A Reprint from Irenic Thoughts
In entertainment news this week, Titanic director James Cameron is touting a film he produced called The Lost Tomb of Jesus which airs to much carefully orchestrated fanfare this coming Sunday on The Discovery Channel. Much ink will be spilled in hyping the documentary this week. At the risk of giving more undue publicity, I want to weigh in with what we do know.
In 1980, construction is Jerusalem led to Archeologist Amos Kloner’s discovery of a tomb in the Talpiot section of the city. He described the tomb as belonging to a well-off family. It was not much remarked on for a decade as this newly found tomb was only one of 900 such burial sites found within a few miles of the Old City of Jerusalem.
That ten ossuaries (vaults made to contain the bones of the dead) were found there is not disputed. Nor is the fact that the name Jesus (the Hebrew name, “Yeshua” actually) is written on more than one. The fact that the tomb contained the names Jesus, a variation of Mary and the inscription “Judah son of Jesus” was also not remarkable. The name Jesus is found 71 times in the 900 graves. The name Judah son of Jesus was also found in other sites.
What is disputed is not the bare facts. As so many times in archeology, it is not the artifacts that cause arguments, but the interpretation of their meaning. Israeli-born, Canada-based filmmaker Simcha Jacobovici and his producer Cameron claim that inscriptions, DNA and other cold hard facts point to the world-changing truth that this is not a Jesus tomb, but The Jesus Tomb and it was never empty.
They further claim that this is not just the tomb of Jesus, but also of his wife Mary Magdalene and their son Judah among others. According to an article in the Jerusalem Post, the film claims at one point that there is a
"1 in 97,280,000 chance of the Talpiot burial chamber at issue not being the final resting place of Jesus, his mother, his wife (yes, wife), his brother and other relatives."
It makes a great story for a TV film. But it's impossible. It's nonsense.
Kloner also told the Post that
"There is no likelihood that Jesus and his relatives had a family tomb. They were a Galilee family with no ties in Jerusalem. The Talpiot tomb belonged to a middle-class family from the 1st century."
The show will go on to make the claim that the ossuary claimed five years ago to belong to James, the brother of Jesus was one of the ten from the Talpiot Tomb. This is the shakiest claim as at least the other ossuaries and their inscriptions are not contested so much as the interpretation of their meaning. But this claim is one contested on different grounds. Kloner says, that no inscribed ossuary was unaccounted for and none of them had the same measurements as the James ossuary despite what Sunday's film will assert.
So where does all this leave folks of faith as this Sunday approaches and the documentary will be aired? First, it leaves us Sunday morning same as always with our faith in Jesus quite undisturbed. There will be no need to cross our fingers as we reaffirm our faith through reading scripture, hearing the sermons and reciting the ancient words of the creeds. Then come Monday, the controversial film will leave us with a conversation starter for our non-Christian friends and we won't have to be the one that starts the conversation. But just add these thoughts to the mix as you discuss the tomb:
- There was a claim to have found Jesus' tomb in the 1940s. That tomb, also bearing a Yeshua (Jesus) inscription, has long been discredited. No one consider it to have been the tomb of Jesus of Nazareth, including the makers of the new film.
- The Talpiot Tomb already created a stir 10 years ago and with articles in the Sunday Times of London. That excitement died down until now as no scholarly consensus immerged in support of the claim. In fact, the opposite occurred.
- The easiest way to pass off pseudo-science is with a documentary in which you get to control who says what. The harder way is in peer reviewed, scholarly articles, none of which yet make the claims found in the film.
The bottom line is this: relax. Jesus of Nazareth's reputation has survived worse critics than these and our Lord will survive this as well. The current controversy is a combination of bad science and great publicity. Such concoctions grab headlines and then fade into the shadows. Good science will be our ally here, but give it time.
You and I know the fact that the filmmakers apparently have missed. Christians do not believe that Jesus tomb was empty because of the claims of the apostles. We believe that Jesus’ tomb was empty because of our own very real experiences of the risen Jesus in our own lives. I know this may not sound any more substantial than the ungrounded claims of the movies creators, but there it is. We know that Jesus is not there in a tomb in Jerusalem, because he is here in our hearts and lives, just as he has been for generations of Christians around the world.
So do not fret. But do use this new opportunity for discussion to let others know of your faith in the crucified and resurrected Jesus.
One good overview of this is the article in the Jerusalem Post: Jesus Burial Saga: raiders of the lost tomb. And for an opposing view of a very different nature, go to tombofjesus.com which claims that Jesus was buried in India.
An additional good post on this topic: