Response to the Lost Tomb of Jesus/Program 2

By: Dr. Darrell Bock; ©2007
What evidence causes problems for those who claim this is Jesus’ family tomb?



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.

Ankerberg: Welcome to our program. We are talking about The Lost Tomb of Jesus that was a Discovery Channel special. And it postulated a radical theory, namely that they have found the bones of Jesus of Nazareth in a family tomb in the suburb of Jerusalem, in Talpiot. And here to discuss the assumptions for this radical theory is Dr. Darrell Bock, who is a leading scholar across the world, acknowledged by Christians and non-Christians. In fact, he was asked by Ted Koppel to appear after the Discovery Channel aired their special, in a show that critiqued the historical accuracy of the assumptions that were in the special. Darrell, we are glad that you are here.
We want to come back to the statistics. The basis for them saying this was Jesus family tomb was the fact that they found six names, James would be seven, that they claim are mentioned in the New Testament and they all refer to Jesus family. But, let’s talk about the names, who they were, first of all. You have Jesus son of Joseph. You’ve got Maria, Matthew, Mariamene e Mara, Judas son of Jesus, and Joseph, who are all found in this tomb. And let’s start with a little bit of what we said last week of why these names do not constitute what the folks in this special were claiming.
Bock: Well, several of the names either don’t have any evidence for being a part of Jesus’ family, either from the New Testament or outside of it, or there are questions about the associations that have been made. There are four that are basically non-starters. You’ve got your James ossuary; ossuary number ten which was a plain ossuary found in the tomb, but obviously the James ossuary has an inscription on it. So either…
Ankerberg: And it’s also decorated.
Bock: That’s right. So if the James ossuary is not authentic, if the actual inscription isn’t authentic, then it doesn’t count. And if it is authentic it doesn’t count.
Ankerberg: And you had just lunch with Professor Kloner who was the original archaeologist on this, and he said the dimensions don’t match.
Bock: That’s right. We were in his living room, actually, one evening and he actually showed me his original notes and everything. So that name is a non-starter. Mathew is a non-starter, not a member of the family. Mariamene e Mara is a non-starter, because there is no way to connect her to Mary Magdalene; and the suggestion that Jesus is married has no evidence in it. And once you do that, then you lose Judas son of Jesus; because if it’s a son of Jesus, it is not a son of Jesus of Nazareth, it’s a son of Jesus of Talpiot.
Ankerberg: Right, let’s talk, before we go on, let’s talk about Mariamene e Mara. We’ve got two friends here basically, Tal Ilan and we’ve got Dr. Stephen Phann president of the University of the Holy Land, and both of them were used in the special and came out with a different take on Mariamene e Mara. Want to talk about that?
Bock: Yeah, let’s talk about Tal Ilan for a second, because she is important to this discussion. She is the women who catalogued all the names in this period. So all of our statistics that we know about, names and how frequent they are, come from her study which everyone uses around the world. In fact, the book is affectionately known in the scholarly world as the phone book. And so she has come out and said with regard to this inscription, it’s one person, and one person only. Whereas Stephen Phann has come out and said, well, no, I think there are two hands here and it could well be two names. We had one name to begin with and another one was added later. This is going to continue to be debated, I think is the long and short of it. Although my own take is that if you actually look at the inscriptions, that Tal Ilan may have a little better of the case here and we are only dealing with one person.
Ankerberg: So what does Mariamene e Mara then mean?
Bock: It would mean that Mariamene is her name. By the way, this is a Greek name, it’s not a Hebrew name. Every other inscription in here is Hebrew. Mary is from Migdal in the region of Galilee. Galilee is considered to be one of the least Hellenized areas of the Judea/Galilean region. And so what is she doing with a Greek name? And then the second name probably means “Miss”. It’s a roundabout way of a term of respect, a way of qualifying who she is. Although the special claim that it means Master and it shows that she had a key role; but to do that you’ve got to read a Greek name with an Aramaic name and you’ve got to be pretty sophisticated to pick that up.
Ankerberg: Or another way of saying it is, why are you translating it in Aramaic when it was written in Greek? Because it doesn’t mean that in Greek; they are just importing a meaning. It would be like saying, well this is what it means in Russian. The fact is that it has nothing to do with this tomb.
Bock: Yeah, I mean, it involves in some way some kind of a transliteration. And you are sitting here saying, why would you do this. Why would you have someone with a Greek name having an Aramaic nickname? Now you could say, oh, it’s a bilingual culture. But then the question becomes, then why isn’t the inscription in Semitic like all of the other ones? So what you find at every step with this special is that virtually every step has an “if” in it. And almost all “ifs” have to line up and all the dots connect before you can even entertain the theory. But the problem is that several of these dots are questionable. So if you start erasing dots, you can’t connect them.
Ankerberg: In other words you are saying, okay, four or at least three out of the six are non-starters. They shouldn’t be there at all. And if they import James in there, that’s a fourth one that shouldn’t be in there, because the bone boxes don’t match.
Bock: And all of a sudden your six or seven names are really down to three. And the fact is that the three you are left with are very, very common names: Joseph, Mary and Jesus.
Ankerberg: Alright. One of the other things that was brought up was the fact is the way they sneak the James bone box back into the Talpiot tomb is they say the patina, the substance on the outside of the tomb, matches the grave.
Bock: Yes, the patina is a soot layer, if you want to think of it, that is laid on the stone as it sits there over time. And you can analyze that chemically. But many archaeologists suggest that the patina of a given region will be pretty stable across several tombs and several areas. So the idea that you have patina matching only shows that you have got a geographical regional match, as opposed to a specific locale match.
Ankerberg: Another thing that was brought up was the chevron, the decoration on the tomb, and some of the inscriptions or the writings on the bone boxes themselves. And they gave a meaning to that, but you talked with Kloner and some of the others in Israel while you were there. What did you find out?
Bock: Well, this chevron sign, which is kind of this circle and this half start of a triangle or whatever, that we see that the special suggested was a Christian symbol for resurrection – how they know that I have no idea; I am not aware of that symbol being used with that meaning anywhere. But, anyway, this symbol is being taken in one of two ways. It is either a lid locator or some type of a handle indicator. That is a non symbolic interpretation of what it is. That comes from some of the experts. And then other experts have said, “No, this is actually is a symbol for the temple in the presence of God in the temple.” And we have, Ben Witherington mentioned to me that he has pictures of Caiaphas’ ossuary in which this symbol is present. And if that’s the case, in association with the temple, it simply identifies a Jewish burial box.
Ankerberg: Yeah, neither one there has a secret meaning.
Bock: That’s right.
Ankerberg: Alright. Go on to the DNA evidence. They analyze the evidence of two of the ossuaries and not the other ossuaries that were there. This was brought up by Ted Koppel in the special that you appeared with him on. Talk about that.
Bock: Well, it was the first question Ted Koppel asked them when he was on. In fact, when he asked it I was in the green room because I was in the second segment. And I turned to the other people that were going to be on the panel with me and I said, “He’s not wasting any time.” This was a very direct question. Why test just the two boxes when you could have tested the whole lot and you could have solved a lot of problems real quickly? And the answer, very sheepishly given was, “Well, we did the best we could with what we had at the time.” And if you had all the ossuaries and potentially all the biological matter there – remember there are no bones left in these boxes; all that was left was the box and any biological residue – they could have tried to have made that test and they didn’t. And what they end up getting out of that test was very, very minimal. It was a non-match, which is what you would expect. I have a pastor friend of mine who said, “It’s a little like taking the DNA of you and the person sitting next to you in church. What would you expect? You would expect a non-match.”
Ankerberg: It also gives a whole different slant on their theory. This may actually show it is not a family tomb if all of the people aren’t connected.
Bock: That’s true. If you were to do a test and all of the family and every ossuary was to be a different DNA, then you would show that you weren’t dealing with a family tomb. And of course we just don’t know because they didn’t run the tests. So the point here is that the process of the claim and proving the claim was a very incomplete process; a very inadequate process.
Ankerberg: After the special that you appeared with Ted Koppel on, you flew to Israel and have been teaching at Ben-Gurion University. You had dinner with Professor Kloner and you met Tal Ilan and you talked with Stephen Phann and so on. But there’s also something that happened that you are putting on your website. Some of these comments coming back. And also one of your friends sent you some information on statistics that made their expert on statistics come out with a new statement. And when we come right back Darrell is going to tell us all about that.

Ankerberg: Alright, we are back and we are talking with Dr. Darrell Bock who is one of the world’s leading New Testament scholars. He appeared on the Discovery Channel special with Ted Koppel to critique the special and give his historical analysis. And one of the things that happened when you were talking with Ted Koppel is that he brought up Andrey Feuerverger, the statistician from the University of Toronto, and asked a question and you thought it was a good question and then things happened after the program. I want you to tell us about that.
Bock: Well, the gist of the question was, on what basis were these statistics compiled? And the gist of the response was, “Well, I basically took the assumptions that were given to me and plugged in the numbers.” And, of course, the issue here is, how you plug in the numbers and whether the assumptions in fact work. I had someone after the special who did math write my blog – because the public vetting was happening on the blog – and question these numbers and also send the same statistics to Feuerverger for his assessment. And Feuerverger then issued a qualification on the point that he made on the special.
Ankerberg: And I’ve got that. He says, “It is not the purview of statistics to conclude whether or not this tomb site is that of the New Testament family. Any such conclusion much more rightfully belongs to the purview of biblical historical scholars [like yourself], who are in a much better position to assess the assumptions entering into the computations.” And that’s the key line, “assessing the assumptions” before you put them into the computer.
Bock: Exactly right. And Jim Tabor has tried to work his way around this by saying, “Well, the reason the statistics are valuable is they show us the value of these cluster of names. What’s the likelihood that you get this cluster of names from a single tomb? We don’t have any other cluster like it in anything else that we have found already.” Which is true, but the problem here is that you’ve got to do the name and person association in order to have those numbers have any value. And so when you go through and you question the fact that several of these names don’t plug in, or it is very unlikely that they will plug in; in fact several of them are non starters, all of a sudden your statistics that are built on six or seven names, shrink down to three, and those names are so common you don’t have a problem. Mary – one out of every five females at the time are named Mary; Joseph – one out of ten just about of every male is named Joseph. It’s the second most popular male name; Mary is the most popular female name. Jesus, the sixth most popular male name; one out of about 15 or 16 people is named Jesus. So these are very common names that we’re left with when it’s all said and done. You take a population of 80,000, 16,000 of them are going to be named Mary; 6,400 of them are going to be named Joseph; 4,800 of them are going to be named Judah – the supposed name of the son; 3,200 are going to be named Jesus; and 1,600 of them are going to be named Matthew. Those are all of the names represented. So that’s a lot of folks crawling around who eventually end up in boxes, because people die.
Ankerberg: Yeah, this isn’t the case of the fact of, can we match this cluster of names in another grave, and so we’ve got a match. That might be possible. In fact, you need to talk about some of the other tombs that have come up with a lot of those names. But this is really a case of, before we start saying, “this is the family of Jesus,” we’ve got to give evidence that shows this is the family!
Bock: Exactly right. And the problem here is that at several point we don’t match and so we can’t even get to the statistics. That’s the point, we can’t get to the statistics. We can’t plug in the names for the numbers because the names themselves do not qualify to be worthy of being plugged in for the numbers.
Ankerberg: Yeah. The fact is, let’s talk also about the fact of something else that clouds the statistics and that is something that I heard in your interview with Professor Kloner; and that was the number of bodies that he thought were actually in this grave.
Bock: Yes, if you take the average find, the average find has 1.75 bodies per ossuary. Now that’s a little bit like saying an average American family has 2.3 members. The point here is that some of them have three, some of them have two, some of them have one. You know, and so he…
Ankerberg: Let me explain what you are saying. You are saying that every ossuary, there could be different members, two, three, four in the same bone box.
Bock: Absolutely right.
Ankerberg: Which we found in Caiaphas’ bone box.
Bock: Exactly, So the point here is that Kloner estimates, and this is an estimate because we don’t know if every tomb is an average tomb, but he is suggesting there could be as many as 35 bodies in that tomb. Which means the DNA tests that you do are problematic, because don’t know whether you are testing the body that is named on the ossuary, or you are testing an unnamed body that is in the ossuary.
Ankerberg: Yeah. Craig Evans of Acadia Divinity School said that there are 18 bodies found in the ossuaries, and 17 on the shelves or the floor. In actuality, from actually what the people saw, there were 13.
Bock: Correct.
Ankerberg: So you have 13 instead of 9 or 10. And the fact is, this also impacts your statistics.
Bock: It does. And again it introduces another variable. And so the problem here is that it’s a little bit like juggling balls. You’ve got all these balls going at the same time. And the more balls you add to the juggle, the less likely the juggler is going to be able to juggle the balls.
Ankerberg: Another thing is that there were only six inscriptions where we actually had names out of the ten. And if there were 13 bodies that means we had six that we knew about and we’ve got seven that you know nothing about.
Bock: Exactly right. And so the possibility is, let say Mariamene isn’t a biological match with seven or eight males in that tomb. Which one is she married to? And of course we also have the problem of, think about this for a second, Mary Magdalene being married to Jesus and having a child. She has got to have that child by Jesus before He is crucified. And not only that, she is traveling with Him, so how is she going to keep that pregnancy secret?
Ankerberg: Yeah. I’ve got another one for you and that is the fact is that if Jesus spiritually rose from the dead, Simcha Jacobovici says that actually He was still God then. Okay? You don’t have to sweat it, He had a spiritual resurrection instead of a physical resurrection. Well, if He was still God, if He was God would you name your kid Judas? I don’t think so. And that’s what….I mean just think about that, Jesus naming His son Judas, the very one who betrayed Him. Let’s go to something else, and that is the very thing that is at stake here is the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead. And Jim Tabor says that actually Mark doesn’t give us a physical resurrection he gives us a spiritual resurrection. And so this is okay. But that’s not true. Tell us why.
Bock: Well Tabor is trying to make a distinction between an empty tomb story, which simply has the tomb empty, and an actual resurrection appearance story which shows a physical Jesus. And so he is saying the empty tomb doesn’t represent a physical resurrection. But that’s bogus. And the reason it is bogus is, Mark is writing, most people will put him in close to AD 70, most non- conservative scholars. Conservative scholars will date him about 10 years earlier. But that’s not what’s important here. What’s important is he writes after Paul writes. Paul writes at a time in which the Christian church is preaching a physical resurrection. We know that from 1 Corinthians 15. We know that from what the church is preaching out there in the fields that’s converting people. In fact, we know it, it goes all the way back to the 30s, because it converts Paul, who is a Pharisee. Paul has a Pharisaical view of the resurrection. That’s a physical resurrection that’s not just spiritual one…
Ankerberg: That goes back to the Maccabees.
Bock: Which goes back to 2 Maccabees 7. There is a wonderful story in 2 Maccabees 7; well, actually it’s a gruesome story, but it’s wonderful in making a point. And that is, you have seven sons being executed in front of their mother. They are being dismembered one at a time and bleeding to death. When it comes time for the third son to be executed he sticks out his tongue and he sticks out his hands and basically says, “You can have these because I’m getting them back.” Now that couldn’t be more graphic that there is a belief in a physical resurrection.
Ankerberg: Yeah, also you have to posit this thing that James, who is a skeptic all of his life, he lived with his own brother Jesus and was a skeptic, didn’t believe in Him. What did he say converted him? He saw the risen Jesus, alright? Now you have to postulate the fact is that he somehow helped Mary and they got the body out of Joseph of Arimethea’s tomb and brought it over to this Talpiot tomb and then knowing that he had the bones right there, he went out and he preached a physical resurrection. That makes James an incredibly bad guy.
Bock: Either that or psychologically very schizophrenic.
Ankerberg: Yeah. You became a Christian in your 20s. You came out of a Jewish family that you didn’t believe in Jesus. Again, talk about the fact, what was the evidence that led you to believe in Jesus? What is the case in essence for the resurrection?
Bock: Well, there are several elements to this that if you just look at it historically are important. For example, the first set of witnesses that we hear about are women consistently in the gospel stories. Remember that some people are claiming, no, this isn’t really a resurrection; this was invented by the early church, so you get to make the rules. If you are inventing a story, would you use women to be your first witnesses, when women in the first century do not have any witness value? They couldn’t be witnesses in a court of law. You are going to try and convince the culture of a difficult concept that they have trouble accepting and you are going to use non-witnesses to do it, unlikely. That’s the first point.
The second point is, if you are inventing the story and you are using Judaism as the background, you could have had a raised Jesus who you preached, who is raised at the end along with everyone else at the general resurrection, which is what Jews believe, and simply have Jesus in charge of it at the end. Only that is not what you get. You get a Christian innovation on Judaism. That innovation is a resurrection in the midst of history after three days. So if you are making the rules according to Jews and making up the story, you could have done it with a lot less trouble. Have Jesus be raised at the very end of history saying, “It’s coming, gang.” He is going to be alive and He is going to be the one who judges. Only that isn’t what they did. So something created that innovation. My suggestion is it’s the resurrection.
And then you have James and Paul who come along. James converted obviously in the period right after Jesus’ crucifixion, Paul within a couple of years. Both of whom experience the risen Lord and are converted as a result. And the value of that is it tells us that in the 30s a resurrected physical Jesus was being preached and taught. So when Tabor comes along and says, “See, Mark has written and he doesn’t have a physical resurrection,” that’s bogus because the resurrection is already a given in Christianity. Everybody knows that’s what Christians are teaching and preaching, so he doesn’t have to mention it.
Ankerberg: Alright, next week before the dust settled on this radical theory about the lost tomb of Jesus and finding the bones of Jesus in the box there; you’ve got one before the dust even settles called, The Gospel According to Judas. And we are going to talk about that, as well as Reading Judas, put out by Elaine Pagels and Karen King from Harvard. Pagels is from Princeton. So I hope that you will join us as we talk about those next week.

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