I typically only tune in to Larry King when Al Mohler or John MacArthur are featured guests. Since Mohler was a guest yesterday (transcript here) I thought I would watch and was glad that I did. He always does a great job of representing Christians before the show’s audience. He does so far better than the vast majority of Christians (and “so-called Christians”) that appear. Last night’s topic of discussion was, of course, “The Lost Tomb of Jesus,” a documentary that will appear on the Discovery Channel this weekend. It has become a hot topic of discussion for two reasons. First, the Executive Producer is James Cameron of Titanic fame. He lends credence to the project in many people’s eyes simply by being involved in it. Second, the documentary claims that archaeologists have found uncovered a tomb containing ossuaries labeled with the names of Jesus son of Joseph, two Marys, a Joseph, a Matthew and a Judah. And so they concluded that this represents the family of Jesus Christ. Jesus married Mary Magdalene and together they had a son named Judah. The entire family was laid to rest in this tomb which was subsequently discovered in 1980.
Have we heard this before? It seems to me we have. Last year we saw the publication of The Gospel of Judas. Before that it was The God Who Wasn’t There, Misquoting Jesus, The Jesus Papers, The Da Vinci Code, The Jesus Seminar and on and on and on. The French have a great little phrase that goes “plus ca change, plus c’est la meme chose” (though they put neat little accents on some of those characters). The phrase translates to “The more things change, the more they stay the same.” Here we find yet another attack on the death and resurrection of Jesus. It is only barely different from the ones that have come along in the past.
Sure the producers of this documentary claim to have uncovered some DNA evidence, but all this evidence shows is that the man in the coffin labeled “Jesus” is not a blood relative of the person in the coffin of the supposed Mary Magdalene. This is hardly startling. I suspect they did DNA testing on the other boxes and likely came up with either no evidence or evidence that contradicted the conclusion they wanted to make in the film. Their story would have been far more compelling had they been able to link “Jesus” to his mother “Mary” and then “Judah” to his mother, father and/or grandparents. We have to assume that they attempted to do this but failed. Beyond this fragmentary evidence, this documentary offers nothing new and nothing that hasn’t been discussed and refuted countless times in the past.
Here are a few winning quotes by Dr. Mohler:
Well, it is only startling in terms of the sensationalism, I think, of public relations here. You are talking about a tomb that was discovered, as you said, well over two decades ago. The archaeologists there in Israel, who are the closest to this, have the greatest expertise, are not only looking at this with skepticism, but basically dismissing its claims.
You are talking about frankly trying to dress up an old documentary, the BBC did something like this over a decade ago, with this kind of supposed statistical research and DNA testing. The DNA testing is to me the most laughable aspect of all of this. I mean, frankly, there could be a thousand, thousand different explanations for whatever DNA pattern they could find.
No one has the DNA of Mary. You know, trying to bring this into a modern crime investigation is like trying to go back and figure out who exactly put the first dagger into Julius Caesar. It’s impossible.
I’m going to base my beliefs on the scriptures which hold together far better than the kind of farcical documentary we are talking about here, throwing in a little bit of statistics. I mean, you’re talking about the most common names, especially the most common male names, also frankly, female with the name Mary, you’re talking about anything that could be found just about anywhere.
And this next one, a personal favorite, came after Dr. James Tabor, Chairman of the Department of Religious Studies and the University of North Carolina expressed great interest in this story saying “But from what I know of the historical records, both in the New Testament and other early Christian records, do these names fit what we know of the family of Jesus?” Mohler replied:
And frankly, I’m a bit surprised by Dr. Tabor’s, at least, qualified endorsement of this, given the fact that this appears to me to be at least very inconsistent what he’s arguing in his own book about Jesus not being the son of Joseph, which, by the way, we Christians don’t hold either. But he’s never known as the son of Joseph in terms of early Christian witness, he is never mentioned that way.
Mohler pointed out this man’s hypocrisy and elicited from me a joyous “Booyah!” And to me, this hypocrisy was the real story. Dr. Tabor is an intelligent man and must know that this is just utter nonsense. To waive about DNA (and to even refer to the show “CSI” while doing so) is just farcical. The people who produced this show must know that they have no case. As Mohler pointed out, this would never stand up in any court. But it does make an interesting story and did elicit worldwide headlines. To quote Mohler, “Well, we are talking about moving all of the pieces here to make for sensational television. And frankly, that’s why I think most Christians are going to take this without any seriousness at all.” I couldn’t agree more. Christians are growing tired of this. We have defended the resurrection of Jesus countless times. We have affirmed that if Jesus did not rise, our faith is in vain and Christianity is simply a fabrication and a waste of time. But the evidence for Jesus’ resurrection is simply too strong and too compelling to discount or ignore. Of all the evidence that has been offered to contradict it, none has come even close to being rational and convicting. There is no question that Jesus rose from the dead. The only question remaining is what you intend to do with this news.
For other responses to this story, read Ben Witherington (who does a thorough analysis and concludes “So my response to this is clear— James Cameron, the producer of the movie Titantic, has now jumped on board another sinking ship full of holes, presumably in order to make a lot of money before the theory sinks into an early watery grave. Man the lifeboats and get out now.) or James White (who looks at the history of these challenges to Scripture and says “Like dominos falling, all these arguments, spanning hundreds of years have failed. They differ in hypothesis, and many with each other, proving they can’t make sense of the evidence they are evaluating.”). You could also pick up a book defending against The Da Vinci Code. You ought to be able to choose from a wide variety in the bargain bin of your local Christian bookstore. That challenge came and went and so will this one. Meanwhile, Jesus lives on and we eagerly await His return.