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The Nails of the Cross:

A Response to the Criticisms of the Film

Part Six


By: Director/Producer Simcha Jacobovici

A final note: of course, it is perfectly legitimate for anyone to disagree with me. I do bring a very different sensibility to the search for the historical Jesus. But I don’t think that should be a problem for anyone. It is as a result of respectful debates that we get closer to the truth. But the low level of ugly aspersions and nasty sarcastic rhetoric directed at me should not pass for a reasonable or proper academic discussion. I mention here the most blatant examples.

Writing for BibleInterp.com, Dr. Cargill from UCLA has this to say, “Simcha Jacobovici’s claim…is speculation wrapped in hearsay, couched in conspiracy, masquerading as science, ensconced in sensationalism, slathered with misinformation and topped with a colorful hat….the show was produced and aired during Easter week to prey on the hopes and beliefs of the faithful in anticipation of making lots of money for Simcha Jacobovici and the History Channel” (p. 13).

In Romania, where most of my family was murdered during the Holocaust, talking about a Jew “with a colorful hat” preying “on the hopes and beliefs of the [Christian] faithful” during “Easter week” for the purpose of “making lots of money” was not called scholarship - it was called anti-Semitism. But, today, this is Cargill’s idea of a proper academic “critique.” If he’s sorry, he should apologize and remove the offensive language.

When Professor Tabor decried this sort of nasty rhetoric among his colleagues and noted its anti-Semitic overtones, Pastor Jim West (Quartz Hill School of Theology) attacked Tabor for “playing the anti-Semitism card.” From West’s perspective, it was not Cargill who was in the wrong when he charged me with preying on the faithful at Easter time for the purpose of “religious profiteering”, it was Tabor who was wrong for criticizing the ad hominem tone of Cargill’s caricature. Tabor’s letter was withdrawn in less than a day. Cargill’s comments are still posted. But Cargill is not alone.

This is what Joe Zias, former curator at the IAA has to say: First, he calls Caiaphas “$imcha’s Jew for Jesus,” writing the “S” in my name as a dollar sign. He then follows by calling me various names, including “idiot,” and ends with this; “Simcha is a master at manipulating the public and exploiting the media, at times inventing, distorting, embellishing, falsifying, exploiting the Holocaust and occasionally telling the truth…he has totally invented an absurd and totally dishonest Easter scenario, pimped it to the media, a film to be shown and money riding on it.” Is this scholarship? Can anyone read this and feel that there is scholarly substance to this rant? Is it really acceptable to write my name with dollar signs accusing me of, in Zias’ words, “pimping the Bible,” and “exploiting the Holocaust” for the purpose of creating a “totally dishonest Easter scenario” and “making lots of money?” (See Note 1 below.)

All this is not new. For years, the late Dr. John Strugnell was the editor-in-chief of the Dead Sea Scrolls project and a Professor at Harvard University. For all those years, everyone knew that he was an anti-Semite. He made no secret of his views. Nonetheless, the academic world tolerated it and warned anyone and everyone who might have stood up to him not to “play the anti-Semitic card.” It was only when Strugnell flaunted his anti-Semitism in an interview with journalist Avi Katzman in Ha’aretz (“Chief Dead Sea Scroll Editor Denounces Judaism, Israel; Claims He’s Seen Four More Scrolls Found by Bedouin,” November 9, 1990) that he was fired from his Dead Sea Scrolls position, but not from Harvard. This was pre-internet and only 45 years after the Holocaust. Today, as can be seen by a cursory perusal of the so-called criticism leveled at me, he would get away with it.

The fact is that if anyone dares to point to Jesus related archaeology that does not fit with Christian theology, he is isolated, marginalized and/or demonized. When the legendary professor Eleazar Sukenik, who identified the Dead Sea Scrolls, pointed to two ossuaries discovered at Talpiot - yes, Talpiot! - that were marked with charcoal crosses and statements of lament for Jesus (see Cotton et. al. ossuaries #479 and 480, pp. 501-2), he was attacked as having lost his mind. Only a few weeks ago, I was present in a room full of scholars when a well-known professor from a well known university accused the late Professor Sukenik of having invented the Jesus connection for the purpose of “making money” because “his wife needed a refrigerator.”

When the leading New Testament scholar of his day, Professor Morton Smith of Columbia, found a fragment of a non-canonical Gospel called “Secret Mark,” he was accused of forging the document. He went to his grave fighting this slander and only last month York University in Toronto hosted a conference where the question being debated was: “Morton Smith a forger?” (See Note 2 below.) The list goes on and on.

It doesn’t matter if you are Christian or Jewish, an academic or a journalist, if you point to the wrong kind of archaeology, a network of theologians and pseudo academics move quickly to slander and delegitimize you.

Basically, there is at present a strange convergence between various theological, academic and personal agendas. As stated, in the front ranks of this problem is an army of theologically motivated Christian academics. Surprisingly, they are aided and abetted in this enterprise by a host of Israeli archaeologists. The reason being that, culturally, the Israelis are the result of first and second generation Zionist education. Meaning, they dig to unearth Jewish, not “Christian”, history. This is understandable but it should not lead us to deny the archaeological evidence that might relate to those Jews who followed Jesus in the first century. The sad fact is, however, that most (not all) Israeli archaeologists know virtually nothing about Christianity generally, and Judeo-Christianity in particular. They have no idea of the Jesus movement as a Jewish phenomenon that might have left behind an archaeological record.

To illustrate the above; since the building boom in Jerusalem in the 1980’s, hundreds of tombs and thousands of ossuaries have been uncovered. But since Israeli archaeologists regard “Christian archaeology” as beginning no earlier than the 3rd century, by definition, they contend that there is nothing to find - and they find nothing. So, for example, when a first century ossuary is found in Jerusalem with a clear cross on it (see Cotton et. al. ossuary #263 p. 289) i.e., a cross that cannot be dismissed as a ”stone mason’s mark,” the assessment is this: “the cross is obviously a later addition” (my emphasis). I am not convinced this is so “obvious”. What’s obvious is that all first century Judeo-Christian archaeology is made to disappear by ignoring it, marginalizing those that point it out (e.g., Bagatti, Goodenough, Figueras) or pushing the date into a safer era.

In this atmosphere, when I point out evidence related to the early Jesus movement, the knee-jerk reaction is to deny and decry. When you throw into this mix a clearly troubled individual, with no affiliation to any academic institution, you have the pre-conditions for what sociologists call a “mobilization of bias.”

With respect to the response to my film, this bias has crossed over into libel, slander, and incitement. For a while, there was even a website called “Beat the Snot out of Simcha.” To date, I never responded. But the Shylock caricatures, Holocaust references, dollar signs and lies had to be confronted.

For the record, I am not an archaeologist, nor am I an academic. I’m proud of being a filmmaker and an investigative journalist, living and working in a free society. I have  been honored by my peers with any number of prestigious film awards as anyone who bothers to check my credentials would know. For my work in “film and archaeology,” I have recently won the Special Jury Prize from the Archaeological Film Festival of Brussels, Royal Museum of Art and History.

I’m honoured that on June 13, 2011, my film “Nails of the Cross” kicked off a six part series on the birth of Christianity on Israel’s IBA Network. Each prime time broadcast is followed by a discussion involving some of Israel’s top academics. This is the first time a series on Christianity is being aired on a mainstream Israeli channel.


Note 1: Zias does not limit his vicious attacks to me. Among others, he has personally attacked and ridiculed Professor James Tabor, Dr. Shimon Gibson, Professor Rami Arav, Professor Richard Freund, Hershel Shanks, editor of Biblical Archaeology Review (BAR), and anyone he views as part of the “BAR crowd”. But not only this, he also publicly attacks dead colleagues, including the late Professor Nicu Haas and archaeologist Yosef Gat. This has caused tremendous pain to their widows. Strangely, instead of being marginalized as a result of this unseemly behaviour, Zias is quoted widely by my critics. Lately, he has taken to virtually stalking some academics by haranguing their departments, publishers and supporters. Perhaps he has finally gone too far (on Zias, see “Of Ossuaries, Forgeries, Export Licences - and Unprovenanced Curators” by Dr. Victor Sasson, http://victorsasson.blogspot.com/2009/05/of-ossuariesforgeries- export-licences.html).

Note 2: Morton Smith was first accused of forgery by theologian/Professor Quentin Quesnell in the Catholic Biblical Quarterly 37 (1975). Smith defended himself against these libelous statements, and the matter was put to rest until Stephen Carlton, Benedictine Oblate/Professor Peter Jeffrey and theologian/Professor Francis Watson recently revived the old charges.

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