|Other names||Joseph E. Zias|
|Alma mater||Wayne State University, Michigan, U.S.|
|Employer||Israel Antiquities Authority|
|Title||Curator of Archaeology and Anthropology|
Joseph E. Zias, most commonly cited as Joe Zias, was the Curator of Archaeology and Anthropology for the Israel Antiquities Authority from 1972 until his retirement in 1997, with responsibility for items such as the Dead Sea Scrolls, pre-historic human skeletal remains, and artifacts from archaeological sites such as Jericho, Megiddo, and Gezer. He has appeared often in film and television documentaries regarding such artifacts and the subject of the Historical Jesus, including The Shroud of Turin for CBS, Who Killed Jesus on BBC in 1997 and Son of God on BBC in 2001, and is a frequent lecturer.
Zias has little tolerance for those who let theology or sheer enthusiasm get in the way of science. "People think that our job as biblical archaeologists is to go out and try to prove or disprove the Bible. You couldn't be further from the truth. Our job is to try to understand past historical processes, that's it."
The PBS documentary Secrets of the Dead: Shroud of Christ, which aired in April 2004, presented new and controversial claims that the Shroud of Turin was the authentic burial cloth of Jesus. Several experts disputed these opinions, since carbon-dating tests performed in 1988 placed its origin 1300 years too late. Specifically, Zias noted that the shroud depicts a man whose front measures 2 inches taller than his back and said, "Not only is it a forgery, but it's a bad forgery."
In 2005, archaeologist Yotam Tepper was in charge of a dig near Megiddo, Israel, uncovering the ruins of what was clearly an early Christian church. The IAA, Zias's former employer, claimed that the site could be dated to the third century A.D., which would make it the earliest Christian church unearthed in the Holy Land, and possibly one of the earliest in the world, older even than the edict of Emperor Constantine which legalized Christian worship. Zias, however, disagreed in print: "My gut feeling is that we are looking at a Roman building that may have been converted to a church at a later date." At a time when Roman authorities still prohibited Christian practice,"If I were a Roman soldier in the third century, I certainly wouldn't want my name on it," he said. "This would not have been a good career move. In fact, it sounds like the kiss of death." Historian Yiska Harani was similarly skeptical, wondering why early church historians would fail to mention a successful place of worship, if it were one.
Years after archaeologist Yigael Yadin literally wrote the book on Masada, claiming that human remains found at the site were those of the last Jewish defenders of the stronghold, which lead the Israeli government to provide them a formal state burial in 1969, Zias and forensic expert Azriel Gorski presented evidence that the remains may, in fact, have been those of Roman occupiers. Hebrew University archaeologist Ehud Netzer, who participated in Yadin's Masada dig and later oversaw restoration work there, disputed the new findings, saying that Zias was "building a story on assumptions built on assumptions." Similarly, Zias said that the original team "had the story and went around trying to find the proof."
Regarding the Discovery Channel program The Lost Tomb of Jesus, produced by director James Cameron and created by Simcha Jacobovici, which proposed that the Talpiot Tomb site was the actual tomb of Jesus and his family, Zias has said, "Projects like these make a mockery of the archeological profession."
- "Meet Joe Zias". CenturyOne Foundation. 2004. Retrieved 6 December 2011.
- Zias, Joe. "Curriculum vitae". Joe Zias - Science and Archaeology Group. Retrieved 6 December 2011.
- "Real 'Raiders of the lost Ark'". BBC Online Network. British Broadcasting Corporation. 13 July 1998. Retrieved 6 December 2011.
- Vergano, Dan (6 April 2004). "Controversy revisits Shroud of Turin". USA Today. Gannett Company. Retrieved 6 December 2011.
- Myre, Greg (7 November 2005). "Israeli Prisoners Dig Their Way to Early Christianity". New York Times. The New York Times Company. Retrieved 6 December 2011.
- Associated Press (25 June 2007). "Israeli Scientists: Masada Bodies Are Roman, Not Jewish". Fox News. NewsCorp. Retrieved 6 December 2011.
- Medved, Michael (11 March 2007). "Scene 1: Discredit religion; Scene 2: See Scene 1". USA Today. Gannett Company. Retrieved 6 December 2011.