I will be blogging tonight on the Discovery Channel documentary, “The Lost Tomb of Jesus” by James Cameron and Simon Jacobivici, which is airing tonight. The program and a follow-up will last until midnight. I may be able to get some thoughts on before midnight. Otherwise, I will have to work right after midnight. Check back for more.
*** “The Lost Tomb of Jesus” was very persuasive because it consisted of entertainment and half-truths thrown at viewers who had little time to evaluate their credibility and few critics to show the other side. I cannot comment on all the details of the documentary, but I hope to say enough to cause you to doubt the case that James Cameron and Simon Jacobovici have made. YOU MAY WANT TO SCROLL DOWN AND READ “THE JESUS-TOMB DECEPTION, PARTS 1 AND 2” BEFORE CONTINUING TO READ THIS POST.
Here is a brief summary of their case: a tomb was discovered in 1980 with ten ossuaries in it. These ossuaries contained the names: Yeshua bar Yekhosef, Maryah, Yoseh, Mattiyah, Mariamnou Marah, and Yehudah bar Yeshua (Jesus son of Joseph, Mary, Jose, Matthew, Mariamne, and Jude son of Jesus). If you equate Mariamne with Mary Magdalene and assume she was married to Jesus, and further assume that the James ossuary was originally from this tomb, then you have an overwhelming case that this was the family tomb of Jesus. If that is true, the bones of Jesus have been found and the resurrection story of Christianity cannot be understood as a physical resurrection, but only as a spiritual one. And Jesus was not who Christians think he was, but was actually a married man who died like everyone else.
THE PROBLEM WITH THIS CASE IS THAT THE EVIDENCE IS SELECTIVE, THE GAPS ARE HUGE, AND THE CASE IS BASED ON A CHAIN OF UNPROVEN ASSERTIONS.
The real facts are these: a tomb was discovered from the time of Jesus. It contained ossuaries with the names Jesus son of Joseph, Mary, Jose, Matthew, Mariamnou Marah, and Jude son of Jesus. The only two names not common in this list are Mariamnou Marah and Jose. I cannot, with the resources I have at present, confirm how common Jose (Yoseh) is in first century inscriptions and Jewish literature. I suspect it is not rare, just not one of the top ten names.
How likely is it that there would be a Jesus whose father’s name is Joseph and who has in the tomb with him people named Matthew, Jose, Jude, and Mary? Well, since most of these names are very common, the chances would be reasonably good. This would be like finding a tomb in which Bill the son of Bob is buried with Mary, Tom, and Jim.
Here are some of the film’s assumptions and claims that I find unproven:
1. That Mariamenou Marah is Mary Magdalene. Their case looks like this: Marah could be Aramaic for Master. Mary Magdalene in fourth century writings was considered an evangelist on par with the disciples and maybe some would call her master. Thus, Mariamnou Marah is quite likely Mary Magdalene. This case is so unlikely I would call it screwball.
2. That Jose must be Jesus’ brother from Mark 6:3. Their case: Jose is not a common name, so this Jose must be Jesus’ brother. My thought: I don’t have the documentation yet, but how uncommon is Jose? I suspect not all that uncommon. It is probably a short form of Joseph. I will research it and get the info on here later.
3. That Maryah must be Jesus’ mother Mary because the name is Latinized. Mary would be Miriam in Hebrew. Maryah is written on the ossuary in Hebrew letters following the Greek/Latin way to say her name. Their case: Mary became so famous by her Greek name, that she came to be called Maryah instead of Miriam and this was put on her ossuary. My thought: any Miriam in Jerusalem could have Latinized her name in the same way. Case far from proven.
4. That Matthew belongs in the Jesus family tomb because Matthew occurs many times in Mary’s genealogy, so it is a family name. My thought: first, I don’t agree that the genealogy in Luke 3 is Mary’s. Second, the name Matthew is not known to be a family member of Jesus. The existence of a Matthew ossuary is evidence against the Jesus identification–evidence conveniently ignored.
5. That the statistical probabilities overwhelmingly identify this tomb as that of Jesus of Nazareth. My thought: this is only true if you assume certain relationships between the names and certain identifications for the names. It is not likely to be Jesus of Nazareth is this tomb merely contains a family with the names Jesus, Joseph, Mary, Mariamne, Matthew, Jude, and Jose. It could be any extended family of the thousands of Jerusalem families.
6. That Jesus’ friends and family would know he was dead and not alive yet still would preach the resurrection and die claiming it was true.
7. That Mariamne must have been the wife of Jesus. See below for rebuttal.
8. That Jesus of Nazareth’s family would have such a tomb in Jerusalem. My thought: they were a poor family and they were not from Jerusalem at all, but from Bethlehem and Nazareth.
9. That you can explain away all the evidence for the resurrection and just believe this new hypothesis of Jacobovici. My thought: read N.T. Wright’s The Resurrection of the Son of God if you think you can say there is not enough evidence to believe that Jesus of Nazareth was bodily raised from the dead. If you think the resurrection was a myth and you haven’t dealt with Wright’s solid case, then you are deceiving yourself. There are other good writers on the subject, but Wright’s case stands as the most thoroughly researched. I defy you to defy N.T. Wright on this topic.
Rebuttal to the claim that Mariamne was the wife of Jesus:
One claim that was made which I will specifically comment on is this: that DNA from the tomb proves that Mary Magdalene and Jesus were married. The facts are these:
(a) Two ossuaries were found, one with the name Yeshua bar Yekhosef (Jesus son of Joseph) and one with Mariamnou Marah (which they claim means Master Mariamne = Mary Magdalene).
(b) The two ossuaries had bone fragments from which mitochondrial (not nuclear)DNA was recovered. Mitochondrial DNA can show whether the Jesus bones and the Mariamne bones shared the same mother or not.
(c) They did not share the same mother.
(d) Thus, since it was a family tomb (they assume that only spouses and brothers and sisters and parents and children would be in the tomb) the most likely explanation is that Jesus and Mariamne were married.
(e) They neglect to mention many other explanations: Jesus could be Mariamne’s father, Mariamne could be a cousin, Mariamne could be the wife of Jesus’ brother, there could be divorce and remarriage. etc.
–They fail to prove that the person called Yeshua (Jesus) and the one called Mariamne were married (much less that Mariamne is Mary Magdalene!).