The Lost Tomb of Christ?

I will begin this by attempting to give an unbiased explanation of the latest attempt to debunk Christianity according to what I have read.  It comes in the form of a television documentary entitled “The Lost Tomb of Christ,” which will broadcast on the Discovery Channel on Sunday, March 4, 2007 (subsequent to this writing).  The subject of the documentary is a tomb that was discovered in 1980 near Jerusalem.  The makers of the documentary claim that this is the tomb of Jesus of Nazareth.

The evidence cited in the documentary comes from the ten ossuaries (caskets of bones) found in the tomb.  According to the filmmakers, these ossuaries were inscribed with the names Jesus son of Joseph, Maria, Mariamene, Joseph, Matthew, and Judah son of Jesus.  The directors of the film decided to investigate these ossuaries to determine whether they contained the remains of Jesus Christ of the Bible and His family.

The documentary concludes that these ossuaries most likely did once contain the remains of Christ and His family (the bones were actually removed and buried in 1980).  Not only this, but also it concludes that the person named “Mariamene” was Mary Magdelene, that she became the wife of Jesus, and that the person named “Judah” in the tomb was their son.  These conclusions are essentially based upon two analyses: (1) the statistical unlikelihood of these names being in the same tomb, and (2) DNA tests that prove that the person named “Jesus” buried in this tomb did not have the same mother as the person named “Mariamene” buried in this tomb.

Now I will abandon my unbiased explanation and declare what my faith, history, and a little common sense tell me about this documentary.  My faith is based on the Bible, which I believe to be the inspired word of God due to considerable internal and external evidence (2Tim. 3:16-17; Heb. 2:1-4; 2Pet. 1:19-21).  The word of God bears witness to the life, death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus Christ (1Cor. 14:37; 15:1-8).  This witness conflicts with the conclusions of the documentary in question and therefore discounts the documentary’s conclusions.  Of course, the producers of this film would prefer that I discount the Bible in favor of the film, but their case is not nearly strong enough for me to do that.

Secular history also makes the conclusions of this documentary untenable.  Consider some of the historical problems with these conclusions: (1) All of the names on these ossuaries were all very common in the first century (about 25% of the women in Judea were named Mary), so it is not necessary to conclude that this combination of six names could only be from the persons recorded in the Bible; (2) Jesus was a poor man from Nazareth, so His family could not have afforded this tomb, and He would not have been buried in Jerusalem; (3) Ossuaries were used for several generations to store bones, so the DNA found in the residue of the ossuaries could have been from non-genetically related persons from different generations; (4) There are no credible ancient writings that record Jesus surviving the cross and having a family, but there are such secular writings that refer to His death by crucifixion (Josephus, Eusebius, Thallus, Phlegon).  This is by no means all of the historical evidence to consider, but it is sufficient to demonstrate the fallacy of the documentary’s conclusions.  In fact, the secular, historical, and archaeological evidence is very supportive of the New Testament record, but this does not fit the agenda of the filmmakers, so it was not presented in their film.

Ultimately, common sense tells us that this documentary’s conclusions are nonsense.  If Jesus had survived the cross and lived in Jerusalem, the opponents of Christianity would have used that fact to tear down the faith that was built on His resurrection and ascension to heaven.  Perhaps someone may presume that He could have lived in secret, but why then would His ossuary be marked with His name?  Furthermore, it is not even clear that the name on the ossuary is Jesus, for one biblical scholar says it is more like “Hanun.”  It is also a stretch to say that “Mariamene” must be Mary Magdelene, for this reasoning is based upon a highly questionable document from the fourteenth century.  Regarding the DNA tests, how is it logical to assume that if two people in a tomb were not related through their mother, then they must have been Jesus and Mary Magdelene, and they must have been married with a child?

There are countless explanations for this tomb, but some who have an agenda to discredit Christianity found the tomb to be an opportunity to cast doubt on the faith.  It is interesting to note that the archeologist who discovered this tomb originally in 1980 considered it to be just another tomb.  However, the BBC aired a program in 1996 to advance the theory that this was the tomb of Jesus, and now these stale leftovers are being reheated again.  Christians should not be afraid to examine historical and archeological evidence, and neither should they be surprised when some twist that evidence to advance an agenda against their faith.  Worldly-minded men rejected Christ when He came to earth, they rejected Him after He ascended to heaven, and they reject Him now.  This is not the first time someone has tried to explain away Christ through science or archaeology, and it certainly won’t be the last.

Stacey E. Durham

For further reading, a good source is:


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