Etgar Lefkovits: Fast and Irresponsible

by flash Etgar Lefkovits recently wrote an article in the Jerusalem Post headlined “Jesus Tomb Film Scholars Backtrack.” The article was flagged on the Drudge site (which was where I first became aware of it).

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Lefkovits’ opening paragraph states:

“Several prominent scholars who were interviewed in a bitterly contested documentary that suggests that Jesus and his family members were buried in a nondescript ancient Jerusalem burial cave have now revised their conclusions, including the statistician who claimed that the odds were 600:1. . . . “

An opening paragraph has a purpose. It includes the thesis, or outline, as well as an attention grabbing statement (or two) and a transitional “hook.” Clearly, a plain reading of the above opening statement by Lefkovits indicates that, post production and release of the “Jesus Family Tomb” documentary, the sources used and interviewed in the film have changed their views. Moreover, one cannot come to any other conclusion regarding the statistician than that the odds are NOT 600:1, that they are something (much lower) else.

This article written by Mr. Lefkovits should be a lesson to any who are willing to think it through. The fact of the matter is that none of what he says has much of any truth to it, yet he clearly implicates the Jerusalem Post as having reached a conclusion as well. Wikipedia has a definition and discussion regarding yellow journalism, they might want to provide a link to Lefkovits’ article as an example of, well, at least pale yellow journalism.

James Tabor, Chair of the Department of Religious Studies at the University of North Carolina at Charlotte, recently returned from Jerusalem where he actually met with one of the individuals referred to in Lefkovits’ article. Moreover, Tabor is in close and frequent contact with the statistician who, according to Lefkovits, has ostensibly changed his mathematical probability measures. In both cases, Lefkovits is simply wrong.

This is rather stunning and actually reveals more of a bias than even I thought was the case. Intellectual honesty is clearly not something Etgar Lefkovits has, but purposeful opportunism through mischaracterization and out and out misstatements of fact are.

As Tabor quotes in his blog article from yesterday (updated today):

“The problem is none of these five scholars have backtraced or repudiated what they presented in the film and Lefkovits did not bother to talk to any of them.”

The fact is the statistician did not change his calculations… As Tabor notes:

“I have offered an extensive discussion of this in earlier blog posts so I won’t repeat it all again here, but even better are Dr. Feuerverger’s own words on the subject that I just received today: ‘I would like to make it clear that I stand by the statements I had made in my probability calculations. I have retracted nothing. My website makes clear the assumptions of my calculations. Subject to these assumptions, my estimates have not changed.’

Full article here by Tabor (amazing).

We need to get this story right and allow the experts, such as Dr. Tabor (whom I believe is doing an admirable job of it), to work in an atmosphere that allows for non-judgemental, objective study. Fast and irresponsible journalists such as Lefkovits do more to raise suspicion regarding the tomb and its former contents, as well as fuel the flames being thrown by hard core evangelical Christians (and those with convenient criticism which supports their strict fundamentalist view), than they do to convince anyone of anything. Such shoddy journalism only adds additional irrationality to a matter that should be soberly, carefully and painstakingly researched.

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