Jesus’ Body Found!?

*Posted by Kirk Spencer

It’s big news.  And it’s old new.  But it’s Good News!   The body of Jesus was found—alive—first in the garden, then in Jerusalem, then along the road to Emmaus, then by the Sea of Galilee, then on the Mount of Olives, then among the clouds.  After the inability of both Roman authorities and religious skeptics to produce a body; and after hundreds of eye-witnesses gave their lives as witness (martyrs) to the reality of the risen Lord; and after thousands of years of Christian testimony of everyday experiences to the presence of the risen Lord (and that in spite of at least a thousand years of ecclesiastical corruption from within and without)—after all of that—the body of believers, known as the “Body of Christ” who believes that the body of Christ is alive and well is—well—alive and well.  Or in short, “He Lives!”  “He’s Alive!”  “And He remains alive forevermore!”  That’s what we celebrate each year at Easter (as well as the first day of each week)—the fact that “Jesus’ body was found”—alive from the dead. 

However there are those who want to find Jesus’ body dead; and in so doing, at least in their imaginations, put an end to pesky Christianity (I guess they haven’t heard of Neo-Orthodoxy).   Or to put it another way, the 19th century’s “search for the historical Jesus” has recently been replaced with the “search for the dead Jesus.” Both of these searches seem to have ended in mythology.  The earlier search of the historical Jesus ended, where it started, with the “Jesus Myth.”  And the current search for the dead Jesus is becoming a “media myth.”  The myth of the discovery of the dead Jesus has been resurrected a few times in the media recently.  And while it really has very little merit, its persistent reappearing and its ethereal afterlife on the internet, has perpetuated the belief by many that the remains of Jesus’ has been discovered—that archeologist have found the body of Jesus and it is dead.  So in the wake of this Easter celebration, I thought it might be of benefit to take some time and consider what we are being told about this and—more importantly—what we are not being told:

What We Are Told:

In 2007, a book and TV documentary announced the discovery of the remains of Jesus of Nazareth.  They were discovered in Jesus’ family tomb in Jerusalem.  This Talpiot Tomb, as it is called, contained ten ossuaries (bone boxes), 6 with inscriptions identifying the persons whose remains can be found in the ossuary.  These inscriptions identify the remains of Jesus (Yeshua son of Joseph) and his family members: Mariamene, Judah son of Jesus, Jose, Mary and Mathew.

What We Are Not Told:

The Talpiot Tomb was found in 1980 more than twenty-five years before it entered the media universe through the book and documentary.  The Talpiot Tomb remained obscure for over a quarter of a century because the archeological community concluded that the grouping of names in association with Jesus family was insignificant in light of the fact that all of these names were very common in the first century.  Also it should be noted that without tortuous speculation Mariamene, Judah son of Jesus and Mathew are not even identified as names of Jesus’ family members.  So that would leave only two names, Jose and Mary both extremely common names in the first century.  For instance it has been estimated from name frequency studies that almost 25% (1 out of 4) Jewish women living in first century Israel were named “Mary” or one of its derivatives.  Because of these factors and others, the archeological community stills sees this cluster of names as insignificant.  They consider the arguments by proponents of the Talpiot Tomb as both unconvincing and manipulative.  So manipulative in fact, that after persistent misrepresentation of both data and statements put forward by experts, most archeologists consulted in media presentations have since distanced themselves from the issue and from its proponents.

What We Are Told:

The Talpiot Tomb contains the remains of Jesus of Nazareth.

What We Are Not Told:

The names on the ossuaries are not clear inscriptions but crude epigraphs scratched into the surface.  They are little more than scribbled notes to help identify the remains of family members.  Because of the rough unfinished nature of the lettering, there are several alternative readings of the names, some epigraphic experts even questioning if they are names at all and not simply scratches in the surface.   The name most difficult to read is the very name which has drawn so much attention—the name “Yeshua” (Joshua or Jesus).  The lettering is very indistinct and it has what appears to be other letters or scratches below it.  The point is, that these series of scratches may not even be the name Jesus; and, if so, then the tomb loses its media “hook.”

Even if it is the name Yeshua (Jesus), this name was a very common name in the first century.  “Joseph” was also a very common name.  So finding a “Jesus son of Joseph” or a “Joseph son of Jesus” would be very common place.  Experts estimate that at the time of Jesus there were probably at least 400 men in Israel named Jesus with fathers named Joseph.  As such, to find this association in no way singles it out as the Jesus of the Bible.

What We Are Told:

The Talpiot Tomb also contains the remains of Mary Magdalene.

What We Are Not Told:

The name Mary Magdalene was not found on any of the ossuaries.  Rather, it is the name “Mareamene” which is being presented as Mary Magdalene.  To accept this, you have to accept this chain of conjecture equating these two names:  You must accept that the name on the ossuary is, in fact, “Mariamene” and not the two overlapping names of “Mariame” and “Mara” as some believe.  You must also accept that the mention of a woman who is a master teacher named Mariamene in the 4th century text called the “Acts of Philip” is in fact Mary Magdalene known by the alias Mariamene.  Then you must accept that the name Mariamene thought to be on the ossuary is this alternate name for Mary Magdalene and not one of the many other Mariamenes that lived during the first century.  If this argument seems very weak, it’s because it is.  Even the scholar who proposed that the Mariamene in the “Acts of Philip” may be Mary Magdalene has distanced himself from the use of his work to suggest that Mary Magdalene lies in the Talpiot Tomb.

What We Are Told:

The reason the remains of Mary Magdalene are buried with the remains of Jesus is that she was Jesus’ wife.  DNA analysis of bones in the ossuary bearing the names “Jesus” and “Mariamene,” show that they were not blood relations, yet they were buried in the same tomb, so they must have been husband and wife.  And as husband and wife, their son “Judah son of Jesus” was also buried in the Talpiot Tomb with them.

What We Are Not Told:

After the discovery of the Talpiot Tomb, the bones from all the ossuaries were reinterred by religious authorities in Israel (a common practice).  DNA studies were not done on the bones because, as mentioned earlier, the archeological community considered the name cluster found in the Talpiot Tomb as insignificant.  So the DNA studies conducted on the remains in the Talpiot Tomb were not done on the bones from the ossuaries because they had already been reinterred.  Rather the DNA samples were taken from tiny fragments of organic material adhering to pits inside of the ossuaries.  These samples were so degraded that no nuclear DNA could be obtained, only mitochondrial DNA.   Now if we accept that these tiny degraded samples were from the individuals whose names were scratched on the surface—not certain considering that several individuals’ remains were found in each ossuary—all the Mitochondrial DNA study showed was that these individuals did not share a mother.  So there is no reason for Mariamene to be considered the wife of anyone in the tomb.  She could have been a half-sister, sister-in-law, cousin or aunt on the father’s side.  And even if we accept all the assumptions above, including the assumption that the names really are the correct reading of the scratched names, and that these names really do coincide with Biblical characters, if we agree to all of this, and allow that Mariamene did marry into the family buried in the tomb, then we might ask, why does Mariamene have to be the wife of Jesus?  Why not the wife of Judah, or Jose, or Matthew or one of the other male individuals in the ossuaries marked or unmarked; or maybe even the wife of one of the many male individuals whose bones were found on the floor of the tomb?

And of Judah being the son of Jesus and Mary Magdalene—there is no evidence, or even conjecture for this.  This relationship is simply asserted as such.   Maybe proponents felt justified to posit this without evidence because of the media environment surrounding the “Da Vinci Code,” another anti-Christian movie and book with just about as much supporting evidence (maybe less).  The “Da Vinci Code” speculates that Jesus married Mary Magdalene and fathered children destine to become a royal line.

What We Are Told:

Name Frequency Statistical analysis applied to the names found in the Talpiot Tomb shows that the chances of this tomb not being the family tomb of Jesus as 1 in 600.

What We Are Not Told:

Statistical results are only as good as the assumptions made.  For example, this study only included 1000 tombs found in the Jerusalem area.  However, most would agree that if this tomb had been found anywhere in Israel it would still be associated with Jesus.  So the study should include all tombs found in Israel from the first century.  If this were done the odds would change dramatically.  However, much more to the point, even if we accept all the assumptions, the odds of 600 to 1 only applies to the chances of finding this cluster of names.  It relates to the possibility that the combination of names appeared in the tomb by chance.  It is not an indicator of probability that this is the tomb of Jesus of Nazareth, as has been implied.

For any of this to relate directly to Jesus of Nazareth another assumption must be exposed:  The assumption that Jesus of Nazareth had a family tomb and it was one of the 1000 tombs found in the Jerusalem area.  And here is the point often overlooked:  Why would a poor itinerate preacher from Galilee have a rich family tomb, far to the south, in Jerusalem?  I guess to those who have faith in this state of disbelief, such a series of assumption is necessary so that the Talpiot Tomb could be His tomb, and the scratches on the ossuary could be His name, and one of the sets of bones could be His bones, so that His body can be found—dead.  Then those who hold to this “faith” can write-off one of the most pesky facts hindering their state of disbelief.  This media myth can be resurrected each year around resurrection Sunday to fend-off any remnant conviction and keep at arm’s length another possibility with much better odds—“He Lives!”  “He’s Alive!”  “And He remains alive forevermore!”


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5 Responses to Jesus’ Body Found!?

  1. Josh McDonald says:

    wow Thanks for sharing!

  2. Angus MacKillop says:

    Clear and concise! Nice!!

  3. Kashka says:

    Why do people think He rose “physically”?, He rose in Spirit. The body of Christ is the HolySpirit. One body (The Spirit) many parts (our Spiritual gift) shared amongst us.

    • Kirk Spencer says:

      Hi Kashka…

      Thanks so much for taking the time to read and get back to me. And your question is one that has been around for a while and well worth finding an answer. Other than a few obscure mentions of Christ (or Christus) in extra-Biblical documents of the first century, the only way we know about the historical Jesus is in the pages of Scripture. In these sources (the gospels) the claim is very clear that it was not just Jesus’ spirit that rose but His body also. (thus the answer to your question) It was a different kind of body (resurrected body) but the text makes it clear that it was His and it was physical. Eyewitnesses could see Him visibly, watch Him eat, talk with Him and touch Him. The event with Doubting Thomas makes this even clearer. Though Thomas did not put his finger into the wounds, Jesus was there and willing for it to happen. This is the testimony of Scripture. Of course someone can say that all this was just made up… but if we choose not to except the testimony of the canonical gospels, then we have no other first century, eye-witness account. As such, if we have an opinion about the resurrection (which everyone is entitled to) it will be something that we have made up, something we feel is right without reference to first century source material. And so in the modern world, where most people have accepted the scientific bias against anything we cannot comprehend, then resurrection (as scientifically unexplainable) must be an impossibility. As such, based upon this faith in the omniscience of science, Jesus could not have risen in body, so it must just have been His spirit.

      A big part of the problem, in my opinion, is that the very people who trust in the agenda driven popularizers of science and their teaching that a physical resurrection is not possible because it is not scientific, do not even know much about the amazing discoveries of science, or have not even considered how their bodies came into being and how they function. For instance Blaise Pascal asked this question: Which is harder to believe that a human being would appear in nine months from nothing as a living breathing soul or that a living breathing soul that was once alive could become alive again? Comparing what we do know about the miraculous nature of the everyday events around us, might help in accepting (by faith) something that has only happened once, but will happen many times in the future… a bodily resurrection to never die again. This is something else promised in Scripture. Jesus was the first-fruit.

      Take care


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