The Lost Tomb of Jesus

   Prepare for a flood of media coverage of the Cameron/Jacobovici film, The Lost Tomb of Jesus. Fox News has already picked it up, and I imagine you will be deluged with pictures of the ossuaries in question by tonight, with the major news outlets grabbing various folks with the film to do the morning shows on Tuesday and Wednesday. Don’t expect them to be looking for the best Christian apologists to give an answer, either. You know how the media works.
   As more of the storyline of The Lost Tomb of Jesus comes out, my suspicions are being confirmed. As I saw the list of “experts” in the article I cited yesterday, I had to try to figure out how their fields of expertise would be relevant to empty ossuaries. Two caught my attention immediately: DNA experts, and statistical experts. I theorized that statistics would be used on the names allegedly (I will explain the use of allegedly below) found on the ossuaries, and in reading a Canadian interview with “the Naked Archaeologist,” Simcha Jacobovici, I have found this is the case. The film will present probabilities of finding these specific names together in the same tomb. Of course, this raises the question about how you determine the names of Jews in the first century. Sure, you can come up with a list of names that have been found in various forms from history, from monuments, documents, ossuaries, and chiseled in stone on ossuaries, sepulchres, walls of homes, etc. But this hardly gives you a database that is overly relevant. Why? Well, outside of graffitti, poor folks don’t show up in historical documents and chiseled in stone nearly as often as the rich do. Jesus was not rich. His followers were not either. Remember the famine in Jerusalem requiring Paul to collect an offering for their assistance? Same time period, and things didn’t get much better in Jerusalem before its destruction in AD 70). The whole idea that Jesus would ever be buried in Jerusalem years later along with a family runs counter to every single fact we have from every other source known to us, which highlights the speculative nature of the argumentation of the film. In any case, the statistician would be giving us nothing but an educated guess and that without sufficient evidence in the social strata to which Jesus belonged to be even slightly relevant. Given that the number of entire families that have been unearthed is but a tiny percentage of the actual number of people who lived, it would be like concluding that a family with a father named Earl and a mother named Sarah and a boy named Michael could only have existed once in a particular part of the country, never twice. It is the kind of argumentation that while mildly interesting, is really only produced by those who are weaving a tapestry of wild possibilities, hoping you will be so mesmerized you won’t notice you are having your pockets picked. In any case, my suspicions were correct, and this is how the “statistics experts” will be used in the film.
   The next group is the DNA experts. My theory here was pretty easy, for anyone who has seen CSI half a dozen times: find “traces” of DNA in the ossuaries; prove the Joshua/Jesus ossuary contained bones (remember, the bones are gone–these would have to be nothing more than small bone fragments) that were not genetically related to Maria, and then try to prove that the ostensible offspring is related to Joshua/Jesus and Mariamne. Most, upon hearing about “DNA,” immediately assume there is some attempt to “identify” Jesus directly, which, of course, would be impossible. But that would be impossible, of course. And once again, this is what is coming out. The above linked article notes,

DNA tests conducted for the documentary at Lakehead University on two ossuaries — one inscribed Jesus son of Joseph and the other Mariamne, or Mary — confirm that the two were not related by blood, so were probably married.

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Oh Brother, Here We Go Again–or Do We? (Updated Below)

   Is this a joke? Maybe—but, it is too early to tell. Indications exist that this might be a spoof, and given that no details at all are given as to where this “press conference” is going to take place, that might be the case. However, this link suggests the film is real. So it is very hard to say.
   We have an article here making rather grandiose archaeological claims. One is immediately struck with the “showiness” of the piece. This isn’t a sober, scholarly work, and they seem to know it, since they do all they can to try to prop up their storyline even in announcing a press conference! “Decades of research” and repeated references to experts makes it clear these folks have an agenda right from the start. A few obvious questions would be, Who are the experts who have so far had access to these alleged caskets? How were they dated? Why were they kept secret and under the control of Jewish authorities for so long? Interestingly, one of the names cited in the article, Professor Amos Kloner, is also associated with the finding of the “James, the brother of Jesus” ossuary a few years ago, and in his report on that finding, made this comment, seemingly only four years ago:

The family of Jesus and James had no burial cave in first century Jerusalem and it is known that about a generation elapsed between the death of Jesus and that of James. It is not known from the details of their lives that the family moved from Nazareth to Jerusalem. It is thus not likely that in the space of thirty years the burial of a large family related to Jesus and his brother James developed in Jerusalem, that made it necessary to write the deceased’s name on the ossuary in order to distinguish him from others. According to the above proposal, that such an ossuary would derive from a large group, it is unlikely that the present ossuary of Ya‘acov son of Yosef originates in the burial cave of the above family. The rationalization that early Christians were buried in Jerusalem according to their own rites still lacks proof or evidence. The possibility of a sectarian burial exists, but it doesn’t seem likely that an ossuary would be inscribed in this special way, that normally would belong to a family burial. (reference)

   Yet, the article says he announced this finding ten years ago. Something smells a tad bit fishy here, if you ask me. The whole idea of families in caskets sounds so wonderfully Western, but, it isn’t the way of poor folks in first century Israel. What are these alleged caskets made of? They surely could not be made of wood, as they would not have lasted in the moist environment of Jerusalem (see Steven Fine’s “Why Bone Boxes?” BAR 27:05, Sep/Oct 2001). Are these ossuaries (hence, not caskets at all)? Use of ossuaries (as in the photo above) flourished around Jerusalem in the first century. They are in essence “bone boxes,” where the bones of the decomposed body were collected about a year after initial burial on a flat slab. Is that what is being claimed? We are left without sufficient information to even begin to ask the best questions, let alone respond. And it all points to this being, as one commentator on the article says, a “Purim joke.” Maybe. But it would also be perfectly logical to launch an attack like this in film, put it out there before any rebuttal can even be organized, just to have “maximum effect.” That is not the way of sober scholarship, of course, but it is the way of the world.
   In any case, here’s my prediction if this is not, in fact, a mere joke. If there is some big press conference and the film has already been produced, this will get lots of airplay because of the allegation that here is more “proof” that Jesus was married to Mary Magdalene and had children. “See, we told you!” will be the cry of the wild-eyed Da Vinci Code addicts. Then the scholarly challenges will come, examinations will be made by those without a financial investment to protect, and once the truth is known, the media will be…oddly busy that day/week, etc. But the problem will be that without any substantiation or study, this kind of allegation will be taken as “fact” and repeated ad nauseum for the foreseeable future. Sound like a decent prediction? But, if this is just a joke, well, at least you can now amaze your friends by knowing what an ossuary is!
UPDATE
   It seems old stories never die. In point of fact, ten years ago this story surfaced. I have the feeling it was the money connected with The Da Vinci Code that raised this story back to life (pun fully intended). Here are two stories from 1996 giving the background:
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