'Jesus Tomb' Panelists Point to Holes in Director's 'Archaeoporn'

A panel discussion moderated by Ted Koppel, former anchor of ABC's Nightline, was held late Sunday night to discuss the implications of the new controversial documentary, The Lost Tomb of Jesus, which reported the supposed discovery of Jesus’ bones and his family’s tomb, including alleged wife Mary Magdalene and son Judah.

The debate, which was named The Lost Tomb of Jesus: A Critical Look and aired directly after the documentary on the Discovery Channel, addressed the implications the film has on Christian faith and spoke about possible weak points in director Simcha Jacobovici’s argument.

“Simcha has done his job now,” explained Koppel. “He’s brought everyone in the tent [to speak].”

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The show was split into two segments: the first dealing with possible errors that could be found in the film, the second talking about the theological ramifications that could come about.

As a first question, Koppel asked about the DNA testing that Jacobovici ran and why he did not push it as far as it could go. The evidence that the filmmaker provided could only make small claims to whether Jesus was married to Mary Magdalene.

Jacobovici, a Jewish archaeologist and filmmaker, noted that they could only obtain sufficient DNA from two of their ossuaries, boxes that hold remains of the dead. The rest were vacuum cleaned.

“I followed the DNA as far as I could,” explained the archaeologist. “I’m not a university. I’m a filmmaker …. Now let the critics weigh in.”

Following this, two of the present Christian panelists expressed that they thought his research was poor, and how it puts archaeology in a bad light.

“It’s like a romantic game and treasure hunt,” noted Jonathan Reed, professor of religion at the University of La Verne and author of Excavating Jesus: Beneath the Stones, Behind the Texts. He added that it seemed that the conclusions of the film were already drawn in the beginning.

“I call it ‘archaeoporn,’” added Reed. “It’s exciting, but in the end, it’s wrong. It isn’t a long lasting relationship.”

The program then when on to talk about the impact that media has on viewers.

“Visual imagery carries a certain power that the spoken word does not. You have made recreations in which you show Jesus and Mary Magdalene,” said the moderator. “You don’t say that it happened but by depicting it, you lend a power to that theory that it wouldn’t otherwise have.”

Jacobovici responded by saying, “My job as a filmmaker and a journalist was to tell a story.”

“You dramatize,” added Koppel. “I’m not sure with most newscasts [if that would be okay]. You dramatize.”

The panel then went on to talk about the “missing” James ossuary that may have been a part of the tomb and would help support the claims of the director.

Koppel summarized a statement that he had received from Amos Kloner, one of the first people to excavate the original tomb. “When he was in the tomb, he counted 10 ossuaries and he (Kloner) says the missing ossuary was, in fact, unmarked. Because of that, it was put in a courtyard at the Rockefeller Museum.”

James Tabor, chair of the Department of Religious Studies at the University of North Carolina, answered the proposal by saying that the dirt may have been covering the James inscription and that Kloner may have just missed it when first recording. Reed countered by asserting that there would be no way Kloner would have done that.

As a final topic for the first segment, the panelists talked about the significance of the statistics that were done and whether they really can conclude much from it.

In the second segment, three theologians were brought in to talk about the impact that the film would have on Christian faith.

“What I am is a believer,” explained Father David O’ Connell, President of the Catholic University of America in Washington. “It’s a faith that I didn’t just discover. It’s a faith that was handed onto me.”

When Darrell Bock, professor of New Testament Studies at the Dallas Theological Seminary, was asked what his conclusion on the film was, he expressed that he was “schizophrenic” about it, noting that the production was actually well done.

“But the frosting, the hypothesis, is a real problem because there are so many steps that are needed to connect the dots and I just don’t think you can connect those dots,” said the theologian.

Judy Fentress-Williams, Assistant Professor of Old Testament at Virginia Theological Seminary, also explained how the documentary is a reflection of American culture. She described how journalism has become more and more about entertainment. Because of that, Christians need to be more critical thinkers.

“I’m delighted this (discussion) is happening,” concluded Jacobovici. “As a filmmaker, I wanted everyone to weigh in.”

“[My statistics say] it’s 600 to 1. Let’s say it’s 60 to 1. Let’s say it’s 10 to 1. Let’s say it’s 50-50. This is still a great story.”

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