Jesus Tomb: Review of Special

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The Discovery Channel aired a special on the Jesus tomb and the discussion moderated by Ted Koppel afterward. Before I give you my score card, allow me to make some comments.

(1) In my view it is very unfortunate that Simcha was not more restrained in jumping to sensationalist conclusions in his film. Since by his own acknowledgment he is neither a scholar nor an archeologist, he should have refrained from pushing his own preferred conclusion as hard as he did. Hiring a few consultants like James Tabor who are sympathetic to his views is not enough. Contrary to Simcha’s claims, he is not merely “reporting the news.” He is seeking to propagate the unsubstantiated theory that the “Jesus tomb” contained the remains of Jesus and his family.

(2) Having said this, I welcome the publication of the data associated with this find (though I wish the discussion could have been put on a more proper scholarly footing from the beginning). In my view, the find, rather than disproving Jesus’ resurrection and the truth of Christianity, actually lends additional credence to the biblical record. For example, it suggests that the names in the Gospels are eminently well attested for the biblical period.

(3) Most likely, the tomb contains the remains of a Jesus son of Joseph (or of a different name if “Jesus” turns out to be the wrong reading); his son Jude or Judah; and several other family members including two Marys and a Matthew. All these were very common first-century Jewish names. I actually believe the presence of the inscription “Judah son of Jesus” is a strong argument against this being Jesus’ family tomb, since it is highly unlikely that Jesus of Nazareth had a son (the movie’s attempt at construing a conspiracy/suppression theory notwithstanding).

(4) The movie’s attempt to link Jude with the “Beloved Disciple” of John’s Gospel is certainly creative, and should be added to the list of conjectures of late that the “Beloved Disciple” is Thomas, Lazarus, or Mary Magdalene, but it is completely ludicrous. John 19:26 says explicitly that Jesus said to his mother – not Mary Magdalene! – “Woman, look, your son.”

(5) I completely agree with Darrell Bock’s comments on the show following the Discovery Channel special that the Christian belief in Jesus’ bodily resurrection excludes the notion that Jesus’ bones may have been in the ossuary. This is why, contrary to the Roman Catholic representative on the panel, it makes all the difference in the world whether or not this is “Jesus’ family tomb.” James Tabor and Simcha simply do not understand the biblical teaching (in line with Jewish beliefs, as Bock correctly noted) and the early Christian beliefs regarding Jesus’ bodily resurrection.

Enough said.

Here is my score card:

Possible gaps in logic:

On what basis is the assertion made that the dead person named “Mariamene” in one of the ossuaries is to be identified with Mary Magdalene? A 14TH-CENTURY MS. OF THE ACTS OF PHILIP

On what basis is the further assertion made that Mary Magdalene was Jesus’ wife? DNA EVIDENCE INDICATING THEY DID NOT SHARE THE SAME MOTHER

Does the special refer to the possibility that “Mariamene e Mara,” rather than “Mary, known as the master,” may rather mean “Mary and Martha” (with “Mara” being a short form of “Martha”; see Richard Bauckham, Jesus and the Eyewitnesses, p. 89)? NO REFERENCE MADE

Is acknowledgment made of other possible explanations why the “Jesus” and “Mariamene” do not appear to share the same DNA, such as that this woman may have been the wife of a brother of that “Jesus” or a non-relative placed in that tomb for some other reason? NO ACKNOWLEDGMENT MADE

Unsubstantiated assertions and lacking explanations:

Is any explanation offered why Jesus’ family tomb would have been in Jerusalem? NO

Is any explanation offered why there is no ancient evidence for such a tomb? NO

Is any explanation offered why, if there was such a tomb, no enemy of Christianity in the first or second century A.D. pointed to this tomb as evidence that the Christian claim of Jesus’ resurrection was false? NO

Is any explanation offered why scores of Christians died a martyr’s death for what they knew was a fraudulent claim? NO

Possible overstatement and misuse of sciences:

Is the impression given that statistics “prove” that the “Jesus” whose bones may have been placed in the ossuary was the Jesus of Christianity? [Remember, statistics hardly ever “prove” anything.] REPEATEDLY, STATISTICAL EVIDENCE IS CALLED “COMPELLING”

Is acknowledgment made that over 1,000 men named Jesus, son of Joseph lived in first-century Palestine? That many men named Jesus had parents named Joseph and Mary, both being exceedingly common names? And so on. YES, IT IS ACKNOWLEDGED THAT 1 IN 4 WOMEN WERE NAMED MARY

Is DNA testing used to dazzle the viewing audience, as a sort of deus ex machina, to cover up an otherwise weak case? DNA EVIDENCE IS OVERPLAYED

Is reference made to the fact that we do not in the first place have any undisputed DNA from Jesus or anyone in his family? NO

Other unstated possible problems:

Is acknowledgment made that the inscription “Jesus” is itself uncertain? Rahmani’s Catalogue of Jewish Ossuaries, posted on the Discovery Channel website, says that “The first name, preceded by a large cross-mark, is difficult to read, as the incisions are clumsily carved and badly scratched.” Is this mentioned in the program? NOT MENTIONED

Does the special concede that the only possible source identifying “Mariamene” with Mary Magdalene is the Acts of Philip (available to us in a 14th-century text), which seems to associate this “Mariamene” with Martha and thus identify her, not with Mary Magdalene, but with Mary of Bethany? NO REFERENCE MADE TO MARIAMENE BEING CONNECTED WITH MARTHA IN THE ACTS OF PHILIP

Look also for possible bias in “reporting,” as the makers of the “documentary” claim, “news” or “facts.” The question here is, “Do reporters of news, like members of a jury, have a responsibility to exercise caution in connecting the dots of a given case, and do they have an obligation to acknowledge other possible explanations beside their own?” I CONCLUDE THAT THE DOCUMENTARY WAS HIGHLY TENDENTIOUS AND BIASED; IT CONTAINED NUMEROUS GAPS IN LOGIC, UNSUBSTANTIATED ASSERTIONS, AND FAILED TO ACKNOWLEDGE ALTERNATIVE EXPLANATIONS OF THE EVIDENCE

For further reading, check out this article on the statistics from Scientific American as well as the official page of the Discovery Channel.


  1. Only the Lord God knows the answer and all our attempts to recreate the events of that day are feeble and futile. Not to mention the fact that we are warned never to add or take away from His word. Indeed. Joyfully ~ James in Californis

  2. The claim that the Apostle James was the natural brother of James is contrary to what I have in the dictionary portion of my Catholic Bible. It states that James the Less, son of Alpheus (or Cleophas and brother of Jude. His mother was Mary, perhaps sister of the Blesses Virgin, more likely a cousin, hence he was called brother of the lord. He is considered to have been the first Bishop of Jerusalem.

    If James was Jesus’ brother, and Jesus was one of several children as some people claim of Mary and
    Joseph—to take one child out of a family and make him the son of God—-talk about sibling
    rivalry???? It just doesn’t make sense. Jesus had to be special—one of a kind. He was the only child of Mary and the son of God, and was the foster child of Joseph who protected him and his mother while Jesus was preparing for his ministry
    If we are to believe the Bible, Jesus was taken
    up into heaven, body and all. Even Mary and Martha found his tomb empty on the third day. If
    this tomb is indeed Jesus’ (as I strong deny it is) then the entire Bible is false, because the
    tomb contradicts the Bible!

    And, the word brother is thrown around rather loosely. Genealogists have found that kings who were brother-in-laws or cousins frequently referred to each other in correspondences as “brothers”. Unless you know a family’s history,
    this appelative is highly confusing.


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