JERUSALEM Many artistic renderings of biblical figures hang in churches and museums, but no one really knows what they and their contemporaries looked like.
Now, an international team of archeologists, forensic anthropologists and facial reconstruction experts has tried to find out by re-creating the faces of three adults and a newborn whose skeletal remains date to biblical times.
National Geographic Channels Lost Faces of the Bible follows the experts as they re-create faces utilizing the same technology used by police investigators.
The series, created by Simcha Jacobovici, a controversial Canadian-Israeli filmmaker and amateur archaeologist, suggests who these four anonymous people might have been. Along the way, it illustrates what life in the Holy Land was like thousands of years ago.
Dramatizations woven into the investigation bolster the narrative. The series is hosted by David Berman, who stars in CSI: Crime Scene Investigation.
The first episode, Delilah Revealed, focuses on a Philistine woman who, the producers say, lived at the time of the biblical Delilah, the temptress who betrayed Samson.
Ancient Warrior asks whether a man buried in a desert cave with a walking stick, a pair of sandals and a broken bow lived the same challenging life of a desert nomad like Esau, the twin son of the biblical patriarch Isaac.
The Man Who Saw Jesus, attempts to re-create the life of a man from pre-Canaanite times whose bones were interred using a funerary practice common in Jerusalem from 20 B.C. to A.D. 70. The bones were found in a burial cave in a region of Galilee associated with the ministry of Jesus.
The final episode, Sacrificial Child (debuting Dec. 16) explores whether a baby whose remains were discovered in a Canaanite jar under a house was sacrificed by her parents, a common practice in those times.
While forensic experts have reconstructed the faces of people from several ancient civilizations, this is apparently the first time scientists have worked with Bible-era remains, Jacobovici said.
One reason: the difficulty of obtaining the ancient bones for examination due to religious sensitivities. Ultra-Orthodox Jews believe you shouldnt move the bones of the deceased, Jacobovici explained. So the shows forensic experts scanned the remains but did not incorporate them into the reconstructions.
Though Jacobovici has achieved success in the entertainment field hes won three Emmys, among other awards his films, including Nails of the Cross, a 2011 film that suggested that nails discovered in an excavation were possibly the nails that pinned Jesus to the cross, were criticized by some of the archaeologists whose work he profiles.
In a statement at the time, the Israel Antiquities Authority said the interpretation in Nails of the Cross has no basis in archaeological findings or research.
But the forensic experts who worked with Jacobovici on the Lost Faces series say his dramatic style of filmmaking helps educate the public about the Bible in a new way and heightens an appreciation for the scientific processes utilized to re-create the four figures.
At a Jerusalem press briefing where the four reconstructed heads/faces stood, somewhat eerily, on a table in the corner of the room, Victoria Lywood, a Montreal-based forensic artist, explained how she had printed three-dimensional skulls from CT scans using a rapid prototype printer designed for facial reconstructions. The rest, she said, was based on soft tissue depth measurements and other forensic methodology.
The science in the series is sound, said Lywood, who often assists in law enforcement identification cases.
Israel Hershkovitz, professor of anatomy at Tel Aviv University, said he decided to participate in the series as a way to get the younger generation excited about the history of the Holy Land.
Hershkovitz said most people think the story of Delilah is about sex and violence.
If the shows Delilah segment succeeds in teaching the history of the Philistines and the Israelites, Hershkovitz said, its served its purpose.
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