Refuting the New Controversial Theories About Jesus – Program 6

By: Dr. Craig Evans, Dr. Gary Habermas; ©2006
Is there evidence to suggest both Jesus and John the Baptist were messiahs? Are there, in fact two tombs for Jesus? Did Mary and other women rebury his body in a second tomb to bolster the resurrection theory?

Are there two Messiahs?


Today on The John Ankerberg Show, what about five controversial new books about Jesus that have been featured in specials on NBC, ABC, and the National Geographic Channel?

You know about The Da Vinci Code movie and book. We will include that in our discussion. But what about The Jesus Papers by Michael Baigent, and The Gospel of Judas? Is there new information about Judas that we didn’t know? Is Michael Baigent correct in asserting Jesus didn’t die on the cross; that it was the greatest cover up in history? What evidence does he present? Finally, what about the claims made in The Jesus Dynasty by James Tabor and Misquoting Jesus by Bart Ehrman?

To answer these questions and expose the historical errors in these books my guests are: Dr. Craig Evans, professor of New Testament at Acadia Divinity College in Nova Scotia. Dr. Evans was selected as a member of the National Geographic dream team of scholars and asked to examine The Gospel of Judas. He appeared in the two-hour National Geographic special, and also appeared in the NBC special regarding The Jesus Papers. My second guest is Dr. Gary Habermas, professor and chairman of the Department of Philosophy and Theology at Liberty University. He is acknowledged as one of the leading scholars in the world on the resurrection. We invite you to join us today to find out the truth about these new controversial books.


Ankerberg: Alright, we’re talking about The Gospel of Judas, we’re talking about The Da Vinci Code, we’re talking about The Jesus Dynasty, which is another special that’s coming up on television. And Craig Evans was one of the scholars that was chosen to be on the dream team for National Geographic in terms of examining The Gospel of Judas. He’s also appeared to The Jesus Papers on Dateline and so on.
And so, Craig, I want to start with you. There’s a couple of questions that are raised here in The Jesus Dynasty that are probably going to come forward as we go along through the summer, and that is this: Number 1, there were two Messiahs, he says, Jesus and John the Baptist, okay? And he uses the Bible to suggest that there’s evidence for this position, okay? And again, he sets it up with background from the Dead Sea Scrolls. I want you to comment on the Dead Sea Scrolls, and then bring it over into the scriptural realm. Do you think his thesis is correct?
Evans: In short, I don’t think his thesis is correct. But what Dr. Tabor is talking about is the expectation of an anointed priest who will serve the Lord faithfully, and standing right next to him, an anointed king. And that was an ideal held by some of the Old Testament writers, especially the prophets Zechariah and Haggai. I think that does lie behind Qumran’s expectation.
Now keep in mind, Qumran, the people we identify with the Essenes who gathered the scrolls and wrote many of them, they expect that in the end time God will raise up an anointed king of Israel, a Messiah of Israel, probably of the Davidic line, who will serve the Lord faithfully alongside an anointed high priest, which would probably arise from the Essene community. And that’s what they’re all about. They’re very priestly. So they very much emphasize this: two anointed persons who will rule over a restored and rejuvenated Israel.
Now, Dr. Tabor takes this template and applies it to Jesus and John. The problem I have with that is, the evidence for seeing John as this high priest, anointed high priest, I just don’t find the evidence for that in the New Testament or in any of the sources that Dr. Tabor brings forward. It’s an interesting hypothesis, but the evidence just won’t support it.
Ankerberg: Gary, what do you think?
Habermas: Well, I think Tabor’s, shot at finding this in the gospels and saying, “Well, it’s in the Q passage, and Luke 7, Matthew 11. This is the Q passage, and therefore…”
Ankerberg: What’s a Q passage?
Habermas: Q are the sayings of Jesus that are found in Matthew and Luke but are not in Mark. And scholars think that, along with the gospel of Mark, they are the two best of the canonical sources that we have.
Ankerberg: Yes. You’re assuming it’s another source that the guys used, and it was the teachings of Jesus in these just teaching verses, almost like …
Habermas: A sayings document, …
Ankerberg: Right.
Habermas: Q. Right. And so he goes and he says, “Hey, Jesus Himself acknowledges this, because doesn’t He say in that text, the Luke 7, Matthew 11, that John is the greatest man ever born of a woman?” [Matt. 11:11; Luke 7:28] Well, Tabor says, that includes Himself! So John’s greater than Him. Now, that’s not the normal understanding of that verse, but let’s just give him a shot, I mean, wow! That might be a new angle.
But if you look at the Q passage itself, first of all, two disciples come to Jesus. John’s in prison. And the two disciples of John ask Jesus the question, “Are you the Messiah, or should we look for another?” [Matt. 11:3] John is asking Jesus, “Are you the Messiah?” Now, he could say, “Well, John was one, Jesus is the other.” I don’t think that’s the implication of the question. It’s, “Are you the man? Are you the man, or are we still looking for another one?” That’s one thing to note: “Are you the Messiah?” Second, Jesus doesn’t say, “Go jump in the lake. Don’t doubt me.” He does miracles. It’s sort of like the Mark 2 passage, where He says, “To show you that I can forgive sin, I’ll heal.”
Ankerberg: “In order for you to know the son of man has authority on earth to forgive sins…” [Mark 2:10]
Habermas: Right.
Ankerberg: He told the man that couldn’t walk, “Get up and walk.” And what He was saying is, “When you see this happen, you’ll know that I did the other, forgave his sins.”
Habermas: That’s right. And once again, Jesus tells the two disciples, hey, go tell John what you see; about the lame and you know, deaf and the dead are raised.” [Matt. 11:4-5]
And then this little comment: “Blessed is he who is not offended because of me.” [Matt. 11:6] It’s like Jesus is almost encouraging John. He’s talking to the two disciples, but He says, “Hey, tell John to hang in there.” You know, it’s sort of, “Don’t be offended because of me.” That’s putting Jesus up on the pedestal, not John, because, again, we’re talking about what’s Jesus’ view here. “Are you the Messiah,” and Him saying, “Hey, tell John to hang in there,” with whom? With Me!
But thirdly, there’s that difficult passage, to be sure, but the question, “Who’s this Elijah that’s to come?” And Jesus says, “John. You’re looking at him. See?” [Matt. 11:14]
Now, remember what Tabor’s point is: Jesus’ view is that they’re at least equals; John may be higher, looks like he’s higher. Wait a minute! John’s asking if Jesus is the Messiah, Jesus said, “Don’t be offended because of Me,” and most of all, Jesus’ view seems to be that John is the Elijah, He’s the Messiah. He, plainly, from the same text that Tabor uses, plainly has John in a subordinate position to Himself.
Ankerberg: Excellent. Craig, there’s something I think is going to come up and you’re the expert that can deal with this, okay? There are burial boxes, there are two that are mentioned at least in James Tabor’s book, and it will probably come up in this special. And as of this time, we just got the books, I mean, we have read them in the last two days, alright, so we’ve got that going against us. But number two, we haven’t seen the special that they’re making on his book. But my guess is that this is going to be mentioned, or somebody’s going to hype it.
And because of your expertise in both the archaeological area as well as ancient manuscripts and so on, let me ask you about two things. There’s a burial box that’s inscribed “James, the brother of Jesus” that he thinks he’s got. You’ve got another ossuary, another bone box, that’s got supposedly, “Jesus, son of Joseph,” okay. Well, obviously, if you’ve got the Jesus of the Bible, son of Joseph, in a bone box, Christianity collapses, okay? Now, there’s all kinds of problems with this hypothesis. Share some of those as you see it.
Evans: Well, as you know, I’ve done some research over the years in this whole area of Jewish burial traditions, and a few years ago published a book called Jesus and the Ossuaries. And I do deal with some of, well, most of these very bone boxes with those inscriptions that you’ve just mentioned.
One of the things I’ve learned along the way is, out of the 1000 or so ossuaries that we have cataloged, only about 240 of them have inscriptions. Now when you take into account how many hundreds of thousands of Jewish people lived in the first century, we have the tiniest fraction represented in these ossuaries.
Then when you take into account how many men were named Jacob, or James as we bring it into English sometimes, and named Yeshua or Jesus, and how many are named Joseph, I think you get the point. We have a tiny sampling of this huge population over this period of time. How do we know that the ossuaries that we do have, you know, match certain persons in the New Testament? I don’t even… you know, everyone’s heard of the Caiaphas ossuary. After doing careful research on the way that inscription is made and vocalized the way it should be pronounced, I have serious doubts that that really is the ossuary of the High Priest Caiaphas. I’d like it be, that would be fun.
And even apart from all the controversy about the James bone box and, you know, did the owner tamper with the inscription, is it perhaps a hoax, or whatever, even apart from all that, if we were to accept the inscription as it stands, “James, son of Joseph brother of Jesus,” we have not settled the question of identity. It still could be referring to some other family.
So that’s my point. I’m not going to develop an hypothesis about who Jesus really was. I’m not going to create a Jesus dynasty out of some bone boxes with some names that happen to be very common names in this period of time. That’s very, very thin ice, and I’m not going to skate on it.
Ankerberg: Yes, a statistical count shows that Joseph is, what, the second most used name?
Evans: Exactly, and that’s the problem. And so, I appreciate the fact that Dr. Tabor talks about the archaeological evidence. He is certainly better informed about such things than people like Dan Brown or Michael Baigent. So there’s a lot of useful interesting material in his book. I just have a problem with the way he connects the dots. And I think he’s creating a picture that, ultimately, the evidence cannot sustain.
Ankerberg: Gary, let’s switch hats. One of the theories in his book is that there were two tombs of Jesus, alright? And on top of that he simply said, the fact is, when Jesus actually passed off the scene, well, you can tell the theory there, but come back to the fact that the ones that kept the movement going were Mary the mother of Jesus, and the brother, James. Now, under his hypothesis, Jesus is dead. What did they have to keep it going? But talk about the two tombs and then how they kept it going.
Habermas: Well, two tombs for Jesus: Jesus is buried in a tomb which is empty. The reason it’s empty is because Mary and several other women take the body and rebury it, not when there’s nothing left but bones, but before that. And so, the person who’s responsible for the moving, Mary, is the person responsible for, along with her son, James, the ones firing up the troops. So Mary knows He’s not raised from the dead. They have this early message that’s different. I think that’s one of those single most problematic things in the whole Tabor book, is that we have a movement started, we have a non-resurrection movement, when,… I mean, go back to Bultmann or farther. What’s the New Testament? It’s a resurrection book.
Now, he’s got another sense of two tombs here, too. And I’ll say there are, he mentions six or eight tombs, ossuaries with the name Jesus on it. So, very, very common.
Secondly, two ossuaries with “Jesus son of Joseph.” So, common names, you know, to so say it’s this Jesus… and by the way, even Tabor admits no matter what research we do, we can say “authentic ossuary,” but we could never say “same Jesus.” That’s the same point Craig made about “same James”.
But the other sense of two tombs, he’ll talk about this Talpiot family tomb outside Jerusalem. But he also, in a picture in the book, is standing on a hill, or kind of bent down on a hill in Galilee. And he says, “This is the hill identified by a 16th century Jewish mystic as the place where Jesus is buried.” He says, “I know what you’re thinking: this is really, really late. But this could be it.”
I’m thinking, oh my. Now we’re kind of venturing from the factual side back into this kind of fantasy world where people can have visions of some sort in the 16th century, 1500s, and say, “I think he’s on that hill.” And I just think he would have been doing himself a favor if he kept the photograph and those little comments out of the book. But unfortunately, it reveals a little bit about the thinking processes here, and I think there’s a little bit too much of guesswork.
Ankerberg: Alright, we’re going to take a break. When we come back we’re going to talk about one more of these books, and that is Bart Ehrman’s book. And he attacks holding the traditional view of the Bible from a textual critic point of view, critical point of view. And then I want to hit that briefly, and then I want to summarize what you think about these five different books, alright? And we’ll do that when we come right back.

Ankerberg: Alright, we’re back and we want to have a summation on some of these key books that are being sold across our country, and television specials are being made, and they kind of flow into The Da Vinci Code movie, so it’s kind of all one big hodgepodge. But here’s a best-selling book that continues to climb by Bart Ehrman. And what strikes you? You know Bart, you’ve read the book, what bothers you about this book?
Evans: Ultimately, it’s much ado about nothing. And I find it tragic. If Bart Ehrman has lost his Christian faith because of scribal errors in New Testament manuscripts, I think that is very sad.
And I’m very suspicious of that explanation also. He knew this stuff when he was a student at Moody Bible Institute. He knew this stuff at Wheaton. He knew it at Princeton. Everybody who goes to seminary, every pastor who has been trained, they know about that. Big deal: handwritten manuscripts, they are not important.
Christian faith rests upon what God has done in Christ, particularly centered on the resurrection. Christian faith doesn’t rest upon perfectly preserved manuscripts. It does not now, never has. That book is getting attention it shouldn’t get, and I would hope that it doesn’t harm anyone’s faith or discourage anyone from pursuing the meaning of the Christian gospel.
Ankerberg: Yes. In textual criticism, like you said before, the fact is, when we have a text with all the manuscripts that we’ve got, we can compare those and come back to a 99.9% perfect text, okay?
Evans: Sure.
Ankerberg: And then there are some things that have been included in the Bible that, if you go back to the earliest documents, they’re not there. And if you take out all of those, it won’t bother anything that we have in doctrine.
Evans: You don’t lose anything important.
Ankerberg: Not a thing. And Bruce Metzger told him this at Princeton.
Evans: He knows that. Bart knows this.
Ankerberg: Yes. So, we don’t want people to get sidetracked on that. Alright, you were one of the key scholars in the world that was picked up to examine The Gospel of Judas. You’ve appeared in the television specials, National Geographic. What do you want people to walk away with in terms of this book?
Evans: I want people to know that, yes, the codex is genuine, the codex, the ancient book, in which The Gospel of Judas was found. Yes, The Gospel of Judas existed in the second century in Greek and is talked about by Irenaeus, the church father, writing in the year 180. But that’s all it is, a second century gospel. There are several others also. It has no claim to the true story of Jesus and Judas and the other disciples at the beginning of the first century. Nobody needs to lose any sleep over that book.
Ankerberg: This is a fictional account versus the historical accounts you’ve got in the gospels.
Evans: Sure.
Ankerberg: Alright, now the fact is, in these other books, well, let’s just talk about Da Vinci for a moment. What strikes you, what bothers you with all the hype that’s going on with Da Vinci, Gary?
Habermas: I think what bothers me about a lot of these things is, you know, so often it’s the believers, it’s the conservatives who are the ones, so called, who hide facts, always jump on one side. That’s the point of Misquoting Jesus is that, you know, we don’t tell people this. And, by the way, I’ll just add, every Bible college student, or almost one who studies Greek, reads from a New Testament with the critical apparatus at the bottom, with all the major variant readings. They don’t even hide that from people in Bible colleges. Anyway, we’re supposed to be the ones who, you know, we’re the keepers of the facts and all this stuff.
Here’s the problem. All these extraneous accounts and all these second century and later accounts, don’t have the data. In my opinion, it’s a theory in wont of data. And I’m going to make a prediction. I think more of these things are going to come out. I think there’s more people who are going to claim, “Oh, I’ve got data and it might just be first century.” I think we’ll see more of it, because to have a politically correct Jesus, you have to have data. And they’re not immune to this. They know they don’t have the earliest data. They just don’t. The stuff with Paul, and the Galatia, and you know, back to 30 AD.
Alright, they don’t, so what do you have to do? You either have to broaden the line, as Craig said, and take it in the second century and say, “Oh, these are the same as these,” which they’re not; or you have to kind of blur these things.
I think my single gripe is the fact that if early authoritative data marks the heart of historiography, first century canonical Christianity has it, and the later Gnostic movement does not have it. That must bother people, but it’s not our fault if we’re taking the first century documents, and that’s what they say. So, I guess, in summary, if we stuck to the data, you’ve got orthodoxy. I think that’s the short of it.
Ankerberg: Alright, here’s two more: The Jesus Dynasty, and The Jesus Papers. There’s one thing we haven’t brought up and that has to do with the historical account that is presented in the New Testament gospels about Pilate. They both would say the New Testament writers got it wrong; that’s a crazy view of Pilate. Yet, we don’t think so. Give me some evidence why you think that the account in the New Testament about Pilate and how he conducted the trial, and how he related to Jesus, and how the writers talked about this, why it’s an accurate account.
Evans: I think the gospels’ portrait of Pontius Pilate is accurate. And I know it’s quite fashionable today to say, “Oh, no, what we have here is early Christian apologetic, trying to make Pilate more sympathetic than he really was.” But that is not a realistic reading of the gospels’ account. And it’s not a realistic reading, either, of Josephus who says a lot about Pontius Pilate. Both Josephus and Philo, who wrote in the first century, talk about Pilate as being really a bad guy. And scholars uncritically accept these very biased accounts from these two Jewish writers who have an axe to grind, and they use Pilate as a scapegoat.
Pilate was governor for at least 11 years, and depending on when he became governor – and there’s some chronological dispute – he may have been governor for 16 or 17 years, the longest serving governor in that difficult part of the Roman Empire. You don’t serve that long because you’re bloodthirsty and you kill people all the time. Some popular writers have made that claim: “Oh, Pilate…” as I think John Dominic Crossan said, “there was only one way to administer as far as far as Pilate was concerned, and that was slaughter.” No, no, no, no.
Pilate, I think was a typical politician. He was crafty. He kept himself in office. He did not appoint one single High Priest. All the other ones did, not Pilate. And that’s because he let the Jewish authorities conduct their own business. And so when he came to Jerusalem for that Passover celebration, he had a problem on his hands, a popular teacher has been seized by the ruling authorities, the Jewish ruling authorities, and they want Him dead.
And Pilate is thinking, “Do I want to kill this guy on the eve of Passover and possibly spark unrest? Start a riot? I don’t know. Just because Jesus has insulted them in the Temple precincts? I’m not really sure I want to do this.” The gospels play on that, and they point out to readers around the Roman Empire, “You see, this is what’s going on, this dynamic.” It wasn’t real obvious to Pilate that Jesus was a threat. That’s what the gospels are doing. I think that’s realistic. Pilate, in the end, decides to put Jesus to death.
Ankerberg: Yes. He couldn’t have been a good guy if he said, “You’re innocent, we’ll kill you anyway.”
Evans: But Michael Baigent’s theory, that Pilate was in cahoots with Joseph of Arimathea and some of these other people and wanted to help fake Jesus’ death, that is absolutely absurd.
Ankerberg: Yes, because if Josephus, if they’re going to use Josephus on one hand, I mean, Josephus talks about how the Roman Emperor disciplined Pilate and, boy, the fourth time, Pilate didn’t come back, okay? Now, he went up there and the Emperor died, but he never came back to the Palestinian area.
So the fact is that he was knowledgeable about the fact that you can’t offend the Emperor; you can’t offend the Jews so they go behind my back and over my head over to the Emperor. You’ve got these accounts from non-Christian sources. So this tension between Pilate and the Jewish High Priest and what was happening in that courtyard, seems like it’s accurately portrayed in the gospel accounts.
Evans: I think so. And keep in mind, this is Passover. What is Passover in the Jewish calendar? It’s celebrating God’s deliverance of His people from Egyptian bondage. So here we have a Roman governor. And people make analogies: we’re suffering under, now, Roman bondage. The last thing the governor wants to do on the eve of the highest and most holy holiday is put to death a popular preacher who has come down for the celebration of Passover. He doesn’t want to do that. He’s on the horns of a dilemma. And so I think the gospel portrait is very accurate at that point.
Ankerberg: One last thing, and that if you take any of these books, and if you believe them, the fact is, you’ve lost the gospel message, okay? What is the good news that you just dropped if you believe any of these things?
Habermas: The good news you drop is the earliest presentation from 30 AD to 100 AD and especially back to the 30s, what the Christians called the gospel in the New Testament where the definition is given: you’ve got the deity of Christ, death, resurrection. You can trace it back to 30 AD. This might sound strange to a lot of people, but conservatives take a stand on the data we have. We can’t dismiss data because of non-data.
Ankerberg: Guys, you are terrific. I really appreciate you being here. And folks, what you need to recognize is that we have gotten these books that we’re talking about in the last four or five days, some of them just two days, and so we haven’t had a chance to really digest all of this stuff, and we’re doing this program kind of just off the cuff. I’ll probably have you back when we look at this and see how it’s all going to come out here as we go through the months ahead, and the questions that surface.
But what we can tell you is, you do not have to be afraid of the case for Christianity that’s made in the New Testament gospels, and the New Testament books. It’s solid information. You don’t have to believe that your faith is going down the tubes here because of these new assertions made by some scholars. So, I hope that this is encouraging to you. And guys, I appreciate you breaking your neck to be here on this program and to share this information with our folks.

Leave a Comment