Thursday, June 21, 2007

Simcha's silence

My subject line might be misleading. I'm incapable of saying whether Simcha Jacobovici, revealer of the Talpiot tomb, is deliberately silent, or whether the evolution of events obliges him to keep a low profile. In any case, I still don't have an answer to the question posed in my article of 10 June entitled Delay in obtaining the Talpiot book [display]. But I'm starting to have a few ideas on the subject, and to make a few guesses.

— My major guess is that experts quoted by Jacobovici and/or Pellegrino in their book have complained that they were misquoted, and that they're effectively blocking the marketing of the book.

— Another guess is that the beliefs of Jacobovici and/or Pellegrino have evolved over the last few months, since the book was published, and that they themselves are deliberately blocking further marketing of the existing book, while preparing a new edition.

— Yet another guess is that there is some kind of a legal problem concerning an affair that is being handled by Israeli justice: namely, the possibility that the so-called James ossuary—associated, according to Jacobovici and Pellegrino, with the Talpiot tomb—might be a forgery.

For the moment, while awaiting further enlightenment, let me say a few words concerning the latter guess. To start the ball rolling, here's the cover of BAR [Biblical Archæology Review] dated November/December 2002, which broke to the world the amazing news of the existence of a bone box inscribed "James, son of Joseph, brother of Jesus".

The ossuary, displayed in Canada, was hailed by many as the first material object ever unearthed that evoked explicitly the historical Jesus.

Sadly, the events that followed this Canadian excursion read at times like a cheap crime novel. To cut a long story short, the owner of the ossuary, a Tel Aviv antiquities dealer named Oded Golan, was accused of forgery. More precisely, it is claimed that he acquired an authentic bone box inscribed "James, son of Joseph" and that he added the final phrase: "brother of Jesus". Israeli police who raided Golan's apartment in Tel Aviv took this surrealist photo of the alleged James ossuary posed upon a grotty WC:

Now, there was no reason whatsoever, a priori, why this murky affair concerning Oded Golan and his bone box should be linked in any way to the Talpiot question. But, in saying that, we're underestimating the enthusiasm and detective-like intuition of Simcha Jacobovici. Everybody knows that, back in 1980, ten ossuaries were found in the Talpiot tomb. But one of them disappeared overnight. Well, again, to cut a long story short, Jacobovici and Pellegrino suggest forcibly that Golan's object is in fact this missing bone box. In other words, they are opposed to the claim that Golan was a forger.

In their book, Jacobovici and Pellegrino seem to suggest that the analysis of various patinas [the surface appearance of objects due to aging] proves that the James ossuary did in fact repose for a long time in the same environment as the nine remaining bone boxes of Talpiot. In other words, they are affirming that the James ossuary was indeed the missing tenth bone box of Talpiot. But many specialists disagree with this conclusion.

Finally, a few days ago, the eminent BAR editor Hershel Shanks—who remains a great friend of Simcha—published an editorial that reveals his basic incredulity concerning Jacobovici's theses. However Shanks remains elusive, and he admits that he is neither a statistician nor a DNA expert [which you need to be, to appreciate Simcha's claims]. On the other hand, he has interesting suggestions concerning the reasons why the Talpiot affair has created a storm throughout the world: "One reason for this flurry of attention is that if the Talpiot ossuary once contained the bones of Jesus, this would disturb the religious faith of millions of Christians who believe that Jesus was bodily resurrected and ascended into heaven (to say nothing of his mother Mary, who was also bodily assumed into heaven)." Shanks considers, however, that the whole affair will blow over rapidly, and soon be forgotten. I am not so sure.

Personally, for the moment, I remain open, intuitively and objectively, to the possibility that Simcha might be on the right tracks. In other words, I have not yet encountered any serious arguments that would appear to prove that Jacobovici is trying to lead us all on a wild goose chase. For example, Shanks explains: "If Jesus already had a family tomb in Talpiot, there would be no need to bury him in a temporary tomb, despite the onset of the Sabbath. It’s little more than a half-hour’s walk from Golgotha to Talpiot." To my mind, these words are stupid. I find it hard to imagine, on that fateful Friday afternoon, a group of friends of the executed disturber carrying his body all the way to Talpiot... and I challenge Hershel to perform this trek while carrying, say, a bag of cement.

But I believe, too, that we might never know the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth concerning the Talpiot tomb. A times, we might feel that this affair, as presented by Simcha, is handled in a high-tech style. In fact, the Talpiot affair remains entrenched, to a large extent, in the boggy swamps of religion and legends, and we would be naive to expect total enlightenment. Besides, everybody has already made up their minds, long ago, on the issues at stake.

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