February 26, 2007

Jesus Buried In Plain Sight?

Many people have discussed the supposed discovery of the family tomb of Jesus in a section of Jerusalem. The finding, which forms the basis of a Discovery Channel special next Sunday, purports to show that Jesus married Mary Magdalene and had a son named Judah, also buried at the tomb with his own ossuary:

New scientific evidence, including DNA analysis conducted at one of the world's foremost molecular genetics laboratories, as well as studies by leading scholars, suggests a 2,000-year-old Jerusalem tomb could have once held the remains of Jesus of Nazareth and his family.

The findings also suggest that Jesus and Mary Magdalene might have produced a son named Judah.

The DNA findings, alongside statistical conclusions made about the artifacts — originally excavated in 1980 — open a potentially significant chapter in Biblical archaeological history.

Well, maybe. The DNA analysis, which has been trumpeted without much explanation, does not identify the Jesus of the ossuary as the same Jesus in the Bible. All it does is show that the bones in a tomb that the researchers speculate belonged to Mary Magdelene have no familial relation to the bones in the Jesus ossuary. That is how the archeologists assumed that the two in this crypt were married, and that the Judah ben-Jesus of the ossuary had to be their offspring.

This shows why pop science rarely delivers anything but entertainment. I enjoy Simcha Jacobovici in his incarnation as "The Naked Archeologist", but I don't pretend that the show is anything more than a superficial and oversimplified trek through history. The speculations made by the team working on the Talpiot tomb show how a series of assumptions can lead to a wild and likely incorrect conclusion.

Let's take a few things in the context of the times. Jesus was a well-known agitator whose crucifixion creates a cult following, in the eyes of the Romans and the leading Jews of the time. The basis of that cult formed around the notion that Jesus rose from the dead. If the Romans knew where his body was buried, why then did they not produce it as proof of his immutable death? In order to be placed in an ossuary, he would have to lie in the tomb for a year, decomposing to skeletal remains. During that time, the Romans could easily have produced the body -- or the cult followers could have stolen it and buried it elsewhere to prevent it.

The familial ties also seem rather odd. In the first generation of Jesus, no one mentions his marriage or family. Yet his familiy and followers -- ossuaries of Matthew and James are supposedly among the discoveries -- supposedly felt it of no moment to bury him with his wife and son, despite their refusal to acknowledge a marriage. By the time his son would have died, the Gospels would already have been written and prophesied in the region and further to Greece and Rome.

And all of this evidence would have been left in the open, in a tomb in the middle of the largest city in the region, where anyone could have discovered it.

I'm sorry, but this relies on faith at least as much as the Christian religion does, and contradicts common sense. It's nonsense. None of this makes any sense at all, but I'll bet it sells lots of advertising. (h/t: CQ reader Peyton R)

UPDATE: The Anchoress, my favorite Catholic blogger, has more.

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