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Dear Colleagues:

On Friday I happened past a chain bookstore in Manhattan and saw featured in the window The Jesus Family Tomb: The Discovery, the Investigation, and the Evidence That Could Change History by Jacobovici and Pellegrino. I couldn't help but recall that I had seen The Gospel of Judas in the same spot a few weeks before, and weeks before that the full array of The DaVinci Code and its associated literature. Before this was the hullabaloo about the Jesus ossuary and the Temple vessels in the Bar Kokhba caves. Coming up for June 2007 US distribution is the (absurd) claim that the Temple menorah is buried beneath the ruins of an unexcavated Byzantine monastery in the West Bank.

The public — and the scholarly world, is being plummeted on an almost monthly basis with "discoveries" by either non-academics or lone academics that fly in the face of the kinds of careful scholarly research for which our discipline prides itself. The "DaVinci Codification" of the public imagination is — to a very disturbing degree — affecting our communal scholarly agenda.

While each outburst of new discoveries is truly a "teaching moment," and even an opportunity for reflection, my overall sense is that our joint scholarly project — not to mention our culture — is being damaged by this developing discourse.

The story is told of a prominent American scholar meeting with a US general at the height of the Cold War. According to this anecdote, which I heard fourth or fifth hand, the general explained to the scholar that his job is "to defend American culture." To which the scholar quipped: "General, my job is to create the culture that you defend."

Is this still our role? I believe and hope that it is.

Steven Fine, Professor of Jewish History, Yeshiva University.

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Citation: Steven Fine, " Concerning the Jesus Family Tomb," SBL Forum , n.p. [cited March 2007]. Online:http://sbl-site.org/Article.aspx?ArticleID=655

 
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