The Bones of Jesus

by Kim on February 28, 2007

I’ve just read that the Hollywood film director James Cameron claims that his latest film will demonstrate that he has discovered the mortal remains of Jesus of Nazareth. Indeed he avers that his claim will be supported by DNA testing.

Okay, that’s hilarious enough, but - wait for it - Cameron goes on to say that this discoverey should be welcomed by Christians, as it proves that our Lord really existed.

As Mark Steel, a militant atheist (from whose column in today’s Independent I secured this priceless story), lampoons Cameron, suggesting a re-write of the gospel account (he’s thinking of John): “And the disciples did search inside the cave and no body could they see before them. And they understood that truly the body of the Lord had risen from the dead unto the heavens. And then John did turn unto Peter and said, ‘Oh no, here he is behind this rock.’ ‘I told you we hadn’t looked properly,’ said Thomas.”

Cameron - what a bonehead.

{ 19 comments… read them below or add one }

1

Rob 02.28.07 at 3:28 pm

I thought “The Da Vinci Code” a silly exercise in what we comic book readers would call “retcon.” It turns out that it actually sets us up for stuff like this. Cameron hardly attempts to justify his claim that Mariamene is the wife of the Jesus of the gospels.

I keep forgetting how uneducated the average person is, even in the United States.

As others did with “The Da Vinci Code,” I’ve started to examine the evidence that Cameron is presenting. I’ve got two articles on my blog, The Statistics of “The Lost Tomb of Jesus” and Discovery Channel Show Claims Jesus’ Tomb Found that pick the evidence apart.

Honestly, this looks like a case of “Draw the line then plot the points.” Crudely put, real science plots the points and bases the line on where the points are located. Before computers, scientists would often “eyeball” the proper line. If someone was a complete hack or wanted to prove something despite the data, they would draw the line first and hope the points were on the same piece of graph paper.

I honestly believe that we need to debunk this one carefully and without assuming our conclusion that it couldn’t be the Jesus of the gospels because
He rose from the dead and thus didn’t leave any bones behind.

I think every decade gets one of these. Growing up, I remember the fuss over “The Passover Plot.”

I’m feeling really old today.

2

DH 02.28.07 at 3:48 pm

KIm and Rob I’m totally with you guys on this one. I have always thought the resurrection is the “stumbling block of offense to those who don’t Believe” like Jesus said. We all know the passage that says “If we confess with your mouth the LJ and Believe in your heart that God has RISEN FROM THE DEAD you shall be saved…” We all know that if there is no resurrection than Jesus was like any other religion of dead gods. The fact is (like it appears Kim and Rob are in agreement with): Jesus is alive, was at all times God and was at the same time the Godman while on earth.

These days people believe in Jesus it is the nature of Jesus that keeps people from truly having a relationship with God and be free from the “wages of sin” as described in God’s Word.

3

James F. McGrath 02.28.07 at 6:46 pm

I’m a religion professor specializing in New Testament and lately the Historical Jesus in particular. I’ve posted my thoughts on this subject on my own blog at length at http://blue.butler.edu/~jfmcgrat/blog/ so I won’t bother repeating myself here! :-)

4

malc 02.28.07 at 11:00 pm

I’m sorry, how can you claim to be able to confirm to have Jesus’ body (and family) through DNA testing, without having a sample to compare it to…. call me silly but all he could do is comfirm that all the bodies were infact related.

Actually, from what I heard the writing on “Jesus’ Coffin” is infact in a different hand to that of the others raising questions over it’s validity, not to question the fact that biblical scholars and period experts have pointed out that the name doesn’t actually say Jesus. Which some might say could be a slight problem.

I also recall hearing on the radio that on tv official has stated that this whole “Jesus’ family” thing has simply been used to up the publicity….. as if we couldn’t guess!!!

(o;

5

Rob 03.01.07 at 12:40 am

Malc,

DNA can be used to clarify the relationships. For example, if Maria and Jesus weren’t related, we’d have more reason to suspect this isn’t the Jesus of the Bible. If Miriamene had been related to Jesus, again, that would have disproved the relationship. DNA from the Judah box would likewise demonstrate a relationship.

Unless the DNA matched the Shroud of Turin (confirming both objects at the same time), there’s no way it could be positively linked to Jesus. The purpose of the DNA would be to clarify the relationships between the various bones stored in the ossuaries.

The “hands” on the box are far more complex than you describe and the one being in a different hand than the other isn’t a big problem. If the person who wrote the name Jesus was the next to be buried, you wouldn’t expect his writing on any other ossuaries!

Attributing unknowable motives to the producers of this special does nothing for the debate except make the Christian side appear suspect to non-Christians. Debate the evidence as-is: question the statistics, the actual names on the box, the identification of Mary Magdalene with Mariamene, calling Mary mother of Jesus by a Latin name, Jose vs. Joses, etc.

My guess is that the researchers and Cameron got carried away with their own theories. That happens to scientists; it’s happened to me. Thankfully, I didn’t get carried away in a world-wide event where folks could laugh at me. Seeking to prove a pet thesis, rather than seeking to disprove a pet thesis is a common scientific failing. It’s also one Christians are quite prone to themselves. We should not mock others for failings we ourselves exhibit.

To defend the truth, do the best job you can seeking the truth. Truth will eventually out as a result and does not need us to pull tricks or lie or slander (or is it libel?) on it’s behalf.

6

BD 03.01.07 at 12:42 am

This does seem to occur with historical frequency.
A Southern Baptist radio preacher wants an apology!

http://www.biblebeltblogger.com/biblebelt/2007/02/texas_baptist_i.html

7

DH 03.01.07 at 2:45 pm

Well Rob, while I agreed with you totally originally, I have to disagree with you on your last post. I have a problem with the “pet thesis” in the first place. Also, I would venture to guess that these scientists also were setting to disprove “Truth from God’s Word’ (I wouldn’t call that “pet thesis). So from my vantage point it appears they understood the implications of trying to prove (which can never be disproved) that Jesus wasn’t resurrected. However this admonishment by you was worded perfectly and keeps my gut response to these things in check. Thanks so much for this sentence: “Truth will eventually out as a result and does not need us to pull tricks or lie or slander (or is it libel?) on it’s behalf.” What is so difficult in the natural is when more and more people deny the truth, promote untruths, defend false truths and decive people. However, Jesus mentions that people will turn away to vain inaginations so I guess I shouldn’t be surprise. I just feel sad for people who get drawn away by these vain imaginations.

8

Rob 03.01.07 at 4:35 pm

DH,

Put yourself in the position of the non-Christian, if you can. Why shouldn’t they attempt to disprove the resurrection of Jesus? If they seek legitimately, they will, I believe, be unable to do so. That they tried surprises me none and doesn’t upset me. I grew up in the church; not everyone does. Some have to be dragged kicking and screaming to the truth like C.S. Lewis.

We start ranting on them for attempting to “disprove the Truth,” they’re going to tune us out and write us off as nutcases. and be unable to hear what understanding we can bring to bear on these questions.

9

DH 03.01.07 at 5:17 pm

I see Rob. I really like what you say here. I think it is the “leading people astray” part that somewhat “upsets” me or the “tone” of those out to disprove the resurrection.

Your statement here: “Some have to be dragged kicking and screaming to the truth like C.S. Lewis.” is so true. I think it is a matter of “discerning the heart” that is the issue. Is the person truly “wanting answers” or is there a “predispostion” that is “harsh” to these issues? Is the person a “hard-hearted Pharoah” or just a “doubting Thomas” who ultimately says “My Lord and My God” when presented with definitive Truth?

I guess I see more scientists in the “hard hearted Pharoah” camp than the “doubting Thomas” camp.

So the question is when do we say “let My people go” (attitude therein) and when to be like Jesus and allowing them “to place their hands on His scars”? Maybe to the “hard hearted Pharoah” camp we must respond like Jesus and “shake the dust from our feet”?

I do appreaciate your correction of me on this “iron sharpens iron”. At the same time is determining the proper response who are actually “hostile” to Christ.

10

Ivan the Crank 03.01.07 at 6:03 pm

I was in a group discussion yesterday with several clergy studying Tyron Imbody’s book on theology and we are at the Christology Chapter, so it was only fitting that we discuss the bones of Jesus and what that would mean to the faith if the theory is proven correct. Toward the end of our discussion, my 19 year old aspiring theologian called out of the blue to ask me what I thought of the supposed discovery of the bones of Jesus and his family and then he proceeded, on speaker phone, to come up with reasons why this is all probably not true, but then posed an interesting point when he said that Paul talks about us receiving spiritual bodies in the resurrection, so maybe if they are the bones of Jesus, it doesn’t disprove the resurrection, only the claim to a bodily resurrection. I know this sounds like the gnostic argument, but to hear my son say he would still have faith in God through Christ even if the bones are those of Jesus was encouraging. He also pointed out that the Joseph and Mary family were probably not people of means, and they were from Nazareth, not Jerusalem, so why would their family plot be in Jerusalem and not Nazareth? Anyway, it’s interesting to me and our group that every Lenten season for the past few years one of these mysterious discoveries is revealed, the DaVincci Code is promoted or something comes along to challenge Orthodox Christianity and creates quite a stir and something to blog about.

11

Kim 03.01.07 at 7:29 pm

Sorry, Ivan, but if my son were a believer - which he isn’t - and he were to keep his faith in the wake of the discovery of the bones of Jesus, I’d say he had not only lost his reason but had completely misuderstood the heart of the Christian faith. As NT scholars tell us (here’s George Caird), “no [first century] Jew would have used the word ‘resurrection’ to describe an afterlife in which the physical body was left to the grave.” Therefore if the bones of Jesus were discovered, and we continued to believe, our belief would be based on a falsehood - and that is no faith worth having. As it is, intrinsic to the resurrection is that no such discovery could, in fact, be made (even if, in principle, though our faith is not scientifically verifiable, it is scientifically falsifiable).

12

DH 03.01.07 at 9:02 pm

Kim, I’m with you. I believe strongly that no one will ever find the bones of Jesus because in fact it was a bodily resurrection. Even if someone so-called found the bones the first thing I would do is imediately call into question the “science” of the “so-called” bone find. It seems post-modern thought brings up these type of question into something that in fact will never be found. I have never understood this in light of Hebrews (paraphrase) which talks about putting aside the basics and moving forward to the “meat” of God’s Word. However, I understand some are understandibly still on milk (foundations) and that is fine. However, (analogy) when one is 40 years old the person needs to go forward with meat and not stay on formula. Hense this analogy is the same thing with regard to these basic foundations.

At the same time, it is interesting to see a 19 year old interested in these kinds of things.

P.S. on the Jerusalem vs. elsewhere barial of Jesus. Scripture says that Joseph of Arimethia (spelling) bought the burial site of Jesus. He was a man of means and at the same time in light of where Jesus died it would make sense that Jerusalem was actually the site of His burial. With Joseph of Arimathia (a Pharisee who Believed in Jesus fully) being the man who did this wonderful act I see no contradiction in the fact that Jesus was burried in Jerusalem.

13

Kim 03.01.07 at 9:56 pm

Hi DH and Ivan,

Yeah, about a 19-year-old who is interested in these things, absolutely, that’s brilliant. And, Ivan, I’m sorry if I came across like I’m raining on your parade. For those who believe in some kind of “spirtual” resurrection, well, if it floats your boat . . . And didn’t someone say something about faith the size of a mustard seed still being big enough to move the Rockies?

Shalom,
Kim

14

DH 03.01.07 at 10:13 pm

Kim, don’t get me wrong. I totally agree with you on this one. I just mentioned the 19 year old thing in that the kid seemed to show that he actually did believe like us he just raised some question from the natural that I got the impression were raised by academia that I feel had predispositions and made the 19 year old question it when in fact his original instinct was to reject the conclusions from these questions.

I believe strongly that one must Believe in a physical AND Spiritual resurrection of Christ. Anything short doesn’t seem to be true Faith in that it is a Belief in “..another Gospel” referred to by the Apostle Paul. I say this not to reign on the 19 year olds parade but to encourage his Faith and instinct that no bones will be found. The mustard seed I don’t believe refers to “another Gospel stuff”.

15

DH 03.01.07 at 10:16 pm

Kim, please in its entirety my previous post and you can see how definitive I agree with you about the definitive nature of the physical and Spiritual resurrection of Christ. To me people believe they will find the bones of Christ or that there is the possibility of finding the bones of Christ shows a lack of Faith. However, it is from faith to Faith. So hopefully the belief in the resurrection will lead to Faith as opposed to remainning in just faith. If you get my drift.

16

Monastic Father 03.04.07 at 12:10 am

I’ve been following these “historical Jesus” questions since I was in High School and an aspiring monk back in the 1970’s. During my seminary years I spent a fair amount of time studying the writings of everyone from Bultmann to Crosan and continue to explore the insights of legitimate bibilcal and archeological scholars on this and myriad other topics.

Although a deeply committed Christian of the Roman Catholic tradition, I am suspicious of the often knee-jerk reaction of many christian sects and individuals to these periodic “debunking Christ” dog-n-pony shows. The glib response that “obviously it can’t be Jesus’ bones ’cause he done rose from the dead” has no more merit than “Jesus’ bones gotta be out there somewhere since I know he didn’t exist” tommyrot.

Archeology - indeed all the sciences - rely on a healthy amount of skepticism of both believe and disbelief. One can neither structure one’s “weltanshauung” purely on theological theory or on total rejection of the seemingly absurd. After all, Troy proved to be “real” even in the face of contemporary scholarship that said it wasn’t. As a believer, but also one trained in careful research and analysis my first reaction to the “bones of Jesus” controversy was curiousity and determination to gather further information.

From what I can tell, yes, the creators of the documentary generally lack the training and expertise to make anything but a skewed presentation of a large body of evidence. I seem to recall that the Discovery website basically says they cherry picked the data to justify the theory that it was the family of Jesus. This is not good research or science. Basically, the entire premise is based on dishonest and unscientific methodology.

Does that mean that one must reject, categorically, the theory that it is/could be the Jesus of the Gospels? No. In fact, if there were compelling evidence for these being the remains of the “historical Jesus” then it would demand critical attention - from believer and non-believer alike. And, if it were conclusively proven that they were the bones of Jesus, my religious world view would necessarily need modification, although one could still embrace the moral aspects of the Christian message with or without the resurrection.

Some issues that I see with the data being presented:

- There was a need to refute claims of deception even in the first Century. The Gospel was written, in part, to dispel the claim that the Apostles had stolen the body of Jesus and claimed he rose. If Jesus’ body had been interred in such a public manner required by this tomb, then the deception gig would have been up. It could not have been hidden from 1st Cento Christians that this was Jesus’ tomb, particularly since his father, Joseph, son, wife and mother were interred in the same place. The DaVinci Code makes much of ecclesiastical coverups, but this would have required far more than destroying a few texts.

- The fact that Jesus’ family would have been buried at Nazareth and not Jerusalem has already been mentioned. Even had Jesus been buried initially in Jerusalem, or even permanently in Jerusalem, it would seem unlikely, considering the ancient respect for the dead and Roman law forbidding the disturbance of graves, that Joseph would have been disinterred from Nazareth and moved to Jerusalem.

- Mary’ Magdalen’s name in Greek is a curiosity. At the same time, it is possible that her inscription was written by one of the Hellenic followers of Jesus or some such. Also, if she were buried after the fall of Jerusalem in AD71 a Greek speaking individual could have written the inscription.

- The tradition of Jesus’ burial at the location of the Church of the Holy Sepulcher is extremely well attested and - again considering the culture of the first century - would have been well known and frequently visited by early Christians. The example of the tomb of St. Peter in the Scavi under the Vatican basilica is very much to the point here. In spite of persecution and other vissitudes of the early Roman Church, the unmarked grave of St. Peter was known and maintained into the Constantinian era.

But enough of all that. This should prove a source of endless entertainment for a few weeks at least.

Pax

George Obl.S.B, KHS

17

dh 03.06.07 at 8:49 pm

Monastic Father it is all rhetorical because the bones will never be found ad if they so-called” found it then I would greatly question the evidence behind the so-called “find”. The fact is Jesus was burried in Jersusalem and Joseph of Arimethia was the one who initiated the burrial.

You say “Does that mean that one must reject, categorically, the theory that it is/could be the Jesus of the Gospels?” you say “no” I say emphatically “yes”. Why must we presume that there is any posibility when there isn’t? It makes no sense. If our Faith is strong we would know that there is no possibility and if one is reported to have found “bones” then why can’t we attack the evidence in light of clear fact of Jesus’s resurrection? My Faith is strong enough to know that the bones have nor ever will be found and any so called evidence of bones is presumption and biased.

18

Rob 03.06.07 at 9:59 pm

dh –

It may make you feel good, but honestly, your approach will just further convince those who do not have faith that they are correct and risks weakening those with weak faith.

The way to do it properly is to examine the evidence and demonstrate the evidence doesn’t hold up, not start from an assumption that, while we know is true, is not shared by all.

19

dh 03.06.07 at 10:19 pm

Rob, I see. Thanks for the admonishment. Maybe I should keep the “while we know is true” and the “know the evidence doesn’t hold up” to myself and just let the evidence speak for itself knowing (without saying it) that the evidence has nor will “hold up”.

I guess when I say “yes” to this question:“Does that mean that one must reject, categorically, the theory that it is/could be the Jesus of the Gospels?” I really am saying “examine the evidence and demonstrate the evidence doesn’t hold up”.

I guess for me, those who have this “evidence of bones” are people who are “Hard hearted” like “Pharoah” and are “deceiving people who are weak in Faith”. I’m starting to think it should be a combined response of like you say for those without those predispositions “examine the evidence and demonstrate the evidence doesn’t hold up” and for those who are “hard hearted like Pharoah” a “hard lined approach” to “prevent those people from trying to deceive the weak in Faith”. What do you think? How do we do this to prevent hard hearted people from deceiving and at the same time explain to those who are weak in Faith to stay soft hearted? I obviously went in the extreme in my previous response but I also see Monastic Father’s response in the opposite extreme. I think we are both wrong and the middle ground is right. I just can’t grasp in this case the praxis of the middle ground on this subject. Maybe you can help me for proper God heart response? :) THanks Rob. :)

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