Here we go again!
"The Lost Tomb of Jesus" a made-for-television flight of fancy
by David Krueger
Around the world, news headlines blared, "The Tomb of Jesus Found!" Startling news to say the least. Could it be true? And if so, what would be the ramification for the world’s largest faith family? Some newsmen were purporting the death of Christianity as we know it. "If the discovery proves true," writes Ariella Ringel-Hoffman "it could shake up the Christian world as one of the most significant archeological finds in history." Aside from the sensationalism of such stories, newsmen like Ringel-Hoffman are correct. In 1 Corinthians 15:14-15 the apostle Paul says, “And if Christ has not been raised, then our preaching is in vain and your faith is in vain. 15 We are even found to be misrepresenting God, because we testified about God that he raised Christ.”
The bodily resurrection of Jesus Christ is the central pillar of proof put forward by the New Testament authors to substantiate Jesus’ claims to deity and the forgiveness of sins offered to humanity through Jesus shed blood on the cross. The Apostle Paul argues that If Jesus didn’t bodily rise from the dead then Christianity is a FALSE religion and should not be followed or observed.
The important question that needs to be answered is “Did Cameron and Simcha indeed find Jesus’ remains, or is their case as ‘unsinkable’ as the Titanic?” (Cameron, if you remember, is the producer of the Hollywood block-buster movie, 'Titanic').
The documentary titled "The Lost Tomb of Jesus," aired the evening of March 4th on the Discovery Channel. The show sought to present archaeological, statistical and genetic science evidence that demonstrate a tomb unearthed in 1980 contains the remains of Jesus and his family -- including his wife, Mary Magdalene, and their son Judah.
The story begins in 1980 just south of Jerusalem, with the discovery of a 2,000 year old burial cave containing ten coffins (ossuaries). Six of the ten coffins were carved with inscriptions reading the names: Jesua son of Joseph, Mary, Mary, Matthew, Jofa (Joseph, identified as Jesus’ brother in the documentary), Judah son of Jesua (Jesus’ son according to the film makers).
The findings in the cave, including the decipherment of the inscriptions, were first revealed about ten years ago by Israeli archeologist Professor Amos Kloner. Since their discovery, the caskets were kept in the Israeli Antiquities Authority (IAA) archive in Beit Shemesh. Although the cave was discovered twenty-six years ago and the casket inscriptions decoded ten years ago, the filmmakers claim to be the first to contend that the cave is actually the burial site of Jesus and his family.Executive producer James Cameron and director Simcha Jacobovici tell viewers that the DNA evidence from the tomb makes a compelling case that the ossuaries contained the remains of Jesus and his family.
Cameron and Jacobovici also used statistical analysis to prove their case. They say the statistical improbability of having Jesus, Mary Magdalene and Judah, “Jesus’ son,” in the same tomb, give significant credibility to the documentary’s thesis. Jacobovici said the documentary aims “to report the news and not to engage in theology” and argues that DNA technology not available in 1980 has helped to identify the tomb’s occupants.
Why concern ourselves with what have become traditional holy-season attacks of one kind or another on the Christian faith? Why not just ignore “The Lost Tomb of Jesus” as the bunkum it is? Because the Apostle Jude reminds us "Beloved, while I was making every effort to write you about our common salvation, I felt the necessity to write to you appealing that you contend earnestly for the faith which was once for all handed down to the saints." (Jude 3, NASB95). As Christians, we must passionately defend the truth of the Christian faith.
While it is impossible to go into great length to show the fallacies of the show's claims let me offer a few rebuttals.
- Regarding a Jesus family tomb found in Jerusalem. If Jesus had indeed been wealthy enough to afford a rock-cut tomb, it most likely would have been in Nazareth, not Jerusalem. Nazareth is where the family was from. It seems unlikely that Jesus’ family would have had the wealth necessary to afford such an extravagance. The Scriptures indicate that Jesus had no residence he could truly call home (Matt. 8:20). When he died, he was placed in a borrowed tomb, not a family tomb (Matt 27:57-60).
- Regarding the "Christian tradition" that Mary, the mother of Jesus, was buried in Jerusalem. First, the biblical accounts provide no information whatsoever about the end of Mary's life or the place of her burial. All we have is church tradition. Cameron and Jacobovici assertion that this is the Jesus family tomb depends partly upon the tradition that Mary was buried in Jerusalem. This tradition is an early tradition (2nd or 3rd century), and firmly believed by many. What Cameron and Jacobovici fail to tell viewers is that there is another, equally strong tradition, that Mary died in Ephesus and is buried there. This tradition comes from the 4th and 5th century). This second tradition is based on the assumption that Mary spent the last years of her earthly pilgrimage in the company of the Apostle John -- to whom she was entrusted by Jesus at his crucifixion (John 19:26-27) – and that she spent that time in Ephesus where John pastored. Neither tradition can be historically verified.
- Regarding the names found in the tomb. All the names found inscribed on the tomb's ossuaries were common in 1st-century Palestine. Yeshua, Joseph, Maria, Mariamene, Matia, Judah, and Jose – are extremely frequent Jewish names for that time and place, and thus most scholars consider this merely coincidental. Over the years at least three ossuaries have turned up in and around Jerusalem with the inscription "Jesus, son of Joseph." In the first half of the first century, one in four women were named "Mary." Dr. Charles L. Quarles, Chair of Christian Studies, Louisiana University estimates that in 1st-centuary Palestine approximately 1 out of every 442 families had a Jesus, son of Joseph combination. When you consider that one-quarter of the women in that day were named Mary, it would not be unusual to find a tomb with those combination of names.
- Regarding the ossuary containing the supposed remains of Mary Magdalene. The ossuary in question contains the names Mariamene and Mara (short for Martha). Cameron and Jacobovici, in a convoluted logic, deduce that these duel names must refer to Mary Magdalene. They assert that Mariamene refers is a proper name and interpret the other name appearing on the ossuary – Mara – as meaning “master.” Thus the two names taken together, they believe, refers to “Mary the master” and must obviously mean Mary from Magdala or Mary Magdalene. That this combination of names must refer to the Mary Magdalene of the New Testament is a dubious association to say the least. Mary Magdalene is never referred to in the bible as Mariamene.
- Regarding the DNA testing. Cameron and Jacobovici did not have the actual bones from the ossuaries. By Israeli law, the bones were removed and reburied by Orthodox Jews. What were found in the ossuaries were very small bone fragments. Even the Canadian laboratory that performed the tests admitted that the DNA was very difficult (their word) to extract and very fragmented (their words). What did the DNA testing prove? That bone fragments in the supposed ossuary of Mary Magdalene, and the bone fragments in the suppose ossuary of Jesus were not maternally related. From this bit of non-evidence, Cameron and Jacobovici conclude that the occupants of these two ossuaries must have been married! The program does not report on other possible relationships that DNA cannot establish such as, father and daughter, paternal cousins, half brother and sister (sharing the same father) or simply unrelated individuals. The DNA tests prove nothing.
Taken at face value Simcha and Cameron seem to have built a rock solid case against Christianity. However, if you spend even a little time critically analyzing their claims -- as I've tried to do -- then you realize that Cameron and Simcha have done nothing more than – in the words of Albert Mohler, president of Southern Baptist Theological Seminary -- build a Da Vinci Code like house of cards that crumbles as soon as you blow on it.
When you consider their “facts” you’re left with only one conclusion: There is more truth in Dan Brown’s fiction than in James Cameron and Simcha Jacobovichi’s fact.