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James A. Johnson

Bones of Contention:
A Lost Tomb or Simply Lost?

James Cameron, known for 1997's Titanic, and Simcha Jacobovici, a Canadian filmmaker, have joined a familiar chorus. This chorus includes the voices of The DaVinci Code and the Gnostics in trying to debunk the Truth that Jesus Christ is Who He claimed to be, including the (physically) risen Son of God! Cameron and Jacobovici (neither of them archaeologists) are on the production crew of The Lost Tomb of Jesus (March 4, 2007, The Discovery Channel). In the production, the claim is laid forth that the tomb of Jesus and His family has been found and includes evidence that Jesus was married to Mary Magdalene and had a son with her named Judah. Yet, there are problems with this tale as evidenced by history, experts, reports, and logic.

The Associated Press mentioned in a 2007 article that 11 years ago, the BBC aired a documentary similar to the aforementioned one, and archaeologists challenged the claims. Among them was (and is) Amos Kloner, the first archaeologist to examine the tomb. He stated, "The idea fails to hold up by archaeological standards but makes for profitable television" (AP, 2007).

According to the Associated Press (2007), "Shimon Gibson, one of three archaeologists who first discovered the tomb in 1980, said Monday [February 26, 2007] of the film's claims: ‘I'm skeptical, but that's the way I am’" [date insertion mine].

The documentary included an interview with Stephen Pfann of the University of the Holy Land in Jerusalem. He doubts the hypothesis of the film, saying, "I don't think that Christians are going to buy into this. But skeptics, in general, would like to see something that pokes holes into the story that so many people hold dear" (AP, 2007).

Pfann further questions whether the name "Jesus" on the ossuaries was read correctly, saying the name is more likely "Hanun" (AP, 2007).

Kloner questions the assumptions behind the film since all of the names on the ossuaries are the most common Jewish names of that period in history (AP 2007, and CBS video mentioned below).

As reported by the AP (2007), "William Dever, professor emeritus at the University of Arizona and an expert on near eastern archaeology and anthropology, who has worked with Israeli archeologists for five decades, said specialists have known about the ossuaries for years." He stated, "The fact that it's been ignored tells you something."

In looking at the Discovery Channel's description of the documentary (, I found some interesting material.

The film mentions DNA extraction from human residue found in two of the boxes in the tomb. Specifically, this "evidence" discloses Jesus' relationship with Mary Magdalene.

According to the Discovery documentary, "By studying the ancient DNA in bone fragments and residues from ossuaries, scientists may be able to determine familial relationships between the various people buried in an ancient tomb. … In the case of the Talpiot tomb, researchers were able to extract usable tissue samples from only two of the ossuaries -- the ‘Mariamne’ and ‘Yeshua bar Joseph’ boxes. Those two samples were sent to the Paleo-DNA Laboratory at Lakehead University in Thunder Bay, Ontario, a facility that specializes in analyzing ancient remains. The lab was able to recover mitochondrial DNA from the samples and determined that the two individuals were not maternally related. According to the lab's Dr. Carney Matheson, because the two sets of remains were found in what is suspected to be a familial tomb, the two people ‘would most likely be husband and wife.’"

How presumptuous! How can they conclude that the two were indeed husband and wife? What if they were paternally related? Also, do they even have DNA for Jesus or Mary Magdalene? No.

The documentary points to the James ossuary matching the samples from the tomb according to patina evidence and then says that because the name is James, it increases the probability of the tomb being that of Jesus' family to 30,000-to-1.

Kloner says that the names were among the most common of the day. So, how does this prove anything? All it proves is that a man named James was in the family. That doesn't mean it is the James.

The documentary pulls statistics allegedly supporting a 600-to-1 probability. However, these "impressive" statistics are based ONLY on names. In fact, one of the names was thrown out due to not being mentioned in the Gospels. This is like saying that there were 2 families. Family A was Larry, Curly, and Moe while Family B was Bob, Larry, Curly, and Moe, and then concluding Family A is Family B since Bob was not well-known. What if a family existed that had the name Matia (the name thrown out - and a family likely did according to Kloner's argument of the common Jewish names)?

The documentary claims that it does not dispute the story of the resurrection. My question is this: Why would He resurrect only to die again? Also, the documentary says that if His physical remains have been found, it would not contradict the Ascension, saying a spiritual rather than physical could have occurred, and even adding that their view is "consistent with Christian theology." They could not be further from the TRUTH!!! Gnosticism was antithetical to Christianity and was deemed heretical. This amounts to nothing new, but rather is the same Gnosticism that existed centuries ago.

Even Time/CNN realizes that the Bible teaches bodily ascension (see,8599,1593893,00.html?cnn=yes). Regarding the documentary, Time/CNN puts forth the following: "But as its creators have revealed more and more of it over the last two days, key parts of it seem increasingly like debatable conjecture." New Testament expert Richard Bauckham of the University of St. Andrews (Scotland), like Kloner, concludes that the names with Biblical resonance are so common that even when you run the probabilities on the group, the odds of it being the famous Jesus' family are "very low" (Time/CNN).

Time/CNN also reports that Darrell Bock of Dallas Seminary asks why Jesus' family/followers would bury His bones and "then turn around and preach that he had been physically raised from the dead?"

Bock stated to those of the documentary: "I told them that there were too many assumptions being claimed as discoveries, and that they were trying to connect dots that didn't belong together" (Time/CNN).

CBS News shared a video report (, which pointed out that Jesus' family was poor and likely would not have been buried in such a tomb that would indicate wealth. The report also points out that there was a prior time Discovery tried to sell on a box of bones, and now the man at the center of that claim is facing charges of fraud. The CBS video says, "if the claims are true, and that is a massive if."

The documentary offers nothing new, but repeated Gnostic beliefs applied to something tangible that appears NOT to be the Lost Tomb of Jesus. The Gnostic claim about the spiritual as opposed to the physical Ascension is just as the age-old claim about Mary Magdalene. This is not a new argument, but was beaten like a dead horse with The DaVinci Code.

A resourceful site is (archived since no longer a live site). It quotes Dr. Bart D. Ehrman, Department Chair of Religious Studies, University of NC, Chapel Hill: "Not a single one of our ancient sources indicates that Jesus was married, let alone married to Mary Magdalene."

Much of the material for The DaVinci Code and, I would add, the documentary at hand comes out of Gnosticism. The Gnostics believed that matter was evil (The DaVinci Code: A Companion Guide to the Movie, p. 9). "The Gnostic gospels are dated about 110 to 300 years after Christ, and no credible scholar believes any of them could have been written by their namesakes" ("Mona Lisa's Smirk", Y-Jesus, Volume Two, p. 40). Regarding the Gnostic writings, the Gospel of Peter and the Acts of John, New Testament scholar Norman Geisler stated, "The Gnostic writings were not written by the apostles, but by men in the second century (and later) pretending to use apostolic authority to advance their own teachings. Today we call this fraud and forgery" ("Mona Lisa's Smirk", Y-Jesus, Volume Two, p. 40).

So, was Jesus married to Mary Magdalene? See (archived since no longer a live site).

I summarize key points on that site below:

WHY AM I EVEN WRITING THIS? IF Jesus would have actually died and stayed in the tomb, then the Christian movement would have been destroyed long ago. The church exists because of Pentecost, which occurred around the time when men like Peter and Paul (the latter of whom went from a persecuting murderer of Christians to a dramatically converted champion of the Gospel) were boldly preaching in the face of persecution. Why would Peter, who denied Jesus, turn to boldly preach? He had seen something, which changed his life. Did he see a Jesus who happened to survive the crucifixion who claimed resurrection? Of course not! First, it is well-documented from The Journal of the American Medical Association (, that Jesus died due to exhaustion asphyxia and hypovolemic shock (plus the spear through the rib into the heart). Roman crucifixion was an exacting execution. Why weren't Jesus' legs broken? The Romans broke the legs of the two thieves to speed up the asphyxiation as then the thieves could not push up on their legs to breathe. Jesus' legs weren't broken because He was already dead. The historian Josephus even supports the fact of Christ's death at the crucifixion. They could have produced a body or tomb (as they try now) to crush the Christian movement, but they never did! Today's move is only an elaborate deception moving us closer to the end times. If Jesus would have died and stayed in a tomb, then I wouldn't even be writing this as the ones who pointed me to Christ would not have nor would have their predecessors. See in countering some of the ridiculous arguments against the Cross and the Resurrection.

They did not find the lost tomb of Jesus. What they have found is what persons who deny Jesus have found throughout the ages: more being lost.

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