Problems with “The Lost Tomb of Jesus”

If you haven’t heard already, on March 4th the Discovery Channel will air a documentary by Titanic director James Cameron called “The Lost Tomb of Jesus”. The documentary claims that archeologists have discovered the actual grave of Jesus and his family, including his wife Mary Magdalene and their son Judah. If true, this find would shake the very foundations of Christianity.

In 1980, ten small caskets were unearthed in a suburb of Jerusalem. Six of the caskets contain inscriptions with the Biblical names “Jesus”, “Maria” (or Mary), “Mariamne” (or Mary Magdalene), “Matthew”, “James”, “Yose” (Joseph), and “Judah, son of Jesus”. If this really is the family tomb of Jesus of Nazareth, and if those really are his bones, then we have scientific proof that the resurrection never happened and Christianity has been officially debunked. Even the apostle Paul admitted, “if Christ has not been raised, our preaching is useless and so is your faith…If only for this life we have hope in Christ, we are to be pitied more than all men.” (1 Corinthians 15:14-19)

But don’t go closing the church doors just yet. The “lost tomb” theory is far from clear-cut. In fact, it’s full of holes. A quick Google search will reveal that there are plenty of scholars who doubt the findings or even dismiss them outright. For one thing, the tomb was discovered back in 1980. Archeologists have known about it for over 25 years. If the find is really so earth-shattering, why didn’t anyone say anything sooner?

Below are several flaws in the theory that this is really Jesus’ tomb (taken from Christian News Wire):

Ben Witherington, New Testament professor at Asbury Theological Seminary, and other scholars offer 10 reasons why they think the “Jesus tomb” claims are false:

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 his body was moved to another tomb to decay for one year before putting his bones in an ossuary.

Here’s another problem with the “We found Jesus’ grave” theory: From the very beginning the enemies of Christianity have wanted to crush it. The reason guards were posted at the tomb of Jesus was to keep the disciples from stealing the body and claiming a ressurection (Matthew 27:62-64). If Jesus did not really rise bodily from the grave his enemies could have simply gone to the tomb, thrown the body in a cart, wheeled it down the streets of Jerusalem, and Christianity would have been dead in the womb. But even Jesus’ enemies had to admit that the body could not be found. And the disciples died horrible martyr’s deaths because of their belief in a risen Jesus. Would they really have given their lives for something they knew was a lie?

Every year around Easter we see stories in the media designed to undermine Christianity. But eventually they all crumble because they are built on sand. If you decide to watch the Discovery channel special, keeping the above facts in mind will help you separate the truth from the hype.

(EDIT: According to a blog at TIME magazine, immediately after “The Lost Tomb of Jesus” on March 4 the Discovery channel will air an hour-long panel discussion hosted by Ted Koppel. “The panel will explore the filmmakers’ profound assertions and challenge their assumptions and suggested conclusions.” I hope there will be someone on the panel that points out the many flaws in the documentary and set the record straight. But I’m not holding my breath.)