Jacobovici says the combination of the “Patio Tomb” with another nearby tomb that he claims was that of Jesus and his relatives makes this residential neighborhood of East Talpiot the site of what he calls the “Big Bang of Christianity.”
“Where we’re standing right here is the beginning,” he said this week outside the building erected atop one of the two 1st-century tombs. “To my mind, this is the most important archaeological find ever maybe — of the past 100 years for sure.”
Not everyone agrees.
Biblical scholars and historians have pounced on what they see as false and sensationalized claims. They say that Jacobovici and his team explore with an agenda — hyping what fits their preferred narrative and conveniently omitting what contradicts it — and that their brand of archaeology is more fiction than science.
“It sounds like they’re trying to act out ‘The Da Vinci Code,’ ” says Robert Cargill, an assistant professor of religious studies at the University of Iowa.
Jacobovici’s ambition is not to appear at the top of biblical scholars’ most-wanted list. He says all he wants is to bring the tools of investigative journalism to archaeology.
In recent years, he has focused much of his attention and energy on biblical archaeology, setting out to “decode” the biblical past and specializing in making controversial assertions.
He caught the attention of the Christian world nine years ago, when he made a documentary about an ossuary said to have contained the bones of James, believed to be the brother of Jesus. But it was Jacobovici’s “The Lost Tomb of Jesus” documentary that really got Christians and religious academics riled up. Some blasted his “anti-Christian bias,” while others berated what they saw as inconclusive evidence and erroneous interpretations. One religion professor dubbed the 2007 film “archaeoporn.”
In the movie, Jacobovici suggested that the tomb was not only that of Jesus but also held the remains of his wife and child. The new tomb, which is the subject of a documentary to be aired in the United States by Discovery Channel on Thursday, is sure to prove more palatable to Christian orthodoxy, but it will have little chance of appeasing the academic community.
“The point of the current claim is to prove that the first tomb was in fact the tomb of Jesus and his family,” says Jodi Magness, a specialist in early Judaism at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. “There is not a shred of archaeological and literary evidence to support it.”