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« Tale from the Crypt | Main | Before One Can Know God... »

February 26, 2007


"We don't know yet what the details are of James Cameron's evidence for claiming Jesus' remains have been found."

I see this is the third post on this topic. Stop worrying guys. The above quote from the post below reveals a deeply flawed understanding of things like evidence and evaluation. This is a classic case of looking at things through the wrong end of the telescope.

Consider that when Jesus was crucified (or died a natural death), Christianity, as an institution didn't exist. Whatever year that was, lots of people died, we know something reliable about only a few. Christianity exists today because of the actions of those who lived after Jesus.

As I noted below this isn't the way scholarship happens. As scholars have noted names mean nothing. Walk into Canter's, Jerry's, or Junior's and call out "hey, Morrie" and see how many heads turn.

One doesn't have to be a Christian, and one doesn't have to "evaluate" any "evidence" to know that Cameron is blowing smoke. That Christ rose from the dead is a simple matter of faith that is unprovable and that's OK.

That a movie producer is going where archaeologists won't go seems worth no more than a casual dismissal. Filters are useful.

Scholars, clergy slam Jesus documentary

Associated Press Writer

Archaeologists and clergymen in the Holy Land derided claims in a new documentary produced by the Oscar-winning director James Cameron that contradict major Christian tenets. "The Lost Tomb of Christ," which the Discovery Channel will run on March 4, argues that 10 ancient ossuaries — small caskets used to store bones — discovered in a suburb of Jerusalem in 1980 may have contained the bones of Jesus and his family, according to a press release issued by the Discovery Channel.

One of the caskets even bears the title, "Judah, son of Jesus," hinting that Jesus may have had a son. And the very fact that Jesus had an ossuary would contradict the Christian belief that he was resurrected and ascended to heaven.

Most Christians believe Jesus' body spent three days at the site of the Church of the Holy Sepulcher in Jerusalem's Old City. The burial site identified in Cameron's documentary is in a southern Jerusalem neighborhood nowhere near the church.

In 1996, when the BBC aired a short documentary on the 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.

"They just want to get money for it," Kloner said.

The claims have raised the ire of Christian leaders in the Holy Land.

"The historical, religious and archaeological evidence show that the place where Christ was buried is the Church of the Resurrection," said Attallah Hana, a Greek Orthodox clergyman in Jerusalem. The documentary, he said, "contradicts the religious principles and the historic and spiritual principles that we hold tightly to."

Stephen Pfann, a biblical scholar at the University of the Holy Land in Jerusalem who was interviewed in the documentary, said the film's hypothesis holds little weight.

"I don't think that Christians are going to buy into this," Pfann said. "But skeptics, in general, would like to see something that pokes holes into the story that so many people hold dear."

"How possible is it?" Pfann said. "On a scale of one through 10 — 10 being completely possible — it's probably a one, maybe a one and a half."

Pfann is even unsure that the name "Jesus" on the caskets was read correctly. He thinks it's more likely the name "Hanun."

Kloner also said the filmmakers' assertions are false.

"It was an ordinary middle-class Jerusalem burial cave," Kloner said. "The names on the caskets are the most common names found among Jews at the time."

Archaeologists also balk at the filmmaker's claim that the James Ossuary — the center of a famous antiquities fraud in Israel — might have originated from the same cave. In 2005, Israel charged five suspects with forgery in connection with the infamous bone box.

"I don't think the James Ossuary came from the same cave," said Dan Bahat, an archaeologist at Bar-Ilan University. "If it were found there, the man who made the forgery would have taken something better. He would have taken Jesus."

Although the documentary makers claim to have found the tomb of Jesus, the British Broadcasting Corporation beat them to the punch by 11 years.

Osnat Goaz, a spokeswoman for the Israeli government agency responsible for archaeology, declined to comment before the documentary was aired.

Alan, I agree this is much ado about nothing, but these issues are important within the Christian faith. It's not a question of being "worried" as much as it is staying on top of a "breaking news story". Looking at the effect that DaVinci Code did have on some members of the community, it is reasonable for us to be wary and informed. And while it will be dismissed by informed Christians, many people will be confused or take it as another strike against Christianity. This is getting play on CNN (they stopped covering Anna, so this tripe does have its benefits) so it is something for a Christian site which wants to inform Christians on making a positive and informed impact in the world to be updating as opportunity arises.

A good blog from a scholar about the whole thing

Darn it disciples, if your going to tell people that Jesus is resurrected don't bury him with the rest of the family. People might get suspicious. And the least you could do is not put his name on the ossuary.

And to think it took 2000 years to finally figure this Christianity hoax out. And the guy was right there in Jerusalem, with his family, with his name on him none the less.

I was watching a national news channel and the guy (I don't know who he was) said that it was a million to one that in wasn't Jesus. And a conservative estimate that it was 100 to 1. So here we go again.

Hopefully, we can use this as a spring board to discussing the evidence for the resurrection.


Greg was very wise in his opening comments on the show the other day. We cannot be simply reactionary when these 'new revelations' come around. People who are not Christians (and even some who may be!) get very worked up over stuff like this because they do not think the information through.

We need to deal honestly with the claims that are brought up by people like Cameron. We need to engage people intelligently. We need to answer their questions as best we can, because oftentimes they are sincere. Not all people are hardened skeptics. Sometimes they really do have honest questions. And if we're not respectful and take those questions seriously, we come across looking like a bunch of silly people who believe in mindless superstitions and do not want to engage the evidence. (Such as that 'evidence' may be.)

What I see is that discussions die before they even begin, and many times it's the fault of the Christians. Let's not give non Christians even more ammunition for thinking of us as being foolish people who refuse to think. Let's be wise and thoughtful and serious, and let us demonstrate to the world that Christianity has facts to support it and is not just based on mindless 'faith'.

Total confession:
I tuned into the live streaming broadcast of STR just in time to hear Greg rounding out his comments on Cameron's allegations. To be perfectly candid, after reading more about the claims and who was involved, I did enjoy the brief pains of mild panic. Mild, I say. I only heard a tiny bit of what Greg said so I have been staying up on this through the Internet. My heartrate has settled considerably as I have become more informed, but it did cause me to reflect on the nature of my faith in Christ and the core tennants of Christianity. OK, I felt like a complete punk for getting nervous so quickly. I am appreciative of Greg's slow, measured hand in this controversy. ("Even if this proves not to be a hoax it is still just one piece of competing evidense." My parpaphrase.) The Da Vinci Code didn't bother me a bit, but I knew that this struck to the core of our faith.

Here is a brief argument against the veracity of these claims from someone very much not a follower of Christ.

Pretty convincing evidence from a very unlikely source.


John Roe

Do you remember all the cable news/documentary media last Lent/Easter season?


It's spring sweeps for ratings again, and those DVC fanboys were foamy enough last time...

"That Christ rose from the dead is a simple matter of faith that is unprovable and that's OK."
Alan, a couple of points here. First, you seem to define "faith" very differently than we who have studied the good resources of STR. Faith, as it works out in the bible, is not "religious wishful thinking." Faith is active trust in that which we have good reason to believe to be true. (This is either a direct quote or a paraphrase of Greg from "Faith is not Wishing, Truth is not Ice Cream" from the ABC curriculum.)
I don't know what your standard of proof would be, but there is evidence to support the claim that Jesus actually rose from the dead, and at the very least, the claim can be falsified. If the claim is decisively falsified, then Christianity is dead, period. I know from reading your comments on this blog that as a knowledge claim, you see Christianity is just one of many "flavors" (my words) and it makes no difference to you if one more myth fades into history. Well, the idea that we are just atoms in motion is a matter of credulity that is unprovable, and that's ok.

Excellent post. This has been (no pun intended) resurrected because of the DaVinci Code's success.

-J. Kaiser

The thing that I have learned from all this is that you have to know scripture and you have to educate yourself in Christian apologetics.

I am very glad that I have read a lot of comments posted on this website especially from some unlikely sources both Christian and non-Christian. I am sad for Mr. Cameron because I believe he is trying to" rearrange the deck chairs on the Titanic" in the hopes that it won't sink again but this story and his claims to be broadcast on the Discovery Channel, are already sinking before they are even launched into a sea of skepticism by both Christian and non-Christian alike. Noted scholars and archaeological experts are not connecting the dots the way these two Hollywood producers and directors are managing to do. I feel sorry for them and I feel even more sorry if they lead anyone astray from the truth of Jesus Christ and the gift of eternal life that he offers for anyone who believes in him as their Lord and Savior. Like Jesus said better for someone to go and have a millstone tied around their head and to be thrown into the sea than to turn one of God's children away from him! If Mr. Cameron and his cohort are successful in damaging anyone's faith in Jesus Christ as the son of God all I have to say is woe unto them!

Joseph M. Gates
Mount Prospect, Illinois

PS I found Greg Koukl's commentary yesterday on his radio program Sunday to be very excellent and why is it responding to this story. I encourage everyone to download or listen to the MP3 file from stand to reason.

Hi Daniel, as I see it, Christ's resurrection can't be falsified at this point in history; too much time has passed. How would you falsify it?

Convincing me would take a personal appearance, at minimum, and I'd have to think about what else.

I wouldn't want to see Christianity disappear and, as I have often stated, I have no problem with Christianity per se, just some who abuse the name. Likewise faith is a personal matter and how one arrives at that faith doesn't concern me. I fully acknowledge that there are different paths and some are intellectually grounded.

My problem here is the level of idiocy and irrelevance in the MSM. Rather then thinking in terms of claims, evidence, apologetics and all that, I would be happier if everyone called the media on pushing a lame brained non-story.

Religion, like elections, war and social policy is a serious topic and we have a media that is largely unserious.

Without the Internet it would be impossible to get reliable information in this country.

"The article begins: Brace yourself. James Cameron, the man who brought you ‘The Titanic’ is back with another blockbuster. This time, the ship he’s sinking is Christianity."

This makes me laugh.
Christianity was saved through Noah’s Ark while the entire rest of the world perished !

James White was interviewed on Way of the Master Radio. The DNA tests, according to a person who talked to the person who conducted the tests, were mitochondrial tests. So Yeshua and Mary could still be blood relatives.

You know, I can't possibly retain all this information. One thing I can say though. Christ and all the apostles warned US about all of this a long time ago. Paul repeated himself about promoting "a Gospel other than the one preached". It just seems to me people have short memories and/or they just don't read their Bibles. This stuff has been packaged and repackaged oever and over, and people keep falling for it. I guess Christ warning us about all the false teachers and doctrines wasn't enough.

I do not need proof that Jesus died and rose again on The Third Day. I just read my Bible and have Faith.

That's the exact same thing that the Mormon's say.

Critics of this book, as to it's observations and conclusions, make essentially the following arguments:

1. That the Jesus family would be buried in Nazareth, not Talpiot;
2. That the Jesus family couldn't have afforded a tomb like the Talpiot tomb;
3. That the "Jesus son of Joseph" ossuary is not inscribed "Yeshua" (Jesus) at all;
4. That the "Mariamne" ossuary didn't contain the remains of Mary Magdalene, but of two other women.

I believe the first three of these allegations against the book's premise don't carry much water. The fourth argument actually supports the conclusion that this is the real thing. My comments on these points:

1. Talpiot is the right place for Jesus' family tomb- Per Luke, 2:3-4, the family's LEGAL residence was Bethlehem, not Nazareth. The fact that Joseph and the pregnant Mary could not take the census in Nazareth but had to take it in Bethlehem indicates that Bethlehem was their DOMICILIUM under Roman Law. That basically means that they had no intention to reside in Nazareth permanently. Therefore it would have made little sense for them to have a family tomb in Nazareth, that they wouldn't be able to frequently visit at a later stage in their lives. They would have wanted a family tomb close to Bethlehem and Jerusalem, easily accessible also to future generations of the family. The fact is indeed that Mary and her children moved to Jerusalem around 30 AD.

The traditional name of Jesus in Hebrew, as reflected also in the Talmud, is "Yeshua Hanotzri." This appellation stemms from "Netzer" (Shoot or Branch). It alludes clearly to Isaiah 11:1, indicating the Royal birth of Jesus, to substantiate his claim for Jewish messianship. Not to indicate the place he comes from ( to indicate that Jesus supposedly originates from Nazareth, he would have been called "Yeshua Minatzeret." But he wasn't called so.) In any event Jesus was born in Bethlehem, even though he grew up in Nazareth. Even when a person was called by a place in Herbew/Aramaic at that time, that appellation would refer to his place of birth, not to where he happens to live at a certain moment in his life. Thus if Jesus were to be called by a place, he would logically be called "Jesus of Bethlehem."

There's actually no evidence in Jewish sources, such as the Old Testament or the Mishna and Talmud, that a place called "Nazareth" even existed in or before the first century. I'm not disputing the evidence per the NT, that there was indeed a place called Nazareth. But to the best of my knowledge, there's no mention of Nazareth at all in any ancient writings outside the New Testament. So the place existed, but nobody knew about it. Therefore there was no reason to call Jesus "of Nazareth." Either in life or on an ossuary. He was called "Jesus the Branch" (of David) in Hebrew/Aramaic. It sounds almost the same as "Jesus of Nazareth" when pronounced in Hebrew/Aramaic, and therefore would easily confuse any person whose mother tongue isn't Hebrew/Aramaic. But it shouldn't confuse native Hebrew/Aramaic speakers.

The line of argumentation detracting this discovery around the supposed Nazareth origin of Jesus' family may therefore be based on a very shaky foundation.

2. Talpiot is located about 2.5 miles North of Bethlehem. Jesus' family, of Davidic descent according to the New Testament, could have held the burial cave there even before it moved to Nazareth. Davidic birth was absolutely the most exalted in Judaism, always. The suggestion that any person of Davidic descent could be of the lowest social echelon, that couldn't fund or get funding for a burial cave, doesn't make much sense, if any. There's substantial evidence to the contrary, e.g. 1. Jesus had some very wealthy active supporters like Joseph of Arimatea and Nicodemus (known as Nakdimon ben Gorion in post biblical Jewish sources-one of the richest Jews in Judea); 2. Josephus A.J.,XX, 9:1. Note the prominence of James brother of Jesus.

3. The inscription on the Jesus ossuary does say "Yeshua bar Yehosef" ("Jesus son of Joseph")to my eye. All letters but one are quite clearly there. The only letter which is somewhat more difficult to discern at first blush is the second letter- "Shin". That's because it's written in a somewhat irregular form (in a regular Shin there are three teeth in the fork, pointing upwards. Here there are two teeth, pointing sideways to the right.) But that particular irregularity appears also on other ossuaries- notably numbers 9 (this one has two "Shin"- one with three teeth pointing to the right, and one with TWO teeth pointing to the right. Exactly like the subject inscription) and 121 in the Rahmani catalogue, which both feature also a "Yeshua." All this is NOT difficult for a Hebrew speaking person to identify.

4. Mr. Huston on 3/13/07 made the following comment to my post:

"The inscription, Pfann said, is made up of two names inscribed by two different hands: the first, "Mariame,'' was inscribed in a formal Greek script, and later, when the bones of another woman were added to the box, another scribe using a different cursive script added the words "kai Mara,'' meaning "and Mara.'' Mara is a different form of the name Martha.

According to Pfann's reading, the ossuary did not house the bones of "Mary the teacher,'' but rather of two women, "Mary and Martha.'"

Here's my answer to him:

"If the Mariamne ossuary indeed housed the bones of Mary and Martha, these are two sisters of NT fame. Another hit. One of them could have been married to "Jesus son of Joseph." -Whether or not she was Mary Magdalene (Maybe the Mary who ointed Jesus feet and then dried them with her hair- very intimate scene.) The other sister would than also automatically belong in the family. It still fits. Actually it increases the statistical odds that this is the real thing quite substantially."

This is a very intriguing possibility indeed, fitting perfectly with John 12:3. Some posters on an internet group where I participate actually suggested once that similar anointing was part of pre-wedding ritual of a Davidic King, per certain passages in the Song of Songs. Reminds me of the reaction to this find of a BBC reporter in 1996- It seems like all pieces of a puzzle coming together.

Two other matters raised by the book relate to the meaning of the inscription "Mara" on one of the ossuaries, and to a proposition that the "James brother of Jesus" ossuary originated from the same Talpiot tomb. My comments:

5. Any Jew in the first century would probably know instinctively that "Mara" is a very exalted appellation indeed. The Dead Sea Scrolls in at least two places that I saw have the expression "Mara Alma"- the exact equivalent of "Adon Olam" in Hebrew ("Master of the World".) That is one of the most common substitute names for "Yahwe", the ineffable name of God, in Judaism, to this day. Jews repeat this substitute name many times every day, in prayers.

6. Oded Golan is on trial in Israel at this time for alleged forgery of the "James brother of Jesus" ossuary. If Mr. Golan believes or knows that the James ossuary is authentic, his defense lawyer should and could get a court order for comparative DNA tests of the James remains with the Jesus remains. The court will most probably grant such an order, because it's material to his defense in a felony case. If this test shows these are siblings, that would constitute sufficient "reasonable doubt" to acquit Golan. (And of course enhance the statistical odds that the Talpiot tomb is the real thing.) If it doesn't show they're siblings, the result would be inadmissible as evidence. Therefore there's only an upside on this for Defense.

Incidentally, I believe that the book's (or Documentary's) story about the "Jesus" and other bones having supposedly been buried together in a common grave has to be taken with a grain of salt. It appears to contradict certain burial rules under Jewish Law. In a different context, a poster elsewhere on the net pointed out to me a second century ruling regarding common burials. Seems to me that common burials of unrelated adults are prohibited, where the bones are found separately. Therefore the remains in the ossuaries would be buried separately.

BOTTOM LINE- Ask yourself inversely a hypothetical question- If the Talpiot tomb hadn't yet been found, how would Jesus' family tomb have looked , which ossuaries would it have contained, to when would it have been dated and where would it have been located. Even if, like me, you're not formally educated specifically in any field related to this subject, anyone with general education and common sense who's curious enough could educate himself to form a perfectly valid opinion. I would have thought of a tomb just like the tomb we're discussing. It fits perfectly with what I'd have expected Jesus' family tomb to be. Right place, right period, right names. (Even some important evidence supporting the same expectation that this book omits in the text, and addresses obliquely only in the conclusion.)

That doesn't mean that the Talpiot tomb is the real thing beyond reasonable doubt, only that if you had a jury of completely unbiased people, either way, and that jury were presented with all material evidence, pro and con, it could quite logically have found that this is the real thing by preponderance of the evidence.

I would just like to comment that this so-called "studied" work, The Davichi Code, ya ya I know it's old news but it laid the foundation for a lot of stories in todays media. Just so you know, I recently watched a documentary where the author laughed, shook his head and proclaimed that it was a total work of fiction,FICTION people! Just because the man was able to paint a beleivable view only says that he was studied in biblical times and practices. It certainly doesn't give a work of fiction any creedance! Many of todays so-called news stories regarding this issue have been totally biased by the work of Dan Brown!
I lend as much believability to them. As good as a work of total fiction.

"Ben" missed it. Point #1 - Jesus IS called "Jesus of Nazareth" some 16 times in the New Testament. I guess they didn't know they shouldn't have referred to Him that way. Interestingly, the historical, biblical text mentions nothing of "Jesus of Bethlehem".
#2 - As a carpenter Jesus was in the lowest socio-economic class there was in his culture. Apparently no one cared that he (and tens of thousands of others in Palestine) was descended from David.

Personally, I think, that when one deifies another human being, one takes away from their work, their life and their ministry. By deifying Yashua Bar Josef, have we not absolved ourselves from ever having to do what Jesus asked us to do and to follow the path that he asked us to follow. It is easier to say that he is God and therefore I could never achieve the things that he did. What one might fail to realize is that we may have done the historical man a great disservice. I find more joy and grace in the understanding of the actual historical Jesus rather than a mythical one. The more I learn about the real Jesus, the more I come to realize that he was far ahead of his time. Jesus was, in my opinion, a strong advocate of social justice and a positive force for social change. Apparently, issues such as gender equity, justice for the poor and the oppressed, et al. were issues that were close to his heart. His message, as it has come down through the canonical and non-canonical sources speaks of one who worked towards changing a world bent on putting profit before people. He was the front-runner and model for future generations in non-violent conflict resolution and in active suffering and passive resistance. Both Mohandas Gandhi and Dr. Martin Luther King followed his example and both achieved remarkable results.

>>Personally, I think, that when one deifies another human being, one takes away from their work, their life and their ministry.

How much worse, then, if one denies and ignores a person's true deity! You can see how much is at stake here.

I absolutely agree that we need to know the true, historical Jesus. I think you would be interested to read "The Historical Jesus" by Gary Habermas where he talks about non-biblical sources and widely accepted facts and then reasons from those to the truth about the historical Jesus.

There's a lot more information out there than you think, and anyone can get a pretty clear picture of the man if he's open to it (and not too committed to an anti-supernatural bias).

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