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“The Lost Tomb of Jesus” filled with errors and inconsistencies.
Leading epigraphers agreed about its inscriptions. Archaeologists confirmed the nature of the find. So this spring when a book and documentary by The Discovery Channel called “The Lost Tomb of Jesus” claimed that a cache of ossuaries (first century burial boxes) belonged to the family of Jesus of Nazareth, controversy and debate followed.
Led by TV director Simcha Jacobovici and produced by “Titanic” director James Cameron, the documentary argues that the bones of Jesus, his mother Mary, father Joseph, some of their lesser-known relatives, and Mary Magdalene were once entombed together in a cave in Jerusalem.
Umm, not quite, says Lyn Osiek, Charles Fischer Catholic Professor of New Testament at Brite Divinity School.
“Here is the single biggest problem: This is a well-to-do tomb in Jerusalem containing a peasant family from Galilee,” she said. “That simply contradicts all we know about the lives of Jesus and his closest followers.” We asked Osiek to shine a spotlight on some of the documentary’s other errors and inconsistencies.
Documentary claim: Billed as “never before seen information.”
Osiek: “Misleading. The tomb was uncovered in 1980 during a construction project. Ten ossuaries were found including the six featured in the film.”
Claim: Archeologists found names carved on six of 10 ossuaries: Jesus, son of Joseph; Maria; Mariamne (some believe this is Mary Magdalene); Matthew; Judas, son of Jesus; and Jose, a diminutive of Joseph.
Osiek: “The names on the ossuaries are very common names or derivatives of names. In fact, 25 percent of women in the tombs around Jerusalem at the time were named Mary or Miriam or some variation. Same with Joseph and Jesus. They were among the most common men’s names.”
Claim: The names on the ossuaries are common, but the occurrence of these names in one place, with these specific idiosyncrasies, is significant. One statistician placed odds of 600 to 1 in favor of the tomb belonging to the Holy Family. (Subsequent to the film, however, he revised his estimate significantly downward.)
Osiek: Finding a grouping of names such as this is not extraordinary. But even more compelling is that the idea that Jesus would ever be buried in Jerusalem years later along with a family runs counter to every everything we have from every other source known to us. There is no reason to doubt the data of the Bible on the life of Jesus of Nazareth, which argues against Jacobovici’s claims. All four Gospels say that Jesus was crucified on the eve of the Sabbath; all four say that he was buried in someone else’s tomb. The New Testament is very clear on this. Jesus was put in a tomb that didn’t belong to him. For the documentary’s scenario to work, someone would have had to whisk the body away, on the Sabbath, and secretly inter it in a brand-new, paid-for family tomb — all before dawn on Sunday.
Claim: DNA tests show that microscopic human remains scraped from the Jesus box and the Mariamne box are not related, leaving open the possibility that the two humans whose bones were once in those boxes were married.
Osiek: While this is possible, it is also possible that Mariamne could have been a partner of any of the other males in the tomb, including those who are unidentifiable. What we know for sure is that the DNA tests concluded that Mariamne is not related maternally to anyone else in the tomb. They did not test for paternal lineage. It is possible that Mariamne could have been a half-sibling. We simply don’t know. But it is a leap to conclude that they were married.
Q: What are the theological implications of “The Lost Tomb of Jesus”?
Osiek: If this discovery were 100 percent true, it would make us rethink some aspects of the Jesus story. But I don’t know that it would necessarily disprove the resurrection. We often confuse resurrection with resuscitation. We can look to 1 Corinthians 15 at the seed and plant analogy. “When you sow, you do not plant the body that will be, but just a seed.” Earthly bodies will not be the same as resurrected heavenly bodies. So from that standpoint, I don’t think this compromises the resurrection, much less Jesus’s divinity.
Contact Osiek at firstname.lastname@example.org
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