Sunday, March 04, 2007

Jesus' Lost Tomb - or...aka, "Holy Assumptions, Batman!"

...and yes, I realize that there are several puns in that subject line. ;)

My number one, over-riding question is:
If you have the bones of THE Jesus... if you could get matrilinial DNA...if you could even build THAT profile, then the question of Christ's divinity should now be answered. If that Jesus was the son of God, Jesus bar GOD, then you'd think his DNA would reflect the fact that he had no father. Of course, most rationale people know that a human with only one set of DNA is extremely, extremely rare and usually leads to early death. If you have the bones of Jesus, and the claims of the Bible are true, then where is the proof?

Even if all of the archeological evidence points to this being THE Jesus, you still have not proven that Jesus is supernatural. You still have not proven there is a God. I keep thinking of Warren Jeffs (and I know that's going to stir controversy). If two thousand years from now, fundamental Mormonism has taken over the world and someone finds the bones of Warren Jeffs and says, "THIS was the last prophet of God!", ...are they, then, correct about Jeffs' alleged divinity? NO! Of course not... it means that they've linked a text to a real person (maybe). If they find a man labeled "Jeffs" buried with forty-six women, you may have proven that polygamy MIGHT have been a lifestyle... but... you still haven't proven that there's any reason to live polygamy for divine reasons.

So...that said... some of the things that bothered me (aside from the over-reaching presumption that there's anything more intriguing than archeology):
1. If you find a male and female, from different mothers, in a tomb, then why would you presume that they are husband and wife? Those two individuals may have been cousins, in-laws, or step siblings. I realize that I have much to learn about ancient, Judaic burial practices, but... this idea that family tombs house more than just nuclear family (mom, dad, kids) should not be that hard to grasp.
2. I found it suspect, and probably an unintended point of query, that the film-makers/archeologist play up the name Mariamne as "very, very rare" and, additionally, that Mariamne Mara is an "almost impossible" coincidence. YET, YET... just moments before they say, "The name is so impossible because it wasn't even known to have existed as a name BEFORE the Acts of Phillip were found in the 1970's." Um... if the tomb was opened in the 80's and EVEN KIDS had access... why wouldn't you consider the possibility that someone knowledgable about the Acts of Phillip might label the ossuary with the, previously unknown, title of "Marianme Mara"??? Both the name and the scripture are Greek...both discovered in the 1970s and 80s. HOW COULD THE FILM MAKERS IGONRE THIS POTENTIAL!?
This just begs more questions!!
The whole film begs more questions!!
3. The statistician for the film makes some comment like, "I've gathered all of the names possible from the time of Jesus." How did he do that? Please, please tell me he used something other than the Bible and/or local census results. Because, what he's really saying is: "for this time and this location, I believe I know all of the names..." That's a very different statement when you start to use statistics to PROVE something. Statistics PROVE NOTHING. If "Mara" could have came from a Greek influence and they want to apply some importance to the Greek influence, then they have to use the same rule when figuring the statistical probability of all of those names ending up in one tomb. I realize that this makes the discovery more likely to BE Jesus (since, the more names you add, the less likely the odds become)... but, let's at least be intellectually honest. Once again, it would seem that in questions of faith and/or religion, they try to MAKE science fit. Grrrrrrrrrrr!

Ok. Those are my concerns after watching this brief documentary.
ETA: I think I need to say this: I would love for this discovery to be Jesus' tomb. Because, I'd get to look at Catholicism and yell, "HAAAAA HAAAAA!" like Nelson (from the Simpsons). I would actually love for the whole of Christianity to be shaken to it's core by this discovery. But, if that's going to happen, it has to happen with accuracy. It has to be a carefully constructed argument with carefully documented science and evidence. It cannot be someone's haphazard manipulation of half-truths and assumptions. And... in the end, even if it's all true, you still have not proven divinity.


Anonymous said...

I was gonna call you last night and see if you were watching. :)

Did you watch the debate after? I only made it through the first hour of the show and then I went to bed.

I found it interesting that they were so focused on finding the actual empty tomb. I was a bit baffled why they would want to see it, since it was empty and it had been sketched in detail when it was first found.

Was that just for camera effects? Thoughts on that?


Chris Rosebrough said...

Before you make up your mind about the “Lost Tomb of Jesus” you need to see and hear the rest of the evidence.

For a comprehensive and scholarly rebuttal of the film’s evidence please visit

Read and hear the evidence for yourself.

Janet said...

I found it hard to take seriously, because the guy with the hat has a show called "the Naked Archeologist", and he's a FILM MAKER. He always trys to fit the evidence to what he believes, and only uses experts that agree with him. Bullshit, if you ask me.

Andrew said...

It is entertaining to watch Christians apply what appears to be appropriate skepticism to this documentary.

Sad and ironic that they can't do that with everything else...

Carlie said...

Not to mention that if the tomb was from the period and place of incipient Christianity as a cult, there may have been a lot of people naming their kids after the key religious figures, no? Kind of destroys the probability argument.

Also, why on earth would he be in an ossuary in Jerusalem, since his family wasn't from there? Ossuaries are for reburial, not initial burial, and from what I understand weren't for everyone, just the extra rich and religious.

And there are so many other problems with it that my head hurts. I just heard a snippet of interview with the guy in charge of the movie on the Diane Rheem show, and it was astounding how little he really understands what he's pushing. Another expert said basically "You said there was only one Jesus at the time. I have direct evidence of at least 4. That means your statistics are completely invalid because the initial frequencies were wrong." His response was basically "But it's still rare, so it's ok!"

Queen Pickle said...

Hubby was discussing this with his co-workers just the other day.

The Christians (from work) are saying that even if the DNA proves this is THE Jesus, then it's all made up, just like the moon landing. :/

Only one Christian involved in the discussion said he'd wait for further evidence before making any judgement.

Anonymous said...

I watched the documentary and the debate which followed. My take on the whole thing was that the filmmakers were just trying to present some information and artifacts that they found to be compelling evidence of the POSSIBILITY of it being the actual tomb of the actual Jesus. I agree, it was compelling and very interesting and entertaining. Convincing? Not quite, but I think it could be a big step in getting the experts to do more research.

PMomma, I didn't get that the film was trying to prove the divinity of Jesus. Nor did I get that they were trying to prove Jesus UN-divine. In fact, the film did offer a theory as to why and how the body of Jesus could've been moved to the family tomb after the crucifixion. And during the debate, Tabor considered the possibility of Jesus' spirit ascending to Heaven, while leaving his body and bones to be found centuries later.

Also, the makers of the film do not have the actual bones of Jesus, they extracted the DNA from bone residue left in the ossuaries. And according to them, they had access to such residue from only two of the ossuaries, which were both tested. My big question was: "Well where are the actual skeletons?" It said they were catalogued and then reburied, but why not exhume them and do further tests on the alleged Jesus, Mary, Joseph, MM, and Judah (Jesus Jr). I hope this happens.
Wouldn't it be great if Jesus turned out to be Joseph's biological son after all? Like a soap opera! Do I think any of these tests will actually ever happen? Unlikely.

I found the show to be very interesting and I do hope it will spark some research into the historical and biological accurateness of the Bible and it's characters.

Rachel said...

I didn't mean to leave that comment anonymously. It was from "Rachel", I just forgot to add my name. PMomma, I also want to add that I, too, am an atheist in a minivan!

Anonymous said...

Before you make up your mind about the “Lost Tomb of Jesus” you need to see and hear the rest of the evidence.
I went to the link you provided and read the "evidence". Sadly, most of the "evidence" wasn't really evidence. It was just more statistical contrivance based on assumption. The whole point I was trying to make last night is that despite what one might wish to prove or disprove (is this THE Jesus or isn't it), there is simply not enough good, solid, unquestionable evidence to make ANY judgement. Unfortunately, it would seem that most of the forensic evidence was destroyed or discarded long ago. Even IF they could only see matrilineal DNA, they would be able to prove if their are brothers in the tomb. They would be able to prove if the Marianme tomb was the mother of Judah. But, that's where it would end. You still wouldn't have any good, solid evidence about who those people actually were in a Biblical context. If you had full DNA profiles of Jesus--- then, we could talk. If the profile matched Joseph (the father), then he's not divine. For that to be THE Jesus, a divine Jesus born of GOD's mighty sperm, his DNA should SHOW a unique profile.

I haven't made up my mind, yet, at all. There's just not enough evidence.

I DO find the objections by Christians to be entertaining, though. One moment, they are- rightfully!- questioning the evidence and holding a respectful amount of criticism. The next moment, they're in a defensive mode, saying "Well...even if it is Jesus' tomb and that he had a family, we still have to believe in Christ's miracle on faith." or "Even if science or DNA could prove that Jesus had a human father, our faith can't be shaken." They need not be defensive at all... if their Bible is true (which I suspect it is not), then they should fully support any quest to learn about their savior. But, what we're seeing is that this is not the case. They only want to support those claims which support their original, tightly held presumptions/assumptions. Just like the film makers...

Neither side is operating with complete honesty or integrity.

Milo Johnson said...

I watched for a few minutes and turned the piece of crap off out of utter revulsion. That and the advance publicity were enough to see that this entire project is as scientifically sound as Intelligent Design.

Anonymous said...

PMomma, I didn't get that the film was trying to prove the divinity of Jesus. Nor did I get that they were trying to prove Jesus UN-divine.

I realize that the film maker wasn't trying to prove Jesus' divinity. However, he never stated the obvious fact that Jesus has never been proven to be anything of great interest UNLESS HE'S DIVINE. As I said a while back, this discovery is cool in that they may have found some ossuaries of people from two thousand years ago. But, unless you can prove that Jesus was divine (in some way), then the discovery is nothing more than what it is: some really old ossuaries.

It's publicized because there's an original assumption that finding relics from Jesus is like finding a piece of God. If you haven't proven God, why would it matter if some crackpot claims to be God's son? If you haven't proven God, why do we give Mary such reverence for being the virgin mother?

Ok...I'm rambling now.

Anonymous said...

You might find this interesting. It was in my e-mail on 3/2/07. As you read this remember, Harry T. Cook is a Christian minister.

"This week at This week's essay, 'Jesus, Mary & Joseph,' is commentary on the sleaze-ation over the remains of Jesus allegedly found in a Jerusalem ossuary. There is no real evidence that the Jesus depicted in the gospels of the New Testament ever existed -- Jesus being a very common given name for male children in First Century Palestine. The only upside of this 'discovery' is that it will frustrate those who insist that Jesus was resurrected. Maybe all but the bones."

My favorite line is, "There is no real evidence that the Jesus depicted in the gospels of the New Testament ever existed."

Anonymous said...

I think this was one of the lines, from that "essay" that stood out to me (as well as the line you copy/pasted here): Or, we could forget the whole thing and concentrate on the humanist message preserved in the gospels and attributed to a Jesus said to have hailed from Nazareth, a village that may not have existed in the First Century C.E.
Did he really just suggest that people forget about Jesus and just concentrate on 'the message'?? If the whole point of Christianity is, as he is suggesting, simply a humanitarian message, then why would we need churches or a ministry? Me thinks he just suggested himself out of a career.

So much energy has been expended on who exactly it was that said those things, whether or not he was the son of any god, whether he performed miracles, whether he was crucified, dead, buried, resurrected and ascended.

Did he really just say that? Uh, yeah, Mr. Cook...if you base your religion on the whole "Son of God" thing and ascribe that son miracles (which you will then worship), then you are part of the problem. The religion is called "CHRISTianity", is it not? WHOA!

I'm a little confused. He seems to be suggesting that Jesus doesn't really matter and that people should really just find and follow a humanitarian message. Why the heck is he belly-aching about Christmas and Easter, if this is the case? If Jesus is not divine, then they are purely secular celebrations.

This just begs the question: which interpretation of 'the message' should we follow and why would we need clergy? It seems like Mr. Cook is hedging his bets. No?

ceinwyn said...

Full Disclosure: I didn't watch the program. I read the articles last week, and I watched the Naked Archaeologist a couple of times. I love archeology, and I think biblical archaeology is interesting, in theory. Unfortunately it seems the people who pursue biblical archaeology have an agenda, and are trying to use science to prove what they already believe. They're not starting on neutral ground. By the time this story came out, I had already given up on Jacobvici for the half assed work shown on his program. Perhaps he is capable of good science, or even does good science, and no thinks there's an audience for it.
Here, a potentially important discovery will be swept under the rug, because it's being studied and presented so poorly.

Anonymous said...


When Harry's said,

"So much energy has been expended on who exactly it was that said those things, whether or not he was the son of any god, whether he performed miracles, whether he was crucified, dead, buried, resurrected and ascended,"

I read that as

"So much energy has been needlessly expended on who exactly it was that said those things, needlessly expended on whether or not he was the son of any god, needlessly expended on whether he performed miracles, and needlessly expended on whether he was crucified, dead, buried, resurrected and ascended."

Harry does, in fact, believe that Jesus was NOT divine - no miracles, no resurrection, etc. It seems to be a contradiction, I know, but Harry is not alone as an atheist in the Christian clergy; I'm related to one myself. Harry is simply one of the more vocal atheist ministers. I think you once used "moxie" to describe Harry.

I agree with you that the clergy are unnecessary. Harry welcomes direct e-mail questions, if you want to challenge him. I've made several inquiries of Harry via e-mails and he has answered them all. In fact, I'll bounce some off him right now.

.... Cue Final Jeopardy music ...

Okay, I e-mailed Harry the following questions at

1. You don't appear to exalt Jesus as divine, a position more similar to we atheists than the run-of-the-mill Christians, so how do you characterize your thoughts about supernaturalism, especially as it relates to religion?
2. If you do not hold Jesus sacred, how do you justify remaining in the clergy?
3. What do you see as the function of the Christian religion in people's lives, if Jesus is not divine?
4. Do you consider human morality to have a supernatural source?
5. If you are free to do so, will you share the names of others in the Christian clergy who share your views?

I'll report back if Harry responds. If he does, it will be interesting to compare Harry's discourse to that of the truly vulgar Baptist minister, It-That-Shall-Not-Be-Named.

Anonymous said...

Harry does, in fact, believe that Jesus was NOT divine - no miracles, no resurrection, etc. It seems to be a contradiction, I know, but Harry is not alone as an atheist in the Christian clergy; I'm related to one myself. Harry is simply one of the more vocal atheist ministers. I think you once used "moxie" to describe Harry.

Well...color me embarassed. Here I went off on a rant, based on one essay, when I didn't understand the depth of this man (apparently).

I suppose I am still wrestling with the term "minister" applying to the definition of the term. I mean--- I, of course, can see the need to have someone who ministers to the humanitarian needs of a person (or people). But, why have any association with a Church/religion? Why would you still identify yourself with a Jesus, if the Jesus is unnecessary? He is, as you said, an atheist amongst Christians... but, aren't we all? He's simply more intertwined with the heirarchy.
Why would Mr. Cook wish to identify himself as a part of any church?

Gah. I still can't get over my idiotic mistake.
I'll be interested to read his responses.

Anonymous said...


Commenting on your your post "Moxie," I shared my all-time favorite Harry Cook quote,
"I have been able to say from the pulpit these words - 'I am an atheist in that I am not a theist' - and there is scarcely to be seen the blinking of an eye among those in the pews. They get it."

The excerpts from Harry in your "Moxie" post have some other gems that might be worth rereading.

PMomma, please accept that on your site I would not knowingly suggest sites where any type of supernaturalism is endorsed. The time I've spent on the site has not left me with a perfect conception of what "Atheist in a Mini Van" is, but it has left me with quite a strong idea that whatever it is, it is not religion; it is not supernaturalism; it is not irrational belief; and it is not credulous acceptance without evidence. Please correct me if I'm mistaken.

I became aware of Reverend Harry T. Cook a couple years ago when he and Rabbi Sherwin Wine, also a non-theistic secular humanist, were both on the Jack Lessenberry Show on public radio through the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor Campus. It was my first experience of atheist Christian clergy outside my family and their associated grapevine, and my first experience of practicing clergy being openly non-believing. I have known lots of atheists who were recovering Christian clergy who had left the church over the years, but active outspokenly atheist clergy, like Harry, are usually a short-lived breed. Here's a link to the show heading and comments, but it seems that the audio files have been removed.

Multi-line version(if truncated):

Let me share one more bit from my last comment on the "Moxie" post,
"I think the atheists among us would agree with Harry about 'the baseless assertions of theistic religion.' We can sense his fervor when he says, 'I am an atheist in that I am not a theist.' We know how important it is for atheists to, as Harry suggests, 'stand their ground in the defense and promotion of non-theistic empiricism.' But, almost none of us, can walk into a church, where it is crucial for these ideas to be promoted, and be allowed to voice these ideas.

Harry can and he's one of us."

Anonymous said...

' But, almost none of us, can walk into a church, where it is crucial for these ideas to be promoted, and be allowed to voice these ideas.

Harry can and he's one of us."

This is very true. And, as you've pointed out, very important.

The time I've spent on the site has not left me with a perfect conception of what "Atheist in a Mini Van" is...
Oh good. I'm not alone then. ;) I don't exactly know what I am, or will be, on a day-to-day basis. I don't any of us does.

Please correct me if I'm mistaken.
I think you are as correct as one can be. Although, I am still a work in progress.

I need to do some digging around and see if I can find the answer to this question (in regard to Mr. Cook): How does his congregation feel about his openly atheistic position? How DOES one walk into a church and suggest that Jesus' ideas were worthwhile to consider, but that Jesus was not divine and God does not, in all probability, exist? More to the point, how does one do all of that and NOT end up ran-out-of-town?

I actually appreciate the fact that you bring such sites to my attention, Russ. It seems that just when I think I have atheism/atheists figured out... along comes another example of how an atheist/atheism sparks another set of questions. :)

Anonymous said...


My intention in mentioning such sites is two-fold: one, to make fellow atheists aware that in the absence of clear warning signals, like we had with Whatever-The-Hell-That-Is-That-Shall-Not-Be-Named, we need to consider each case carefully since we increasingly have allies on the inside, and two, to make Christians aware that their assessment of what constitutes this thing called Christianity is terribly misinformed.

Peace in Possumland.

Anonymous said...

OK, from the horse's mouth.

To the questions posed above, Reverend Harry Cook responded as follows(exact copy from my e-mail):

1.Supernaturalism is phony-baloney stuff. Nature is enough for human beings to deal with. I give it no thought whatsoever.

2. Jesus didn't believe Hillel the Elder was sacred (or maybe you mean "divine.") And neither did most followers until the fathers of the Nicene Council decided by majority vote that such was so. There are plenty of us in the clergy who, on the basis of evidence and its research, that "Jesus" as he is variously depicted in the gospels is a fiction -- ok, a "sacred" fiction if you want.

3. Some one is on record in the early part of the First Century C.E. as having articulated a marvelous ethical vision of how human beings can live together in peace, security and opportunity. It's all summed up in the Jesus riff on Hillel's summary of Torah: WHAT YOU HATE, DO NOT DO TO ANOTHER or "do unto others..." The day that the critical mass of human beings adopt that wisdom and live by it is the day the world will be saved from itself. Maybe then I'll be ready to talk about the divinity of whoever said that stuff in the first place.

4. I do not consider morality or ethics to have a supernatural source. The celestial hand proffering the etched tablets to Charlton Heston (apparently unarmed at the time) is a metaphor representing the much longer and more difficult process the ancient Hebrews endured in figuring out how to keep people from killing each others. They figured out that if you made stealing taboo, fewer people would kill to get. And if you made envy taboo, few people would steal. Since it was the elders in the early tribes who figured out that stuff, it was necessary to mandate the honoring of father and mother, and after those early generations passed away, successor elders transferred the tribal honor to the spirits of the dead elders and, finally, to an unseen god whence the elders had come in the first place.

5. Try Ian Lawton at Christ Community Church in Spring Lake, Mich. I frankly don't know of many others.


All of these are consistent with what Harry has communicated through his weekly essays over the past couple of years.

NOTE: the NRA dig.

sonny said...

i just read through the dialogue at the end of this post and i just had a question or two:

as i was reading, i am reminded of a cs lewis quote i read once:

I am trying here to prevent anyone saying the really foolish thing that people often say about Him: 'I'm ready to accept Jesus as a great moral teacher, but I don't accept His claim to be God.' That is the one thing we must not say. A man who was merely a man and said the sort of things Jesus said would not be a great moral teacher. He would either be a lunatic -- on the level with the man who says he is a poached egg -- or else he would be the Devil of Hell. You must make your choice. Either this man was, and is, the Son of God: or else a madman or something worse. You can shut Him up for a fool, you can spit at Him and kill Him as a demon; or you can fall at His feet and call Him Lord and God. But let us not come with any patronizing nonsense about His being a great human teacher. He has not left that open to us. He did not intend to.

That, is basically, my, if harry or this blog is operating under the idea that the bible is not historically accurate SPECIFICALLY in regards to Christ's claims to divinity...harry does not seem to think so...then that is another story...

anyway, i used lewis there because i think he could write it better than myself...

also, russ, you said:

"to make Christians aware that their assessment of what constitutes this thing called Christianity is terribly misinformed."

what exactly did you mean by that? i wasn't entirely sure, i think i just didn't follow you completely...if you are saying that "Christianity" isn't what most Christians say it is because of what harry thinks...well, i doubt you would say that, unless, of course, there are a great many more of men that follow harry's school of thought...anyway, just a question...;)