"The Lost Tomb of Jesus": Have the Bones of Jesus Christ Been Found in Jerusalem?
by Rich Deem


"They just want to get money for it"

James Cameron, the Oscar-winning director of "Titanic," has produced a television special that claims to refute the resurrection of Jesus Christ. However, according to archaeologist, Amos Kloner, the first archaeologist to examine the burial site, the idea fails to hold up by archaeological standards, saying, "They just want to get money for it."

Rich Deem

James Cameron is producing a 90-minute film for the Discovery Channel entitled, "The Lost Tomb of Jesus," claiming that the actual bones of Jesus of Nazareth were buried in a tomb near Jerusalem. A companion book, The Jesus Tomb written by Simcha Jacobovici and Charles Pellegrino, is also being offered. In addition, in the tradition of the discredited Dan Brown, the film claims that these bones of "Jesus" were once married to Mary Magdalene, with whom he had a son name Judah.

The timing of the release

The timing of Discovery's special right before Christianity's Holy Week was not by accident. Last year it was National Geographic's "Gospel of Judas" special on the high Christian holiday of Palm Sunday. One can be certain that the next big "special" will be aired at the same time next year to attempt to discredit Christianity's founder at a time of the year when popular interest focuses on His death and resurrection.

Dating of the bones

 It was Jewish custom in  the first century A.D., that the bones of the deceased were transferred from burial caves to limestone boxes called ossuaries one year after their death. This practice was abandoned after the destruction of the Jewish Temple in 70 A.D. Frank Moore Cross, a professor emeritus in the Department of Near Eastern Languages and Civilizations at Harvard University, indicated, "The inscriptions are from the Herodian Period (which occurred from around 1 B.C. to 1 A.D.). The use of limestone ossuaries and the varied script styles are characteristic of that time." Since Jesus did not die until 30 A.D., the date is problematic for those claiming they represent the bones of Jesus.

What was found?

The tomb containing the bones, was first found by a construction crew in 1980 in the Jerusalem suburb of Talpiyot. According to Jerusalem-based biblical expert Joe Zias the tomb would have held more than 200 ossuaries. Ten ossuaries were taken to the Rockefeller Archaeological Museum near Jerusalem, where one disappeared. Six of the ossuaries were inscribed with names that would be translated as Jeshua (Joshua or Jesus), Mara (Mary), Matthew, Josa (Joseph), Mariamene (Mary Magdalene?) and Judah, son of Jeshua.

Are the names those of the Holy Family?

Cold-Case Christianity: A Homicide Detective Investigates the Claims of the GospelsStephen Pfann, a biblical scholar at the University of the Holy Land in Jerusalem, is unsure that the name ''Jesus'' on the ossuary was read correctly, since ancient Semitic script is difficult to read. He thinks it's more likely that the name  is ''Hanun.'' Bar-Ilan University Prof. Amos Kloner indicated that "Jesus son of Joseph" inscriptions had been found on several other ossuaries over the years. In addition, Kloner indicated, "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."

What does the DNA testing tell us?

According to the film's website, DNA testing was attempted on only two samples - those of "Jesus" and those of Mariamene. The DNA was so degraded that no sequencing could be determined from the nuclear DNA (the main chromosomes). Only mitochondrial DNA (mtDNA) was available for sequencing. Since mtDNA is much smaller than nuclear DNA, the average person's mtDNA differs from another's by only 8 base pairs. In closely-related communities, differences would be much less. The film's website did not give any details about the testing other than the claim that the individuals "were not related." Since "Jesus" and Mariamene were "unrelated," the filmmakers assumed they were married and had a son named Judah (from the ossuary "Judah, son of Jeshua"). However, the conclusion that "Jesus" and Mariamene were married cannot be ascertained from the DNA evidence. Since mtDNA is only transferred from mother to daughter (or son), "Jesus" could very well be the father of Mariamene (or any other relative on the paternal side), and the mtDNA testing would indicate that they were "not related." Only nuclear DNA analysis could determine if "Jesus" and Mariamene were truly related or not. So, the mtDNA testing tells us only that "Jesus" and Mariamene were not siblings or related maternally. No other relationship can be determined from the mtDNA testing.

Is Mariamene Mary Magdalene?

The assumption that Mariamene is really Mary Magdalene is quite overstated, since the the name of "Mariamne" from the Acts of Philip is not the same as Mariamene. In addition, the Acts of Philip is the work of a heretical community that lived in the fourth century - at least two hundred fifty years after the events of the New Testament. For more information, see The Acts of Philip, Mariamne and the Jesus Tomb.

Conclusion Top of page

 Jerusalem-based biblical expert Joe Zias has called the documentary nonsense, saying those involved in the project have "no credibility whatsoever... It's an old story that's been recycled. The story first broke in 1996 by the BBC. It burst in a couple of days." The fact that the inscriptions on the ossuaries date to the beginning of the first century and Jesus and the others died much later, makes it extremely unlikely that "Jeshua" from the "Jesus Tomb" is really Jesus Christ. According to Stephen Pfann, "How possible is it? On a scale of one through 10 - 10 being completely possible - it's probably a one, maybe a one and a half."

“La Tumba perdida de Jesús”: ¿Han sido hallados los huesos de Jesucristo en Jerusalén?

Last updated February 27, 2007


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