The Discovery Channel recently aired a program called The Lost Tomb of Jesus asserting that the bones of Jesus had been found. Not only this, the program goes on to argue that Jesus was married to Mary Magdalene and they had a son named Judah. While this lesson is not an extensive refutation of the program, these are just some of my reasons why the program ought to be discredited by viewers.
- The family did not live in Jerusalem. It does not make any sense for a family tomb to be in Jerusalem because Jesus’ family did not live in Jerusalem. Joseph and Mary were from Galilee. None of His family called Jerusalem home.
- If there was a family tomb in Jerusalem, why is Jesus initially being placed in the tomb of Joseph of Arimathea? Joseph of Arimathea was a rich man (Matthew 27:57) and he volunteers to put Jesus in his tomb. Joseph and Mary were dirt poor and could not afford a family tomb. How do we know they were poor? In Luke 2:24 we read that Joseph and Mary take Jesus to Jerusalem for their purification, according to the Law of Moses. Luke records that Joseph and Mary offered two turtledoves or two pigeons for purifications. Leviticus 12:6 commands that a lamb and one turtledove or pigeon be offered. But God made a provision for the poor. In verse 8, if the person could not afford a lamb, they were to offer two turtledoves or two pigeons instead of the lamb. Joseph and Mary were too poor for a lamb, and they were certainly too poor to own property like a tomb. Only the rich had rock-cut tombs. Israeli archaeologist and professor Amos Kloner, who documented the tomb as the Jewish burial cave of a well-off family more than 10 years ago, is adamant that there is no evidence to support claims that it was the burial site of Jesus. Many non-religious archaeologists are coming out calling this work a sham and a stunt and declare that the evidence has been manipulated. Kloner, the one who found excavated this tomb in 1980, calls the claims “completely impossible” and “nonsense.”
- The etching on the ossuary is “Jesus son of Joseph.” Who of Jesus’ family would have etched those words? Mary is a believer in Jesus and knows Jesus is not son of Joseph. The disciples know that Jesus is not son of Joseph. Matthew makes a very explicit point that Jesus was not fathered by Joseph. Joseph is always “the husband of Mary” and not the father of Jesus.
- Why now? This tomb and these ossuaries were found in 1980. For 27 years these bone boxes have sat in a warehouse in the Israeli Antiquities Authority. The reason why so much time has passed by is because these names are too common to associate any connection to a person or family in the Bible. Jesus, Joseph, Mary, and James are extremely common names. Having a family that contained those names is not rare at all. Archaeologists considered the finding of these names insignificant. The show did not tell you that in 1931 we had already found another ossuary with the inscription “Jesus, son of Joseph.”
- Why would some of the names on the ossuaries be in any other language but Aramaic? Why are some names in Greek? Why is Mary’s name in Latin? These things do not make sense. Only wild speculation makes room to allow for these problems.
- The statistics. Yahoo news had an article after the program aired called Examining the Jesus’ Tomb Evidence. The author points out that there are many names missing in this tomb and then moves into the true statistical analysis of this tomb:
Meanwhile, what about those who are missing? Where is his father Joseph? Where are his brothers, James, Simon and Jude? Where are his sisters? Where is his aunt? Of at least 9 people known to have been in Jesus’ family, we only have three ossuaries. The “1 in 600” figure supposedly takes into account the missing names. The documentarians increase the base likelihood – 1 in 2.4 million – by a factor of four to account for what they call “unintentional biases” in the historical record. This is an ad hoc, insufficient, and inappropriate way to deal with the fact that 75% of his known family is missing. What is more, the extent to which this changes the probability is more than lost by the fact that they have included the second Mary in their analysis (which lowers the probability by a factor of 160). At any rate, there is a proper way to deal with the absence of six family members, and this is not it.
All of this contrary historical evidence has the potential to create a major problem for the documentarians. To see this, let us calculate the probability that this is Jesus’ tomb with all of the information – for and against – now laid out.
We will use Bayes’ theorem, which is a way to calculate the probability of a former event occurring (in this case the burial of Jesus in this ossuary) based upon the occurrence, or non-occurrence, of a latter event (in this case, the burial of the others in this tomb).
This is technical but bear with me. The documentarians take advantage, intentional or not, of the fact that the public does not understand statistics. Statistics themselves do not lie. They are only misused, which is what has happened here. To put things right, Bayes’ theorem states:
Probability that this is Jesus’ ossuary, given the other names equals
Probability that this is Jesus’ ossuary multiplied by
Probability of finding the other names, given that this is Jesus’ ossuary divided by
Probability of finding the other names.
It should be clear that the documentarians offer nothing approaching this. Their figure, 1 in 600, does not speak to any of these factors.
Examine the equation in light of our discussion of the historical record. Suppose that we found Jesus’ ossuary in a tomb. What is the probability, based upon what we know about Jesus from the historical record, that he would be buried with these people? It is zero. There is no reason, independent of the tomb, to expect a Matthew, a son named Judah, or a second Mary. There is reason to expect at least six other names. Thus, the third term drops to 0. And, accordingly, the probability that this is Jesus drops to 0.
Now consider the probability that this is Jesus’ ossuary, which is the probability that an ossuary found in this environment inscribed “Jesus son of Joseph” would belong Jesus. This term is 0, too. There is no reason, independent of the tomb, to expect him to have been buried at all — buried in Jerusalem; buried in a middle class, ornamented tomb; and buried in an unadorned ossuary with this inscription. Hence, the second term drops to 0, too.
It is idle for the documentarians to speculate that it is possible for Jesus to have been buried in this tomb with these people. Such speculation has virtually no affect on the final result. Let us allow a 1% probability that he might be a candidate for burial in Jerusalem (in a tomb like this, etc.), and a 1% probability that he might be a candidate for burial with these strangers. Thus, we allow that it is possible that the historical record contains grievous and systematic errors that nobody has identified in nearly 2,000 years of digging, studying and reflecting. However – as they have no evidence to indicate that this is true – we assign a probability that is consistent with saying, “Anything is possible.” With these allowances, we can say that the probability that this is Jesus is 1 in 1.4 million.
This probability is so low because it is unlikely that (a) Jesus would ever be found (b) especially with these five strangers. The probability that a given ossuary inscribed “Jesus son of Joseph” is Jesus’ at all, which – even when we spot them a 1% chance that Jesus could be among the possible contenders for it – is only 1 in 14,100. What is more, when we spot them 1% that Jesus could be with these five people, the chances that Jesus’ tomb could contain these five names is still only 1 in 57 million.
Thus, I would assign a 1 in 1.4 million chance that this tomb belonged to Jesus. These odds are a little better than the odds that I will die in a tractor accident this year.
- But the most disturbing thing I heard was not from the television program itself, but from the interviews that were broadcast after the program. There were three theologians who were given time to speak about these findings at the second half of the Critical Look program. Father David O’Connell is the president of the Catholic University of America and he was one of the theologians. His official title is Very Reverend David O’Connell. He said, “We have to remember, faith deals with mysteries. We read in Corinthians, you know, we walk by faith and not by sight. And it really isn’t as important how things are physically presented. You know, when we talk about the resurrection, it’s not the empty tomb we believe in, we believe that Jesus rose and appeared to the disciples. Jesus physically conquered death and that conquering of death is extended the same opportunity for those who believe in Him by faith, not by sight.”
This statement is absolutely ridiculous in every way. What was the proof given by the gospel writers that Jesus had raised from the dead? THE EMPTY TOMB. Only when Peter and John, and the women saw the empty tomb did they believe that Jesus had risen from the dead. The scholars argued that our faith would be intact because we would just accept a spiritual resurrection. Sounds great, until you read the scriptures: “You will not let your Holy One see corruption” (Acts 13:35).
To make statements like what the Very Reverend David O’Connell made are reasons why unbelievers reject Christianity. If we say that we will believe regardless of the evidence, then we are fools. Friends, let us be clear. If we find the bones of Jesus, then our faith is dead and we are wasting our time. We believe in the empty tomb. If the tomb is not completely empty, then we have believed a lie.
Further, a spiritual resurrection does not make any sense. How was Thomas afforded the opportunity to place his hands in Jesus’ side and see the nail prints in His hands if it was not a bodily resurrection? To think one can still believe in the resurrection of the scriptures and find the body of Jesus on earth is to be intellectually dishonest. The scriptures argue a bodily resurrection. One cannot reconcile the scriptures if we do find Jesus’ bones. But the bones could not be found three days after Jesus’ death because Jesus rose from the dead.