Here we go again.
Jesus married Mary Magdalene, had a son named Judah, and one day we’ll find his tomb.
Strike that. Now we have found his tomb, thanks to James Cameron, director of the movie Titanic. Citing everything from DNA evidence to statistical proof, Cameron puts his claim forward on the Discovery Channel this Sunday, March 4, in a documentary titled The Lost Tomb of Jesus.
The tomb in question is hardly new, having been discovered in 1980. The crypt in question contained 10 ossuaries, none of which contained human remains. Six of them were inscribed with names; “Yeshua bar Yosef,” “Maria,” “Mariamene e mara,” Matia,” Yose,” and “Yehuda bar Yeshua.”
Cameron and the documentary’s actual director, Simcha Jacobovici, claim that the names refer to Jesus, Jesus’ mother Mary, his apparent wife, Mary Magdalene, and his son, Judah – along with Joseph and Matthew. The reasoning is based on the supposed 600 to 1 statistical improbability of these six names being together in one tomb. And the marriage between Jesus and Mary Magdalene? It’s based on DNA evidence that the ossuary inscribed “Jesus” and the ossuary containing “Mary” demonstrate they were not related (and thus must have been a couple).
Yep, that’s it.
Overlooked: These were six of the most common names of the day, akin to Tom, Dick and Harry, and with the last name of Smith. (*More than one out of every five women during the time were named “Mary,” and Jesus, Joseph, and Judah were among the top ten names of the day).
Overlooked: The inscriptions are in different languages (Hebrew, Aramaic and Greek), suggesting an intergenerational tomb, probably dating after A.D. 70.
Overlooked: Jesus is never called “Jesus son of Joseph” (as inscribed here) by his followers, much less anyone who knew him well, in any of the biblical accounts of his life.
Overlooked: That two of the ossuaries were unrelated is meaningless. And to establish anything definitive about Jesus and another person through DNA, you would have to have control samples of Jesus’ DNA to compare another person’s DNA to, which we do not have. (*And all Cameron and crew had was mitochondrial DNA, which cannot even establish XY chromosomes and genetic coding).
Overlooked: To calculate the “odds” of something demands proper statistical input, and it has been pointed out that they did not, in fact, use the proper input.
Overlooked: The problematic location of the tomb itself; rather than his ancestral home of Bethlehem, or his adult home of Nazareth (where the family still lived after his death), it is in Jerusalem. And even then, not even near the Temple Mount.
Overlooked: Why would Jesus’ disciples publicly proclaim a risen Jesus while simultaneously build a public tomb for his bones? (*And the décor on the tomb was designed to draw attention to it, as opposed to keeping it secret).
Now wonder that the archaeologist in charge, Amos Kloner, who wrote the official report on the find in 1980 for the Israel Antiquities Authority, called Cameron’s claims nonsense. So once again, James Cameron invites us to join him on a sinking ship. Or more to the point, one that never set out to sea to begin with.
So what is really at hand here?
First, a demonstration of how easy it is in our day to orchestrate a media event with little more than the promise of sensationalism and the right celebrity involvement. No real substance, fact, or discovery. Question: What might we do as followers of Christ for good, and with truth?
Second, how willing members of the media are is to seize on the sensational headline, even if the story itself reveals the dubious nature of the story itself, thus injecting the idea into the mainstream of cultural thought. Question: Have we so tamed the gospel, and life in community, that there is nothing sensational for the media to report?
Third, a reminder of the tedious – but important – work we must continually do in light of the torrent of misinformation that is being paraded through the public square; whether due to a documentary on the Discovery Channel, HBO, or the corner Cineplex. Question: As we answer such challenges, do we do so with a sincere spiritual seeker in mind?
But finally, on a more promising note, Cameron and crew offer all brisk admonishment to those who follow Christ that our culture is fascinated not simply with the spiritual, but with Jesus Himself – not to mention the heart of our faith, which is that we will never find a tomb with His remains.
Which leaves me, at least, with the ultimate question: Do I have one ounce of Cameron’s passion, energy and commitment to put that forward to the world?
James Emery White
“Crypt Held Bodies of Jesus And His Family, Film Says,” Laurie Goodstein, The New York Times, Tuesday, February 27, 2007, p. A10.
“Debate of biblical proportions,” Dan Vergano, USA Today, Tuesday, February 27, 2007, p.10D.
“Remains of the Day,” Tabby Yang, Christianity Today Online, posted 2/28/2007 (http://www.christianitytoday.com/ct/2007/februaryweb-only/109-33.0.html).
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About Dr. James Emery White
James Emery White is the founding and senior pastor of Mecklenburg Community Church in Charlotte, North Carolina; President of Serious Times, a ministry which explores the intersection of faith and culture (www.serioustimes.org); and ranked adjunctive professor of theology and culture on the Charlotte campus of Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary. Dr. White holds the B.S., M.Div. and Ph.D. degrees, along with additional work at Vanderbilt University and Oxford University. He is the author of over a dozen books.
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