Sunday, January 20, 2008

The Jesus Tomb Redux--the Jerusalem Conference


Gadflies enjoying buzzing around dead meat. In fact they are positively attracted to it, precisely because it produces 'buzz'. The news this past week provided us with a perfect illustration of this principle.

There was a conference in Jerusalem sponsored by Princeton U. with 50 invited scholars present and hosted by Jim Charlesworth to rehash the Jesus tomb theory. Here is the link to the Time article about it---

http://www.time.com/time/world/article/0,8599,1704299,00.html

Let me be clear that no fresh evidence came to light from this conference, except one somewhat surprising revelation-- the widow of Joseph Gat, Gat being one of the original archaeologists who dug the Talpiot Tomb, revealed that her husband thought back in the 80s that this might be the tomb of Jesus, but he kept these views to himself, because. his wife averred, being a Holocaust survivor he was fearful of an anti-Jewish reprisal had he made his views known. This is sadly understandable. Here is the link kindly sent to me by two persons of the interview with Mrs. gat on CNN---http://www.cnn.com/video/#/video/world/2008/01/18/wedeman.revisiting.jesus.tomb.cnn


So let's review for a moment what most scholars concluded was the case about this tomb:

1) it is too far out of town; and 2) too ornate a tomb to have been the Jesus family tomb, especially if James was buried in it because 3) his shrine was near the Temple mount and this tomb is miles away, and furthermore the Gospel evidence, as we have it, suggests Jesus was buried hastily near the place of this crucifixion; and 4) Jesus' crucifixion is one of the most reliable pieces of multiply-attested historical evidence we have from antiquity, including from non-Christian Jewish and Roman sources.

Because of some of these factors, Simcha Jacobivici's documentary argued that Jesus was reinterred later at the Jesus family tomb, perhaps very soon after his initial interment in Joseph's own family tomb. Of course this is an argument entirely from silence, not from evidence or even inference. We have no historical evidence of Jesus being reburied in the Talpiot area, much less being buried for the first time there, unless one can force the Talpiot tomb's inscriptions to provide such evidence. But they positively resist such an analysis.

Let us review then the onamasticon (or name list) evidence as well. Close examination of the inscription on the so-called Mary Magdalene ossuary revealed that instead of saying 'Mariamne' or Maria the Master, it in fact listed two names--- Mary and Martha. Secondly, the so-called Jesus ossuary with an inscription of 'Jesus son of Joseph' is unlikely to have been the way Jesus' would have been listed had he even had an ossuary and had undergone re-interment. Why? Because it was well and widely known that Joseph was not Jesus' father, and as I pointed out in my previous post last March on this blog, only outsiders who did not know the situation called Jesus--' son of Joseph'. There is no evidence any member of the family ever did so, and Luke, who offers us the virginal conception idea in Lk. 1-2, quite rightly in connnection with his genealogy of Jesus in Lk. 3. use the phrase 'as was supposed' when relating the name Jesus to the phrase 'son of Joseph'. This signals the dubious nature of such a view in Luke's mind. None of the other names on the other ossuaries are helpful for resolving this matter. The James ossuary does however confirm what the Synoptic Gospels especially suggest--- that Jesus had brothers and sisters, the other children of Mary (and Joseph).

It is worth pointing out as well, that if this were a Jesus family tomb why exactly are neither Joseph nor Mary buried there (and why would such a tomb be in Jerusalem rather than in Galilee)? According to later church tradition Mary died in Ephesus and was buried there, having moved there with the Beloved Disciple.

What does indeed bother me about Jim Charlesworth's reported remarks, who says he has doubts about the Talpiot tomb theory anyway, is that he makes the unhelpful remark that this whole matter is irrelevant to Christian faith, because even if it were true, it would simply mean that Jesus had a spiritual body or a spiritual resurrection.

He surely knows better than to misrepresent the view of resurrection found in both early Judaism and early Christianity in this manner. As Tom Wright demonstrated at great length in his landmark study on 'Resurrection and the Son of God' (Fortress Press), resurrection everywhere refers to something that happens to and involves a physical, not some ethereal spiritual body. Paul in 1 Cor. 15 does not in fact refer to a 'spiritual body'. What 'pneumatikon soma' means is a body totally empowered by the Spirit, not a body made out of spiritual material (an idea that would have been a non sequitur or oxymoron-- 'spirit refers to something non-material, and so not a material component or physical substance of a body). The term Spirit, in the phrase 'life-giving Spirit' is set in contrast to the phrase about Adam as a 'living being' (i.e. with physical breath). Thus in this phrase Spirit, has the same meaning as it does in John 4 where Jesus refers to God as Spirit (i.e. a divine being). The point of the contrast is to make clear that while Adam had physical existence and so was alive as a human being, Jesus as the risen Lord has the ability to do what only God the Spirit can do-- namely give life. None of the discussion in 1 Cor. 15 has anything to do with a 'spiritual (i.e. non-material) resurrection body'. Note that there is plenty of talk in the ancient world about human spirits or souls, or even animal spirits, but in neither case are either viewed as a 'material' or physically substantive part of a creature's body. Thus when Jesus says 'into thy hands I commend my spirit', he is referring to his personality or the non-material part of who he is.

What the Jerusalem conference does call for is a further investigation of this matter, which is fine. But unless there is some new and compelling evidence (and Joseph Gat's personal opinion does not count in that category), since both the DNA and the statistical evidence offered by Simcha Jacobivici's Discovery Channel special were shown to be very flawed, and this is one of the main reasons the theory was rejected by the vast majority of scholars, then there is no reason to change the previous overwhelmingly negative majority view of the evidence. Actual promising new evidence would be required.

But this lack of solid evidence of course never prevents gadflies who are not scholars but rather sensationalizers of ideas which they think have buzz, or potential buzz, from gadding about what most have regarded, quite rightly, as a dead issue--dead meat.

I suspect this revival of the theory without new evidence will simply die an even quicker death than the first presentation did, and will not find the press much interested in a Jesus tomb redux theory. The News cycle (or as I like to call it, the spin cycle) on a story without any new dimension is typically very short.

Any historian worth his salt will tell you that mere possibilities, while worth exploring, do not become probabilities by stringing together flawed evidence on hyped up by docu-dramas. A hypothesis becomes viable when it explains most of the evidence we already have and illuminates certain things previously obscure. But what the Talpiot tomb theory requires is that we reject or ignore most of the hard evidence we have, and put in its place evidence that is so tenuous that if even one link in its chain is weak, the whole theory falls apart. Such an approach cannot be called responsible historiography.

19 comments:

Allan R. Bevere said...

Ben:

Thanks for the post. I think this will die a quick death as well, but if certain persons get a hold of this, surely at Easter there will be a quickly-put-together special on cable TV.

There are those who are so opposed to the possibility of Jesus' resurrection, that their motto is "Abandon reason, all ye who enter here." As the great G.K. Chesterton reminded us, those who refuse to believe in the reasonable, will believe in anything.

Steven Carr said...

'(an idea that would have been a non sequitur or oxymoron-- 'spirit refers to something non-material, and so not a component or substance of a body).'

So Galen did not think that 'animal spirits' were not a component of a human being?

Paul says Jesus became 'a life-giving spirit'.

We now know that a spirit is something which is non-material.....

paroikos said...

some people just have no dignity eh?!

flogging horse is cruel, but when they are dead it's just meaningless, let them have their fun, at least it keeps them off the streets :)

Hollands Opus said...

James White also has very good book on this subject of the tomb.

Peace!

Jason Garwood said...

Great Post. Someday every knee shall bow!

Physically or Spiritually bow? lol.

Ben Witherington said...

Every knee will indeed bow one day and every tongue confess at the resurrection, which of course requires knees and tongues, amongst other body parts. I am reminded of the famous debate amongst the rabbis of what would happen to those who went to hell, but had no teeth, since Scripture said there would be gnashing of teeth. The reply was that they would get new teeth at the resurrection of the wicked before being sent to Hades !

BW3

Steven Carr said...

Wouldn't they just get their old teeth back, but transformed?

The ghost of Henry VIII carried his head tucked underneath his arm, 'proving' that songwriters believed ghosts had physical heads and arms.

Spirit was a component of the body in ancient thought.

Galen wrote about different kinds of 'pneuma' in the body.

I doubt if he was the first person to think that way.

Ben Witherington said...

Not quite Stephen. The human spirit or an animal spirit was indeed part of what a being was. But the point is, it was a non-material part. Wen Paul discusses the Holy Spirit speaking to or ministering to our spirits, in both cases we are dealing with something non-material.

Interestingly as well human pneuma was distinguished from Psuche, or life-breath which was seen as material. We see these three things distinguished rather clearly in 1 Cor. 15.

BW3

Ben Witherington said...

I received today a fine little study, complete with detailed charts and pictures entitled The Secret of the Talpiot Tomb by Gary Habermas (published by Hendrickson). It is a good thorough piece of work with full citations and evidence. I commend it to you as a careful scholarly analysis.

BW3

Philip said...

The Secret of the Talpiot Tomb is published by Broadman & Holman, not Hendrickson.

B&H has also published Buried Hope or Risen Savior: The Search for the Jesus Tomb, edited by Charles Quarles, with contributions by Craig Evans, Richard Bauckham, Gary Habermas, Darrell Bock, and others.

Andy Miller III said...

Can you recommend a book or article on biblical anthropology? I have struggled with the various issues around the human constitution debate.

Terry Hamblin said...

Wailing and gnashing, a just desert
For long lives spent inflicting hurt.
But for the toothless what’s beneath?
The answer is, of course, new teeth!

paulf said...

Ben, your statement, "Any historian worth his salt will tell you that mere possibilities, while worth exploring, do not become probabilities by stringing together flawed evidence on hyped up by docu-dramas" is a little strange.

C'mon, how can you talk about looking at things as a historian while saying that Jesus was born of a virgin who was impregnanted by a ghost (who wasn't even the father!) and later rose from the dead?

There is an infinite times more evidence of Jesus being in the Talipot tomb -- even if you believe he is not -- than there is for Christian beliefs, including the resurrection.

You are mocking those who are open to something improbable while clinging to the belief in the impossible (historically speaking). Take the beam out of your own eye, man.

Ben Witherington said...

Well Paul clearly your comments demonstrate you have greater ability to believe things without hard evidence than I!

For 2,000 years the greatest minds of the Western world and elsewhere have applied themselves to the study of Jesus and his life. And the majority of the best historians, philosophers, and even scientists, until recently, all recognized that there are good, indeed some would say compelling reasons to believe in these specific things accredited to the life of Jesus as well grounded in fact and reality.

I am afraid that those who have lined up in favor of the Talpiot tomb theory couldn't hold a candle to many of these folks in an open debate where all the evidence was laid out.

So, come on Paul, why in the world would you believe something with as flimsy a support as the Talpiot tomb theory? I don't know a single serious historian, even the atheistic ones, who accepts this theory on its face or on the basis of the evidence thus far martialed.

Blessings,

Ben W.

Talon said...

Gosh, ben, where did I say I believed the Talipot tomb theory? I have no idea.

I just find it ironic you mock people for investigating something that you say lacks evidence -- ON HISTORICAL GROUNDS, NO LESS -- while espousing a set of beliefs that is impossible by any historical standard.

I have no problem with what you believe, just think you should recognize the double standard and maybe be a little bit more humble.

paulf

Ben Witherington said...

Paul:

Thanks for this. You seem to be assuming that historians cannot take into account either the paranormal or supernatural and still be good historians. This of course presupposes that the post-Enlightenment world view of many is the correct view of reality, and that to do history properly, one must assume such a world view.

In my view this is nonsense, and in fact works especially poorly in a post-modern situation as an assumption.

There are critical historians who do take account of the paranormal and supernatural as cause agents in history, and there are also those who do not, but the former are no less good historians than the latter.

Why not? Because history is all about evidence, factual evidence, the testimony of eyewitnesses and so on. And we have as much factual evidence and testimony about, say, the resurrection of Jesus as about, say,the death of Julius Caesar.

Unless, you are simply going to 'presuppose' what today we call 'miracles' don't happen (and therefore reports of them can't be factual), then you can't rule out such evidence and testimony, you have to critically sift it.

The most important thing to say about this is that 'assuming' the resurrection of Jesus didn't happen because it 'couldn't' happen, is a faith assumption. Nothing more and nothing less. It is a faith assumption about the nature of reality.

The question then becomes--- who is more open minded? The person who allows for the possibility of miracles and weighs the evidence carefully, or the person who rules it out in advance, and says, "well that's just not good historical investigation"? I would think it is the former person who is the better critical scholar, rather than the latter.

Christianity is a religion based on history and the evaluation of historical evidence. Christian faith is not simply a matter of believing without, or in spite of, historical evidence. Christian Faith, is a trusting that the evidence we have is sufficient to support a certain belief. It is not blind faith, and should not be distinguished from any and all sorts of historical investigation.

Blessings,

Ben W.

paulf said...

Ben,

Incidentally, I've been a subscriber to BAR and the former BR for many years and always enjoyed your columns.

It has always driven me crazy to sit in Sunday School classes and listen to people ridicule those of other beliefs while not understanding that what they believe is not much less irrational. Those crazy Muslims/Jews/Hindus, how can they believe X?

Osama bin Laden thinks God tells him to kill people? Outrageous. (So what about Jericho? Well, that's different, God really wanted those people dead.)

Can you imagine that pagans believed Gods came to earth? Insane! (How different is that really from the virgin birth and Trinity?)

I'll say this about your response. I used to have your confidence that the historical evidence supported the facts behind Christianity. I'm not so sure any more.

Not only for reasons of historical study, but it seems to me that Christianity produces in most people whatever the opposite is of the fruit of the spirit.

Ben Witherington said...

I am saddened by this response Paul. Of course you are right that sometimes Christians are as irrational as anyone, and you are also right that all too often Christians are a bad advertisement for their own faith. I imagine however that if you have ever had children in rebellion against you and your values, you can understand how God must feel when his people misrepresent God. This is not reflection on God, just on human sin.

I have to say that after 30 years of historical work, I am more confident rather than less that the historical evidence supports the witness of the NT itself.

Blessings,

Ben W.

mmetts said...

"He surely knows better than to misrepresent the view of resurrection found in both early Judaism and early Christianity in this manner. As Tom Wright demonstrated at great length in his landmark study on 'Resurrection and the Son of God' (Fortress Press), resurrection everywhere refers to something that happens to and involves a physical, not some ethereal spiritual body. Paul in 1 Cor. 15 does not in fact refer to a 'spiritual body'. What 'pneumatikon soma' means is a body totally empowered by the Spirit, not a body made out of spiritual material (an idea that would have been a non sequitur or oxymoron-- 'spirit refers to something non-material, and so not a material component or physical substance of a body). The term Spirit, in the phrase 'life-giving Spirit' is set in contrast to the phrase about Adam as a 'living being' (i.e. with physical breath). Thus in this phrase Spirit, has the same meaning as it does in John 4 where Jesus refers to God as Spirit (i.e. a divine being). The point of the contrast is to make clear that while Adam had physical existence and so was alive as a human being, Jesus as the risen Lord has the ability to do what only God the Spirit can do-- namely give life. None of the discussion in 1 Cor. 15 has anything to do with a 'spiritual (i.e. non-material) resurrection body'. Note that there is plenty of talk in the ancient world about human spirits or souls, or even animal spirits, but in neither case are either viewed as a 'material' or physically substantive part of a creature's body. Thus when Jesus says 'into thy hands I commend my spirit', he is referring to his personality or the non-material part of who he is."

So many questions. So many questions. So, at the resurrection, are our bodies non-material? If we hold to a restoration-redemption (not using theological language here) idea, that Christ, as the second Adam, has put/is putting mankind back into his purposed state, originially seen in the Garden of Eden, wouldn't that mean a physical sense? Or, if Paul meant non-material at all, why use body at all? Couldn't he stop at Spirit?