Saturday, March 10, 2007

The Lost Tomb of Jesus: Searching the Living among the Dead

An article by Jerry Thomas
Resurrection is undoubtedly the one of the most important cornerstones of Christian faith. “If Christ is not risen, then our preaching is empty and your faith is also empty” declared Apostle Paul. We do not preach and put our faith in ideas and concepts. We preach about the crucified and resurrected Christ and having relationship with Him.

Knowing this fully well, each year the critics of Christianity would bring something to discredit the birth, mission, death or the resurrection of Jesus Christ. This year the critics turned to be the Discovery Channel, the supposedly factual channel and James Cameron, the director of the movie, Titanic. On March 4, 2007 Discovery Channel aired the documentary “The Lost Tomb of Jesus.” The documentary claims to have discovered the bones of Jesus Christ, his lost tomb, and the bones of alleged wife, Mary Magdalene and their son, Judah. Before we look at the arguments of James Cameron, let us look at the facts.

Facts First: The Talpiot Tomb, Ossuaries and Inscriptions

On March 28, 1980, a construction crew developing an apartment complex in Talpiot, Jerusalem, uncovered a tomb, which archaeologists from the Israeli Antiquities Authority excavated shortly thereafter. Archaeologist Shimon Gibson surveyed the site and drew a layout plan. Scholar L.Y. Rahmani later published "A Catalogue of Jewish Ossuaries" that described 10 ossuaries, or limestone bone boxes, found in the tomb. Scholars know that from 30 B.C. to 70 A.D., many people in Jerusalem would first wrap bodies in shrouds after death. The bodies were then placed in carved rock tombs, where they decomposed for a year before the bones were placed in an ossuary.

The first of the ossuaries' inscriptions in the alleged tomb, written in Aramaic, reads, ``Yeshua bar Yosef,'' or ``Jesus son of Joseph.'' The second, in Hebrew, reads, ``Maria.'' The third, in Hebrew, reads, ``Matia,'' or ``Matthew.'' The fourth inscription, in Hebrew, reads, “Yose,” a nickname for “Yosef,” or ``Joseph.'' The fifth, in Greek, reads, ``Mariamene e Mara,''. The sixth, in Aramaic, reads, ``Yehuda bar Yeshua,'' or “Judah son of Jesus.”

Though refuted by reputed archeologists, James Cameron argues that these are the bones of Jesus Christ and his family. Let us examine James Cameron’s arguments.

James Cameron’s Arguments from the Inscriptions

The names inscribed in the ossuaries, according to James Cameron are very similar to the family members of the Jesus.

Leaking Holes: Though it was uncommon to call Jesus of the Bible as “Jesus son of Joseph” in the first century, one for the argument's sake may agree that Joseph, Jesus son of Joseph, and Maria look similar to the names of the members in the family of Jesus. But, what about the names like Matthew, Mariamene e Mara, and Judah son of Jesus? If three names matches with the family members of Jesus mentioned in the Bible, the other three does not match with the family members of the Jesus mentioned in the Bible (Mark 6:3).

James Cameron’s Answer:

The name, “Mariamene e Mara”, according to the filmmakers’ means, “Mary the master” or “Mary the teacher.” This Mary according to the film makers must have been Mary Magdalene. And like Dan Brown, the author of the Da Vinci Code, James Cameron also believes that Jesus must have been married to Mary Magdalene and must have had a son named Judah (Remember according to Dan Brown, Mary Magdalene was buried in France and the alleged ‘couple’ had a daughter named Sarah).

Leaking Holes:

First, Mara in this context, according to the New Testament scholar Ben Witherington does not mean Master. It is an abbreviated form of Martha. Moreover, there is not a single document from the first three centuries, whether Christian, non-Christian or heretical which claims that Jesus was married to Mary Magdalene. For those who are interested to know about it can read ‘Was Jesus Married?” in of which the excerpts are given in our website The Da Vinci Code and other fictions which claim Jesus to be married are fictions and are of no historical value. If James Cameron wants to argue from the inscription, then it is a classical case of circular argument. Here we again raise the question of mismatch of three names. If three names are mismatching, how can James Cameron conclude that family tomb is of Jesus of the Bible.

Moreover, it must be noted that some of the family members mentioned in the Bible are missing in the tomb, e.g., James the Just, a prominent member of the family and the author of the epistle James in the New Testament, is buried in a single tomb near the Temple mount. If Jesus of Nazareth had a family tomb in Jerusalem, why would they bury a prominent member elsewhere? Again, it is highly improbable that Jesus of Nazareth would have had family tomb in Jerusalem. If there was one, it should have been in Nazareth.

James Cameron’s Argument from Statistics:

James Cameron, after assuming all the six names to be from the family of Jesus, had Mathematicians calculate the probability of the same cluster of names for any other family. “The numbers range from one in 100 to one in 1,000 that there is some other family,” said Andrey Feuerverger, a professor of mathematics at the University of Toronto.

Leaking Holes:

This probability can be arrived only if we (a) Assume that all the names belonged to the family of Jesus (b) Taking only these six names and without taking into account of the total number of similar names in the first century. While we have already answered the first assumption, we would like to consider the total number of names and calculate the probability. Ben Witherington blog quotes the calculation done by his friend . Richard Bauckham: Bauckam writes:

Out of a total number of 2625 males, these are the figures for the ten most popular male names among Palestinioan Jews. the first figure is the total number of occurrences (from this number, with 2625 as the total for all names, you could calculate percentages), while the second is the number of occurrences specifically on ossuraies. (a) Simon/Simeon 243 59 (b) Joseph 218 45 (c) Eleazar 166 29 (d) Judah 164 44 (e) John/Yohanan 122 25 (f) Jesus 99 22 (g) Hananiah 82 18 (h) Jonathan 71 14 (i) Matthew 62 17 (j) Manaen/Menahem 42 4 (k)

For women, we have a total of 328 occurrences (women's names are much less often recorded than men's), and figures for the 4 most popular names are thus: (a) Mary/Mariamne 70 42 (b) Salome 58 41 (c) Shelamzion 24 19 (d) Martha 20 17. You can see at once that all the names you're interested were extremely popular. 21% of Jewish women were called Mariamne (Mary). The chances of the people in the ossuaries being the Jesus and Mary Magdalene of the New Testament must be very small indeed. Here one must note that the available numbers are from the existing records or artifacts and not the actual number of names existed in the first century. The actual number must have been thousand times more. Thus, we see that if we reject the unfounded assumption or change the methodology, the results change.

James Cameron’s Argument from DNA:

James Cameron argues that DNA test showed that bones of ‘Jesus’ and ‘Mary’ did not match. Therefore, they must have been husband and wife.

Leaking Holes: The DNA test on bones has only shown that these two individuals did not have a blood relation. However, absence of blood relation between bones in a DNA test can never be construed as marriage certificate. Since these tombs have as many as four generations, they could have been even mother-in-law and son-in-law or father-in-law and daughter-in-law. Moreover, even if these bones were of the husband and wife, our question is still valid: How do you know that it is Jesus of the Bible? it is laughable to say that DNA test can prove that it is Jesus of the Bible. DNA test on bones can only prove the relation between the bones but cannot establish the identity.

James Cameron’s Argument from the Absence of Physical Remains of Jesus:

James Cameron argues there are no other physical bones (archeological remains!!!) of Jesus. So, this must be of Jesus.

Leaking Holes: If a person physically resurrects, he will leave no bones for future documentary makers. In fact, this argument shows the bias against Christian scholarship and faith. Jesus, according to the most reliable of all ancient documents, the New Testament, had physically resurrected and the empty tomb is always there for anyone to check. The first century disciples argued from the empty tomb and they were martyred for declaring it. If the first century critics never accused the Christians of searching in the wrong tomb, then how can a 21st century critic do so?

It must be recalled that critics who refused to accept the empty tomb have searched and allegedly found the tomb of Jesus even in Kashmir ( and Japan (

Our final question to all the skeptics and critics is this: Why do you seek the living among the dead? (Luke 24:5).

An article by Jerry Thomas