Tuesday, February 27, 2007

7 Reasons Cameron's Theory is Sinking

Revised and updated

I keep getting asked to discuss this so-called "discovery". Have they discovered the tomb of Jesus Christ? Does this discovery prove that Jesus never rose from the dead?

Here I want to cover the essential issues involved. Of course, everything can't be said--I just want to point out seven of the main reasons this new "discovery" is going to sink to the sea floor and be forgotten like a proverbial rusting shipwreck .

1. We are not talking here about the supposed body of Jesus. Everyone looks over that--in fact, when I first posted on this I was even under the impression that this documentary was goiong to discuss the "bones" of Jesus. Of course, if they found the bones of a man named "Yeshua" we would first want to look for evidence of a crucifixion--but no one is talking about finding the bones of a crucified man. Of course, it isn't Jesus' tomb anyway as we will explain, I just thought I ought to clarify the matter.

2. There is no way to know whether or not the "Yeshua" in question here is the "Yeshua" who founded Christianity. First off, there are two inscriptions bearing the name Yeshua: (1) one on an ossuary which reads "Yeshua ben Yehoseph" (or "Jesus son of Joseph") and (2) a second one another ossuary which reads "Yehudah ben Yeshua" (or "Judah son of Jesus"). Let me point out that the first inscription--the one on the ossuary which is believed to be the burial box of the man named Yeshua--is extremely hard to read (see the picture above). One scholar, Stephen Pfann (University of the Holy Land) says that we can't even be sure that it even reads "Yeshua son of Joseph" [source]. But let's just assume it reads that way. After all, there is a second ossuary which clearly bears the name Yeshua. Nonetheless, the claims being made are completely absurd given the data.

The Israeli scholar Tal Ilan has published a remarkable book, Lexicon of Jewish Names in Late Antiquity: Part I: Palestine 330 BCE - 200 CE (Tubingen: Mohr, 2002). In this book, Ilan has collected the names of all those known from ancient works and archeological discoveries, such as burial sites and inscriptions. In his book, Jesus and the Eyewitnesses (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2006), Bauckham has refined this work to give us a good idea of name-giving practices in the first century.

For our purposes here we learn something not mentioned in all the hype of this so-called "discovery". Yeshua was the sixth most common name of Jewish males in Jesus' day. In fact, according to Bauckham's Jesus and the Eyewitnesses, 41.5% of all men were given one of the nine most common names. Moreover, in the records found, only 7.9% of people bore a name that is never attested elsewhere. The gist of all of this is that there weren't a lot of different names going around. In particular, there were a lot of people named "Yeshua".

But wait! The "Yeshua" found here is also called "the son of Joseph"--as Jesus was known as the son of a Joseph in the New Testament. Doesn't that make it likely that this is the Jesus of Christianity? No. While Yeshua was the sixth most popular name, Joseph was the second most common name for men. In fact, other burial sites for men named "Jesus son of Joseph" have been found before! This is why when this tomb was first found in 1980--that's 27 years ago!--no one was making such outrageous claims.

But wait--there is also an inscription on one of the ossuaries for a Miriamne (=Mary). Doesn't that make narrow down the odds so we can say that this is the family tomb of Jesus of Nazareth? No. Miriamne was the most popular name for Jewish girls--in fact, 21% of all Jewish females were named Miriamne.

So let's sum up. Statistics indicate that there were quite a number of people in Jesus' day who had the name of Yeshua, who also had a father named Joseph, were associated with more than one person named Miriamne or Mary. The cluster of names here is not extraordinary--in fact, you would expect to find many of these names together.

3. There is no record of Jesus ever being related to a "Matya" (=Matthew?). The inscription "Matya" is believed to be a reference to "Matthew". Now, this is supposedly the tomb of Jesus' family--but there is no record of anyone named "Matthew" ever being associated with Jesus' family. Yes, the first Gospel is attributed to the apostle Matthew--but no one in history has ever said that Matthew was related to Jesus. One could easily make the case that since there is no evidence whatsoever that there was a relative of Jesus named "Matthew", the presence of such a name here actually undermines the claim that this was the family tomb of Jesus. By the way, Matthew was the ninth most common Jewish name for males.

4. The claim about this "Yeshua" being married to a "Miriamne" has numerous problems. Cameron claims that the "Yeshua" in question was married to a Miriamne whose ossuary was also found in the same tomb. Why does he claim that? Is it because there is an inscription, "Yeshua, the husband of Miriamne" or "Miriamne the wife of Yeshua"? No! There is no such inscription found.

So how does he know the two were married? Well, because the DNA found in the Miriamne box does not match the DNA found in the Yeshua burial box. But the logic being used here is patently absurd! Just because you find two people in the same tomb whose DNA does not match one cannot say, "Clearly, these two were married."

Moreover, there are other men buried in this tomb. In fact, at least three of the other names found are men! Why must we assume "Miriamne" was married to "Yeshua"? Couldn't she have been the wife of "Yehuda" (Judah) or "Yehosef" (Joseph)?

Finally, Christopher Heard points out that the DNA test used was Mitochondrial DNA, which can only determine whether two people are related in the maternal blood line. The so-called DNA test isn't really clear on whether or not Miriamne and Yeshua were related through their paternal line.

By the way, although they did tests to see if this Yeshua and Mary were not related (which were the most likely odds anyway), they did not do tests to see if the DNA of "Matia" matched Yeshua. Nor did they do any tests to see if the supposed "Yehudah son of Yeshua" matched the DNA of the supposed burial box of the person they claim is Mary Magdalene. Hmmm... isn't that odd? I guess if you don't have any evidence it frees you up a little to conjecture all you'd like.

And what I haven't told you yet is this: the DNA tests mean nothing because they found more than one skeleton in different ossuaries. In other words, more than one body was placed in some of the ossuaries. That means that all the DNA tests are pointless!

But here's what's more important. Jesus was not married to Mary Magdalene! There is absolutely no historical evidence to indicate he ever was married to anyone. In fact, all the evidence indicates that he was not.

The only ancient text that a person who wanted to make that claim could turn to is the one Dan Brown uses in The Davinci Code, the non-biblical Gospel of Philip. That book calls Mary the "companion" of Jesus (Gospel of Philip 59). Brown insists that the Aramaic word here means "spouse" (Brown, p. 234). That's ridiculous. First of all, the book is not in Aramaic, it is in Coptic! Secondly, it doesn't imply a spousal relationship. It means "companion."

Another passage cited by those who claim Jesus was married to Mary Magdalene is Gospel of Philip 63, 64, which reads like this: “Christ loved [Mary] more than all the disciples and used to kiss her often on her mouth.” This is how Brown and others quote this verse--but what they never tell you is that this is a highly questionable reading of the passage. The original document contains holes in key places. It tells us that Jesus “used to kiss her often on...”--and then there is a hole in the text. Whether the next word is “mouth” is not clear—it might simply be “cheek.”

Regardless, it is clear that the book of Philip uses the image of the “kiss” as a metaphor for spiritual communion. To read this passage as evidence of a sexual relationship between Jesus and Mary Magdalene misunderstands and misrepresents what the passage is saying. It should also be pointed out that many scholars aren't even sure that the Mary mentioned here is Mary Magdalene--it never calls her Mary Magdalene. The Mary here is the sister of Martha--but whether that is Mary Magdalene is not clear.

Now, celibacy may sound weird to 20th century Americans unfamiliar with Christianity or first century Judaism but the fact is, in Jesus' day many religious Jews remained celibate.

Josephus tells us about one particular group in Jesus' day called Essenes who were known for embracing celibacy. According to Josephus, they were apparently one of the largest sects in ancient Judaism [cf. Antiquities, 17.2.4; 18.21]. He writes that they "neither marry wives, nor are desirous to keep servants" (cf. Antiquities, 18.21). Of course, not all Essenes remained celibate--"they do not absolutely deny the wellness of marriage"--but many apparently did (cf. also see Jewish War, 2:119 & 160).

Jewish asceticism therefore included celibacy. So, therefore, although it may be hard for 20th century western Americans to grasp, celibacy was not abnormal in Jesus' day. Moreover, Jesus was clearly an ascetic. He fasted, he prayed, he went out into the wilderness to be alone with God. And, once more, there is not a shred of evidence that he was ever married--either to Mary Magdelene or to any one else. If this tomb indicates that its former occupant once had a wife and a family this is the very thing which puts the "final nail in the coffin"--at least, this one. This is the tomb of some other Yeshua (Jesus).

5. The claim that the so-called "James ossuary" was once part of this tomb is flatly false. Now, keep in mind that this "James ossuary" is highly controversial to begin with and the man behind it is now on trial for fraud. While some believe it still might be authentic, most scholars believe it is not. Moreover, the whole scandal has shed light on the problems surrounding the whole industry of ancient artifacts in the Holy Land.

James Tabor is one of those interviewed by Cameron in support of the claims being made by this documentary. Tabor argues that the James ossuary fits the description of the missing tenth ossuary from this tomb. But the evidence flatly contradicts this. New Testament scholar Mark Goodacre reports on an interview on Xtalk radio with Stephen Goranson and John Poirier, who made two important points. First of all, Goranson explains that it had previously been reported that the ossuary that went missing had "no inscription" on it at all. [Amos Kloner, "A Tomb with Inscribed Ossuaries in East Talpiot," 'Atiqot 29 (1996): 17, Table 3]. Secondly, John Poirier relates that the description of the James ossuary does not match that of the missing one from the tomb:

"Another thing that doesn't add up are the dimensions of the ossuaries inquestion. As I posted on this list on Oct 8, 2006, Tabor's claim that "the dimensions of the missing tenth ossuary [from the Talpiot tomb] are precisely the same, to the centimeter, to those of the James Ossuary" is bogus. BAR lists the dimensions of the James ossuary as 50.5 cm x 25 cm x 30.5 cm, whilethe report on the Talpiot tomb published in Atiqot 29 (1996) 15-22, lists thetenth ossuary as measuring 60 cm x 26 cm x 30 cm. Tabor has been aware of this discrepancy at least since Nov 23, 2006 (when I first heard Tabor's complaint about a piece I wrote for Jerusalem Perspective, in which I cite this along with several other problems with his theory). He could only continue to hold his theory after that date, therefore, if he has reason to suspect that the published report on one of the two ossuaries is in error."
One more thing: the James Ossuary was said to have been found in Silwan, not Tilpiot, the location of the tomb in question here--indeed, dirt matching Silwan was found in the James ossuary. It has never been linked to Tilpiot. Moreover, the fourth-century historian Eusebius tells us that the tomb of James was not a family tomb and was near the temple mount, which is far from Tilpiot (cf. Eccl. Hist. 2.23.18).

6. It makes no sense that they would have made an ossuary for Jesus in the first place--even if one assumes the whole resurrection story was a lie. Let's think about this. Bones were placed in ossuaries after the body had de-composed. In other words, first you would place a body in a tomb. Then afterward you would remove the bones from the tomb and place them in an ossuary.

If James Cameron and his supporters are right and this is the ossuary of Jesus, that would paint an implausible scenario. We know that Jesus' brother James--whose ossuary, Cameron claims was also placed in this family tomb--and other members of Jesus' family joined the Christian movement. Josephus, for example, seems to speak highly of James, "the brother of Jesus who was called the Christ" (Antiquities 20:200-201). This would mean that James, Peter, John and others were involved in the biggest fraud in history. These uneducated Galileans devised the greatest lie in history and fooled the world. And when they were all tortured and threatened with death, they continued with the lie.

This is crazy. Why would Jesus' family (and Matthew!?) seek out Jesus' hidden remains, bring them to Jerusalem, place them in an ossuary and write his name on it!? How could such stupidity manage to keep up the lie. Wouldn't all of that work to preserve Jesus' remains be needlessly risky? That takes almost as much faith as just believing it was all true!

In fact, none of the early witnesses to Christ's resurrection ever recanted--and you can be sure that if one of them did admit it was all a fraud, we would have heard about it. This was the case made for Christianity by one of the greatest minds of western history, Blaise Pascal:
"The apostles were either deceived or deceivers. Either supposition is difficult, for it is not possible to imagine that a man has risen from the dead. While Jesus was with them, he could sustain them; but afterwards, if he did not appear to them, who did make them act? The hypothesis that the Apostles were knaves is quite absurd. Follow it out to the end, and imagine these twelve men meeting after Jesus' death and conspiring to say that he has risen from the dead. This means attacking all the powers that be. The human heart is singularly susceptible to fickleness, to change, to promises, to bribery. One of them had only to deny his story under these inducements, or still more because of possible imprisonment, tortures and death, and they would all have been lost. Follow that out." (Pascal, Pensees, 322, 310).
7. In all the hype, the media is not reporting everything accurately. For example, the actual inscription on the supposed Mary Magdalene ossuary reads: "Miriamenou Mara" ("ΜARIAMENOUMARA")--most likely, "Mary Martha". You might see that the inscription reads, "Mary or Martha" but that is not what it says--the "or" ( ή ) has been added by scholars.

Now when was Mary Magdalene ever referred to as "Mary Martha"?! She wasn't... but that doesn't sell books. In fact, Richard Bauckham has shown that there are numerous difficulties involved with the claim that "Mariamenou Mara" was a name for Mary Magdalene--if you want all the details you can go here for more on that.

I'll end this with the words of Mark Goodacre, who has done a great job covering this.

At the risk of labouring the point, let me attempt to explain my concerns by using the analogy of which the film-makers are so fond, the Beatles analogy. This analogy works by saying that if in 2,000 years a tomb was discovered in Liverpool that featured the names John, Paul and George, we would not immediately conclude that we had found the tomb of the Beatles. But if we also found so distinctive a name as Ringo, then we would be interested. Jacobovici claims that the "Ringo" in this tomb is Mariamene, whom he interprets as Mary Magdalene and as Jesus's wife, which is problematic (see Mariamne and the "Jesus Family Tomb" ...). What we actually have is the equivalent of a tomb with the names John, Paul, George, Martin, Alan and Ziggy. We might well say, "Perhaps the 'Martin' is George Martin, and so this is a match!" or "Perhaps John Lennon had a son called Ziggy we have not previously heard about" but this would be special pleading and we would rightly reject such claims. A cluster of names is only impressive when it is a cluster that is uncontaminated by non-matches and contradictory evidence [source].

Labels: Jesus Family Tomb, James Ossuary, Ossuaries, Burial Box, Mary Magdalene


Anonymous said...

I agree. The media hype is inaccurate. All the OFFICIAL information about the finding and the actual book is on:


No one is denying that this tomb was found in 1980. It would make sense for those who dismissed these findings earlier to reject them now that research has been performed. Wouldn't you deny it if you accidentally looked over the entire holy family?

Okiepug said...

You are assuming you have proven this is the holy family. Give me a break, it's not even close. Have you ever considered that no matter how much evidence tears the theory apart, Jacobovici, Tabor and Cameron will continue to promote it as fact in order to make money?

Anonymous said...

Why would a poor family from Nazareth have a rather large tomb in Jerusalem? That is a three day walk, if I remember correctly. Kind of makes it hard to visit the family plot.

EVE said...

Regarding the bones, were they discovered back in 1980 and then reburied? Or were there never any discovered with this tomb at all and then assumed they had been reburied?

ElaineT said...

Michael, Thanks for the analysis. Handy to have it all in one place.

Anonymous said...

The show has not yet aired, the evidence has not been laid on the table. Unless you have read the book, it is impossible to make any judgements whatsoever.

RKK said...

Nice page. I've added an article to the discussion:


R. Kirk Kilpatrick

Prup (aka Jim Benton) said...

I wonder if your particular "Mr. Anonymous" is the same one who I ran into on DEBUNKING CHRISTIANITY. Similar. though less verbose style, refusal to answer any criticisms except by saying 'if you haven't watched the show, you can't comment.'

Anyway, I have read the website, and that alone proves how absurd the arguments for this are -- and I am an atheist who has been one for 45 (of my 60) years, so I can't be accused of being blinded by faith.

I won't repeat the arguments I have made on other sites, except for one that is as conclusive an example of *ahem* less than precise thinking and logic. The website mentions the finding of a child-sized ossuary labeled Judah, Son of Jesus. They suggest this may imply that Jesus had a son who grew up to be the 'Beloved Disciple" and who may have been identical with Thomas, and the 'name change' was a way of hiding him.

Well, no. The presence of a child-sized ossuary with child-sized bones implies, to a near certainty, that the child involved DIDN'T grow up.

Similarly, the web site states:"“The Lost Tomb Of Jesus” does not challenge the Resurrection. It asks viewers to consider the possibility that the Resurrection occurred from a second tomb."
Only this resurrection left the bones behind, so they could be placed in an ossuary, something which occurred -- even according to the website -- after "the flesh had been left to decompose and desiccate." This process took some time, at least a couple of years. (If you check the website, the note under secondary burial has its own delightful absurdity, but I'll leave that to the reader.)

I could go on to lidst other absurdities and errors -- the Freemasons do NOT go back to ancient Egypt, for example. But just let's say this 'documentary' may prove pleasant comedy relief, but it does nothing to affect the story of Christianity. (I might argue that other things do, but that's a whole different topic.)