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 The Lost Tomb of Jesus

John Hoole March 04, 2007

Today, I have decided to insert a lesson into our on-going series on the 7 churches of Revelation. Over the last week there have been considerable reports of a tomb found in Jerusalem. It is claimed by some that this is the family burial place for the family of Jesus. Tonight, on the Discovery channel, you can see a documentary film called: "The Lost Tomb of Jesus." A book was also been this past Tuesday, the 27th of February, title, "The Jesus Family Tomb," by Simcha Jacobavici & Charles Pellegrino. The documentary to be aired tonight is by Jacobavici and James Cameron, the director of the movies, Titanic and The Terminator.

I know I may be jumping the gun by discussing this in our class prior to the airing of the documentary. There is, however, enough information from www.discovery.com and www.jesusfamilytomb.com, and www.garyhabermas.com, as well as a number of those who have had a preview of the program, to be able to assemble a credible assessment.

Let me first provide the factual data. A bulldozer accidentally uncovered a burial tomb containing 10 ossuaries in Jerusalem. Do you know what an ossuary is? It is often referred to as a "bone box." The way they treated the deceased during first century Palestine, was to bury them in a tomb, wrapped in linen and ointment - an embalming process. After one year, they would enter the tomb, remove the bones, and rebury them in an ossuary.

While there is a lot of hype for the upcoming documentary, there has not been any hype among the archaeological community about this discover. These 10 ossuaries were uncovered by the bulldozer 27 years ago - in 1980. This discovery took place in the Talpiot district in Jerusalem. Here is a map showing its location relative to ancient Jerusalem and the Temple Mount. It is about 2 mines directly south of the Temple Mount I don't know the exact location of the burial site, but we know it was in Eastern Talpiot district. As you can see with the "distance measuring device," it is about two miles south of the Mount.

So, we have a burial site containing 10 ossuaries. Six of the ossuaries had names carved on them identifying whose bones lay inside.

1. Yeshua, bar Yehosef

2. Mary - written in Aramaic

3. Mary - written in Greek as Mariamne e mara (Mary the master, some say)

4. Yose - a rare nickname for Joseph

5. Matthew - Matya

6. Yehuda bar Yeshua

At first glance, these names have a striking similarity to names of people from the New Testament. In addition to the bones, two of the ossuaries contained tissue, which were subjected to the rigor of a DNA testing. Those two are: Yeshua and Mariamne.

From what we already can glean, the documentary will draw their conclusion that these are the burial place of the family of Jesus, using two primary methods of analysis.

1. DNA evidence

2. Statistical probability that the names on these boxes and names found in the New Testament make is highly probably they are the same.

They will make the statement in the documentary that the odds of these not being Jesus' family burial place is highly improbable. In fact, they will state that there is only one chance in 600 this is NOT the family of Christ.

My personal opinion, from what I have gathered so far, the strongest argument of these two is the statistical analysis. By saying that, I am by no means saying their analysis is foolproof. In fact, much to the contrary. Like "The Da Vinci Code," parts of the underpinnings of this documentary are already beginning to unravel.

For instance, take Amos Kloner, an Israeli archaeologist. He was the archaeologist in charge after the ten ossuaries were uncovered in 1980. I quote him: "The claim that the burial site (of Jesus family) has been found is not based on any proof, and is only an attempt to sell." He goes on to say: "I refute all claims and efforts to waken a renewed interest in the findings. With all due respect, they are not archaeologists." He has branded their claims as "impossible" and "nonsense." Moreover, there is "no likelihood that Jesus and his relatives had a family tomb."

This past Wednesday, the 28th, The Washington Post ran an article title: 'Lost Tomb of Jesus' Claim Called a Stunt' - Archaeologists Decry TV Film. I quote from the article: "Leading archaeologists in Israel and the United States yesterday denounced the purported discovery of the tomb of Jesus as a publicity stunt."

Let's look first at the statistical evidence they will tout. When assessing statistical probabilities, a number of assumptions must be made. This is especially so when looking at an event that is 2,000 years old, where you have no concrete data to start with.

Let me make mention of 5 assumptions made concerning the occupants of the tomb. For their statistical analysis to produce the results they put forth, their assumptions require, in some cases, the rewrite of history, or at least they must subscribe to and "alternate history." Here are five "alternate history assumption" that must be true in order for the film's statistical analysis to have any weight or merit.

Before giving them, I must give credit to whom it is due. Some of the information on these 5 assumptions have been gleaned from an internet site called www.extremetheology.com. I will also be using some material from Dr. Ben Witherington III, professor of New Testament interpretation at Asbury Theological Seminary. I also looked at what Dr. Gary Habermas had to say.

Now let's look at 5 important assumptions made in the documentary's analysis.

1. We must assume that the Jesus and Jose of this tomb are brothers.

Why? Because if they are not brothers then the statistical chance of this tomb being family tomb of Jesus of Nazareth becomes VERY low. If Jose is not the brother of Jesus, then this is not a family tomb.

2. We must assume that Mariamne is Mary Magdalene.

This is a very important assumption. For this tomb being that of Jesus depends heavily on this assumption. To support this claim, they use a 4th century Gnostic document, entitled "The Gospel of Philip." They assert that in this document, the sister of Philip is called Mariamne, but also says her name was Mary. The Gospel of Philip , a late-3rd century Gnostic Gospel, does not claim to have been written by the apostle Philip. It was given the name, "Gospel of Philip," because he is the only apostle mentioned in it. And Philip is only mentioned one time. But the Gnostic Gospels are not written in either Aramaic or Greek, but Coptic. And since is says very little about Philip, and since the name Mariamne does not appear in the book, maybe they mistakenly referred to "The Gospel of Philip."

There is another book, called "The Acts of Philip." This is a 4th century document that does speak of Philip, and, as I read through it, the name Mariamne is mentioned 10 times. Actually, in the document, several women have that name, and one is said to be the sister of Philip. But nowhere does it say that Philip's sister was also known as Mary or any other name. It should be important to note that a document written more than 300 years after the life of Mary Magdalene has no chance of being more authoritative than documents written in the 1st century and/or during Mary's lifetime. This being said, of the 4 biblical Gospels, all of which were written shortly after Jesus' death and resurrection, none refer to Mary Magdalene as Mariamne.

3. We must also assume that Jesus of Nazareth was married to Mariamne and together they had a son named Judah.

I won't spend much time here. There are no credible first-century documents, or near the first century, that support this assumption.

4. We must assume that the Matthew found in this tomb was somehow related to Jesus' mother but is NOT her son.

We are given all the sons of Mary twice in the Gospels - Matthew 13:35 and Mark 6:3. They are James, Joses, Judas and Simon. We know, by the same Passages, that Jesus had some sisters, but none are named. We have no documentary evidence of a Matthew in Jesus' family. Therefore, the filmmakers have to find a way to "explain him away." His presence in the tomb messes up their theory that this is the family tome of Jesus. There is no credible, accepted evidence - independent of this tomb - of Jesus having a relative named Matthew - or a second Mary or a Judah. Unless we have other verifiably accepted data that Matthew, a second Mary and Judah were part of the family of Jesus, then they must offer a compelling reason why these people were even in Jesus, tomb, even if this was Jesus tomb. Without this needed evidence, these three names work against their probability data.

Additionally, those who believe this to be the family tomb of Jesus, must also give reasons why more than half the family are missing. Namely - his three brothers and at least one sister. But, that leads to the next assumption.

5. We have to assume that the James ossuary originated from this tomb even though there is no solid evidence that links it to this site.

Unless I have missed something, the documentary will assert that one of the 10 ossuaries was missing. And an argument will be made to say the ossuary of James, disclosed to the public in 2002, came from this site, and that this James is the brother of Jesus of Nazareth. This will reduce the number of missing brothers.

In order for the ossuary of James to be part of the 10 found at the Talpiot plot, it cannot have been unearthed prior to March of 1980. That is when the Talpiot Tomb was discovered. The owner of the James ossuary, Oded Golan, has been on trial for fraud concerning this ossuary. At the Antiquities Fraud Trial, Golan showed a picture of the James ossuary that was photographed in the 1970's. Also, the Toronto Star reported this past week, on Monday, February 26: "Former FBI agent Gerald Richard testified that a photo of the James ossuary, showing it in Golan's home, was taken in the 1970's, based on tests done by the FBI photo lab."

Jacobavici, when asked about the ossuary of James, conceded that if it was photographed in the 70's, it could not be part of the Talpiot tomb. But he tries to come in the back door by saying in an interview, that maybe it was printed on old paper, but found and photographed in the 80's.

I find it interesting, that some pieces of information that damage the documentary has been reported in the news this past week. The trial of the possible forgery of the James ossuary is ongoing, and it was admitted this week that the ossuary was from of location in Silwan, not Talpiot. Dirt taken from the James ossuary matches dirt in Silwan, not Talpiot.

And then on Wednesday, 28th of February 2007, an update on the missing 10th ossuary was published. The Jerusalem Post published an interview with Professor Amos Kloner. I mentioned him earlier as being the archaeologist in charge of the uncovering of the Talpiot grave. He was asked directly about the missing ossuary. Kloner said, "Nothing has disappeared. The 10th ossuary was on my list." He said he could take them to where it was located. He went on to say, it was a plain ossuary without inscription, and it was never missing.

Do you see their house of cards starting to fall? No greater analysis was given this documentation than what was used by Brown in "The Da Vinci Code."

Here is a chart taken from the film's official Discovery Channel website. Please notice that this chart is still unsure of several things - noted by dotted lines. They are unsure how Matthew and Mariamne are related to the other inhabitants of the tomb.

The reasons for this is twofold.

1. The presence of Matthew and Miriamne do not fit the written record of Jesus' family.

2. Direct result of the DNA evidence does not substantiate their conclusion.

Here is the way Gary Habermas rendered it on his website.

There is a principle in statistical probabilities called the "The Principle of Occam's Razor." Occam's razor (also spelled Ockham's razor) is a principle attributed to the 14th-century English logician and Franciscan friar William of Ockham. The principle states that the explanation of any phenomenon should make as few assumptions as possible, eliminating, or "shaving off", those that make no difference in the observable predictions of the explanatory hypothesis or theory. The conclusion drawn by this documentary require many assumptions which, with each assumption, lowers the probability finally realized.

If you watch the documentary tonight, here are some numbers assumed in their calculation of 600 to 1. I do not necessarily agree with the numbers they use, but here they are.

1. Jesus son of Joseph - 1 in 190

2. Maria - 1 in 4

3. Mariamne - 1 in 160

4. Jose - 1 in 20

Those are the only four used. And if you multiply 190 X 4 X 160 X 20, it equals 2,432,000. The conclusion is that the probability of all of these people appearing in the same tomb is 1 in 2.4 M. Then they adjust for unintentional historical biases by dividing by 4, giving a result of 600,000. Then they divide by 1,000 to adjust for all possible first century Jerusalem tombs. The result is 600 to one that this is the tomb of Jesus. Almost sounds convincing, doesn't it?

Did you notice that they removed Matthew and Judah from their calculations? Their reason: because those two names were not "explicatively" mentioned in the Gospels. Yet they are keeping Mariamne in their formula despite the fact the she also is NOT explicitly mentioned in the Gospels. Their reason for including her, they say, is based on the 4th century Gnostic gospel.

What this means is that they explicitly "cooked the books," to get their desired results. Since when, either in a court of law or just good analysis, does a 4th century document trump eyewitness accounts. Notice a couple of Scriptures.

Luke 1:1-2 NKJV

1 Inasmuch as many have taken in hand to set in order a narrative of those things which have been fulfilled* among us, 2 just as those who from the beginning were eyewitnesses and ministers of the word delivered them to us,

2 Peter 1:16 NKJV

16 For we did not follow cunningly devised fables when we made known to you the power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, but were eyewitnesses of His majesty.

No 4th-century Gnostic book is able to "trumping" the eyewitness accounts of the 4 Gospels. And my personal opinion, based on historical data, is that the chance of find the inscription "Jesus, the son of Joseph," is more like 1 in 8, not one in 190. And if you take that, along with Mariamne out of their calculations, the 600:1 become approximately 1.5:1. But it gets a lot worse. The statistical probability of just the 5 assumptions I presented to you earlier are infinitely small.

As mentioned earlier, DNA samples were obtained from only two ossuaries - Yeshua and Mariamne. The assumptions that Mariamne is the wife of Yeshua is because the DNA shows they definitely are not from the same mother. So that means, according to the documentary, Mariamne is the wife of Yeshua.

That is a huge leap, statistically speaking, as well as logically speaking.

o How do we know this isn't a family burial place for Mariamne's family.

o Or maybe Mariamne is the wife of Matthew, or Jose.

o Or maybe this isn't a family burial place.

Another big question that is not addressed by the documentary is, "Why would a burial plot of Jesus' family be in Jerusalem rather than the Galilee region?" The extended family of Mary and Joseph lived in Nazareth, although his ancestral home was Bethlehem. And Jesus really did not spend much time in the Jerusalem area during His life. The recorded life of Jesus in the Gospels shows He spent 80+% of His life in the Galilee region. Why would a low-class Carpenter buy a family tomb, which are for the middle-to-wealthy class, in a town which he is a foreigner to?

Now, let me present to you the greatest evidence that the ossuaries found are not the family burial place of Jesus of Nazareth. Critics of Christianity and even some Christians do not realize the immensity of the evidence for the resurrection of Jesus Christ. There is an enormous amount of historical, literary and legal testimony supporting its validity. The reason I know they have not found the family tomb of Jesus, with His bones in it, is because there is far more evidence than is presented in this documentary that, 3 days after His death, the tomb was empty.

The historical fact of the resurrection is the very basis for the truth of Christianity. To put it simply, Christianity stands or falls on the resurrection of Jesus Christ. One cannot be true without the other. When Buddha or Mohammed died, it changed nothing of their religions. That's because their religions are based solely on what their founders taught. But for Christianity, what Christ taught is so much tied to who He is and whether He is who He said He was.

The importance of the Resurrection to Christianity is identified in 1 Corinthians 15:13-17 NIV

13 If there is no resurrection of the dead, then not even Christ has been raised.
14 And if Christ has not been raised, our preaching is useless and so is your faith.

15 More than that, we are then found to be false witnesses about God, for we have testified about God that he raised Christ from the dead. But he did not raise him if in fact the dead are not raised.

16 For if the dead are not raised, then Christ has not been raised either.

17 And if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile; you are still in your sins.

The New Testament goes one step further and teaches that the resurrection was the one thing that declared Jesus to be the Son of God.

Romans 1:4 (NIV)

4 and who through the Spirit of holiness was declared with power to be the Son of God [how?] by his resurrection from the dead: Jesus Christ our Lord.

And Romans 10:9 says that one cannot be a Christian without believing the resurrection of Christ.

9 That if you confess with your mouth the Lord Jesus and believe in your heart that God has raised Him from the dead, you will be saved.

That is very blunt and straight-forward. Salvation requires belief in the resurrection.

Simcha Jacobavici says we Christians should be open to the evidence he presents. I agree - if the bones of Jesus of Nazareth are in that box, Christianity is based on a false premise - that of the resurrection of Jesus Christ. The problem with Sincha's "evidence," however, is that he is connecting the dots far too quickly in order, it seems, to arrive at his desired conclusion. It will take a lot more evidence that this documentary gives to overthrow the well-attested fact of the resurrection of Jesus.

There's a nice story in the Gospel of Matthew (28:11-15), about rumors of Jesus' body being stolen from the tomb.

Matthew 28:11-15 (NIV)

11 ......some of the guards went into the city and reported to the chief priests everything that had happened.
12 When the chief priests had met with the elders and devised a plan, they gave the soldiers a large sum of money,
13 telling them, "You are to say, 'His disciples came during the night and stole him away while we were asleep.'
14 If this report gets to the governor, we will satisfy him and keep you out of trouble."
15 So the soldiers took the money and did as they were instructed. And this story has been widely circulated among the Jews to this very day.

Why would a concocted story of this nature need to be circulated, if, in fact, there was a tomb nearby where the body of Jesus still lay. There is simply too much evidence to the contrary. Even the opponents of Christ - the Jewish religious leaders - did not contest this point. They believed so strongly that the tomb was empty, they felt compelled to devise a lie, to keep their followers from flocking to this new religion.

The Gospel of Jesus Christ was preached in the very city where the resurrection occurred.

One reason for attesting the historical reliability of the resurrection is that the accounts of the resurrection were circulated and preached in the very city (Jerusalem) where they could easily have been confronted with contrary evidence, if it existed.

In 1 Corinthians 15:6, the Apostle Paul states that most of those who had seen Jesus were still alive, and could be questioned as to the accuracy of what the disciples were preaching. When those who wrote the New Testament argued their case for the gospel, they appealed to common knowledge concerning the facts of the resurrection. Had there been any tendency to depart from the actual facts in any material respect, there were hostile witnesses in the audience that would have corrected them.

Jewish Converts to Christ in Jerusalem


The 3000 converts on the Day of Pentecost and the thousands later in Acts were almost all Jews. They were either residents of, or visitors to, Jerusalem. And the heart of the message of this new way of life was the resurrection of Jesus.


Not easily at all. They tenaciously hang on to their rituals and practices and beliefs. For these early Jewish converts, the evidence for the resurrection must have been extremely strong -- to convince so many thousands of Jews to a way of life that was so foreign to what their religious leaders had taught them all their lives. People do not give up their inbred religious customs very easily. The Jewish leaders knew they were losing thousands of followers to this heretical new sect all because of a claim that Jesus Christ was raised from the dead. Each one of those early Jewish converts was a testimony of the proof of the empty tomb, for the simple reason that they would never have become disciples if that tomb still contained the body of Jesus.


Christians do not need to fear films or books the likes of which will be shown on TV tonight. The Bible's reliability has lasted 2,000 years, and the ranks of Christianity is growing by 10's of thousands every day. And that is occurring during great persecution in some places around the world.

It is my opinion, and only an opinion, that James Cameron, the producer of the movie Titanic, has now jumped on board another sinking ship full of holes. Isn't it amazing the leaps of faith people will take when something new that won't be remembered 200 years from now, let alone 2,000, when the overwhelming evidence of the resurrection of Jesus, while taking faith to believe in it, has withstood the tests of time, tradition, doubt, attack, and millions of changed lives.

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