Just in time for Easter, the Discovery Channel released a made-for-TV documentary titled, “The Lost Tomb of Jesus.” Filmmakers claim that a tomb in the Talpiot neighborhood of Jerusalem is the final resting place of Jesus of Nazareth and his family. Not only does the documentary seek to undermine the deity of Christ, it attempts to substantiate the Magdalene Heresy made popular by Dan Brown’s book, The DaVinci Code.
The Talpiot tomb was originally discovered in 1980. It is a large tomb that contained ten ossuaries (an ossuary is a chest that holds skeletal remains). Archaeologists say there is nothing extraordinary about the tomb, but filmmakers believe they have made a discovery that will shake the very foundations of Christianity. They believe the tomb contained the remains of Jesus of Nazareth, as well as his mother Mary, his father Joseph, and other family members. They also speculate that one of the ossuaries found in the tomb is that of Mary Magdalene. According to the filmmakers, their “discovery” supports claims that Jesus and Mary Magdalene were married and may have had children.
A Fraud of Titanic Proportions
The writer, producer, and director of the Discovery Channel documentary is Simcha Jacobovici and its executive producer is James Cameron, the man who brought us the film Titanic. Jacobovici was the driving force behind the documentary, however he is not an archaeologist and his speculations leave many questions unanswered. In fact, most of the scholars who have reviewed his claims-even those who are not Christians-have raised objections to the validity of his assertions. Jacobovici lays out an impressive array of data, including the results of DNA-testing and statistical analysis. However, while Jacobovici does a good job of selling his speculations, he can’t actually prove any of them. Scientists and scholars around the world have been quick to point out the many holes in his theory.
When the Talpiot tomb was originally excavated more than 26 years ago, the ossuaries were taken to the Rockefeller Archaeological Museum outside the Old City of Jerusalem. Joe Zias, who was the curator for anthropology and archaeology at the museum from 1972 to 1997, personally numbered the Talpiot ossuaries. Zias has criticized the Discovery Channel saying, “Projects like these make a mockery of the archaeological profession.” He further stated that the show’s producers have “no credibility whatsoever” and that the documentary is a “hyped up film which is intellectually and scientifically dishonest.”
What’s in a Name?
Six of the ten ossuaries found in the tomb had inscriptions. Although in some cases, the “inscriptions” appear to be little more than crudely scratched names.
The names archaeologists found carved on ossuaries were: Jesus son of Joseph, Maria, Mariamene, Matthew, Judas son of Jesus, and Jose (a diminutive of Joseph). Producers of the documentary believe that Mariamene is in fact Mary Magdalene. However, there is no evidence directly connecting Mary Magdalene to the Mary in the tomb. Furthermore, scholars are quick to point out that these were all very common names. The name Mary is one of the most common of all ancient Jewish female names. During the first century, nearly 25 percent of women in Jerusalem were called Miriam or some derivative of that name. Even the name “Jesus” was a popular name in the first century; it has been discovered in at least 98 other tombs and on 21 other ossuaries. In fact, nearly all of the names found in the tomb are among the top ten most popular names of that era.
Ben Witherington, a professor at Asbury Theological Seminary, commented on the documentary saying, “Unfortunately, this is a story full of holes, conjectures and problems. It will make good TV and involves a bad critical reading of history. Basically, this is old news with a new interpretation. We have known about this tomb since it was discovered in 1980. There are all sorts of reasons to see this as much ado about nothing.”
Witherington also points out: “There is a major problem with the analysis of the names on these ossuaries. By this I mean one has to explain why one is in Hebrew, several are in Aramaic, but the supposed Mary Magdalene ossuary is in Greek...The earliest Jewish Christians in Jerusalem, including the members of Jesus’ family and Mary Magdalene, did not speak Greek. They spoke Aramaic. We have absolutely no historical evidence to suggest Mary Magdalene would have been called by a Greek name before a.d. 70. She grew up in a Jewish fishing village called Migdal, not a Greek city at all. It makes no sense that her ossuary would have a Greek inscription.”
The Gnostic Gospels
Much like The DaVinci Code author Dan Brown, the documentary’s producers relied heavily upon the Gnostic gospels to support their conjectures concerning Jesus and Mary Magdalene (in particular, the Gospel of Phillip).
Scholars widely agree that none of the Gnostic gospels contain historically reliable information about the life of Jesus and that all were likely written in the second century or later-in contrast to the contemporaneous eyewitness accounts in the New Testament.
The Gnostic gospels are not really “gospels” at all, they are fabrications written under false pseudonyms. In other words, the so-called Gospel of Philip was not written by Philip, nor was it even written during his lifetime. These documents emerged during the centuries following the ministries of the Apostles and were universally rejected by the early church.
The Gnostic gospels were only named after New Testament saints in order to make them seem legitimate, they include The Gospel of Judas, The Gospel of Thomas, The Gospel of Philip, The Gospel of Mary, The Gospel of Truth, and about four dozen others.
The Ossuary of James
In addition to his other claims, Jacobovici believes that the now-infamous ossuary of James is not only authentic, but that it may have come from the Talpiot tomb. The so-called ossuary of James has caused no small amount of controversy in the archaeological world. In 2003, the Israeli Antiquities Authority declared that the inscriptions on the James ossuary were modern forgeries. Furthermore, the collector who owned the ossuary has since been convicted of forging various other ancient artifacts.
Despite all of this, Jacobovici claims that the James ossuary belongs in what he calls the “Jesus family tomb.” However, according to Newsweek, the technique Jacobovici uses to “prove” the match between the James ossuary and the Talpiot tomb, a technology he calls “patina fingerprinting,” was essentially invented for the purposes of the film. Moreover, the crime lab that ran the tests has since issued a written denial, saying that filmmakers misrepresented their findings. The director of the crime lab claims that he never said the ossuaries were a match and that much more testing would be needed in order to draw any conclusions.
The Truth of the Matter
Amos Kloner is the archaeologist who oversaw the work at the tomb in 1980 and authored the official report on the dig. He says the burial cave is not extraordinary. “It’s a typical Jewish burial cave of a large size. The names on the ossuaries are very common names or derivatives of names. There is no likelihood that Jesus and his relatives had a family tomb. They were a Galilee family with no ties in Jerusalem. The Talpiot tomb belonged to a middle-class family from the first century CE.” Recently he told The Jerusalem Post that, “It makes a great story for a TV film. But it’s impossible. It’s nonsense.”
The conjectures presented in “The Lost Tomb of Jesus” are filled with holes. According Amos Kloner’s report, the tomb was disturbed and vandalized in ancient times. Some of the biggest questions that remain unanswered relate to this early break-in: who vandalized the cave, when did it happen, and why?
Also, why would Jesus’ family have a tomb near Jerusalem if they were from Nazareth? It is highly unlikely that Joseph, who died in Galilee before Jesus began his public ministry, was buried in Jerusalem (he would have almost certainly been buried in Nazareth or Bethlehem).
Likewise, the film cannot adequately explain why the name Matthew was found on one of the ossuaries. There is no historical evidence that anyone in Mary’s or Joseph’s family had that name. More importantly, there is no DNA evidence to suggest that the remains in the Talpiot tomb are those of the historical Jesus of Nazareth or any of his family members. There is also no historical evidence that Jesus was ever married or had a child. Nor can the filmmakers refute historical evidence of Jesus’ resurrection. Even the Roman centurions who were given the task of guarding the Jesus’ tomb acknowledged that it was empty. After which, Jesus appeared in the flesh before hundreds of witnesses.
The so-called “Lost Tomb of Jesus” is indeed a fraud of Titanic proportions, perpetrated by ratings-hungry Hollywood producers. The Discovery Channel documentary is based on assumptions rather than facts, and it completely disregards a wealth of undisputed historical data. Do not be deceived. Revelation 12:9 reveals that the enemy’s primary weapon is deceit. However our primary weapon is the word of God, and Hebrews 4:12 says “the word of God is quick, and powerful, and sharper than any two edged sword, piercing even to the dividing asunder of soul and spirit, and of the joints and marrow, and is a discerner of the thoughts and intents of the heart.”
What happened to the body of Jesus Christ is not an unsolved mystery. When the women came to his tomb to finish preparing his body for burial, they noticed that the stone had been rolled away from the door. When they entered the tomb they encountered a young man clothed in white who said to them, “Be not afraid: You seek Jesus of Nazareth, which was crucified: he is risen; he is not here: behold the place where they laid him” (Mk 16:6). Jesus Christ is risen and is seated at the right hand of the Father in heaven! This month, as we commemorate the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, please take some time to reflect on what it cost Him that we might live.