Mar 6, 2007

Has the 'lost tomb' been found?

by Joanne Tang, News Editor

What does Jesus’ tomb look like? James Cameron thinks he knows.
In a Discovery Channel documentary that aired Sunday, March 4, “Titanic” director Cameron and documentary filmmaker Simcha Jacobovici took viewers on a journey through a tomb in Jerusalem, a tomb they claim is actually Jesus’ tomb.

In addition, they claim that the buried bodies inside are not only the bodies of Jesus, Joseph, Mary and Mary Magdalene, but that Mary Magdalene was Jesus’ wife and yet another box hosts Jesus and Mary Magadalene’s son, Judah

News of the documentary and its claims have been described as being simply “controversial” to being a challenge to the foundation of the resurrection of Christ.

But do any of these claims actually hold water? The consensus from many leading scholars is no.During convocation on Friday, March 2, Dr. Gary Habermas, research professor of apologetics and philosophy and the chairman of the department of philosophy and theology, spoke to a packed Vines Center to not only dispute “The Lost Tomb of Jesus” but also to offer various reasons why the claim does not hold up.

The tomb itself, according to an article published in the Washington Post, was found in the 1980s and that archaeologists have known about the discovery for years. Dr. Amos Kloner, an Israeli archaeologist who did the original excavation of the tomb, said the claims were “nonsense.”
One of the first reasons is that the name Joseph was the second most common name for a male at that time. Habermas said the name appears on 45 ossuaries, or “bone boxes,” which are small boxes in which the bones of a decomposed corpse are placed. He said most bone boxes are actually unnamed. The name Jesus appears in 22 boxes found in tombs, he said.

“Many families the size of six will include Jesus or Joseph,” he said.
As for the claim that the Mary in the tomb is Jesus’ mother, Habermas said that “25 percent of Jewish women were named Mary” and “48 percent of women are Mary if you bring in the names close to Mary (such as Maria and Mariamne).”

Habermas pointed out a fallacy — the claim that DNA found inside the tomb suggests that the Jesus and Mary Magdalene in the Talpiot tomb were married because the DNA proved they were not relatives.
“Does DNA help? No,” Habermas said. “Even if you have the DNA of Jesus, we don’t know which (Jesus), but you certainly can’t say it was Jesus of Nazareth.”
Habermas said that the assumption that Jesus and Mary were married is false.

In addition, he made the point that just because DNA proves two individuals were not related does not mean they were married.

“The tomb is an extended family tomb,” he said. “Mary could have been an adopted child, or a loved slave, (or she) could have been an uncle’s wife from two generations back.”
The third most prolific claim in the documentary is that a statistician found a 600 to one chance that the tomb was not Jesus’ tomb.

The problem, Habermas said, was that to get a close connection, one has to compare the very common names in the crypt to the “known names of Jesus’ family. But all we know from the tomb is that Joseph, Jesus and Judah are connected. Without more than this, we cannot connect the two families,” he said.

Habermas said that in order to successfully use statistics to come to any significant conclusion, one would require “one Jesus, one Joseph, Mary as the mother but we don’t know (that), Matthew is in the tomb but he was a disciple and this is a family tomb,” he said.

“I would not have a problem with Jesus being married, if he were. I wouldn’t. If he had a child, I wouldn’t have a problem. But not one source says he was married or had a child,” Habermas said, adding that he did not like “revisionist history.”

“There’s someone in 2007 saying, ‘I have a feeling he was married,’” he said.

In addition to those three claims, Habermas offered other reasons and facts, some of which have not been reported by the media.

He added that “early Christians never called Jesus ‘son of Joseph,’ but the ossuary said ‘son of Joseph. If you believed in the Virgin Birth you would not call him ‘son of Joseph.’”    

One of the biggest claims against the Talpiot tomb being the biblical Jesus’ tomb is that Jesus was born in Bethlehem and was called Jesus of Nazareth.
Habermas said this claim begs the question of why the tomb is located in Jerusalem, especially since it is a family tomb and there is no reason why an entire family would be buried in a place they are not from.

There are still yet other claims by skeptics that are rocking the religious community. One of the most rampant is the idea of a tenth ossuary that is labeled “James” and is missing from the tomb. Habermas said that the “latest research shows it is not lost, but is reported as having no name and that the measurements of the ossuary do not match those of the James ossuary.”  
So where is the Christian community when it comes to this documentary?

One of the biggest issues seems to be the two men behind the scenes.
“The main producers of the Discovery special are movie producers. Movies and history rarely mix (accurately),” said Habermas.

Does this documentary challenge the Resurrection? The documentary’s official Web site said, “It is a matter of Christian faith that Jesus of Nazareth was resurrected from the dead three days after his crucifixion circa 30 C.E. This is a central tenet of Christian theology, repeated in all four Gospels. The Lost Tomb of Jesus does not challenge this belief.”
Many people disagree.

“Our faith should not be shaken by (this documentary),” said sophomore Ashley Gillman. “We need to, as Christians, look into it and remember our faith is in Jesus and God.”

She said that it is understandable how people who do not know about Jesus may be able to believe the documentary and its claims but that “hopefully it can be used for good.”

Habermas directed students to his Web site,, where they can find links and additional information about the documentary and the evidence surrounding it.

Contact Joanne Tang at

Editor's note: Revisions to this article appear on the web edition.

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