Lost Tomb of Jesus:
A Response to the Discovery-Channel Documentary
Directed by James Cameron
One of the leading Jewish archaeologists who worked on the burial site, Amos Kloner, did not link the tomb to Jesus at all and has declared firmly that this recent effort is totally off-base for a number of reasons. Virtually no other critical scholars have evaluated the evidence positively, while many have criticized the conclusions. Why is this the case? What are some of these scholaly reasons?
Why are the majority of scholars, both conservative and non-conservative, responding so negatively to the Jesus tomb hypothesis? For one thing, the generic names "Mary," "Joseph," and "Jesus" are among the four most popular names in the ancient Jewish world. For example, studies have shown that "Mary," or a derivative of that name, may have been used by one-quarter of Jewish women at his time! If we multiply this frequency of usage over the more than 100-year period of ossuary use (Ossuaries are "bone boxes" used to re-house the bones of the deceased.), there would be many, many people with these names and family connections. In addition, "Joseph" is only found in the tomb as a nickname, "Jose." And some scholars have said that the name "Jesus" in the inscription is unclear, and may actually be a different name. This alone would obviously change everything.
Of course, since these names were so common in that society, many individuals would be the son or daughter of others by these same names. For example, Richard Bauckham, perhaps the major scholarly source on this topic, has said that the name "Joseph" is written on 45 burial ossuaries and the name "Jesus" is found on 22 ossuaries. Even "Jesus son of Joseph" has occurred on ossuaries at least 3 or 4 times.
So how rare can a small group of burial boxes with biblical names be? And this is only one major problem among many (see the list above). These are some of the major concerns that critical scholars have had. Although we are only at an early point in the research, the consensus so far has been that this tomb is not Jesus' burial site.
DNA and Statistics
It has been acknowledged that the recent DNA evidence did NOT provide positive connections among anyone in the tomb. This lack of evidence is then used to presume a marriage relationship between "Jesus" and "Mariamene," who is identified as Mary Magdalene. But the ONLY THING the DNA evidence establishes positively is that this "Jesus" and this "Mariamene" found in the tomb are not maternally related. This hardly shows that they were probably married! So this is only a guess. She could have been married to any one of the four men, or to other family members, or she could someone's daughter. We must remember that family tombs were from extended families and were often multi-generational. So, Mariamene could have lived decades earlier or later than Jesus.
But not to be deterred, "The Lost Tomb of Jesus" calculates the probability that this collection of names could be together in the grave. Then they compare this to the known family members of Jesus of Nazareth and calculate the odds as 600 to 1 that the tomb is that of Jesus. However, Chris Rosebrough of Extreme Theology has taken a closer look at the statistical analysis. He argues that the calculations were extremely overstated by many orders of magnitude.
On the other hand, if we only make the connections that are
explicitly made in the tomb, then we only know that "Jesus"
is the son of "Joseph" (or "Jose" if this is Jesus'
father's nickname) and that he had a son named "Judah."
DNA does not relate him to "Mariamene." From the ossuaries alone, we know of no other connections. We do
not know even that "Maria" is Jesus' mother.
We do not know that the relation of "Matthew."
Further, no early source records Jesus' marriage to Mary Magdalene. Clearly, there is no way to link this
tomb to the Jesus of the New
Testament (see bottom half of chart at right). As we have said, several ossuaries
are known to bear the name "Jesus son of Joseph," and the addition of
"Judah" only complicates the puzzle; it gives us no help in identifying this as Jesus of Nazareth.
And as we said, if the name "Jesus" is unclear or turns out to
be a different name, as some scholars have argued, then
everything is moot.
It turns out that the DNA evidence shows very little and a faulty statistical comparison to Jesus' family cannot be maintained. But many viewers may be unable to ascertain this. "DNA" and "statistical analyses" carry an air of near factual certainty. But their reputation is not very helpful on this occasion. So what do they show? How are they useful? What do they evidence? Almost nothing! This new "evidence" does not realistically threaten the conclusion that Jesus of Nazareth was crucified, died, was buried, or rose by God's power, and appeared to his followers.
For reasons like these, Rosebrough re-computes the calculations based on the connections for which we have evidence and comes up with a much different answer. He concludes that there is 1 chance in 15,000 that the assumptions made by James Cameron and Simcha Jacobovici hold true.
On top of all the above, there is a long list of other problems with the premature conclusion that this is Jesus' family tomb. Here are some of them:
There is a Talpiot family tomb and a "Jesus" may well have been buried there. However, the evidence argues overwhelmingly that he is not the same person as Jesus of Nazareth.
Links for Further Consideration