Jesus Family Tomb and a Unified Conspiracy Theory

Amidst all the scholarly chatter about ossuaries, patinas and epigraphy there isn’t much talk about the Freemason connection to the Jesus Family Tomb. This, I think, is where the Cameron/Jacobovici documentary could have its biggest impact. Consider the number of people who believe that the DaVinci Code is fact.

By all accounts Cameron and Jacobovici are more interested in spinning a story than in documenting an archeological find. And it’s a sexy story complete with lost history, missing artifacts that mysteriously come to light, and secret powers out to rule the world. In this type of story the academic critics become the scoffers who try and sidetrack the hero before he embarks on his journey.

Since this is a documentary, the hero isn’t a fictional character…it’s the viewer. And the viewer will get the sense that he or she might have a chance at solving the riddle by using clues on the website. Or more to the point, by purchasing Jacobovici’s book.

Incorporating Freemasons in the story is a brilliant stroke. It’s the gift that keeps on giving–bringing everything into the story. Everything from ancient Egypt and the Exodus to the time of Christ (and Christ as Horus), through the Crusades on up to our own time with the mysterious all-seeing eye on the back of the dollar bill.

And the cool thing is, there’s no way to prove it wrong. All you have to say about the critics is “well…that’s what they want you to think.”

OMG Google Maps for Mobile

How could I have missed this? I was killing a few idle minutes by poking around the web browser on my Treo 650, and I pointed to Google Maps. Instead of the “this device does not support Java” error that I used to get, there was a redirect for a prc download. Google Maps for Mobile.

Wow. All I can say is wowie, wowie, wowie. Slick, fast, easy. Google maps for mobile runs in its own app on the Palm launcher. The interface is Palm-like, accessible through the preferences button. You can get locations, driving directions, see traffic congestion maps…even view satellite photos. (The satellite photos are mighty teeny on the Treo’s screen.)

The biggest downside is the Treo’s sluggish internet connection. But it sure beats the pants off viewing Mapquest in the browser.

I can think of a dozen times when Google Maps Mobile would have saved my bacon. For instance, if I’d had GMM when I was lost in the backwoods of Ballinger Canyon I would have saved a lot of wheel-spinning…if only there was a cellular node out that far.

Science and Irony

Before this James Cameron business hit the filter I was stewing over a line of ad copy for Victor J. Stegner’s book God: Failed Hypothesis:

Science has advanced sufficiently to make a definitive statement on the existence-or nonexistence-of the Judeo-Christian-Islamic God.

But as it turns out, science hasn’t even reached the point where it can make a definitive statement about the authenticity of an inscription on a first century bone box. In this case science comes up with not just one, but two definitive statements–the first being that the inscription is indisputably authentic. The other scientific conclusion is that the insciption on the box is undeniably a forgery.

In fact, it seems to me that science is having an increasingly hard time making a definitive statement about anything. Take antioxidants. After thousands of studies, the Journal of the American Medical Association conducted a huge meta-analysis to study the claim that antioxidant supplements can prolong life. Their conclusion: antioxidants do nothing to extend life, and may in fact be correlated with higher rates of mortality. In English: Vitamin E supplements can kill you.

Meta-analysis of thousands of studies, all done by strict scientific method should produce a definitive statement, wouldn’t you think? Sadly, no. Other experts are disputing the methodology of the study.

Even after skads of scientists study a matter, billions of dollars are spent, it still seems to come down to a subjective interpretation of the data.

Cameron Digs His Own Grave?

Biblical scholars are falling over themselves to point out reasons that James Cameron’s “The Lost Tomb of Jesus” is a bad piece of investigation. Ben Witherington of Asbury Seminary lists some quick thoughts notably that Jacobovici’s claim that one of the ossuaries belongs to Mary Magdalene is without evidence. All historical references to Mary Magdalene use the name “Maria.” The ossuary bears the inscription “Mariamenou” (belonging to Mary.)

Jacobovici, however, tries some historical sleight of hand by suggesting that the name on the ossuary refers to the name “Mariamne” found in a 14th century copy of a 4th century gnostic writing. This document does not, apparently, make any reference to Mary Magdalene. It is simply one scholar’s speculation that links the Mariamne in the Acts of Phillip to Mary Magdalene in Biblical literature.

If Cameron honestly hoped to rock the world of Biblical scholarship, then the Lost Tomb of Jesus is turning into a disaster epic. It makes you wonder what he’ll do for an encore.

Mary Magdalene is never historically called “Mariamne.” The only connection between Mary Magdalene and the name Mairamne is one person’s speculation that the Mariamne named in a 14th century copy of a 4th century document is actually Mary Magdalene.

James Cameron Finds Jesus

I confess I’ve been a little unnerved by director James Cameron’s Titanic announcement that he’s found Jesus–I wasn’t aware that Jesus was missing.

Cameron’s latest project, a TV documentary called The Lost Tomb of Jesus will supposedly unveil evidence that could rock the foundation of Christianity. Namely that the bodies of Jesus Christ and his family were discovered in an excavation 27 years ago, and guess what? Jesus had a son.

Let’s assume for a moment that evidence that Cameron plans to present this coming Saturday is conclusive. Suppose that there was no doubt whatsoever that the bones in the box belonged to Jesus of Nazareth. This news would cut loose the moorings of any thoughtful Christian. Personally it would force me to rethink everything I believe, and everything that I am doing with my life.

So I’ve been noodling on this a bit and here are some thoughts, tossed out in no particular order:

  • The bones, assuming that they belong to Jesus, don’t necessarily disprove the resurrection, but they would make fine hash of the ascension.
  • The statistical evidence supporting the claim that this is the family tomb of Jesus Christ, sounds compelling at first, but maybe isn’t as strong as it seems. (Assuming that the statistics are valid.) For instance given the presumed popularity of the names Jesus and Joseph during this timeframe, the odds are 190:1 that an ossuary would bear the inscription “Jesus, son of Joseph.” Yet there are at least two “Jesus son of Joseph” ossuaries that have been discovered to date.
  • And the odds against the cluster of names in the Talpiot tomb are supposed to be 600:1. That sounds pretty strong, but it also seems pretty abstract. Does it mean that you would have to search through 600 Jerusalems in order to find one tomb with this combination of names?
  • Of course there’s also the possibility that the Big Kahuna ossuary doesn’t even have an inscription for Jesus. One scholar believes it reads “Hanun son of Joseph.” Looking at the Discovery Channel’s downloadable PDF document, it is clear that “Jesus” is a matter of interpretation–confirmed largely because another ossuary clearly reads “Judah, son of Jesus.”
  • It strikes me as odd, or unexpected at least, that an ossuary supposedly containing Jesus of Nazareth would be so plain with the inscription so clumsily scratched on the side. I’d love to hear an archeologist’s take on that. I’d also like to hear why Mariemne and Judah have much more ornate bone boxes.
  • The Cameron film will supposedly also make the claim that the James ossuary came from the Talpiot tomb. However, there is some interesting controversy over the James ossuary, particularly the part that reads “brother of Jesus.” Ogden Golan claims to have obtained the James ossuary in 1978–two years before the Talpiot tomb was discovered. Golan claims to have photographs dated 1976 showing the James ossuary with the full inscription. This would enhance the credibility of the inscription, but lessen the likelihood that the Talpiot tomb is Jesus of Nazareth’s family plot.

To Do: Boycott RIAA in March

I’ve been itching for a good boycott for a while. Here’s one that I can support–Gizmodo’s Boycott the RIAA in March. The RIAA’s trenchant enforcement of outdated copyright laws threaten innovation in computer-mediated communicatons. And there’s some evidence that closed copyrights put a damper on music sales (the classic example is the Grateful Dead, who allowed the free circulation of concert tapes, a huge factor in the band’s long lasting popularity and prosperity.)

The Number 23 Skiddoo

The Number 23 promised to be a sublimely disorienting voyage into paranoia. A little Eternal Sunshine followed by a slice of Pi.

But it just doesn’t quite make it. Too bad the studio won’t take this film back into the editing bay for a little knife-work. It’s about 2/3 of the way toward being great cinema. That last third is pure stink.

The film starts with an interesting premise–Walter Sparrow (Jim Carrey) becomes obsessed with a novela that his wife Agatha (Virginia Madsen) finds in a second hand book shop. Sparrow is intrigued by the way the book overlaps his own life. The book’s protagonist is a detective. Sparrow is a dog-catcher but he collected detective magazines as a child. He also owned a book called Fingerling, which happens to be the detective’s name. The detective becomes obsessed with a woman named Pink (Lynn Collins)–which happens to be Agatha’s maiden name. Pink, better known as the Suicide Blonde, feels terminally haunted by the number 23.

Sparrow’s curiosity about the novela turns into paranoia and he becomes convinced that the number 23 is out to get him, driving him to the same madness and murder as Fingerling. 23 is everywhere–Sparrow’s street address adds up to 23. His name adds up to 23. He was born on February (2) third (3). He met his wife when both were age 23.

Unfortunately the film doesn’t suck the viewer into Sparrow’s paranoid mindset, thanks largely to an intrusive voice-over that keeps reminding us that this is Sparrow’s story, not ours. Not that there aren’t plenty of opportunities to disolve the viewer’s ego boundaries–I found myself puzzling over all kinds of weird patterns in the film. Carrey plays a dog catcher and a detective, bringing to mind Ace Ventura, Pet Detective. The Number 23 was shot in Ventura county (where I live), at places that I’ve frequented (Libbey Park) and if you add up the numeric values of V-e-n-t-u-r-a you get 101…the name of the freeway that runs through the heart of Ventura County, a freeway I drive every day. Whoa, at this point I should be feeling that the movie was personally telegraphing hidden secrets of a Philip Dick-ian reality, something like the way I felt when I watched Hiroshima Mon Amour in a creepy art house theater.

But I just didn’t feel it. For me The Number 23 completely fell apart when I realized that I was watching a rehash of Secret Window (Despite the associations you can make: Sparrow–>Johnny Depp–>Mort, the protagonist of Secret Window. Mort–>Morte=Death. Mort kills his own dog. Sparrow (The Number 23) wants to kill Ned the dog, the Guardian of the Dead. Ned=23. Spooky, isn’t it?)

The third act of The Number 23 is pure tired murder mystery. Tedium. Just keep twisting the Rubik’s cube a few more times and we’ll have the answer. The bad guy will go to jail. Everyone else will live happily ever after.

The last nail in the coffin for The Number 23 was the sappy, Capra-esque ending, punctuated by a gratuitous Bible reference, Numbers 32:23. I left the theater feeling like I had been cheated. The actors, and the story itself deserved better treatment.

Then it happened. This morning I woke with a Number 23 hangover: like Tom Cruise in the Last Samurai, mentally replaying the squence of a fight where he put a dozen ninjas out of their misery, I had the strong sense that something isn’t right. Something isn’t finished.

The wrong person went to prison.

Consider this: we know that Topsy Kretts wrote the novela before Walter and Agatha met. So how is it that Agatha’s maiden name shows up in the novel…unless Kretts was somehow connected to Agatha before she met Walter? And who followed Agatha into the insane asylum? And why was Sirius Leary using Topsy’s PO Box?

These are some serious, diabolical questions left unanswered by the screenplay. And somehow, in the end, I just don’t care.

Free Fall

What goes through your mind when your parachute fails…and then your backup chute? Amazingly Michael Holmes lived to tell about it. The British skydiver survived a drop of some 14,000 feet, thanks partly to the drag from his failed parachute as well as a blackberry thicket on the ground.

One more thing. He was wearing a helmet cam and you can watch the whole thing here.

Say Not a Word for the Environment

LA Times is running a story about John Francis, a man who took a personal vow of silence in support of the environment. From 1973 to 1990 he traveled the country entirely by foot, speaking nothing. He even taught college courses as a no-lecture lecturer. Ironically he is today in high demand–as a speaker.

Now at age 60 Francis is retracing his steps and recording his progress on his (unfortunately a little out-of-date) blog Planetwalk.

The Fat Is in Your ‘Hood

BoingBoing cites a new study showing that suburban living makes you fatter. Or, more to the point, people who live in high density neighborhoods interspersed with shops and services are ten pounds lighter, on average, than people who live in the cul de sacs.

This insight is somewhat along the lines of the Amish Diet— consume 3,600 calories (about 50% more than most people consume) and walk 15 miles a day.

Nick Brandt’s Wild Planet

Nick Brandt’s safari photos are some of the wildest, most powerful photos I’ve seen in a long time. There’s a haunting, heart-stopping quality that comes out even across the Internet. Here’s what Nick says about his own work:

Few photographers have ever considered the photography of wild animals, as distinctly opposed to the genre of Wildlife Photography, as an art form. The emphasis has generally been on capturing the drama of wild animals IN ACTION, on capturing that dramatic single moment, as opposed to simply animals in the state of BEING.

I’ve always thought this something of a wasted opportunity. The wild animals of Africa lend themselves to photographs that extend aesthetically beyond the norm of 35mm-color telephoto wildlife photography. And so it is, that in my own way, I would like to yank the subject matter of wildlife into the arena of fine art photography. To take photographs that transcend what has been a largely documentative genre.

Aside from using certain impractical photographic techniques, there’s one thing I do whilst shooting that I believe makes a big difference :

I get extremely close to these very wild animals, often within a few feet of them. I don’t use telephoto lenses. This is because I want to see as much of the sky and landscape as possible–to see the animals within the context of their environment. That way, the photos become as much about the atmosphere of the place as the animals. And being that close to the animals, I get a real sense of intimate connection to them, to the specific animal in front of me.

Take a Load Off, Fannie

Annie Dillard writes about the doomed Franklin Expedition which set out in 1845 to map the icy Northwest Passage. The expedition wound up frozen in an ice floe. Fourteen years later the men’s bodies were found and it was clear that their survival was hindered by the amount of useless crap they tried to take with them:

Another search party found two skeletons in a boat on a sledge. They had hauled the boat sixty-five miles. With the skeletons were some chocolate, some guns, some tea, and a great deal of table silver.

Dillard notes that some of the officers died because they felt table silver was essential to survival, others died because they thought that it was barbaric to wear anything but a summer weight Royal officer’s uniform. Decorum killed them.

I’d like to think that I had better survival sense than Franklin and his crew. But the truth is that a search party would be likely to find my body next to a boat filled with, among other things, several crates of Christmas and birthday cards. I mean, people gave me those cards. It wouldn’t be polite just to throw them away, now would it?

So, like Franklin I’ve got a weight that’s slowing me down.

In the coming week I’m going to look into doing some house cleaning. And maybe brush up on my survival skills.