The Remains of Jesus?
- Regis Nicoll
- 2007 27 Feb
How did they come across such a sensational find? It all goes back to the 1980 discovery of a cave in a backwater neighborhood in Jerusalem in which six coffins were scribbled with the names: “Jesua son of Joseph, Mary, Mary, Matthew, Jofa (Joseph, identified as Jesus’ brother), Judah son of Jesua (Jesus’ son - the filmmakers claim).” Then after DNA analysis and “close work with world-famous scientists” Cameron and company concluded that the cave contained Jesus’ remains.
But there several things quite odd about this. First off, the names Mary, Joseph and Jesus are some of the most common names in early Palestine. One of my colleagues remarked, “It’s like finding a cemetery plot in Great Britain 100 years from now with tombs bearing the names of Philip, Elizabeth, Anne and Margaret, and concluding they contain the remains of the Royal Family.” Second, although DNA could establish the relationships between those in the cave, it is incapable of identifying any one of them as being Jesus of Nazareth. Third, it fails to mention anything about crucifixion forensics. Fourth, Amos Kloner the archaeologist who wrote the official report on the cave ten years ago concluded, the "possibility of it being Jesus' family [is] very close to zero. [and] And Motti Neiger, spokesperson for the Israel Antiquities Authority, agreed "that chances of these being the actual burials of the holy family are almost nil."
In fact, if this cave did contain the remains of Jesus it would be nigh impossible to verify 2000 years later. That said, in the days, weeks and months after Jesus’s death, it would have been certain -- an important point to keep in mind.
Both the Jewish leadership and the Roman authorities were not only highly motivated to quash any resurrection ruse, but had the political muscle and wherewithal to extract confessions and find the body, if indeed it existed. That no body was ever found is reflected in the extra-biblical account by the Jewish historian, Josephus, in the late first century:
“Now there was about this time Jesus… [the] Christ. And when Pilate, at the suggestion of the principal men amongst us, had condemned him to the cross, those that loved him at the first did not forsake him; for he appeared to them alive again the third day; as the divine prophets had foretold these and ten thousand other wonderful things concerning him. And the tribe of Christians, so named from him, are not extinct at this day.” (Antiquities 18.3.3)
I’m sure that Cameron’s film will get its share of media attention — maybe enough to put Anna and Britney “beneath the fold.” All the same, this whole exercise — a filmmaker doing archaeology — reminds one of a certain politician doing climate science. But that’s a whole other story.
Regis Nicoll is a Centurion of Prison Fellowship Ministries Wilberforce Forum. After a 30-year career as a nuclear specialist, Regis became a freelance writer who writes on current cultural issues from a Christian perspective.