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Tomb of Jesus Discovered?

February 26, 2007

If you had the television on at any time today, chances are you had a hard time avoiding the sensationalized journalism covering the so-called (re)discovery of the tomb of Jesus, which allegedly contains the ossuaries that held the remains of Jesus of Nazareth. Montreal’s Gazette reported today:

A Canadian filmmaker claims he has found ossuaries, or limestone tombs, that in all likelihood contained the remains of Jesus, his mother, Mary, his wife, Mary Magdalene, and – most shockingly – their son, Judah.

The filmmaker, Simcha Jacovici, along with producer James Cameron, whose fame stems from his blockbuster Titanic, have planned to unveil a few of the ossuaries in New York City at a press conference today set to launch a new book and television feature:

The frenzy is expected to be so high pitched that the producers held a rehearsal yesterday evening for today’s press conference launching the book The Jesus Family Tomb, by Jacobovici and Charles Pellegrino, and the film The Lost Tomb of Jesus, to be aired March 4 on the Discovery Channel in the United States and March 6 on Vision TV in Canada.

What is it about the tomb and the ossuaries that suggest that the bodies of Jesus and his family were indeed buried together?

In the following months, Jacobovici’s team discovered that, of the 10 ossuaries in the Talpiot burial chamber, six were inscribed with names linked to the holy family:

Yeshua bar Yosef, Hebrew for “Jesus, son of Joseph.”

Maria, or Marya; Mary.

Matthew, or Matya, understood to be another relative, probably on Mary’s side.

Yose, understood to be a brother of Jesus.

Mariamene e Mara, written in Greek, interpreted by the filmmakers as Mary Magdalene. “Mara” could have meant “master,” a common appellation for preachers.

Finally, the bomb: “Yehuda bar Yeshua,” or Judah, son of Jesus.

Some archaeologists are skeptical over the findings, and rightly so. After all, what we have here are two filmmakers, one of which is known for lunging at any project that may pay lucrative dividends, making brash assertions about a burial site that the top scholars of Biblical archeology are willing to make. Without accusing Cameron of opportunism, it is hard to imagine that the director of Titanic does not have the blockbuster status of another “Jesus” movie, The Da Vinci Code, on the periphery of his ambition, hoping to capitalize on its recent worldwide success.

Why should Christians not worry about this discovery? Simply put, the facts don’t add up. Responsible scholarship does not rush to unbridled assertion, especially when a particular phenomenon may force the world to revise a vast cross-section of its historical thinking and religious pretenses. CNN was a great write-up of some scholars’ objections to the claims of Jacovici and Cameron.

A number of questions cast deep suspicion on the claims of Cameron and Jacovici:

1. Would Jesus, an itinerant preacher, or his father, a humble carpenter, be able to afford such a luxurious burial place where the entire family would be reunited at death?

2. Would not knowledge of this burial place by someone–anyone–eventually diminish the significance and sacredness of the empty tomb at the Church of the Holy Sepulchre? Surely someone during late antiquity would have known about Jacovici and Cameron’s “real tomb”, helping to dispel the myths surrounding that other burial site to which Christians had been flocking to since the early fourth century.

3. Why would Jesus name his son “Judah”? By doing so, Jesus would be passing the messianic and eschatological hopes of Israel over to his son. Recall that the prophesies of the restoration of the Davidic kingdom and covenant were to be fulfilled in one man from the tribe of Judah. By naming his son “Judah”, Jesus would have been identifying the messianic hope not in himself, but in his son. From an historical and religious standpoint, this is sheer nonsense. The cult developed around the person of Jesus.

4. Do we have remains? It seems as though it would be quite inconvenient for those who purport that they have, in fact, found the burial site of Jesus’ family should there not be enough or any remains to validate that claim.

5. How common were the names in first-century Palestine that were found on the ossuaries? Is it not plausible, indeed, probable, that a number of burial sites may contain the remains of any combination of individuals named Yeshua, Marya, Yose?

6. Because we have absolutely no historical record of the groups of people who were persecuting the Christians in antiquity using this supposed burial site as proof that Jesus did not rise from the dead, could it possibly be a hoax contrived at a much later date? Considering the vehement attacks on Christians during the early Church, this finding would have provided remarkable ammunition for assaulting Christian belief.

Until these questions can be answered with historical and archaeological evidence rather than by sensationalist press conferences, I am afraid that Christianity is safe from religion’s endangered species list.

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