Pharyngula

Lost Tomb of Jesus

Last week, I promised I’d watch this documentary about the “lost tomb of Jesus” because it was being advertised here on Pharyngula. Promise fulfilled, but the ghastly program was two hours long—two hours of nothing but fluff. I’ve put a bit of a summary of the whole show below the fold, but I’m afraid there’s nothing very persuasive about any of it, and it was stretched out to a hopelessly tedious length.

8:00-8:30 We learn that there were some ossuaries pulled out of a tomb in 1980. The names scrawled on them: Jesus bar Joseph, Jose, Mary, Matthew. They really didn’t have to drag that out for a half hour.
8:30-8:45 They poke around the site of the tomb, which is under an apartment complex in Jerusalem. I do learn that rabbis there insist on pipes being poked down to tombs so the spirits can get out, which is kind of freaky, but convenient if you’ve got a camera and some fiber optics. We also see some handwaving statistics, given the frequency of various names, and an estimate that it’s very unlikely that this can be anything other than Jesus’ family. I don’t buy it.
8:45-9:00 Another ossuary has the name “Miriamne Mara”. They speculate that this might be Mary Magdalene’s, despite it not saying “Magdalene”, because MM might have been a master (“Mara”) and preacher. Extensive confabulations follow.
9:00-9:05 You know that tomb they were poking around in earlier? They finally get a camera in. Wrong tomb.
9:05-9:15 Hey, Simon bar Jonah’s ossuary was found somewhere near here—maybe this was an area where lots of early Christians were buried! So they show some more piles of ossuaries nearby. It seems to me, though, that if they’ve got an association with a specific community of early Christians, that the statistical analysis which assumes a random distribution of names has just gone kablooiee.
9:15-9:25 Finally, the much ballyhooed DNA evidence. They extracted mitochondrial DNA from bone fragments in the ossuaries. The mito DNA from the Jesus ossuary and the Miriamne Mara ossuary don’t match—which is what you’d expect if it were Jesus and Mary Magdalene (they are not maternally related!) It’s also what you’d expect if it were a family tomb, and they were husband and wife. Therefore, they speculate for a while that Mary Magdalene and Jesus must have actually been married to one another! It’s an awful lot to spin from a lack of a DNA match.
9:25-9:30 The guys at the apartment complex find a cement cover 20 meters away, and open it up. It’s the right tomb! I don’t quite understand why they’re rummaging about in the old tomb—the ossuaries had been removed 20 years before, and stored in a warehouse.
9:30-9:45 They count the ossuaries in the warehouse, and the tally in the archaeological records. They don’t match—one is missing. So they dredge up Oded Golan and the “James son of Joseph brother of Jesus” ossuary, which is known to have had a forged inscription. They speculate that even if the “brother of Jesus” part was forged, if it came from the same tomb, it would still indicate a familial tie.
9:45-9:50 Patina analysis shows that the James ossuary probably came from the same tomb as the Jesus/Mary/Miramne/Matthew/Jose group. Uh, they don’t seem to care that they’ve just linked their inscribed ossuaries to a known forged ossuary inscription.
9:50-10:00 Bombshell! Now, at the end of the program, they mention another ossuary that was inscribed “Judah son of Jesus”. Let’s speculate that Jesus and Mary Magdalene had a child together so that this all makes sense. Unfortunately, their earlier arguments relied on the compatibility of the names with scriptural evidence; now when they’ve got a name that contradicts the scriptures, they just pull an unsupported story out of their asses to make it fit. If they found “Kilroy” scrawled on one of the ossuaries, I suspect they’d make up something about a distant cousin mentioned in an apocryphal scrap of parchment somewhere.

It wasn’t very impressive. They really milked a paucity of hard data for an over-long ‘documentary’ that was mostly handwaving. The DNA data was pretty much non-existent—one pair of bone fragments were compared and found not to match. Most of the story was an assurance that the conjunction of names found in the tomb couldn’t merely coincidentally match the names found in the gospels…but they really had to reach to make excuses to turn “Miriamne Mara” into “Mary Magdalene”, and they had one name, this “Judah” kid, that didn’t match the biblical collection at all, so they just flat-out invented an unsupported tale of Jesus having a son. Flogging a link between some ossuaries stored in a warehouse (which did not look at all secure) for twenty years and a known forgery also simply obliterates any credibility the whole shebang might have.

Don’t waste your time with it. It’s nonsense. I was rather enchanted with the idea that some apartments in Israel have ‘spirit pipes’ that lead down to 2000 year old tombs, though, and that if you pry up the right slab in your garden you might find a ladder down to an ancient tomb. Otherwise, it was pretty much a bust.

One good thing: the commercials for an 11-part documentary titled “planet earth” to be shown later this month looked very, very good. I may have to catch that one.

Comments

  1. #1 Ichthyic
    March 5, 2007

    It wasn’t very impressive.

    that’s why nobody gave him enough money to make it into a hollywood summer blockbuster.

    uh, did they?

  2. #2 Ichthyic
    March 5, 2007

    And yes, it was all drawn out to ridiculous lengths for nothing at all. It was a kind of Al Capone’s Vault story.

    ahh, where’s Geraldo when you need him, eh?

  3. #3 David Marjanovi?
    March 5, 2007

    When the hell was the last time anyone encountered an argument with only two sides?

    I have long suspected that in American journalism every argument has exactly two sides. Like duct tape and the Force.

  4. #4 David Marjanovi?
    March 5, 2007

    When the hell was the last time anyone encountered an argument with only two sides?

    I have long suspected that in American journalism every argument has exactly two sides. Like duct tape and the Force.

  5. #5 David Marjanovi?
    March 5, 2007

    Thus, the name Maria (????) in Hebrew is extermely uncommon

    Was that really the name on the ossuary? If so, it’s a forgery. Period. Sure you’ve heard of “Miryam” or “Maryam”? Those end im M. ???? begins with one letter and ends in another. Specifically, it ends in H, which is just there to indicate that the word ends in a vowel (or, maybe, to make stupid spellings like “Mariah Carey” possible). (In front of that, there’s a Y, preceded by an R; I don’t know the first letter, but obviously it must be an M.) “Maria” is the version that’s squeezed into Greek and Latin grammar so that speakers of those languages were able to understand the name refers to a female. Again: if that’s what it says on the ossuary, it’s fake. In that case I have trouble believing that so many people overlooked that simple fact, however.

    Can you tell me what you know about the SCIENCE of Historiagraphy.

    How to spell it: historiography. I know that plenty of Americans pronounce that the same, but you should be aware that most of the rest of the world does not, and that included the ancient Greeks and Romans. Incidentally, your use of capital letters (for emphasis) looks quite 18th century.

    I minored in history during my undergraduate degree.

    Ah, really.

    mater[ia]listic-mystic

    That’s a contradiction in itself.

    As for “primary source material”, what about “Q”, the supposed list of Jesus quotes used by the synoptic gospels and possibly reproduced in the first half of the Gospel of Thomas?

  6. #6 David Marjanovi?
    March 5, 2007

    Thus, the name Maria (????) in Hebrew is extermely uncommon

    Was that really the name on the ossuary? If so, it’s a forgery. Period. Sure you’ve heard of “Miryam” or “Maryam”? Those end im M. ???? begins with one letter and ends in another. Specifically, it ends in H, which is just there to indicate that the word ends in a vowel (or, maybe, to make stupid spellings like “Mariah Carey” possible). (In front of that, there’s a Y, preceded by an R; I don’t know the first letter, but obviously it must be an M.) “Maria” is the version that’s squeezed into Greek and Latin grammar so that speakers of those languages were able to understand the name refers to a female. Again: if that’s what it says on the ossuary, it’s fake. In that case I have trouble believing that so many people overlooked that simple fact, however.

    Can you tell me what you know about the SCIENCE of Historiagraphy.

    How to spell it: historiography. I know that plenty of Americans pronounce that the same, but you should be aware that most of the rest of the world does not, and that included the ancient Greeks and Romans. Incidentally, your use of capital letters (for emphasis) looks quite 18th century.

    I minored in history during my undergraduate degree.

    Ah, really.

    mater[ia]listic-mystic

    That’s a contradiction in itself.

    As for “primary source material”, what about “Q”, the supposed list of Jesus quotes used by the synoptic gospels and possibly reproduced in the first half of the Gospel of Thomas?

  7. #7 David Marjanovi?
    March 5, 2007

    Oops, wanted to write “blockquote” instead of “b”.

  8. #8 David Marjanovi?
    March 5, 2007

    Oops, wanted to write “blockquote” instead of “b”.

  9. #9 David Marjanovi?
    March 5, 2007

    Sorry for the third comment in a row… The bones were buried right after discovery, as is apparently customary in Israel.

  10. #10 David Marjanovi?
    March 5, 2007

    Sorry for the third comment in a row… The bones were buried right after discovery, as is apparently customary in Israel.

  11. #11 Ichthyic
    March 5, 2007

    I minored in history during my undergraduate degree.

    so, you took at least two history classes as an undergrad?

    It’s a wonder Cameron didn’t hire you to work on his documentary!

  12. #12 Ichthyic
    March 5, 2007

    really, if they want people to take ‘em seriously, they should take off the clown suit and red rubber nose (unless you’re Wavey Gavey or that guy from Spawn)…

    oh yeah, leguizamo’s portrayal of clowny in Spawn was classic.

    I often think of this line from that movie when I’m forced to argue with a creobot:

    Boy you were just tied to that track and that stupid train just kept runnin’ over ya didn’t it? Just runnin’ over you.

  13. #13 Ichthyic
    March 5, 2007

    I think that since he [uber] is the one making the ascertion that the “NT writers are not eyewitnesses”, that he should have to defend that ascertion.

    I’m curious to see this as well, I have heard the assertion before, but I actually would like to see the source for it. Not to pin uber down, but simply because it sounds interesting.

    The way I’ve heard it phrased before, the doubt about the eyewitness nature of the gospels mostly came from the contradictions found between many of them.

    Is that what uber is talking about?

  14. #14 Ichthyic
    March 5, 2007

    Ichthic be nice to the extreme religious guy

    *kicks dirt*

    oookaaaay.

    you should do your term paper though; far more important than anything discussed here.

  15. #15 Ichthyic
    March 5, 2007

    Ok, but to clarify, I was under the impression that even given the modern translations and modifications found in the KJV, there were still glaring inconsistencies between events as portrayed in each of the various gospels.

    what you are speaking of seems like adding another level of argument based on the actual structure of the documents themselves.

    Is this correct?

  16. #16 Ichthyic
    March 5, 2007

    It seems that main stream scholarship is in pretty strong concensus of the relatively late date of the Gospels – post ’70’s to 200’s.

    which also sounds like there should be some references, do you have some links to current research one might peruse?

  17. #17 D
    March 5, 2007

    Ichthyic: If you are really interested, I’d recommend Bart Ehrman’s text book on the new testament. Also perhaps a synopsis gospels. There are contradictions between the gospels and perhaps more importantly differences in the earliest found copies of such.

  18. #18 Ichthyic
    March 5, 2007

    liberal scholars

    so, do you mean that politically, or in the sense that that liberal means taking the broad view, as opposed to the narrow?

    if the former, the rest of your entire post can be summarily dismissed.

    What is truly interesting is the fact that they don’t apply the same scrutiny to the writings of Plato, Aristotle and even Julius Caesar despite the fact that the textual gap is many times greater when it comes to these docuements.

    are you absolutely sure you can’t see another reason why you think the same scrutiny isn’t, applied?

    are you even sure your contention is at its face, correct? let alone whether your comparison is even applicable given why the dates are important to begin with, as clearly outlined by frog?

    in calling this a “double-standard”, even someone like myself, who hasn’t even looked at the details, can clearly see a strawman of your own creation here.

  19. #19 Ichthyic
    March 5, 2007

    Why the double standard? Because liberal scholars and materialists have already decided a priori that miracles are not possible.

    completely irrelevant to the discussion at hand.

    the issue is not whether the gospels purportedly represent eyewitness accounts of “miracles”, but why they differ so much in their accounts, if they were all supposedly eyewitnesses to begin with.

    ..and not just in small details, either, IIRC.

  20. #20 Ichthyic
    March 5, 2007

    I knew i remembered seeing this discussed before somewhere:

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gospel_of_John

    Critical scholarship starting in the 19th century further questioned the apostle John’s authorship, arguing that the work was written decades after the events it describes. The critical scholarship argues that there are differences in the composition of the Greek within the Gospel, such as breaks and inconsistencies in sequence, repetitions in the discourse, as well as passages that clearly do not belong to their context, and these suggest redaction.[11]

    this relates to what frog was talking about, not the inconsistencies in accounts between the gospels themselves.

  21. #21 Ichthyic
    March 5, 2007

    The second less so: that they are actually living in a scientific world view, but can’t bring themselves to give up the non-science they grew up with. It must be painful.

    ask michael egnor or francis collins.

    cognitive dissonance can be a complete bitch.

    however the second answer to your question does not in any way prevent the first from being accurate as well. In fact, IMO, much of the projection and denial rampant in the extremely religious are merely defense mechanisms built around the cobbled-together barriers that keep their huge levels of cognitive dissonance from causing their minds to completely crumble.

  22. #22 Ichthyic
    March 6, 2007

    I shake the dust from my feet as a testimony against you.

    *yawn*

    yes, yes; shake your fist harder, boy.

  23. #23 Ichthyic
    March 6, 2007

    …oh, and i suggest you sweep once in a while to take care of that dust problem.

  24. #24 Ichthyic
    March 6, 2007

    Your comment that you “enjoy” it suggests that your “Christianity” is more akin to a hobby or recreational activity than to anything that could reasonably be called a religion.

    actually, wouldn’t we all be better off if this stuff really were treated more like a hobby or recreational activity?

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