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---
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.