Friday, March 02, 2007

Comments on the "Jesus Tomb"

By now, you have no doubt heard about all of the controversy surrounding a new book and documentary, "The Jesus Family Tomb." The book is already available and the documentary, produced by James Cameron of Titanic fame, will air Sunday on the Discovery Channel.

Quite honestly, I've been avoiding the topic since I didn't have anything intelligent to add to the firestorm. Yesterday, Louisiana College sent me an essay written by Professor Charles Quarles, chair of Christian studies at LC. I interviewed him about the Da Vinci Code in the spring and was impressed. He's read the book and offered some scholarly reactions to its claims. Here's some excerpts from his essay, "Initial Impressions of The Jesus Family Tomb":

It is a quick and easy read written in the fashion of the Da Vinci Code. This book, however, is intended for the history and religion sections of bookstores rather than the fiction section. That alone will give the book more credibility in the eyes of many readers. Despite the overstatements and leaps to conclusions unwarranted by the data, many readers will view the claims as fact. I urge everyone to read the book critically, raising the crucial questions,testing the assumptions, and carefully evaluating the book’s claims....

Although the writers frequently claim that the Talpiot tomb excavation was a provenanced archaeological find in which the contents remained undisturbed (in situ) until examined by qualified experts, the archaeological team responsible for the find referred to the excavation as “salvage archaeology.” Due to pressures from the
construction company that accidentally discovered the tomb, excavation that
would normally have taken weeks had to be rushed. Furthermore, the tomb lay open and exposed for over twenty-four hours before the archaeological team began its work. Bystanders actually observed neighborhood children using skulls from the
tomb as soccer balls. ...

We need to know much more about the ossuary inscriptions. The photograph of the most important inscription which reads “Jesus, son of Joseph” was not enlarged and the scratches on that particular surface so obscure the first word of the inscription that it cannot be transcribed with confidence from the photo. Perhaps the inscription does read “Jesus, son of Joseph.” However, I have heard rumors that some well-known experts in Aramaic script have disputed the original transcription...

Even if the inscription reads “Jesus, son of Joseph” this would not be shocking. We know of at least 104 different individuals with the name Jesus from this general period (330 B.C. to 200 A.D.) and at least 232 different individuals with the name Joseph. In fact, Joseph was the second most common name among Palestinian Jewish males from the period, second only to Simon. Jesus was the sixth most common name from the period. An inscription reading “Jesus, son of Joseph” would not be that sensational since another ossuary with that very inscription was found back in 1926.

The statistical argument does not prove at all that the Jesus of the ossuary is Jesus of Nazareth. It is neither statistically impossible nor improbable that this Jesus is another Jesus.

The appeal to DNA proof really proves little. They resorted to mitochondrial DNA
testing. Such testing determines whether there is a maternal relationship between two individuals. The test concluded that Jesus and Mariamne were not related maternally. The team then rushed to the conclusion that they must be husband and wife since one could not otherwise explain the presence of two unrelated people in a family tomb. Even if this is a family tomb, Mariamne could have been a half-sister, sister-in-law, cousin or aunt from the father’s side, rather than the wife of Jesus.

Christians must not attempt to dismiss the claims of The Jesus Family Tomb by claiming that they do not really matter. Instead, they should appeal to the compelling eyewitness accounts of the resurrection preserved in New Testament texts, our oldest and most reliable accounts of the events following Jesus’ crucifixion, and then carefully scrutinize the exaggerated, illogical, and poorly substantiated claims of the book and film.

If you want to hear more, the Rev. Greg Hunt of First Baptist Church, 543 Ockley Drive, Shreveport, will be talking about the film in a presentation at 5 p.m. Sunday in Frost Chapel.

And if you want a humorous take on it, check out Christianity Today blogger, Ted Olsen. Funny stuff.

1 comment:

Rob Tornoe said...

Great link. I'm an editorial cartoonist from New Jersey, and here is my thought on the whole "Lost Tomb of Jesus" debate.

Check out my cartoon here