Monday, January 21, 2008

Issues raised by "Jesus Tomb" documentary rexamined by scholars

Although I find Simcha Jacobovici's series "The Naked Archaeologist" somewhat irritating at times, I must admit that I thought the issues raised by him and James Cameron in their documentary "The Lost Tomb of Jesus" were worth exploring more in depth. Well, it looks like I wasn't alone:

"The Lost Tomb of Jesus, made by Hollywood director James Cameron and Canadian investigative journalist Simcha Jacobovici, was shown only once on Discovery. Britain's Channel 4 canceled its own plans to air the documentary, which reexamines an archeological find from 1980 in which a crypt was found containing what were said to be the ossuaries of Joseph, Mary, Jesus, the son of Joseph, Mariamne (possibly Mary Magdalene, say the filmmakers) and Judah, son of Jesus. Given the highly explosive nature of its conclusion and its slapdash sleuthing, it was no surprise that the film was panned by some academics and many Christian clerics.

Still, even after the furor over the film faded, the questions it raised about the tomb unearthed in 1980 continued to make waves among archeologists and Biblical scholars. A leading New Testament expert from Princeton Theological Seminary, Prof. James Charlesworth, was intrigued enough to organize a conference in Jerusalem this week, bringing together over 50 archeologists, statisticians and experts in DNA, ceramics and ancient languages, to give evidence as to whether or not the crypt of Christ had been found. Their task was complicated by the fact that since the tomb was opened in 1980, the bones of the various ossuaries had gone missing through a mishap of Israeli bureaucracy. Also gone were diagrams made by excavators that showed where each stone sarcophagus lay inside the tomb, and what the family relationships might have been, say, between Jesus and Mary Magdelene, who some speculate may have been his wife.

After three days of fierce debate, the experts remained deeply divided. Opinion among a panel of five experts ranged from "no way" to "very possible". Charlesworth told TIME: "I have reservations, but I can't dismiss the possibility that this tomb was related to the Jesus clan." Weighing the evidence, says Charlesworth, "we can tell that this was the tomb of a Jewish family from the time of Jesus. And we know that the names on the ossuaries are expressed the correct way as 'Jesus, son of Joseph.'" But the professor has a few doubts. "The name on Jesus's ossuary was scrawled on, like graffiti. There was no ornamentation. And there should have been. After all, his followers believed he was the Son of God."

There was a revelation of sorts. The widow of Joseph Gat, the chief archeologist of the 1980 excavation electrified the conference by saying: "My husband believed that this was Jesus's tomb, but because of his experiences as a Holocaust survivor, he was worried about a backlash of anti-Semitism and he didn't think he could say this."

The tomb was found by construction workers digging the foundations for an apartment building in the Talpiot hills, a modern suburb of Jerusalem. Gat and two other archeologists excavated the tomb, which had been vandalized centuries earlier. The ossuaries, including one with the scrawl "Jesus, son of Joseph" were moved into an antiquities warehouse where they languished, forgotten, until a BBC film crew in 1996 dusted them off. Jacobovici took the story further, using statistics — later disputed by experts — which seemed to indicate that, although Jesus and the others were all common Jewish names during the days of the Second Temple, the chances of them all being found in the same crypt, belonging to the same family, were rare indeed..."

Several of the Biblical scholars involved in the new study doubt that a positive finding would destroy Christianity. They point out that Christ's resurrection would be reconsidered as one of a spiritual ascension rather than a physical one. I think the possibility that Miriamne was Mary Magadelene and that Jesus may have been married and had a son may be more problematic for the fundamentalists. It may be that the so-called heretical Alexandrian Arrians may have had a more accurate conception of Jesus (part human/part divine) than Constantine's orthodox bishops after all. It's too bad the bones were "lost". It would have been interesting to see if those within the ossuary marked with Jesus' name had indications of crucifixion.

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Possible Himiriate Dynasty Tomb Found in Yemen "Archaeologists have discovered three ancient tombs in the city of Ibb in Yemen, with one believed to belong to a queen from the Hemiriate dynasty.

According to a report in Yemen Observer, an archaeological team from Ibb made the discovery in a rocky room, around five meters deep and about 3 meters wide, located in the al-Usaibyah area of the al-Sadda district of Ibb.

The room contained large pieces of alabaster, each piece around 150 cubic centimeters. The room also contained a 20 centimeter bronze belt.

"The discovery in al-Ausaibyah came about after two tribes began fighting about the discovery the tombs. When local authorities intervened to resolve the conflict between the two tribes, they discovered the tomb," said Dr. Abdullah Ba-Wazir, head of the General Authority of Antiquities and Museums.

Information obtained from local sources suggests that one of the tombs might belong to a woman of royal legacy – maybe a queen or a princess. The finding of golden jewels in this particular tomb further strengthened this idea.

Jewels were also found in the other two tombs. In addition, a bronze spear was found in a second tomb and a 70-centimeter sword in a third tomb.

According to the report, the royal tomb is designed in a rare architectural style.

"The site is a royal grave built in an artistic style indicating that the grave is of an important political person, presumably a woman," said Ba-Wazir. “It may belong to the Himiriat period,” he added.

Authorities have also sent a specialized archaeological team in addition to the team from Ibb. They are to do rescue excavations at the site at which the bronze coffin was found.

According to Ba-Wazir, the team will document all the antiques and other items discovered at the site.

The coffin will be sent to the Ibb city museum for further preliminary preservation. Some scientific archaeological institutes will be contacted as well, so their experts can inspect and determine the chronological age of the decaying body."
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Saturday, January 05, 2008

All the world's an ancient Greek or Roman stage for Whitman Professor Thomas Hines

A scholar after my own heart - Professor Hines is photographing as many Greek and Roman theaters as possible and making an archive of his information available through a website at Whitman. I see he finances his activities with grants from such organizations as the National Institute for the Humanities. I guess I need to learn how to do that as my archive on Flickr is funded by my own vacation leave, equipment, and funds for airline tickets and meals and lodging.

Last year, Associate Professor of Theatre Thomas Hines of Whitman College received a gratifying and fairly astonishing e-mail from an excited Argentine businessman who’d decided to restore an old mas, a traditional house in Provence. He wanted Hines to know that the Whitman College professor’s online archive of ancient theaters had inspired him to build a Roman theater in the backyard of the property.

The man had found Hines’ trove of information on Whitman’s Web site. Since 2001, Hines has visited 43 Greek and Roman theaters in three countries, taken tens of thousands of photographs and compiled The Ancient Theatre Archive: A Virtual Reality Tour of Ancient Greek and Roman Theatre Architecture.

Hines’ Web site receives more than a thousand hits a day from visitors across the globe. "There are people visiting the site to write papers or to travel," he said. "People pick from it what they want, and everyone is taking something different and doing something new."

One recent shopper was an official from the Direcção Geral das Artes, the ministry of arts in Portugal. He wanted to use several of Hines’ photographs, particularly the Hellenistic theater in Epidaurus, in a national campaign to promote the arts. Hines was happy to oblige. "I was struck by the idea that this could inspire some grade school kid in Portugal to do something with theater," he said.

Thomas Hines (right)

Hines’ ongoing Web project grew out of his desire to provide his own students with a more complete picture of ancient theaters. The success of his initial study - the Roman theater in Ostia Antica, Italy - inspired him to pursue others. As the projects accrued, Hines’ international audience grew.

“When I conceived of the project, I used a model in my mind of an exhibit in a museum," he said. "An intuitive, self-guided tour. I used my skills as a teacher as well as my knowledge of theater."

Hines’ site features thorough surveys, including basic fact sheets, detailed studies, travel guides, directions, a glossary of Greek and Roman theater terminology, and Hines’ own hand-drawn maps and panoramic images. Viewers can take virtual tours of the theaters, zooming in to study them in as much detail as they wish.

Hines, whose set designs have complemented several Harper Joy Theatre productions at Whitman, has even included his own travel accounts in the virtual tour mix. "Today I followed in the footsteps of Alexander the Great, but unlike him, I managed to conquer the city of Termessos," reads one entry from June 2003. "I was luckier than Alex - I had a Fiat, a paved road, and the cranky Termessians were all dead."

The Web site, Hines allows, is no substitute for the real thing. "What’s lacking is the travel experience: meeting people, seeing the setting, the food, the way people treat you, the views, the smells. All of that is beyond anything a book or camera could capture."

Nonetheless, Hines’ site links viewers with some immediacy to a distant past. “Theater is an ephemeral art form," he said. "We have no way of attending an ancient Greek or Roman play, but we still have this one, very large, tangible artifact. This will let people know these places are out there, and that it’s OK to go."

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