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Jesus' Bones Rediscovered?


Cults, Religions, and Faith Traditions

© Copyright 2007 by Paul L. Maier. All Rights Reserved. Editor's Note: Special thanks to Dr. Paul L. Maier, Professor of Ancient History at Western Michigan University for giving us permission to publish his official statement on the Jesus Family Tomb controversy. Dr. Maier is a well-respected scholar & author of many books, including The Da Vinci Code: Fact or Fiction? (co-authored with Hank Hanegraaff).

On March 4, the Discovery Channel aired a documentary, The Lost Tomb of Jesus, in which the claim is made that at Talpiot in south Jerusalem, nine ossuaries were discovered that most probably included the bones of Jesus, his mother, his wife, his son, and other relatives. While the documentary was skillfully filmed and interesting to view, its conclusions -- however sensational -- only continue the long-running media attack on the historical Jesus, which might truly be termed “More Junk on Jesus.” One might have thought that this had culminated in that book of falsehoods, The Da Vinci Code, but no, the misinformation on Jesus continues, usually just in time for the church’s seasons of Christmas or Lent/Easter.

Nearly every interested archaeologist or historian in the world has found the documentary’s conclusions unfounded, and here are the most important reasons:

(1) Nothing is new here: scholars have known about the ossuaries ever since March of 1980, so this is old news recycled. The general public learned when the BBC filmed a documentary on them in 1996, when the “findings” tanked again, though more recently, James Tabor’s book, The Jesus Dynasty, tried to revive in-terest. But now James Cameron (The Titanic) and Canadian director Simcha Jaco-bovici have climbed aboard the sensationalist bandwagon as well, the latter co-authoring a newly-published book, The Jesus Family Tomb, which is equally as worthless as the previous.

(2) All the names – Yeshua (Joshua, Jesus) son of Joseph, Jose (Joseph), Maria (Mary), Mariamene e Mara, Matia, and Judah son of Jesus -- are extremely com-mon Jewish names for that time and place, and thus nearly all scholars consider that these names are merely coincidental, as they did from the start. Some even dispute that “Yeshua” is one of the names, suggesting “Hanan” instead. One out of four Jewish women at that time, for example, were named Mary. There are 21Yeshuas (Jesuses) cited by Josephus, the first-century Jewish historian, who were important enough to be recorded by him, with many thousands of others that never made history.

(3) The wondrous mathematical odds hyped by Jacobovici that these names must refer to Jesus and his family are simply playing with numbers. To reach his con-clusions, one must believe that every link in a long chain of hypotheses he presents is true, when in fact every link is weak enough to break the chain.

(4) There is no reason whatever to equate “Mariamene e Mara” with Mary Magda-lene, as Jacobovici claims. Using a late, apocryphal, fifth-century romance like the Acts of Philip to try to demonstrate this shows how far he has to reach. In fact, a better translation of “Mariamene e Mara” is “Mary also called Mara.” And so what if her DNA is different from that of “Yeshua” ? That particular “Mariamne” (as it is usually spelled today) could indeed have been the wife of that particular “Yeshua,” who was certainly not Jesus, or wife/sister/daughter of any other male in that group!

(5) Why in the world would the “Jesus Family” have a burial site in Jerusalem, of all places, the very city that crucified Jesus? Galilee was their home. In Galilee they might have had such a family burial site, not Judea.

(6) Equating “Maria” as Mary the mother of Jesus? Church tradition and the earli-est Christian historian, Eusebius of Caesarea, are unanimous in reporting that Mary, the mother of Jesus, died in Ephesus, where the apostle John, faithful to his commission from Jesus on the cross, had accompanied her.

(7) The “Jesus Family” simply could not have afforded the large, ornate crypt un-covered at Talpiot. This is the burial site of a prominent, wealthy family from Jeru-salem, not a carpenter’s clan from Galilee.

(8) If this were Jesus’ family burial site, what is Matthew doing there – if indeed “Matia” is thus to be translated?

(9) How come there is no tradition whatever – Christian, Jewish, or secular -- that any of the Holy Family were buried at a family plot in Jerusalem?

(10) Please note the extreme bias of the director and leading persona in this docu-mentary: Simcha Jacobovici. Apparently, the man is an Indiana-Jones-wannabe who seems to sensationalize anything he touches. You may have caught his TV special, The Exodus Decoded, in which the man “explained” just about everything that still needed proving or explaining in the Exodus account in the Old Testament! It finally became ludicrous, and now he’s doing it again, though in reverse: this time attacking the Scriptural record. – As for James Cameron, how do you follow the success of The Titanic? Well, with an even more “titanic” story. He might have known better, and the television footage of the two making their drastic statements in a preceding press conference on February 26 was disgusting, as was their subsequent claim that they “respected” Jesus. Their dramatic recreations in the documentary favoring their hypotheses, the statements of experts taken out of context, the misquotations of some of those experts, and their selective editing are all a disservice to the truth.

(11) Even Israeli archaeologists and authorities, who – were they anti-Christian – might have used this “discovery” to discredit Christianity, did not do so. Quite the opposite. Joe Zias, for example, for years the director of the Rockefeller Archaeological Museum in Jerusalem, holds Jacobovici’s claims up for scorn and his documentary as “non-sense.” Those involved in the project “have no credibility whatever,” he added. – Amos Kloner, the first archaeologist to examine the site, called the conclusions in question “completely impossible…nonsense.” In a Jerusalem Post interview, he added, “Three or four ossuaries have been discovered with the names, ‘Jesus, son of Joseph.’” David Mevorah, curator of the Israel Museum, calls the results “far-fetched.” -- William Dever, one of America’s prominent archaeologists, said, “This would be amusing if it didn’t mislead so many people.”

(12) Finally, and most importantly, there is no external literary or historical evi-dence whatever that Jesus’ family was interred together in a common burial place anywhere, let alone Jerusalem. The evidence, in fact, totally controverts all this in the case of Jesus: all four Gospels, the letters of Paul, Peter, and other apostles, as well as the common testimony of the early church state that Jesus rose from the dead, and did not leave his bones behind in any ossuary, as the current sensational-ists claim.

Bottom line: this is merely naked hype, baseless sensationalism, and nothing less than a media fraud, “more junk on Jesus.”

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The Lord's Servant must not quarrel; instead, he must be kind to everyone, able to teach, not resentful. Those who oppose him he must gently instruct, in the hope that God will give them a change of heart leading to a knowledge of the truth
II Timothy 2:24-26