The hype last week over the scheduled television event The Lost Tomb of Jesus which aired on the Discovery channel Sunday evening, March 4, from 8:00 – 10:00 PM Central time kept us a bit busy around here. Rightfully so. The one thing which validates Christianity and on which the entirety of the faith hinges is the physical resurrection of Jesus. No resurrection, no gospel, no salvation… Sadly, the resurrection may be alluded to in most churches around Easter time, but little in-depth teaching is offered about it. Some articles which may be helpful to our readers in understanding the issues involved are A Day in Court , Objections Overruled! and ” The Resurrection: Watchtower-Style”
The resurrection is so central and essential to the Christian faith that when we are asked what would persuade us that Christianity is false, our response would have to be that someone would produce the remains of the body of Jesus. Well, lo and behold, Simcha Jacobovici, Discovery Channel’s very own Naked Archeologist and James Tabor, author of the Jesus Dynasty claim that they have “compelling evidence” that they have done exactly that! They begin their tale by referencing the 1980 discovery of an ossuary or bone box with the inscription, “Jesus son of Joseph.” (The practice of first century Jews was to lay the body of the deceased on a shelf in a tomb for about a year until all of the flesh had decayed. They would then put the bones in a limestone “bone box.”) The breathlessly earnest 2 hour “docudrama” is a DaVinci Code type expose’ of the existence of the “real” burial place of Jesus, which they speculate contains not only the bones of Jesus, but his wife Mary Magdalene, their son and other family members.
There are a number of very good critiques out there about this program, but sometimes it is helpful to inject a bit of humor into the mix. One such humorous piece is published in the Jerusalem Post under the pen name “Mamma Maria.” Purim: Leonardo emerges from Talpiot tomb to redo ‘Last Supper’ Quite funny. But back to the “docudrama.”
Who is the cast of characters?
The producer is the Oscar winning director of “Titanic,” James Cameron. When confronted about problems in the film he responded, “I’m not a theologist. I’m not an archaeologist. I’m a documentary filmmaker”
Is this an admission that he didn’t want a little thing like facts get in the way of a good story?
Simcha Jacobovici, the director and main on camera personality, by his own admission, is also not an archeologist or scholar. He is a journalist, filmmaker and storyteller. Here, with the aid of Professor James Tabor, they crafted a whopper of a tale. Tabor is the Chair of Religious Studies at the University of North Carolina at Charlotte. We would suggest that he did not inject a tempering academic influence into the project. He may present himself to the public as an unbiased scholar seeking truth, but it seems fairly obvious that Tabor came in with a predetermined conclusion. According to G. Richard Fisher’s article “The Jesus Dynasty – Imaginary & Irrational Interpretations of James Tabor“ in the PFO Journal, Tabor had been baptized into the Worldwide Church of God (at the time definitely not a Christian denomination but a pseudo-Christian cult) and was a 1970 graduate of Herbert W. Armstrong’s Ambassador College. He left the WCG and became an agnostic, and then in recent years has become a spokesman for another cult by the name of B’ nai Noah. Fisher points out that Tabor:
…acknowledges that in the generally understood sense, he is certainly not a Christian.
Tabor’s book is simply another addition to the Hysterical Search for the Historical Jesus genre that John Dominic Crossan and others have made so popular with the mainstream media in modern times. Crossan even made a cameo appearance in the docudrama to say that if this is the tomb of Jesus it wouldn’t affect his faith. Of course it wouldn’t affect Crossan’s faith, anymore than a scandal affects your average politician’s integrity – there isn’t any there to begin with! Crossan has made it abundantly clear over the years that he doesn’t believe that Jesus was God in the flesh or that He performed miracles or took away anyone’s sin, and certainly does not believe that He rose physically from the dead. Rather, according to Crossan, Jesus was a sort of liberal political activist who was buried in a shallow grave and probably eaten by dogs. Having a bone box would be a step up for Crossan’s Jesus. Tabor is on record as believing that Jesus was married, had children and was crucified and buried, but not resurrected.
The production itself was compelling and included dramatic re-enactment sequences of Jesus interacting with his supposed wife and child. There was a cliff-hanger question breathlessly posed just before each commercial. Each question began with a speculative “If this is true” approach, and then built on their speculation as though it had been irrefutably demonstrated as being true. Then they would move on to the next wild speculation, inexorably building their logical “house of cards” upon the shifting sand of conjecture. Unfortunately, none of their conjectures were proved to be true at all, but the slick presentation was designed to bring the casual uninformed viewer to conclusions that were in no-wise warranted by any real evidence. But, we are ahead of ourselves. Let’s start at the beginning.
The attention grabber in the beginning is an ossuary or bone box with the inscription “Jesus son of Joseph.” It is dated from “around the first century.” There were 9 other ossuaries discovered in this tomb when it was unearthed in 1980 for a total of 10. Five others had names inscribed on them; Mary, Mariamne, Jose, Matia and Judah son of Jesus. One ossuary is supposedly not accounted for on the inventory list at the department of antiquities where they are being stored. Jacobovici and Tabor attempt to make a “compelling case” that these are all names associated with the family of Jesus and that the supposedly “missing ossuary” is the James ossuary which surfaced a few years ago. (The owner, Oded Golan, is currently on trial for forgery of this ossuary.) Their entire case hangs on the dating and the cluster of names in one tomb.
The first problem is the time frame. In dating the bone box, the closest we can get is a span of time of about 150 years. This individual may have been born, lived, died and buried prior to the birth of Jesus of Nazareth. This inconvenient fact was somehow not mentioned. But then there were time constraints, so I suppose not all possibly contrary details could be mentioned. Much excitement centers around the inscription “Jesus son of Joseph.” The viewer of this fairy tale is led to believe, although it is never stated, that this is a unique occurrence. The original archeologist on record for this ossuary in a recent interview responded to this idea head on:
The name “Jesus son of Joseph” has been found on three or four ossuaries. These are common names. There were huge headlines in the 1940s surrounding another Jesus ossuary, cited as the first evidence of Christianity. There was another Jesus tomb. Months later it was dismissed. Give me scientific evidence, and I’ll grapple with it. But this is manufactured.
Another problem with the family tomb of Jesus of Nazareth theory is as Kloner points out:
It makes a great story for a TV film. But it’s completely impossible. It’s nonsense. There is no likelihood that Jesus and his relatives had a family tomb. They were a Galilee family with no ties in Jerusalem. The Talpiot tomb belonged to a middle class family from the 1st century CE.
DNA testing of bone material from the “Jesus son of Joseph” and the “Mariamne” ossuary was performed. The DNA proved that these two persons were not biologically related. The assertion was then made that they must be husband and wife. Perhaps, but they could also have been cousins, aunt and nephew, wife if another male in the tomb or a family friend. There is of course no record of Jesus of Nazareth connected to a female named “Mariamne.” So, in an attempt to strengthen their case, Jacobovici and Tabor must somehow show that Mariamne is Mary Magdalene. (Note: Currently popular conspiracy theories maintain that Jesus and Mary Magdalene were married and she became the head of the church after His death). In an effort to make this Mariamne/Mary Magdalene connection, they reference a fourth century Gnostic writing titled “The Gospel of Philip.” In this document, Mary Magdalene is referred to as Mary the Master. Mary the Master could be Mariamne, thus, by their logic, Mariamne in this tomb could be Mary Magdalene. Drumroll, please! TaDaaaaaa! Mariamne IS Mary Magdalene! Or at least that is certainly the conclusion that the audience is meant to gullibly swallow. Yes, and once upon a time there were three bears… oops, wrong story
But what of “Matia”? We don’t find him mentioned in the names of Jesus’ brothers. Well, the viewer is told that Mary the mother of Jesus has several ancestors named Matthew or some derivation of Matthew. So, there may be a “Matia” relative who was simply unnamed in Scripture. Coulda, woulda, shoulda, maybe and if – these are the words that a good scam is made of. In any case, the presence of these names doesn’t seem to raise any doubts within Jacobovici, Tabor and Cameron. Rather, they seem to come across as though it strengthens their view. Certainly we wouldn’t want a simple thing like facts to get in the way of a good story.
”Judah son of Jesus,” needs to be dealt with, so Jacobovici and Tabor helpfully suggest that this person is the unnamed disciple who laid on Jesus breast in the Gospel of John. And why was he unnamed? Well, because according to them, Jesus was a threat to the Roman Emperor and so would any of his male offspring be. Therefore, his name and his very existence was kept a secret. So, we have a secret marriage to Mary Magdalene and a secret son who was unnamed, but who can now be revealed to the world, thanks to the dogged determination and efforts of Jacobovici, Tabor and Cameron! Wow! What a revelation! But can all this be proven to be true? Uh, no. However, as with all really good conspiracy theories, the fact that something cannot be proven to be true only serves to prove that it is indeed true. The falsehoods, purposeful misleading, storytelling, wild conjecture, and rabbit trails are so numerous in this docudrama that we cannot cover them all here. However, we can cut through most of these by realizing that Jacobovici, Tabor and Cameron are relying on circular reasoning. Veteran apologist Kurt Van Gorden in his critique “The Lost Tomb of Jesus” — Yet Another Attack Upon Jesus And His Resurrection outlines this fallacy:
We know this is Jesus’ tomb, because the right ossuary names are grouped.
What tells you that you have the “right” group?
We did DNA testing and found out that they are unrelated.
How does this prove it’s Jesus of Nazareth?
Because we have the right group of names on the ossuaries.
All Dem Bones adds up to yet another “Easter Surprise,” the liberal establishment’s annual Easter parade of documentary “specials” attempting to debunk the resurrection “myth” and thus destroy or at least cast doubt upon the faith of millions. You know, like they try to debunk Islam during Ramadan, and make Mohammed out to be a fraud and pedophile . Oh, they don’t? How strange! Be that as it may, it definitely points out the need for churches to be diligently teaching their people the essentials of the faith, and just WHY doctrine matters, so that their faith cannot be shipwrecked. We need to train our people to be critical thinkers and to raise up believers who can stand in the public square and give a rational, reasonable defense of the faith. Not for our own or our children’s sakes alone, but for a lost and dying and gullible world.
The most critical presupposition for the Jesus Tomb Hoax people is that a Jesus’ name actually appears on an ossuary.
What is your take on Steve Caruso’s article at http://aramaicdesigns.com/?title=The_Lost_Tomb_of_Jesus that the name probably does not appear and Stephen Pfann’s reading of “Hanun” rather than “Jesus.”
Sound comments, basically. I would just add a couple of things: the archaeologist who said that “Jesus, son of Joseph” has been found on four ossuaries seems to have been exaggerating. I know of *one* other ossuary with that inscription, but that’s it. Also, don’t assume that just because a Harvard professor claims that the “Acts of Philip” establishes that Mary Magdalene went by the name “Mariamne” that his claim is true. “Acts of Philip” is basically a fairy-tale, and it would be downright bizarre to claim that it is an accurate historical account (even though that’s the impression of it given by “The Lost Tomb of Jesus”).
I welcome you to read my review of misleading statements, errors, and other features of the movie at http://www.curtisvillechristian.org/LostTomb.html . A two-part supplement about the movie’s basic ideas and the evidence used to support them is at the same website.