Jacobovici’s Rhetoric

In response to Simcha Jacobovici’s video interview with Émile Puech, and Professor Puech’s own comments regarding the interview, Mark Goodacre published a post on his blog (A Tale of Two Replicas) in which he exposes some significant differences between the two replicas of the ossuary that Jacobovici has shown to the public and to other scholars. One of his main points is that the replica showed to Puech was crafted with the intention of showcasing the supposed YWNH inscription. The markings thought to form the inscription were amended toward a more easily identified form, and the superfluous markings were simply omitted. This stands in contrast to the situation with the first replica, which appears to have been produced without knowledge of any proposed reading of the marks at the bottom of the object. In short, Professor Puech read YWNH on the replica because that’s what the artist who produced it wrote on it (the form of the characters appears to be based on the outline provided here). More on the inscription in an upcoming post. (Edit: see now Steve Caruso’s illustration of the differences between the two versions of the inscription.)

Mr. Jacobovici has responded broadly to these and other critiques in a post of his own entitled Pants on Fire. In this highly rhetorical post, Jacobovici frames his criticisms of Drs. Cargill and Goodacre and those associated with them with the assertion that he (Jacobovici) knows he is getting closer to proving his case because the criticisms leveled against him are becoming “dirtier,” and “more personal and hysterical.” He then labels his critics “detractors” and “naysayers” who are “masquerading as scholars” and engaging in “pseudo-scientific analysis of photographs of the replicas,” as well as “pseudo-scholarship . . . to rewrite history in Orwellian fashion.”

What is abundantly clear in this rhetoric is that Jacobovici is working to paint a conceptual picture of himself as the rogue intellectual idealist (“I’ll continue to report honestly in an effort to find the truth”)—untainted by both the trappings of the academy and conservative Christian ideology—who is being bombarded by clumsily veiled personal attacks from a monolithic establishment bent on maintaining the status quo and quelling any voices that may dare to dissent. He has previously characterized colleagues of mine (and will he do the same for me?) as “underwear bloggers”—juvenile slobs who sit around in their underwear “spending their days and nights attacking me and others personally” (complete with editorial cartoon). Notice he never links the reader to the actual content posted by his “detractors.” This is not considered fair play by those who want the readers to be able to assess the evidence themselves.

The goal of this rhetoric is not to directly engage any actual concerns or arguments, but simply to garner third-party support by playing upon suspicions about ivory tower theologians who are fiercely protective of their orthodoxy and who denigrate and marginalize the contributions of non-academics (particularly those who challenge Christian orthodoxy). Those without the training necessary to assess the accuracy of the academic claims in and of themselves (but who have a stake in the argument) are usually left to pick a side based on ideology and rhetoric. Mr. Jacobovici is trying to make that decision as easy as possible by appealing to a Dan Brown-esque conceptualization of himself as the Robert Langdon to our Opus Dei. We are “enforcers of Pauline theology.” He is the champion of the people’s Jesus.

My biggest concern here is that Jacobovici is either unaware of, or flatly rejects, the notion that an academic might have a position informed by anything other than religious belief, and this is deeply troubling. My religious affiliation is no secret, but anyone will be hard pressed to find an example of that affiliation governing academic positions of mine posted here or anywhere else, and I hardly defend “Pauline theology.” Dr. Goodacre, as a matter of principle, leaves personal beliefs out of his academics. Mr. Jacobovici is the farthest off the mark with the critic he engages most frequently and most vehemently, Robert Cargill. Dr. Cargill has publicly declared his agnosticism and believes Paul made the “dumbest, most problematic arguments in the Bible.” So who are these “enforcers of Pauline theology”? Aside from Professor Puech, whom Jacobovici has shown is willing to rest his academic opinion on faith claims, I see none.

Mr. Jacobovici is fabricating an ideological opponent and juxtaposing characterizations of our work to rhetorical jabs at that strawman in order to associate us with it and thus appeal to a growing and popular ideological community that is interested in a specific anti-establishment and humanistic Jesus. I have no problem whatsoever with such an interest or community, but I do take issue with manipulative and deceptive attempts to marshal support from that community in an effort to marginalize and shout down the criticisms of legitimate academics with legitimate methodological and evidentiary concerns. That is not the way to go about this.


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