Parallel Methodology: The Tomb of Jesus and Roman Catholic Apologetics

   After the Discovery Channel aired The Lost Tomb of Jesus, a follow-up show was presented, The Tomb of Jesus: A Critical Look. Hosted by Ted Koppel, two guests were brought on to challenge the conclusions of Simcha Jacobovici and James Tabor. Archaeologist William Dever was asked what he thought of the documentary. Dever replied, “For me it represents the worst kind of Biblical archaeology, even if it is anti-biblical, because it seems to me, the conclusions are already drawn in the beginning.” Dever nailed it. A tomb was found, Jacobovici began concluding it was Jesus and his wife Mary Magdalene. Then evidence from Gnostic writings, statistics, and DNA all testified to the necessary conclusion.
   A non-Christian, Simcha Jacobovici notes he was only interested in finding ossuaries with the inscription “Jesus, son of Joseph.” I dare say he found exactly what he was looking for, and it could not have been otherwise. I sometimes make the joke that humans are masters of selective perception. That is, we see only what we want to. That which doesn’t fit gets filtered out. While his documentary was being cross-examined on the Koppel show, it was obvious Jacobovici was being forced to see the reality he had filtered out. He was noticeably upset. He commented more than a few times that he was just a filmmaker. He was simply presenting his findings as an introduction for others to scrutinize. In other words, he had no meaningful response to the reality he had filtered out.
   As I thought about the methodology that went into the Jesus Tomb production, I couldn’t help but think how similar this approach is to that used by modern Roman Catholic apologetics. It begins with a conclusion: The Roman Church is the true church established by Jesus. Then evidence from the Bible and history are brought in to testify to this truth.
   Catholic apologist Marcus Grodi had initially been vexed by doctrinal differences within Protestantism. Commenting on his conversion, Marcus Grodi has said, “The more I read church history and Scripture the less I could comfortably remain a Protestant. I saw that it was the Catholic Church- the Roman Catholic Church- that was established by Jesus Christ, and all other claimants to the title ‘true Church’ had to step aside. It was the Bible and Church history that made a Catholic out of me, against my will (at least at first) and to my immense surprise” [Patrick Madrid (ed), Surprised By Truth (Encinitas: Basilica Press, 1994), 12]. Only a page or two before, Grodi mentions that it was a lecture and a subsequent meeting with Scott Hahn that led him to wonder if God was calling him to the Catholic Church. Grodi admits he immediately read through Karl Keating’s Catholicism and Fundamentalism, and then launched into seriously reading Catholic books and the early Church Fathers. Grodi admits, “After listening to dozens of tapes and digesting several dozen books, I knew I could no longer remain a Protestant” (p.51). In other words, Grodi immersed himself into the writings of the Catholic worldview. It was Roman Catholic glasses that magnified certain facts he was already predisposed to. He saw only what he wanted to.

   Grodi concludes his conversion story by saying, “To cease to be deep in history is to become a Protestant” (p.56). But I would say it is exactly the opposite. The Roman Catholic has to read history and find it supporting the Roman church. They filter out what doesn’t fit. For instance, the writings of Saint Augustine are highly revered, as is the proof text Matthew 16:18 for establishing the papacy. What isn’t highly revered is Augustine’s opinion on this text. In The Retractions, Augustine corrects his earlier opinion that Peter was the rock of Matthew 16:18. According to Augustine the rock is Christ or Peter’s confession which pointed to the person of Christ. Or, I’ve read a Catholic webpage declare Saint Augustine is the one who first established the criteria for the canon. What they dont want to see is Augustine doesn’t have any notion of an infallible list nor an infallible ability of either himself or a church council when the canon was being discussed.
   Similarly, quotes that have nothing to do with a current Roman belief are brought forth to prove the historicity of Roman Catholicism. I was looking over a quote from Clement of Alexandria used by the Catholic Answers periodical This Rock. They run a feature entitled, What Do The Fathers Say? The October 2006 issue provided a few quotes from church fathers on praying to the saints. Clement is cited as saying, “In this way is he [the true Christian] always pure for prayer. He also prays in the society of angels, as being already of angelic rank, and he is never out of their holy keeping; and though he pray alone, he has the choir of the saints standing with him [in prayer]” (Miscellanies 7:12 [A.D. 208]). Does this quote historically prove the practice of praying to the saints? Not in the least. It doesn’t say anything about praying to saints.
   I know neither the heart of Simcha Jacobovici or Marcus Grodi, but I can’t help but wonder if these men shared a similar experience. When he questioned whether God was calling him to the Catholic Church Grodi felt “frightened and exhilarated” (p.50). When finding an ossuary with the inscription “Jesus, son of Joseph” Jacobovici commented, “I tried to stay calm, but something told me that this was not simply an example of an everyday occurrence” (The Jesus Family Tomb, p. 43). These men were excited by their predisposed conclusions, not the evidence. For had they sifted through the evidence carefully, they would have been forced to see the reality that exists, not the one they wanted to exist.