Monday, May 25, 2009

The Battles Within the Holy Sepulcher Church

If you’ve ever wondered what the background is for the fistfights, the unmoving ladder, or the eternal state of disrepair of the Church of the Holy Sepulcher in Jerusalem, this essay by Raymond Cohen at The Bible and Interpretation is well worth reading.  Cohen goes back to the Crusader period to explain where the “Status Quo” came from and how it has evolved over the centuries.  The following paragraphs may stir your interest, and if the article itself does not satisfy, you can pick up Cohen’s recent book, Saving the Holy Sepulchre: How Rival Christians Came Together to Rescue their Holiest Shrine (New York: Oxford University Press, 2008).

Out of communion for centuries, six ancient churches are represented today at the Holy Sepulchre by communities of monks. The three major communities administering the Holy Sepulchre, the Greek Orthodox, Roman Catholics—represented by the Franciscan Order—and Armenian Orthodox have their own chapels and share common areas, which include the stone of unction, the edicule containing Christ’s tomb, and surrounding paving. Two minor communities, the Coptic Orthodox and Syrian Orthodox, have rights of usage, but no say in the running of the church. The tiny Ethiopian Orthodox community, living on the roof, has no rights in the Anastasis....

In some respects, the Status Quo functions like a railway timetable, specifying for every day of the ecclesiastical year the time and place of services and processions conducted by the communities in public areas of the church. It also acts as a sort of property register, detailing possession of every stone and nail. Not a carpet can be laid, a candle lit, or a step swept unless it is the custom....

In the end, an inoffensive compromise design was agreed upon by church leaders and inaugurated in January 1997, enabling the scaffolding disfiguring the rotunda to come down. However, the restoration was unfinished: The edicule was left untouched, visibly disintegrating and only held together by steel bands; paving throughout the church was cracked and shabby; the electrical and sewage systems badly needed renovation, as did the malodorous public latrines....

You can read the whole thing here.

Holy Sepulcher ladder closeup, tb090402202 Facade of the Church the Holy Sepulcher, with ladder allegedly placed for repairs that were never agreed upon by church authorities.

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Wednesday, April 08, 2009

The Jesus Tomb Unmasked

I have received early word that Expedition Bible has just released The Jesus Tomb Unmasked.  As you might expect from the title, this film reveals many of the falsehoodsunmasked and distortions that were part of the recent sensational “discovery” of the burial place of Jesus, his wife, and his child in Talpiot, south of ancient Jerusalem.

The DVD can be purchased from Amazon for $7 (free shipping) and/or watched for free online.  You can also view a trailer.  The movie features some great footage and interviews with a number of knowledgeable scholars in Jerusalem, including Shimon Gibson, Stephen Pfann, and others.  This movie deserves a much wider circulation than the $3 million production that this one refutes.

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Sunday, March 30, 2008

The "Jesus Tomb": One Year Later

A well-written review of the controversy about the "Jesus' Tomb" has been published on National Review.  The author is Thomas F. Madden, a professor of history at St. Louis University, and he covers the events since the "discovery" last year in an engaging and humorous way.  The article begins:

A year ago the Discovery Channel delivered a cheery Easter message to America’s Christians: Jesus is dead – and we found his tomb.

After much fanfare and hype, The Lost Tomb of Jesus aired on March 4, 2007 to an audience of 4.1 million viewers. The documentary, which was directed by the journalist Simcha Jacobovici (better known as the host of The Naked Archaeologist) and produced by James Cameron (better known as the director of Titanic and True Lies), revealed that the Biblical account of Jesus’ burial in the tomb of Joseph of Arimathea and subsequent Resurrection was just wishful thinking. The truth, they claimed, was that the deceased Jesus was brought to his family tomb in Jerusalem, where he remained good and dead.

And Jacobovici and Cameron had the facts to prove it. For example, they revealed a stone ossuary (a repository for bones) that just possibly might have the words “Jesus, son of Joseph” on it. (The handwriting is poor, so scholars disagree on the actual inscription.) Another of the ossuaries has the name “Mary” on it. And another one is inscribed “Mariamene e Mara,” which — if you squint your eyes just right — looks like “Mariamne,” which was used by a writer more than 200 years later to refer to Mary Magdalene. Get it? That fits perfectly with the chronicle of ancient wisdom known as The Da Vinci Code, which asserts that Jesus and Mary Magdalene were married! Even more startling, one of the other ossuaries bears the name “Judah, son of Jesus,” who must have been the son of Jesus and Mary (obviously born before Mary rushed off to have her daughter in Gaul, as The Da Vinci Code attests).

The rest is here.

HT: Joe Lauer

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Friday, March 07, 2008

Jesus Tomb Hoax: The Trailer

The discovery of the "tomb of Jesus" began with a sensational film which was met by universal condemnation by scholars.  One problem, though, is that the statements of scholars on blogs doesn't have the reach or emotional impact of a big budget movie.  Another production company now aims to set the record straight - with dramatic footage and interviews with the same scholars - but with a completely different conclusion: the "tomb of Jesus" is a hoax.  The trailer for the movie has just been released.

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Tuesday, February 26, 2008

A Response to the "Jesus Tomb" Theory

A new book on the "Jesus Tomb" is out: Buried Hope or Risen Savior? The Search for the Jesus Tomb, edited by Charles L. Quarles.  The publisher, Broadman and Holman, describes the contents:

Buried Hope or Risen Savior? argues for the credibility of Jesus Christ’s resurrection, engaging the issue in relation to the recent “Jesus Family Tomb” claims that continue making headlines around the world.

Among the contributors, Steve Ortiz (professor of Biblical Archaeology at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary) discusses the general background of this type buriedhopeof tomb and the archaeology of the Talpiot tomb site. Craig Evans (New Testament professor at Acadia Divinity College) writes about ossuaries and tomb inscriptions. Richard Bauckham (New Testament professor at Scotland’s University of St. Andrews) gives the history of Jewish names, extrabiblical writings, and Mary Magdalene. William Dembski (SWBTS research professor in Philosophy) discusses the statistical ev idence for the names found on the Talpiot tomb to have been “Jesus.” Mike Licona (North American Mission Board director of Apologetics and Interfaith Evangelism) responds to claims that finding the bones of Jesus would not disprove Christ’s resurrection. Gary Habermas (Apologetics & Philosophy chair at Liberty University) summarizes the evidence for the bodily resurrection of Jesus. And Darrell Bock (New Testament professor at Dallas Theological Seminary) addresses the importance of the resurrection and how Christians should respond to challenges upon their faith.

On his blog, Justin Taylor notes the chapter by Ortiz, "The Use and Abuse of Archaeological Interpretation," and he provides this extract from pages 29-30:

The scripts for all of these amateur portrayals are similar and follow the same basic 10 points:

1. The prevailing hypothesis affirmed by the consensus of the scholarly community is wrong.

2. The "discoverer" is not a trained archaeologist but is self-taught, and he knows the "true story" that all others have overlooked.

3. An expedition is planned for one season, and (lo and behold) at the first attempt they find exactly what they are looking for.

4. This is all documented while a camera crew happens to be filming the discovery.

5. The process is "detective work" that has been missed by the academic community, and they (amateur archaeologists) are the ones who are able to unravel the mystery or solve the problem that has perplexed the experts.

6. No new data is presented, only a reworking of previously published data. A corollary is that not all the data is consulted.

7. Upon the presentation of the discovery, the scholarly community scoffs at the find, and it is claimed that there is a secret monopoly by those in power to suppress the information.

8. The amateurs sensationalize the "discovery" by claiming that it is so revolutionary that it will change our way or thinking and our lifestyle.

9. The old "discovery" is presented to the media as a "brand-new" discovery.

10. Usually a book or movie comes out within a week of the "new" discovery.

The presentation of The Lost Tomb of Jesus follows the above script.

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Tuesday, January 22, 2008

Tomb of Jesus, Last Time

About a week ago there was a press release from the Third Princeton Symposium which clearly had Simcha Jacobovici's hands on it (he's the guy he made the multi-million dollar video-claim in the first place). Though I had no personal knowledge of the conference, I could smell deceit (well, it wouldn't be the first time he tried to pull a fast one), so I ignored it here. Others did not (including JPost), so if you were one of those who bought his line that most scholars thought there's a good chance that Jesus' tomb was in fact discovered, you should be aware of the scholars that are denying his claim. The two places to go are the NT Gateway Weblog for a statement by a dozen scholars, and The View from Jerusalem blog by Stephen Pfann that includes the individual statements of other scholars.

In short, there may be a handful of scholars who think that this might be the tomb; the rest of the scholars are rushing to deny the possibility and denounce the misleading press release. For the record, many scholars don't accept a bodily resurrection of Jesus, but they just don't think the evidence that this is the tomb is compelling. Hopefully, I'll never need to say anything else about it here.

Update (1/26): The Jerusalem Post has a lengthy editorial on the conference. The Biblical Archaeology Society has compiled a list of statements from various scholars.

Update (1/28): Organizers of the symposium, have posted a statement on the Princeton Theological Seminary website. They note that the conference papers will be published in 2 volumes by Eerdmans.

Update (2/14): James Charlesworth has an article on "Rebutting Sensational Claims Concerning a Symposium in Jerusalem" on the SBL site. Charlesworth was the symposium organizer and moderator.

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Monday, October 01, 2007

Bad "Archaeology"

Eric Cline has a good op-ed on "biblical archaeologists" who are frauds.  Entitled "Raiders of the faux ark," the Boston Globe piece exposes some of the "discoveries" made by guys with no archaeological training whatsoever.  It's not only worthwhile to expose such "scholarship" for what it is (and Cline does this more thoroughly in his recent book, From Eden to Exile: Unraveling Mysteries of the Bible), but he avoids making a mistake that many do - lumping all religious scholars in with the nut cases.  The article in full is worth reading, but here is an important paragraph:

Religious archeologists and secular archeologists frequently work side by side in the Holy Land. Among the top ranks of researchers, there are evangelical Christians, orthodox Jews, and people of many denominations. It is not religious views that are the issue here; it is whether good science is being done. Biblical archeology is a field in which people of good will, and all religions, can join under the banner of the scientific process.

From reviews I've read, I think I would find more to disagree with in his book than in this article.  A couple of evangelical writers are working on a book debunking some of the "amazing discoveries" made in the last few decades and I'll mention it here when that gets closer to publication.

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Sunday, April 15, 2007

Jesus Tomb update

Interest in the "Jesus Tomb" seems to be fading, but here are a few recent stories of interest:

The Jerusalem Post headlines their story "Jesus tomb film scholars backtrack."  I don't think that's entirely accurate.  In reality, there were never any scholars besides James Tabor (and possibly Shimon Gibson) supporting the claim.  The story explains how the statistician revised his claim, so perhaps that is the point of the headline.

The article is largely based on (but without a link) a recent essay by Dr. Stephen Pfann entitled, "Cracks in the Foundation."  He summarizes the problems with the theory and cites scholars who claim to have had their remarks taken out of context.

As before, you can get the other side of the story from the blog of Dr. James Tabor.  He has just left Jerusalem and promises more information in coming days.  Ironically, he says this:

I have wanted as much as I can in my own work on the Talpiot tomb to separate the site and its evaluation from the discussion of the issues related to the film itself and its role in the ensuring heated discussion. That is of course not wholly possible and my intent is to address, as much as possible, the factual matters related to this later flash of media coverage on Talpiot. In the end I am confident that the truth will win out and that a time will come when the Talpiot tomb site, and all we can know about it, will be considered in a less biased manner and with a more professional style and approach.

This, of course, is what all the other scholars claimed was the problem from the start.  Tabor appears to be claiming that he is the victim of the media sensationalism, when it seems that he was party to creating it.  The existence of non-disclosure agreements contribute to the impression that the film and its supporters were not interested in a professional, non-biased discussion of the factual matters.

I spoke last week with an Israeli archaeologist who was present at the excavation of the "Jesus tomb."  As far as I know, he has not been quoted in any of the discussion, but Dr. Gabriel Barkay is highly respected in the field and without any personal interest in the matter.  In his words, the tomb is "not news."

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Tuesday, March 13, 2007

The Tomb of Jesus (Week #3 links)

There continues to be significant discussion about the purported tomb of Jesus' family.  Here are some of the highlights.

The Pulpit Magazine has a helpful list of quotes from various experts about the issue.  Many experts have weighed in on the issue, making it the most one-sided debate I've seen in a long time.

Stephen Pfann has posted an article in which he concludes that the "Mariamene" ossuary should actually be read "Mary and Martha" (and see the response of James D. Tabor).  Pfann is one of the top scholars in inscriptions from this period, and it is guys like him who should have been consulted before sensational conclusions were published.  He also has written an essay on "The Improper Application of Statistics in 'The Lost Tomb of Jesus.'"  He promises a detailed review in the future.

The SBL Forum has several good articles on the issue, including:

Jonathan Reed says, "Like many biblical scholars and archaeologists, to use William Dever's phrase, I don't have a dog in the fight over faith and resurrection. But, as a field archaeologist and professor of biblical studies, I do have a stake in what archaeology is made to do and how scholars are manipulated on television. It smacks of exploitation."  It's short and worth reading in full.  Tabor has responded here.

Christopher A. Rollston writes on "Prosopography and the Talpiyot Yeshua Family Tomb: Pensées of a Palaeographer" in which he concludes:

Thomas Lambdin's famous dictum is that within the field we often "work with no data." This is a hyperbole, but the fact remains that we do work with partial data, and sometimes the data we have are just plain opaque. With the Talpiyot tomb, there is a dearth of prosopographic data, and this is a fact. Based on the prosopographic evidence, it is simply not possible to make assumptions about the relationships of those buried therein, and it is certainly not tenable to suggest that the data are sufficient to posit that this is the family tomb of Jesus of Nazareth. Finally, it should be stated that at this juncture there is nothing in the statistical or laboratory data that can sufficiently clarify the situation, and I doubt that there ever will be.

Tabor responds to the articles of Magness and Rollston in which he concludes that the possibility that this is not Jesus' family tomb should not be dismissed but is worthy of further investigation.  I think all scholars like the idea of further investigation, but why this is being done after the "conclusion" was foisted upon the public in dramatic fashion is still a mystery.

As of now, Tabor has two blog posts pending, including one that promises "breaking news."

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Monday, March 05, 2007

Tomb of Jesus (one week later)

The movie has aired, but as far as I can tell, the theory has gained absolutely no traction.  It is astonishing to me to see such unanimity among scholars who otherwise hardly agree about anything.  But this claim is just too bizarre, even if you reject the idea that Jesus rose from the dead. 

Jodi Magness has a good article on the subject at the SBL Forum.  She concludes,

To conclude, the identification of the Talpiyot tomb as the tomb of Jesus and his family contradicts the canonical Gospel accounts of the death and burial of Jesus and the earliest Christian traditions about Jesus. This claim is also inconsistent with all of the available information — historical and archaeological — about how Jews in the time of Jesus buried their dead, and specifically the evidence we have about poor, non-Judean families like that of Jesus. It is a sensationalistic claim without any scientific basis or support.  (Emphasis added)

Joe Zias, who knows more about the dead and burials than everyone involved in the movie combined, has prepared a "Viewer's Guide" to the movie.  Among other things, he makes this interesting comment:

The truth of the matter is that the missing ossuary was never missing, never stolen from the IAA, nor stolen from the Talpiot tomb. Plain ossuaries which bore no inscription, nor any ornaments were automatically placed in an inner courtyard in the Rockefeller Museum during my tenure at curator (1972-1997). Due to a lack of storage space this was standard operating procedure, the ossuary was given a registration number, measured and simply stored in the inner courtyard with perhaps an additional 50-100 plain ossuaries. This was personally explained to Tabor by me so as to avoid any problems of a conspiracy theory in which the plain ossuary would figure. Unfortunately, it did not fit their agenda so they artificially created a story in which a plain white ossuary, suddenly morphed into a ossuary with two rosettes on the front, traces of red paint, bearing the inscription on the back ‘James son of Joseph, brother of Jesus.  (Emphasis added)

Jim West comments on the movie piece by piece and concludes,

If you are willing to accept a very long chain of unsupported suppositions you may well be convinced by the film.  If you can accept a confluence of disconnected factoids as determinative, Jacobovici may have proven his case to you.  Personally, I require a bit more than mere supposition and that, Jacobovici cannot, and does not, offer.  More than amused, I come away annoyed simply because many without any proper understanding of method may be duped by the film.  Don’t be tricked by the fast and loose way that “statistics” are handled in this film.  Statistics, after all, cannot be determinative of truth or fact.  They can only, if rightly used, demonstrate potential trends.  In this case, statistics prove nothing.  (Emphasis added)

Craig Blomberg has written a response in which he says:

Or take a more chronologically relevant example. Scholars have long known about (and tourists can still visit) the tomb in Bethany where inscriptions were discovered referring to Mary, Martha and Lazarus (and others). But every scholar worth his or her salt, no matter how conservative, acknowledges that those names were just so common that even to find them together in one tomb in the very town that the Bible says the three New Testament characters by those names lived proves statistically insignificant. It’s entirely possible that it happened completely by chance. There may easily have been a whole bunch families in Bethany with lots of children, including three with those names, in an age when parents had as many children as they could in hopes that a few might survive to care for them, if necessary, in their old age.

The same approach must be taken with the cluster of names in the Talpiot tomb. In fact, Bauckham’s tables extracted from Ilan’s monumental reference work add one very interesting footnote. The Hebrew woman’s name listed as ninth most common (actually tied for eighth with Imma) was Mara, like the form announced to have been found with the second Mary in the Talpiot tomb. Not only does Mara not mean Magdalene but, although it could be the Grecized feminine equivalent to the Aramaic masculine mar or “master,” it actually appears on one ossuary, discovered elsewhere in Israel much longer ago, as an alternate form of the name Martha. And the feminine form of “master,” in a highly patriarchal culture, was not used nearly as often as the masculine form. So the “Mary” that may have been a spouse to this Joshua/Jesus more likely was named Mary Martha, not Mary Magdalene, and not Mary the Master.

Joe D'Mello questions some assumptions made in the statistical analysis and arrives at a very different conclusion!

We see that P(A and B) = (1/10) * (599/600) = 0.1 (approximately). This immediately slashes the probability of the discovered tomb being that of the Jesus family down to 0.1 or 10%. In other words, there is then only a 10% chance that the discovered tomb belongs to the Jesus family – a number not likely to draw a runaway TV audience for Cameron!

In short, it would have been quite easy to have run this theory past scholars to find out if it really held water or not.  But a better way, if you're interested in generating a media storm, is to keep the matter secret and require all involved to sign non-disclosure agreements.  Maximum press exposure is guaranteed before journalists know that essentially all archaeologists, biblical scholars, and statisticians think it's a bunch of hooey.

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Friday, March 02, 2007

Tomb of Jesus (Friday update)

I haven't had time recently to post more about the "tomb of Jesus."  Possibly I'll be able to in the next few days, though I'll be traveling most of next week.  Instead, see a summary of some recent replies at Denny Burk's blog.  I have added a few names to the list of scholars who think there is something to the theory and those who do not.  James Tabor is the only one I've seen who suggests that it is worthy of consideration.  I think his credibility is taking some big hits on this one.

In the recent barrage, there are a couple of interviews with scholars worthy of posting here.

From Atlanta Journal-Constitution:

Modern architects of fantastic finds try to provide an air of legitimacy by invoking scientific jargon, said Garrett G. Fagan, a classics professor at Penn State University and author of, "Archaeological Fantasies: How Pseudoarchaeology Misrepresents the Past and Misleads the Public" (RoutledgeFalmer, $46.95).

"They're not scientists, but they need to dress themselves in the clothes of science to pass muster," Fagan said.

Some choose prestigious channels that style themselves as vehicles for public education, he said.

"Television is not in the business of education, even with the so-called educational channels like Discovery," Fagan said. "Ultimately, they're in the business of making money."

And when critics pounce on the discoveries, Fagan said it's often too late.

"By the time the rebuttals come out, the mass media would have moved on to the next sensation," Fagan said, "and people will have this vague notion that they have found the tomb of Jesus."

Fagan said he expects more fantastic archaeological discoveries to be announced in the near future.

"Someone is going to say they've discovered Moses' beard," he said.

From the Washington Post:

Jodi Magness, an archaeologist at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, expressed irritation that the claims were made at a news conference rather than in a peer-reviewed scientific article. By going directly to the media, she said, the filmmakers "have set it up as if it's a legitimate academic debate, when the vast majority of scholars who specialize in archaeology of this period have flatly rejected this,'' she said.

Magness noted that at the time of Jesus, wealthy families buried their dead in tombs cut by hand from solid rock, putting the bones in niches in the walls and then, later, transferring them to ossuaries.

She said Jesus came from a poor family that, like most Jews of the time, probably buried their dead in ordinary graves. "If Jesus' family had been wealthy enough to afford a rock-cut tomb, it would have been in Nazareth, not Jerusalem,'' she said.

Magness also said the names on the Talpiyot ossuaries indicate that the tomb belonged to a family from Judea, the area around Jerusalem, where people were known by their first name and father's name. As Galileans, Jesus and his family members would have used their first name and home town, she said.

"This whole case (for the tomb of Jesus) is flawed from beginning to end,'' she said.

I think there are some significant problems with the theory in the statistical analysis, but it will probably be some time before a qualified expert has time to prepare and present a rebuttal.  And, as Fagan notes above, by then, the media will have moved on.  (In the meantime, see Mark Goodacre.)

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Tuesday, February 27, 2007

Problems with the Jesus' Tomb Theory

I've compiled a short list of problems with the theory that Jesus' family tomb has been located in Jerusalem. 

  1. All historical evidence suggests that Jesus’ family lived in Galilee; no evidence suggests they lived in Jerusalem.  They visited for holidays and Jesus was killed there on one of the holidays.  Jesus' brother James lived there several decades later.  But there is no evidence that Jesus' mother, father, or Mary Magdalene lived in Jerusalem.
  2. People were buried where they lived. There is no evidence that the bodies of Jesus’ family were transported from Galilee to Jerusalem.
  3. There is no historical evidence that Jesus received a secondary burial (in an ossuary or otherwise).  All historical evidence suggests that he was buried once in a tomb near the crucifixion site.
  4. There were many people in ancient Jerusalem who had the names Jesus, Mary, Judah, and Joseph. We do not know how many people lived in Jerusalem, we do not know the precise date of these ossuaries (anywhere between 50 B.C. and 70 A.D.), we do not know the relationship of any of the people in the tomb. It is possible that the Judah inscribed on one ossuary is the son of the same Jesus who is inscribed on another ossuary. And it is possible that it was a different Jesus. It was common for ancient peoples to use names in the family when naming their children.  Remember the wonder when Zechariah named his son John when no one else in their family had that name.  One of Joseph's sons was named after his father.
  5. Of the six inscribed ossuaries, only two give the name of the father (Jesus son of Joseph and Judah son of Jesus). The other individuals, including Joseph and Mary, could be related in any variety of ways to the other individuals. That Joseph is the brother of Jesus is only one possibility of many. That Mary is the wife of Jesus is only one possibility of many.
  6. Mary Magdalene is always identified as such in the Gospels (see Matt 27:56, 61; 28:1; Mark 15:40, 47; 16:1,9; Luke 8:2; 24:10; John 19:25; 20:1,18). It is interesting, then, that if this is her ossuary, that she would not be similarly identified. Instead she is allegedly identified with a name which only appears in a late (4th c.) source of dubious value. 
  7. It is a non-issue that DNA analysis shows that the Jesus and Mary buried in this tomb were not from the same family. All women buried in a family tomb would be there as a result of marriage, so none of them would be related to the men, with the exception of children or an unmarried woman. It would be worthy of mention if the woman was related to the man.
  8. It is possible that the name Jesus has been misread and instead is the name “Hanun.” This may not be true, but it is mentioned by Stephen Pfann, one of the world’s best experts on Aramaic from the 1st century A.D.
  9. It is difficult to imagine a scenario in which followers of Jesus died for a man who they knew was buried over the next hill.  When Peter declared to thousands of people in Jerusalem that "God raised [Jesus] from the dead," I think someone would have raised their hand and mentioned the tomb.  How the fact that Jesus actually had a son (and a sexual relationship with a woman) was kept a secret until recent times is also quite hard to fathom. 

There may not be a “silver bullet” that makes this theory impossible, but the preponderance of the evidence makes it so unlikely as to require a tremendous amount of faith. If every assumption is accurate, then possibly this is the tomb of Jesus’ family. But if any one assumption is wrong, the whole thing falls apart. 

There are many who are writing about this, and some are mentioned in today's links below.  See also the helpful analysis by Nathan Busenitz here. 


The location of the tomb is in the modern suburb of Talpiyot, about 2 miles south of the Old City.  Contrary to some assertions, the tomb is not too distant to be part of Jerusalem's cemetery in the 1st century A.D.  The tomb with the ossuary of Caiaphas was found just north of Talpiyot.

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Tomb of Jesus (Tuesday links)

Here's a round-up of some of the latest on "Jesus' tomb."  The main AP story is everywhere, including here, and there is a slideshow with about 50 related images hereABC News and the NY Times have their own stories.  The JPost story includes some quotes from Shimon Gibson and Dan Bahat.  JPost also has a review of the documentary and Larry King had an interview with the documentary's producers, Al Mohler and James Tabor.  Some of the original data from Kloner's dig and Rahmani's Catalogue of Jewish Ossuaries, including a drawing of the burial cave, is available in a pdf file at the Discovery website.

Ben Witherington has a lengthy response, and a few additional points in the comments section.  Leen Ritmeyer has a brief response, as does Darrell Bock.  The historian Paul Maier wrote a book on just such a fictional scenario (Jesus' body being found), and his comments are posted here.  Christopher Rollston has some good insights here, as does Aren Maier, Mark Goodacre, and Chris HeardApocryphicity claims the Acts of Philip is not referring to Mary Magdalene but to a different Mary.  Michael Heiser wrote an article related to the "James, brother of Jesus" ossuary several years ago that has a number of relevant points about this particular tomb and the frequency of the names.

If you don't want to wait for the movie (March 4 on Discovery Channel), you can buy the book now.  It's currently ranked #6 at Amazon.  In one year, you'll be able to buy it for three bucks or less (just like the "Cave of John the Baptist" book, which was a similar one-night sensation).

I've started a short list of scholars who are believe or reject this theory.

Reject it:

Non-Christian scholars: Amos Kloner, Dan Bahat, Aren Maier, Joe Zias, Jodi Magness, William Dever, Lawrence Stager

Christian scholars: Stephen Pfann, Leen Ritmeyer, Ben Witherington, Paul Maier, Steven Notley, Andreas Köstenberger, Jerome Murphy-O'Connor

 

Believe it:

Non-Christian scholars: James Tabor

Christian scholars: None known

 

Non-committal:

Non-Christian scholars: Shimon Gibson (skeptical, but doesn't rule out the possibility)

Christian scholars: None known

 

Update 3/1 and 3/2: Some scholars added to list. 

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Monday, February 26, 2007

Tomb of Jesus (Monday links)

If you've just heard about this story, you can read my initial comments here.  More sound analysis can be found at James White's site and at the internetmonk.  Joe Zias, a retired expert in paleopathology in Israel, has some good comments on the ANE-2 list today (here and here, may require free membership to view).  And the Discovery Channel will have a discussion forum with experts including James Charlesworth, Amy-Jill Levine, and James D. Tabor.  Tabor will have more on his blog in days to come, and he appears to be a big promoter of this new theory, especially as it will help his book sales.  Tabor's starting point is that Jesus certainly had a human father and he certainly never walked out of his tomb.

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Saturday, February 24, 2007

Filmmakers Find Jesus' Tomb and Body

I hate these kind of stories, because everyone with any training in archaeology related to the Bible can see it's a fraud from a mile away, but everyone else takes it so seriously.

The first thing to note in this "discovery" is that it was made by a filmmaker and a Hollywood director.  That should make you suspicious.  Why archaeologists and other scholars didn't have any inkling of this until it was revealed by movie-makers should smell more like Indiana Jones than serious scholarship.  Of course, it is altogether possible that these amateurs did make the greatest discovery ever in biblical archaeology.  If so, it will be recognized as authentic by those who are experts in the field.  If not, the filmmakers can pour millions of dollars into creating a "documentary" that ignores the scholars and appeals directly to the (largely ignorant) public.

The previous work of these two filmmakers is not irrelevant to this story; this is not their first foray into biblical archaeology.  Their recent "The Exodus Decoded" reveals their methodology: partial presentation of evidence combined with twisted interpretation and a complete lack of scholarly support.  Add $3 million for amazing special effects and eye candy.  Simply put, no one with any knowledge of the field (secular, religious, liberal, conservative) buys what they were selling.  For a 14-part review, see Chris Heard's blog.

The filmmakers don't want to reveal specifics of their discovery of Jesus' tomb, but they have leaked enough details to get excitement up for their Monday press conference.  So detailed analysis will have to wait (and if anyone else is doing it, I'm going to save time and simply link to them), but for now, here's some that you won't hear at the press conference or in the multi-million-dollar made-for-TV movie, from the the Jerusalem Post.

But Bar-Ilan University Prof. Amos Kloner, the Jerusalem District archeologist who officially oversaw the work at the tomb in 1980 and has published detailed findings on its contents, on Saturday night dismissed the claims. "It makes a great story for a TV film," he told The Jerusalem Post. "But it's impossible. It's nonsense."

Kloner, who said he was interviewed for the new film but has not seen it, said the names found on the ossuaries were common, and the fact that such apparently resonant names had been found together was of no significance. He added that "Jesus son of Joseph" inscriptions had been found on several other ossuaries over the years.

"There is no likelihood that Jesus and his relatives had a family tomb," Kloner said. "They were a Galilee family with no ties in Jerusalem. The Talpiot tomb belonged to a middle-class family from the 1st century CE."

This scholar is not a Christian and is not motivated to protect religous beliefs of Christians.  He is an expert on burials from the time of Christ.

In short, this "discovery" has nothing to do with facts and everything to do with financial gain.  You can make a lot of money and gain a lot of notoriety by creating the most sensational of discoveries.  It would all be so much better if journalists would call up a few experts, determine that the story is rubbish, and then publish nothing about it.  Unfortunately, journalists are complicit in perpetuating the fraud, because sensational stories like this are good for their ratings.

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