Wednesday, February 28, 2007

Paging Dan Brown

From The Washington Post:

Leading archaeologists in Israel and the United States yesterday denounced the purported discovery of the tomb of Jesus as a publicity stunt.

Scorn for the Discovery Channel's claim to have found the burial place of Jesus, Mary Magdalene and -- most explosively -- their possible son came not just from Christian scholars but also from Jewish and secular experts who said their judgments were unaffected by any desire to uphold Christian orthodoxy.

"I'm not a Christian. I'm not a believer. I don't have a dog in this fight," said William G. Dever, who has been excavating ancient sites in Israel for 50 years and is widely considered the dean of biblical archaeology among U.S. scholars. "I just think it's a shame the way this story is being hyped and manipulated."

The Discovery Channel held a news conference in New York on Monday to unveil a TV documentary, "The Lost Tomb of Jesus," and a companion book about a tomb that was unearthed during construction of an apartment building in the Talpiyot neighborhood of Jerusalem in 1980.

James Cameron, the filmmaker who explored the wreck of the Titanic and directed an Oscar-winning feature film based on its sinking, is executive producer of the documentary. Its claims are based on six ossuaries, or stone boxes for holding human bones, found in the tomb.

[. . .]

Dever, a retired professor of archaeology at the University of Arizona, said that some of the inscriptions on the Talpiyot ossuaries are unclear, but that all of the names are common.

"I've know about these ossuaries for many years and so have many other archaeologists, and none of us thought it was much of a story, because these are rather common Jewish names from that period," he said. "It's a publicity stunt, and it will make these guys very rich, and it will upset millions of innocent people because they don't know enough to separate fact from fiction."

Similar assessments came yesterday from two Israeli scholars, Amos Kloner, who originally excavated the tomb, and Joe Zias, former curator of archaeology at the Israeli Antiquities Authority. Kloner told the Jerusalem Post that the documentary is "nonsense." Zias described it in an e-mail to The Washington Post as a "hyped up film which is intellectually and scientifically dishonest."

Jodi Magness, an archaeologist at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, expressed irritation that the claims were made at a news conference rather than in a peer-reviewed scientific article. By going directly to the media, she said, the filmmakers "have set it up as if it's a legitimate academic debate, when the vast majority of scholars who specialize in archaeology of this period have flatly rejected this," she said.

Magness noted that at the time of Jesus, wealthy families buried their dead in tombs cut by hand from solid rock, putting the bones in niches in the walls and then, later, transferring them to ossuaries.

She said Jesus came from a poor family that, like most Jews of the time, probably buried their dead in ordinary graves. "If Jesus' family had been wealthy enough to afford a rock-cut tomb, it would have been in Nazareth, not Jerusalem," she said.

Magness also said the names on the Talpiyot ossuaries indicate that the tomb belonged to a family from Judea, the area around Jerusalem, where people were known by their first name and father's name. As Galileans, Jesus and his family members would have used their first name and home town, she said.

"This whole case [for the tomb of Jesus] is flawed from beginning to end," she said.

Reminds me of a novel I read once called A Skeleton in God's Closet about an archaeologist who got pissed off at God because his father died when he was a kid. He became an archaeologist so that he could prove that the Bible was full of inaccuracies. When he couldn't find all the inaccuracies that he felt sure just had to be there he went to Plan B and found the body of a man in his mid 30's who had died from crucifixion and created a fake "tomb of Jesus" complete with a letter from Joseph of Arimathea to Nicodemus detailing how he stole the body to protect it from desecration, but never intended for people to think that Jesus rose from the dead, with Nicodemus' answer that he shoud just keep silent and maybe something good would come of it.

People who believe things like this are just attempting to drown out the "small still voice of God" in their hearts. It is the equivalent of sticking their fingers in their ears and humming real loud so that they won't have to hear something that they don't want to have to deal with.

After all if you admit that God is real then you must decide on what to do about it. Far easier to say that since the Bible speaks of sunrise and sunset that it is teaching that the sun revolves around the earth and write it off. All you can do for such people is pity them and hope that they find some measure of happiness in this life, because there will be none for them in the next. Unless, of course, they repent. Often the people who object the loudest are the closest to salvation and are just "kicking at the goads" like Saul of Tarsus.