In our Sunday morning Bible class we have completed a study of the books 2 Peter and Jude. It is interesting that both Peter and Jude warn the believers that "scoffers" and "false teachers" will come who will deny Jesus Christ. I think that the Discovery Channel's "The Lost Tomb of Christ" is another fulfillment of these scriptures.
James Cameron, the director of the movie "Titanic", has produced the show, which airs on Sunday, March 4. It would appear that he is following in the footsteps of Dan Brown, author of "The DaVinci Code". Dan Brown relied heavily on a former book entitled, "Holy Blood, Holy Grail" which had been written and discredited in the early 80's. Dan Brown's book was fictional but he claimed it was based on the truth - he made millions! Mr. Cameron's show claims to be a documentary. But what do we know about the tomb, which is the subject of the show?
In 1980 ten limestone bone boxes (ossuaries) were discovered in an excavated tomb in the Jerusalem suburb of Talpiot.
Six inscriptions were discovered with names similar to or the same as some of Jesus Christ's family and disciples:
Jesua, son of Joseph
Mariamene e Mara
Judah, son of Jesua
Four inscriptions were not similar to names connected with Jesus' family or disciples
Mariamene e Mara could be translated "Mary known as the master" which Cameron thinks might be Mary Magdalene.
DNA analysis identifies that tissues from the ossuaries of Jesua and Mariamene e Mara were not related, raising the possibility they may have been married and had a child.
The inscriptions and ossuaries have been attested as Herodian, dating to the first century.
The show's premise is that, based upon the statistical improbability of these names belonging to another family than that of Jesus Christ, the tomb must be that of Jesus. However, it should be noted that more than 25% of the women in Jesus' day were named Mary. Joseph was also a common name. In addition, one in ten had the name "Jesua". Each name with the exception of Mariamene seemed common to their period, and it was only in 1996 that the BBC made a film suggesting that, given the combination, it might be that family. New Testament expert Richard Bauckham asserted in a subsequent book, the names with Biblical resonance are so common that even when you run the probabilities on the group, the odds of it being the famous Jesus' family are "very low".
"The Lost Tomb of Jesus" also fails to answer some very basic questions:
1. Why doesn't the producer cite scholars who disagree with their conclusions? For example, in 1996, when the BBC aired a short documentary on the same subject, archaeologists challenged the claims.
2. Since the custom was to bury the dead in their hometown, why would Mary and Joseph's family tomb be in Jerusalem instead of Nazareth? Middle East researcher anb biblical anthropologist Joe Zias states, "It has nothing whatsoever to do with Jesus, he was known as Jesus of Nazareth, not Jesus of Jerusalem, and if the family was wealthy enough to afford a tomb, which they probably were not, it would have been in Nazareth, not here in Jerusalem". Zias dismisses Cameron's claims as "dishonest".
3. Why didn't Jesus' enemies, the Jewish leaders, expose the tomb? They searched unsuccessfully throughout Jerusalem for any evidence of Jesus' body, claiming that Jesus' disciples had stolen it. They hated Jesus enough to want him crucified, and would have been elated to discover his tomb, if it indeed existed.
4. Why didn't the Romans expose the inscriptions as belonging to Jesus? Roman soldiers controlled the entire city of Jerusalem, and they knew his body was missing from a tomb they had been guarding.
5. Why didn't contemporary Roman or Jewish historians write about the tomb? Not one single contemporary historian mentions the tomb in question.
6. Why was the James Ossuary, which has been labeled a forgery, cited by the producer as one ofthe reasons for the tomb's validity? CBS News correspondent Mark Phillips reports, "The archeological establishment has lined up to labl this claim as bunk. "This is the second time The Discovery Channel has been involved in a disputed claim about an ancient tomb," reports Phillips. The man at the center of the previous case is now facing trail for forgery.
7. Why are the producer and The Discovery Channel waiting until just prior to Easter to launch the show? 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.
8. Why would Jesus' disciples endure torture for claiming he was resurrected if they knew it was a hoax? New Testament scholar Darrell Bock asks, "why would Jesus' family or followers bury his bones in a family plot and then turn around and preach that he had been physically raised from the dead?"
9. Is the name on the ossuary that is read "Jesus" really "Jesus"? Stephen Pfann, as 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. He believes that the name "Jesus" on the caskets was read incorrectly. He thinks it's more likely the name "Hanun". Ancient Semitic script is notoriously difficult to decipher.
This past week I have had a number of individuals ask me about the show. I think it is a shame that it has been produced and in light of the overwhelming evidence against its theory is even being shown. But, it does make money (The love of money is the root of all evil) and it does remind us of our need to strengthen our faith through Bible Study. It is in the Bible that we can see there were over 500 witnesses to the resurrection.
This is definitely the longest Banner article I have ever written. Not only did St. Peter warn us about scoffers who will deny our resen Savior, he also tells us to "always be prepared to give an account for the hope that you have, but do it with gentleness and respect". It is my prayer that armed with the truth of God's Word, we will fulfull that portion of Scripture.