The Human Bones Discovered at Masada: An Example of Religion Hindering Science

At the academic web magazine, Bible and Interpretation, anthropologist Joe Zias complains about ultra-orthodox Jews hindering archaeology and anthropology:

For several decades self-appointed groups of the ultra-orthodox have been waging an all out cultural war against the archaeological community in general and the physical anthropologists in particular.

Joe Zias and other experts think, for example, that there are good reasons for doubting that the human bones found at Masada belong to the Jews that Josephus famously claims committed suicide there. For one thing, pig bones were also discovered at the site. But when it comes to nationalism and religion, so much the worse for expert opinion and the facts:

Jews, Christians, Muslims, and Pagans each have a defining way to lie in rest their deceased. When this is ignored for religious or nationalistic reasons, chaos can ensue as is the case at present. The human skeletal remains excavated atop Masada by the late Professor Y. Yadin and his colleagues are a clear case in point. Excavated in the 1960’s and reburied with full military honors in 1969 as the last of the defenders of the Jewish revolt against the Romans in 66-73/4 CE, their story remains today as one of the most dramatic stories of the Jewish people. Their collective mass suicide, reported by Josephus, is perhaps the most important part of the narrative as without the suicide, Masada is, for many of us but another example of religious fanaticism leading to the country’s eventual destruction.

Joe Zias then notes that “despite the political/military fanfare surrounding their reburial by the religious authorities”, they are “probably non-Jewish”.

Yes, and there is also no evidence that, say, Muhammad flew on the back of a supernatural horse from Mecca to Jerusalem (even though every Muslim is supposed to believe it).

Or that Jesus rose from the dead.

We mustn’t just single out ultra-orthodox Jews here. People believe in things that are not supported by evidence or science everyday. And they act on those beliefs.

Zias’s standard is an Enlightenment philosophe’s love for evidence and truth (which is also mine).

Here are the lyrics to John Lennon’s song, “Gimme Some Truth”:

i’m sick and tired of hearing
from uptight-short sighted-
narrow-minded hypocritics

all i want is the truth
just give me some truth

i’ve had enough of reading
by nuerotic-pyschotic-
pig-headed politicians

all i want is the truth
just give me some truth

no short haired-yellow bellied
son of tricky dicky
is gonna mother hubbard
soft soap me
with just a pocketful of hope

money for dope
money for rope

i’m sick to death of seeing
from tight lipped-
condescending -mommies’ little chauvinists

all i want is the truth
just give me some truth

i’ve had enough of watching
of schizophrenic – ego – centric
– paranoic – prima – donnas

all i want is the truth
just give me some truth

And here’s somebody pronouncing the lyrics clearly (in Lennon’s version of his own song, it’s a bit difficult to hear them):

About Santi Tafarella

I teach writing and literature at Antelope Valley College in California.
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8 Responses to The Human Bones Discovered at Masada: An Example of Religion Hindering Science

  1. As an amateur student of Islam, the story “Muhammad flew on the back of a supernatural horse from Mecca to Jerusalem” is not one I’d heard. Thanks. (Hadith, I presume.)

    I’m curious you compare it to the evidence for whether Jesus rose from the dead. I don’t know what evidence there is for the Muhammaad story, but the christian story is fairly strong imho, even if one ultimately rejects it.

    Essentially, no-one managed to produce the body of Jesus, and it seems unlikely that every one of the core group would die for something they knew to be a lie without telling someone. I’m sure you’ve already read the relevant apologists for this so won’t insult you by linking to them.

    Again, not saying their case is watertight – only that the comparison is perhaps more rhetorical than fair?

    As always, loving your stuff 🙂

    Jonathan from Spritzophrenia

    • santitafarella says:

      Thanks Spritzo!

      And I see you’re up late this evening as well.

      As for Jesus’s resurrection, I would say that all we have (absent Paul’s vague testimony in I Cor. 15) as evidence are anonymously written stories, the sources for which are unknown. We have no physical evidence, and if the Book of Acts is to be believed, within 40 days of the event, the body had split up to heaven in a cloud. In other words, if you had lived just 50 days after the presumed event, you would already be unable to speak to the resurrecter.

      It would be wonderful if somebody really beat death. I hope it’s true. Who wouldn’t want it to be true? But there are no good reasons to believe it.


      • Fair enough. It’s been some time since I’ve looked over this in detail, so I won’t argue.

        Yeah, it would be wonderful. (Open agnostic here)

        It’s only early evening here in New Zealand, so I’m not burning the midnight oil like you – yet 🙂


  2. rumplesnitz says:

    The only reason for believing in Jesus’ resurrection is the hope for eternal life in harmony with the Creator. A man will never be able to prove or teach God perfectly. You can accept the hope, or you can reject it, it’s all about free will.

    • Santi Tafarella says:

      What about reason and evidence?

      • rumplesnitz says:

        What is considered reasonable and evident has changed like the tides over the years, free will remains constant.

      • Santi Tafarella says:

        What are you advocating, then? A leap of faith? I like your Dr. Zeus avatar, by the way.

      • rumplesnitz says:

        Thank you, Don’t know if you can see it, but Dr. Z has a bottle of Jack on one side of the scroll and a .45 Colt on the other, lol.
        Faith is the substance of things hoped for, so I suppose your faith should follow your hopes. All I advocate is open-mindedness, an awareness of consequences, and mutual respect for coherent opinions.
        BTW, I Googled here trying to locate photographs of remains found on Masada, specifically an entwined couple discovered on one of the steppes. I am looking for that photo because I viewed a series of ‘documentaries’ on YouTube from a supposed Christianity advocate claiming to reveal the existence of human ‘Giants’ in the fossil record. None of his material was sourced or credited, some of it was obviously photoshopped, and he used what I believe to be the above mentioned picture – I’ve seen it in the past. I’d like to locate the pic with a proper source so I can debunk that video. So far no luck. Does my description of the photo strike any chords with you that might help me find a source?

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