Tuesday, February 27, 2007

The Bogus Bones of Jesus

[Here is an essay by Kerby Anderson on the flap over the new documentary claiming that the bones of Jesus Christ have been discovered. I haven't seen too much analysis of this yet, but stay tuned.]

Tales From the Crypt: Do we have the bones of Jesus?

Written by Kerby Anderson


The last week in February started out with an incredible announcement. James Cameron (director of the film “Titanic”) and Simcha Jacobovici announced that they have found the bones of Jesus! At their news conference, they promoted their Discovery Channel special “The Lost Tomb of Jesus” that will air on March 4th and also promoted the book by Simcha Jacobovici and Charles Pellegrino entitled The Jesus Family Tomb: The Discovery, the Investigation, and the Evidence That Could Change History released by Harper-Collins.

If proved reliable, these findings would call into question the very cornerstone of Christianity: the resurrection of Jesus. But are they true?

The foundational claim is that they have discovered the family tomb of Jesus Christ. But is this really the tomb of Jesus or his family? There are many good reasons to believe this tomb has no relationship at all to Jesus and his family. Many are asking what to think about these claims. Therefore, I put together a quick two-page summary of some of the criticisms and concerns that surfaced in the first few hours after the announcement. Before we look at those criticisms, let’s first review the history of this tomb.

We have known about this tomb since it was discovered in 1980. Back then, Israeli construction workers were digging the foundation for a new building in a Jerusalem suburb. Their digging revealed a cave with ten limestone ossuaries. Archeologists removed the limestone caskets for examination.

When they were able to decipher the names on the ten ossuaries, they found: Jesua, son of Joseph, Mary, Mary, Mathew, Jofa and Judah, son of Jesua. At the time, one of Israel’s most prominent archeologists (Professor Amos Kloner) didn’t associate the crypt with Jesus. He rightly argued that the father of Jesus was a humble carpenter who couldn’t afford a luxury crypt for his family. Moreover, the names on the crypt were common Jewish names.

All of this hasn’t stopped Cameron and Jacobovici from promoting the tomb as the family tomb of Jesus. They claim to have evidence (through DNA tests, archeological evidence, and Biblical studies) to prove that the ten ossuaries belong to Jesus and his family. They also argue that Jesus and Mary Magdalene might have produced a son named Judah. However, a number of biblical scholars say this is a really just an old story now being recycled in an effort to create a media phenomenon that will sell books and guarantee a large audience for the television special.

First, does it really make sense that this wouldbe the family tomb of Jesus? Remember that Jesus was in Jerusalem as a pilgrim and was not a resident of the city. How would his family be able to buy this tomb? As we already mentioned, Joseph (who probably was not alive and died in Galilee) and his family did not have the funds to buy such an elaborate burial site. Moreover, they were from out of town and would need time to find this tomb location. To accept this theory, one has to believe they stole the body of Jesus and moved it to this tomb in a suburb of Jerusalem all within about a day’s time.

Second, if this is the family tomb of Jesus and his family, why is Jesus referred to as the “son of Joseph?” As far as we can determine from history, the earliest followers of Jesus never called Jesus the “son of Joseph.” The record of history is that it was only outsiders who mistakenly called him that.

Third, if this is the family tomb of Jesus, why do we have the name of Matthew listed with the rest of the family? If this is the Matthew that traveled with Jesus, then he certainly was not a family member. And you would have to wonder why James (who remained in Jerusalem) would allow these inscriptions as well as allow the family to move the body from Jerusalem to this tomb and perpetrate a hoax that Jesus bodily rose from the grave. Also, the fourth-century church historian Eusebius writes that the body of James (the half-brother of Jesus) was buried alone near the temple mount and that his tomb was visited in the early centuries.

Fourth, there is the problem with the common names on the tombs. Researchers have cataloged the most common names at the time. The ten most common were: Simon/Simeon, Joseph, Eleazar, Judah, John/Yohanan, Jesus, Hananiah, Jonathan, Matthew, and Manaen/Menahem. These are some of the names found on the ossuaries and thus suggest that the tomb belonged to someone other than Jesus of Nazareth and his family. In fact, the name Jesus appears in 98 other tombs and on 21 other ossuaries.

Finally there is the question of the DNA testing. Apparently there is evidence that shows that the DNA from the woman (in what they say is the Mary Magdalene ossuary) and the DNA from the so-called Jesus ossuary does not match. So they argue that they were not relatives and thus must have been married.

But does the DNA evidence really prove that? It does not prove she is his wife. In fact, we really don’t even know who in the ossuaries are related to the other. Moreover, we do not have an independent DNA control sample to compare these findings with. At best, the DNA evidence shows that some of these people are related and some are not.

All of this looks like sensationalism from Simcha Jacobovici (who has a reputation as an Indiana-Jones type) and James Cameron (the director of the highly fictionalized “Titanic”). The publicity s certain to sell books and draw a television audience, but it is not good history or archaeology.
© 2007 Probe Ministries

16 comments:

Jeremy said...

My grandfather made a comment about this yesterday, and I had not heard anything about it.

It's interesting; I have said many times to many people that if the bones of Jesus were ever discovered, I could be well justified in taking these bones to be the bones of Jesus of Nazareth, then I'd quit being a Christian. I think Paul would be on my side (1 Cor 15).

However, the points that Kerby makes are good ones. I find it very hard to fathom that the Roman soldiers guarding the body of Jesus at the tomb of Joseph of Aramatheia were overcome by the 12, the stone rolled away, and the body moved without anyone noticing what was going on. You'd think that someone would have been around to falsify the claim of the resurrection. And if this is what happened, it surely seems like a very easily falsified story. Just go to the stupid tomb and look. Second, that James would have allowed such a hoax to be perpetrated is one thing, but then to be martyred because of that known hoax is another thing entirely.

It's almost as if we think these claims took place in a vacuum, as if nobody in Jerusalem had any stake in silencing these trouble-making Christians. That's patently false. To my mind it is so plausible to think that if anyone could have falsified it then they would have. The fact that it never was falsified in the first century by the people closest to the events in question lends an exceeding amount of credibility to the resurrection claims.

I have a hard time finding anything coming from Cameron convincing. If it was legitimate at all, don't you thing it should have gone through the peer-review process and been published in an archeology journal? Despite the problems of peer-reviewed journals, I see no reason other than it's being ridiculous why it couldn't muster strenght enough for publication.

One thing is for sure--if Cameron is out for a buck, he's going to get it.

Ray said...

I didn't know Cameron was filming True Lies II.

Heather said...

I don't think anyone is doubting the resurrection. Just look at the official site:
“The Lost Tomb Of Jesus” does not challenge the Resurrection. It asks viewers to consider the possibility that the Resurrection occurred from a second tomb.

www.jesusfamilytomb.com

Michael Speers said...

Heather,

It directly challenges the resurrection. There would be no ossuary with Jesus in it if the resurrection occurred. Ossuaries are created a year or so after the death of a person when the body has decayed leaving only the bones to be placed in the ossuary. With a resurrection there is no decay (Psalm 16:10) thus no bones to be placed in an ossuary.

The main scholar onboard is James Tabor, a seemingly Orthodox Jew. Why would an Orthodox Jew simply be asking us to "consider the possibility that the Resurrection occurred from a second tomb" as you say?

Tim said...

... (yawn) ...

Cameron's evidence is so flimsy that this whole discovery raises only one mildly interesting question: how will it be spun by those Internet Infidels who don't believe Jesus existed at all? "Jesus never existed, and besides, here's his body"?

Jeremy said...

Tim, I'm just about crying from laughing so hard. I though my post was cynical, but your post takes the cake.

Weekend Fisher said...

Y'know, to rational souls, the existence of a son's casket rules out the possibility that this could be the tomb of the Bible's Jesus of Nazareth, since he is known to have been unmarried and childless. (I know the conspiracy theories have said differently but they have no evidence, as opposed to the "unmarried Jesus" thing having all the historical backing.)

Douglas Groothuis said...

Tim:

Good chop!

Chris Rosebrough said...

I’ve written a comprehensive rebuttal to claims and evidence of this film. Please read it and decide for yourself.

You will find it at extremetheology.com

Jeff said...

Well, at least now we can squash the legend of Jesus dying in India!

John Stockwell said...

Jeremy wrote:
I have a hard time finding anything coming from Cameron convincing. If it was legitimate at all, don't you thing it should have gone through the peer-review process and been published in an archeology journal? Despite the problems of peer-reviewed journals, I see no reason other than it's being ridiculous why it couldn't muster strenght enough for publication.


Very good. When faced with extraordinary claims demand:
1) evidence of competence of the
investigator
2) second opinions through peer review

Just like "cold fusion" and "intelligent design" investigators who don't have proven track records, and who bring their case directly to the people without all that nasty peer review are suspect.

Now, if only all y'all could apply such clear thinking to claims of the intelligent design community you might have your brains consistently in the "on" position.

Tim wrote:
Cameron's evidence is so flimsy that this whole discovery raises only one mildly interesting question: how will it be spun by those Internet Infidels who don't believe Jesus existed at all? "Jesus never existed, and besides, here's his body"?


The discovery of the tomb does seem a bit too good to be true. I think a lot of folks on the anti-religion side will have fun with this, but ultimately it will start unraveling.

However, suppose for the sake of argument that it really is the tomb of the family of Jesus?

Certainly there are those who might be called "secular Christians" (or "Christian agnostics") who view the message of a purely human Jesus as being more important, and more desireable than tales of flashy miracles, or of promises of some hypothetical afterlife.

From that perspective: Finally yes, we have physical evidence that Jesus actually existed. That physical evidence carries more weight than all the anectdotes from scripture. Finally, a Jesus that we can believe in. Many atheists and agnostics would then indentify themselves as this type of "rational Christian".

Indeed, why not consider this to be the long promised Second Coming?

Cecdaddy said...

John Stockwell,

In regards to the latter half of your post - if this is truly the Jesus who was a rabbi and prophet from Nazareth, whom the Bible describes as dying on the cross and rising again three days later, then there is no reason to believe in him.

The truth of who Jesus is has nothing to do with who we desire him to be. To desire a Jesus other than the one presented in Scripture is like desiring a George Washington other than the one presented in the letters, biographies, and history books that we have in our possession.

Scripture says that Jesus was not just a prophet or rabbi, but, most importantly, the Son of God. It claims that He died on the cross for our sins and that he overcame death by rising again. If this did not happen, then no one has any use for Jesus, and to believe in Him is worthless. What you suggest might be a "Jesus to believe in" is actually a Jesus to reject.

Fred said...

A Roman Catholic priest made an interesting comment. He indicated that although historically, archaeologically, and otherwise this could not be the remains of Jesus, even if it somehow turned out to be true it would not affect his Christian faith one iota. He indicated that many confuse the Resurrection with the Ascension. We are not told how Jesus ascended into heaven, and in his mind it may have been the Spirit that ascended rather than the body, which could mean that physical remains would be left behind.

Cole M. Winans said...

I don’t understand how people can accept something as serious as this so incautiously, despite a lack of consistent and tenable data. At the same time, these very people deny, without question, the birth and resurrection of Jesus Christ, despite the vast amount of tangible, spiritual, and textual evidence supporting it.

Lame.

Jeremy said...

John

I'm honored that I actually got some kudos from you--even though it was a bit back-handed :oD

I wonder if there is a bit of a catch-22 going on--you can't get a track record without getting into journals, but you can't get into journals without a track record.

It seems that this archeologist is using the established methods and theories to draw ridiculous conclusions. ID may be different because it's calling into question the established methods and theories themselves. In the former situation, the peer-review process keeps the junk out. In the latter it may actually hinder progress by limiting new ideas that disagree with orthodoxy. Remember, many of the nobel-prize winning ideas of the 20th century were rejected by the peer-review process because the ideas questioned the establishment too deeply. It's just a thought.

John Stockwell said...

Jeremy wrote:

wonder if there is a bit of a catch-22 going on--you can't get a track record without getting into journals, but you can't get into journals without a track record.


This is known as a "cop out".

Scientific investigation is not done in a vaccuum. It is done in the context of the received view of related branches of scientific investigation. For every spectacular earthshaking claim, we expect to see hundreds of fairly mundane items that extend and clarify knowledge we
already have, and provide the raw material for future "big ticket" items.

So, for an investigator to claim that they have been kept out of the journals, it really means that they either have never tried to publish anything or they are always basically trying to publish stuff that they are not able to support well. In the extreme, we would call such people "cranks" or "con artists".

In the case of the alleged tomb of Jesus, we would expect that a lot of auxilliary materials of the context of the tomb, and all of that, to yield be publishable material. If those things are also wacky, then that would tend to undermine our confidence in the work of these archaeologists. If no other work is done, then that would tend to undermine our confidence in their other work, as well.

They have a tomb which has some unusual characteristics. I would expect a trustworthy investigator to publish a bunch of papers about "an unusual tomb" of a "influential family" of the 1 century CE, and if they are making the leap to claiming that it is the family tomb of Jesus, then they, themselves, have to address the basic claims that might be made against that being the correct conclusion.

Are we seeing anything like this from the Jesus family tomb guys? No. Are we seeing anything like this from the ID guys? No.

Indeed, I believe the Jesus family tomb guys seek to make the argument that there was an effort to suppress thier results because the results were too controversial and challenged orthodoxy. (Just like the ID guys.)



Jeremy.
It seems that this archeologist is using the established methods and theories to draw ridiculous conclusions.


Simply jumping to the immediate statement that the conclusions are "ridiculous" is really not the correct thought process.

Indeed, it really is a question of whether the methodologies used by the archaeologists involved are the correct ones to apply, and whether the investigators are capable of applying those methodologies, and if they did, in fact apply them.

If the results survive the ensuing firestorm of controversy, then the claim may not be ridiculous, after all.


Jeremy:
ID may be different because it's calling into question the established methods and theories themselves.

In the former situation, the peer-review process keeps the junk out. In the latter it may actually hinder progress by limiting new ideas that disagree with orthodoxy.

Remember, many of the nobel-prize winning ideas of the 20th century were rejected by the peer-review process because the ideas questioned the establishment too deeply. It's just a thought.


This is a gross mischaracterization of scientific peer review.

I don't know of a single "Nobel prize winning notion" that did not make it through peer review. I don't know what examples you are thinking about here, but good science is *always* made better by the peer review process.

The peer review process is not primarily about "keeping junk out". The primary functions of peer review are the following:

First, is to provide immediate communication of new results to investigators who are working on the same topic. The journal selects reviewer who might be able to be most competent in understanding the topics, so who better than somebody else working on a similar or related topic.

Second is to maintain and improve the quality of the content of the journal. Journals are archival in nature so what is published and not published today will reflect on the journal, and on the professional society in the future. Holding authors to a high standard of competence is part of the mission of journals.

It is not so much "keeping out junk" but informing the authors on the necessary further work that they need to do in order to make their work fit the standard of the journal. For a scientific journal to be considered relevant, it must carry new material, but not be "nutball" by carrying flimsy or scientifically indefensible materials.

Few papers make it into a scientific journal without suggested revisions. That can include a suggestion that the author do additional science to support their results.

This always improves the paper and the quality of the science. The investigators who are not very competent tend to just fade away. Either their ideas die a natural death, or are picked up by somebody else and are executed more competently.