Jesus and Journalists

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This morning I noticed that on top of my blog there’s an ad for an upcoming show on the Discovery Channel that claims to reveal the tomb of Jesus and his family. I haven’t seen a preview of the show, and from an article in this morning’s NY Times, I have very little interest in doing so:

The filmmakers commissioned DNA testing on the residue in the boxes said to have held Jesus and Mary Magdalene. There are no bones left, because the religious custom in Israel is to bury archeological remains in a cemetery.

However, the documentary’s director and its driving force, Simcha Jacobovici, an Israeli-born Canadian, said there was enough mitochondrial DNA for a laboratory in Ontario to conclude that the bodies in the “Jesus” and “Mary Magdalene” ossuaries were not related on their mothers’ side. From this, Mr. Jacobovici deduced that they were a couple, because otherwise they would not have been buried together in a family tomb.

In an interview, Mr. Jacobovici was asked why the filmmakers did not conduct DNA testing on the other ossuaries to determine whether the one inscribed “Judah, son of Jesus” was genetically related to either the Jesus or Mary Magdalene boxes; or whether the Jesus remains were actually the offspring of Mary.

“We’re not scientists. At the end of the day we can’t wait till every ossuary is tested for DNA,” he said. “We took the story that far. At some point you have to say, ‘I’ve done my job as a journalist.’ ” (emphasis mine)

Now it seems to me, as a journalist, that Jacobovici’s job as a journalist would be to report on peer-reviewed research published in a scientific journal by a team of experts who had no financial stake in the success of a show. Once he starts commissioning DNA tests of his own, he’s taking on an entirely different set of responsibilities. For example, it’s up to him to make sure that the DNA has not been contaminated by archaeologists (see my post on the diet of Europeans 8,000 years ago). It’s up to him to pass the judgment of scientific experts in the field. And at the very least, it’s up to him to test all the remains–including the ones that supposedly belonged to the son of Jesus. To step back suddenly and say, “I’ve done my job as a journalist” is utterly absurd.