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The tomb of Jesus and his family?

Would the finding of Jesus' bones
contradict belief in his resurrection?

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Jacobovici, the "Naked Archeologist" said that nobody's belief in the resurrection should be shaken by the discovery of what some people belief is the burial tomb of Jesus and his immediate family. He said:

"What convinced people in the New Testament of the resurrection was Jesus' appearances, not his disappearance from the tomb. I am not a theologian. I didn't want to take anyone on." 1

However, many Christian theologians are interpreting information about this tomb as a direct attack on belief in Jesus' resurrection. There does not seem to be any consideration in the media of an alternate opinion that there would not necessary be any impact on the belief in Jesus' resurrection. However, there would be an impact on the belief in Jesus' bodily ascension to heaven.

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The importance of the resurrection:

Belief in the bodily resurrection of Jesus is considered by most Christians to be a cardinal doctrine. Many believe that a person cannot really be called a Christian if they do not believe that Jesus rose bodily from the grave.

Consider the following quotations:

bullet George Carey, Archbishop of Canterbury, London Times, 1992-APR-19: "Belief in the resurrection is not an appendage to the Christian faith. It is the Christian faith."
bullet A statement of the World Council of Churches / Middle East Council of Churches Consultation in  1997 said: "The apostolic faith of the Church is based on the reality of the resurrection of Christ." 3
bullet St. Paul wrote in 1 Corinthians 15:12-14: "Now if Christ is proclaimed as raised from the death, how can some of you say there is no resurrection of the dead? If there is no resurrection of the dead, then Christ has not been raised, and if Christ has not been raised, then our proclamation has been in vain and your faith is in vain."

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Reactions by Christian theologians and commentators:

A number of theologians and commentators believe that finding Jesus' bones in an ossuary would disprove -- or at least shed doubt on -- the bodily resurrection of Jesus:

bullet Laurie Goodstein of the New York Times wrote:

"The claims were met with skepticism by several archaeologists and New Testament scholars, as well as outrage by some Christian leaders. The contention that Jesus was married, had a child and left behind his bones — suggesting he was not bodily resurrected — contradicts core Christian doctrine." 4

bullet An article titled "Who was the real Jesus?" was posted on the web site of the magazine "Y-Jesus." It says, in part:

"Why would Jesus’ disciples endure torture for claiming he was resurrected, if they knew it was a hoax? New Testament scholar Darrell Bock asks, 'why would Jesus' family or followers bury his bones in a family plot and then turn around and preach that he had been physically raised from the dead'?" 5

bullet Popular religious author Ben Witherington III wrote of a movie and book on Jesus:

"Of course, the main implicit contention of the documentary and book is that the Resurrection is demonstrably a fraud--and thus, we must assume, people like Peter and James, the brother of Jesus, were prepared to be martyred in grisly ways to perpetrate a fraud. Resurrection had only one meaning for early Jews--a miracle that happens to a person's body so that they are raised from the dead." 6

bullet When interviewed about the "Jesus Tomb," Joseph Zwilling, a spokesperson for the Catholic church in New York City, NY, told the New York Post:

"I think this is more fanciful and absurd theorizing. Every Christian knows that Jesus, the son of God and man, died and rose again on Easter Sunday. ... No alleged DNA test or Hollywood film is going to change that." 1

The third quotation above in particular poses a few problems:  The DNA test is not alleged; it really happened. The film is not alleged; it exists and was broadcast on MAR-04. There are over a billion Muslims in the world who are absolutely convinced that Jesus was neither crucified nor resurrected. They regard him as a human prophet, not as a God and not a member of the Trinity. If current membership trends continue, Muslims will outnumber Christians in the world during the 2030s and their belief about Jesus resurrection and deity status will become the most prevalent across the world.

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The historical record about the resurrection:

All indications are that the developing Christian Church within decades of Jesus' death firmly believed in Jesus' resurrection.

However, David Fitzgerald, author of the book: "Nailed: Ten Christian Myths That Show Jesus Never Existed At All" commented:

"But not a single historian mentions the resurrection until the 3rd and 4th centuries, and then only Christian historians. Of the anonymous Gospel authors, only “Luke” even claims to be writing history, but neither Luke nor any of the others ever cite any other sources or show signs of a skilled or critical examination of conflicting claims. None have any other literature or scholarship to their credit that we can test for their skill and accuracy. Their actual identities are completely unknown, and all overtly declare their bias towards persuading new converts.

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Reactions by media personnel and bloggers:

bullet Tim McGirk, Time Magazine's Jerusalem Bureau Chief wrote in Time magazine's Middle East blog::

"In a new documentary, Producer Cameron and his director, Simcha Jacobovici, make the starting claim that Jesus wasn't resurrected --the cornerstone of Christian faith-- and that his burial cave was discovered near Jerusalem. And, get this, Jesus sired a son with Mary Magdelene."

Actually, the producer and director make no such claim, as noted above. McGirk made his posting on 2007-FEB-23. Within 15 days, it had received over 4,200 comments. 7

bullet Izzy Bee of the Israelity Bites blog wrote:

"Devout Christian congregations will abhor Cameron's publicity stunt as absolute heresy. Some 27 years after archaeologists first uncovered this unprepossessing family tomb containing half a dozen inscribed caskets and four unmarked ones, the sensational scientific claims now threaten to debunk belief in the Resurrection, a cornerstone of the Christian faith. The New Testament recounts how three days after crucifixion, Jesus arose from the grave (which is now supposedly the site of the Church of the Holy Sepulcher at the heart of Jerusalem's old walled city.) But scientists, archaeologists, DNA experts, statisticians, and antiquities specialists are suggesting that Jesus' burial site was on a hill rather far away from the old rugged cross." 8

bullet "TheFilmCritic" posted a comment to the Salt & Light blog:

"Paul centers his entire message around the idea that Christ’s resurrection glorified God, our resurrection will glorify God, and because we have this glory to look forward to, our lives should be lived to glorify God."

"So, Mr. Jacobovici, don’t try to tell us your 'theory' is not a rejection of the resurrection. It is not only a rejection of the resurrection but also a rejection of the Gospel itself." 9

bullet "Aggregator" commented on the Freedom's Zone blog:

"... the Discovery Channel will air a James Cameron/ Simcha Jacobovici documentary called 'The Lost Tomb of Jesus.' The special attempts, with these new 'findings,' contradict the idea of Christ's resurrection and takes massive liberties with other areas of Holy Scripture, Sacred Tradition and basic Christian belief." 10

bullet By 2007-MAR-08, four days after the movie was broadcast in the U.S., Canada and the UK, an Internet search on Google for resurrection Jacobovici returned 4,170 hits.

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What is the impact of the tomb discovery on the resurrection:

If the tomb is shown to have belonged to a family other than Jesus' then the discoveries will have no effect on basic Christian doctrines at all. The DNA in the ossuary marked "Jesus" would simply refer to another person called Joshua.

However, if it is shown to be the tomb of Jesus and his family, it can be argued that the presence of Jesus' bones on Earth does not necessarily have any impact on the belief in Jesus resurrection.

Consider two examples:

bullet Imagine a person living in the 21st century dying at the age of 33 to 40 and being bodily resurrected -- just as most Christians believe happened to Jesus. One might expect that at the age of 80 or so, he or he would eventually die for a second time, and be buried. If the body were handled according to 1st century Jewish custom in Palestine, then one might expect her or his bones to be reasonably intact centuries later.

bullet Consider Lazarus of Bethany, brother of Mary and Martha, and a man loved by Jesus. John 11:1-45 describes that he became sick. It took some time for Jesus to go to Bethany. By the time he arrived, Lazarus had been dead for four days. Jesus called on Lazarus to "come forth," and he was resurrected. After the passage of time, Lazarus would have eventually died for the second time and been buried.

The same sequence could have happened to Jesus: birth, infancy, childhood, adulthood, death, burial, bodily resurrection, a passage of time  -- perhaps decades long -- a second death, a second burial, and the survival of his bones.

Thus, the finding of Jesus' remains on Earth does not necessarily have any impact on belief in his bodily resurrection. However, it might impact on the belief of his bodily ascension.

Religious groups do not like to change their basic teachings. Changes over the last 15 decades over human slavery, women's role in the church, contraception, equal rights for homosexuals, etc. have triggered schisms in a number of denominations, and have come close to causing splits in others. Fortunately for the stability Christian faith groups, there appears to be no way to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that the tomb at Talpiot contains Jesus' bones.

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References used:

  1. Stuart Laidlaw, "Jesus tomb claim sparks furor," The Toronto Start, 2007-FEB-26, at:
  2. Pope Pius Xii, "Munificentissiumus Deus," Vatican, 1950-NOV-01, at:
  3. "Toward a Common Date for Easter," World Council of Churches / Middle East Council of Churches Consultation, 1997 at:
  4. Laurie Goodstein, "Crypt Held Bodies of Jesus and Family, Film Says,"  New York Times, 2007-FEB-27
  5. "Who was the real Jesus?" Y-Jesus magazine, at:
  6. Ben Witherington III, "Tomb of the (still) unknown ancients: More Jesus hype of the 'Da Vinci Code' type," Wall Street Journal Opinion Journal, 2007-MAR-02, at:
  7. Tim McGirk, "Jesus: Tales from the Crypt," Time, 2007-FEB-23, at:
  8. Izzy Bee, "More on the Christ family's criptic crypt," Israelity Bites blog, 2007-FEB-27, at:
  9. "TheFilmCritic, " 'I guess this means we're Jewish.' Part 1 of 3," Salt & Light blog, 2007-MAR-06, at:
  10. Aggregator, "Cameron's 'The Tomb of Jesus' Sinks Like Titanic - Wake up America," Freedom's Zone, 2007-FEB-28, at:

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Copyright © 2007 to 2018 by Ontario Consultants on Religious Tolerance
Originally written: 2007-FEB-26
Latest update: 2018-APR-09
Author: B.A. Robinson

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