Tomb of Jesus (Friday update)

I haven’t had time recently to post more about the “tomb of Jesus.”  Possibly I’ll be able to in the next few days, though I’ll be traveling most of next week.  Instead, see a summary of some recent replies at Denny Burk’s blog.  I have added a few names to the list of scholars who think there is something to the theory and those who do not.  James Tabor is the only one I’ve seen who suggests that it is worthy of consideration.  I think his credibility is taking some big hits on this one.

In the recent barrage, there are a couple of interviews with scholars worthy of posting here.

From Atlanta Journal-Constitution:

Modern architects of fantastic finds try to provide an air of legitimacy by invoking scientific jargon, said Garrett G. Fagan, a classics professor at Penn State University and author of, “Archaeological Fantasies: How Pseudoarchaeology Misrepresents the Past and Misleads the Public” (RoutledgeFalmer, $46.95).
“They’re not scientists, but they need to dress themselves in the clothes of science to pass muster,” Fagan said.
Some choose prestigious channels that style themselves as vehicles for public education, he said.
“Television is not in the business of education, even with the so-called educational channels like Discovery,” Fagan said. “Ultimately, they’re in the business of making money.”
And when critics pounce on the discoveries, Fagan said it’s often too late.
“By the time the rebuttals come out, the mass media would have moved on to the next sensation,” Fagan said, “and people will have this vague notion that they have found the tomb of Jesus.”
Fagan said he expects more fantastic archaeological discoveries to be announced in the near future.
“Someone is going to say they’ve discovered Moses’ beard,” he said.

From the Washington Post:

Jodi Magness, an archaeologist at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, expressed irritation that the claims were made at a news conference rather than in a peer-reviewed scientific article. By going directly to the media, she said, the filmmakers “have set it up as if it’s a legitimate academic debate, when the vast majority of scholars who specialize in archaeology of this period have flatly rejected this,” she said.
Magness noted that at the time of Jesus, wealthy families buried their dead in tombs cut by hand from solid rock, putting the bones in niches in the walls and then, later, transferring them to ossuaries.
She said Jesus came from a poor family that, like most Jews of the time, probably buried their dead in ordinary graves. “If Jesus’ family had been wealthy enough to afford a rock-cut tomb, it would have been in Nazareth, not Jerusalem,” she said.
Magness also said the names on the Talpiyot ossuaries indicate that the tomb belonged to a family from Judea, the area around Jerusalem, where people were known by their first name and father’s name. As Galileans, Jesus and his family members would have used their first name and home town, she said.
“This whole case (for the tomb of Jesus) is flawed from beginning to end,” she said.

I think there are some significant problems with the theory in the statistical analysis, but it will probably be some time before a qualified expert has time to prepare and present a rebuttal.  And, as Fagan notes above, by then, the media will have moved on.  (In the meantime, see Mark Goodacre.)


6 thoughts on “Tomb of Jesus (Friday update)

  1. Todd –
    The MSM coverage I’ve seen thus far in the USA has been very skeptical — almost tongue-in-cheek; as if the reporters were trying to say “we have to cover this, but we all know it’s just hyperbole.”

    The fact that Cameron is Hollywood, not Academia – much less Archeology – is well reported. The message is clear – this is about money, not science and certainly not religion.


  2. Todd,

    I am surprised you would think my considered views, after three years of research on this, means I have “taken some hits on my credibility.” By far the majority of those commenting this week have done so through interests of theology or based on press reports. Do you really think it is an issue of credibility when one holds indepedent opinions after careful study rather than commenting on things they have “heard” about? Do you really think the way we determine things is to take polls of what people have said in soundbites? I can tell you that I have heard privately from dozens of major scholars about their positive attitude toward the basic research that is represented by the film, but they have the good sense not to go before cameras and press and comment on something they have neither seen nor read.

    James Tabor

  3. Discovery Channel has used Jodi as a commentator on previous shows. I wonder if they will consult her expertise here.
    It seems to me there is a very crafty marketing push going on at Discovery Channel these days. I notice in the new BAR they have a full page ad for several books on “the real Jesus” found in the gnostic writings such as the Gospel of Judas, et. al. I think they saw the huge interest generated by the DaVinci Code and are looking to cash in.
    Unfortunately, yet more people will dismiss Christianity based on “media reports” and specials on the Discovery Channel rather than looking into the claims in depth

  4. Dr. Tabor,

    I think that when a scholar supports a weak theory that is sensational and inflammatory that his/her credibility suffers. I think that scholars know the difference between poor scholarship and “independent opinions.” I of course am not the judge of what poor scholarship is, but there is a value to scholarly consensus (whether you would call that a “poll” or not).

    If you are right and there are “dozens of major scholars” who are positive about the research, then they will support it publicly in due time. My prediction is that they will never come out because the basis for their belief is an anti-Christian prejudice which is not supported by this particular theory (and they know it). So they’re letting you take the hits for them. I could well be wrong; time will tell.

    There’s no doubt that the media distorts things, but I think that the blogosphere is a helpful corrective to that, as it allows scholars like you to air your ideas directly. I am unsure why it is necessary to watch the film; it seems hardly possible that the media blitz of the producers (press conference, extensive website, etc.) omitted key points of evidence which is only included in the film. Watching the film or buying the book serves someone’s financial interests but doesn’t necessarily give any additional information. Indeed, I would suggest that if the film is at all like “The Exodus Decoded,” then the viewer will end up with less information than if they read good articles and blogs on the internet. But perhaps this film is honest and fair, unlike the previous one.

  5. What no one seems to have understood, is that Tabor never had any credibility to begin with. Now is the time to seriously reexamine his spurious claims (also based on a misuse of DNA and other evidence) regarding the “Essene latrine”. See, for example, the thoughtful article by Katharina Galor and Jurgen Zangenberg at http://www.forward.com/articles/led-astray-by-a-dead-sea-latrine/.
    And if any doubt remains, see the remarks by N. Golb in his latest article on the Oriental Institute website, the link is http://oi.uchicago.edu/research/projects/scr/.
    Tabor’s conduct merely exemplifies a pattern of foolish argumentation, evidentiary abuse, and sensationalistic declarations to the press, and no one should stand for it, no matter how much enthusiasm they have for the mystique of the great Holy Land archaeologists. This is the moment for people to turn away from the charlatanry once and for all, and to embrace the rationalist methods of Golb, Magen, Zangenberg and all the other serious thinkers who have rejected 50 years of rubbish.

  6. Let’s look at the statistics of the lost tomb of Jesus I accept the factor of one in a thousand (from literature) as the possibly of finding an inscription of Jesus son of Joseph. Likewise I accept a factor of one in a thousand as the possibly of finding an inscription of a named son of Jesus. This means that for a thousand tombs, only one would have the inscription of Jesus son of Joseph. Of a thousand tombs, only one would have a named son of Jesus. This means that there would be only one tomb in a million with both inscriptions.

    For each of the two females names, there might be one chance in ten that the name is Mary. There would be 9 other names. The same statistics might apply to the two male names (possible a named brother and grand father – Mathew). As a result, there is only one chance out of ten thousand million (10 billion – 2.5 million in lost tomb book – 600 by recent calculation in literature) of finding the Jesus tomb. This is like finding a needle in a very very large haystack.

    I have not made a point that I feel I need to make. I apologize for my lack of capability in statistics. The authors of the lost tomb state that the chances of finding the tomb (with the names of Jesus’ family) by random chance are so small that the lost tomb is really the “real tomb” of Jesus. Let’s call these tombs the “random tomb” (found by random chance) and the “real tomb” (with bones of Jesus and family).

    The chances of finding the “real tomb” are important because we might say that the discovered lost tomb is probably the “random tomb” if the chances of finding the “real tomb” are say one in 5 million as compared to one in 2.5 million (10 billion as calculated above)as reported in the lost tomb book.

    The area is large and there are many tombs. Again what are the chances of finding the “real tomb” in this area?

    For the name of Jesus in the “real tomb”, there are other names of Jesus. For each such name, there may be say 9 other names (not Jesus). For each name of Mary associated with Jesus, there are 9 other names – and so on. Continuing with this procedure, the statistics can be repeated for the “real tomb” as was done for the “random tomb”.

    As a result, there is one chance in 2.5 million of finding the “real tomb” of Jesus (with same names as “random tomb” ). I believe the number is much larger than 2.5 million (10 billion as previously explained).

    In theory, the possibly of finding the “real tomb” is much less than that of finding the “random tomb” because as will be explained later, both names of Mary could be mother, wife, one of several daughters, or granddaughters. The same could be said for the names of the men. As will be shown later, of the ten thousand “random tombs”, only one would be expected to be e a tomb in which Mary would be his mother, the other Mary his wife, and the two male names his son and grandfather.

    The chances of finding a “real tomb” or even a “random tomb” are so small that I believe the “lost tomb” in the lost tomb book to be a hoax developed recently or in the past.

    The chances of finding a very recent hoax are one in one. For a past hoax, it is assumed that the tomb would be located in a place easy to find, and the chances of finding it would be one in a fairly small factor.

    For all practical purposes the “real lost tomb” mentioned in the book most likely could not have been found. In my opinion, its “finding” is a hoax.

    Here I have used only information from the tomb. Many other factors could be considered, but I wanted to evaluate only the tomb and its meaning. However, I do not think it makes any difference whether a small area or large area is considered, or whether the data is somehow skewed or not as far as the conclusions are concerned.

    Say that the lost tomb is not a hoax (and we do not know if it is “real” or “random” as is the case). What is the possibility that it belongs to Christ? Again I am considering only information found in the tomb. As previously stated either Mary could be his mother, wife, one of several sisters, daughters, or grand daughters. I say there is one chance in ten that each Mary is his wife or mother. A similar factor could be applied for Mathew or the other named man. This means that there is one chance out of ten thousand possibilities that Mary is his mother or wife, and the other named men (not his son) are his grand father or brother. Therefore, the possibility of finding the “real tomb” would be only one thousandth of that of finding a “random tomb”. Stated another way: there would be ten thousand “random tombs” for each “real tomb”.

    Even if we could say that the tomb contained Mary the mother, Mary the wife, the son, brother, and grandfather of Jesus, we are still far from proving that this is the tomb of Christ because volumes of history do not support this conclusion.

    I think the best interpretation of statistics indicates strongly that the tomb is a hoax. I do not blame the Discovery team. The hoax could have been developed by someone or a group either very recently or a thousand years ago, but it is a hoax nevertheless in my opinion.

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