There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio, than are dreamt of in your philosophy.
I had just had lunch in the American Colony Hotel in Jerusalem with Professor Stephen Pfann and his wife, both extremely knowledgeable people teaching at the University of the Holy Land and probably in the top ten scholars of the Dead Sea scrolls on the planet. Stephen J. Pfann is President of the Board of Directors of the University of the Holy Land as well as Chair of the University’s Department of Qumran Studies. Pfann holds an M.A. from the Graduate Theological Union and a Ph.D. from the Department of Ancient Semitic Languages at the Hebrew University in Jerusalem. His areas of specialization in his teaching and research are Qumran studies, ancient languages and cultural geography.Stephen had even recreated a village in Nazareth that looked just like it had in Christ's time.
Both in their fifties they sat next to myself and my wife Sonia in the crowded bar at the hotel where lunch was served. He was rather stiff upper lip and cagey about this talk of a lost tomb of Jesus. He wasn't sure about me at all. I had been introduced via their good friends the Baras, our guides for this journey.
Stephen had suddenly become very high profile on the internet for his brilliantly written counter-argument to a Discovery channel special claiming that Christ's family tomb had been discovered at Talpiot, just outside Jerusalem. He was one of the few people who could find the weak spots in that program's claims and had actually been in the documentary briefly. At this point I myself was rather unconvinced (but not totally) that the tomb was that of Jesus and Mary Magdalene amongst others. However the story was so big I had to hear both sides. Pfann might have thought I was simply a reporter hungry for some media worthy material and already knew that the story was being misreported all over the net. Here was a very well researched scholar talking to a layman who had come all the way from Japan to check out this story but who was neither a theologian nor a scholar from his point of view. So. he took a while to warm up but gave me several good reasons for why the director of that documentary, Simcha Jacobovici was completely fantasizing a story.
What he did not know was that I was going to meet the director of that same documentary two hours after our lunch was over. I liked the Pfanns. They were very committed Christians and as such they saw it as their duty to protect the image of their Lord as well as stand up for a rigid scientific scrutiny of the documentary. To put this into a Japanese perspective imagine a TV show in Japan telling you that the Imperial family grave just discovered in Nara was full of Korean royal insignia and that the emperor was married to a Chinese concubine whose skeletal remains lay next to his. Their names were clearly inscribed on the coffin and their love for each other declared. All children from this most ancient of emperors to have been discovered were thus Korean/Chinese in DNA origin. Everything we know about the imperial family suddenly is wrong. History was thus created by very clever manipulators who took over Japan. That is the kind of impact the Christians felt when the TV show was aired. All their treasured beliefs were being spat on under the banner of 'research' and 'history'. My view was like that of Leonardo Da Vinci. He called it Dimostrazione and he meant that one should check out both sides of any issue, including your own belief system, and rigorously examine them both. Only then could a true synthesis of ideas happen, leading, in his case to genius invention for example.
Sonia and I hopped a taxi to a hotel nearer the wailing wall where Jacobovici was staying. Since he is an orthodox Jew he likes to stay at a hotel where the food is kosher and I had spent months getting this interview arranged so I was there in time. He is an award winning documentary film maker in Canada and had received many accolades for his recent series called the Naked Archaeologist. He would take a Bible story and then research it from a different perspective and make an interesting TV show out of it. His story on the Jewish Exodus for example was very different from the accepted one. He speaks English, French, Hebrew and also Czech. A man of considerable intellectual agility he was also very charming as we sat down to do the following brief interview which my wife filmed with our small camera. There was no business involved in this at all. I was not working for any media company or newspaper and he knew it. All he thought perhaps was that this interview might promote the book he had co-written about the tomb discovery. It has since been published in Japanese. The original English book had at one point been number six on the New York Times bestseller list. Though slightly bemused at my very unusual way of getting an interview and my persistence in following through, not really knowing anything about me and not sure what my position was on the tomb story, he proved a most amiable interviewee. No doubt he was surprised to hear me immediately interpret into Japanese everything he said on camera:
Echan: Nice to have you with us. Please tell me the correct pronunciation of your second name.
Simcha: YAKOBOVITCH (spelled Jacobovici)
Echan: YAKOBOVITCH. We know that you are getting a lot of attention right now, some people might consider you an enfant terrible of course because of the contents of the documentary but as you told me earlier during our brief meeting you give a fairly airtight case here that people should consider seriously and not just discount because of religious feelings of 'It can't be true'. Your work will probably come out in Japan in the near future, your book will be coming out and perhaps Discovery will be aired in the next couple of months. If that is the case what would you like to say to the Japanese public before all of this becomes known in Japan?
Simcha: I want to make something very clear about the work we have done. We are not against people of faith, we are not against religion. In fact I do not address that . I am not a Christian, not a theologian. What I am doing is, I am a film maker and a journalist and we are reporting several facts that have huge implications. A tomb has been discovered betwen Jerusalem and Bethlehem. There are six inscriptions in it. One of them says Jesus son of Joseph, there are two Marys, one Josie - which is the nickname of one of the brothers of Jesus. It seems when you look at the archaeology, at the statistics and at the DNA tests, that this is the tomb of Jesus of Nazareth and his family. So my job is to report these facts and to become a catalyst to this discussion which is now happening around the world and let the facts take us wherever the facts want to take us.
Echan: Thank you very much, I hope that your work will be appreciated in Japan.
A few days previously right after our arrival we had stumbled into a church in the old city. Here are my notes of that time;
Jerusalem, May 11th. 2007: It was not immediately clear to me what the church represented since I had barely been in Jerusalem for a few hours. It was obviously of some importance judging from the throngs of pilgrims milling around its large, quadrangle-like courtyard. Franciscan monks with their characteristic hooded robes and rope belts moved amongst tourists and black garbed, Greek Orthodox priests with bushy beards. My wife and I had just walked through the Arab quarter of this most ancient of cities and having no map and no clear route in mind we had stumbled into the adjoining Armenian quarter and thus to this church. It turned out to be exactly the place we needed to visit at the start of what was to become a very powerful week in the Holy Land.
We did have a clear objective to this visit though. It was to do research for the book you now hold in your hands. We had gone to Jerusalem to find out if there really was any truth to the clearly contentious claims set forth in a documentary that had been released to the world two months previously. That documentary and its accompanying book had been entitled, ‘The Jesus Family Tomb. In the two months since its release the reaction against its proposal, that Christ was buried with family members and his wife Mary Magdalene, had been vigorous. The fact that a child apparently born to this couple was also interred at the Talpiot tomb just between Bethlehem, birthpace of Christ, and Jerusalem where he died was surely the last straw on the heavily burdened back of orthodox Christianity. It was not enough that the Da Vinci Code book and movie had stirred up so many doubts about the world’s most famous man, or that the Pope could apparently only amass large audiences in Latin America any more. Now the world was being informed that the most revered man in history had literally left his bones on Earth, thus totally challenging the root Christian belief in his bodily resurrection unto heaven.
Though by no means an orthodox Christian I have a deep interest in and a profound respect for the teachings of Christ. I am also as a writer and researcher based in a non Christian culture (Japan) often the focus of public attention through many years of public speaking and media appearances. It is thus no secret that I am also a student of gnostic ideas including templarism and ancient Egyptian cosmologies. If this story turned out to be true, that Christ was interred at Talpiot alongside his legendary wife and spiritual partner, then it had to be investigated right away. Of course that meant traveling to Israel. We therefore lost no time in making the trip despite the obvious tensions the region was undergoing. By the time we left Israel on May 17th such tensions had resulted in Israeli air strikes of Gaza due to savage infighting between the Fatah and Hamaas factions of the Palestinian governement itself. I had been alerted to the story in March 2007. This is what I had read:
‘Titanic director James Cameron and Canadian filmmaker Simcha Jacobovici say they aren't trying to undermine Christianity in their documentary that claims the remains of Jesus, his wife, Mary Magdalene, and their child have been found. Oscar-winner Cameron and Gemini documentary award winner Jacobovici unveiled two limestone boxes they believe once contained the remains of Jesus and Mary Magdalene during a news conference one Monday in February 2007 at the New York Public Library. Cameron, best-known for producing the blockbuster movie Titanic, said the $4-million documentary represents the biggest archaeology story of the century.
"It's very far from the case, we are not undermining Christianity" said Cameron. "What this does is to celebrate the real-life existence of a man, who, 2,000 years ago, had a vision and communicated it to people." The claim that the bones of Jesus have been found could challenge the Christian belief that Jesus died and was resurrected three days later. Many Christians believe Jesus' body was kept at the site of the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem's Old City. The burial site identified in the documentary is in a southern Jerusalem neighbourhood nowhere near the church.’
The entrance at the edge of the courtyard we now stood in front of, unknown to us both, was to that very same Church of the Holy Sepulchre. Our zigzag course through the aroma laden streets of the Arab quarter had taken us on a fairly direct route to the most venerated Church in all of Christendom. Here was where Jesus had been crucified. This was Golgotha and it was nothing like I had imagined it as a young Catholic forced to go to a Church I did not understand in Scotland. The crowds of people within its enormous domed body were all headed for a central chamber into which only three or four could pass at a time. Thus the queue was long. Since we still did not understand where we were some photographs were taken, I smoked a hand rolled cigarette in the courtyard and off we went again into the much more exciting Arab quarter. Later I would realise that the queue we had seen was to enter the holy of holies, the exact location of Jesus Christ’s tomb. This logistically meant of course that the Talpyot tomb had to a mistake, a fake or at worst a deliberately created hoax. I was intrigued because if this was a hoax then it had been masterfully created and some very talented and apparently sincere people had been involved. The reactions to the documentary which was aired in March via channel 4 in the UK, Vision TV in Canada and Discovery in the US had been anticipated by many including myself. We were not disappointed. A veritable fury of unrest amongst the Christians in particular was a result that no Sherlock was necessary to foresee. Try telling fans of Elvis that he was a sad, egomaniacal psycho, a drug addict and a vastly overrated musician to get a hint of the reaction this documentary has unleashed amongst the faithful-most of whom I suspect are residents of the world’s fundamentalist capital, the USA.
It was suggesting that Jesus was just a man and that he as such he had a wife and at least a son as family. The film makers do not claim that Christ’s body did not get taken to the Holy Sepulchre. We must remember here that Jewish burial customs two millenia ago often involved a double burial. The first burial, as in Christ’s case was frequently in a rock grotto, or cave since diggable land was scarce. The body was left to decompose for a couple of years after which time the remains were then interred in an ossuary for lasting burial in a tomb-just like the one discovered. If resurrection can be thought of as a spiritual process whereby the soul of an individual manifests in an astral type of body, and not a flesh and blood zombie like restart of a dead body, then Christ’s physical body like all others left bones which would need re-interring.
By the time I met the somewhat haggard looking yet charming Jacobovici, who had already been through two months of sometimes vicious rebuttals predominantly by Christians , the experts had dismissed the entire story as a money making venture. It was totally discounted so quickly that the book which had instantly risen to #6 on the New York Times bestselling list had, as Jacobivici told me directly before the interview began, just quietly plummeted. It appeared to many that this story had been effectively buried in its own tomb-a tomb of perfect denial. It was to me, a keen outside observer, a tomb of unholy rejection without doubt. There had to be more to this story than such an open and closed affair. The Israeli-born, Canadian-raised Jacobovici has often said that the documentary is not trying to answer any questions, but is intended to "bring the story to the world and do a thorough check ourselves of what is being presented and to then ask the true experts to continue." To us, the recipients of such information to do such a thorough check ourselves is obviously not at all an easy thing to accomplish. It is also difficult for us to employ experts who are not already employed by culture bound government agencies, educational institutions with an axe to grind or specific ethnocentric religious groups who therefore have a clearly existing bias.
The Pfaans had argued just as persuasively as Jacobovici by taking apart the inscriptions and showing how the most important of them, Mariamne, did not mean Mary Magdalene at all. The DNA tests were full of problematic issues being the mitochondrial DNA and the statistics used in the documentary to show that the likelihood of this not being the tomb of jesus was only 1 in 600. My first pilgrimage to israel then was immediately full of controversy and finally the violence of Gaza. But I had done my job, heard both sides of the story, and had made up my own mind what the truth was. Listening to both sides of any story is fundamental not just to good journalism but also to healthy living. But then the Japanese people have always known that...
For close to ten years I had made a fairly comprehensive review of arguments on both sides of the resurrection fence and saw no reason yet to firmly plant my spiritual life in either camp. I even reasoned that with a figure as obviously important as Christ there was room for both views to somehow be of immense relevance to our twenty first century lives-an obviously heretical and surely somewhat outlandish concept. But if light can behave as both a wave and a particle why cannot a key religious concept be both true and yet not quite completely so? After all it is well known that every religious background includes both esoteric and exoteric points of view as I had discovered in my studies of Mahayana and Theraveda Buddhism. And surely I was not alone in this bizarre desire to pierce beyond the veil of yes or no to a position where the value of both can be appreciated and accommodated with a largess of spirit. This is not and probably never will be an acceptable attitude in any orthodox religion where specific and very serious beliefs must be adhered to at any cost. However it is clear especially in modern day Europe that fewer and fewer numbers of people can accept the astonishing story that a man not only survives physical death, but actually ascends bodily to heaven.
Israel was going to be a pilgrimage into duality, a complete paradox at every level. This story of a holy man in holy land who might just have been an ordinary married Jew went well in a culture where God is mentioned about as often as bullets or rockets fly somewhere. It might be Allah, or Moses or Jesus that was intoned but here, in the ultimate pilgrim city on Earth, all was not well. I needed to get out of it for a while despite its tremendous allure, like a genie that had leaked out of a great magician's vase I needed the simpilcity of the desert. Was that where all the duality had begun, in that place where heaven and Earth are so clearly delineated?