Debunking the debunking of the discovery of Jesus' tomb
Feb 27, 2007

I'm sure everyone's seen the news that James Cameron has made a documentary proving that some tombs discovered in Jerusalem nearly three decades ago contain the remains of Jesus, his mother Mary, his wife Mary (Magdalene) and son Judas (an ironic choice of names, if you ask me). While I'm certainly on the side of the skeptics on this one, it really annoys me when people who clearly don't know what they're talking about address scientific issues. I'm talking, of course, about Bruce Feiler's Huffington Post post entitled The Jesus Hoax. In it, he provides four 'reasons' why this claim is obviously false. I'll get to those in a minute. But before he even gets that far, he provides this little gem of 'logical reasoning': As it happens, Cameron and Jacobovichi claimed only last summer to have "proved" the Exodus. Well, which is it? Either their first documentary is false, or this one is false. Of course, they don't care. They profit either way. (In fact, both are false.) First off, what is that even supposed to mean? Is he trying to claim that if the Biblical account of Exodus is true, so then must be the Biblical account of Jesus' ascension to heaven following his resurrection and vice versa? How could such a claim possibly make sense? Why would the veracity of Exodus be linked to the divinity of Jesus? Exodus, lest we forget, is not just a book in the Bible, it's a book in the Torah. It's a story of Jewish history. Disproving the divinity of Jesus would in no way disprove Judaism. In fact it would actually strengthen Judaism's position, as Jews don't believe in the divinity of Jesus in the first place. And, to look at the converse, neither would proving Exodus false disprove Jesus' divinity. Again, it might even reinforce it. If Exodus is false, and taking that further, if Judaism is false, but God is still real, wouldn't it make sense for God's incarnation on Earth to want to guide people away from the old and false teachings of Judaism? Yes, it just might. So, it's entirely possible that both Exodus and the divinity of Jesus be true. It's also entirely possible that they both be false. It's also entirely possible that one be true and the other false. After reading that, I could barely bring myself to read the rest of the article. But in the interest of fairness, and intellectual honesty, I soldiered on. Now, moving on to those four 'reasons'. The first of them, I don't really have a problem with. It seems a bit suspect to me, but I'll readily admit that I don't know enough about the period to comment on it. The second and fourth, however, are different stories. The second: 2. A family from Nazareth would not be buried in Jerusalem. Jewish custom holds that a body should be buried within 24 hours. I recently heard of a family that hired a private plane to get a body from Cleveland to Jerusalem in time. It would have been impossible to get a body from Nazareth, in the Galilee, to Jerusalem in this time period. Also, there's no way for a family to tend a grave this far away. So the idea of a multi-generational family tomb for Jesus in Jerusalem makes no sense. Even the archaeologist who discovered the cave originally, Amos Kloner, has dismissed the show as "nonsense." This is just nonsense. Yes, Jewish tradition holds that a body be buried within 24 hours and therefore someone who died in Nazareth would not be buried in Jerusalem. However, according to the Biblical accounts, Jesus did not die in Nazareth, he died at Calvary, a hill outside of Jerusalem. Jewish tradition, therefore, would require that he be buried in Jerusalem, not in Nazareth. So the idea that he would have been buried in Nazareth is just, on it's face, ridiculous. As for there being no way for his family to attend to the grave or for it to be a multi-generational burial site, the Biblical accounts also record that both Mary, Jesus' mother, and Mary Magdalene, Jesus' supposed wife, were in Jerusalem with him at the time of his death. Yes, it's possible that following his death they would have gone back to Nazareth to live with Joseph, but it's also possible that they would have stayed in Jerusalem until they themselves died and were buried alongside Jesus. So again, likely or not, it's entirely possible that Jesus and his family would have been buried in Jerusalem. Unless, of course, the Biblical accounts are false, in which case this is all moot anyway. The fourth: 4. The DNA evidence that Jesus was not connected to the Mary buried in the tomb does not prove anything, other than they are not related matrilnearly. For all we know, they could have been related patrilinearly. Or, they could never have met. There is no evidence the female body belonged to someone who was "married" to anyone else in the tomb. There is no evidence she was the mother of anyone else in the tomb. And we can be sure they checked that! So the claim that Jesus fathered a son with the "Mary" in the tomb is bogus. There is, at least, one thing about this claim that I'll agree with: that DNA evidence could not prove that any of the two people in that tomb were married. They could, however, prove that the Jesua in that tomb was the son of one of the Marys and of the Joseph, unrelated to the other Mary, and that Jesua and the unrelated Mary were the parents of the Judah also found in the tomb. Where Mr. Feiler got the idea that there is no evidence supporting this, I don't know. Seeing as Cameron announced that they had DNA evidence proving his claims, it seems unlikely that he would have also said there was no DNA evidence proving his claims. As far as the claims of matrilineal vs. patrilineal relation are concerned, he still doesn't seem to know what he's talking about. Matrilineal relation can be established by comparing the mitochondrial DNA (mDNA or mtDNA) from two individuals. A person's mtDNA is identical to that of their mother's (and her mother's, and her mother's, &c.) and therefore two people who share a common female ancestor will have identical (or near identical due to mutations that will occur over time) mtDNA. There are other DNA test that can determine if people are related in other ways, such as Y chromosome tests which work in a similar way as mtDNA tests but can only be applied to males and male ancestors, and other, broader tests as well. However, there was no announcement that I'm aware of in which it was stated that the DNA tests performed on the remains were based on mtDNA, so there's no basis to state that the tests could only have revealed matrilineal relationships between the remains. As for the third reason, which I haven't mentioned yet. It has no problems, per se. However the logic behind it tends to fall apart when the second reason is shown to be nothing but mindless ramblings. So I'm inclined to just discount it entirely. In conclusion, until we have the whole facts we can't say for sure who is in that tomb. Perhaps we'll never know the identity of those 2000 year old corpses. What we can say for sure, however, is that Bruce Feiler doesn't know what he's talking about.
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