Libel and Academic Opinion - or I've Found Jesus' Bones ...

As I've blogged before (here and here), an American film-maker is suing Joe Zias for libel, because Zias disagreed with Simcha's re-interpretation of his finds.

Zias has responded here now Jim West's blog:
Joe Zias’ Open Letter to Academics | Zwinglius Redivivus

I've heard recently that someone else claiming to have made an archaeological "huge Biblical discovery" is also threatening to sue academics who believe his items are forgeries - the problem is that every academic I know thinks they are fake, and his of his two academic supporter one is wavering and seems to be suggesting her work was taken out of context ...

Enough people have claimed to have found Noah's Ark for him to have had a whole fleet, and there are probably enough pieces of the True Cross to build an Ark. People are constantly making ridiculous claims about finding items whichare Biblical Archaeology of great importance, but they rarely are - academics point out the flaws, and we move on.

Lord Duveen used lawsuits to stifle academic debate whenever an art historian disagreed with his attributions, and these sorts of suits tend to get thrown out of court, but can still be expensive to fight. I had people attempt a variety of law suits over Elgin Marbles, mostly trying to sue for libel on behalf of Melina Mercouri. You have to be alive to sue for libel, and someone can't sue on your behalf, but each time lawyers had to answer them and it became expensive for the publishers. (I tend to choose to answer "Go ahead" but Random House took the other approach ... although my approach did work when Gillian McKeith threatened to sue me and various others about her qualifications ...).

Whilst I am against slander and libel, too many people are using the threat of a libel suit against academics. Cosmetics company Rodial did it recently. Quite a number of journalists have asked me what I thought about the lawsuit against Zias, and I've explained to them why I thought it was nonsense - all were fascinated by the story, wanted to write it up, all but one found their bosses pulled the plug out of fear of themselves being sued for libel.

Why should anyone worry about the opinion of a retired academic like Zias? Well, someone is also attacking a deceased academic ...

This particular story fascinates me, and it involves the claims a famous TV "archaeologist" is apparently trying to make against a deceased Israeli (real) archaeologist. TV man and his backers, who seem to be a religious organisation (I know some use the term cult for them, but I try to respect others' religious views), are trying to claim the Israeli was senile, and confused the bones of the Crucified Man found at Givat ha-Mivtar with other bones he worked on from Masada.

Hmm, that all sounded a bit strange and my first thought was "Why ...?"

Masada is a very well known fortress, was home to Herod the Great, and where the Jews made their famous last stand in AD 74 against the Romans before killing themselves rather than surrendering. Many bodies were found there, but the skeletons are now believed to have belonged to the Romans who took over the site rather than to the Jewish resistance.

But just in case they were Jewish, the skeletons were re-buried  after examination, in accordance with Jewish beliefs - so they are not easily available for re-examination.

So if the film-makers - for yes, they do want to make an explosive documentary full of 'new' revelations for a US channel - could discredit the dead archaeologist, and argue that he confused the bones, they could put a crucified man at Masada. Interesting, but so what?

Oh, and there just happens to be a scroll, which puts Jesus at Masada as it fell. In fact, he seems to have written it himself, and signed it Yeshua ben Ya’akob ben Gennesareth! The scroll is even called The Jesus Scroll! One minor issue is that no-one actually believes in the scroll, as the only 'evidence' for it ever having existed is the book about it by Donovan Joyce - he claims he saw it, and them it mysteriously was spirited away to the Soviet Union ... I'm not even going to bother to explain all the flaws in this bullshit of a story of a smuggled scroll which no-one else has even seen photos of.

But anyway, you can see how these folks are trying to create two and two, and how those creations are going to add up to "Eureka - we've found the bones of Jesus Christ"

Obviously there is a minor issue with this that even I as a non-Christian can see - if Jesus survived the crucifixion and went on to live at Masada ... how on earth would his bones show him to have been crucified too? Or are they planning to argue he lives on for decades with a bone through his ankle? I'm sure the magic of television will provide a solution ...


  1. The Jesus Scroll which some cult groupies, led by an American biblical 'scholar' , believe actually exists, was last seen according to the author, in the toilets of the Ben-Gurion airport. According to the author, the thief was afraid that IL authorities were on his tail and best place to do such a transaction was in the toilet where the two of them couldn't be seen Hmmmm. Little shoe tapping going on ? The author didn't have the 5,000 dollars, couldn't read Hebrew, but seems he could easily find the mens room as toilets here, for the linguistically challenged, have images so as there are no mistakes. Far fetched, hard to believe, lunacy, well this is how I first came into contact with the BAR Crowd of Canadian television fame, on their way to AU to get the manuscript for Donovan Joyce's family. They came to the museum where I was curator asking about the skeletal remains from Masada which I eventually republished. They were vague as to the reason for their visit and it wasn't until nearly 20 yrs later that I became aware of the story when a colleague asked me if I was involved as they had used his name again and again in the re-cycling of the story, despite the fact that in the forward it clearly states 'any resemblance to individuals living or the dead is purely coincidental'. He was thinking of suing, which I hope he does in this instance, as the fact checker from UNC-C is presented again as a archaeologist, though he never had a course and his exp. in the field is limited to emptying buckets of back dirt. Anyway, par for the course in certain universities in the US particularly when one is dept chairman in something to do with 'religious studies'.

  2. One thing I forgot to add, while I republished the skeletal remains from Masada, it should be noted here that their Jesus of Nazareth was now a Byzantine monk from the 5th century,. Seems Jesus eventually converted to Christianity, saw the light, and died of natural causes with a nail in his foot hundreds of years later atop Masada. He then got a couple of more books written about him, one in Australia and a rehash for cash in North Carolina. Can't wait for the movie.


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