Response to the Lost Tomb of Jesus/Program 1

By: Dr. Darrell Bock; ©2007
If it could be proved beyond doubt that Jesus never raised from the dead – that his bones are still buried in some tomb somewhere – what would that mean for Christianity?


On Sunday, March 4, 2007, a television special entitled The Lost Tomb of Jesus aired nationwide on the Discovery Channel. Those who produced the special argued that ten small bone boxes, called ossuaries, that were discovered in 1980 in the Jerusalem suburb of Talpiot supposedly held the remains of Jesus of Nazareth and his family members. This assumption was based on the six names found in the tomb, including: Jesus, son of Joseph, who supposedly refers to Jesus of Nazareth; Maria, supposedly Jesus’ mother Mary; Matya, or Matthew, although not a family member of Jesus, supposedly a relative of Mary; Mariamne e Mara which supposedly refers to Mary Magdalene who supposedly was married to Jesus; Yehuda or Judas, son of Jesus, who, although not mentioned in the New Testament, is supposedly the son of Jesus and Mary Magdalene; and Yose who supposedly refers to one of Jesus’ brothers, Joses.

The assertion that the odds are 600 to one that the Talpiot tomb is the tomb of Jesus rests on the assumptions that the people named in this tomb are the family members of Jesus. But scholars say there is a problem with attributing any of these names to Jesus’ family. First, the name Jesus is far from certain. Some scholars think it is a totally different name. If the first name is not Yeshua or Jesus, then this whole new radical theory collapses. Second, there is no indication that the Mary mentioned is Jesus’ mother. Third, Matthew is not part of Jesus family. Fourth, there is no evidence that Mariamene e Mara refers to Mary Magdalene. Fifth, there is no mention in the New Testament that Jesus was married to Mary Magdalene or anyone else. Six, there’s no mention in the New Testament that Jesus had a son. Seventh, if you were Jesus of Nazareth, would you really name your son Judas? Eighth, Yose should be vocalized Josah, who then could not be Jesus’ brother mentioned in Mark 6:3, and Mark 15:40. Ninth, the so-called James ossuary, which was assumed to have come from the Talpiot tomb, was photographed and in circulation in the 1970s, before the Talpiot tomb was ever discovered.

But there is even more evidence that shows the Talpiot tomb is not the real tomb of Jesus of Nazareth. To share that evidence with us, our guest today is Dr. Darrell Bock, Research Professor of New Testament Studies at Dallas Theological Seminary. He is one of the leading New Testament scholars in the world and was asked by Ted Koppel to be one of the guest scholars to critique the Discovery Channel special after it aired. We invite you to join us today on the John Ankerberg Show and learn why the family tomb of Jesus is a story full of major holes, false assumptions and false facts.

Dr. John Ankerberg: Welcome to our program. Today we are going to talk about the Discovery Channel’s Lost Tomb of Jesus special that aired just a short time ago. And it’s a real privilege to have Dr. Darrell Bock, Research Professor of New Testament at Dallas Theological Seminary with us. He is known around the world, trusted, looked to. In fact, Ted Koppel asked him to come and appear on the program with him on the Discovery Channel after the special on The Lost Tomb of Jesus aired, to critique it historically. And so, Darrell, we are really glad that you are here.
The researchers that put the special together on the lost tomb of Jesus, they argued that ten small bone boxes, called ossuaries, that were discovered in 1980 in the Jerusalem suburb called Talpiot, supposedly held the bones, the remains, of Jesus of Nazareth and His family. And this is important because this is a blow to Christianity, the historic faith that has been held by Christians for 2000 years. Talk about the importance of the resurrection. If Jesus’ bones were found in a grave, what does that mean to Christianity?
Bock: Well, in short form it means that the message that the church preached was a complete fabrication and lie. And the idea that there is a bodily resurrection after death goes under, because Jesus’ bones are still there. And they had no concept of a spiritual resurrection where just part of you went up and was recreated by God. Resurrection as preached was always the idea that the entire person was renewed by God and was made eternal.
Ankerberg: Yeah, the Apostle Paul actually said you could walk away from Christianity if you don’t have a physical bodily resurrection of Jesus Christ from the grave. In fact he said in 1 Corinthians 15 if Christ has not been raised your faith is worthless. You are still in your sins. And those who die as Christians, that is, those who fall asleep in Christ are lost and further, “if only in this life we hope in Christ we are to be pitied more than all men.” [1 Cor. 15:14-19]
Bock: That’s correct. And so this is a central claim that is associated with this find. If Jesus’ bones were around after three days then that message has been nullified.
Ankerberg: We are going to come back to that, but let’s move on. What is the basis for them saying that this tomb is Jesus’ family tomb? The reason they say it is because it’s the people named in this bomb, there were ten ossuaries that were catalogued and six of them had inscriptions on it. And they say that the names in this tomb are all family members of Jesus. They are mentioned in the New Testament. And the names were: Jesus son of Joseph, Maria, Matthew, Mariamene e Mara, Judas son of Jesus, and Joseph. Now, let’s start with the fact that all of the scholars seem to have a question about every one of those names; and let’s go through the list. Let’s start with Jesus Himself. Obviously, if this is not Jesus of Nazareth’s’ tomb, than everything else falls to the ground. Talk about what Rahmani put into his catalog and where Kloner talked about the name Yeshua son of Joseph and then what he had after in his catalog.
Bock: Well Rahmani had a question mark about Yeshua, because the inscription involved in this particular tomb is extremely sloppy. In fact, even the special called it graffiti-like. Unlike most inscriptions on tombs, the letters run into one another as opposed to being distinct. So this immediately raises the question. If this were the ossuary of Jesus who had been presupposed to be the possible Messiah of Israel, and you were creating a bone box, an ossuary, to lay Him in after a year, after His body decomposed – because the process here was you died, you had an initial burial and then the body decomposes and you are left with the bones after about a year, and this is called the second burial. The second burial involved placement in an ossuary. And as a result, you had a year to prepare this bone box; you are going to place these precious bones into this bone box and you scratch the name Jesus on the side? Very, very unlikely.
Ankerberg: Let’s talk about some of the experts that were used in the special and what they said about Jesus. First Stephen Phann, president of the University of the Holy Land, was used as an expert and appeared in the Discovery Channel special. But what we did not hear on the special was what he said about the name of Jesus and the main thesis. Stephen Phann said that he couldn’t confirm the name Jesus. In fact, he said it may read Hanun. Then he said that he totally rejects the movie’s main thesis; that is, that this is Jesus’ family tomb. And he has particularly withering criticism of the statistics and how they were gathered. That’s Stephen Phann. You met with him and had lunch with him just a few days ago in Israel. Tell me how the conversation went.
Bock: Well, he basically confirmed what you’ve said. That he thinks this is not certain that the name is Yeshua and that it could be a variation. Rahmani in his catalog put a question mark by the first two letters in this inscription, because they do in fact run together. And we could look at this and actually compare the inscription. We could compare it to another inscription of a famous person, Caiaphas. And I think you would see the difference very, very clearly.
Ankerberg: In fact, Darrell, let’s do that right now. Show us in terms of what you are talking about.
Darrell: Well, if you look at the screen here you are going to see two inscriptions. And to the right side is Caiaphas, right here. And you will notice how each letter is distinct. In fact, the graphic has the Hebrew letters written underneath it. And then if you come over here to the Jesus inscription, which is from Rahmani’s catalog done in 1994, you will see this mark here at the start which looks like a cross. It actually is nothing but an alignment marker for the lid. And then you come across and you will see how these letters run into one another in a very sloppy manner. It’s slanted as opposed to being straight. And so the description of this inscription as graffiti-like is actually very accurate. In fact, it’s the sloppiest inscription that one can have. You can look at some of these other inscriptions on this page which also come from this tomb and they are much, much clearer.
Ankerberg: Alright, Tal Ilan looked at that and what did she say? And she was also one of the experts used in the special.
Bock: Well, she expressed great doubt that this would be a revered figure like Jesus. This was also my immediate reaction when I saw the inscription the first time. Because again this is an honored figure; and even though this ossuary is fairly plain, you would think that the inscription would be fairly clear.
Ankerberg: Yeah, let’s be clear of what the people in the Discovery Channel special are saying. They are saying, look Jesus’ bones were taken over here; His name was scribbled on the deal and the fact is then they went out and they preached that He physically rose from the dead.
Bock: Yes, in fact let me back it up a little bit and take you through the entire sequence of what has to take place. Whenever I get a theory like this the first question I ask is, what does that culturally require in order to be in place? So let’s assume for the sake of discussion that this is true and then play it out. Well, first of all they have to be able to procure a tomb. This family is from Galilee, they have come down to celebrate Passover and the Feast of Unleavened Bread. They are planning to go back. So when Jesus ends up being arrested and crucified that’s a surprise. They don’t have a tomb; they’ve got to procure a tomb. They’ve got to procure a tomb for a controversial figure. They’ve got to do that secretly somehow, and they have got to have the money to do it, they’ve got to have the means to do it because these tombs are not cheap. So they try and do that.
Now they have got to get the body somehow. After they get the body, they’ve got to again by stealth get the body into this tomb, they have got to wait for a year, allow it to decompose. You have got your ossuary sitting there waiting for Jesus to be put in it, you graffiti-like scratch it on the thing. You take these honored set of bones, put them in the ossuary, cover up the lid, walk out of the tomb and immediately go into the town square and preach Jesus as raised from the dead leaving no remains behind, knowing that that body is sitting there. It is just not credible.
Ankerberg: Alright let’s take the second name. Maria, supposedly Jesus’ mother Mary. What do you make of that?
Bock: Not much, it’s a Talpiot Mary. We’ve got a Talpiot Jesus, we’ve got a Talpiot Mary. We don’t know anything else about who this figure would be.
Ankerberg: Yeah, and let’s talk about the number of names. Out of the thousand tombs that were registered, eight of those would be Joseph, six would be Jesus, four would be Matthew, two would be Judas. But in Mary’s case it would be 16,000 over the period of time if you catalog from 1 to 1000 AD.
Bock: Well, if you look at it this way: Jerusalem has a population of somewhere around 80,000, some people would say a little less, some people would say a little more. You would have 16,000 Marys walking around because one out of every five women in town is going to be a Mary. My joke is that when Israeli boys were growing up they would dream of marrying a Mary. Because almost for sure if they were going marry a woman the chances are excellent it’s going to be a Mary.
Ankerberg: Alright, and there is no evidence to say that this is Mary, Jesus’ mother.
Bock: No, because there are so many Marys around. Now the claim of the special, and we will look at this, is that it’s the cluster of names that is important, it’s not the individual names. They want to put them together and say it’s unusual to get this cluster of names in one tomb. And in one sense that’s true; you know, we do have 1000 names, out of 2600 plus ossuaries that have been found, we do have right around 1000 names, and this is the first cluster that has had this combination of names. So it is a little bit unusual. But at the same time you have got to also go one at a time in order to make sense out of it all.
Ankerberg: Alright, we are going to take a break and when we come back we are going to talk about two more; namely Judas the son of Jesus, as well as Matthew. The New Testament does not know either one of these two, but we have got them as part of the family. So we’ll talk about that when we come right back.

Ankerberg: Alright, we are back and we are talking with Dr. Darrell Bock, Professor at Dallas Theological Seminary. And he was one of the guests that Ted Koppel had to critique The Lost Tomb of Jesus, the Discovery Channel special. And, Darrell, we’ve got the fact that they are saying that there are six names, a cluster of names that are all known in the New Testament, part of Jesus family; and so therefore this is an outstanding example and it is 600 to 1 this must in fact Jesus’ tomb, His family tomb. The problem is that you have got three names that shouldn’t be in there. One of them is Matthew, let’s talk about that first.
Bock: Well, that’s real quick. There is no record of anyone named Matthew in Jesus’ family. The special claims, well, this is Jesus’ special disciple who wrote the first Gospel. But you can’t have this both ways. If Matthew is in there you don’t have a family tomb. Or is you do have a family tomb, you have got other people creeping into the figuring, and that just complicates everything in terms of the math. But he doesn’t belong there if it is a family tomb. And so that’s an ossuary that is there that shouldn’t be.
Ankerberg: Yeah, second one would be Judas, son of Jesus.
Bock: Well, this assumes that Jesus is married and that He had children. And there is no evidence for this not only in the New Testament but outside the New Testament. We went through this in great detail during The Da Vinci Code discussion when Dan Brown claimed that Jesus had a daughter in France, okay. Now we have got Jesus having a son in Israel, and we have got them in two different locations. And so I guess Jesus actually is omnipresent.
Ankerberg: So that’s a nonstarter. And then the third one, you’ve got Mariamene e Mara. And they are saying that that actually is a reference to Mary Magdalene; and therefore, we have got some evidence that Jesus and Mary were married.
Bock: Yes, and the way they do that is to do a DNA test and to suggest that the person that was in the Mariamene of Talpiot box and Jesus of Talpiot box they don’t biologically match, their DNA doesn’t match, so they must be married. But that’s crazy. All that shows is that they are not biologically related. And if you tested me for who I wasn’t related to in Dallas what you would expect is a non match. And you don’t know from the non-match if she is related to another male in the tomb. So there are just a lot of problems with that suggestion as well.
Ankerberg: What about the idea that Mariamene is referred to in some of the Gnostic gospels, Acts of Philip, and so on.
Bock: Well, this is a suggestion from Francois Bovon, Professor at Harvard, who’s an expert in these texts, who’s made the suggestion – that actually is debated – which Mary we are talking about in the Acts of Philip, that’s the first thing to say. And then the second thing to say is that Francois Bovon, after he saw the show, came out and made a statement saying, “Yes, I’ve suggested that in the Acts of Philip this identification exists, but I don’t buy this theory at all.”
Ankerberg: Right, he said it’s actually science fiction that Jesus and Mary would be married.
Bock: Exactly right.
Ankerberg: Alright, let’s take another one that they are trying to sneak in, and that is the fact of James, the brother of Jesus. What’s wrong with that?
Bock: Well, the problem is that the boxes come from different dates. The James box was said to be out there in 1976. This find is in 1980. The dimensions aren’t right, they are off by several centimeter. Amos Kloner, who oversaw the original dig at Talpiot, personally spoke to me in his living room when I was in Israel and said, “You might get a little bit of a deviation on measurements but you won’t get a deviation as large as the difference between these two boxes. The third thing is the box found at Talpiot was plain, whereas the James’ ossuary has an inscription on it. So it doesn’t match at all. So you can’t pull the James box in at all. The number ten ossuary that is supposedly this stealth magic, disappearing, conspiratorial ossuary, is actually a plain ossuary that was set aside because it didn’t have anything of evidentiary value to give to anybody, because there was nothing on it.
Ankerberg: So we have six names, seven with James, and they are all in doubt. Or there are three that shouldn’t even be there, period. What does this tell you?
Bock: Well, what this does is it invalidates all of the statistics. Because the statistics assume in most cases all the names or at least most of the names. I believe the Discovery Channel ran one set of statistics where they didn’t put in some of the more questionable names. And one site that ran these names and put in all of the variables that we have discussed said that the odds ran from one to 18, which is the most favorable. That is, out of 18 tombs only one has a chance of being Jesus; all the way up to one to five million. That was the range depending on how you set these various parameters that we have been talking about.
Ankerberg: You’ve appeared with Ted Koppel on Discovery. You’ve been with ABC, NBC, CBS, CNN at one time or another. Your picture is all over the tube when these Jesus new radical theories come out. And you give the historical evidence that shows the Christian faith is what the Christian faith has always said that it is. Now, tell me how, this is behind the scenes, tell me how the experts were used in the special.
Bock: Well, the interesting thing about this special is that it’s managed to do something that most finds rarely do, and that is to bring liberal, conservative Christians and Israeli archaeologists all into one camp. Usually there is huge debate. They all agree virtually without exception that this has little chance of being Jesus’ family tomb. And even the experts that they used on the show since then have come out and commented that this is not the case. Frank Moore Cross, who identified the inscriptions for them, made a statement that he doesn’t buy this theory at all. William Dever revealed it on the Koppel show. Stephen Phann, who we’ve talked about, when I interviewed him said that he doesn’t buy it either. Tal Ilan who helped do the names, she not only said that she doesn’t believe it, but she felt like a hostile witness for a murder in doing this show. She felt so set up by the way they went about interviewing her. Francois Bovon, who we have already mentioned, said that he doesn’t buy the way they’ve used the connection out of the Acts of Philip. So every expert who they interviewed for a point of fact in the special has denied the hypothesis. Beyond that Amos Kloner who oversaw the original excavation said about the special, “There was a major inaccuracy about every five minutes in this special.”
Ankerberg: What’s happening is that the special didn’t get peer review; goes to the public and boom, you have this big splash. You sell a lot of books. What are we going to do in the future? Because a lot of people don’t know the historical background, they don’t know the ins and outs of what we are talking about. What is your advice?
Bock: Well, this is happening now pretty regularly and I think my basic advice is that whenever you hear these announcements, take three deep breaths, have a coffee or tea or whatever it is you like to drink, and then let the vetting take place in public that is going to take place. That’s usually going to take a few weeks to sort itself out as there is this flurry of activity about, is this true, could it possible be? That kind of stuff. And then the dust will settle and you will really be in a much better place to access what the claim is.
Ankerberg: You grew up in a Jewish home. You were not a believer until you were what, in college?
Bock: In college.
Ankerberg: Why did you put your faith in Jesus Christ?
Bock: Because I became convinced that He really did rise from the dead and that there was a message here that was unique for people. It was a message about reconciling a wayward person to the living God, something that God takes the initiative to do and something that God accomplishes in such a way that it can be guaranteed. And that’s why the resurrection is so important. The resurrection is important and the totality of the resurrection is important because what we are talking about is a living Jesus who still impacts people and still impacts history.
Ankerberg: Alright. Next week we are going to come back to this topic. And we are going to talk about the historical case for the resurrection, and the facts that have not been disproved by the skeptics. And we are going to talk about the DNA evidence that was gathered at the Talpiot tomb. A little bit more about that, what it means. And the statistics, how they were gathered, how they were used. So I hope that you will join us.

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