Judging from today’s throngs of worshipers, Easter rituals inside the Holy Land are as fervent as ever--despite claims by Hollywood’s Terminator Man, James Cameron, that a crypt unearthed in a Jerusalem suburb decades ago is the “Lost Tomb of Jesus” which once contained Christ, along with his clandestine wife and son, plus half a dozen more assorted relatives.
Worshipful crowds from at least six denominations, including Roman Catholics and Christian Orthodox, jostled inside the Church of the Holy Sepulcher to celebrate Christ’s Resurrection on the very spot believed to hold his abandoned tomb. Meanwhile three thousand protestants sang hymns at an ancient Garden Tomb nearby, where they reckon Jesus of Nazareth rose from the dead on the first Easter Sunday. Over yonder at Talpiyot apartments, where the sealed and disputed tomb was unveiled to 4 million tv viewers in March, there was only birdsong and barbecue smoke. Jewish Passover is winding up and local families seem to have scant interest in Christian conjecture. (see Time’s blog).
Simcha Jacobovici, lately a director sidekick to producer James Cameron, was so captivated by the ancient family crypt of a man called Jesus, he spent three years chasing up the Talpiyot discovery which he says Israeli archaeologists hushed-up. The lid had been kept on this information for at least 27 years. (Er, except for a BBC documentary 11 years ago and a scientific paper.) Now that the initial buzz about Talpiyot has been replaced by widespread derision, and the book has dropped off the bestsellers’ list, Simcha is grousing that his critics are out to crucify him! (See “His Cross to Bear”, a Jerusalem Post profile.
Simcha is an unbridled enthusiast, not a scholar, and his new bestseller was just reissued with a revamped cover of a rather zombie-like blue Christ that eliminates possibly gnostic symbols. “The Jesus Family Tomb: The Discovery, the Investigation, and the Evidence That Could Change History” by Simcha Jacobovici and Charles Pellegrino, was re-released this week. (Disingenuously, Pellegrino claimed that it was apt to be censored by a close-minded establishment. See his remarks here.
The controversial “Lost Tomb” program probably will be rerun after Easter to boost ratings and book sales, if the corporate sponsors don't lose their nerve. Note that Coca Cola has delayed the Good Friday release of an Italian feature film due to a potentially offensive scene where a hitch-hiking Jesus quaffs coke from the can. The director now must cut it out. No one wants to rile fundamentalist Christians-- America's biggest consumer base--by ill-considered product placement which might be deemed blasphemy.
This documentary project took off after an Israeli archaeologist, Amos Kloner, showed Simcha inscriptions on ancient ossuaries that had held the remains of a fellow labelled Jesus (or perhaps Joshua), the son of Joseph; Judah, son of Jesus; a couple of males named Jose and Mattieu, Maria (in Latin), and another female called Marianme e Mara (in Greek). The caskets spanned generations yet Simcha was intrigued. Could this mean another Bible-based Emmy in the offing?
The eager filmmaker went into overdrive. He called in experts, grilled the locals, located and mapped the crypt, gathered samples of remains, then co-wrote a book and filmed a rather hokey schlocku-drama for television which was rife with costumed recreations and foreboding music.
Now, after one broadcast of his 90-minute show, Simcha is reeling from scientists and Christian critics-- online, on air and in print-- going into instant attack mode. Castigated for “pimping the Bible” and producing “archaeo-porn”, Simcha seems wounded by personal insults to a baby-boomer who's a “humble father of five.” But since he christened himself the “Naked Archaeologist” in a nod to Jamie Oliver, a brazen British cooking personality with a huge following, Simcha has only himself to blame for lowering the tone. Rather like Mary Magdalene, the peripatetic missionary who the High Church discredited by labelling a whore, this Israeli-born Romanian-Canadian feels he is misunderstood. He has no axe to grind, he insists, but just lays out startling evidence. Marginal communities, like the earliest Christians who were persecuted as heretical Jews until the 4th century, fascinate him.
Izzy Bee met Simcha recently in Jerusalem, where he grumbled about his current woes. Both the scientific community and the church hierarchy have disparaged the shortcuts in his logic and far-fetched conjecture. The Vatican has just ignored it all. He clearly was on the defensive as an upstart outsider:"Look, this is inspirational. It could prove that Jesus wasn't a myth --he really existed. People have come up to me and said their faith has been reinforced," Simcha said plaintively. Most of these same practiced soundbites were recapped almost verbatim in the Jerusalem Post profile which ran a couple of weeks ago. Maddeningly, he wouldn’t discuss personal views on religion with israelity bites, and insisted that his faith was irrelevant to the project, because he is a professional investigative reporter. But to the Post journalist, he gave his take on the tomb as an Orthodox Jew, and even gave tips on keeping Kosher in Hollywood. It’s quite a bizarre read.
Pontormo's odd masterpiece. Click to enlarge
In the Discovery Channel documentary, some intriguing elements were skimmed over, although they do figure prominently in the book. The co-author Charles Pellegrino expounds on them here and here. Simcha was not the first tomb raider, nor was it the 1980 antiquities crew called in after builders blasted it open. Centuries ago, some Crusaders crept into this distant crypt and vandalized it, placing three skulls in an equilateral triangle. Some people read this as a kind of a Gnostic hex against the anti-Christ, especially when paired with the the stylized chevron and dot carved over the tomb’s entrance, just like a Freemason emblem. (Simcha said that reports of Cameron's links to the Freemason cult “were total nonsense”, and then giggled that the same ominous eyed- pyramid sign was visible from Cameron’s Hollywood office. New World Order--heavy,man. Next he flipped to a plate in his book -- the Jacopo Pontormo painting of the 'Supper at Emmaus', showing the resurrected Christ beneath a floating eyeball. "Get a load of this," he said, clearly titillated.)
Because the Templar marauders had handled the skulls and bones and may even have altered the casket inscriptions that puzzlingly were wrought in Greek, Aramaic, and Hebrew, it makes analysis even more iffy. The BBC crew who filmed “The Body in Question”, a sober 1996 precursor to the Cameron/Jacobovici remake, also had encountered an important inscription in a different venue from roughly the same era. “Jesus, son of Joseph” was scratched on a unimpressively small shard, beside a decorative fish sign; ultimately the BBC producers overlooked it and chose to feature the bone box for better visuals on television. So did Cameron and Jacobovici.
Questioning Simcha on the leaps of faith it took to reach his conclusion was a challenge. He shuffles legends, artifacts, gospel and Biblical-inspired legends like a latter-day card shark. “Just google it, there are thousands of references!”, he countered my queries about how he can equate Mariamne to Mary Magdalene, based on a single apocryphal document. When asked about testing the other ossuaries or the contents of the Virgin Mary’s traditional resting place near Gesthemane, he said “Limited budget : we don’t have the means to test every holy relic.” And he rolled his blue eyes impatiently when I voiced misgivings about obvious DNA test shortcomings: sequencing had ruled out maternal links between Marianme and Jesus, but paternal relationships might have existed - say, this Jesus might have fathered the Mary in the adjacent ossuary, or could have been her uncle or cousin or slave. “Could have been snatched away by aliens, too, but we try and go with the most likely scenarios,” he chuckled. Uh-huh.
Simcha invariably will hype the importance of his latest re-discovery for his upcoming book tour, and he is an engaging fellow with a fascinating spiel. Yet somehow, I get the feeling that with this latest bit of rushed research, he and James Cameron have really laid an egg. It’s a fanciful technicolor Easter egg, gift-wrapped for a gullible public.
Faberge egg image courtesy of Russianlegacy.com