Panel Defends Discovery of Alleged Jesus Family Tomb

NEW YORK – A panel of experts, as well as producer and Oscar-winner James Cameron and Jewish archaeologist Simcha Jacobovici, met Monday at a press conference at the New York Public Library on 42nd Street to discuss the discovery of boxes that they allege carried the remains of Jesus of Nazareth and his family, including a possible son to Jesus named Judah.

While at the conference, the group presented evidence to support their claims and unveiled the ossuaries, boxes that they believe hold bones of Jesus and Mary Magdalene for the first time to the general public.

The full research has been documented in a new production called “The Lost Tomb of Jesus,” which will be aired on the Discovery Channel on Sunday, Mar. 4.

The discussion brought up two key questions. First, is the evidence credible and can the remnants be conclusively from Jesus? And second, if the bones are indeed from the Christ, does this destroy Christian theology that says Jesus resurrected from the dead?

“My expertise is investigative journalism,” said Jacobovici. “What we do as journalists and filmmakers are connect dots and go to experts. Our job, like detectives, is to connect the dots and uncover the big picture.

“Every fact was checked, double checked, triple checked, quadruple checked.”

Critics of the investigations have noted the commonness of the names found in the tomb. A large portion of people during the first century had the names found inside the tomb. For instance, the name “Mary” was shared by 25 percent of all women back then.

The panel, however, pointed out the uniqueness of the names, such as “Yeshua bar Yosef” (Jesus, son of Joseph), which they say is not ordinary.

“There’s never been a ‘Jesus, son of Joseph’ ossuary found in a provenance,” explained James Tabor, chair of the Department of Religious Studies at the University of North Carolina at Charlotte. “Those claims (that there are others) are false.”

The panel also noted the name “Matia” (Matthew), who is thought to have been Jesus’ brother because the name is frequent in Mary’s lineage. They also believe “Yose” (Joseph) was another brother. “Yose,” the panel noted, is much like “Joey” in English.

Many have said that these names happen to be simply coincidence, but Cameron said what set the investigation in motion was the name inscribed upon the second Mary’s ossuary. On the side, it reads “Mariamene e Mara.”

“Mariamene is the name of Mary Magdalene,” said the Titanic director.

Statistically, it appears that these names, although common back then, would have small probability when looked at all together.

“Based upon the assumptions I’ve made, I see numbers that should make you stop and pause,” described Andrey Feuerverger, Professor of Mathematics and Statistics at the University of Toronto.

Still, theologians have pointed out that historical evidence itself makes the filmmakers’ claims hard to believe. George Guthrie, the Benjamin W. Perry Professor of Bible at Union University in Jackson, Tenn., noted that bodies in first century Jerusalem were typically buried temporarily for a year and then their bones gathered and placed in the ossuary in the family tomb. These ossuaries were often marked with names, as in the Talpiot discovery.

“The filmmakers are therefore suggesting that the body of Jesus lay decaying in a family tomb in Jerusalem at the same time the early Jerusalem church was expanding because of its belief in a resurrected Messiah,” Guthrie said in a statement released by Union following the Monday press conference. “Yet, we have no evidence from any ancient document, Christian or non-Christian, that points even to rumors that the body or bones of Jesus were there in Jerusalem.”

Guthrie added that both biblical and extra-biblical sources point to the brothers of Jesus, most notably James, as among the Christians of the first century.

“Yet, would James and the others not known of this family tomb and the body of Jesus there?” Guthrie asked. “As believers, his family members confess the resurrected Jesus. No opponent of Christianity points to the tomb. No followers of Jesus revere the tomb. There is no evidence – beyond the circumstantial evidence of exceedingly common names – that points to this as being the tomb of Jesus’ family. The name associations are interesting, but the evidence does not bear the weight of the proposition.”

At the press conference Monday, the panel also discussed their DNA research which was taken from Jesus’ and Mary Magdalene’s ossuary. From the mitochondrial DNA, they deduced that the two are not related to each other on the maternal side.

One may conclude that these two were married then, the panel continued, because only family members are allowed to be put inside the family tomb. Since they are not blood relations, they would have had to have been wedded.

However, there can still be a paternal link between the two that would rule this void. More research must be done on this case.

While the research cannot completely prove the tomb to be Jesus’ or that he had a marriage to Mary Magdalene and son named Judah, the panel believes it could provide evidence that would point towards that.

“Christians affirm that Jesus was fully God and fully human,” said Carney Matheson, Professor of Anthropology at Lakehead University in Thunder Bay, Ontario. “Don’t forget the ‘fully human.’”

The filmmaker and panelists asserted that they were not trying to discuss theological issues, but simply bring up facts that they had uncovered.

Some even brought up positive religious aspects that could result of the supposed discovery.

“We are not trying to undermine Christianity,” stressed Cameron. “What this film is that it celebrates the real life existence of these people, of this man who had a vision and communicated it in a virile way.”

Greg Thornbury, dean of Union University’s School of Christian Studies, however, questioned the motivation of the documentary’s producers, saying they may have been more motivated by financial gain than by a commitment to historical and archeological integrity.

“Trying to disprove the facts of Christianity has become a cottage industry,” Thornbury commented in the released statement by the university. “Take ‘The Da Vinci Code,’ for example, and the money it made for author Dan Brown. I’m sure that fact is not lost on James Cameron or the people at the Discovery Channel.”

More future research will be done in an attempt to strengthen the argument for Jesus’ family tomb, including more DNA analysis, excavation of the original tomb, and historical fact finding about Jesus’ life.

“There’s a lot more science to be done,” explained Jacobovici.

Many Christians still doubt the significance of the evidence. Many have argued that it is biased, and that it is not convincing enough.

“James Cameron showed his inability to handle real history in regard to the Titanic – less than a century ago,” commented Ray Van Neste, associate professor of Christian studies at Union, in the university’s released statement. “Why should we take him seriously with respect to events two millennia ago?”

Stephen Pfann, a biblical scholar at the University of the Holy Land in Jerusalem who was interviewed in the documentary, also doubts that latest claims will sway believers.

"I don't think that Christians are going to buy into this," he concluded. "But skeptics, in general, would like to see something that pokes holes into the story that so many people hold dear."

On Monday night, Dr. R. Albert Mohler Jr., president of The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, is scheduled to appear on CNN’s "Larry King Live" to discuss the alleged discovery of the “tomb” of Jesus and his family. Mohler has been described by Time magazine as the "reigning intellectual of the evangelical movement in the U.S." and has represented the Christian voice on secular programs including the "Today Show," "Dateline NBC," "The NewsHour with Jim Lehrer ," MSNBC's "Donahue," and Fox's "O'Reilly Factor," among others.

Christian Post Reporter Eric Young in Washington contributed to this report.

Free Religious Freedom Updates

Join thousands of others to get the FREEDOM POST newsletter for free, sent twice a week from The Christian Post.

Most Popular

Free Religious Freedom Updates

A religious liberty newsletter that is a must-read for people of faith.

More In U.S.