Does Christianity, like the Titanic, have holes so big that it will sink when the television special on the “Jesus tomb” airs on the Discovery channel? Here is my attempt at a Viewer’s Guide for viewers of the Jesus tomb special.
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?
On what basis is the further assertion made that Mary Magdalene was Jesus’ wife?
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)?
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?
(Note, by the way, that it is completely unnecessary for the makers of the TV special to assert that “Mariamene“ is Mary Magdalene, and that Mary Magdalene was Jesus‘ wife. Regardless of the identity of “Mariamne,” if Jesus’ bones were in one of the ossuaries, this would sink ship “Christianity” and refute the resurrection.)
Unsubstantiated Assertions and Lacking Explanations
Is any explanation offered why Jesus’ family tomb would have been in Jerusalem?
Is any explanation offered why there is no ancient evidence for such a tomb?
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?
Is any explanation offered why scores of Christians died a martyr’s death for what they knew was a fraudulent claim?
Possible Overstatement and Misuse of Science
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.]
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.
Is DNA testing used to dazzle the viewing audience, as a sort of deus ex machina, to cover up an otherwise weak case?
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?
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 even mentioned in the program?
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?
To conclude: As you watch the Jesus tomb special, ask yourself the question in light of the above “Viewer’s Guide”: “How plausible is the case made that the tomb contained the bones of Jesus, Mary Magdalene his wife, their son Jude, and other members of Jesus’ family?”
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?”
P.S.: Here is what Prof. Amos Kloner, who oversaw the archeological work at the “Jesus tomb” in 1980, says about the theory propagated by the Discovery Channel special: “It makes a great story for a TV film. But it’s completely impossible. It’s nonsense. There is no likelihood that Jesus and his relatives had a family tomb. They were a Galilee family with no ties in Jerusalem. The Talpiot tomb belonged to a middle class family from the 1st century CE.”
FOR FURTHER READING: Material used in preparing the above material includes “ ‘Lost Tomb’ is no open-and-shut case” by Sam Allis, Boston Globe (March 3, 2007); an open letter from Paul Maier, Department of History, Western Michigan University (dated February 25, 2007); “Initial Impressions of The Jesus Family Tomb” by Charles Quarles, Chair of Christian Studies, Louisiana College (February 28, 2007); and “Kloner: A great story, but nonsense” by David Horovitz, The Jerusalem Post Online Edition (February 27, 2007). Gary Habermas responds to the Jesus Tomb here.