Sunday, February 25, 2007

The Annual Anti-Easter Pageant: 2007 Edition

It just wouldn't be springtime unless someone was preparing for Easter by putting together a press release, novel, article, book, or film designed to attack Christianity.

This year's entry is a burial chamber near Jerusalem found some decades ago containing a number of ossuaries, the Talpiot tomb, which is now being promoted as containing the physical remains of Jesus of Nazareth. Three of the ossuaries are said to have inscriptions Mara (a variant of Miriam, they say), Yose (Joseph), and Jesus son of Yose; another is said to bear the name Matthew. With this information, the 2007 edition of the anti-Easter pageant is set to begin.

Let me first declare my allegiance to reality: if, upon studying the case, I actually thought these were the bones of the Jesus of the New Testament, that would change my evaluation of Jesus. And naturally the facts as known now will become more complete as time goes on. Still, my first review of the case raises the following points:
  • The discovery dates to 1980. These claims are old and have been researched before. The archeologist who oversaw the excavations considers the current claims to be nonsense, though well-suited for publicity.
  • Neither is this the first time someone has tried to invent a grave for Jesus. He is also purported to be buried in Japan and India.
  • Update #2: James White believes that the upcoming documentary will claim that the ossuary of James was also found in this same tomb. Not only is that ossuary still undergoing a fraud investigation at this time, but its find has also been dated to the 1970's, which is before the discovery of the current burial site, which would mean that the James ossuary did not actually originate in the same tomb.
  • The names listed from the ossuaries were very common names.
  • As mentioned before, the early information has at least one name that does not actually coincide with the names as known to us in the Christian records, "Mara" for Mary. In historical records, Jesus' mother's name is Mariam (also spelled Miriam); "Mara" as said to be on the ossuary is not actually a direct match. If this were claimed to be Mary the mother of Jesus of Nazareth, it's not clear how common it was to inscribe an ossuary with something that is a variant of the person's name rather than the person's actual name. A full review of the original inscriptions is required to make any adequate assessment of how closely the names match.
  • The articles I've seen have not given the original form of "Jesus" from the ossuary, which would also be of interest in evaluating the claim.
    Update #1: James White, with more complete information on the claims, comments on the varying names on the ossuaries with a Mary link.
  • The current publicity has also not given the names from the entire set of ossuaries. If, in fact, this were the family tomb of Jesus, we should recognize all the men's names from the full set of ossuaries as belonging to Jesus' family from the Biblical records. I have yet to find a full listing of the names on the other ossuaries. The claim cannot be fully evaluated until the full findings are made known. But when certain names are highlighted and others are omitted from the lists, it does raise the question: Why the partial information?
  • The burial site of Mary, mother of Jesus, already has two contestants known to the early Christian community that knew and loved her; the site being currently discussed was unknown to the early church, which is to say those who knew Mary and were involved with laying her in her final resting place.
  • Another of the "Biblical names" found on an ossuary at that burial site is Matthew; however, that is actually a problem for claiming the tomb as the burial site of the holy family as Matthew was not a family member.
  • Further, the inclusion of the name Matthew, if assumed to be the evangelist Matthew who was a follower of Jesus of Nazareth, is problematic since the remains of Matthew also have a history that does not include the burial site in question.
  • The current round of research into this old burial site has apparently used DNA analysis to determine that this is a family tomb. Did they do a DNA analysis on the remains of Matthew? If the remains labeled "Matthew" are also genetically related to the sets of remains labeled Mara or Jesus, that would be fairly demonstrative proof that this is not, actually, the tomb of the Jesus of the New Testament, since we have fairly extensive lists of relatives in the New Testament and there is no Matthew among them.
  • The inclusion of a "Matthew" and the silence about, say, a "Simon" (which could be expected, as he is listed among Jesus' relatives) lead me to wonder whether we are looking at an entirely different family.
  • It would also require the belief that the Jewish authorities and Roman authorities, eager to stop this new religion, overlooked such an obvious location for the body as a family tomb with a labeled ossuary.

So the initial reality-check finds several points that are against this being the same Jesus in the Bible, along with some open questions where full information is not readily available. However, there is also an entirely separate set of problems for identifying these remains with that of the holy family, problems caused by the facts that this was, after all, an ossuary site. Ossuaries are bone remnants, a reburial made after the body has decayed down to merely bones. The supposition that these common names tied particularly to the Jesus and Mary of the Bible would require a number of other things to also be true:
  • It would mean that Jesus' family had kept track of his remains until they were bones fit for an ossuary and had still given their full endorsement to the accounts of his bodily resurrection.
  • It would mean that Mary and the rest of the holy family -- leaders in the Jerusalem church for decades and well-known figures to all the early Christian leaders -- were willfully deceiving the entire world including their closest friends for the remainder of their lives.
  • It requires believing that Jesus' family risked being put out of the synagogues and the floggings and death which the Jewish leadership were visiting on followers of Jesus, all for a lie they themselves had made.
  • It would mean that Jesus' brother James, who risked his life to proclaim Jesus as Messiah and was murdered by a Jewish mob for his trouble (see Josephus), did that in the full knowledge that the stories in circulation about Jesus were lies he had himself told.
  • It would require the belief that those family members who had doubted Jesus before his crucifixion also kept their silence with this inconvenient set of bones in the family tomb.
  • It would also mean that when Mary died and was buried years later and the tomb was re-opened to allow her burial, this other set of bones in the family tomb did not manage to be noticed or revealed.
  • If the other sets of bones in the tomb are presumed to be of people who died in later years after Jesus' crucifixion, the same problem would arise for each and every fresh burial: the inconveniently-labeled set of bones in the family tomb.
All in all, the "new" tomb from nearly 30 years ago sounds like just another entry in the annual anti-Christian pageant. It looks like a misidentified tomb with common names becoming part of an annual phenomenon: anti-Christians have discovered that, like the most dishonest televangelists, they too can make a dollar or a reputation off the name of Jesus. It has become a regular feature of spring.

Other articles of interest:
Internet Monk
Christian CADRE


Heather said...

I don't believe that this finding is anti-Christian at all. If you look at the facts of the actual findings you could imagine how unbelievable it would be to come across them. It's all up on the official site, and I don't think anyone has an anti-Christian agenda.

Weekend Fisher said...

Um, I don't think these particular folks would be studying this particular site if it weren't for the "controversial religious angle" (potential for anti-Christian stuff), which has been researched and found wanting before for this very same site. Which, hey, research everything you find, go for it -- but then report it and interpret it honestly, that's all. I don't think the actual archeological scholar involved has an anti-Christian agenda, I just think a lot of the "sell angle" of the piece, commercially, is its anti-Christian agenda, and I don't think the guys marketing it are naive about that.

Take care & God bless

Bruce M. Axtens said...

Brilliant post. I've gone so far as to put it in an IFRAME on Thinx. Hope you don't mind.

Kind regards,

slaveofone said...

Since I was talking about this post elsewhere and making judgements about it, I thought it appropriate that I should copy my post here...

----from Christian CADRE----

There are a number of problems here... Not least the fact that it seems everyone is approaching the conclusion a priori with either malevolence based on what they are want to believe (the gospels are true) or benevolence based on what they are want to believe (the gospels are not true) instead of giving the evidence the opportunity to be thoroughly examined before making one's judgment about the conclusion drawn from that evidence (“he who answers a matter before he hears it is a fool”)

I do not think I would be wrong to say that no one here and no one in any other blog or article anyone here has linked to is actually acquainted with the evidence itself which is in question. They have not examined the names to see what they say or don't say in what language/script, whether that language/script is correct for the time or anachronistic, what the patina of the inscriptions date to, etc, and can therefore give an account of it. They have not asked about the necessary archaeological conditions—such as whether the evidence was found to be in situ or whether there is evidence of foul play or disruption. In short, the entire judgment being made against the conclusion is in no way based on evidence from which the conclusion has been made. Even Heart, Soul, Mind and Strength, who makes some valid points, gives away the inherent presuppositional bias by conditioning the entire post in a frame of polemics against anti-Christian rants (the title of his piece being “the Annual Anti-Easter Pagaent”, the opening paragraph telling us this is being written to expose those who “attack Christianity”, and the conclusion saying it all looks like an attempt at dishonesty--although he has not been honest enough to look at the evidence itself which gave rise to the conclusion he rejects).

There are numerous conceptual possibilities for the idea that this is actually the tomb of the family of Yeshua—many of which have not even been mentioned. Such as, for instance, the possibility that the bones of the family were hidden in a tomb in Jerusalem later on by Yeshua's followers who didn't want the real and true bodies of the holy family to be disturbed since they as followers of Yeshua were being persecuted all around, since Yeshua was NOT accepted or welcome by his own people in Galilee (and, therefore, how much moreso would his family be rejected!), or, perhaps, because they believed the resurrection of God's people was shortly to take place and didn't want the remains to be disrupted before that time and so moved them to a different location.

Ben Witherington is posted as refuting the idea on many bases—one of which is the question of what the family burial was doing in/around Jerusalem, and yet it is this very person who wrote not long ago that it was not John the Apostle who was the Beloved Disciple and cared for Yeshua's mother (and by extension his family), but Lazarus—who lived right next to Jerusalem (and thus is likely to have cared for them in death as in life where they would have been—around Jerusalem and not Galilee).

And then, again, judgment is being made against one or another person being in Yeshua's family because of what? Because they aren't mentioned in texts that have no intention of telling us every person who was and wasn't an ancestor or descendant of his family? So an actual name carved in stone that might be linked to Yeshua (we don't know yet because the evidence has not been examined) is being thrown out the window based on silence and lack of evidence in other sources that are not meant to give us categorical listings of family members?

None of this speaks toward the possibility of a tomb for Yeshua—but so what? As far as we know, the name might not even be “Yeshua” or any reasonable derivative of it on the bone box because everyone has already made their judgment for or against the conclusion without examining the evidence to see whether the evidence supports or refutes the conclusion!

Unbelievers have excuse for such foolishness, accepting something simply because it promotes their beliefs, but believers should know better and not simply reject something because it might not promote their beliefs. Let the evidence been seen! Let the argument be heard! And THEN make your judgment for or against the conclusion that this is the burial place of Yeshua's family (or perhaps Yeshua himself).

thekingpin68 said...

Thanks for the interesting research.

MR. X said...

Great Blog!

I've found a militant atheist if you want to try and help him; he's at:

GBWY, James