I'm sure by now most of you have either heard of or have seen the recent Discovery Channel program called "The Lost Tomb of Jesus." It was produced by the famed filmmaker James Cameron and directed by Simcha JacoboDavinci Code, err, excuse me, Jacobovici, with help from Felix Gobulev and others. Now that Freudian slip humor about the DaVinci Code will become more clear to you as we move along.
What the Discovery Channel presented on March 4, 2007 was really nothing new because the actual discovery of the tomb and its boxes (ossuaries) happened way back in 1980. What’s new is the style over substance presentation provided by Cameron and the superficial scientific façade that was added to make the story seem more credible. So what was found and what did they try to argue?
1. An ancient tomb with 10 ossuaries (bone burial boxes) in it but one mysteriously disappeared.
2. Seven out of the ten ossuaries have inscriptions
3.The names on the boxes are said to be:
In Hebrew: Jesus son of Joseph, Maria (Mary), Matia (Matthew), Jose, James son of Joseph brother of Jesus, Judah son of Jesus.
In Greek: Maria (Mariamne) e Mara (interpreted to mean Mary Magdalene the master)
Show Conclusion: All of these names taken together make a compelling case for this tomb being the Jesus of Nazareth family tomb.
9 Disturbing Assumptions Revealed
Assumption 1: Authentic Inscriptions
What is very interesting about the show is that at no time were the inscriptions themselves in question. This is strange, since it is a matter of common sense reason that you can make a bone box at one time, and yet inscribe on it anything you want at another time. You can go to a 30-year-old building and carve “Jesus son of Joseph” on it today, but it would not prove that what you carved was 30 years old. So this very important issue of the authenticity of these inscriptions was totally ignored by the producers, scholars, and all who participated in the film. Why? The whole thesis falls apart without conclusive or next to conclusive evidence that these names were inscribed during the 1st century and not centuries later by a clever but agenda driven forger.
Assumption 2: Common Names Mean Nothing
Most of the experts used by Simcha on his own show said clearly that all of these were common names during the time of Jesus. This is probably part of the reason why there was no hysteria built up over this discovery back in 1980. But pressing on undaunted by this fact, Simcha decided that this cluster of names somehow must point to the Jesus of Nazareth of the New Testament and His family tomb. But as you will see later on, Simcha had to assume and speculate many things in order to reach such a conclusion, and assumption and speculation are notorious for leading us away from truth, not towards it.
Assumption # 3: No Bone Box Contamination
The show creators apparently never bothered to address the possibility that the bone boxes could have been contaminated prior to their DNA investigation. Anyone could have put any old bones in these boxes over the years, and since there was no clear and unbroken chain of custody from the time the boxes were made to the time they were found, there is no way to be certain that there was no contamination. Therefore, any conclusions based on any DNA testing of contents in these boxes can only yield speculative results at best, and flawed results at worst.
Assumption # 4: Lack of Mitochondrial Link Proves Marital Link
In a strange coincidence, it seems that only the Mariamne and Jesus ossuaries seemed to yield testable DNA fragments. The argument was made that since this was a family tomb, anyone found in it must have been family in some sense. If the two were not related maternally by testing the mitochondrial DNA, then it is likely that the two were family by marriage. This sounds reasonable enough, until you think about it a little more.
The problem with arguing this way (despite the weak attempt to link Mariamne with the Mary Magdalene of the Gospels) is that DNA cannot test for marital relationships by the facts in the case. As Ted Koppel’s analysis after the show demonstrated using the very scientists that Simcha used, other links besides marital are possible. But Simcha chose to accept a marital thesis that isn’t even conclusive by the science he himself used.
And of course the very assumption that Jesus of Nazareth could have left any bones or DNA remains to be examined in the first place, when the unanimous conclusion of the New Testament is that Jesus was raised from the dead bones completely intact, is an assumption that rests on extremely shaky ground. For without it, the whole speculative enterprise is destroyed if we accept the testimony of the Scriptures (Luke 24:36-43; Romans 8:11; Philippians 3:21; 1 Corinthians 15:42-44).
Assumption # 5: Second and Fourth Century Documents more Reliable than the Gospels
The Gospels can now be accurately called first century eyewitness records. Even some of the more liberal scholars do not date them beyond the second century. However, we must wonder on what grounds did the show producers determine that fourth century documents are somehow equal to or above the canonical Gospels? The show argued for the acceptance of the “gospel of Mary Magdalene” and the “Acts of Philip,” both of which postdate the canonical Gospels by at least 100 years. According to the “Jesus Family Tomb” website, they used “The Pistis Sophia and The Gospel of Philip, both far too late to reflect eyewitness testimony (Pistis Sophia, 250-300, Gospel of Philip, 4th century).
All of this can be looked up easily on the Web. So there is no doubt that those behind the “Jesus Family Tomb” decided somehow that these very late documents somehow trump the Gospels and provide accurate insight into the first century of Judeo-Christianity.
Assumption # 6: Mariamne and Mary Magdalene are the Same Person
From assumption five the show producers came up with their sixth assumption, that the Mariamne which appears to be linked by 2nd to 4th century documents to the Mary Magdalene of the 1st century Gospels is a valid historical link. But the simple fact of the matter is, the ossuary they found does not read “Mariam e Magdalene,” which is how it reads in the Greek New Testament text. I would have had more respect for the claim of a link if this were the case, but this attempt to grasp at straws cannot be viewed as serious scholarship.
And, once again, it is entirely foolish to accept documents that were produced much later than the Gospels as if they accurately represented Judeo-Christian belief in the first century. Neither the “gospel” of Philip nor the “gospel” of Mary Magdalene claim to be written by those whose names have been ascribed to them. While this may also be true of the canonical Gospels, we cannot say with scholarly credibility that they are from the second to fourth century as “Philip” and “Magdalene” certainly are.
And what is even more interesting is the information that the show didn’t give us about certain aspects of this Mary. The show flashes and cuts to one of Simcha’s experts, a Prof. Francois Bovon of Harvard Divinity School, who is said to have found a more complete copy of the “…4th century text, the Acts of Philip.” With dramatic style the show’s narrator goes on to say, “…in the Acts of Philip, Mary Magdalene’s name is spelled M A R I A M N E” (each letter flashing forward toward an ancient text on superimposed on the screen).
Prof. Bovon follows this great graphic display by saying, “Mariamne is the same woman as Mary of Magdala or Mary Magdalene in the Synoptic Gospels and in some non-canonical texts…” But what Bovon didn’t tell you is that this is only his opinion, not credible fact based on the Acts of Philip itself. You can read it for yourself here (http://www.magdalene.org/acts_of_philip.php), and also read what it says on a website dedicated to Mary Magdalene:
“Although this woman is never identified beyond her first name, Bovon believes that, consistent with other contemporary references to Jesus' foremost follower, this Mariamne COULD HAVE BEEN Mary Magdalene.” (taken from http://www.magdalene.org/em_actsphilip.php, emphasis added)
So what was presented as a definite fact that this Mariamne was also the Mary Magdalene of the Gospels is actually just the opinion of Prof. Bovon with no substantial basis for his opinion other than his personal opinion. Can anyone say “circular reasoning”?
Futhermore, there is more that the show didn’t reveal about this truly mysterious Mariamne. While it is true that in the Acts of Philip she is said to have been called “chosen among women” by Jesus and even performed miracles and baptized converts, it is also true that it records that she assisted in slaying a dragon and turned into (or became like) an “ark of glass” filled with light and fire.
And although the show’s website tries to justify how her remains got in the alleged Jesus family tomb in Jerusalem when it says, “And that she died at the Jordan River, ‘near Jerusalem,’ not in France or Ephesus as later tradition suggests,” the Acts of Philip itself says something quite different. It actually has Jesus allegedly say, "...and Mariamne's body shall be laid up in the river Jordan. "
But if her body was “laid up” in the Jordan, what are her alleged remains doing in an ossuary in a tomb in Jerusalem? Another interesting detail that the show conveniently left out. Consequently, it would seem that this “link” was entirely fabricated, and that this part of the show was nothing more than style over substance deception and made-for-TV drama instead of serious scholarship attempting to get at the truth.
This article is incomplete and will be edited and added to until completion. Comments or questions are still welcomed during this process.
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