Monday, March 05, 2007

Thoughts on the Jesus Tomb

Last night I watched the Discovery Channel documentary on the supposed tomb of Jesus. Initially, the evidence seemed fairly convincing...until I really thought about it (damn filmmakers making me feel the way they want me to). Plus, the critical debate afterwards was far more enlightening since the viewer got to see a couple of actual archaeologists speak on the subject. They brought up several concerns I hadn't considered. Another reason why one should always listen to the professionals. Of course, after the archaeologists came the theologians. Basically, their argument was, "This doesn't agree with my interpretation of the Bible, so you're wrong." I got bored with this part rather quickly and found something more productive to do. Okay, fine, I watched Scrubs.

Anyway, these are my major concerns with the film:

1. The conclusion that Mariamne Mara is Mary Magdalene is based on a copy of the Acts of Phillip (one of the books excluded from the New Testament) that was found in the 1970's. How certain are they that this copy of the Acts of Pillip is the original translation? Since many of the books were written several decades after the fact, is Mariamne really what Mary Magdalene would have been called in life? The filmmaker's conclusion seems to be a leap of faith. Worse, this is the key piece of evidence. Without it, the whole hypothesis falls apart.

2. The statistical analysis is based on the names from ossuaries (boxes used in the first century to store bones) of the time. While it might provide a reasonable sample of contemporary names, it's far from exhastive, and the margin of error must be fairly large. There's probably still a lot of ossuaries out there which could drastically change the frequency of specific names, thereby altering the odds. Of course, I'm no expert on the subject, but it's a concern of mine. I'd like to know more before making any conclusions either way.

3. In the "Critical Look" section after the documentary, Koppel brought the fact that the film portrayed many of the forensic experts speaking out of context. The film was actually edited to make them say what Simcha Jacobovici, the filmmaker, wanted while discarding the parts that shed doubt on the conclusiveness of his findings. Then Jacobovici was extremely evasive when confronted with these facts. It seems real shady to me. For example, the film was edited to make it look like the forensic experts said the differences in the mitochrondrial DNA between Jesus and Mariamne meant that they were husband and wife. In reality, it simply means that they did not share the same mother. It could mean they were husband and wife. It could also mean that Mariamne was the wife of any other man in there, she was a cousin, etc. It's a piece of evidence, but not a damning piece.

4. The entire conclusion rests on an evidence chain, meaning one piece of evidence leads to the next. If any single piece of evidence no longer supports the conclusion, then the whole thing falls apart. For an acceptable conclusion, there will have to be several pieces of evidence that can stand on their own.

5. The suggestion that Jesus had a son. Sure, that's entirely possible, but its an example of the filmmaker using the Bible when it helps him and ignoring it when it doesn't. In some ways, this reminds me of Young-Earth Creationists. They love to use any scrap of evidence they can find that loosely supports their conclusions, yet they ignore everything else. It's the same thing with the Mariamne name. They found it in a single copy of a book excluded from the New Testament. However, every other reference to Mary Magdalene uses a different name. It seems extremely selective.

In short, the documentary was interesting, but not convincing by any means. Certainly, I think there should be more research on the ossuaries and the tomb, because it could be the real deal. However, it's far too early to make any conclusions. More evidence is necessary. And no, this is not because I have hidden affinity for Christianity. I think it would be cool to actually find Jesus' remains and force Christians to think about their faith just a bit. However, it has to be done with a scientifically sound conclusion. Otherwise, it's just wishful thinking and not any better than the claims of Creationists.

3 comments:

Seven Star Hand said...

Lying about the name Jesus, for profit, yet again...

Hello J-Bar and all,

The most interesting aspect of this Jesus Tomb story revolves around the actual names on the bone boxes compared to what is being asserted in the effort to make a profit. Pay special attention to the tortured explanations of how names like Jesus, Mary, Matthew, Joseph, and others were "translated" (interpolated) from inscriptions that actually say otherwise. Most specifically, both Christians and those who are promoting this "Jesus Tomb" discovery and its associated assertions are profiting from the very same long-term process of obfuscation and meticulous misdirection. For anyone, whether Christian leaders and adherents or James Cameron to keep a straight face while claiming that the name Jesus was one of the most common in Second Temple Israel is highly instructive. The name that is commonly translated as Joshua was very common, but the name Jesus is a very unique and narrowly targeted construction of recent centuries that simply cannot have truthfully appeared anywhere in the ancient Near East. Likewise, many are writing that Jesus is instead the english form of Joshua, as if the millions of english speaking Christians and Jews named Joshua have foreign names. Furthermore, does anyone know of any person named Joshua who would seriously assert that the English form of their name is Jesus? These deceptive assertions are beyond absurd.

This long-term charade about a name that simply could not have been written or pronounced in Aramaic, Hebrew, Greek, or even Latin, which is now being touted as one of the more common names from ancient Israel/Judea, serves as an illuminating microcosm for the entire New Testament and the many dubious assertions and activities that have accompanied it and Christianity throughout their entire existence. As Christians rally to "prove" that this archeological find can't be the tomb and bones of the "Jesus" and "Mary" of the New Testament, they too should honestly answer questions about why it is correct to interpolate those names in such a unique way to support the veracity of the most profitable story in history, but not to interpret an archeological discovery. Christians must truthfully answer the question of why it is wrong for the "Jesus Tomb" crew to use Christianity's own methodology to arrive at the names now being asserted as appearing on those bone boxes.

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Lord J-Bar said...

Are you talking about the name Jesus itself, or the name the filmmakers said he would have been called by Yeshua? I really know nothing about ancient names outside of those of the Romans.

Prup (aka Jim Benton) said...

J-Bar: 7 Star Hand has absolutely no clue. "Jesus" is the Greek form of the name Joshua or Yeshua -- which was the name on the tomb, and was a very common name in the Israel of the time.

As for the documentary, you understate the level of nonsense in this. (Surprisingly, serious Christians -- I don't mean the sort you see on tv evangelism -- have done a good skeptical workover on this show and have demonstrated the number of errors, maybe better than my fellow atheists. Comparing them to YECs is good, though I think they might be closer to flying saucer abductees. To give you one example that a commenter hit -- I blush to say I missed it -- if the "Mara" ending was Master, if she was given a title (in fact it is a variant of Martha) wouldn't it be far more likely that there would be a title attached to Jesus' name? And if "Jude son of Jesus'" bones were buried in a child-sized ossuary, it isn't very likely that he 'grew up to be the "Beloved Disciple" -- or to have been Thomas, as the website claims. Burying a child's bones pretty conclusively shows that the child didn't grow up, wouldn't you agree?

I could go on for pages, but I'll spare you. All I can say is that i have been dreaming of finding the creature that left this pile behind, because I'd have steak diners for a year.