Howdy, again! I figure some of you (having read my February 27 post about the subject) have been expecting me to write again about this with more to say. Unfortunately, I did not give you a time element in that last post!
I really wanted to see the Discovery Channel show, “The Tomb of Jesus,” that Simcha Jacobovici and James Cameron have given us before I wrote anything too specific. Well, earlier tonight I (and the rest of you who might have seen it) got to do just that! And I was pleased that after the two hour “popcorn” treatment was over, the Discovery Channel had Ted Koppel host a panel of experts discussing (& disputing) the issue for an hour or so with Mr. Jacobovici and Dr. James Tabor, his partner in this matter. Actually, the length of the main program, itself, could have been cut by an hour (or more) while still giving it time to present the important facts and “analysis” (the quote marks there are very intentional) — which would have given the Discovery Channel more time to allot to the panel discussion, which was much more beneficial, and could have been even more so.
Augh! I have much more on my mind about this show and its issue, but I absolutely MUST get to bed! Suffice it, for now, for me to make a few comments (else I may get to bed, but I won’t be able to sleep!):
• The real “evidence” presented on the program is less than overwhelming, especially when stripped of the rather thick coat of gloss and varnish laid upon the actual facts at hand.
That the program’s creators have an agenda (and one that goes beyond, “Let’s just get people talking!”) should have been rather clear for those who have eyes to see. For example, Dr. Tabor was true to form when he said at the very beginning of the show that the “historical” approach is to assume that Jesus’ body was buried and should theoretically be with us today. Christians claim that the transformation and resurrection of Jesus’ body was a historical event — how can you claim that the “historical” approach is to assume from the start that a potentially historical event did not happen? (I should give him credit, though, in that it is my understanding that by associating himself with this production he shows a willingness to change his previously stated position on some matters. But trading one falsehood for another can’t earn one too many points…)
• The mathematics used to calculate the “probability” touted on the program is fundamentally flawed as a measure of how confident we should be in Jacobovici and gang’s conclusions. I don’t mean to diminish the reputation of the statistics professor who did the calculations for the Mr. Simcha, but anyone (like me) who has had to do real calculations like that in real situations so that you can advise someone to make real decisions recognizes that no hypothesis was being tested in those calculations.
If you want to test the credibility or confidence level of a hypothesis, fine — do that, and then tell me how confident that I can be in that hypothesis. There was no hypothesis tested with those calculations. All the talk about the “probability of the cluster” is impressive sounding, but it isn’t the analysis that is really needed.
Again, I do not mean to besmirch the reputation of Professor Feuerverger — he makes his own choices, and I do not know exactly what he was asked to do. But asking someone, “What is the probability of this cluster of names?” is simply NOT the same as asking, “How statistically confident should we be that these names represent the family members of Jesus of Nazareth?” Not only is the first question a bit vacuous (which would explain why not much more than a single “high school” level rule of probability is used to calculate it), it would likely be answered by most using a completely different (an not applicable) set of beginning assumptions.
(I could go on and on and on this point, and if I feel like rambling some time in the next few days, I just might. I hate it when mathematics is abused and MISused to lend an air of authority to something that does not deserve that authority. If you like the sort of “math” that you saw on “The Tomb of Jesus” tonight, you might as well go out and buy a Michael Drosnin “Bible Codes” book — the “mathematics” is just as “sound” in those things (I refuse to dignify them by calling them books). It might help sell books and boost ratings, but it just ain’t responsible mathematics! OK, Smith: surpress the urge to rant, surpress the urge to rant… I think I need to find a paper bag to breathe into…)
• There is currently a great deal of discussion about the assumptions concerning the names, as well. In fact, many have quite authoritatively argued that the supposed “Mary Magdalene” inscription should not be interpreted to be Mary Magdalene. In fact, it has been powerfully argued that the way in which the name is inscribed on that ossuary actually provides evidence against the identification of the woman with Mary Magdalene.
• On some of these matters, you might consider taking a look at the blog of Ben Witherington. I read his article in the Wall Street Journal on March 2, “Tomb of the (Still) Unknown Ancients” and found it well done. (You can read here, though it may require a subscription, I’m not sure. If the link works for you, I do recommend the article to those who might be interested.) Though written before the show aired, he had seen an advance preview and has actually worked with both Simcha Jacobovici and James Tabor, before, on other matters in which they are in agreement. His conclusion? “Make no bones about it — they have not found Jesus’ tomb.”
I mention his blog because he has posted insightful news and comments about many additional, convincing critiques of the conclusions shoved forward by the team of Jacobovici, Tabor, and Cameron. His February 26 post, “The Jesus Tomb? ‘Titanic’ Talpiot Tomb Theory Sunk from the Start” is a good start. Two more later posts (February 28, “Problems Multiply for Jesus Tomb Theory,” & March 1, “The Smoking Gun—Tenth Talpiot Ossuary Proved To Be Blank“) contain more details and dissecting, which will be more than some will feel the need to read, but which I very much enjoyed reading after the show.
And that’s just got to be it, for now! In summary, let me just say that the arguments for the truth of the Christian claim that Jesus was, in fact, raised from the dead are just as true now as they have ever been. For 2,000 years that claim has been attacked by hardier foes than we see today, and for 2,000 years it has survived because it is a matter of history, not fantasy. The resurrection is not some “cunningly devised fable” (2 Peter 1:16) — a description which just so happens to fit tonight’s Discovery Channel telecast of “The Tomb of Jesus” quite nicely. The apostle Peter prophesied that scoffers would come in the last days (2 Peter 3:3)… Don’t let the fact that some of them have television cameras and slick websites bother you any more than it should! Let the fairy tales crumble in the waste can, the truth will outlast them all.
Have a great night — or morning — or whatever part of the day you find yourself in!