The Jesus Family Tomb – Science, Religion and a Rational Christianity

People often ask if science and religion are compatible. This is a reasonable question given that science is based on verifiable fact while most religions require blind acceptance of dogma based on faith. In this regard science and religion would seem to be continuously at odds. Science says, “show me the evidence or I will not believe.” Religion says, “Just believe, faith is belief without evidence.” However, science and religion do not always have to work in opposition to each other, they can work together. One of the most remarkable examples of this synergistic interaction can be found in the New York Times best seller The Jesus Family Tomb, by Simcha Jacobovici and Charles Pellegrino.This remarkable story began on Thursday March 27, 1980 when a bulldozer, clearing the foundation of a new apartment house in the Talpoit region of Jerusalem, opened up a tomb. Rivka Maoz, a recent emigrant to Jerusalem and a student of archeology living nearby, sensed that because of some unusual sculpturing this tomb might be different from the numerous other ancient tombs unearthed by bulldozers. She and Efraim Shochat, an orthodox Jew who was directing the apartment house project, called the Israel Antiquities Authority (IAA) to send archeologists to investigate the tomb before its contents were looted and destroyed. Three archeologists were sent. They logged in ten ossuaries, officially known as IAA80/500-509. The tomb thus became known as the Tomb of the Ten Ossuaries. All ten were to be removed and stored in the IAA warehouse for safekeeping, but only nine the made it to the warehouse. One went missing.One of the aspects of the Tomb of the Ten Ossuaries was the fact that it contained ossuaries. Ossuaries are bone boxes. They were a Jewish custom in use for only about 100 years around the time Jesus lived. Jesus was crucified about 30 CE and ossuaries ceased to be used from 70 CE on, after the Romans destroyed Jerusalem and the Temple. Thus ossuaries are as accurate or even more accurate than radioisotope dating for determining the age of a tomb, and they are precise marker of the time Jesus lived.Ossuaries are like miniature stone coffins far too small to hold a whole body. During the time ossuaries were used after a person died they were placed in a cave and the entrance was blocked with a rolling stone. One year later the bones were collected and placed in an ossuary.In addition to the fact that the Talpoit tomb had ossuaries, thus dating it to the approximate time of the death of Jesus, the most riveting aspect of this tomb was the names on the ossuaries. Of the nine ossuaries in the IAA warehouse, six had inscriptions on them. These inscriptions were: MARIA (Mary); JOSEPH; JESUS, SON OF JOSEPH; JUDAH, SON OF JESUS; MARIAMNE (initially considered another Mary); AND MATTHEW. This Matthew could be the Matthew of the gospels and he could have been a relative of Jesus.After the ossuaries were removed the tomb was sealed in a shell of concrete, seemingly never to be seen again, and the ossuaries collected dust in a warehouse, also seemly forgotten. The curators of the collection ignored the seemingly remarkable collection of names of these ossuaries as simply being common names in that era. It took application of science and the investigations of Charles Pellegrino, a Ph.D. in paleobiology and author of the best selling book, Titanic, and Simcha Jacobovici, Emmy-winning producer of documentaries, to show that the Tomb of the Ten Ossuaries was, to a high decree of probability, the Jesus Family Tomb.An important fact that the team uncovered was that according to modern scholarship, Mary Magdalene’s real name was MARIAMNE. The first example of the application of scientific principles to the tomb involved the science of statistics. In statistics there what is termed the Law of Multiplication. It works as follows. Suppose we are asking what proportion of the U.S. population was left handed and had blue eyes. If 10% (1/10) were left handed and 20% (1/20) had blue eyes, the two fractions would multiplied together giving a frequency of 1/200 left-handed people with blue eyes. Based on all of the known ossuaries with inscriptions, the team was able to determine what proportion of the Jewish population living at the time of ossuaries had the different names noted in the Tomb of Ten Ossuaries. The calculations indicated the random chance of such a collection of names was 1 in 2.4 million. Some considerations increased this number still further. One noted statistician suggested that to be totally rigorous, the above number should be adjusted for those known members of Jesus’s family that were not in the tomb. When this was done the probability dropped to 1/600 that this cluster of Jesus related names could occur by chance. However, it was possible that one or more of the ‘missing’ persons were in four ossuaries without names.In the fall of 2002 Simcha heard of an article about to break on the cover of Biblical Archeology Review concerning the discovery of an ossuary with the inscription JAMES, SON OF JOSEPH BROTHER OF JESUS. Oded Golan, a well-known collector of biblical antiquities, owned the ossuary. Where he obtained it is not clear. After the story broke, on October 31, 2002, a picture of the ossuary appeared on the cover of the New York Times. While some declared it a forgery, again science proved otherwise. It was one of the most tested archeological artifacts in history and when tested with long-wave UV light it passed every test with flying colors.A further application of science involved the testing of the patinas covering the ossuaries. Each ossuary is covered with many centuries of dust and debris. The patina on the ossuaries in a given tomb contain unique amounts of elements such a aluminum, calcium, iron, titanium, and others. Elemental analysis can distinguish the patinas of even neighboring tombs. These analyses showed that as expected, all of the nine ossuaries of the Tomb of Ten Ossuaries stored in the IAA warehouse were indeed from the same tomb. What they also showed was that the JAMES, SON OF JOSEPH BROTHER OF JESUS ossuary also came from this tomb and was the missing tenth ossuary. Adding this ossuary further decreased the odds of this combination of names occurring by chance.In a remarkable bit of detective work, the team tracked down and entered the original Talpiot tomb. It had not been filled with cement after all. This was documented on film and shown on the Discovery Channel over Easter of 2003. It was the highest rated show ever aired on the Discovery Channel.The final piece of remarkable science applied to the Tomb of the Ten Ossuaries was the analysis of mitochondrial DNA sequences taken from scrapings of the Jesus ossuary and the MARIAMNE or Mary Magdalene ossuary. Mitochondria are tiny membrane enclosed bodies in the cytoplasm of cell that generate the energy source (ATP) of cells. They contain their own DNA, different from nuclear DNA. These studies showed that the DNA in the Jesus ossuary and in the Mariamne ossuary were unrelated. The fact that they were buried together in the family tomb with other members of the family strongly suggests they were husband and wife.The most intriguing aspects of the Jesus family tomb in regards to Christian doctrine were that Jesus and Mary Magdalene were buried together an thus were probably married, and they had a son that Judah who died in childhood, that Jesus had siblings, and Jesus’ bones were in the ossuary, not in heaven.According to the Acts of Philip Mary Magdalene was an apostle who preached and baptized and performed healing miracles. This Mary was very different from the Magdalene of Church doctrine and not a ‘fallen woman’ at all. The presence of a mother (Mary) and a father (Joseph), a son (Jesus) and his wife (Mary Magdalene) and their son (Judah), and James, a brother of Jesus in a common family tomb suggests this family was no different than any other family, and that the mother Mary had six children and was not a virgin and Jesus did not physically go the heaven.
What do these findings do to Christian doctrine that says Jesus was born of a virgin birth and when he died he was resurrected into heaven to join his real father, God? Assuming his spirit went to heaven while his body stayed on earth can accommodate the problem of not physically going to heaven. This, of course, makes him no different than the millions of other deceased Christians, Jews, and Muslims, who if they behaved themselves believed their spirit would also go to heaven. Mary had six children. The fact that she was not a virgin is not that surprising. Jesus’ birth of a virginal mother and his resurrection was written into Christian doctrine by multiple authors of the New Testament to add credence to the fundamental aspect of Jesus – that unlike the rest of humanity he was without sin because he was born of a virginal mother, that he was the son of God, and that his resurrection symbolized him dying for the sins of the rest of humanity. These aspects distinguished Jesus from other more mundane prophets of the time and gave Christianity a unique boost critical for its early survival and subsequent rapid spread.Is it possible to be a Christian and accept the above conclusions? Of course! Jesus’ remarkable teachings can form the basis of a spiritual and moral life even if his mother Mary was not a virgin and even if Jesus was not physically resurrected and was not born free of “sin” and was not the literal “son of God.” This form of rational Christianity requires that a metaphorical Jesus, performing metaphorical miracles, can provide the basis of a Christian religion just as well as the much less scientifically reasonable Jesus of church dogma. This metaphorical Jesus can form the basis of a rational Christianity and of a rational spirituality where reason and religion are not in conflict. © 2008

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