Prepare for a flood of media coverage of the Cameron/Jacobovici film, The Lost Tomb of Jesus. Fox News has already picked it up, and I imagine you will be deluged with pictures of the ossuaries in question by tonight, with the major news outlets grabbing various folks with the film to do the morning shows on Tuesday and Wednesday. Don’t expect them to be looking for the best Christian apologists to give an answer, either. You know how the media works.
As more of the storyline of The Lost Tomb of Jesus comes out, my suspicions are being confirmed. As I saw the list of “experts” in the article I cited yesterday, I had to try to figure out how their fields of expertise would be relevant to empty ossuaries. Two caught my attention immediately: DNA experts, and statistical experts. I theorized that statistics would be used on the names allegedly (I will explain the use of allegedly below) found on the ossuaries, and in reading a Canadian interview with “the Naked Archaeologist,” Simcha Jacobovici, I have found this is the case. The film will present probabilities of finding these specific names together in the same tomb. Of course, this raises the question about how you determine the names of Jews in the first century. Sure, you can come up with a list of names that have been found in various forms from history, from monuments, documents, ossuaries, and chiseled in stone on ossuaries, sepulchres, walls of homes, etc. But this hardly gives you a database that is overly relevant. Why? Well, outside of graffitti, poor folks don’t show up in historical documents and chiseled in stone nearly as often as the rich do. Jesus was not rich. His followers were not either. Remember the famine in Jerusalem requiring Paul to collect an offering for their assistance? Same time period, and things didn’t get much better in Jerusalem before its destruction in AD 70). The whole idea that Jesus would ever be buried in Jerusalem years later along with a family runs counter to every single fact we have from every other source known to us, which highlights the speculative nature of the argumentation of the film. In any case, the statistician would be giving us nothing but an educated guess and that without sufficient evidence in the social strata to which Jesus belonged to be even slightly relevant. Given that the number of entire families that have been unearthed is but a tiny percentage of the actual number of people who lived, it would be like concluding that a family with a father named Earl and a mother named Sarah and a boy named Michael could only have existed once in a particular part of the country, never twice. It is the kind of argumentation that while mildly interesting, is really only produced by those who are weaving a tapestry of wild possibilities, hoping you will be so mesmerized you won’t notice you are having your pockets picked. In any case, my suspicions were correct, and this is how the “statistics experts” will be used in the film.
The next group is the DNA experts. My theory here was pretty easy, for anyone who has seen CSI half a dozen times: find “traces” of DNA in the ossuaries; prove the Joshua/Jesus ossuary contained bones (remember, the bones are gone–these would have to be nothing more than small bone fragments) that were not genetically related to Maria, and then try to prove that the ostensible offspring is related to Joshua/Jesus and Mariamne. Most, upon hearing about “DNA,” immediately assume there is some attempt to “identify” Jesus directly, which, of course, would be impossible. But that would be impossible, of course. And once again, this is what is coming out. The above linked article notes,
DNA tests conducted for the documentary at Lakehead University on two ossuaries — one inscribed Jesus son of Joseph and the other Mariamne, or Mary — confirm that the two were not related by blood, so were probably married.
I have many questions concerning the amount of biological material in the ossuaries, who did the testing, etc. Some answers might be forthcoming in the film, and, of course, a book comes out this week on the same subject. Lakehead University hosts the Paleo-DNA Laboratory which specializes in “extraction, amplification, sequencing and analysis of ancient nucleic acids.” The tests, we are told, were undertaken by Dr. Carney Matheson. I have spoken to a friend who works on DNA as a CSI and she indicated that such tests, given the age and the fact that there are no full bones present (I would assume only small shards) would be “very difficult.” She noted mitochondrial DNA would be more likely found in such a situation, but in any case, the work would be very tricky. The real reason for bringing in the DNA aspect is simple: Westerners have been trained to suspend all critical thought in the face of “scientific fact,” giving this tapestry of wild ideas the aura of ultimate authority. “You can’t argue with DNA.”
One of the most troubling paragraphs in the story linked above reads as follows:
Maria is the Latin form of Mary, and is how Jesus’s mother was known after his death as more Romans became followers. Mariamne is the Greek form of Mary. Mary Magdelene is believed to have spoken and preached in Greek. Jose was the nickname used for Jesus’ little brother.
How do filmmakers know that Jesus’s mother was known after his death by a Latinized form of her name “as more Romans became followers” in the context of pre-rebellion Jerusalem in the middle of the first century? Are the filmmakers ignorant of what was going on in the cultural and historical context of the time? And do they not see the obvious contradiction here? People became followers of a crucified and risen Savior, not a middle-class resident of Jerusalem! If Jesus was walking around Jerusalem with a wife and kids, there would be no followers, Roman or otherwise, to be calling her Maria. If the film and book do not take into consideration the whole scope of the historical situation it will be rightly laughed to scorn—but not before earning its originators another small fortune (ask Dan Brown how well religious fiction sells when you make it sound like you believe it is true anyway).
Next, why two Mary’s with different language forms? Is this “pick a language for the burial plot” archaeology? I can’t wait to see these inscriptions and find out who has examined them for authenticity and dating. Next, Mary Magdalene spoke and preached in Greek? Now we are getting a good indication of the kind of “scholarship” behind this tapestry of speculation. Just how are we supposed to know this? I’ll tell you: late, second century gnostic myths, that’s how. One of the key people cited in the film is James Tabor, UNC-Charlotte, who in his recent book, The Jesus Dynasty: The Hidden History of Jesus, His Royal Family, and the Birth of Christianity (2006) rehabilitates the “a Roman soldier named Pantera was the father of Jesus” story, along with a dash of the “James vs. Paul” mythology of how the early church began. So we know where this film is deriving its substance. The “Jesus” industry makes a lot of money, and there is no end to where speculation can take you (well, as long as it can be used to attack the Christian faith, anyway). Same is true for how we allegedly know the “nickname” of Jesus’ “little brother.” This kind of “string it together no matter how contradictory your sources” argumentation is nothing new, but Hollywood seems to have gone nuts now after tasting the money of The Da Vinci Code.
Very interesting as well is the final portion of this report. It makes note of the connection to the James ossuary that made big news recently. Evidently the film theorizes that the James ossuary is the tenth of the boxes found in the tomb (one is currently missing). But, the article goes on to note,
But there is one wrinkle that is not examined in the documentary, one that emerged in a Jerusalem courtroom just weeks ago at the fraud trial of James ossuary owner Oded Golan, charged with forging part of the inscription on the box.
Former FBI agent Gerald Richard testified that a photo of the James ossuary, showing it in Golan’s home, was taken in the 1970s, based on tests done by the FBI photo lab.
Jacobovici concedes in an interview that if the ossuary was photographed in the 1970s, it could not then have been found in a tomb in 1980. But while he does not address the conundrum in the documentary, he said in an interview that it’s possible Golan’s photo was printed on old paper in the1980s.
If there is in fact any possibility of fraudulent alteration of the evidence, as this seems to suggest, one wonders what will happen when the evidence comes to light?
There are many questions to be asked at this point, and I for one will be asking them a week from today (the film airs next Sunday night here in the states, and though I won’t see it when it airs as I will be traveling, I will have it recorded so I can see it first thing Monday morning) and as soon as the book is released as well.
But on a practical level, until the needed research and fact-checking is done, what is a Christian to do? The mockery of an arrogant and rebellious world is a hard thing to endure, and it may well be a further illustration of the judgment of God upon a complacent and man-centered “Christianity.” But I, for one, would probably begin to respond to someone along these lines: “From what I have seen, we have biased, prejudiced filmmakers and writers with a huge financial stake in matters using every possible kind of theoretical source without the slightest concern for consistency or proper historical methodology going for the most sensationalistic slant they can. If these guys were trying to sell you oil leases in Alaska, would you buy from them sight unseen? If not, why believe them at all?”