An Introduction to Controversy in Archaeology

Archaeology is a science and like any other science, there is controversy. Just as many scientists disagree on the validity of global warming theories, archaeologists have similar feuds on interpretation of artifacts. I mean, there is an entire group that says the Pyramids of Giza were built by Aliens (but I’ll try not to get into that). Here is a brief introduction into controversies between individuals in archaeology and why status is important:


My friend recently showed me an article about an academic feud that ended up in court not too long ago. In fact, when I read the story, I discovered I had already heard of one of the primary archaeologists in the feud. His name is Simcha Jacobovici. He is a Canadian “archaeologist” (many argue over his title) and Adjunct Professor of Religious Studies at Huntington University in Greater Sudbury, Ontario, Canada. Many readers who are already familiar with archaeologists may know him as the “Naked Archaeologist” after the name of his television documentary and supposed style of archaeology (however he does in fact wear clothes). Over the years, he has worked in producing documentaries on Biblical Archaeology and recent Biblical history theories.

The other guy in the dispute is renowned physical anthropologist and paleopathologist Joseph “Joe” Zias who has degrees from both Wayne State University and Hadassah Medical School. He is definitely outstanding in his work and is a force to be reckoned with.

Without doubt, they are both respectable men in the field of archaeology and have definitely become successful. However, one has recently published some sketchy information on a very prominent individual in history. Simcha Jacobovici (with the help of famous filmmaker David Cameron) recently produced a documentary on the infamous Talpiot Tomb. Simcha Jacobovici claims that he has found the tombs of Jesus Christ, a woman by the name of Mariam (perhaps Mary Madelene), and a man named Joseph. Sounds Biblical, huh? Most important, the ossuary with the name of Jesus details him as “Jesus, son of Joseph”. This find would revolutionize the world of Christianity and archaeology and literally change everything. So why was this not all over the news, in all of the history books, or mentioned in Church services?

Probably because it is not true. And Joe Zias knows it.

After the publication of his documentary “The Lost Tomb of Jesus” for the Discovery Channel, Joe Zias supposedly declared the movie to be a “hyped-up film which is intellectually and scientifically dishonest” in his correspondence with the  Washington Post. He wasn’t done there.

“The [Talpiot Tomb] film is not a documentary in the strict sense of the word as many scenes and sets are totally reconstructed…. Textual scholars posing as biblical archaeologists, several which appear in the film and on the Discovery panel discussion are one of the biggest problems within the profession which has, according one noted scholar, has set back trust and creditability in the profession, decades.”

So what is the truth about this mysterious tomb and what can individuals learn about this controversy?


First, the important truth is that the tomb is most likely not the tomb of Jesus. Archaeology only provides clues to the lives of a very few privileged individuals. Usually only the wealthy had the resources to have extensive burials that could stand the elements to last to the 21st century. The poor on the other hand had no such resources (which means every find that demonstrates the life of commoners is hugely important to the understanding of the past).

So let’s look at the facts. If you are familiar with the Jesus story, then you know that Jesus had no elevated status due to monetary gains. He was a poor carpenter from a small and greatly unprivileged family. Although Jesus and his life may seem important to us in current day, during his own life, he would have almost been a nobody. The possibility of finding his grave is low. Astronomically low.

As well, you then go into the discussion on whether Jesus really existed.

Let me get onto his soapbox really quickly: Jesus most likely existed. How could such a prominent religion with such important writings that affect literature, art, morality, etc. have been created without being based on an actual human being. We do not get a group of people who deny the existence of the Buddha! We believe Homer existed without ever finding any archaeological evidence for him! Let’s just understand that many archaeologists agree that Jesus was probably a real individual. The validity of the gospels is another story.

So what does this story say for the study of archaeology? Well, it is difficult and highly political. Many have supported Zias by proving that names Joseph, Jesus, and Mary were common. Others have determined the entire spectacle to be a hoax and have called on Jacobovici to step down from his lawsuit. On the other hand, some have followed the side of the Naked Archaeologist and protested Zias for using slanderous words to lessen the impact of Simcha’s important archaeological discoveries.

I may find myself on one side but I ask all readers to always look into the reliability of all sources and all historical information. Many times archaeologists will produce claims that could revolutionize the history books. However, these are not always based on solid evidence. Throughout, be aware of your resources and the validity of all evidence provided. Even on this blog, do not be afraid to call me out on my information!

Finally, also realize how important in archaeology it is to have credentials. I cannot deny that what Simcha Jacobovici has done to popularize archaeology has been hugely successful and beneficial. I used to watch his show every afternoon and he definitely influenced my decision to get interested into Near Eastern Archaeology. However, his position as a documentary personality and his background as a professor that only received up to a M.A. in International Relations has greatly affected his public image. He is not considered a reliable source in the academic world and his work is diminished by his lack of standing. That is one unfortunate lesson all amateur archaeologists have to learn.

If you want to read more about the legal case between Jacobovici and Zias, read either of the two following articles:

I hope you have at least a basic understanding of academic feuds and archaeological politics by the end of this article. We can only move forward from here! And boy do we have a long way to go!

I hope you have a good day and that you have enjoyed this quick look into controversy and archaeology. Hopefully I will be able to delve deeper into the complex political world in later posts.



One thought on “An Introduction to Controversy in Archaeology

  1. Pingback: O is for The Oldest Church in the World? | The Left Wright Brain

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