Guide to Understanding the Talpiot Tomb “Documentary”

by Joe Zias
Jerusalem 03/07

Deconstructing the Second and Hopefully Last Coming of Simcha and the BAR Crowd

Cast of Characters- Short Bios

* J. Cameron, award winning film maker who for some unknown reason decided to make a film on the world of Biblical Archaeology- Producer

* Simcha J. Canadian film maker who produced the documentary on the James son of Joseph, brother of Jesus ossuary which was deemed to be a forgery by the Israel Antiquities Authority and other experts. The criminal trial is still in progress and SJ testified in Dec. 22, 2005 on behalf of the defense. He is producing and directing a series entitled The Naked Archaeologist’ in which he stars. He is not an archaeologist nor does he have any creditability within the profession.

* The Biblical Archaeology Review crowd hereafter referred to as the BAR crowd. This is a collection of individuals who have been deeply involved with BAR, mainly textual scholars who pose from time to time, when convenient, as archaeologists. Several appear prominently both in the Hebrew and English version of the film.

* The films ” ˜experts’ several of whom hold academic positions with proven track records in every field except Biblical Archaeology. Most experts however have no creditability within the profession. Charles Pellegrino is an example of this. His past books are The Ghosts of Atlantis, Ghosts of Vesuvius, Rtn to Sodom and Gomorrah, and Unearthing Atlantis. The first two deal with psychic phenomena while the last two deal with mythical places. He co-authored the book as well as appears from time to time in the film.

* Experts II, those individuals and colleagues who appear in the film, totally unaware of the premise of the documentary, all of whom I have contacted are totally opposed to the evidence as presented, out of context as well as edited in such a way as to give the false impression that they are in agreement with the film. Seems we are more difficult to fool.

* The Others- a host of individuals and colleagues connected to the profession whom have not only been supportive but have supplied much of the information for the viewers guide. To them, I am indebted.

The Film

The Hype

Hyped upon the unsuspecting public as a documentary with a budget of over 4 million dollars (may be Canadian) produced over a period of 4 years.

The Reality

One of the main reasons that the film took years to produce is that many individuals and organizations here in Israel refused to participate, as well as a boycott of the director for his unstinting support of the James Ossuary, believed by nearly all to have been forged.

Secondly, the film is not a documentary in the strict sense of the word as many scenes and sets are totally reconstructed even though Cameron et al try to present it as such.

Thirdly and perhaps more important, this is basically a re-hash of the 1996 story by Ray Bruce, a British film maker, somewhat re-written, to present the views of the author of The Jesus Dynasty who figures prominently in the film. The first version was better. This author, though well known for his support of the BAR position on the James Ossuary, is not an archaeologist in any sense of the word, which may account for many of the short comings in the film. Textual scholars posing as biblical archaeologists, several which appear in the film and on the Discovery panel discussion are one of the biggest problems within the profession which has, according one noted scholar, has set back trust and creditability in the profession, decades. In fact, in one scene with SJ walking past the ossuaries stored in the Israel Antiquities Authority he acts as if he has suddenly has this epiphany, he, with absolutely no archaeological training, suddenly discovers the names of what for him then becomes the Jesus Family. The truth is, that a journalist told him about the tomb long before.

The “Experts” – A Question Of Creditability


The DNA expert from Canada spent a few months in Israel before leaving for Canada a few years ago He in fact, worked with our Science and Archaeology Group @ the Hebrew University. According to Dr. Mark Spigelman, our DNA specialist in the group he received a message from the Canadian expert concerning the question of extracting DNA from the James Ossuary apparently at the behest of SJ. Dr. Spigelman personally told him at that time that it was foolish for him to get involved for several reasons, not to mention that the object he wished to run a test on was believed to be a forgery. Secondly, the export of all biological material which is sampled and taken abroad must according to IL law have an export license which we knew quite well would never be given. Thirdly, the film which I viewed showed several ” ˜experts’ scraping material from the ossuary, under the worst possible conditions. Lastly, and here is where the main problem occurs, when human remains are placed in the ossuary, they have been decomposed and are just skeletal material. The film tries to give the false impression that they were sampling human tissue which had decomposed in the ossuary whereas it had been long gone before the skeletal material was ever placed there. Final analysis- high probability that the DNA is of anybody who came into contact with the ossuary the past 30 off years, including mine. To say that as one test showed male and one showed female and then jumping to the conclusion that they were married is totally absurd as most of the adult woman in the tomb would have married in, but married to whom? While preparing this report I found the following statement from their DNA expert which is revealing in that Simcha and the BAR Crowd constantly make a ” ˜big deal’ out of their so called hard scientific evidence. Seems that their ” ˜expert’ may in retrospect have been used in a manner not to his liking. According to their DNA expert in yesterdays on line SciAmer, he states the following :

” The only conclusions we made was that these two sets were not maternally related. To me it sounds like absolutely nothing.”  March 2, 07.

Absolutely nothing, Simcha presented it a bit differently as if this was the smoking gun, hard science which proved their agenda!!


This is a natural geological process which occurs over time. The forensic people involved in this segment have no experience whatsoever with local materials, in fact, one of the specialists’ forte is in automobile crashes of which I’m sure he is very capable. There was one Israeli involved in this, behind the scenes, who was asked to obtain patina samples for the show. Sometime earlier, he pronounced a metal sheeting found at Qumran which he authenticated as ancient for a NOVA documentary. Within 12 months, the 2,000 year old object was found to have been painted with Barium-Titanium paint, patented in the 1920’s to prevent oxidization. Watching this pseudo-science analysis reminds one more of a train wreck than a car crash.


Whereas their attempt as probability looks impressive, a 600 to 1 chance this it is the ” ˜Family’ it falls flat when one realizes that the info. given to the statistician was that of a nuclear family of ca 10 people whereas the truth of the matter is that the family of 10 is an extended family of maybe 50 or more comprising 4-5 generations, as a result it simply cannot be computed. They knew this and I have the feeling that this info. was not divulged to the mathematician. In fact, I published in 1992 a tomb with 15 ossuaries, 88 people and one name. The one person, one ossuary scenario is how the film makers present their findings whereas in an article I published in ” ˜Atiqot XXII, three of the ossuaries had the remains of a minimum of 6 people. There has been an enormous amount of discussion on the web dealing with the probabilities of this being the family, which I suggest the viewer read, all of which totally dismiss the statistics as of no value whatsoever.

For a more detailed explanation on how they rigged the statistics see the following:

http://ntgateway. com/weblog/ 2007/03/correct- interpretation- of-dr-andrey. html
http://ntgateway. com/weblog/ 2007/03/statisti cal-case- for-identity- of-jesus. html

The Names

For those of us familiar with ossuaries and ossuary inscriptions this is, despite all their hype, totally unconvincing as all the names were very common. The ratios of names for that period are as follows: Joseph/Jose 8.3 %, Judah 6.2 %, Jesus 3.5 Matthew 2.4% and Mariam/Mary a whopping 21.4%. Dr. S. Pfann from the University of Judaism has written an impt. Blog on this showing that 75% of the names occurring on Jewish ossuaries during this period are from a pool of but 16 names. (

The important thing to remember here is that individuals outside of Judea, buried in Judea were named according to their place of origin, whereas in Judea this was not necessary. Had the names been Jesus of Nazareth, Mary of Nazareth, Joseph of Nazareth etc I would have been totally convinced that this may be the family tomb, but as none of the names have place of origin, they are all Judeans.

Those Unusual Symbols – Quadruplicity vs Duplicity

According to SJ the symbol on the tomb fa ƒ §ade is used astrologically to represent something called quadruplicity, or the quality of cardinality.I would argue that its more in the realm of duplicity. This is where the media hype goes totally out of control, seems the BAR Crowd had been reading too much Da Vinci Code. If there is anything which suggests deliberate manipulation of the data it is here. For example, in the film, one of the main ” ˜experts’ from the BAR Crowd suddenly discovers on camera the fact that a inverted V is scratched on an ossuary as if it has some deep hidden mystical meaning. Had the ” ˜expert’ read the catalogue of LY Rahmani (pg.19) on ossuaries, he would have seen that 40 % of ossuaries have markings! In fact, this deliberate attempt to fool the public reaches a new height when SJ then goes to the Jewish tombs of Dominus Flavit and proclaims that those ossuaries discovered decades ago with X’s scratched on the lid and body, are ancient Judeo-Christian symbols. Scholars have known for decades that those X’s and cross like markings on ossuaries mean one thing and one thing only, the sliding lid goes this way! Reverse the lid and it will not fit. Duh” ¦so much for Judeo-Christian symbols, a fact that all of them should have known, particularly the BAR Crowd, seems it didn’t go well with their agenda.

Throughout the film as well as the marketing circus, one sees prominently on the fa ƒ §ade of the tomb, the dot within the triangle, minus the base as if this is some mystical Judeo-Christian symbol. Had they simply taken the time to scan photos in the catalogue of Jewish ossuaries by LY Rahmani, they would have seen that many ossuaries with triangular lids have decorative elements or functional elements serving as handgrips to raise the lid, which resemble the ornament on the tomb fa ƒ §ade. Thusly, the fa ƒ §ade motif could easily be seen in and of itself to resemble an ossuary lid with the tomb itself serving as an ossuary. A black and white photo of one of the ossuaries in the catalogue is reproduced for viewers here.

Alternatively, the circular object within the triangle can be interpreted as either a patera or a wreath, both which appear on a number of ossuaries as well tomb facades such as the Tomb of ” ˜Absalom’. Alternatively if you are in the world of film marketing and media hype, it’s the mystical Vonage symbol-reversed. (Apologies to Vonage)

The Second Tomb

There appears in the film a very long and boring segment whereby Simcha and Co. attempt to lower a camera into a plastic pipe which for religious reasons has been inserted into the tomb in the 1980’s. When they finally succeed with the help of a plumber (sic) they are able to film the tomb and its contents. They attempt to pass onto the unsuspecting public that this is a Jewish tomb which they have discovered, undisturbed for 2,000 years whereas the tomb was known to the archaeologists in 1980. In fact, Prof. Amos Kloner was in the process of removing the ossuaries when the ultra-orthodox arrived on site and forced its closure. Kloner however was able to remove one of these ossuaries before the arrival of the ultra-orthodox.

The ‘Missing Ossuary’

The film makers try to fool the public into believing that as ten ossuaries were discovered in the tomb and only nine were published by Kloner that the tenth ossuary was the controversial James son of Joseph, brother of Jesus ossuary which was declared to be a forgery by a panel of experts. The attempt to deceive the public can be clearly seen here in terms of an ” ˜agenda’. Two members of the BAR Crowd who appear prominently in the film had earlier declared that the ossuary had originally come from a robbed tomb which they had cleared a few years ago in Silwan and not purchased by the collector decades earlier as he claimed. They clearly had attempted to draw media attention to their robbed tomb in Silwan and when the media attention flagged they now suddenly claim that they were mistaken and the ossuary no longer comes from Silwan but from the Talpiot ” ˜Jesus Family tomb excavated in 1980 by the Israel Antiquities Authority! Well, last week ago a small problem suddenly arose when Oded Golan the owner of the ossuary in question, who is on trial for forging objects, produced a photograph of the ossuary with a time stamp 1976, four years before the Talpiot tomb was accidentally discovered! Moreover, they maintained that the missing ossuary, their James son of Joseph brother of Jesus ossuary was of the same identical dimensions as the ” ˜missing’ ossuary from Jesus Family tomb at Talpiot. Sounds convincing until an enterprising skeptic here in Jerusalem checked the dimensions of the two ” ˜identical’ ossuaries and found that the Talpiot plain white “missing’ ossuary is approximately 20% longer than the James brother of Jesus ossuary ! So much for ” ˜identical’.

The Truth Of The Matter

The truth of the matter is that the missing ossuary was never missing, never stolen from the IAA, nor stolen from the Talpiot tomb. Plain ossuaries which bore no inscription, nor any ornaments were automatically placed in an inner courtyard in the Rockefeller Museum during my tenure at curator (1972-1997). Due to a lack of storage space this was standard operating procedure, the ossuary was given a registration number, measured and simply stored in the inner courtyard with perhaps an additional 50-100 plain ossuaries. This was personally explained to Tabor by me so as to avoid any problems of a conspiracy theory in which the plain ossuary would figure. Unfortunately, it did not fit their agenda so they artificially created a story in which a plain white ossuary, suddenly morphed into a ossuary with two rosettes on the front, traces of red paint, bearing the inscription on the back ” ˜James son of Joseph, brother of Jesus.


All of this can be neatly summed up in the following opinion piece (edited) by a SC biblical scholar (Byron. McCane) who wrote in today’s paper, what I believe pretty much speaks for all of us involved, enraged and fed up with the current wave of pseudo science posing as biblical scholarship, foisted upon the public, by our colleagues.

“The publicity for the Discovery Channel documentary “The Lost Tomb of Jesus”  has a disturbingly familiar ring. First came the James Ossuary; then The DaVinci Code, next the John the Baptist cave, and now “the lost tomb of Jesus. The two archaeologists involved in “The Lost Tomb of Jesus,”  for example, already have a well-known track record for sensationalism. These programs go for the quick buck. Everything is crafted to generate interest, to make sales. The disturbing trend in recent documentaries toward profit-driven sensationalism, however, is an insult to all concerned, and especially to those of us who are scholars of these subjects. And that is why it is scholars who should bring this train of sensationalism to a stop.” Slight correction- make that one archaeologist and one biblical scholar.

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