The Lost Tomb of Jesus?

James Cameron, director of the movie Titanic, and his documentary director Simcha Jacobovici, claim they have found the lost tomb in which Jesus, his wife Mary Magdalene, and their son Judah were buried, along with other family members. During The Lost Tomb of Jesus, a two hour special which aired on the Discovery Channel March 4, Jacobovici unveiled the ossuaries, or ancient “bone boxes,” where he believes Jesus’ and his family members’ bones were once buried (but have since decayed). His book, The Jesus Family Tomb, was released the same week. One thing is certain: if Jacobovici's theory is correct, the bodily resurrection of Jesus is false. Jesus would have been just another man crucified by the Romans and entombed in an ossuary.

What are we to make of this? While Cameron and Jacobovici claim they have good evidence that this is indeed where Jesus was buried, there has been skepticism among archaeologists (especially the ones who excavated the gravesite in 1980), as well as Christian leaders who are frustrated at yet another attempt, Da Vinci style, to discredit the traditional faith. Even the secular media have been dubious. Scientific American reports that some of the scholars whose work was used in the film are angry about how it was portrayed. Other media outlets are just plain skeptical.  Newsweek writes, “Good sense, and the Bible, still the best existing historical record of Jesus of Nazareth, argue against Jacobovici’s claims.” Time magazine called the theory “problematic” and filled with “debatable conjecture.” They’re right. Here’s why.

First, there is too much historical evidence that we already have about Jesus which doesn’t fit with this tomb theory. For one thing, Amos Kloner, who was involved with the original excavation of the site, knew that “Jesus,” “Mary” and “Joseph,” as well as “Matthew” were very common names at this time in Israel, so the fact that they’re in a tomb together is not surprising at all. Kloner still maintains there’s nothing special about the tomb. Second, there are names on some of the ossuaries in the tombs that we don’t have any other historical record as being part of Jesus’ family, notably “Judah” (whom Jacobovici claims is Jesus’ son). One statistician calls the presence of the "Judah" ossuary a "falsifying instance," meaning that it is evidence that strongly counts against this being Jesus' family tomb because there is no other historical record that Jesus had a son. Third, there are members of Jesus’ family that we do know about which are not buried in this tomb. Why would they be buried somewhere else? In fact, why would Joseph, Jesus’ father, be buried in Jerusalem at all, since he was born in Bethlehem and probably died in Nazareth? Fourth, New Testament scholars (both secular and Christian) agree that the early Christian movement could not have began without some sort of belief in the Resurrection of Jesus. But how could such a belief have been maintained (and how could Jesus’ followers have risked their lives for it) if Jesus’ tomb was right there outside of Jerusalem for anyone to look at? Surely the Jewish authorities who wanted to shut down the burgeoning Christian movement would have produced Jesus’ body for all to see. See more detailed articles on this below.

Furthermore, the statistician who was shown in the documentary showing a supposedly 600 to 1 chance that this is not Jesus’ family tomb, has now backed off that conclusion in an open letter to fellow statisticians. In his letter, he says, "I now believe that I should not assert any conclusions connecting this tomb with any hypothetical one of the NT family." His statement here has to do with the assumptions upon which his calculations were based, including the key assumption that one of the names on the ossuaries ought to be identified as Mary Magdalene. If the identification of  Mary Magdalene with this ossuary is in doubt (and it is), then the statistical probability that this is Jesus' family tomb is unimpressive.

The articles we have collected below are mainly from some scholarly blog sites. As this is an ongoing saga, we will be adding new articles on this subject as they become available, so be sure to bookmark this page.

~LeaderU  Editors
(updated March 8, 2007)

The Jesus Family Tomb: Scholars Respond

Problems Multiply for Jesus Tomb Theory
Ben Witherinton III
Ben Witherington, author of What Have They Done with Jesus?, outlines many problems with the book, The Jesus Family Tomb, co-released with the Discovery Channel special.

Hollywood Hype: The Oscars and Jesus Family Tomb, What Do They Share?
Darrell Bock
Seminary professor and author Dr. Darrell Bock points out significant questions concerning the evidence and conclusions of The Jesus Family Tomb.

The Jesus Tomb? Titanic Talpiot Tomb Sunk from the Start
Ben Witherington III
New Testament scholar Ben Witherington blogs on the "Jesus Family Tomb" theory on the day of the press conference announcing the discovery.

The alleged `Jesus family tomb`
Richard Bauckham
Dr. Bauckham of St. Andrews University takes a detailed look at the names on the ossuaries of the supposed lost tomb of Jesus. He discusses the how common the names on the ossuaries are, and expresses skepticism at the probabilities used in the Discovery special. Particular attention is given to the name "Mariamenou-Mara" which is identified as Mary Magdalene by the Discovery Channel.

Related Resources:

The Historicity of the Empty Tomb of Jesus
William Lane Craig
In this scholarly article, Dr. Craig examines the evidence for the empty tomb from the New Testament, including Paul's narrative of the Resurrection and early traditions in the Gospel accounts. Craig does not presuppose the New Testament is historical, but sifts through the documents to argue for the historicity of each section of Scripture.

Contemporary Scholarship and the Historical Evidence for the Resurrection of Jesus
William Lane Craig
In this summary article, Craig recounts how in the last 25 years, a turn in contemporary scholarly study of Jesus has led to conclusions that tend to strengthen, rather than weaken, traditional interpretations of the Biblical accounts of the Resurrection.

Cruci-fiction and Resuscitation: The Greatest Hoax in the History of Humanity?
Russ Wise
Russ Wise from Probe Ministries examines the view liberal scholars have of the Resurrection: that there was no miracle, and that it is not central to Christianity. Also included is a discussion of the Gospels that did not make it into the Bible.

Jesus and DaVinci: Who Was Jesus Really?
The DaVinci Code is related to the controversy surrounding "The Jesus Family Tomb." Visit our sister website for articles related to the famous book and movie.