Sunday, January 10, 2010


As I mentioned in previous posts, "minimalism" is a term used used in Biblical archaeology to describe someone who ascribes a later date to the writing of the Old Testament, while a "maximalist" ascribes an earlier date. Maximalists also ascribe more historical accuracy to the Old Testament. Regarding Moses as an historical figure is somewhat maximalist. Regarding Abraham as an historical figure is very maximalist.

Simcha Jacobovici, also known, at least on the History Channels, as the Naked Archaeologist, is certainly no Minimalist. I believe he goes too far in the other direction, putting much too much faith in the historical accuracy of both the Old and New Testaments.

A few thoughts about Jacobovici. First of all, is it just me or is it kind of creepy of him to call himself the Naked Archaeologist? I for one do not enjoy picturing him naked.

Maybe that's just me. So much for the "naked" part, now let us come to the "archaeologist" part. According to Wiki, "[...]he holds a B.A. in Philosophy from McGill University and an M.A. in International Relations from the University of Toronto." No archaeology degrees, it seems, but I should be the last person to dismiss a person on the grounds of the lack of academic credentials. It's not as deceptive as Dr Laura and Dr Phil calling themselves doctors. "Doctor" refers to a specific credential, "archaeologist" refers to a profession.

Still, the question remains, just as if would in the case of someone who happened to hold a Doctorate in archaeology: how seriously can Jacobovici be taken as an archaeologist? It appears that other archaeologists do not always regard him as one of their own. In the "Naked Archaeologist" program on the so-called (by Jacobovici and others) James ossuary on the History Channels, there was a scene where Jacobovici met with Israel Finkelstein, who is one of the most highly-regarded Biblical archaeologists in the world. Finkelstein would be placed in the minimalist camp by some, but he's far from the most minimal there's ever been.

Jacobovici regards the Jesus family tomb to be exactly that, or at the very least that a very solid claim can be made that it is the tomb of the Jesus of Nazareth of the New Testament, and his family, and that the James ossuary contains the bones of James, brother of Jesus, because there is an inscription on the side of it which states exactly that. Jacobovici co-wrote a bestselling book entitled The Jesus Family Tomb: The Evidence Behind the Discovery No One Wanted to Find. (Oh, by the way -- these academics who don't want sensational finds to be found? They don't exist. A book title like that should set off your BS detector right away.) With a foreword by... James Cameron. Yes, the director of Aliens and Titanic and Avatar, that James Cameron. No forewords by any archaeologists.

Most archaeologists, on the other hand, including Israel Finkelstein, regard the James ossuary to be a hoax, and are of the opinion that there is no serious reason, nada, none, to suspect that the Jesus family tomb has anything to do with the New Testament Jesus.

So anyway, on the Naked Archaeologist episode about the "James Ossuary," there was a brief scene where Jacobovici sat down with Finkelstein to discuss to discuss the James ossuary. Finkelstein stated his opinion that by far the most likely explanation for the existence of the ossuary in its present state was that someone had taken an ancient ossuary and carved a misleading inscription on its side in order to make a lot of money. Jacobovici stated his opinion that by far the most likely explanation was that the ossuary had been found as is. And then there was a very striking moment when they both fell silent, and each looked at the other with a look which seemed to say, "There's no reasoning with this joker."

As you may have guessed, I'm with Finkelstein on this one. I think that Jacobovici is to archaeology, and the History Channels are to informative nonfictional broadcasting, what Dan Brown is to the study of history: a huge impediment and source of confusion and misinformation.

When it comes to the Jesus family tomb and the James ossuary, if one has no information except for Jacobovici's episode of "The Naked Archaeologist" -- in which Jacobovici talks very little with archaeologists, and mostly with dealers in Biblical antiquities, who naturally make more money the more that people believe in the authenticity of alleged Biblical relics in general -- one may have gotten the impression that these artifacts represent a breakthrough in archaeology and may represents a tangible physical link to the family of Jesus. If one reads actual archaeologists on the subject of the Jesus family tomb and the James ossuary, one finds a lot claims that Jacobovici sensationalizes, oversimplifies, distorts, misquotes and generally annoys.

Naturally, the only plausible explanation for this is that all the other archaeologists want to be rich, famous documentary filmmakers and pal around with James Cameron, and so they lash out in impotent envious rage. OW! OW! MY EYES! OH. Oh dear, just gave myself a near-fatal case of eyeroll there.

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