It's The Da Vinci Code all over again
This "Lost Tomb of Jesus" issue is just like what happened after The Da Vinci Code
was released all over again. In both cases bad "scholarship" and hype was used to promote controversial claims about Jesus, and in both cases the primary reaction of course came from conservative Christians. In both cases as well, the poor scholarship gave traditional Christians a way to beat-up on the claims of those "attacking their faith" and actually get away with it.
The problem with both The Lost Tomb of Jesus
and The Da Vinci Code
is that they suffer from huge gaping holes in scholarship, but rely on a variety of Christian texts as legitimate and true history, indeed they rely on a greater number of Christian texts being more true than even traditional Christians do.
These poorly constructed claims really do nothing more than give traditional Christians a platform and a rare opportunity to "be right" about the claims of their faith in a debate. This was already seen in the follow-up to The Lost Tomb
discussion hosted by The Discovery Channel and it is seen across America in newspapers and across the Internet on blogs and websites.
I'll just use the claims of one representative Christian apologist as an example, Ben Witherington, who writes the following in his post, THE JESUS TOMB SHOW--BIBLICAL ARCHAEOLOGISTS REJECT DISCOVERY CHANNEL SHOW'S CLAIMS
"Both William Dever and Jonathan Reed were not merely dubious about the findings of the show. Reed actually called it archaeo-porn, the worst sort of misuse of archaeological evidence to support a tendentious theory that is so speculative it requires linking one weak hypothesis to another to another to reach a conclusion."
Of course Reed did, he is a Christian, so he is immediately going to attack anything that challenges his faith, regardless of the merits. Did Reed call The Passion of the Christ
"archeo-porn"? I'll wager that he didn't, yet surely The Passion of the Christ
deserves the title more than Lost Tomb
"In other words, the show could not find the sort of experts in Biblical archeology which would have lent real credence to their theory.
This stands in contrast to when Andre LeMaire was prepared to put his good reputation on the line to say that the James ossuary is genuine (and this word just in. He still thinks that, and the recent evidence presented in the trial in Jerusalem of genuine patina from the word 'Jesus' on the James box inscription provides further evidence for this conclusion)."
Well of course. Almost all Biblical archaeologists are Christians, who else would bother specializing in this field? There are Jews in the field of "Old Testament" archeology, but even if they felt like commenting most would not due to fear of Antisemitism. Can you imagine a Jewish specialist claiming that the bones of Jesus were found that Jesus wasn't really God. Like, duh, they have been saying that all along, for which they have been persecuted by Christians for 2,000 years. They have learned to steer clear of this issue.
Of course people are willing to put it on the line in defense of the James ossuary, since that would SUPPORT the Christian faith, not undermine it, so this is an obvious double standard. Also, I don't agree with Dr. James Tabor, but he is putting his career on the line over this.
"1) The DNA lab in Thunder Bay was not told that they were testing alleged samples from Jesus and Mary Magdalene. Why is this important? For the very good reason that the lab no doubt wishes to keep its good name, and not be associated with sensationalistic projects of dubious merit. Had they been told in advance, then at least they could have decided whether they wanted to be involved in the project. This is not how a free and open historical inquiry into a subject proceeds. It is not shrouded in secrecy until unveiled at a press conference in order to make big news, garner big ratings, and sell lots of books."
Not true. This is exactly how it should have been done to get an unbiased analysis of the data. There was nothing wrong with their methods and this type of thing is done all the time, though obviously with less controversial material, because this is the most controversial material there is. Their job, however, was simply to do the analysis. The fact that some labs might be afraid to do the testing if they knew what the material was is only evidence of how much religion corrupts free inquiry and intimidates people.
"2) Ted Koppel's own correspondence with the DNA lab, and with the statistician reported in the follow up debate finds those folks doing their best to distance themselves from the conclusions of the show, and insisting that it is only a remote possibility."
Of course, because of the stigma and repercussions that can be wrought by the religious community. This is an example of the fear and intimidation of religion and their effects on our society.
"4) Towards the end of the program itself, we discover that the intrepid amateur archaeologists, namely the film maker and his cohorts failed to even ask the IAA for permission to find and reopen the sealed Talpiot tomb. But this was an IAA controlled archaeological site now adjacent to an apartment complex. And when the IAA did find out about the snooping around in a tomb without permission, they came and put a stop to it."
Again we have fear and intimidation being used to try and cover up information. They probably didn't want to controversy and just hoped that this would go away, but right or wrong, the information deserves to be investigated and properly assessed, not covered up.
"But the most interesting thing found when the filmmaker was in the tomb was a very large Greek inscription inside the tomb. What does this suggest? It suggests to me this is not the tomb of the Aramaic speaking family of Jesus of course!"
That inscription doesn't prove this by any means, since Greek was the most widely used language even in Judea, and every single New Testament document we have was written in Greek. Also see the following article: Jewish Funerary Inscriptions - Most Are in Greek
The Greek text in the tomb doesn't really add or detract from the case, but I can assume that if it said anything that supported the case they would have mentioned it, so I assume that it didn't say anything that supported their case.
"5) Strong objection was taken in the debate program to the dramatizations in the show because they present the theory of the filmmakers as if they were facts. There are not, for example any dramatizations of other theories. What's the problem with this? Well as one professor from Virginia Seminary rightly pointed out, drama is powerful. It's a form of preaching and persuasion. If this really were an open ended historical inquiry and not an argument for a particular point of view, not a docu-drama, this sort of filming technique would not have been used."
I found this to be a totally hypocritical complaint. Their use of dramatization was no different from its use in every other historical program on The History Channel and The Discovery Channel, many of which make claims that are far less credible than the ones made on this program. Add to that the fact that Christians make major use of dramatizations to support their story, which we can certainly say is more outlandish and dubious than what these people are claiming. What can we say of Ten Commandments
, when Moses parts the Red Sea and the army of the pharaoh is drowned? Oh, well that's a movie. What about all of the supposed documentaries about the life of Jesus that dramatize his whole life and the crucifixion, acting as though there is some kind of solid basis for their "enactments"? What about The Passion of the Christ
, which was hailed by Christians because "it was so true"? Did you complain that drama should not be used to give people the impression that this is what really happened to Jesus? No, of course not. Not only that, but The Passion of the Christ
isn't even based on the scriptures, and you can't even find support for many of its scenes in the scriptures. Passion plays have been used by Christians since the very beginning, indeed Paul himself may even have talked about these in his writings. Christians certainly use drama and reenactment to persuade people of the truth of their story, for which there is not only no support, but defies reason and believability.
"6) No mention at all is made of the fact that though we only have a few hundred ossuaries with inscribed names, there is in fact another ossuary with the inscription 'Jesus son of Joseph'."
This is a legitimate point and a point against the presentation. However, Christians take the exact opposite position if the claims are in their favor. For example, if the "James brother of Jesus" ossuary were authentic Christians, including Dr. Witherington, would surely tout it as proof of the existence of Jesus and corroboration of their story. They wouldn't abide the claim that these were just common names and could thus be anyone. No, they would be certain that this was "the James".
"Apparently this was not a rare combination of names at all, and in any case, as I have said Jesus of Nazareth is never called 'son of Joseph' by his family, or by his disciples. Notice how Luke pours cold water on that theory in Luke 3.21-- "Now Jesus himself was about 30 when he began his ministry, he was the son, so it was supposed/thought, of Joseph." Supposed by whom? Clearly not by Luke or the family whom Luke has just shown knew about the virginal conception of Jesus. Even the cousins knew about this miracle when Mary told Elizabeth. There can be no good reason Luke would put it this way if he knew the earliest followers of Jesus or members of his family had thought that Jesus was son of Joseph."
"Luke" (not even the real name of the author of the Gospel) can't pour cold water on anything, because "Luke" was a late 1st century or early 2nd century writer who was telling a very slanted story from secondary sources at best. "Luke" doesn't "show" anything. "Luke" is writing a story, for which we have no evidence to corroborate, and no reason to believe is true. Claiming that "even the cousins knew" is like quoting Wuthering Heights
and claiming that Nelly knew about Catherine's relationship with Heathcliff.
"Here is but one more example of how normal interpretations of the Biblical evidence are ignored and rejected in favor of rewriting the text to support the theory, and much later non-eyewitness Gnostic evidence from the Acts of Philip is made crucial to the case, even when that evidence itself does not likely support the case at all!"
Most serious Biblical scholars don't consider any of the Gospels, much less the Gospel of John, to be an eyewitness account.
I have many problems with the presentation myself, and I don't think that this is the tomb "of Jesus", but once again poor scholarship has both given Christians a larger platform to crow from and greatly exaggerated the historical validity of the entire Jesus story. Instead of following the real developments in critical New Testament scholarship, which challenge the historical validity of most to all of the Jesus story, these claims present most of the Jesus story as more historically certain than it really is. The claims made by both Christians and this documentary often rest on single contradictory passages in stories for which there isn't one shred of independent verification, which are full of obvious fabrication and mythology, and for which there are obvious scriptural precursors that the passages are likely built on. The Gospels aren't history, and they should not be treated as such.