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FIRST-PERSON: Serious scholarship or personal profit?

WAKE FOREST, N.C. (BP)–As you’ve heard, James Cameron, director of the blockbuster movie “Titanic,” is out to sink an even bigger ship — Christianity.

He claims that Jesus’ bones and those of His mother, brother, “wife,” and a child named Jude were found in ossuaries (bone boxes) in a Jerusalem tomb. On CNN, Cameron and his collaborator Simcha Jacobovici claimed they produced the TV documentary simply in an effort to “report the news” so that people can draw their own conclusion. Yet according to New Testament scholar Ben Witherington, Jacobovici is a practicing, orthodox Jew. Are we really to believe that the “revelation” that Jesus’ bones have been found — hence no bodily resurrection — are of no religious concern to this man? To me, at least, this one has the almighty dollar sign written all over it.

Let me list just some of the most egregious problems with the way in which this find from the 1980s is being interpreted by Cameron and Simcha:

— The claim that Mary Magdalene’s bones were found in one of the ossuaries on the basis that the name “Mariamne” (Mary) is inscribed on it is bogus; the connection drawn here is pulled completely out of thin air.

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— The use of statistics and DNA “evidence” to support their case is highly suspect. Jesus, Joseph, and Mary were among the most popular names in first-century Palestine, and, of course, people buried in the same family tomb would for the most part be related. As Witherington rightly points out, we “would need an independent control sample from some member of Jesus’ family to confirm that these were members of Jesus’ family” — but, of course, we have no such thing.

— All the earliest accounts of Jesus’ death and burial indicate that Jesus’ body could not be found and had not been moved. There is no ancient evidence whatsoever for Jesus’ family tomb.

— Why would this family tomb have been in Jerusalem? Jesus was born in Bethlehem and grew up in Nazareth.

— There is no historical evidence for Jesus having a son named Jude. There also is no credible historical evidence that Jesus was married, to Mary Magdalene or anyone else (see the first point above).

— If Jesus died and a year later his bones were transferred to an ossuary, and this ossuary was placed in a Jerusalem family tomb, this would mean that all the early Christian martyrs, including the apostles, knowingly died for a fraudulent religion. That is highly implausible.

It is hard to know whether one should dignify this kind of warmed-up sensationalist commercial ploy with a serious rebuttal. Why would an orthodox Jew and an unbelieving Hollywood producer time the release of a television documentary denying Jesus’ resurrection just prior to Easter? Because of serious scholarship or maximum personal profit?

Jacobovici says we Christians should be open to the evidence he presents. I agree; if Jesus’ bones are in that box, Christianity is based on a false premise — the resurrection of Jesus (see the Gospel resurrection narratives; the apostles’ preaching in the Book of Acts; and Paul’s summary of the Gospel in 1 Corinthians 15:3–19). The problem with Jacobovici’s “evidence,” however, is that he is connecting the dots far too quickly to arrive at his desired conclusion. Surely it will take better evidence to overturn the well-attested fact of Jesus’ resurrection.
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Andreas Köstenberger is founder of Biblical Foundations (www.biblicalfoundations.org) and professor of New Testament at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary in Wake Forest, N.C.

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