The Statistics behind “The Tomb”

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Rather than being treated as liabilities to a statistical study, conjectured details are turned into historical givens and are even factored in as positive data. Consequently, most of the connections made in the documentary fall under the heading of “special pleading.”

The world of New Testament studies was abuzz during the week of February 25 to March 3, 2007, with advance critiques of a documentary that aired on the Discovery Channel on March 4, 2007, entitled, The Lost Tomb of Jesus. The documentary followed the efforts of a team, led by director Simcha Jacobovici, to determine whether the Talpiot tomb discovered in 1980 might be the tomb of Jesus’ family. The show was so sensationalistic that even its own statistics were not allowed their proper weight. For example, in one scene, Jacobovici and an unnamed team member came upon an ossuary in the IAA (Israel Antiquities Authority) warehouse on which they find the inscription “Jesus son of Joseph.” “Quite amazing, isn’t it?” the team member remarks. “Amazing is not the word for it,” Jacobovici replies. With that I would agree, but in what way is “amazing” the wrong word? The show itself revealed that the odds of a given patronymic inscription reading “Jesus son of Joseph” are one in only 190, and I would suggest that “amazing” is the wrong word simply because it is far too strong.

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Jack Poirier

Jack Poirier

Jack Poirier is the chair of biblical studies at the newly forming Kingswell Theological Seminary in Cincinnati, Ohio (scheduled to open in Fall 2008). Jack earned his doctorate in Ancient Judaism from the Jewish Theological Seminary in New York City, where he wrote a dissertation…
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