This Week in 'Million-Dollar' Biblical Archaeology Lawsuits: A Breakdown

Simcha Jacobovici, the Canadian documentary director who claimed in 2011 to have found two of the nails used to crucify Jesus, is suing archaeologist Joe Zias for libel. There are few things more enjoyable than fights between academics, particularly when one of the academics is being accused of pandering and sensationalism. The blog posts fly thick and fast, the Change.org petitions sing with wounded intellectual pride ("we the undersigned simply and collegially request that Mr. Jacobovici abandon his lawsuit"), and everyone gets a chance to play.

Here's a quick breakdown for those of you who may not be familiar with the players or just exactly what's at stake.

The Players' Qualifications

Simcha Jacobovici: Producer of TV documentaries like Sex Slaves, Selling Christianity, The Lost Tomb of Jesus, and Yummy Mummy; adjunct professor at Huntington University; coauthor of The Jesus Discovery: The Resurrection Tomb that Reveals the Birth of Christianity
Joe Zias: Holds degrees from Wayne State University, Hadassah Medical School, and the Smithsonian Institution in physical anthropology and Paleopathology; special achievement award from the Association of Paleopathologists "in recognition of scientific contribution to the study of ancient disease"; served as a combat medic with the Israel Defense Forces; now retired and giving bike tours in and around Jerusalem

Most Outrageous Behavior

Simcha Jacobovici: Claimed to have found Atlantis in an interview with Hadassah Magazine
Joe Zias: "Routinely writes Jacobovici's first name with a dollar sign in place of the S"

Legal Claims

Simcha Jacobovici: That Joe Zias' public criticism of his archaeological discoveries (including claims that he has discovered the final resting place of Jesus and his family) amounts to libel, causing him to lose money
Joe Zias: That Simcha Jacobovici's documentary about the so-called James Ossuary is a fraud "hyped upon the unsuspecting public"

Best Academic Zinger

Simcha Jacobovici: "[Zias] disagrees with everything I do and, frankly, he has a right to. He is not a trained archaeologist, nor is he a trained forensic anthropologist as he claims to be. But in a democratic society he's free to express whatever opinion he wants...He accused me of "forging" archaeology, "planting" archaeology, and "inventing" Holocaust stories. As a child of Holocaust survivors, as an award-willing journalist and as a human being, I decided I had enough. Freedom of speech ends where libel begins."
Joe Zias: "The [Talpiot Tomb] film is not a documentary in the strict sense of the word as many scenes and sets are totally reconstructed even though Cameron et al try to present it as such...[T]his is basically a re-hash of the 1996 story by Ray Bruce, a British film maker, somewhat re-written, to present the views of the author of The Jesus Dynasty who figures prominently in the film. The first version was better. This author, though well known for his support of the BAR position on the James Ossuary, is not an archaeologist in any sense of the word, which may account for many of the short comings in the film. 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."

Supporters

Simcha Jacobovici: Charles Pellegrino (author of The Ghosts of Atlantis, James Cameron
Joe Zias: Anthropologist Carl Feagans, Dr. Jim West (see his post about Simcha's support for the authenticity of the "Jesus Papyrus" for an excellent Alexa ranking burn)

The Discovery Channel aired Jacobovici's James, Brother of Jesus but a few years later included "the James ossuary "on its list of the top 10 scientific hoaxes of all time."

Jim West writes in his analysis of Burleigh's article that "my hope remains that Zias and Jacobovici will settle this (preferably by the suit being dropped and the two of them having a nice Diet Coke- on me if they wish it)."

[Image via AP]