A court awarded filmmaker Simcha Jacobovici NIS 800,000 ($260,000) in damages on Sunday in a libel case against a former Israel Antiques Authority curator Joe Zias who had accused the three-time Emmy award winner of falsifying material in a documentary about the origins of Christianity.
Judge Jacob Sheinman of the Lod District court ruled in favor of Israeli-Canadian Jacobovici, best known as the host of “The Naked Archaeologist” syndicated TV series, bringing to an end a lengthy trial that revolved around a controversial tomb in Jerusalem’s East Talpiot neighborhood.
“As a journalist, I’m committed to the principle of free debate in a democratic society,” Jacobovici wrote about the court decision in a blog post on the Times of Israel. “But free speech ends where libel begins, and Zias crossed every red line of a civilized debate.”
“After I sued him, Zias and some of his supporters claimed that my lawsuit was an attempt to stifle free speech and academic criticism – as if libel and lies are a legitimate part of academic discourse,” Jacobovici said. “Today, the judge threw the book at Zias. He quoted Israeli law stating that freedom of speech has to be balanced with protecting a man’s “good name”. He found that Zias did not prove a single allegation.”
“I waited a long time for this moment. Justice has been served and a clear message has been sent to those who use bullying and defamation as a tactic to silence free debate.”
The libel suit came after Zias took issue with two of Jacobovici’s TV documentaries, “The Lost Tomb of Jesus” (2007), and “The Jesus Discovery/The Resurrection Tomb Mystery” (2012).
In an onslaught of web postings and emails to Jacobovici’s employers, bloggers and journalists, Zias, 72, charged the filmmaker with exploiting archaeology for financial gain or, in his words, “pimping off the Bible.”
More specifically, Zias accused Jacobovici of “planting archaeology,” forgery, and inventing a Holocaust story.
In 2013 the filmmaker filed a libel suit, seeking $1 million in damages – less than half the revenue lost, he claims, as a result of Zias’s email campaign.
The films suggest two ancient tombs discovered in Jerusalem’s Talpiot neighborhood in the early 1980s are the likely resting place of Jesus, his extended family, and his earliest disciples. The first tomb contains ossuaries (bone boxes) inscribed with a constellation of suggestive names. These include Yeshua bar Yehosef (Jesus, son of Joseph); Maria, Latin form of the Hebrew name Miriam; Yose, a diminutive of Joseph, the name of one of Jesus’s brothers (Mark 6:3); Yehuda bar Yeshua (Judah son of Jesus); and Mariamene e Mara, possibly Mary of Magdelene.
Michael Posner contributed to this report.