Hollywood Hype: The Oscars and Jesus' Family Tomb, What Do They Share?

Darrell L. Bock Ph.D.

Darrell L. Bock is Research Professor of New Testament Studies at Dallas Theological Seminary. He also serves as Professor for Spiritual Development and Culture for the Seminary's Center for Christian Leadership. His special fields of study involve hermeneutics, the use of the Old Testament in the New, Luke-Acts, the historical Jesus, and gospels studies. He is author of Breaking the Da Vinci Code and Missing Gospels, among many others.

As well as being a corresponding editor for Christianity Today and past President of the Evangelical Theological Society, Bock serves as an elder at Trinity Fellowship Church in Richardson, Texas, where he lives with his wife, Sally, and their three children.

Editor's note: This article is Dr. Bock's blog posting for February 26, 2007. For updated information on this subject, visit his blog here.

Today we have the battle of the hype: the Oscars versus the release of the family tomb of Jesus story. The tomb is an old story now being recycled in an effort to make far more of it than the evidence really requires. I was allowed to see a version of the story to air in March, but had to agree to a non-disclosure. I also wrote a summary report on it, some of the concepts I will now share on this blog, since I can now talk. There is no need to fear such discussions. The same evidence is there for all of us. We all want to discover the truth.

The key claims depend on numerous assumptions, cherry-picked evidence, if you wish.

First, there is a suggestion that this is a family tomb of Jesus, when Jesus was in Jerusalem as a pilgrim, not a Jerusalem resident. How did his family have the time in the aftermath of his death to by the tomb space, while also pulling off a stealing of the body and continue to preach that Jesus was raised BODILY, not merely spiritually.

The bodily part of this resurrection is key because in Judaism when there was a belief in resurrection it was a belief in a bodily resurrection a redemption that redeemed the full scope of what God had created. If one reads 2 Maccabees 7. one will see the martyrdom of the third son of seven executed who declares that they can mutilate his tongue and hands for defending the law, because God will give them back to him one day.

Here are the details: As he faces death 2 Maccabees 7:10-11 presents this summary of the third brother’s death, “After him, the third was the victim of their sport. When it was demanded, he quickly put out his tongue and courageously stretched forth his hands, and said nobly, “I got these from Heaven, and because of his laws I disdain them, and from him I hope to get them back again.” After the sons perish, the mother declares her hope in 7:20-23, “The mother was especially admirable and worthy of honorable memory. Although she saw her seven sons perish within a single day, she bore it with good courage because of her hope in the Lord. She encouraged each of them in the language of their ancestors. Filled with a noble spirit, she reinforced her woman’s reasoning with a man’s courage, and said to them, ‘I do not know how you came into being in my womb. It was not I who gave you life and breath, nor I who set in order the elements within each of you.

Therefore the Creator of the world, who shaped the beginning of humankind and devised the origin of all things, will in his mercy give life and breath back to you again, since you now forget yourselves for the sake of his laws.’” The point is important, because just as with the creation teaching, the difference between the alternative of only having the spirit live and having the entire person be renewed is part of what distinguished the two groups (Christians and Christian Gnostics). To lack a bodily resurrection teaching is to teach in distinction from what the earliest church had received as a key element of the hope that Jesus left his followers, a hope that itself was rooted in Jewish precedent. Paul, our earliest witness to testify to this in writings we possess, was a former Pharisee who held to a physical resurrection as 1 Corinthians 15 also makes clear. Paul matches the Maccabean picture noted above. He explicitly denies an approach that accepts only a spiritual resurrection.

Second, we have to believe that in a family tomb, some who were not in the family are included, that is, Matthew. How do we explain this? Does this inflate the statistical numbers in the show to include such “evidence?”

Third, we have to accept that as they scrambled to steal the body and yet preach an empty tomb and resurrection when they actually knew that Jesus was not raised. They had to SECRETLY buy the tomb space from someone, prepare an ossuary over a year’s period and then choose to adorn the ossuary of Jesus with graffiti-like script to name their dead hero. Surely if they had a year to prepare honoring Jesus, they would have adorned his ossuary with more than a mere graffiti like description. Not to mention that some of the family died for this belief, when they really knew Jesus had not left the tomb empty. This scenario seems quite implausible.

Fourth, there is the name Mariamne, a variation of Maria, one of the most common of names of the time. It is like saying every Susan married to a Richard can only be one family and that finding that Maria and Maria are related names is a surprise (a little like calling William, Bill).

Here are the details on names provided to me by Prof Richard Bauckham of St. Andrews and sourced in a famous catalogue of ossuary names that has been out since 2002 with the information known about this locale since c. 1980.:

“Out of a total number of 2625 males, these are the figures for the ten most popular male names among Palestinian Jews. The first figure is the total number of occurrences (from this number, with 2625 as the total for all names, you could calculate percentages), while the second is the number of occurrences specifically on ossuraries.

1 Simon/Simeon 243 59
2 Joseph 218 45
3 Eleazar 166 29
4 Judah 164 44
5 John/Yohanan 122 25
6 Jesus 99 22
7 Hananiah 82 18
8 Jonathan 71 14
9 Matthew 62 17
10 Manaen/Menahem 42 4

For women, we have a total of 328 occurrences (women's names are much less often recorded than men's), and figures for the 4 most popular names are thus:

Mary/Mariamne 70 42
Salome 58 41
Shelamzion 24 19
Martha 20 17

You can see at once that all the names you're interested were extremely popular. 21% of Jewish women were called Mariamne (Mary). The chances of the people in the ossuaries being the Jesus and Mary Magdalene of the New Testament must be very small indeed.”

Fifth, there is the DNA showing that Mariamne and Jesus DNA residue do not match. Now with how many women in Judea would Jesus’ DNA not match? Even women named Mary/Mariamne? This proves nothing. That a match would take place is a one in several thousand likelihood. This evidence does not prove she is a wife. The questions include which male in the tomb is she attached to?

Sixth, to get Mariamne to match Mary Magdalene and not a host of any other Mary’s, one has to appeal to an apocryphal Acts in a fourth century manuscript. Without that, there is not even a possibility of a connection, the Acts of Philip and the Gospel of Mary Magdalene, old evidence that was already vetted in the DaVinci Code discussion. In other words, we do not know Mary/Mariamne is Mary Magdalene, a very key point that has to be true for this claim to work.

Seventh, if one pays close attention to the special one will see that when the subject of the connection is raised with the most well known of these experts, they all say the connection is NOT credible because the names are so common. These experts have known about this locale for decades. NONE of the most well known experts are actually cited as embracing the claim of the special. Surely they asked them this question about a specific connection, did they not? In other words, the silence on such a lack of endorsements for the figures brought in to corroborate certain details is deafening.

Eighth, the remark about “Mara.” Here are the words of Prof. Bauckham, “'Mara' in this context does not mean Master. It is an abbreviated form of Martha. probably the ossuary contained two women called Mary and Martha (Mariamne and Mara).”

Ninth, there are claims about an ossuary of Peter, even though there is a rich tradition that he died in Rome that has to be wrong for that claim to work.

Finally, there are the statistics. To get to the high numbers, all the assumptions about the identifications have to be put into the numbers pot, including Matthew, a name called “consistent with the family.” How? Where is the evidence for this?

So what we have is a special, making a claim about an old finding, cherry-picking the evidence to hype it as more compelling than it actually is. It ALL has to fit in place to work. The statistics for that, given just what I have raised above, would be fun to calculate.

When we watch the Oscars, the golden medallion is passed out for acting that is praise worthy. Movies are about stories that look real but are not. This special matches up with that depiction of reality. Compelling TV and dramatic, but in the end, complete historical fiction. Hopefully our times have not slid to the point where we can no longer tell the difference between Jerusalem and Hollywood.

© Dr. Darrell Bock, Used by permission. .