Shuck and Jive

Wednesday, March 28, 2007

Checking in on the Tomb

On Sunday, I am going to lead the adult forum with a presentation on the Talpiot Tomb. It is interesting to observe over the internet the responses to this. Here is my summary of the various responses.

1) No way. It can't be Jesus because he rose from the dead. His body cannot be found. With this view, no matter what evidence could ever be presented, it would have to be dismissed because it challenges faith claims.

2) No way. Jesus didn't even exist. His body cannot be found. It would be like finding Noah's ark or the Garden of Eden. The Gospels are fictions and have no factual basis whatsoever. Again, no matter what evidence could ever be presented, it would be dismissed because of prior claims.

3) No way. Jesus was a peasant. His body cannot be found. He was too poor to have had a burial. His body, like the thousands of others who were crucified, would have been picked at by buzzards and eventually eaten by dogs. No matter the evidence, it would be dismissed because it doesn't fit the preferred picture of "the historical Jesus."

For those who could have their prior claims and reasons why the remains of Jesus could not be found changed if there was sufficient evidence, there, of course, is more resistance, namely to the Discovery Channel show itself.

4) No way. How could a journalist, a television filmmaker at that, beat the scholars to this scoop? If this was the remains of Jesus, surely the scholars would have known and reported it before this guy! For archaeologists who have been digging around for pots and shards for decades, it is pretty embarrassing if a filmmaker scoops them on one of the most significant finds in history. (The filmmaker didn't of course make the initial find. The tomb was excavated by archaeologists in 1980. It was not seen by them to be particularly interesting. The filmmaker Simcha Jacobovici, researched this further with the help of scholars and made connections to Jesus and his family).

5) No way. Archaeology cannot find a particular person. At best it can find remnants of what life was like in the time period. This view presupposes that Jesus was not an important figure of history in his time or in the immediate years following his death. Of course, other people of history (ie. Caiaphas) have had their ossuaries found and linked to historical persons.

After one could entertain the possibilities that both 4 and 5 are not rock-solid objections, some observers then question whether the evidence could point to Jesus and his family.

6) No way. The names are common. They could belong to any family. There is no way to prove that this tomb goes back to Jesus or his family.

After one looks dispassionately at those six objections, and realizes that the objections themselves are based on prior assumptions and not evidence, then one is faced with the evidence. Of course, it is impossible to "prove" without a shadow of a doubt, that this tomb goes back to Jesus. Few things in history have that much proof associated with them. But if the evidence suggested a plausibility or even a probability, then the burden would be upon those who would say that this is not the best way to understand this evidence.

James Tabor in his March 24th post, The Talpiot Jesus Tomb: An Overview, offers his summary of the evidence and addresses some of the objections above.

As far as the first objection, it can't be Jesus because Jesus was raised from the dead and his body ascended to heaven, Tabor offers these posts, Robert Gundry's Post and "Resurrection of the Dead" and Nonsense and the Academic Study of Religion. All of his posts I think are good reading.


  1. Of course, the same presuppositional problem is leveled at those who deny the overwhelming evidence for the bodily resurrection of Jesus from the dead.

    Now there's a category for you: Did Jesus Christ rise bodily from the dead?

    1) No way. Three-day dead bodies never come back to life. Any reports thereof are mythological in nature, mistaken, or diabolically deceptive. With this view, no matter what evidence could ever be presented, it would have to be dismissed because it challenges faith claims.

  2. Tabor's article makes the same mistake that all heretical movements make: Jesus is the messenger, but not the Messiah.

    The message he carried wasn't vastly different from the message that other rabbis preached. It wasn't really different from that found in the prophets or in the Torah.

    What makes Jesus unique is the claim he makes about himself as the particular summation of God's saving acts in the world. Jesus' claim to be the Savior - to be God in the flesh - is what was distasteful to his contemporaries. His "I AM" statements, his exclusive claims to access to the Father, his ability to send the Spirit - all of these make him unique (not his teaching or his healing ministry). It is Jesus' ontology rather than his deontology (who he is rather than his moral teaching) that makes him the Savior of humankind.

    Liberalism's problem (well, one among many) is that it sets up a mindset that distinguishes Jesus based on differentiating him from his contemporaries in such a way that little can be found in common. It was precisely this mindset that led to German scholarship being so derisive and dismissive of the Israelites (thinking of their religion as Primitive whereas Christianity is an enlightened opening of that Urreligion). It sets the Jews up as scapegoats - rejecting the religion of enlightened peoples and thus worthy of contempt. (sho'ah, anyone?)

    I'm not saying this doesn't happen within "conservative" circles. Certainly, dispensationalists are quite dismissive of the faith of the Hebrews (despite Hebrews 11-12!). But the Reformed (i.e., Biblical) Christians take a different view: Adam was equally a member of the same Church as Paul.
    Why? Because their faith was centered in The Coming One, the Serpent-trodder (Gen. 3:15), their Savior who was displayed to them in types and shadows until the time was fulfilled.

    The message was there in the Torah all along. They weren't waiting on that - they were waiting on the Mediator.

  3. Chris, as usual, confuses history with mythology arguing for special pleading for his particular myth. It is pretty tough to have a conversation with somone who takes the Genesis myths literally as well, the Earth is 6,000-10,000 years old for him.

    Chris also makes the error of anachronistically applying later creeds and beliefs onto the texts themselves, ie the "I Am" sayings in John, even Genesis 3!

    Then, as usual, he takes the cheap shot; regarding the Shoah, he blames 19th century German theologians. They certainly get some blame, but the seeds of anti-semitism and that the New Covenant superseded the Old Covenant is within the New Testament itself. Christians have had a bloody history with Jews long before German liberalism.

    Of course, one could believe Chris or read James Carroll's Constantine's Sword.

  4. Any particular part of John that you are claiming is ahistorical? As far as I am aware, the archaeological data has consistently verified the text. As for the non-artifact material - sayings, for example - you have to trust the author. The author has proven extremely trustworthy, however.

    Frankly, as an officer of the PCUSA, I've vowed to trust the Scriptures (yes, that includes the author of the Gospel of John) over any other witness.

    Even over James Carroll.