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On May 23, 2012, Discovery News wrote a sensationalistic and factually incorrect article about a research article I co-authored. The fallout from the Discovery News article has been that 12 years of carefully cultivated academic contacts were put in jeopardy; due to the intellectual sloth of one reporter and the greed fueled sensationalism of a large media corporation.
Intellectual sloth because the reporter apparently never bothered to read our research article beyond a one paragraph summary. Her article was full of mistakes and over emphasizes the importance of an article by Humphrey and Waddington which our article cited as a reference. Greed because the article with its sensationalistic title, byline, and gist quickly went viral on the internet; generating lots of clicks on the Discovery Channel website which translates into money for them; even if it was at the expense of accurate reporting on the interface between science and religion.
Despite numerous requests for a correction, the Discovery Corporation refused to correct their article. Finally they offered to change the title if I could come up with a new title in 7 words or less. I declined their offer as insufficient.
Below is the Discovery article in cyan with my comments in red or black.
Day of Jesus’ Crucifixion Believed Determined
We estimated that an earthquake occurred in the Dead Sea between 26 AD and 36 AD based soley on an examination of the sediments. Nowhere in our article did we make such a claim that we determined the exact date of the crucifixion. The original even more tabloid-esque Discovery title was “Quake Reveals the Day of the Crucifixion”
By Jennifer Viegas
Thu May 24, 2012 12:54 PM ET
It’s been debated for years, but researchers say they now have a definitive date of the crucifixion.
- Researchers believe that Jesus, as described in the New Testament, was crucified on Friday April 3, 33 A.D.
- Textual and geological clues, along with astronomical data, support the date.
- Scientists acknowledge that natural events described in the Bible could be allegorical.
THE REAL GIST
Mud layers in the Dead Sea sediments that are deformed by earthquakes are known as seismites.
We used a microscope to examine sediments from a core in Ein Gedi. We dated one seismite in the section to have occurred between 26 and 36 AD.
We examined the historical record and discovered only one potential earthquake report for that location and time period; a report of an earthquake at the crucifixion.
We compared our 26 -36 AD earthquake date with what we think is consensus New Testament Scholarship on the date of the crucifixion. Our conclusions were
This leaves three possibilities for the cause of the 26–36 AD earthquake observed in the Ein Gedi section:
(1) the earthquake described in the Gospel of Matthew occurred more or less as reported
(2) the earthquake described in the Gospel of Mathew was in effect ‘borrowed’ from an earthquake that occurred sometime before or after the crucifixion,but during the reign of Pontius Pilate;
(3) the earthquake described in the Gospel of Matthew is allegorical fiction and the 26–36 AD seismite was caused by an earthquake that is not reportedin the currently extant historical record.
We did not rank the possibilities.
Geologists investigated the 4,000-year chronology of earthquake disturbances within the uppermost 19 feet of laminated sediment of the Dead Sea to determine the exact date of Jesus’ crucifixion.
We examined 4.3 inches (11 centimeters) of sediment which covered about 60 years of deposition and arrived at a date estimate of 26-36 AD for the sesimite in question.
,Jesus, as described in the New Testament, was most likely crucified on Friday April 3, 33 A.D.,
This does not come from our article.
,The latest investigation, reported in the journal International Geology Review, focused on earthquake activity at the Dead Sea, located 13 miles from Jerusalem. ,
The site of the Ein Gedi core is ~21.5 miles from Jerusalem.
,The Gospel of Matthew, Chapter 27, mentions that an earthquake coincided with the crucifixion: ,
,“And when Jesus had cried out again in a loud voice, he gave up his spirit. At that moment the curtain of the temple was torn in two from top to bottom. The earth shook, the rocks split and the tombs broke open.”,
,To analyze earthquake activity in the region, geologist Jefferson Williams of Supersonic Geophysical and colleagues Markus Schwab and Achim Brauer of the German Research Center for Geosciences studied three cores from the beach of the Ein Gedi Spa adjacent to the Dead Sea.,
We studied one core; labeled as A-3.
,Varves, which are annual layers of deposition in the sediments, reveal that at least two major earthquakes affected the core: a widespread earthquake in 31 B.C. and an early first century seismic event that happened sometime between 26 A.D. and 36 A.D.,,
,The latter period occurred during “the years when Pontius Pilate was procurator of Judea and when the earthquake of the Gospel of Matthew is historically constrained,” Williams said.,,
, “The day and date of the crucifixion (Good Friday) are known with a fair degree of precision,” he said. But the year has been in question.,,
,In terms of textual clues to the date of the crucifixion, Williams quoted a Nature paper authored by Colin Humphreys and Graeme Waddington. Williams summarized their work as follows:
- All four gospels and Tacitus in Annals (XV,44) agree that the crucifixion occurred when Pontius Pilate was procurator of Judea from 26-36 AD.
- All four gospels say the crucifixion occurred on a Friday.
- All four gospels agree that Jesus died a few hours before the beginning of the Jewish Sabbath (nightfall on a Friday).
- The synoptic gospels (Matthew, Mark, and Luke) indicate that Jesus died before nightfall on the 15th day of Nisan; right before the start of the Passover meal.
- John’s gospel differs from the synoptics; apparently indicating that Jesus died before nightfall on the 14th day of Nisan.
Although our article did make use of the findings of Humphrey and Waddington, none of the above comes from the article. In fact, the reporter never quotes any part of the article except for the abstract. An abstract is a one paragraph summary of the article. The entire article was 9 pages long. I strongly suspect that the reporter only read the abstract of the article but not the article itself. This would explain the inaccuracies in the article she wrote plus the glaring absence of any quotations from the body of the article. She also made a mistake regarding the 14th and 15th of Nisan; attributing these dates to the wrong gospels. Had she read our article (which got those dates right), she wouldn’t have made that mistake.
,When data about the Jewish calendar and astronomical calculations are factored in, a handful of possible dates result, with Friday April 3, 33 A.D. being the best match, according to the researchers.,
This is not in our article. Our article did not combine textual and Geologic information. Our article used only Geological information to come up with a date range for the earthquake observed in the sediments. The assertion that we then added in astronomical calculations to come up with an exact date is flat out incorrect and something the reporter would know if she bothered to read and understand the article.
,In terms of the earthquake data alone, Williams and his team acknowledge that the seismic activity associated with the crucifixion could refer to “an earthquake that occurred sometime before or after the crucifixion and was in effect ‘borrowed’ by the author of the Gospel of Matthew, and a local earthquake between 26 and 36 A.D. that was sufficiently energetic to deform the sediments of Ein Gedi but not energetic enough to produce a still extant and extra-biblical historical record.”,
The above comes from the abstract.
,“If the last possibility is true, this would mean that the report of an earthquake in the Gospel of Matthew is a type of allegory,” they write.,,
Also from the abstract.
,Williams is studying yet another possible natural happening associated with the crucifixion – darkness.
Three of the four canonical gospels report darkness from noon to 3 PM after the crucifixion. Such darkness could have been caused by a dust storm, he believes.
Williams is investigating if there are dust storm deposits in the sediments coincident with the early first century Jerusalem region earthquake.,,
None of this is in our article but this is true. To learn more, go here 08 Darkness
For other commentary on this Discovery article see