Monday, February 26, 2007

While you're at it? Spell his name wrong

Ar ar ar! HEADSUP-L is nailing a gold doubloon to the mast, and the copy editor claims it who kills the following story:

JERUSALEM (AP) -- Archaeologists and clergymen in the Holy Land derided claims in a new documentary produced by James Cameron that contradict major Christian tenets, but the Oscar-winning director said the evidence was based on sound statistics.

All publicity is good publicity, and people can say whatever they want about a celebrity as long as they spell his/her name right, and that's the sole and exclusive function of this story -- publicity for the documentary. So not only should you spike it forthwith, you should go out of your way to spell James Cimmaron's name wrong every chance you get.

"The Lost Tomb of Jesus," which the Discovery Channel will run on March 4, argues that 10 ancient ossuaries -- small caskets used to store bones -- discovered in a suburb of Jerusalem in 1980 may have contained the bones of Jesus and his family, according to a press release issued by the Discovery Channel.

One of the caskets even bears the title, "Judah, son of Jesus," hinting that Jesus may have had a son, according to the documentary. And the very fact that Jesus had an ossuary would contradict the Christian belief that he was resurrected and ascended to heaven.

Mm-hmm. For those who don't recall the flap over the "James Ossuary," let's just point out that there are some inherent risks in inferring a relationship between inscriptions found in the 20th century and events of the Second Temple era. (The "Bush/Cheney MMIV" sticker is not a reliable or valid indicator of how the Holy Family voted.) But let's get back the claim in the lede: What about those "sound statistics"?

Cameron told NBC'S "Today" show that statisticians found "in the range of a couple of million to one in favor of it being them."

And here's what the Discovery Channel has to say about the subject:

All leading epigraphers agree about the inscriptions. All archaeologists confirm the nature of the find. It comes down to a matter of statistics. A statistical study commissioned by the broadcasters (Discovery Channel/Vision Canada/C4 UK) concludes that the probability factor is 600 to 1 in favor of this tomb being the tomb of Jesus of Nazareth and his family.

A million here, a million there -- never mind that, Noah, what are these "statistics" it comes down to a matter of? How do we calculate this "probability factor"? Does it seem like the AP ought to be asking questions like "what statistical test was used, and would you mind showing us the data?" of Mr. Cameroon rather than the usual stuff about how another unsubstantiated assertion might or might not affect people's beliefs? Could one of you SPSS jockeys out there advise which pulldown the Da Vinci Code is under?

Most Christians believe Jesus' body spent three days at the site of the Church of the Holy Sepulcher in Jerusalem's Old City. The burial site identified in Cameron's documentary is in a southern Jerusalem neighborhood nowhere near the church.

I'd like to know how we measured that (the "most Christians," I mean, not the length of time from Friday night through Sunday morning). Some do. Some hold out for the Garden Tomb (quieter, less crowded, nice bathrooms) on Nablus Road. And some, noting that both discoveries are distinctly ex post, don't think it's necessary to come down either way.

In 1996, when the British Broadcasting Corp. aired a short documentary on the same subject, archaeologists challenged the claims. Amos Kloner, the first archaeologist to examine the site, said the idea fails to hold up by archaeological standards but makes for profitable television.

Every now and then, when everybody's running around saying the moon is made of green cheese, it pays to listen to the small, still voice saying "lifeless, airless rock." Seems to me like there's a lede here, if we have to write about the thing in the first place.

Don't take this in the wrong spirit, now. "Aliens" was a nice piece of filmmaking. But next time, maybe Mr. Kamloops should go through the normal ad-buying channels to flog his latest work, and the AP should stop wasting its time and firepower on this sort of swill. Grr. I mean, ar ar ar.

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