Tuesday, February 27, 2007

The family tomb of Jesus

The discovery of Jesus’ family tomb was announced yesterday. The announcements were, no doubt, conveniently timed to introduce an upcoming documentary by the Discovery Channel and to coordinate the publication of a new book on the topic with the upcoming Easter holiday. No one from the general public has yet seen the documentary or read the book but that hasn’t kept anyone from discussing the topic. Realizing that I may have to modify my comments after the documentary and book come out, I’ll jump into the fray anyway, primarily because, as is often the case, some of the journalists are not getting their stories straight.

Twenty-seven years ago an excavation in the southern part of Jerusalem uncovered a tomb dating back to the first century AD. This tomb, known as the Talpiot Tomb, contained 10 empty ossuaries (stone “bone boxes” for burials). For a short period in Israel’s history, family members came back to the tomb of their loved ones after the bodies had decayed, collected the bones, and placed them in ossuaries. Some of the names inscribed on the ossuaries from the Talpiot Tomb are known to us from the New Testament: Jesus, Joseph, Joses, Matthew (?), and two Mary’s. There is also one inscribed, “Judah son of Jesus.” Sounds like pretty good evidence that archaeologists have discovered the Tomb of Jesus, right? Read on.

First, most of the names on these ossuaries were exceptionally common in Israel during Jesus’ time. Evidence from literary sources and ossuaries indicate that Joseph was the second most popular male name in Israel, followed by Judah (4th), Jesus (6th), and Matthew (9th. Bauckham, Richard. Jesus and the Eyewitnesses: The Gospels as Eyewitness Testimony. Grand Rapids : Eerdmans, 2006).

The same literary and ossuary evidence indicates that Mary was by far the most popular female name. In fact, if the evidence is representative of the actual reality, it would seem that about one out of every five women was named Mary! I don’t think anyone would assume that the Talpiot Tomb was the family tomb of Jesus simply based on the common names alone.

One thing that makes the evidence so compelling is that one of the ossuaries was inscribed with Yeshua bar Yehosef (Jesus son of Joseph) and another with Yaaqov bar Yosef (Jacob—aka James—son of Joseph). On the surface, this, along with other common names in Jesus’ family would seem to be very strong evidence that the tomb is Jesus’ tomb. In fact, the documentary is reportedly going to produce statistical evidence showing that is it virtually impossible, statistically speaking, for this tomb to have been any other than the tomb of Jesus.

So on the surface, the evidence sounds especially compelling. But there’s more to this story. When it comes to Jesus’ family, all anyone really has to go on is the Gospels. According to the Gospel of Mark (6:3), Jesus had brothers named James, Joses, Judas (or Judah) and Simon as well as some unnamed sisters. As far as anyone knows, the list of Jesus’ brothers is complete and since most scholars believe the Gospel of Mark was written about AD 70, there is little likelihood that Jesus had additional brothers after this list was written.

The names on the ossuaries found in the Talpiot Tomb were Maria (Mary), Yeshua bar Yehosef (Jesus son of Joseph), Yaaqov bar Yosef (Jacob son of Joseph), Yehuda bar Yeshua (Judah son of Jesus), Yose (Joses), Matya (Matthew?), three unnamed ossuaries and Mariemene (or Mary e Mara—but, contrary to what some news reports have led people to believe, the ossuary does not read "Mary Magdalene").

So out of at least nine members of Jesus’ immediate family (the plural “sisters” in Mark must mean at least two) only four family names in the Talpiot Tomb are the same as known members of Jesus’ family. Not only that, but 1) Joseph is missing 2) Judah (Jude) is missing, 3) Simon is missing, and 4) Jesus’ sisters may be missing (DNA has apparently confirmed that Mariemene was not a blood relative), 5) In all of ancient literature, there is no known relation between Jesus and Matya, unless Matya is the disciple Matthew, but why the tax collector would be buried in Jesus’ tomb is anyone’s guess, 6) As seen below there is no credible evidence that Jesus was ever married, and 7) Also seen below, there is absolutely no evidence in all of ancient literature that Jesus had any children much less a son named Judah.

So although the coincidences look compelling, the pieces that don’t fit seem to disprove the hypothesis—unless of course you want to assume apart from any other evidence 1) That Jesus had a son, 2) That Matya was a member of Jesus’ family, 3) That the Mariemene in this tomb was Jesus’ wife and 4) that all the evidence is bunk that has convinced Christian and some non-Christian scholars alike that Jesus’ earliest disciples were genuinely convinced that they had seen the risen Jesus (see N.T. Wright’s massive 800 page tome on this topic). But then what you are really doing is trying to force the the evidence fit your theory.

Second, rather than acknowledging that the ossuary inscribed, “Judah son of Jesus” demonstrates that this is some other family than that of Jesus of Nazareth, the documentary assumes that Jesus must have been married and must have fathered a child named Judah.

But there is absolutely no credible evidence that Jesus was ever married. In fact, there is good circumstantial evidence that he was not. Those, like Dan Brown of Da Vinci Code fame, (it’s not usually the scholars) who argue that Jesus was married, point to two passages in the Gospel of Philip. The first passage reads, “There were three who always walked with the lord: Mary his mother and her sister and Magdalene, the one who was called his companion” (Gospel of Philip 59). The second passage reads, “And the companion of the [ ] Mary Magdalene. [loved] her more than [all] the disciples [and used to] kiss her [ ] on her [ ]” (Gospel of Philip 63, 64.The brackets indicate holes in the original text).

As Dan Brown wrote in his Da Vinci Code, “As any Aramaic scholar will tell you, the word companion, in those days, literally meant spouse” (246). This is really pretty funny since the Gospel of Philip was written in Coptic. Though most scholars think it was originally translated from Greek, the Gospel of Philip was never written in Aramaic! The word companion in Coptic is similar to the Greek word koinonos meaning "companion." Of course, one would hope that one’s wife is also a companion, but companion does not mean wife, not in Greek or Coptic.

Another argument for Jesus’ marriage is that virtually all Jewish teachers were married. While most Jewish teachers were married, it is simply not true that all were. Paul doesn’t seem to have been married nor does John the Baptist, and, according to Josephus, neither were many of the Essenes.

Reasons for thinking that Jesus was not married include the following: 1) There are no ancient sources that say Jesus was married—Not the New Testament, not early church fathers, not the New Testament Apocrypha and not even the heretical Nag Hammadi Gnostic documents. Marriage was viewed as very honorable in the Jewish and Christian world and we know, for example, that Peter and other apostles were married, so it seems rather strange that if Jesus had been married, not one single source mentions it.

2) The apostle Paul, in a letter everyone acknowledges as genuine, says, “Don't we have the right to take a believing wife along with us, as do the other apostles and the Lord's brothers and Cephas” (1 Corinthians 9:5). The interesting thing about this is that Paul was certainly much more interested in Jesus’ authority than he was in relying on the authority of others—even Peter. So if Jesus had been married it is very hard to understand why Paul would not appeal to Jesus himself as his authority.

3) When Jesus was dying on the cross he committed the care of his mother to his disciple John (John 19:27). If Jesus had been married, it is strange that he did not commit his wife to someone’s care as well.

4) According to Eusebius, Emperor Domition summoned the grandsons of Jesus' half-brother Jude to determine if they were a subversive threat. If Jesus himself had had descendants there can be little doubt that Domition would have summoned them also.

All in all, there is no credible reason for thinking Jesus was married and circumstantial evidence for thinking he was not. The discovery, therefore, of an ossuary with the inscription “Judah son of Jesus” does not prove Jesus was married—it is, rather, a piece of evidence that the Jesus bar Joseph in this tomb was not Jesus of Nazareth.

But even if Jesus had been married, there is absolutely no evidence that he had children, much less a son named Judah. There is nothing in the New Testament, nothing in the church fathers, nothing in the New Testament apocrypha, or Nag Hammadi Gnostic documents about Jesus having a son. In the absence of any other evidence, the inscription, Judah son of Jesus in the Talpiot Tomb is another piece of evidence that this is not the tomb of Jesus of Nazareth.

Third, a lot of questions need to be asked before this is resolved. For example, is it possible that there was a man named Joseph in Jerusalem who named some of his kids after Jesus and Jesus family? And is it possible one or more of the inscriptions might be a hoax? After all, it was not long ago that the ossuary of "James brother of Jesus" was making its rounds (I actually saw it in Toronto). It turned out to be a very convincing hoax (even scholars were deceived at first) and I understand the perpetrator is now on trial for fraud.

Finally, regardless of the evidence produced in the documentary and the book, it is important note that would-be Jesus debunkers have often promised evidence that would bring about the demise of Christianity, only to have their evidence exposed as nonsense. A long time ago when I was in the Air Force, I remember my boss telling me that some new documents had been discovered that, when finally revealed, would completely destroy Christianity. Those documents turned out to be the Nag Hammadi documents. Needless to say, they did not destroy Christianity but demonstrated what truly bizarre nonsense ancient “heretics” believed (see my post on women and Christian bishops and On writings suppressed by bishops).

Then there was Burton Mack’s book on The Lost Gospel of Q which was supposed to change everything we thought we knew about Christianity. The fact is that for Mack to arrive at the nonsensical conclusions he did, he had to postulate hypothetical revisions of a hypothetical document by hypothetical communities! (See my articles on Mack, A Review of Who Wrote the New Testament?" Bibliotheca Sacra. (April-June, 1997) 205-221 and Kloppenborg. If Q actually existed, it tends to support, not undermine, Christianity.

Then last year there was the sensationalistic release of the Gospel of Judas documentary and book (also conveniently timed to come out about Easter) which was supposed to change the way we thought of Christianity. That turned out to be nonsense as well (see my posts on the Gospel of Judas).

It should be remembered that this is no new discovery. It has been around for 27 years. “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 fails to hold up by archaeological standards but makes for profitable television. ‘They just want to get money for it," Mr. Kloner said” (Washington Times). Considering the timing of the announcement, I find myself suspecting that Kloner is right.

I’ll update this post if the documentary comes up with anything new.


Robert said...

Interestingly enough, most people with archaeological experience think it is hogwash. In a Columbus Dispatch article, Israel Museum curator David Mevorah says that the Discovery Channel film is “…closer to fantasy.”

I especially appreciate this top ten list:

Witherington and other leading biblical scholars and archeologists say there are at least 10 reasons why the "Jesus Tomb" claim is completely bogus:

1. There is no DNA evidence that this is the historical Jesus of Nazareth

2. The statistical analysis is untrustworthy

3. The name "Jesus" was a popular name in the first century, appearing in 98 other tombs and on 21 other ossuaries

4. There is no historical evidence that Jesus was ever married or had a child

5. The earliest followers of Jesus never called him "Jesus, son of Joseph"

6. It is highly unlikely that Joseph, who died earlier in Galilee, was buried in Jerusalem, since the historical record connects him only to Nazareth or Bethlehem

7. The Talipot tomb and ossuaries are such that they would have belonged to a rich family, which does not match the historical record for Jesus

8. Fourth-century church historian Eusebius makes quite clear that the body of James, the brother of Jesus, was buried alone near the temple mount and that his tomb was visited in the early centuries, making very unlikely that the Talipot tomb was Jesus' "family tomb"

9. The two Mary ossuaries do not mention anyone from Migdal, but simply has the name Mary, one of the most common of all ancient Jewish female names

10. By all ancient accounts, the tomb of Jesus was empty, making it highly unlikely that it was moved to another tomb, decayed for one year's time, and then the bones put in an ossuary

I think 6 and 7 are particularly compelling…

Dennis said...

Well, some of the top ten are more compelling than others. For example, I think #1 misses the point. The DNA test was used only to show that the occupant of the "Jesus son of Joseph" ossuary was not a blood relation with the occupant of the "Mary e Mara" ossuary.

But you're right--most of the scholars I've read so far (Christian and non-Christian) seem to be dismissing this as pure sensationalism.

Heather said...

Unfortunately, people are not taking the time to even consider what was found and exactly what kinds of tests were performed on these ossuaries. I don't think anyone is saying that this is definitive. These people just found ancient ossuaries that pointed to the possibility that they belonged to Jesus and his family.
Here's the site: www.jesusfamilytomb.com

laurus said...

to Heather

There are people who just point to the possibility that the tomb of Jesus is in India

Seven Star Hand said...

Lying about the name Jesus, yet again...

Hello Dennis and all,

The most interesting aspect of this Jesus Tomb story revolves around the actual names on the bone boxes compared to what is being asserted in the effort to make a profit. Pay special attention to the tortured explanations of how names like Jesus, Mary, Matthew, and others were translated from inscriptions that actually say otherwise. As Christians rally to "prove" that this archeological find can't be the "Jesus" and "Mary" of the New Testament, they too must answer the questions about why it is correct to translate those names in a special way to support the veracity of the most profitable story in history. Christians must truthfully answer the question of why it is wrong to use their own methodology to arrive at the names now being asserted as appearing on those bone boxes.

A pivotal component of the strong delusion of Christianity revolves around the name/title Jesus Christ. Christians and others have rallied around the weak and blatantly deceptive assertions surrounding the source of the name Jesus, among others in the so-called New Testament. All of the purported uses of this name in ancient settings are actually the Hebrew and Aramaic names that we call Joshua, in all other instances. Why then all of the tortured explanations to convince people that the Hebrew name translated in all other instances as Joshua should in some special cases become the dubious name/title Jesus Christ? If these stories were the truth, why has so much deception accompanied them and those who have profited from them throughout most of the last two millennia?

Ever consider that the New Testament and the stories of Jesus Christ are the great deceptions that the original Hebrew texts warned about? Isn't it odd that the New Testament is full of Greco-Roman names from Europe, not from Judea? Isn't it odd that all of the purported authors of New Testament books have European names and made numerous geographical and factual errors. For example, the proven fact that there was no town named Nazareth during the Second-Temple period. What then does the term Nazarene truly allude to and why did the Vatican and its predecessors go to such lengths to obscure the truth about it and much else? Why have the Vatican, Papacy, and Christianity been characterized by such extreme duplicity and deception for their entire existence if they were truly representatives of the Creator?

You do understand that Gog from Magog actually refers to Greeks and Romans (Greco-Romans) who invaded, subjugated, and scattered the children of Israel? Isn't it at all worrisome that the Vatican and Christianity have "whitewashed" the names, images, and activities of all of the purported Judean characters in the long-dubious New Testament that history proves would have been dark-skinned, dark-haired locals, not blue-eyed European invaders, had they truly existed? Consequently, billions of people have long been deceived into worshipping a false god with a name and image that never could have existed in ancient Second Temple Period Judea!

Ever heard of strong lies and strong delusion? Read 2 Thessalonians 2:11 again.

Can you say woe, woe, woe?

Here is Wisdom !!

Dennis said...

Seven Star Hand: Thank you for your post. The fact is that Hellenism had been strongly influencing Palestine throughout the second temple period. There were Jews in Israel who used Hebrew names, some Jews who used Greek names, and some who used both. Many Jews in Israel adopted Greek customs, much to the chagrin of their more traditional neighbors.

I’m not sure that we know whether Jesus used the Greek or Hebrew form of his name—or both. But he did command his followers to go into all the world to preach his Gospel so why would it seem so strange to you that when they wrote for a wider Gentile audience, they would use Hellenized forms of the names, like Jesus rather than Yeshua, or Christ rather than Messiah?

I found it interesting that you called him Joshua rather than Yeshua—don’t you know there is no “J” in Hebrew or Aramaic? In spite of your arguments, you are also using a western form of a Hebrew name! Why would you think it so strange that Jesus earliest followers, ministering to a Greek world, would do the same?

I’m not sure where you’re getting your information from about Nazareth (Jesus Seminar?), but according to the Dictionary of Judaism in the Biblical Period, edited by the world-class Jewish scholar, Jacob Neusner (hardly an advocate of Christianity!), Excavations “showed that there was village occupation at Nazareth from the period of the Israelite monarchy.” Excavations showed that Nazareth was continuously occupied since the second century BC.

Finally, I thought the first point on your website was hilarious! Your site says, "The three Faiths of Abraham are purposeful deceptions used to hide the activites and true nature of the Vatican and the aristocrats, plutocrats, politians, and world leaders that conspire with it, precisely as they have done for centuries." This truly has to be the mother of all conspiracy theories! :-)

Robert said...

I dunno, I'm sort of expecting the pope to sprout wings, grow fangs, and shoot fire out of his nostrils one of these days. He could be on to something.

Robert said...

This may be of some use to Seven Star Hand. MIT's study.

Amillenialist said...

I find it humorous that many, including Seven Star Hand, seem to think that the Vatican has been existing as long as Christainity has ever been around and that it holds these deep conspiracy truths. What far-fetched none-sense! The Vatican began in 1929. Hardly old enough to be the bearer of all the "secrets" of Christianity.

Seven Star Hand, how could the Vatican be the "whitewashers" of the Judean characters of the New Testament when it became an organized state in 1929? I am perplexed by your lack of logical analysis. The Vatican?!?!

Blame somebody else, or maybe take off your conspiracy colored glasses.

Craig and Tammy said...

Eph 4:11-32
(11) And He gave some as apostles, and some as prophets, and some as evangelists, and some as pastors and teachers,
(12) for the equipping of the saints for the work of service, to the building up of the body of Christ;
(13) until we all attain to the unity of the faith, and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to a mature man, to the measure of the stature which belongs to the fullness of Christ.
(14) As a result, we are no longer to be children, tossed here and there by waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by the trickery of men, by craftiness in deceitful scheming;
(15) but speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in all aspects into Him who is the head, even Christ,
(16) from whom the whole body, being fitted and held together by what every joint supplies, according to the proper working of each individual part, causes the growth of the body for the building up of itself in love.
(17) So this I say, and affirm together with the Lord, that you walk no longer just as the Gentiles also walk, in the futility of their mind,
(18) being darkened in their understanding, excluded from the life of God because of the ignorance that is in them, because of the hardness of their heart;
(19) and they, having become callous, have given themselves over to sensuality for the practice of every kind of impurity with greediness.
(20) But you did not learn Christ in this way,
(21) if indeed you have heard Him and have been taught in Him, just as truth is in Jesus,
(22) that, in reference to your former manner of life, you lay aside the old self, which is being corrupted in accordance with the lusts of deceit,
(23) and that you be renewed in the spirit of your mind,
(24) and put on the new self, which in the likeness of God has been created in righteousness and holiness of the truth.
(25) Therefore, laying aside falsehood, SPEAK TRUTH EACH ONE of you WITH HIS NEIGHBOR, for we are members of one another.
(26) BE ANGRY, AND yet DO NOT SIN; do not let the sun go down on your anger,
(27) and do not give the devil an opportunity.
(28) He who steals must steal no longer; but rather he must labor, performing with his own hands what is good, so that he will have something to share with one who has need.
(29) Let no unwholesome word proceed from your mouth, but only such a word as is good for edification according to the need of the moment, so that it will give grace to those who hear.
(30) Do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, by whom you were sealed for the day of redemption.
(31) Let all bitterness and wrath and anger and clamor and slander be put away from you, along with all malice.
(32) Be kind to one another, tender-hearted, forgiving each other, just as God in Christ also has forgiven you.

Please speak the truth in love
and let someone be offended at the truth not offended at our attitude

usually when someone is rejecting Jesus in an intellectual manner they are simply covering up a deeper hurt in their lives and our desire should not be just to correct their error but to lead them to a place where they can meet Jesus, in LOVE

thanks for defending the faith i thought the article was well put and researched

God Bless
your fellow worker in Christ

St.Lee said...

Informative post and commentary, Dennis, as usual.

Seems that you can dress it up and call it a fancy name, but when it comes down to it, isn't the driving force behind all of this anti Christian "scholarship" just plain unbelief? As I recall, the bible has something to say about unbelief and the results of it.

Amillenialist said...

Craig and Tammy:

I don't buy into the notion that everyone who rejects Christianity does so because they have been emotionally hurt. That oversimplifies everyone categorically.

Let's look at the reverse of this logic:

Atheists will claim that you only beleive in God because you are afraid to die.

I have heard many atheists state this, yet it is just as unfounded as your propposition. People reject Christianity for intellectual reasons (whether they are good reasons or not are a different question).

If we just make Christianity this emotional thing, then why arent Christian Psychologists known for their evangelistic abilities worldwide?

Christianity is intellectual just as it fixes emotional problems that you pointed out. I would caution against stating that all reject Christianity because of their "hurts."

St. Lee pointed posited this well. It is a matter of faith (or unbelief) and unbelief comes from many different angles.

The only reason I am arguing against your point is because then Christian ministry will slowly get away from any intellectualism and become this Oprah Winfrey show.