| Has the
tomb of Jesus been found?
James Cameron, the Oscar winning
Hollywood director who brought us the Terminator and Titanic movies, along
with Simcha Jacobovici a producer-director have made a documentary (to be
aired March 4, 2007) that alleges they have found the tomb of Jesus and
that the evidence therein shows Jesus was married to Mary Magdalene, had
at least one child named Judah, and, of course, that Jesus did not
physically rise from the dead.
On March 28, 1980, just outside of
Jerusalem in the neighborhood of Talpiyot, construction workers
accidentally uncovered a 2000
year old cave holding 10 ossuaries. An ossuary is a burial box used to
store bones. Six of the 10 ossuaries had names on them: "Jesus, son of
Joseph; Maria; Mariamene; Matthew; Judas, son of Jesus; and Jose, a
diminutive of Joseph."1 The allegation is that
Jesua is Jesus, one of the Maries is his mother, the second is his wife,
Mariamene is Mary Magdalene, that Matthew is a disciple, and Judas is
When the ossuaries were first discovered,
the bones were removed and buried. (I could not find out what
happened to them, but it appears they are lost.) Later, scientists
examined the ossuaries and found "forensic evidence" inside the
containers. They did DNA tests on the remnant biological material
and found that Jesua and Mariamene are not genetically related. This
implies that they were a couple, not siblings. In other words, it
would be similar to having a mother, a father, and a son buried in the
same tomb. The child would be related genetically to the mother and
the father. But, the mother and the father would not be genetically
related to each other; that is, they wouldn't have the same parents.
The facts seem to be there, but what does it mean?
Note: At the end of this paper are
important issues and questions regarding this find that argue against this
being the actual tomb of Jesus.
What should be our reaction to the find?
What I'm going to say here may surprise a
lot of Christians, but we should be open minded about the evidence and not
dismiss it in a knee-jerk reaction
say it is a hoax, or a conspiracy. If the evidence is factual and
stands up to cross examination, then we need to deal with it as the set of
facts they are. If Christianity is true, then it should fear no
facts -- and neither should its adherents.
However, please understand that if the
archaeological evidence is verified, the ossuaries do not disprove
Christianity. They only demonstrate that there is a family tomb from
the time of Christ with the same names of those found in the gospel
accounts -- which can have other explanations, as you'll see below, and
around which many questions need to be answered. Remember, the
gospels are eyewitness accounts and are substantially different in
evidentiary value than empty ossuaries with biblical names inscribed on
the outside. There is a huge difference between them regarding their
interpretive and evidentiary significance.
Examine the evidence
The evidence needs to be examined!
If it stands, it stands. If it falls, let it fall. But, what
would be substantial evidence against Christianity is if bones
were discovered in an ossuary, or tomb containing something like Jesus'
name on it, stating he was the son of Nevertheless,
for Christians to automatically dismiss the evidence without first
examining it, is to forfeit credibility in the eyes of unbelievers, many
of which already think that Christians are irrational and refuse to
believe facts. Joseph, and that those bones had nail marks in the
wrists. But, without a body, it is difficult to establish Jesus'
death, burial, and lack of resurrection. In fact, not
having a body is exactly what the gospel accounts say is the case and that
seems to be the case with the ossuaries. Remember, they did have
bones in them, but they are lost and cannot be examined. So, it
cannot be stated which bones they were or if the bones matched the genetic
material found within. They might not since families used ossuaries
to hold more than one generation. Sometimes they held up to six.
Nevertheless, for Christians to
automatically dismiss the evidence without first examining it, is to
forfeit credibility in the eyes of unbelievers, many of which already
think that Christians are irrational and refuse to believe facts. We
have an opportunity to present a rational, non-emotional position and
demonstrate that our faith is not so weak that our first reaction is to
dismiss evidence we haven't even looked at yet.
Remember, looking at evidence and using
logic is what Jesus taught us to do. Jesus said to doubting Thomas
in John 20:27, “Reach here your finger, and
see My hands; and reach here your hand, and put it into My side; and be
not unbelieving, but believing.” Jesus himself urged Thomas to
examine the evidence and believe based on that evidence. In other
words, Jesus taught to examine evidence and make a logical conclusion
based up it. Of course, the Bible verse presupposes Jesus' resurrection is
a fact, but still the principle to examine evidence is taught in
Scripture. Shouldn't we do what Jesus taught?
Christians, don't make these mistakes
The initial response by a lot of
Christians will be to react emotionally. But, I have some
- Don't make the mistake of saying that
the evidence can't be true because a Hollywood movie director made the
- Just because an unbeliever makes a
film, it doesn't mean what is in it is false. Unbelievers can
discover truth. So, don't dismiss it outright.
- Don't make the mistake of saying the
evidence is false because it disagrees with your beliefs.
- Beliefs don't make something true --
for example, Mormons believe God came from another planet.
Believing it doesn't make it so. Nevertheless, Christian beliefs
are based on evidence, i.e., the eyewitness accounts in the gospels,
the resurrection of Christ, etc. So, if we look at facts in one
area, we should continue to do so in other areas.
- Don't make the mistake of concluding
that if the evidence is verified under cross examination, that it means
Christianity isn't true.
- At best all it shows is that there
is a family tomb with common biblical names inscribed on ossuaries.
This isn't proof of anything contrary to the gospel accounts.
There are no bones in the ossuaries. In other words, there is no
- Don't blow a good witnessing
- This topic will generate discussion.
So, print up a few copies of this article, have them ready to give to
people, and discuss the real issue of Christ's resurrection which
demonstrates who he was and what he did. This way you can then
have an opportunity to present the gospel.
- Again, don't just dismiss it
outright. Use it.
Critics, don't make these mistakes
Likewise, I suspect the initial response
by critics of Christianity will be to jump on the bandwagon and say that
Christianity is proven false without examining the evidence, or
considering counter arguments and questions. So, I have some
suggestions for the critics as well.
- Don't assume that what is presented in
a documentary is automatically fact.
- Wait until it is cross examined
before making assertions. In other words, get both sides of the
argument before making judgments.
- Make sure your conclusions are
logical, not merely inferential
- If the evidence is factual, what
does it mean? Does it prove that it was Jesus in the
ossuary? Not at all. Does it prove Christianity is false?
Hardly. If you are eager to find contradictory evidence, don't
let your eagerness blind your objectivity.
- Don't jump on the band-wagon and start
condemning Christianity because the findings can be interpreted against
- There are important issues and
questions to be raised as you will see in the next section.
Those questions and others like them are relevant to the discussion on
what the evidence means and need to be addressed before drawing
- Don't make the mistake of concluding
that if the evidence is verified under cross examination it means
Christianity is false. It doesn't.
- It only means that a family tomb
with ossuaries containing biblical names has been discovered.
This is evidence, but it can be legitimately interpreted in different
ways - see below. But, is it conclusive proof that Christianity
is false? Not at all.
Important issues and questions
Following is a list of issues and
questions that I think are worth examining in regard to this recent
- The names on the ossuaries were very
common at that time.
- "Charlesworth of Princeton
Theological Seminary says he has a first-century letter written by
someone named Jesus, addressed to someone else named Jesus and
witnessed by a third party named Jesus."2
This demonstrates the commonality of the name Jesus. Isn't
it likely that other names would be common as well? Think about
it. The name "Mary" occurs in the gospels several times in
reference to different women. Also, If Christianity were on the
rise in the culture, it makes sense that people would adopt Christian
names as they eagerly moved away from the imposing Roman Empire's
rule. This would increase the name frequency.
- "'Jesus' and 'Joseph' were common
names of the time, and another ossuary bearing the same inscription
[Jesus son of Joseph] was revealed by archaeologist Eleazar Levi
Sukenik in a 1931 lecture in Berlin. However, this ossuary is
set apart by its presence in a tomb alongside others bearing names
associated with Jesus' family..."3 The
fact is that "Jesus son of Joseph" exists elsewhere in archaeological
- 25% of the Jewish women in the
first-century Judea had the same name of Mary.4
Again, this is evidence of a very common name usage.
- The ossuaries are inscribed in
different languages: Aramaic, Hebrew, and Greek.
- Jesus, James, Judah
are inscribed in Aramaic. Yose (Jose, Joseph), Maria, and
Matthew are in Hebrew. "Marianmene e Mara" (Mary Magdelene) is the
only one written in Greek. If the tomb is of Jesus' family, why
are the inscriptions in different languages?
- Does this suggest that different
individuals, perhaps in different times, and of different backgrounds
were buried in the tomb? Remember, families used the same tomb
and ossuaries for generations. Therefore, we can expect to find the
same tomb to have ossuaries with different inscriptions, in different
languages, along with similar DNA since the same families would be
using them. See point 5 below.
- The Inscription dates are from 1 B.C
to 1 A.D.
- "Frank Moore Cross, a professor
emeritus in the Department of Near Eastern Languages and Civilizations
at Harvard University, told Discovery News, "The inscriptions are from
the Herodian Period (which occurred from around 1 B.C. to 1 A.D.). The
use of limestone ossuaries and the varied script styles are
characteristic of that time."5
- This is important because the gospel
accounts record Jesus' life up to 33 years of age. If Jesus
lived long enough to get married, have a child, etc., it would be
after he was 33. If Jesus died around 50 A.D. (just picking a
date), then how do we account for Jesus' bones being buried in an
ossuary that has an inscription dated from about 1 B.C.?
Shouldn't the inscription be dated to some time after, say 33 A.D.?A.
This is solid evidence against the ossuaries being of Jesus family.
- Families were buried in their home
- In this case it would have been
Nazareth, not Jerusalem. Jesus was known as Jesus of
Nazareth. If this really is the tomb of the biblical Jesus, then
why is he buried somewhere other than his hometown, Nazareth?
This would have gone against Jewish culture and custom.
- Also, shouldn't the burial
inscription have read "Jesus of Nazareth" or "Jesus of Nazareth, son
of Joseph" if it were the Jesus of the New Testament?
- There was a two day burial window
under Jewish law. This meant that a person had to be buried
within two days of death. Therefore, he might not be buried in
his hometown. However, after the body decomposed and only the
bones were left, it would appropriate to move them. Since
ossuaries contained only bones, why is it located in Jerusalem and not
- The same ossuaries were used for
generations to store bones
- Point two is supported by the fact
the same ossuaries were used for several generations to house bones,
sometimes containing as many as six sets. This would mean that
the contents therein could be of family members long after the time of
Christ. It could even be of non genetically related individuals,
by marriage, who get added to the tomb later on – which might explain
why the inscriptions are in different languages.
- Having similar genetics in the
ossuaries doesn't prove it is Jesus' tomb. It only proves there
are similar genetics. There is no known way to establish that
the genetics in the ossuaries are those of Jesus. At best, it
can only be inferred and inferences are not fact.
- The family of Jesus was poor.
Joseph was a carpenter and couldn't afford such an elaborate burial.
- To have a tomb and various ossuaries
made was an expensive undertaking. Since Joseph was a carpenter,
Jesus would've learned his trade from his father. Carpenters
were not rich. Therefore, how is the existence of an expensive
tomb with ossuaries explained in light of this information if it is
supposed to be at the family of Jesus? This does not support the
idea that it was Jesus’ tomb. In fact, it speaks against it.
- What of the existing documents
- The gospels in the New Testament are
excellently preserved historical documents that are consistent with
the time, place, and culture in which they claim to describe. If
Jesus did not rise from the dead, then what about the gospels
accounts? Are they fakes, compilations, lies, forgeries, or
legitimate and accurate historical documents?
- Are these eyewitness accounts
contained in the gospels less valuable than names on ossuaries found
in a tomb? Surely, an explanation needs to be established to
account for the claims of the gospel accounts if in fact they were
lies or fabrications.
- If the gospels are used to verify the
names on the ossuaries, why are they not also used to verify that Jesus
rose from the dead?
- There seems to be an inconsistency
in using the Gospels to verify the names on the ossuaries but then
deny the claim of those same Gospels concerning Jesus' resurrection.
Why accept the names but reject the resurrection when both are
described in the same documents? Is it because the
presuppositions of those who examine the evidence do not allow for the
miraculous? If that is the case, then beliefs are forced upon
evidence and the evidence is interpreted in light of those beliefs.
- Please see the articles related to
Since the New Testament writers were biased, can we trust their
were mistaken about Jesus' resurrection;
Disciples stole Jesus' body and faked His resurrection.
- The Acts of Phillip
- In the book The Acts of Phillip is
the term "Mariamene" which some scholars think it refers to Mary
Magdelene. Therefore, the inscription in the tomb which uses
that term has been linked to the biblical Mary Magdelene via this old
document. However, the oldest copy of the Acts of Phillip is from the
fourteenth century and is a copy of a fourth century text.5
How reliable is the document known as the Acts of Phillip? "The
text is generally considered to have been a late 4th or early 5th
century fantasy, involving miracles and supposedly clever dialogue,
which it claims caused Phillip to win many converts."6
So, is phrase in a fantasy-based document evidence that Jesus married
- Why aren't there any accounts of Jesus
having a family recorded in any reputable ancient writings?
- This is, essentially, an argument of
silence and is not the best argument. Nevertheless, there is no
credible historical evidence suggesting that Jesus had a family.
If Jesus were that important of a figure and if he had a family, in
contradiction to the gospel accounts, then why are there no reliable
records of this recorded anywhere?
- If Jesus had a son, and a wife, and
was walking around Israel, it would have been around the time that the
gospels were being circulated which were initially written anywhere
from the 40's to the 60's, with John possibly written later. See
the gospels written and by whom?". You'd think that the Jews
and Romans would have countered the circulating gospels by simply
saying, "Hey, Jesus lives with his wife and son over in Jerusalem."
- Also, after the gospels had been
circulating and Jesus' son was alive and well (as the ossuary evidence
has been interpreted to support), certainly someone (Jewish and/or
Roman) would have documented that Jesus indeed had a son in
contradiction to the widening distribution of the gospel records.
After all, both the Jews and the Romans had reasons to not want
Christianity to flourish. So, why are there no such accounts of
Jesus' son in existence?
- Why didn't the critics of Christianity
produce Jesus' body?
- This is similar to point ten.
Since the Jewish culture as well as the Roman authorities did not want
Jesus' resurrection to be believed, since it contradicted both of
their theological and social power structures, and if Jesus did
get married and have children, then why is their no record of those
authorities producing the person and/or body of Jesus? You'd think
this would have been settled long ago if Jesus really did live and
breathe after the gospels' recorded resurrection and Acts account of
- Statistical analysis of the names
- How do they know which names were
and were not common in those days? Isn't this a relevant
question to ask when making statistical analysis? Joseph, Jesus,
and Mary were very common names at the time. As Christianity
grew, it would make sense that people would take the names of Jesus,
Mary, Joseph, etc., as a sign of respect for and identification with
their Christian beliefs.
- Statistics can be manipulated.
We're not suggesting that these statistics were, but there needs to be
an explanation dealing with how common the names were in the culture
at that time and the criteria needs to be examined.
- Even if the statistical analysis
shows the coincidence to be improbable, it still does not demonstrate
that Jesus was in the ossuary. After all there are too many
other questions and problems that counter that conclusion.
- Counter evidence
- Archaeologist says it isn't
Jesus' tomb. "In 1996, when the BBC aired a short
documentary on the same subject, archaeologists challenged the claims.
Amos Kloner, the first archaeologist to examine the site, said the
idea [of the tomb being that of Jesus] fails to hold up by
archaeological standards but makes for profitable television....It was
an ordinary middle-class Jerusalem burial cave...The names on the
caskets are the most common names found among Jews at the time...The
cave, it [Kloner's report] said, was probably in use by three or four
generations of Jews from the beginning of the Common Era. It was
disturbed in antiquity, and vandalized. The names on the boxes were
common in the first century (25 percent of women in Jerusalem, for
example, were called Miriam or a derivative)."7
- Incorrect reading of names?
"Pfann [a biblical scholar at the University of the Holy
Land in Jerusalem] is even unsure that the name "Jesus" on the caskets
was read correctly. He thinks it's more likely the name 'Hanun.'"8
- Alternate burial site
locations. "James Tabor, a Biblical scholar at the
University of North Carolina at Charlotte and the leading academic
voice who lends enthusiastic, if qualified, support to Jacobovici's
claims, wrote that he looked for, and found, a legendary tomb of Jesus
near the city of Safed."9