proves Jesus exsited. The bible is not proof,because it was written centuries after the so called life of christ. God only exsists in your head. You will not respond to me because I challenge your faith. I accept that. You people are weak when it comes to serious debate,you will only continue to deliberatly lie to people about real truth. Believe in ghosts if you wish,but stop telling people it is truth unless you have the facts.Hello, Lawrence. Don't think I've had the pleasure of hearing from you before.
Dismiss facts? Exactly which facts have I dismissed? I've documented that Jacobovici et al. have dismissed the proper limitations of mitochondrial DNA analysis with reference to familial relationships; I've documented that they have dismissed centuries of sound biblical scholarship relating to the NT, gnostic writings, etc.; I've documented their gross double-standards in their use of sources, their selective use of biblical material, etc. So just what "facts" have I dismissed, I wonder?
You say I dismissed them "before they can be proven." Isn't that the point? They skipped the entire "proving" stage called scholarship, chose their "experts" so that they would all have an agenda (or were not given the whole story), all to accomplish their own ends. I would love to see you attempt to establish your accusations here.
You say the Bible is not proof because it was written centuries after the so-called life of Christ. Really? The Dead Sea Scrolls were written prior to the life of Christ, Lawrence. Did you forget that the DSS contain many biblical manuscripts? Or are you very confused, thinking the New Testament is all of the Bible? If you are referring only to the New Testament, if it was written "centuries" after the time of Christ, why do we have manuscripts like P46, P66, and P75, all from around AD 200, and fragments like the one to the right, P52, from the Gospel of John, dating to as early as AD 125? I have this sneaking suspicion your knowledge of biblical history is somewhat lacking, perhaps?
Why did you think I would not respond to you? The problem is, Lawrence, you haven't actually challenged me. You have to have some kind of meaningful argument to comprise a real challenge. Merely blowing steam is not the same thing as a challenge. It is easy to make the accusations you do, but far more difficult to back them up.
Now, I do a live webcast every Tuesday and Thursday. The toll-free number is 877-753-3341. Details are over there on the left under "Webcast." If you have the courage of your atheistic convictions, try calling and backing up your accusations of dismissing facts, lying to people, etc. Since I am so "weak in debate," I'm sure you would do a wonderful service to all of my listeners to point these things out, don't you? I look forward to hearing from you.
The Tomb Story on Iron Sharpens Iron Today and Tomorrow
03/05/2007 - James WhiteI will be joining Chris Arnzen on Iron Sharpens Iron today and tomorrow on the tomb story. Here's the link. Listen in at 3pm EST.
Making Lemonade Out of Lemons: Using the Talpiot Tomb as a Witness
03/05/2007 - James WhiteIt is the morning after. Those with an interest in the subject of the resurrection have already seen the film. As most of you know, today I launch into a high-speed book writing project to attempt to collect, collate, and present in a clear and understandable fashion the main arguments and facts regarding the Talpiot Tomb, DNA, patina, statistics, gnostic writings and the like. But at best, that book will not be out until Easter. So how about today? Rather than hope no one will ask you what you think, I believe we should be on the offensive---without being offensive. As I suggested with The Passion and with The Da Vinci Code, let's use this situation to God's glory and for the proclamation of the truth.
Well, it sure looks like the experts have put a crink in your religion! Actually, just the opposite. Instead, we have yet another example of how those who oppose the resurrection of Christ are willing to manipulate facts just to get maximum impact. In reality, the main problem with the film and book is its sensationalistic bent that leads Jacobovici and Cameron, etc., to take otherwise interesting historical facts and twist them into an attempt to turn a regular Jewish tomb into the family tomb of Jesus.
But they have DNA evidence! Yes, mitochondrial DNA evidence that conclusively proves that the tiny bone fragments recovered from ossuaries 80-500 and 80-503 came from people who were not related to one another maternally. Nothing more. They could have been related paternally, i.e., 80-503 could have been the father of 80-500 but the DNA evidence currently available cannot say much more than that. Finding people in a family tomb who are not maternally related is, of course, not unusual. In fact, it is normal. The assumption that Yeshua ben Yosef, if that inscription is being read correctly at all, was married to at least one of those whose bones were placed in ossuary 80-500 (there could have been more than one), is fanciful at best. Tell me, why do you think the authors of the book forgot to tell their readers about the paternal possibilities of relationship between these two ossuaries? Is it because that reality is fatal to the case they are trying to construct?
But the name cluster statistics prove this is the tomb of Jesus of Nazareth! Listen to what you just said! Jesus of Nazareth, not Jerusalem. At least 20 men would, using the same statistics, have lived in Jerusalem during that time period that had a father named Joseph and a brother named James. And guess what? All twenty or more of them died. And were buried. How many had ossuaries? Hard to say. We have found multiple attestations of the name Jesus in ossuaries from the time. The Talpiot tomb is nothing new. But Jesus wasn't from Jerusalem. He did not live there, nor would there be any reason to think that a multi-generational tomb would be owned there by someone from Nazareth which is far to the north of Jerusalem. But beyond the fact that it is truly stretching it to assert that a poor man from Nazareth would have a rich tomb in Jerusalem...where he was crucified...and where his followers were persecuted by the Jewish leaders...who would have made the tomb the main-stay of their apologetic arguments against the growing Christian faith (nothing like showing off Jesus' tomb to end rumors of resurrection!), the fact is that the odds are high against any particular combination of names appearing in a single tomb in any one place. The chances that your father, with his first name, would choose to marry a woman with your mother's first name, are high; then, that two such named people would choose your name for a child, is likewise higher; now add in your siblings, and you are getting the number ever higher. Yet, families, with names, exist, in some of the oddest, and statistically improbable, combinations.
But Christian scholars agree that the Mariamne in the tomb is Mary Magdalene! If "two or three" is the same as "Christian scholars," I guess so. But since the identification of "Mariamne" as Mary Magdalene is central to the entire theory, don't you find it rather odd that Jacobovici and his team overlooked the prevalence of the name and the source of it (Mariamne was the favorite wife of Herod--how many baby girls were named "Jackie" back in the 1960s?) in the contemporary records while running to a document written 1) at least three centuries later, probably four, 2) known in full only from a 14th century translation, 3) in a different language than that relevant to the ossuaries, 4) from a geographical location far removed from Jerusalem, 5) that itself never identifies Mariamne as Mary Magdalene (that is pure speculation on the part of Francois Bovon) and 6) that is utterly a-historical and mythical? Is this really how you do serious "investigation" and scholarship? Remember, this identification was the "insight" that "connected all the dots" for Jacobovici---and yet, it is the weakest link in the entire argument.
But what about their argument that the Gospel of Thomas was written by Jesus' son Judah? That's one of the more humorous speculations of the book, actually. See, the Gospel of Thomas was written far, far from Jerusalem, in a different language, and it comes from a completely different worldview. Those who are not invested in selling books promoting the Gospel of Thomas recognize that it was written no earlier than about AD 165. So, if Judah was buried around AD 65, it was quite the trick for him to write a book a hundred years after he was buried, in a land far away, in a language he would have no reason to speak!
This is just the beginning of how you might turn a skeptical inquiry into an opportunity to speak of the gospel. May God bless all of you who seek to be bold witnesses this day!
Dr. Carney Matheson Responds
03/02/2007 - James WhiteI am very thankful that Dr. Matheson, the paleo-DNA expert who is featured in The Jesus Family Tomb and in the film to be seen on Discovery this weekend replied to my e-mail today. He must be deluged right now! I feel sorry for him. In any case, I had asked the following:
On page 172 of The Jesus Family Tomb you are quoted as follows:He replied in less than three hours (despite the book indicating he "rarely checks e-mails"):
"That this man and woman do not share the same mother," Matheson said quickly and conclusively. "They cannot be mother and child. They cannot, maternally, be brother and sister. And so, for these particular samples, because they come from the same tomb--and we suspect it to be a familial tomb--these two individuals, if they were unrelated, would most likely have been husband and wife."
Given that mitochondrial DNA analysis can only address maternal relationships, leaving open the possibility that 80-503 was, in fact, the father of 80-500, and the mitochondrial DNA analysis could not address this, is the preceding quotation accurate to your recollection? Did you inform Simcha Jacobovici of the possible paternal relationship?
This work was done as a service. We did not know who they suspected these individuals to be from. On the report it concludes that these two profiles from two different individuals were not maternally related. That is all the report states. When they did the filming and on the documentary they asked every question under the sun with permutations and manipulations. I provided the investigators with all the possibilities. They were not brother and sister, mother and child, maternal cousins, maternal grandparent and child etc. I also mentioned all of the possibilities, which I should not have done in hindsight. These included, father and daughter, paternal cousins, half brother and sister (sharing the same father) or simply unrelated individuals.Please note the last portion of what is said here: "I also mentioned all of the possibilities, which I should not have done in hindsight. These included, father and daughter, paternal cousins, half brother and sister (sharing the same father) or simply unrelated individuals." There is not a whisper of this in the book. Not a word. You tell me why these possibilities were simply left out when Dr. Matheson reported them?
The media does what they want.
Quick Additional Information (With Link Update)
03/02/2007 - James WhiteWith the film airing in only a few days, this item of information is very interesting. We are getting a number of very helpful e-mails, and Laurie sent us a URL with this information in it. Jacobovici discusses in the body of the book and its conclusion the work of Bellarmino Bagatti and the "necropolis" he uncovered in Jerusalem called Dominus Flevit. There is an ossuary there inscribed "Simon, son of Jonah." Quite interesting indeed. But, what Jacobovici neglected to mention, in the chapter in the book or in the conclusion, is some of the other names found in the necropolis there in Jerusalem, including "Mary, Martha, Philo the Cyrene, Matthew, Joseph, Jesus" (source). Woops, that would not help your theory much, would it? So, that did not make it into this "carefully researched" work. One of our channel regulars did a little looking around when I mentioned this and came up with this site with documentation from Bagatti on the Peter ossuary. Just another helpful item to have ready for the Monday Morning Deluge coming your way.
UPDATE: a useful set of comments here.
A Few Items from the Conclusion of The Jesus Family Tomb (Updated)
03/02/2007 - James WhiteCertain aspects of the conspiracy theory laden movie/book by Jacobovici and Pellegrino have not yet been given much attention in the media or in the Christian responses thereto. As our regular readers know, I will be launching into a book-length rebuttal and examination when I return home Monday. But till then, a few items should be noted:
1) Jacobovici was central in the production of the Discovery Channel's special on the 'James, brother of Jesus" ossuary special a few years ago. Clearly, there isn't a thimble-full of objectivity on his part in the analysis of sources used in his work, and he was the prime mover in "connecting the dots" through the use of a-historical gnostic sources from centuries later to "read back" Mary Magdalene into the Mariamne ossuary.
2) So central to this entire web of speculation and theorizing (maddeningly littered with "obviously" and "probably" and "it is most likely" phrases attached to historical absurdities) are the a-historical gnostic writings removed far from the original context in geography (one can't even connect the authors to the original locations), time (they were writing hundreds of years later), language (a consideration in and of itself fatal to the tenuous attempts to do linguistic gymnastics) and religion (gnosticism has always been, and always will be, fundamentally antagonistic to foundational pillars of Judaism and Christianity) that this project should be called the "Gnostic Fantasy of the Jesus Family Tomb."
3) Jacobovici is so wedded to this gnostic spin that he spends a good portion of his conclusion to the book arguing that the author of the Gospel of Thomas was, in fact, "Judah son of Jesus" from the Talpiot tomb (ignoring, of course, the original language of Thomas, the fact that it would have been written nearly a century after the destruction of Jerusalem and after the Judah ossuary was placed in the tomb--was there a fax in that ossuary I wonder?). The result of his over-riding theory on his part, especially when it comes to his use of biblical materials, is startling. I will post some of his arguments from Scripture as soon as time allows.
4) It is so very sad to see these men obscure solid scientific data. One of the main "tests" I had in mind for this book when I picked it up was this: Will the book honestly discuss the limitations of mitochondrial DNA? Will they admit that such analysis can only speak to maternal relations, not to paternal relations? Will they tell us what Dr. Carney Matheson has confirmed that such a test cannot rule out that Yeshua ben Yosef was the father of Mariamne? Or will they spin the results? The answer was: spin, spin, spin. Look at this direct quote from the conclusion, page 207: "However, they were able to extract mitochondrial DNA from both the Jesus and Mariamne ossuaries. This allowed them to confirm that these were indeed Middle Eastern people of antiquity and that they were not related." This is simply false. In an e-mail dated 2/26/07 Dr. Matheson frankly stated, "This can only identify maternal relationship of which the two remains do not share. However we cannot exclude paternal relationship using the mtDNA." And shortly after, "However the DNA results only show they are not maternally related the rest is the conclusions of the producer and the other researchers." Surely Matheson informed Jacobovici of this. Jacobovici somehow forgot. Or did he? This cavalier handling of vital information should reflect upon the entire project.
For purposes of complete disclosure I wanted to note that in the brief chapter on the DNA analysis Matheson is quoted as properly indicating the limitations of mitochondrial DNA analysis in reference to familial relationships. However, never once in the book is the factual reality that a father/daughter relationship could exist between Yeshua ben Yosef (ossuary 80-503) and Mariamne (80-500) noted, let alone considered, expanded upon, or discussed. Instead, on page 172, Dr. Matheson is quoted as follows, and then the story moves quickly on.
"That this man and woman do not share the same mother," Matheson said quickly and conclusively. "They cannot be mother and child. They cannot, maternally, be brother and sister. And so, for these particular samples, because they come from the same tomb--and we suspect it to be a familial tomb--these two individuals, if they were unrelated, would most likely have been husband and wife."I have inquired of Dr. Matheson concerning his recollection as to whether Jacobovici was clearly informed of the limitations of the analysis, and will appraise my readers upon his reply.
Quick Notice: Update
03/01/2007 - James WhiteMy apologies on being so late on this. I will be on WLFJ-AM at 1pm EST today on the program "Calling for Truth" to discuss the tomb issue. Here's the live link.
Update: Just finished the program, the archive should be posted here.
Ben Witherington's Preliminary Conclusions
03/01/2007 - James WhiteBen Witherington has read The Family Tomb of Jesus and I am thankful to see he has focused upon the same problems I have identified in the work. He also has some quotes from Bauckham on the translation of "Mara" as well.