Thoughts on the discovery of Jesus's body

3/3/07 Update: here is a humorous take on this story.

"If Christ has not been raised, then our preaching is in vain and your faith is in vain...and if Christ has not been raised your faith is futile and you are still in your sins...if in this life only we have hoped in Christ, we are of all people most to be pitied." 1 Cor. 15:14-19 (ESV)

Last year, I stood with my friend Clayton, a candidate for the priesthood in the Anglican Church, at the Church of the Holy Sepulchre/Resurrection in Jerusalem. There we prayed and worshiped with some Syriac Orthodox Christians. On the way home he told me about a movie, The Body, starring Antonio Banderas as a priest, in which archeologists claim to have found the body of Jesus - and their claim looks to hold water. What would happen to the faith and to the Church then? Antonio's bishop says: nothing. The Church will go on, because people trust their own real experiences of Jesus. At the time, as I walked the streets of the Holy city, I thought it a very interesting, albiet unlikely, premise.

Just over a year later, Clayton's words seem somehow "prophetic" as James Cameron and some people (I don't know their credentials) claim to have the remains of Jesus Christ, and of course, his "wife" Mary Magdaline. The Discovery Channel is naturally hype-ing this up for all it is worth. Apparently the body - well, pile of dust with bone fragments - was discovered in 1980 and has been in a warehouse (remember "Raiders of the Lost Ark"?). How do they "prove" that it is Jesus? Well, the name on the ossuary says so, of course. But, everyone has heard that one before. The twist is that in the same tomb (or the next tomb over?) they also found the remains of "Joseph," "Mary," "Joses" (the name of one of Jesus's brothers, Mk. 6:3) and another "Mary" (assumed to be Magdaline). What are the odds of finding all these names in the same tomb, they ask? According to their numbers, the odds are something like 600 to 1.

Naturally, if these were the remains of Jesus, to say this is a significant find would be an understatement of the grossest sort. Which raises interesting and disturbing (at least for me) questions. "What would I do if it were true...?" Judaism becomes a live (and very ironic) option, I suppose. Some might turn to the non-physical understandings of "resurrection" that are already floating around (as in the writings of Marcus Borg or John Shelby Spong). I don't think I could go there since such understandings, however well they may fit with certain intellectual currents of the past century or two, have little to do with Jewish Messianic expectation or with the New Testament - and why believe in less than half a faith? I must side with the Apostle Paul here, if there is no resurrection (in the Jewish sense) then there is no Christianity.

So how have people reacted to this new announcement? Just as one might expect. One conservative Christian "family values" group called this a "Hollywood belittling of Christianity." Actually, it is a challenge to the veracity of Christianity based upon new evidence, that is not quite the same thing as an insult and calls for a different sort of response (or have we learned nothing from the PR mistakes of the Muslims?).

More insightful comments, and critiques of this 'discovery', can be found at the ever-excellent blog of Ben Witherington III. And here is one that was commended to me by a friend (he said that this guy, Darrell Bock, is a professor at DTS and was also a consultant for the Discovery Channel documentary, but I haven't checked on that - maybe some of you know?) - http://dev.bible.org/bock/.

As you may have guessed, I am unconvinced - but at this point I would not likely be convinced of their particular argument even if I were an atheist - having not seen the documentary. And of course, I have already taken a side on this issue and will not easily be convinced otherwise. No one who has considered the implications of the resurrection can remain "neutral" on this issue - their lives will show their persuasion.

But the Church need not get overly worked up over this thing. Remember the last ossuary that we found? "James, the brother of Jesus"? I do. And does the timing of this find, when the culture already has a heightened interest in (and willingness to pay money to learn about) "alternative" gospels of Jesus, or secret marriages to Mary Magdaline strike anyone else as...an interesting coincidence?

To paraphrase Tom Oden, the Church catholic has weathered far to many "latest intellectual discoveries" to be cowed by this one.

Which reminds me of a story.

When the Communist authorities in Russia were trying to persuade the people to abandon Russian Orthodox Christianity so that they could embrace the "more rational" ideology of Soviet Communism (which was of course the ideology of the future), they gathered the "latest modern thinkers" to give a lengthy lecture to a gathered crowd scientifically debunking the Resurrection. At the end of the meticulous debunking lecture, the party's speaker turned to the old priest who had been invited to "participate in the discussion" and asked him how he responded. The old priest walked to the center of the stage and addressed the crowd simply with "Kristos Anesti" - the traditional Easter Acclamation, "Christ is Risen" - the crowd roared back the liturgical response: "The Lord is Risen indeed!"

Of course, we are still in Lent for the moment. But Easter comes.

"For I know that my redeemer lives, and at the last he will stand upon the earth." Job 19:25 (ESV)



Blogger Andrew said...

Interesting article! Yes, Darrell Bock is Research Professor of New Testament Studies but I don't know whether he has contributed in any way to the discovery channel program. Keep up the good articles!

11:40 AM, February 28, 2007  
Blogger Nance said...

Good post on the topic brother... yours is the most fun response to it I've read thus far, and as good as many others as well. I thought Ben Witherington's post on it was very good(as you say), and also I'd point to internetmonk.com for several posts/updates concerning the issue that are good reads as well.

11:12 PM, February 28, 2007  
Blogger Stephen said...

Too bad, Ben W III took such a hit a few years back when he was ready to proclaim an ossuary under similar conditions to be that of Jesus' brother.

Later turned out to be fake as well.

8:46 PM, March 02, 2007  
Blogger Stephen said...

Got a chance to watch it last night (taped) as well as the critical look hosted by Ted Koppel that followed the program.

It was decent, although very sensational journalism. (something which I have fussed about before) Ted Koppel and the panel taking the critical view pointed this out. The filmmakers fact finding, science, etc... was very very sloppy. His conclusion was reached before he started. (very inappropriate) As I always say follow the money. Controversy sells ads, so finding the tomb of just another Jewish family wouldn't have sold as many ads as finding The Tomb of Jesus.

Mary Magdalene had to be connected with non-canonical, 4th century writings, and even then it was sketchy at best.

Ben Witherington III made a guest appearance. (stock footage from his fopah with the so-called James ossuary)

I believe one guy on the critical panel called it "archaeological porn". They were about to throw down.

10:28 AM, March 07, 2007  
Blogger Daniel McLain Hixon said...

hehe, I was waiting for the throw-down, myself.
I think you are right on the money Stephen, as the not-so-profound song says "It's all about the money." I was able to watch much of the show and the critical scholarly evaluation. I was glad that, at least for responsibility's sake they added that last part (and they got a few more commercial segments to sell, too).
I was actually kinda surprised at how fuzzy the logic and evidence often was after all that hype, but whatever.

3:34 PM, March 09, 2007  
Blogger Manlio Hector said...

Excelente post hermano!
"Why are you looking among the dead for one who is alive? He is not here;He has been raised ! "
Cristo Vive !!

12:10 AM, April 03, 2007  

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