Matthew R. Perry

Have They Found Jesus’ Family Tomb: The Fluff Behind the Stuff

In Apologetics, Theology on March 5, 2007 at 11:23 pm

Major Bowes was a popular radio host of the Original Amateur Hour in the 1930s — a show which predated and even inspired other shows such as Star Search of the 1980s and Americal Idol of today. He had an expression which he used to open up every show by spinning a wheel to determine the order of the performers. As he spun the wheel, he noted, “’Round and ‘round she goes, where she stops, nobody knows.”

As I heard this past Sunday and Monday about the latest news which calls into question the person and character of Jesus Christ, that saying came into my head again. “Where she stops, nobody knows.” First, the DaVinci Code’s conspiracy theory on how the Church was hiding the truth about Jesus and his supposed offspring. Then came along The Gospel of Judas, a poor example of Christian ‘literature’ which contained fourteen pages with large pieces missing, and the pieces which remained portrayed Judas as the hero of the story because he gave Jesus over to death, thus setting him free from this evil body into the more holy spirit world. Though this rang of Gnosticism which by default says that all things earthly are evil and all things spiritual are good (and thus sang a different tune to the biblical Gospels), many people believed it because it cast doubt not only on the reliability of the Scriptures but also cast doubt as to whether they needed to be accountable to the Scriptures as well.

Now comes the latest of these Titanic tales! The Discovery Channel will show a documentary entitled The Lost Tomb of Jesus telling the story of ten stone coffins called ossuaries found in a 2,000-year-old tomb in Jerusalem by Israeli builders. This, coupled with Simcha Jacobovici and Charles Pelligrino’s book The Jesus Family Tomb: The Discovery, the Investigation, and the Evidence That Could Change History (HarperCollins).

Though they do not seek to undermine the resurrection (there were no bones found). What they seek to do is propound the notion set forth in The DaVinci Code and The Jesus Dynasty that Jesus was married and had offspring. They claim these ossuaries have inscriptions of names on the side which show conclusively of Jesus’ family. One ossuary has the inscription, “Jesus son of Joseph,” while another immediately beside it reads, “Mariamene e Mara.” They have concluded that this is Jesus’ wife named Mary and that he had a son named “Judah” because they feel the odds of each of these New Testament names being together in one tomb are astronomical. They believe they have run the appropriate tests and that the evidence is conclusive. I disagree and here’s why.

Who is Behind This?

When conducting research of this nature, one has to ask the question, “Who is involved in the actual research itself?”

James Cameron. Earlier, I used the word ‘Titanic’ and for a reason. James Cameron is a top-flight movie director who has directed such movies as Terminator and Titanic. Much of the ‘facts’ that Cameron promoted in Titanic were called into question, and he seems to be using his poor researching skills to promote this particular story as well.

James Tabor. Author of The Jesus Dynasty: The Hidden History of Jesus, His Royal Family, and the Birth of Christianity (2006) in which he promoted the idea of a Roman soldier named Panthera being the father of Jesus and had much to say about this particular tomb. Yet Ben Witherington of Asbury Seminary makes a great point about his involvement:

In that book, he had quite a good deal to say about the Talpiot Tomb, and about Panthera being the father to Jesus, and about Jesus being buried in Galilee, and of course nothing about an ossuary which claims that Joseph is the father of Jesus. Why such a quick reversal of his earlier opinions? This makes him very [pliable], not a very reliable witness who sticks by his guns when he draws a conclusion, for he has now reversed himself not just on one or two minor points, but on several major ones.

Statisticians. I took a class on statistics and found out quickly that the conclusions you make are solely based upon the data you have. What must be realized (thank you again, Dr. Witherington) is that Jesus was never called “son of Joseph” by his followers but only by outsiders who did so by mistake. Plus, would you like to guess the most popular names among Palestinian Jews? Simon is first, then Joseph. The name of Jesus is sixth. As for women, 21% of them were called Mary. With such popular names, it will be a stretch to go from their hypothesis (what they seek to prove) to their desired conclusions.

DNA Experts. In our CSI world, we take our steps of getting DNA and trying to discern from that portion of evidence from the bone fragments (remember, no bones are in these boxes). Many CSI experts will tell you that trying to come up with something quite conclusive from bone shards 2,000 years ago will be next-to-impossible work.

Any Critics Yet?

It took all of about fifteen seconds for the critics to come out — and not from Christians. Now there are an inordinate amount of critics (here) who are distancing themselves and quickly from this project.

In 1996 when the BBC aired a documentary on the exact same subject, archaeologists challenged the claims. Amos Kloner, the first archaeologist to examine the site, said the idea fails to hold up by archaeological standards but makes for profitable television. He rightly notes,

Jesus and his relatives were a Galilee family with no ties in Jerusalem. The Talpiot tomb belonged to a middle-class family from the first century.

Steven Pfann, a biblical scholar at the University of the Holy Land in Jerusalem, said, “I don’t think that Christians are going to buy into this. But skeptics, in general, would like to see something that pokes holes into the story that so many people hold dear” (AP, February 26, 2007).


Should We Let This Shake Our Faith

No.

OK, OK — I’ll go into more detail.

First, why would anyone follow as a Savior a man from a small country who had a middle-class family? Jesus was one for whom each of his followers died — and this after they thought he was dead and the dream of a Kingdom of God being on earth had vanished. Enough people saw him crucified and over 500 people saw him resurrected (1 Corinthians 15:6). Even doubting Thomas, the last of the disciples to be convinced, saw Christ and said, “My Lord, and my God” (John 20:29)!

Secondly, there will always be critics out there who seek to crack the very foundation on which our faith lies — the nature of Christ. If James Tabor is right that Jesus had an earthly father, and Dan Brown and James Cameron were right that Jesus took a wife and had children, then Jesus would be a man — and only a man. Yet, if Jesus is God, the implications are far reaching — they have to listen to what He says, and will be accountable to Him since He is God!

One pastor said that the Bible is an anvil with little hammers broken all around it. This is the case here as well. I write this simply as an introductory paper for all of us to read, then explore some more. You will not find your faith weakened, but strengthed!

For the word of the cross is folly to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God. [19] For it is written,

“I will destroy the wisdom of the wise,
and the discernment of the discerning I will thwart.”
[20] Where is the one who is wise? Where is the scribe? Where is the debater of this age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world? [21] For since, in the wisdom of God, the world did not know God through wisdom, it pleased God through the folly of what we preach to save those who believe. [22] For Jews demand signs and Greeks seek wisdom, [23] but we preach Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and folly to Gentiles, [24] but to those who are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God. [25] For the foolishness of God is wiser than men, and the weakness of God is stronger than men (1 Cor. 1:18-25, ESV).

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  1. You left out a name for “Who’s Behind This?” Ben Witherington. He’s the one who got the ball rolling on fraudulent ossuary claims with his so-called “James Ossuary.” Remember the gift he gave to Christians on Easter Day 2003? His own Discovery Channel special produced with Jacobvici hyping his own faked NT relic.

    The latest dispatch (3/7/07) from Witherington, from his meditation on “Bitterness”:

    “It would be easy for me to get bitter about the nonsense propagated in the Jesus tomb theory. To become bitter that the other side of the story has not adequately been told. That there is an unfairness in all of this, especially since I spent years of my life dealing with the James ossuary and the remarkable implications of that, which is still a genuine relic from the family of Jesus.”

    From his own words, it’s even more obvious now that the ONLY dog that BW had in this Jesus Tomb fight was the one that he hoped would free his James ossuary from its association with the ossuaries from the “Family Tomb.”

    He succeeded in part. Most people agree that his J-o was not one of the ten, but he only dragged his credibility down further since he was forced to rely on the word of Oded Golan to establish a sort-of provenance for his ossuary and almost every mention of the J-o in the press was surrounded by variations on the words “fraud,” “forged” or “fake.”

    RE: “…the other side of the story has not been adequately told”

    I have to agree with him here. Even though there were archaeologists, scientists and even Biblical scholars aplenty to refute the claims of the JFT-crowd, Witherington just had to jump in with the ridiculous baggage of his own ossuary claims. The case against the JFT would have been even more adequate without his input. He was an unneeded distraction.

    Re: “I spent years of my life dealing with the James ossuary and the remarkable implications of that, which is still a genuine relic from the family of Jesus.”

    “Still?!”

  2. Surely we are living in the last days. The spirit of the antichrist abounds everywhere. The media is a mere puppet of Christ’s arch-enemy. God be praised, where sin abounds, grace does much more abound.

    It is no time for Christians to let up with their prayers and outreach. Time is short.

    So glad I found your site, picked it up from Voice of Vision

  3. If the number of news-stories and blog-entries per week is any indication, it looks like the momentum of the “Lost Tomb of Jesus” story is fading very quickly. Nevertheless, if you’re interested, I welcome you to read my “nit-picker’s guide” to the movie, at http://www.curtisvillechristian.org/LostTomb.html , in which I point out 25 mistakes, half-truths, and other interesting content of the movie and the Ted Koppel discussion which followed it.

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