Wednesday, February 28, 2007

jesus (?) tomb?

Why is the Discovery Channel and cross-marketing of a new book all of a sudden creating a clamor over a tomb that was discovered and documented back in 1980?

Well...because up until these movie/quasi-documentary film-makers made their media splash this week...nobody really cared. Now all of a sudden the blogosphere is filled with scholars who are poking holes through this theory (and the flawed research, assumptions and statistical methods) of the new Jesus Tomb argument.

Dr. Witherington just read the new book (which accompanies the film's debut on Sunday). I'd encourage you to read some of his additional thoughts (added since my below post from yesterday). Click here

In case you haven't been keeping score, here is my attempt at a quick summary from the perspective of Joel:

1) They claim the bone box says "Jesus son of Joseph", when in reality every scholar of ancient language says, "The Joseph part you can make out. But the hastily scratched lettering of the first name is too messy to decipher." The only reason they leap to the conclusion the word says "Jesus" is because one of the other boxes says "Judah son of Jesus". Therefore the name that we can't read must be Jesus. Big problem. This tomb is not filled with every member of the family. Just because the Judah in the tomb had a father named Jesus, that doesn't necessarily mean that the name we can't read must be Jesus.

2) All of the 6 names inscribed are incredibly common names. They ran fancy statistical models to prove that out of 600 hundred times, they are 599 chances that this IS Jesus of Nazareth against only 1 chance that it is not. However, staticsticians are already analyzing the model that they used to come up with this statistic of probability and it is hugely flawed. Believe me, I am horrible at math, but with even a small understanding of logic you can see the errors.

They assume that one of the Mary bones must have been the mother of Jesus and factor that into the statistical model. But pardon me...where is any evidence that the Mary in the tomb is the mother (not the sister, daughter, grandmother, etc).? That is an unfortunate leap that leads you to false certainty of your data.

And what about the Matthew found in the tomb? They say, "Oh Matthew must have been Mary's brother." Ok...based on what? There is zero evidence that Mary or Jesus had anyone in her family named Matthew.

Then they say the other Mary is Mary Magdalene. And because they ran DNA from small flesh residue in that box and the Jesus box, and determined that the Jesus and the Mary were not related...they jump to this conclusion: "Mary and Jesus were married". Hello! How do we get there? The Mary in that box could have been married to any of the other men in the tomb. And they didn't run tests on any of the other boxes.

And they also leap to saying that the ossuary (bone box) says, "Mary or Master". So she must be the one the Da Vinci Code proposes. But it does NOT say that. It says, "Mary - Martha". It was not uncommon to have 2 women's bones placed in the same box. And go do your own research and find out where they get the idea that Mariamene is the common name used for Mary Magdalene. I guess that works if you use sources from 100's of years later, rather than the actually people who knew her in the 1st century. But they don't tell you that.

In their statistical model, their scholar (who was key to all their research) James Tabor explains how they arrive at their conclusion that this is Jesus of Nazareth. Here is a DIRECT QUOTE from Tabor's website:

Experts I am working with tell me that assuming a family size of six, the probability of these six names in these relationships occurring together in one family is: 1/253,403.Therefore, out of 253,403 families (a population of 1,520,418), this particular combination of names would occur only once. Obviously the population of late 2nd Temple Jerusalem was nothing of that sort, but perhaps only 25,000 (Jeremias) to 50,000...My statistical consultant gave me a very simple analogy: Imagine a football stadium filled with 50,000 people—men, women, and children. This is an average estimate of the population of ancient Jerusalem in the time of Jesus. If we ask all the males named Jesus to stand, based on the frequency of that name, we would expect 2,796 to rise. If we then ask all those with a father named Joseph to remain standing there would only be 351 left. If we further reduce this group by asking only those with a mother named Mary to remain standing we would get down to only 173. If we then ask only those of this group with a brother named Joseph only 23 are left. And finally, only of these the ones with a brother named James, there’s less than a 3/4 chance that even 1 person remains standing. Prof. Andre Feuerverger, of the University of Toronto, a highly regarded senior scholar in the field did the formal statistics for the Discovery project. His figure of probability came out to 1/600.

Again, I am no expert at statistics. But how many errors do you see in that model? It says, "Stay standing if your father is Joseph and your mother is Mary." Uhh....excuse me.

  • Based on your ossuaries there is absolutely NO reference on the "Jesus box" to his mother being Mary.
  • There is no DNA testing yet to determine if the "Jose" in the other box is a blood relative to "Jeshua"
  • There is no certainty that the "James" ossuary came from this tomb.

So based on Tabor's own words from his statistician, their calculation of probability is based on things that they are assuming. NOT things they have proven.

3) They claim that patina (basically residue samples) from the "James brother of Jesus" box (found many years ago in an antiquities market) matches patina found in the new "Holy Family tomb". They then claim, "Since Jesus had a brother named James, this box must have come from that tomb." Big problem here. First of all, according to news reports, they made up their own testing method to determine this. Secondly, the patina from that tomb could form similar patina from other tombs in the vicinity. Thirdly, early church documents (within the first few generations after Christ) said that James' tomb was a spot that pilgrims often came to venerate. And that it was very near to the old city. This new "Holy Family" tomb is no where near the old city.

4) Even the ancient prolific Jewish historian Josephus mentions that they don't know what happened to Jesus body refering to the disciples' claim that Christ rose again. The "Jesus Tomb" producers say that this doesn't conflict with their theory. They propose that Jesus did rise again, and then 40 days later ascended "spiritually" into heaven leaving a dead physical body. Big problem with this theory. Everybody hated the Christians. If Jesus did rise again, but then his physical body died when he ascended...and if you were one of the disciples who everybody is out to disprove...WHAT would you do with your Master's body? Would you put it in a big fancy and expensive tomb with distinctive markings on the outside which draw everyone's attention? They say, "This tomb isn't fancy. It's plain and common". But it IS an expensive tomb. It has artwork on the front. It draws attention. If I were trying to protect a body from being discovered or desecrated, I would definitely not put it in a place like that.

5) Just read through some of their arguments on "The Discovery Channel" website. For example they claim that the passage in the Gospels referring to someone reclining on or near Jesus' chest at the last supper, sounds a lot like a child resting on a father's lap. They want you to say, "Wow, that must be Judah, the son of Jesus".

But all you have to do is read that passage in context. Immediately you see that they are preying on the uninformed. Because it goes on to say that the rest of the disciples asked this disciple (the one they suggest is a child sleeping on Jesus' lap), "Ask Jesus which one of us is going to betray him." Does that sound like something you would ask a child sitting on his father's lap?

6) The "Jesus Family Tomb" website ties the whole thing to Dan Brown's Da Vinci theories and the Nights Templar. They say that a 1000 years later the knights found this tomb during the Crusades and learned the secret about Jesus and Mary. But then on the very next page, they say that it sat undisturbed for 2000 years until 1980. So which is it?

7) And oh yeah...why do you not release this stuff until one week before your documentary is released on television. Is it perhaps so that you can get your theory out into the public BEFORE the world's archaelogists, historians and statisticions have a chance to show everybody all the stuff you got wrong?

And these are just the one's that I'm spouting off the top of my head. There are tons of other gaps in logic, fantasy theories and outright deceptions.

Having studied "The Da Vinci Code" thoroughly, it just reminds me of how easy it is to hide behind the claim: "This is just a theory based upon the facts." But then to base your theory on fabricated facts, knowing that 99% of the people will take your word for it.

I am still saddened by the number of people I meet who were influenced by "The Da Vinci Code", and they never even realize that not only are Dan Brown's history and documents are fabrications...but that he doesn't even get the art work and non-historical facts right.

But all you have to do today is take a few dates, numbers and experts...wrap up the facts in a burrito of distortions and fantastic theories...season it with the help of the media (someone said they watched the producers and experts for the Jesus Tomb documentary on Larry King Live this week and who did they have present the opposing view??? Uninformed church leaders who got frustrated, rather than scholars who could rationally provide balance). So what do you end up with? You end up with a recipe for making lots of money and getting lots of attention.

I admit. I come to this with my own bias. We ALL come to this with our own bias. But it seems particularly clear that the makers of this documentary came at it with a very heavily waited bias that leads them to bypass tradition means of research methodology.

Here is MY ULTIMATE HOPE. I pray that this theory will send people out to research the facts for themselves. Study the ancient works and history for yourself. Not just the interpretation of those works by skeptics with an agenda, but the actual history. And you will be amazed that no one has ever been able to prove Scripture wrong yet.

Let's pray that the foolishness of men can be a tool for bringing about the glory of God.