While some may say this is an overblown statement and that one can be a Christian even if Christ did not rise from the dead, such a position stands in complete contrast to the teaching of the New Testament. Jesus repeated over and over again in the gospels that He would be put to the death by His enemies, but that He would come back from the dead three days later. In John 2:19, Jesus says, “Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up”. Jesus was constantly bringing His future bodily (see in the above verse that the “temple” is His body) resurrection up to His disciples as Mark 8:31 records: “And He began to teach them that the Son of Man must suffer many things and be rejected by the elders and the chief priests and the scribes, and be killed, and after three days rise again.” If the resurrection did not really happen, then Jesus is either a liar or else just some poor deluded man. Why would you want to follow such a person?
Next, Paul makes it very clear that if Jesus didn’t come back from the grave, then there’s little point in being a Christian. He writes in 1 Corinthians 15:16-17 that, “For if the dead are not raised, not even Christ has been raised; and if Christ has not been raised, your faith is worthless.” In other words, Christianity is of no value if Jesus wasn’t bodily raised from the dead. Poisoning the water hole even more, Paul says in verse 19 of the same chapter that, “If we have hoped in Christ in this life only, we are of all men most to be pitied.”
As you can see from just the few references above, Christianity either stands or falls on the bodily resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead. Now, the adversary of mankind knows this fact as do smart human enemies of Christianity, which is why attacks on the resurrection have been constant throughout history. A recent attempt has been the “resurrected” claim that the tomb of Jesus and his family have been identified in Jerusalem. And while those putting forth (and profiting from) such assertions say they are not attacking Christianity, nothing could be further from the truth – even if they themselves don’t understand this fact.
In 1980, Israeli construction workers were digging the foundation of a new building in Jerusalem when they uncovered a cave that appeared to be a tomb. Those going inside the cave discovered ten limestone ossuaries (which are chests that contain skeletal remains) of what appeared to be a Jewish family. Inscribed on some of the ossuaries were names very common for the ancient Jewish culture – Jesua, son of Joseph, Mary, Mary, Matthew, Judah, son of Jesua. Nothing much at the time was thought about this find as the names found on the ossuaries were extremely common in the ancient Jewish world.
However, in 1996 the BBC aired a report that suggested the tomb may be the burial place of Jesus Christ and his family. Again, not much was thought of the report as experts intimately involved with the find stated this assertion was just not factual in nature. The entire story has now been recycled again years later by Hollywood movie director James Cameron and a Jewish film documentarian named Simcha Jacobovici who have produced a book and a film that says the burial site is indeed that of Jesus Christ and His family.
Cameron and Jacobovici’s claims are basically these:
- The combination of names found in the tomb statistically favors the notion that it is indeed the burial site of Jesus Christ. They say there could not have been many Joseph’s who had a son named Jesus, and that the other names in the tomb correspond to those named in the life of Christ.
- DNA evidence proves that the bones of the Jesua ossuary are not related to the DNA found in one of the Mary ossuaries. This means that the “Jesus” of the tomb was married to the “Mary” of the tomb, which they claim was Mary Magdalene.
Approaching the Jesus’ Family Tomb Claims
First, it’s important to note that speculations about finding the bones of Christ are actually nothing new. For example, in 1935 a man named Kiyomaro Takeuchi discovered 1900 year old document stored in Ibaraki Prefecture, Japan, stating that a Jesus who had been born in Bethlehem to a virgin named Mary is buried in Herai Village in the Aomori district of Japan. The document also contained Jesus’ last will and testament, which requested that his brother's tomb to be located next to his. So explosive was the document that the Japanese government banned the document from public view and kept it locked in a museum in Tokyo. But during World War II, Tokyo was severely bombed and the museum and all documents were destroyed, but, as the story says, the Takeuchi family made copies of the document before surrendering it to officials, with copies preserved by the family supposedly still being available to this day.
Yet another set of researchers claim Jesus is dead and buried in Srinagar, Kashmir, India (www.tombofjesus.com/2007/home/welcome.html), with them offering “evidence” to back these assertions up.
What supposedly gives Cameron and Jacobovici their credibility is that this tomb has been found in Jesus’ backyard, contains names used through the gospels, with DNA evidence suggesting the “Mary” of the tomb is not physically related to the “Jesus” of the tomb. However, upon closer examination, the following facts and questions arise:
- As many researchers have pointed out, the names found in the tomb were extremely common to the era. Archeologist Amos Kloner summed up the findings of the team saying, “It was an ordinary middle-class Jerusalem burial cave. The names on the caskets are the most common names found among Jews at the time.” In fact, the name Jesus appears in 98 other tombs and on 21 other ossuaries. Commenting on Cameron and Jacobovici’s documentary, Kloner says, “It’s impossible, it’s nonsense. There is no likelihood that Jesus and His relatives had a family tomb. They were a Galilee family with no ties in Jerusalem.”
- In 1996, when the British Broadcasting Corp. aired a short documentary on the same subject, archaeologists challenged the claims. Kloner, the first archaeologist to examine the site, said the idea fails to hold up by archaeological standards but makes for profitable television. "They just want to get money for it," Kloner said.
- Concerning the DNA claims, to truly have a credible story, Cameron and Jacobovici would have to have a viable, preserved sample of DNA from Jesus or one of His family members. Ben Witherington III, professor of New Testament Interpretation at Asbury Theological Seminary says, “In order for them to establish a positive claim that these are Jesus’ relatives, you have to have control samples to compare it to, but we have no such objective control samples.”
- Outside of unreliable Gnostic literature that can be misinterpreted to claim that Jesus and Mary Magdalene were married, no credible historical evidence exists to support this assertion. By looking at the New Testament we can easily conclude that Jesus had no wife. While on the cross, Jesus asked John to look after His mother as John’s own (John 19:25-27). Were Jesus married and had children, He would have no doubt sought provision for them as well and yet no such instructions are found anywhere in the gospels. Paul also provides evidence to the contrary of Jesus being married. In 1 Corinthians 9:5, Paul asks “Do we not have a right to take along a believing wife, even as the rest of the apostles and the brothers of the Lord and Cephas?” Now if Jesus had been married, certainly Paul would have appealed to Christ instead of the disciples with something like, “Do we not have a right to take along a believing wife, even as our Master and Lord Jesus Christ had?
- Stephen Pfann, a textual scholar and paleographer at the University of the Holy Land in Jerusalem, has analyzed the ossuaries and publically stated that the one supposedly reading "Mariamene e Mara," which is supposed to mean "Mary the teacher" or "Mary the master", (the one Cameron claims is Mary Magdalene's) actually does not say that at all. The inscription, Pfann said, is instead made up of two names inscribed by two different hands: the first, "Mariame," was inscribed in a formal Greek script, and later, when the bones of another woman were added to the box, another scribe using a different cursive script added the words "kai Mara," meaning "and Mara." Mara is a different form of the name Martha. In other words, the ossuary does not say it belongs to Mary Magdalene.
- Jesus was never referred to as “son of Joseph”. In fact, his enemies insinuated quite openly that Jesus was born of a tryst between Mary and an unknown man. When confronting the religious leaders of His day, the gospel of John records Jesus’ enemies saying, ““We were not born of fornication…” (John 8:41).
- Why is the name of Matthew listed with the rest of the family? If this is the Matthew that traveled with Jesus, then he certainly was not a family member. Concerning James, the fourth-century church historian Eusebius writes that the body of James (the half-brother of Jesus) was buried alone near the temple mount and that his tomb was routinely visited by those in the faith.
- If the researchers use the gospels to verify the names on the ossuaries, why are they not also used to verify that Christ rose from the dead? Why accept one set of informaton from the Bible and then deny another? The answer is that the researchers have a bias against miracles and the supernatural power of God to raise the dead.
- Where is any credible historical evidence that documents Christ ever having children – especially one called Judah? None exists whatsoever. Those saying that the tomb contains Jesus’ son have nothing to fall back on to support their claim.
Standard Truths of the Resurrection
In addition to having to answer the hard questions posed above, the supporters of the Jesus tomb story have to contend also with the bedrock truths that underlay the resurrection of Jesus from the grave. Although many proof-points of the resurrection exist, four core truths are:
- Jesus was buried in Joseph of Arimathea’s tomb – a fact documented by Matthew (27:57), Mark (15:43), Luke (23:50-53), and John (19:38). Keep in mind it is not logical that a gospel writer would lie about this fact as they would not wish to show any member of the Sanhedrin (which Joseph was) in a good light. Furthermore, there are absolutely no other burial stories concerning Christ that can be produced from any ancient source. No other account exists other than Jesus being buried in Joseph’s tomb, a site which was known to both the followers of Christ as well as His enemies.
- Three days after Jesus was murdered, His body was found to be missing. The resurrection’s initial witnesses were women – again a key fact that proves the gospel writers were not lying as women of that day were not allowed even to testify in a court of law. If the gospel writers wanted to spin a tall tale, they would have certainly had men be the first ones to discover Jesus’ tomb was empty. Remember, also, that all the religious leaders would have had to do to crush the claims of Jesus being alive was to go to the tomb and produce the body. But instead, they had to invent their own story about the disciples stealing the body (Matthew 28:12-13).
- Jesus appeared to many different people, over many different days, in many different locales, to both the faithful and skeptics after His resurrection. The gospels and book of Acts record Him appearing to individuals, small gatherings of people, and one group of five hundred. Not only the faithful saw Him either – those who did not believe in Him at first were converted through seeing the risen Christ (James, His brother). Saul of Tarsus, a bold enemy of Christianity did a complete 180 to become the most ardent defender of the faith. No historian can explain away the transformation of the historical Saul into Paul other than seeing Jesus alive.
- Christ’s appearance to His disciples turned them from turncoat cowards into unmovable guardians of the gospel. All they would have had to do to save their lives was state that the resurrection story they were proclaiming was a lie. But they didn’t. The only logical conclusion that can be drawn is they firmly believed they had seen Christ alive. Even skeptics say the evidence is bullet-proof that something happened to the disciples to make them believe they saw Jesus in the flesh.
When CNN’s Larry King hosted Cameron and Jacobovici, he seemed to taunt those on the show who were defending the historicity of Christ’s resurrection by asking, “What are you afraid of? What harm does it do to present these claims?” One would have to wonder how King would respond if he was asked what harm it does to have Iran’s president claim that the Holocaust didn’t really happen – that it was all a lie.
If, as Jesus said, the truth sets you free (John 8:32), then it’s error that causes bondage and harm. The enemy knows that Christianity rises or falls on the bodily resurrection of Jesus, so, since he’s the father of lies, he will go to any lengths to cause doubt to enter into the hearts of the faithful and provide new bullets for the guns of those that oppose Christianity.
But after looking at the shaky claims of the Jesus’ tomb crowd and revisiting the truths of the resurrection that have withstood 2,000 years of scrutiny, we can say with Paul, “But now Christ has been raised from the dead, the first fruits of those who are asleep.” (1 Corinthians 15:20).
Thomas Aquinas was right – the contrary of a truth can never be demonstrated.