Tuesday, March 06, 2007

“My Lord is Gone, Where Have They Put Him”

Over the weekend my wife and I picked up a book at Books A Million called, The Jesus Family Tomb. We were curious about the book because we knew that the Discovery Channel would be airing a “documentary” claiming that they had found the tomb of Jesus. I spent the weekend reading this book and I have been fascinated by the reading.

Apparently in 1980, while bulldozing for construction for an apartment building, a tomb was found in the side of a hill in Jerusalem. A group of archeologists were called in to extricate the articles in the tomb. They found 10 ossuaries (boxes containing bones) in this tomb. After they finished taking out the articles from the tomb, they only had nine ossuaries to examine. Six of these ossuaries were inscribed: (1) “Jesus, son of Joseph” (2) “Yose” or “Joseph” (3) “Maria” or Mary in Hebrew (4) “Mariamne” or Mary in Greek (5) “Matia” or Matthew (6) “Judah, son of Jesus.

At first, the book claims the original investigation did not point to the Jesus of the Bible because the name “Mariamne” could not be traced to him. However, through the course of examining, it was found that Mary Magdalene was referred to as Mariamne in some of the Gnostic texts.

The writers of the book decided to test the probability that this was Jesus' tomb by examining the statistical evidence that all of these names which relate to Jesus would show up in the same family tomb. In the tombs that have been found, the name Joseph has appeared 14% of the time and the name Jesus has appeared 9% of the time. The estimated population of males was 80,000. So, the authors calculated that there were 7,200 Jesus’ and 11,200 Josephs’. 1008 men would have been Jesus son of Joseph. Then, a quarter of the population would have been named Mary. Although this sounds like a lot of Jesus', Josephs and Marys, they calculated that there was a 1 and 2.5 million chance that all of these names would be in the same tomb. However, when you take percentages away for the missing names from Jesus' family, the odds go to 1 and 600,000, which are still good odds.

The book proposes that the following story may explain what happened to Jesus’ body after his death. Jesus died just before sun down of Friday, meaning he had to be buried in a hurry. He was placed in a tomb of a follower until he could be buried in his family tomb. The disciples came and took the body on the Sabbath, because nobody would have been guarding the tomb. They brought him to his family tomb where he was laid down for a period of a year. Then, after a year, his bones would have been placed in an ossuary. They propose that there were two different types of followers of Jesus, the ones in Jerusalem which they call Ebionites, who followed the Jewish law, but believed Jesus to be the Jewish messiah and there were the Gentile Christians. After Rome was destroyed in 70CE the Ebionites were displaced and died out. However, they believe there were still some cell groups that existed underground. The book also theorizes that these Ebionite groups new about the tomb of Jesus and shared this information with the Nights Templar. This secrete may be what caused the church to persecute and kill the Nights Templar. Of coarse the book does say that this is all speculation, but it is a theory that could have happened.

The icing of the cake for the writers of this book is that they suspect that the missing tenth ossuary was the ossuary of James, the brother of Jesus. If you will remember back a couple of years ago, this same group who aired this show on the discovery channel Sunday night, also aired a show claiming that they had found the ossuary of James. After the show this allegation was quickly discredited, however, the writers of this book are still convinced of its accuracy. Because they believe the 10th ossuary is James’, they believe they have overwhelming proof that this is the family tomb of Jesus. Of coarse this would not be that big of a deal, except for there were bones discovered in Jesus’ ossuary.

I am not a Bible scholar, a historian, or an archeologist. I do love the Bible and I truly believe that the study of history and archeology is important to helping us understand the Bible. I do though, despite my lack of knowledge, want to comment of some of the questions that stuck out in my mind as I was reading through this book.

(1) Why would Joseph, Jesus’ father, be buried in Jerusalem? The New Testament tells us that Jesus grew up in Nazareth and it is quite likely that his dad, Joseph, died when he was quite young and still living in Nazareth. Nazareth is a good distance from where this tomb was discovered, so why would Jesus’ family tomb be this close to Jerusalem.
(2) The book makes it clear that only royalty or wealthy folks would have been buried in these tombs with ossuaries. Jesus was from the family of a carpenter. His family was probably not wealthy and he was not royalty. Jesus was placed in the tomb of a wealthy person, but this again, would not explain his father, Joseph.
(3) If this is a family tomb, it would contain more than one generation of people. It seems like it could have contained 3 or more generations. If this is the case, then the statistics mentioned in the book would be wrong. Instead of 80, 000 men, you would have to multiply by 3 and get 240,000 possibilities for men alone.
(4) If there were only 10 people buried here and a quarter of all the women were named Mary, it is possible that the tomb had 2 Mary’s. It is also likely that it would have a Joseph and a Jesus, just by the percentages. Richard Baukman argued that there were proably more than 30 people burried in this tomb.
(5) The name Matthew still poses a problem because Matthew was not related to Jesus. He was a disciple of Jesus. If this is Jesus’ family tomb, then Matthew should not have been included.
(6) Of course there is some debate over Mary Magdalene being the wife of Jesus, but here being in the tomb is also odd. The Gnostic Gospels due show Mary Magdalene as a true disciple, but they do not show her as being married to Jesus. The gospels due not show Jesus as being married. Even if Jesus had an affair with Mary, she still would not have made the family tomb.
(7) Jesus did have a brother named Judah, which was also a common name, but Judah was not his son. Judah, son of Jesus, should cause us to ask serious questions about the validity of this being Jesus’ tomb. The authors of the book claim that Judah was Jesus’ son all along; but that the writers of the NT covered it up for his protection by saying he was Jesus’ brother. Although this theory takes a good deal of imagination, it has no grounding.

Overall, I found this book to be a fun read, but it would take a great deal of faith to believe it was true. I guess the question is: Does the evidence really line up? I think not. Honestly, even if Jesus did not resurrect in bodily form (which I believe he did) I doubt it can be proven. There are just too many people with the names Joseph, Jesus, and Mary to be able to claim it is the Jesus from the Bible. I tip my hats off to Simcha Jacobovici and Charles Pellegrino for writing a good book with lots of great back ground. I believe it took some guts to do this research, but in the end I still believe my Lord was resurrected!

If you want to know more, go to http://benwitherington.blogspot.com/2007/03/jesus-tomb-show-biblical-archaeologists.html and http://benwitherington.blogspot.com/2007/03/smoking-gun-tenth-talpiot-ossuary_9874.html.

Ben Witherington is a great biblical scholor whom I trust in greatly. I hope you enjoy his blogs!

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