CSI: Jerusalem?

It doesn’t get bigger than this. We’ve done our homework; we’ve made the case; and now it’s time for the debate to begin.

–Producer James Cameron on the upcoming Discovery Channel documentary, “The Lost Tomb of Jesus.”

Better hold the phone on this whole Easter thing–might as well cancel those sunrise services and sleep in for a change. You see, James Cameron, the man who brought you “The Terminator” and “The Titanic,” is announcing in a New York City press conference today that he believes archaeologists have found the tomb and bones human residue of the so-called resurrected Christ.

This is actually an old story repackaged to ride the crest of the recent wave of revisionist Christian history (think Da Vinci Code) that we’ve seen the last few years. Here are the basic facts from the Time Magazine Blog:

Let’s go back 27 years, when Israeli construction workers were gouging out the foundations for a new building in the industrial park in the Talpiyot, a Jerusalem suburb. of Jerusalem. The earth gave way, revealing a 2,000 year old cave with 10 stone caskets. Archologists were summoned, and the stone caskets carted away for examination. It took 20 years for experts to decipher the names on the ten tombs. They were: Jesua, son of Joseph, Mary, Mary, Mathew, Jofa and Judah, son of Jesua. Israel’s prominent archeologist Professor Amos Kloner didn’t associate the crypt with the New Testament Jesus. His father, after all, was a humble carpenter who couldn’t afford a luxury crypt for his family. And all were common Jewish names.

There was also this little inconvenience that a few miles away, in the old city of Jerusalem, Christians for centuries had been worshipping the empty tomb of Christ at the Church of the Holy Sepulcher. Christ’s resurrection, after all, is the main foundation of the faith, proof that a boy born to a carpenter’s wife in a manger is the Son of God.

But film-makers Cameron and Jacobovici claim to have amassed evidence through DNA tests, archeological evidence and Biblical studies, that the 10 coffins belong to Jesus and his family.

There are more details about the Talpiot tomb discovery at the Jersualem Post, and of course, the Discovery Channel, which plans to air the documentary “The Lost Tomb of Jesus” on March 4th. And don’t forget to read some of the comments of Amos Kloner, the Israeli archaeologist who made the original discovery in 1980. Here are a couple of money quotes:

The claim that the burial site has been found is not based on any proof, and is only an attempt to sell.

A burial chamber of Jesus’ family would be a discovery that would shake up the world, and that’s what the filmmakers want to do.

What is of special interest to me is the promise of DNA and statistical evidence which will lend support to Cameron’s argument. These days, the appeal to scientific evidence, especially DNA, does the heavy lifting in many a public debate, so it will be enlightening to see the quality of the evidence and to see how well it holds up in the days following the announcement as it is vetted and analyzed by different scientific authorities.

One thing’s for sure: don’t expect any DNA stamped with “Jesus Christ, Son of God.” According to the Discovery Channel site, the DNA analysis merely concluded that the bones human residue from the “Jesus coffin” were was not related to the residue from the so-called “Mary Magdalene coffin” and therefore the two individuals to whom those bones the respective residues belonged were most likely married.

Follow that? Of course, there may be more–we shall see. If the DNA from the “Jesus Coffin” could be linked up with DNA from the Shroud of Turin, then that particular house of cards just might get my attention.

I think there’s an upside to all this, though. I think it’s a good thing that orthodox Christian belief gets challenged now and then, particularly the resurrection, and that Christians get a little practice defending their faith. I’ve said before that sometimes we Christians say the word so often and so fast that we tend to forget how improbable it was and how much faith it requires to believe it. If Christians don’t “feel the burn” of such faith every now and then, I’m not sure we have an appreciation of what resurrection represents and how nonbelievers react when they hear us say it.

Having said that, the upcoming firestorm of debate will, unfortunately, accomplish little, with those who believe in resurrection hunkering down in defensive mode and those who don’t screaming, “Aha! I told you so!” Few minds will be changed one way or another. And when all is said and done, the so-called “scientific evidence” will not be so iron-clad after all, and those who want to go on believing will have the space to do so, and those who don’t will simply have another reason not to.

Here’s a prediction for you: after 2000 years of trial by fire, the Christian ship will not sink, nor will belief in the resurrection be terminated (sorry, but it had to be done).

A word to my fellow Christians: chill. Cooler heads are in order here. Unfortunately, as I waded through the muck and mire of the comments in the wake of the Time Magazine blog post, I discovered, not surprisingly, that the fur is already flying.

Still, a couple of comments stood out:

I think the best thing Christians can do with this whole thing is to blow it off all together. You can not scientifically prove or disprove Jesus, the resurrection, or most of the biblical accounts in general. They call it faith for a reason. Everybody has faith in something. Everyone believes something. While that doesn’t make the outcome of those beliefs equal or beneficial, for Christians to back themselves into corners and act like trapped animals would do very little to live the example of the life and love of Christ. So I have a news flash for all the Christians posting dramatic defenses here: God, if he is God, does not need you to defend him. Living in a way that shows genuine compassion, love, forgiveness and understanding says far more about who you are than random facts and puffy language. No one here who does not believe in Jesus is going to begin believing in Jesus because you argue better. Forget it. Move on. This isn’t the first or last attempt to knock the deity of Christ. Figure out where you can bring a bit of heaven to earth instead of trying to bring a bit of hell to those who don’t agree with you.


The only real thing that can harm Christianity is people who claim to be Christian but live like the devil.


Jeff and David, whoever you are, I think you nailed it, so to speak.

CSI: Jerusalem? Well, we shall see. But I bet it will be just as entertaining.

  1. GREG

    I saw this earlier on Bruce Feiler’s blog. I haven’t read it yet, but was planning to today.

  2. GREG

    just checked my bloglines, and Scott McKnight and Ben Witherington posting about it as well. I suspect there will be many more…

  3. Mike the Eyeguy

    Greg, I just checked these out, thanks. I especially liked Witherington’s.

    Folks, just Google those names Greg mentioned and it’ll take you straight to all of them.

  4. Mike the Eyeguy

    As a note of clarification, the documentary is more the work of Simcha Jacobovici. Cameron is basically acting as hawker and front man, presumably to give the story an air of, uh, credibility.

  5. Double vision

    Even if it were true–would it really shake our faith? Here’s another thought to ponder–what if the Bible was proven to be false–would that shake our faith?

    Is our faith in the evidence or the Bible or totally in God? Just a thought to ponder.

    It is good to think about what we say we believe and have others challenge it occassionally. It will be interesting to see what comes of this? My guess-another flash in the pan.

  6. Mike the Eyeguy

    It all this were true, it would shake traditional faith quite a bit and change its shape and face. Ironically, though, it would still not disprove the resurrection in a strict sense (no bones, remember?). And it most certainly wouldn’t disprove the existence of God.

  7. Mike the Eyeguy

    Thanks, Greg. For Feiler (click here), it’s almost like shooting ducks in a barrel.

  8. JRB

    Run, Mary, run!

  9. Mike the Eyeguy

    That MM sure gets around.

  10. Brady

    Chiming in late. If it were true, our faith would be completely useless and we would be have to be pitied by all men. Jesus was not raised boneless. The tomb was empty. It makes all the difference in the world.

    Thanks for the links.

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