Simcha Jacobovici’s Circular Responses During Interview with Canada’s Drew Marshall

I just finished listening to Canadian talk show host Drew Marshall‘s interview with Simcha Jacobovici and Dr. Craig Evans.

This was my first time listening to Drew Marshall, and let me say he was a gracious host, and yet he didn’t let Simcha off the hook (my only fish pun). He actually called Simcha on a couple of things, but of course, that didn’t stop Simcha from entering into his obstinate alternate reality and completely dodge the questions and spin some answer that only a six-year old would accept as valid.

Listen to the interview. Read my marked-up comments.

Please keep in mind that in addition to being Assistant Professor of Classics and Religious Studies at the University of Iowa, I am also part of the “Digital Public Humanities” consortium here at Iowa. This means that part of my job as a scholar (in addition to teaching and researching and writing and excavating with Dr. Oded Lipschits at Tel Azakah in Israel) is responding to claims made in the public sphere (and if necessary, critiquing them) that involve technology and the humanities (i.e., the Digital Public Humanities), particularly in the fields of religion and archaeology. Simcha Jacobovici’s latest Discovery Channel documentary, The Resurrection Tomb Mystery (alternatively titled The Jesus Discovery in Canada) makes a sensational religious/archaeological claim involving innovative technology directly to the public, bypassing scholarly conventions of peer-review in refereed journals and professional conferences.

The above video is a critique of a publicly broadcast interview where filmmaker Simcha Jacobovici attempts to present ‘evidence’ for his latest pseudo-archaeological claim.

A couple of things to listen for:

At the 22:43 mark, Simcha mentions me by name, stating in the interview:

Even my worst detractors are saying, this – this guy Cargill he spends all of his days on his blog attacking me – even he says in the pages of the Washington Post, ‘This is important. This is different’.”  – Simcha Jacobovici, The Drew Marshall Show, April 7, 2012

Of course, I never said that. My four quotes from the April 5, 2012 Washington Post article by Nicolas Brulliard are as follows:

“It sounds like they’re trying to act out ‘The Da Vinci Code’.”

“The image on ossuary 6 is not Jonah’s great fish spitting out a seaweed-wrapped head of Jonah,” says Cargill, who favors the Greek vessel interpretation.

“Fish don’t have handles.”

“Cargill also says that the inscription and carvings found in the tomb are significant regardless of their interpretation.”

This is a typical example of how Simcha mishandles information. I obviously don’t agree with Simcha, but that doesn’t stop him from claiming I said: “This is important. This is different,” and spinning it into some kind of support for him.

(But, it’s always good to know that Simcha is paying attention. ;)

So there’s the joke that Simcha still does not realize the difference between a mention and an endorsement. I’ve addressed this elsewhere.

Second: I about fell out of my chair laughing at Simcha’s insistence that his 6-year old daughter’s assessment that the image on the ossuary is a fish was the “ultimate test”. Then again, that fact alone really does explain a lot about these sensational claims. Forget scholars and trained professionals. We don’t need no stinking scholars! (Because we scholars disagree with his conclusions.) So, he turns to his daughter. And she accepts that it is a fish. Case closed. Again, the “Mishi Test” (his words (on multiple occasions), not mine) alone trumps all the education and all the scholars in the world.

(BTW, and I mention this in the video: To be really honest, this is not a bad rhetorical tactic on Simcha’s part. Because now, if anyone ever calls Simcha on the fact that he consulted his six-year old daughter regarding ancient Jewish burial iconography, he can claim, “You’re personally attacking members of my family. How dare you!” or something like that.

Simcha invoked his six-year-old daughter’s professional(?) testimony as evidence in his interpretation of the image inscribed on Ossuary 6, but if you call him on it, he might try claiming “personal attack.” (And the less discerning among us might even buy it!) But I really wonder if he’d actually go there? I mean, it’d be a fairly obvious double standard and disingenuous retreat to a feigned offense designed to distract from his lack of evidence and circular reasoning. And yet, I’m torn about whether he’d actually do it. Maybe one of his doting fans (or employees) will claim “personal attack” for him? At least we’d know of its disingenuous nature beforehand.)

Finally, the sad fact that Simcha absolutely refuses to listen to ANY OTHER POSSIBLE EXPLANATION or interpretation regarding his “Jonah Fish” image is, with all due respect, laughable. In fact, if you listen to me on the video, you’ll hear me quite literally laughing out loud. Simcha actually tries to compare “that Drew Marshall exists” to his claim that the inscribed image on Ossuary 6 “is a fish.” Both are unquestionable facts in Simcha’s mind. In fact, he says that any other interpretation than ‘fish’ is “silliness,” and he refuses to entertain any further discussion about it. There is no other possible interpretation in Simcha’s mind. It’s a fish. End of story. (Did I mention he admitted he’s NOT an academic and NOT an archaeologist?)

The fact that Simcha absolutely refuses (and says so in the interview) to see anything other than what he ABSOLUTELY MUST see in order for his speculative theory to work essentially explains everything you need to know about both Simcha and this entire project.

In the video, Simcha admits he is “not a theologian, not a Christian,” and of course, elsewhere has admitted he is “not an archaeologist, nor an academic.” (Simcha Jacobovici, “The Nails of the Cross: A Response to the Criticisms of the Film,”, June 22, 2011, p. 45.) And yet, if any theologian, Christian, academic, archaeologist, or any one else trained in these fields suggests anything other than “it’s a fish,” Simcha will have nothing to do with it.

That’s how desperate and precarious their theory has become…and the documentary hasn’t even aired yet.

Drew Marshall’s interview with Simcha Jacobovici will be remembered as THE moment that the delusional obstinate stubbornness of Simcha Jacobovici became self-manifest. He said it himself. He doesn’t want to hear anyone tell him it’s not a fish. It just is. Oh, and because it’s a fish, it’s a “Christian tomb,” “owned by Joseph of Arimathea,” those buried inside “knew Jesus” and “heard him preach,” and therefore the tomb next to it “contains the bones of Jesus.”

Do we really need to say more?

12 Responses

  1. I had to chuckle when Dr J says “this guy Cargill…[said] in the pages of the Washington Post…” (shades of Hitch-Hiker’s Guide, where the therapist says “Zaphod’s just zis guy, you know?”)

    Not only doesn’t Jacobovici have the basic courtesy of addressing you in your professional position, he *still* so desperately wants to paint your “endorsement” of his rubbish by an appeal to authority – The Washington Post, no less!

    So this blog is apparently where you while away your hours, refusing food and oral hygiene, pointlessly rampaging personal vitriol against him, and the Washington Post is where you respectfully support his “scholarship”…

  2. Bob, even though you have training as a “digital humanities” person it seems to me that analyzing this image from an academic perspective belongs more in the area of art history than those with our training in texts and history, though I do think that any of us that work in the field can look at other images on ossuaries, as we have been doing, and suggest comparisons. We consulted four art historians in the field of ancient Greco-Roman/Jewish art and three of the four agreed it was the image of a fish, two of them agreeing it was most likely Jonah. The only discounting voice was Steven Fine who argued it is a nephesh or tower and last time I checked had stuck with that. He had access to all the photos you have and more, as did the others. That analysis was what was behind my paper on the image where I discuss the various possibilities.

    On the digital front I do have reason to question your judgment on the matter of photographic perspective since you posted an analysis on Goodacre’s blog regarding whether ossuary 2 had been moved that showed you did not understand the issue of filming from different angles. One of the other commentators on that blog, Ian I think was his name, pointed out the basic fallacy you were making. I am not sure if those posts are still up but they were at: That ossuary was not moved, nor were any in the tomb, but your analysis seemed to insist that it was as I remember–just a few days ago.

  3. that’s about the size of it. now if you’ll excuse me, it’s april 9th, so time for my monthly bath. ;-)

  4. James,
    Good morning.

    RE: Art History and Art Historians
    You do have a point: the opinions of art historians would carry significant weight in this matter. You’ve mentioned Dr. Fine by name, but I didn’t catch the names of the four trained art historians that support you. What are their names?

    I also noticed that on Dr. Craig Evans’ interview on The Drew Marshall Show (right after Simcha), that Dr. Evans also said ‘probably a nephesh‘. Once you sent me the pictures of the image that showed the top of the Ossuary 6 engraved icon behind Ossuary 5, and I saw the same inscribed shape there as is on the top left, I was convinced by the vessel argument.

    BTW, why is that image not on your website? Are you going to add it? There’s obviously something up there, in the same shape and size and position as the inscribed loop on the top left. They can’t both be random false starts, right?

    But I’m off topic. Who are the four art historians who agreed with you? (If I missed them in an end note in the book, I apologize.) You mentioned the one that disagreed with you (and with whom you disagreed), Dr. Fine, by name, but what are the names of the others? And which two of the four said that the round shape at the bottom wasn’t ‘most likely Jonah’, and which two stated that it was ‘most likely Jonah.’ Because something that hasn’t really received a lot of discussion as of yet (at least until I heard Simcha’s interview) was how you got from ‘it’s a fish’ to ‘it’s Jonah’s fish.’ For instance, does even Dr. Charlesworth think it’s Jonah? That’s a big leap from arguing ‘it’s a fish’ (especially since if you do interpret it as a fish, it has to be a 50-cm tropical fish drawn from memory. (remember your ‘Arkansas grandfather’s fishing creek’ analogy here?) From what you argue, half of your experts didn’t make the jump to Jonah from ‘fish.’ And you need a Jonah to have the “Sign of Jonah.”

    So who are the two art historians who said it was Jonah?

    And for the record, I jumped in when I realized that the image Simcha was sending to the press was highly Photoshopped – something that you have conceded and remedied by now referring to it as an imagined, idealized, “computer generated” (CGI) image (like Avitar). I jumped in again when I realized someone had digitally inked the ‘fish in the margins’ image without acknowledgment (see also here). I thank you for remedying that as well by uploading the undoctored photo and acknowledging that the altered image had been ‘marked’.

    RE: my judgment on the matter of photographic perspective.
    You would be correct in arguing that I’m not as skilled as your partner in understanding the breath and scope of camera angles and tricks at a film maker’s disposal. But then again, no measurements are ever given of any of the ossuaries – not one: no height, width, length – in either your book or your preliminary archaeological report. (Methinks at one point you mention that one of the ossuaries is 20 cm away from a back wall, but that’s about it for measurements in the archaeological report.) I found that odd.

    I accept your statement that neither you, nor Simcha, nor anyone working on the project ever moved or entered the tomb physically. And, I accept your claim that nothing was moved, not even leaned or tilted or moved in any way to get a better picture, not with a hook, not with an inflatable bladder, not with a rope – nothing. But it sure does make me want to watch the documentary to see how you did it (which I guess is the point of all the hype!). I can’t wait to see the straight-on shot of the image on Ossuary 6. I can’t wait to see the shot of the individual un-inked ‘fish in the margins.’ And I can’t wait to see the reveal on the ‘half-fish’.



  5. […] seem incredible – and our historical understanding is liable to suffer as a result.On the Talpiot patio tomb, Bob Cargill has annotated a video with Simcha Jacobovici: See also the discussion on Bob’s blog.And on the James Ossuary, Matthew Kalman explains why […]

  6. A six-year-old didn’t say: perhaps an unguentarium or Greco-Roman amphora or krater for wine or the like?…
    The only two art historians who have been named, as far as I know, both do not accept the fish proposed interpretation.
    (I can only claim that only my outside minor for PhD in history of Judaism, especially Second Temple, and history of early Christianity was art history, especially Jewish and Christian iconography; I can’t claim to be an art historian, though I have looked into the subject a little.)
    Unless the artist might have been a six-year old…?
    It is only one of the options, to brazen it out, claiming to have discovered “The Resurrection Tomb that Reveals the Birth of Christianity.”

  7. Stephen, Exactly. My 12-year old doesn’t know the word ‘unguentarium’, so i’m guessing she’d say ‘fish’ too. We can only relate to what we’ve experienced.

    I am curious to know who the ‘four art historians’ are who called it a fish.

  8. I would be interested to hear more about the art historians. As far as I can see, the only one mentioned in the book is Robin Jensen, who has subsequently retracted her identification of this as a fish. I can’t see reference to any art historians in the Preliminary Report.

  9. Agreed. I note that Simcha trots out a litany of names who mentioned him as if they were academic supporters, but in this case, we keep hearing of “four art historians” who are thus far anonymous.

    (and i’m sure we all know how i feel about people making anonymous claims…)

    Who are they?

  10. I know I’m only an amateur, so I apologise in advance for this “Time Team” type of question…

    Given that the only thing that’s been in the cave is a camera, wouldn’t the professional art historians have to have required a scale measurement of the various objects? Both separately (if possible, given their orientations) and together?

    Or is this information going to appear in the book, together with the various professionals’ reports and so on?

    My (extremely limited) understanding is that objects found in a site need to be documented, showing the scaling and position in situ, unless they’re obviously unimportant. Is that about right?

    As a technologist, I don’t see that there would have been much of a problem placing a plastic scale marker on one or more of the objects, photographing that, then removing the marker. Unless interfering like that is a no-no?

    The only item I’ve been able to view with anything like a scaling reference is the artist’s duplication of the casket, where someone’s hands are visible next to it. But I can’t see any image with any ruler anywhere on the website images, unless I’m looking at totally the wrong images… Hence my confusion. Sorry if this is stupid or inconsequential.

  11. that’s just it, folks have been in the tomb. 30 years ago. they took photos. tabor and jacobovici published them in their book.

  12. Greatly enjoyed the video. Keep up the good work.

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