Answering The Jesus Family Tomb

Hollywood's latest assault on the Christian faith comes in the form of a Discovery Channel documentary made by film-maker James Cameron, who directed the movie Titanic, purporting to uncover Jesus' long lost tomb. Audience members who recall that film, a seducer's fantasy that his conquests will remember him, not with recriminations, but with gratitude, may wonder what such a person would have to say about Christ. This is it: He lies in a grave, never having exited it. Is this new discovery anything more than wish fulfillment, as was the former? As Christians know, Jesus walked out of His tomb and ascended into heaven; so this 'discovery' has landed with a plop at their feet. Of the ten ossuaries, or bone boxes, found, six were inscribed:

"'Well,' I said, 'in the Talpiot tomb they found ten ossuaries, six with inscriptions. The inscribed ones include a "Matthew," a "Joseph," two "Marys," and a "Jesus, son of Joseph."'" (The Jesus Family Tomb, Simcha Jacobovici and Charles Pellegrino, p. 45).

There is also a "Judah, son of Jesus." According to the film-makers, there is no one in the world who could be buried in this tomb but Jesus of Nazareth. How likely a story is this?

Statistics Hypothetical People
Code-Talkers New Deal
On the List Who are They?
Random Distribution Mariamne
Maria Deja Vu
Futility Constantine
Keeping Kosher Embarrassment of Riches
Good Penmanship Low Bidder
Enticed Israel Joseph's Bones
Mitochondrial DNA Tselem
Grave with the Rich Married to a Prostitute
Acts of Philip Eye of Horus


Like they say, there are lies, damned lies, and statistics. It is by the magic of statistics that the film-makers have determined that the bones in the 'Jesus' bone box can belong to none other than the unresurrected Jesus of Nazareth. Let us see how these numbers work:

". . .Jesus and Joseph were common names in first-century Jerusalem; for example, among the 233 inscribed ossuaries cataloged by the IAA, the name Joseph appeared 14 percent of the time and Jesus appeared 9 percent. It is estimated that, at most, during the entire period of ossuary use in Jerusalem the male population was 80,000. Out of these, 7,200 would have been called Jesus and 11,200 would have been called Joseph. Multiplying the percentages against each other (.09 x .14 x 80,000), we get 1,008 men who would have been called Jesus, son of Joseph during the century of ossuary use. In other words, approximately one in 79 males was called Jesus, son of Joseph." (The Jesus Family Tomb, Simcha Jacobovici and Charles Pellegrino, p. 75).

Do these authors mean that the population living at Jerusalem at any one time was 160,000, or that the cumulative number of deceased persons over the period of a century was 160,000? It would appear the latter: "'Look at Charlie's statistical analysis of the number of people alive at that time in Jerusalem.' 'It's a very narrow window,' Simcha confirmed. 'Maximum of a hundred years.' 'Yes. And throughout that span, a maximum of seventy to eighty thousand people,' I said." (The Jesus Family Tomb, Simcha Jacobovici and Charles Pellegrino, p. 89). This number is absurd. In an age when infant mortality was still high, the total number of deaths over a hundred-year period would greatly exceed the population at any given moment. This "estimated" figure departs dramatically from numbers counted by contemporaries:

  • "And that this city could contain so many people in it, is manifest by that number of them which was taken under Cestius, who being desirous of informing Nero of the power of the city, who otherwise was disposed to contemn that nation, entreated the high priests, if the thing were possible, to take the number of their whole multitude. So these high priests, upon the coming of that feast which is called the Passover, when they slay their sacrifices, from the ninth hour till the eleventh, but so that a company not less than ten belong to every sacrifice, (for it is not lawful for them to feast singly by themselves,) and many of us are twenty in a company, found the number of sacrifices was two hundred and fifty-six thousand five hundred; which, upon the allowance of no more than ten that feast together, amounts to two millions seven hundred thousand and two hundred persons that were pure and holy; for as to those that have the leprosy, or the gonorrhea, or women that have their monthly courses, or such as are otherwise polluted, it is not lawful for them to be partakers of this sacrifice; nor indeed for any foreigners neither, who come hither to worship."
  • (Flavius Josephus, Wars of the Jews, Book 7, Chapter 9, 3).

Josephus' count of those captured during the war, 97,000, exceeds the film-makers' count of the entire male population of Jerusalem. His count of the dead is "eleven hundred thousand." To be sure the population shut up in Jerusalem by the Roman siege included many who were not regular residents. Still, a total population for Jerusalem of 160,000 misses the mark by an order of magnitude.

Historians commonly discount ancient population figures, for several reasons: a.) Desertification. Many of the areas described in ancient literature as well-populated gardens are now bleak deserts which plainly could not support the populations reported by ancient authors. b.) Marxism. Since the ancient world had undergone no Industrial Revolution, Marxist historians do not believe population figures could be as large as reported. c.) Universal Progress. Since European cities like Paris and London did not achieve high population numbers until very late, Euro-centric historians cannot believe ancient cities were as populous as reported. d.) Completeness of the Archaeological Record. If ancient cities held the populations ancient historians report, then the archaeological remains thus far discovered are a drop in the bucket. None of these reasons carries weight. The population of Jerusalem must have been higher than the number the film-makers have pulled out of a hat, 160,000, if 256,500 Passover lambs were sacrificed annually under Nero Caesar.

Hypothetical People

At times the authors think they are analyzing, in a vacuum, the likelihood of the occurrence of a certain suite of names within one and the same tomb:

"But how many of those 1,008 men living right before, during, and after the time of Jesus of Nazareth were buried with a Maria or a Judah or a Matthew? From this point onward, the 'Jesus equation' was simply a matter of factoring the probability of each name in the tomb cluster, one after the other, and multiplying them against each other." (The Jesus Family Tomb, Simcha Jacobovici and Charles Pellegrino, p. 75).

The likelihood of the occurrence of this particular suite of names is not high, but the suite does occur. At other times the authors believe they are comparing, not one thing against itself, but two things against one another: such as a list of names supplied by historical documents versus a list of names read off bone boxes. When they are in this latter mood, they think they have proved something:

"At this point in my statistical analysis, my probability factor held at one in 2.5 million. Meaning, the odds were 2.5 million to one in favor of the Talpiot tomb being the tomb of Jesus of Nazareth." (The Jesus Family Tomb, Simcha Jacobovici and Charles Pellegrino, p. 82).

Where did this come from? Not from the odds of a given suite of names occurring in a vacuum. Recall, that is where we started. Rather, the authors credit themselves with a fulfilled prediction. But do they have one? Does any historical source, canonical or non-canonical, predict that Jesus would be buried with two Mary's, a Joses, a Matthew and a Judah? No canonical or non-canonical source predicts that Jesus would be buried at all; the gnostics denied the physical resurrection only because they also denied the physical incarnation:

Nor does any source, canonical or non-canonical, give reason to expect to find Mary Magdalene in Jesus' "family tomb." Modern academics, however, unlike the gnostics, generally do expect that Jesus' body remained here just like anyone else's, inasmuch as they assume the resurrection to be a fraud. Moreover, many modern academics, in spite of the absence of evidence, do believe Jesus to have been involved with Mary Magdalene. Modern academics commonly model their social world after the barn-yard, and if Jesus did not, then He is not like them. Thus they prefer to recast Him as a 'party animal.' So the prediction that Jesus would be buried with two Mary's is a prediction modern academics might be likely to tender. And Joses is Jesus' brother, so he is not that far a stretch, although of course no one would have predicted his presence except after the fact.

So what is the film-makers' score? They have, at best, four hits out of six. Two are complete misses: 'Matthew' and 'Judah the son of Jesus.' The film-makers understand the evangelist Matthew to offer Joseph's family tree and Luke Mary's. A 'Matthat' occurs at Luke 3:24. But why would Mary's grandfather have been dug up from his grave in Galilee, or wherever he may have lived and been buried, and re-interred here, though not her father, nor Joseph nor his father? Are we playing 'six degrees of separation?' Everyone is related to someone named Matthew, or someone named Joseph, if we are allowed to cast our net wide enough. The film-makers assure us that "it is entirely possible that, for example, a first cousin called Matthew, after the grandfather, might be buried in the family tomb." (The Jesus Family Tomb, Simcha Jacobovici and Charles Pellegrino, p. 78). Certainly anything's "possible," and if making up a list of "possible" people counts as a match, we have one. But if the film-makers are entitled to make up personages unknown to history: like Mary's 'cousin' Matthew, not otherwise known, or Jesus' 'son' 'Judah,' then what list cannot be matched? This "first cousin" is not known to history, neither is the "son," nor were either predicted by academia. So the film-makers 'discount' them. But that is not fair play. They have scored four out of six, yet they have 'discounted' their two misses and then pronounced their batting average to be 1,000. It is not: they have two misses. If batters can 'discount' their misses, then they all will bat 1,000.

Certainly if there were twenty bodies in the tomb, and two were hits and 18 misses, no one would think it reasonable for the film-makers to 'discount' their misses and leave them out of the count. How many times are you allowed to miss in this game before you've struck out? The film-makers marvel that just this suite of names occurs in the tomb, and compute the odds of finding just this assemblage. They are probably similar to the odds of finding just such a license plate: "The late, great, Nobel Prize-winning physicist Richard Feynman highlighted this common feature of coincidences with a typically down-to-earth example. During a lecture on how to make sense of evidence, he told his audience, 'You know, the most amazing thing happened to me tonight. I was coming here, on the way to the lecture, and I came in through the parking lot. And you won't believe what happened. I saw a car with the license plate ARW 357. Can you imagine? Of all the millions of license plates in the state, what was the chance that I would see that particular one tonight? Amazing!'" (quoted Kindle location 508, Chancing It, Robert Matthews). Granted the odds are small of stumbling across that particular license plate. But the lot is full of cars, and they must have plates, which must say something. Any particular license number is unlikely. Had anyone ever predicted that particular code coming up? If not, then of what is it confirmation? Any particular assemblage of names in a tomb is unlikely. But if no one would have predicted this exact assemblage of names, and of course no one would have, then in what way can the unlikely occurrence of this particular assemblage serve to establish that this is the Jesus Family Tomb?

The film-makers expect us to share their awe and wonder that they have succeeded, to their own satisfaction, in making up people and circumstances to match a list of ossuary inscriptions. 'Judah, son of Jesus,' who starts by being 'discounted,' ends up an earth-shattering discovery of science, Jesus' very own son don't you know, even though he is "a person about whom history had known nothing at all." (The Jesus Family Tomb, Simcha Jacobovici and Charles Pellegrino, p. 92). Why?-- because this is junk science. They make up people to match a list of names, then compute the odds of achieving a 100% match,-- and of course those odds are astronomical. But if granted the liberty to make people up, the odds of producing a matching list are 1 in 1. If there's a 'David,' on the list, that's His uncle David. Good old uncle David! Who knew Jesus had an uncle named David? How exciting!-- the family is coming to life before our very eyes! If there's a 'Gamaliel,' why then, that's His other son, little 'Sonny's' brother. GASP -- Jesus had two sons!


'Look at that -- a family plot with markers for 'George' and 'Martha'! What are the odds on that?'

'But it does not say "Martha," it says "Emily."'

'Aha! "Emily" is code for "Martha"'!

One of the people whose remains were interred in the tomb of the ten ossuaries was named 'Judah.' Jesus had a brother named 'Judah.' But Jesus' brother Judah would have been 'son of Joseph,' not 'son of Jesus,' nor is he known to have died in childhood. Uh-oh, looks like we don't have a match! Oh, but we do. People were talking in 'code' when they called Judah Jesus' "brother." He was really His son, of course; that's just exactly what they meant when they said he was His brother! What list of names cannot be matched by these rules?

New Deal

Suppose the customers of a Las Vegas casino tire of a card-game in which players are dealt a set of cards, face-down, by the house and must content themselves with the cards they are given, or if they hand them in, must accept in return a new set of unknown, unchosen, face-down cards. Suppose they demand instead: 'These rules are too onerous, and too friendly to the house. We want rather to be permitted to rummage through a bin containing face-up cards. This way we can choose the cards we like, and discard those we don't.' The customer-friendly house obliges, but when the card-players line up to collect their winnings, they are enraged to discover the odds have changed, and pay-outs are smaller than before. Have the customers been ripped off, or is this inevitable?

Those who love the Lord know that the chance that His remains are interred in either of the two ossuaries labelled 'Jesus son of Joseph' or in any of the ossuaries labelled 'Jesus' where parentage is not given, is precisely nil, because He walked out of His empty tomb. However, some may be willing to follow the film-makers in their accusation that, "It's entirely possible -- using the Gospels' own timeline -- that the disciples came 'by day,' during the Sabbath. If they did, they could have easily moved the body." (The Jesus Family Tomb, Simcha Jacobovici and Charles Pellegrino, p.73). If indeed Jesus never rose, but instead the disciples stole His body and subsequently reinterred it, then one can give odds on this tomb being the tomb of Jesus. However, the odds are nowhere near the 600 to 1 stated, much less the 2.5 million to 1 preferred by the film-makers. The rules for who gets counted as a match are far too elastic.

Had the film-makers approached Bible scholars and queried them on who they would expect to have been interred with Jesus in His "family tomb," then opened the sealed envelopes and discovered exactly the names in the tomb of ten ossuaries, this would indeed be remarkable. If a document from Jesus' time listed just these names as Jesus' "family," that too would be remarkable. But neither of these is close to their actual procedure.

Their actual procedure is this: after the fact, you are allowed to rummage through five generations of Jesus' family (from Mary's grand-father first speculated to be 'Matthew' to 'Judah,' presumed son of Jesus), as far afield as "first cousin" (whom 'Matthew' is ultimately, and arbitrarily, decided to be). This is a very large group of people in which to go prospecting. If you can find anyone, in that large pool, who shares a name with anyone buried in the tomb, that's counted as a 'hit.' Someone may be missing: for instance, Jesus had four brothers and two sisters, of whom three are claimed by the film-makers to have initially been present in the tomb, one in 'code' and one the archaeologists carelessly failed to note and later lost. So where are the other three? Their absence is not a problem, because no one predicted their presence.

If, even with this large deposit of people to mine, your bucket still comes up empty, you are allowed to make people up. If what you come up with is close, but not a hit,-- say, that Jesus actually did have a brother named 'Judah,' but that this real, historical personage would have been 'Judah, son of Joseph,' not 'Judah, son of Jesus,' you are entitled to revise the information under the premise people were talking in "code." In other words, when they said 'Judah' was His brother, they meant he was His 'son.' And not only that, he's the "beloved disciple" too! Though when he leaned on Jesus' breast he must have been rather small; perhaps Jesus was cradling him!

As should be apparent, we are well into our second, consumer-friendly Las Vegas card game, yet the odds are being stated as if we were still playing the first game. Not to worry, this can all be fixed. . .by dividing by four!

Mary of Bethany, Russian, 19th century

On the List

As noticed, the film-makers are willing to rummage through Jesus' family tree as far as five generations (their first conjecture on 'Matthew') out as far as first cousin (ultimately invented as 'Matthew'). But they do not require all members of this very large group of people to be interred in this tomb, containing only ten ossuaries. Were there in the day a rigid set of rules requiring certain people, and not others, to be buried together? There are not today. If the reader will think of 'family plots' involving the reader's family, who ends up buried where involves, not only circumstance and place of death, but affinity and individuals' desires. The list is not limited to nuclear family. In fact, the list,-- of who is buried in the family tomb, and who is not,-- is not well defined. Even if all were known as to names and count of family members, and circumstance and place of death, one still could not predict who would be buried in 'Jesus' Family Tomb' and who would not.

Why one sibling (Joses) when Jesus had four brothers and two sisters? (The film-makers do attempt to rope in 'James,' who had flown the coop, asserting that once you get down past his ossuary's surface patina, which is different, it is the same, and redefine 'Judah' as a son not a brother.) There is no penalty for a miss, because there is no strict rule governing who should be there and who should not. But since there is no rule there can be no prediction, and the odds on finding a match cannot be computed by estimating the odds on finding the precise suite of names which did occur, then applying two ad hoc corrections.

Who are They?

Who could these people be? It is fun to join in the guessing game. Several of these names turn up in church history:

  • "The first, then, was James called the brother of our Lord; after whom, the second was Simeon, the third Justus, the fourth Zaccheus, the fifth Tobias, the sixth Benjamin, the seventh John, the eighth Matthew, the ninth Philip, the tenth Seneca, the eleventh Justus, the twelfth Levi, the thirteenth Ephres, the fourteenth Joseph, and finally, the fifteenth Judas. These are all the bishops of Jerusalem that filled up the time from the apostles until the abovementioned time, all of the circumcision."
  • (Eusebius, Ecclesiastical History, Book IV, Chapter V.).

It is noteworthy that three of the film-makers' six names turn up on Eusebius' list of bishops of Jerusalem. This office was held as a family sinecure. Have the film-makers discovered the resting-place of Jerusalem's early bishops?

It is asserted in the book that this burial custom stopped abruptly in 70 A.D. While tombs in preparation were doubtless 'frozen' in incompletion as their builders died,-- and the reader of Josephus knows many died in those days without a proper burial, or any burial at all,-- there is no obvious reason why the population that filtered back into the destroyed city would immediately inaugurate new funerary customs. People treat their dead in the way that seems to them proper and dignified, not following upon military victory or defeat. It may be the people who invented this burial system were impressed by Ezekiel's great vision of the resurrection, "Again he said unto me, Prophesy upon these bones, and say unto them, O ye dry bones, hear the word of the LORD." (Ezekiel 37:4).

In the list in the Apostolic Constitutions, 'Judas' is third: "Now concerning those bishops which have been ordained in our lifetime, we let you know that they are these: — James the bishop of Jerusalem, the brother of our Lord; upon whose death the second was Simeon the son of Cleopas; after whom the third was Judas the son of James." (Apostolic Constitutions, Book 7, Section 4, XLVI.). James ruled the church until his martyrdom in 62 A.D.; the remaining fourteen held office prior to Bar Kochba's revolt of 132-135 A.D. Epiphanius gives the list as follows:

"1. James, who was martyred in Jerusalem by beating with a cudgel. [He lived] until the time of Nero.
2. Symeon, was crucified under Trajan.
3. Judah
4. Zachariah
5. Tobiah
6. Benjamin
7. John, bringing us to the ninth [or] tenth year of Trajan.
8. Matthias
9. Philip
10. Seneca
11. Justus, brining us to Hadrian.
12. Levi
13. Vaphres
14. Jose
15. Judah, bringing us to the eleventh year of Antonius. The above were the circumcised bishops of Jerusalem." (Epiphanius, Panarion, Books II and III, Section V, Against Manichaeans, 46, but 66 of the series, 20.1)

Eusebius' list of bishops to be sure contains only three of the male names, while the film-makers' narrative identifies four of the six with historical personages. It must be allowed, however, that in any grave containing four female cadavers, odds are one's a 'Mary,' however she spells it.

Another: "The Zohar presupposes the existence of an organized group of 'companions' who, without doubt, were originally meant to be ten in number, but most of them are no more than shadowy figures. These ten companions are Simeon b. Yohai, his son Eleazar, Abba, Judah, Yose, Isaac, Hezekiah, Hiyya, Yeisa, and Ahah." (Gershom Scholem, Kabbalah, p. 221). The Zohar is a medieval work of fiction, but the second century Palestinian rabbi Simeon b. Yohai and his circle were real people. Our film-makers assume the Talpiot tomb to be a "family tomb," but offer no proof. In their discussion of the 'Dominus Flevit' site, they assume instead that people were buried with co-religionists. Score another triple.

While I've yet to hit a grand slam, the ease of scoring triples should sound a cautionary note.

Carl Heinrich Bloch, Resurrection of Christ

Random Distribution

Supposing one finds a crypt in St. Louis, Missouri with the bodies of 'Seymour,' 'Lois,' and 'Joey.' Counting the incidence of these names in the St. Louis phone book gives the likelihood of finding any one of them, from which the statistician computes the likelihood of finding all three names together. Thus, if there is a family known from tax records whose members included 'Seymour' and 'Lois,' though 'Joey' is unknown, one can give odds that this is their crypt. Though the 'phone book' for first century Judaea is missing, and indeed as yet uninvented, some of the data it might have contained can be reconstructed. . .or guessed at, anyway. According to the film-makers, the odds are at least 600 to one that this crypt contains Jesus and His family members. . .including His 'wife' Mary Magdalene, though no historical source, gnostic or orthodox, so describes her.

It's interesting to reflect that name clusters, once formed, may replicate. Realizing that 'Seymour's' brother is more likely to name his child 'Seymour' adds a wrinkle. 'Seymour' and 'Lois' could be first cousins of the next generation. Names are not randomly distributed but recycled through families. They were in that day also; what New Testament reader has not wished only one person had been called 'Herod.' The reader of Roman history likewise wishes there were only one Germanicus or Agrippa rather than several confusingly so named. In fact children are likely to be named after family members, so the same names recur down through historical narratives.

Likewise, whatever the incidence of the names 'Mohammed' and 'Fatima' during the lifetime of Mohammed ibn Abdallah, the incidence of these names has shot up dramatically till the present day, when they are very common names indeed. This ever-increasing popularity is not in spite of, but because of the founder's success in establishing a religion. One cannot know whether the name 'Yeshua' was taken out of circulation amongst Christians once Yeshua the Messiah ascended into heaven. Certainly today English-speakers would dislike calling a little boy named 'Jesus' by his given name, though they will call a Hispanic baseball player by that name provided he does not anglicize the pronunciation. While one might expect this reluctance to follow from opinions on the deity of Jesus Christ, in fact the parents who named the ball-player 'Jesus' are likely to have believed that Jesus Christ is God, and at no time did American Unitarians (back in the days before they were more likely to be Wiccans) ever name their sons 'Jesus.' Lenny Bruce used to wonder, 'If Jesus is Jewish, why does he have a Puerto Rican name?' One cannot now know if His name, like Mohammed's name, became more popular after His earthly ministry, or less so. Can the film-makers be playing off the sensationalistic assumption that His name is unique?

The location of Mohammed's tomb is very well known, and indeed there is a magnificent establishment on the site. Should everyone in the world happen to forget where it's located, the strategy of finding it by searching for name clusters would not lead to it. Not that plentiful clusters of 'Mohammed's' and 'Fatima's' and 'Ali's' cannot be found; they can be found in abundance. But these people aren't them; they are named after them.

At present, if you walk into a Catholic parochial school and call out 'Mary!,' so many little heads swivel your way that you had best add a second name to distinguish a unique little girl. Was this common woman's name already increasing in popularity in the early days of the church? One expects in the present day to find 'clusters' of such names: if Dad's name is 'Mohammed,' his daughter's name is more, not less, likely to be 'Fatima.' If sister's name is 'Mary,' brother's name is more, not less, likely to be 'Joseph.' 'Mary' [Maria, Mariam, Mariamne] was already a popular name in the world to which the gospel went out, to judge from the New Testament, where we learn of Mary's sister Mary (John 19:25). Reportedly, one fourth of all the women in Jerusalem were so named. Why was this name so popular in the day? Were these 'Marys' named after Mariamne, the Hasmonean princess so shamefully treated by Herod? If so, the fuss about various transliterations seems to be much ado about nothing.

Indeed, all the names listed in this burial chamber were common ones; 'Jesus' was not uniquely so named. Acts 13:6 mentions a Cypriot who was the son of 'Jesus:' "When they had gone through the whole island as far as Paphos, they met a certain magician, a Jewish false prophet, named Bar-Jesus." Josephus mentions quite a few men with that name; a random example: ". . .on which king Agrippa took the high priesthood from him, when he had ruled but three months, and made Jesus, the son of Damneus, high priest." (Josephus, Antiquities of the Jews, Book XX, Chapter IX 1.). The 'Jesus' of Acts 7:45 in the KJV is Joshua of the Old Testament: "Which also our fathers that came after brought in with Jesus into the possession of the Gentiles, whom God drave out before the face of our fathers, unto the days of David. . ." The name occurs not uncommonly in the Septuagint, the Greek translation of the Old Testament, for instance in Zechariah 6:11: "And thou shalt take silver and gold, and make crowns, and thou shalt put them upon the head of Jesus ['Iesou'] the son of Josedec the high priest;. . ." (Brenton Septuagint). Given this name's occurrence in the Septuagint, it is unclear what the authors have in mind when they say, "What many people don't realize is that there is no Hebrew equivalent for 'Jesus.'" (The Jesus Family Tomb, Simcha Jacobovici and Charles Pellegrino, p. 34). The English 'Jesus,' after all, is a simple transliteration of the Greek 'Iesous.' Did this name become more popular, within the family and within the world, after Jesus of Nazareth's earthly ministry, or did it fall out of use altogether?

The bishop list given above shows that Jesus' family recycled names. This family dominated the bishop's office at Jerusalem until the Bar Kochba revolt after which Gentile bishops began their sway. Jesus had four brothers: "Is this not the carpenter, the Son of Mary, and brother of James, Joses, Judas, and Simon? And are not His sisters here with us?" (Mark 6:2). The obvious identification of these siblings is that they were children of Joseph and Mary delivered after Jesus, "her firstborn" (Matthew 1:25, Luke 2:7), though this is resisted by some. Eusebius mentions grandchildren of this Judas, Jesus' half-brother (both were biological sons of Mary, only Judas of Joseph) in Chapter XX of Book III of his Ecclesiastical History. After escaping interrogation by Domitian, Eusebius says, "Thus delivered, they ruled the churches, both as witnesses and relatives of the Lord." Just as with Seymour's brother's children in St. Louis, it is more likely, not less likely, that familiar family names will recur amongst this group. Families with illustrious members are more, not less, likely to recycle names.

Inasmuch as most first century Palestinians lived and died without earning a mention in either Josephus or the New Testament, the modern observer who seeks to match grave inscriptions to known persons has assigned himself no small task. In principle the methodology holds promise: the more names that can be linked together, the more the possibilities are narrowed down. We all do follow an informal algorithm like this when, on meeting someone from the old neighborhood, school, or work-place, we verify common acquaintances by accumulating attributes. While it is quite possible for two people to share the same name, it is not likely that both of them would weigh 300 pounds, have a sister named Cybele, or enjoy watching figure-skating.

Suppose a society in which all men are named 'Tom,' 'Dick' or 'Harry.' Suppose further these names are randomly distributed. Once you start linking: say by employing the popular naming strategy, 'Tom the son of Dick,' you have eliminated two-thirds of the 'Tom's.' This naming strategy is popular because its logic is sound. If you can add, 'brother of Harry,' 'husband of Susie,' 'father of Tom, Jr.,' you are focusing in further on a unique individual. But not even that much is available here. 'Tom who has some connection to Dick' adds little or nothing, because every 'Dick' has some 'Tom' in the family tree somewhere. The known fact that names are not assigned randomly, but are recycled by families and by religious communities, renders this entire enterprise even more suspect.

The film-makers are aware that families recycle names, and try to make this principle work for them in morphing 'Matthew' from Mary's grand-father into a first cousin. But this principle does not work for them, it works against them. Jesus had four brothers and two sisters. Any one of these people could have reconstituted a 'cluster' of family names in their own brood of offspring, because siblings often do this. Jesus moreover had a world of followers, any one of whom might have done the same.


The film-makers' own transliteration of the name on the ossuary is 'Mariamene.' They evidently feel 'Mariamene' is close enough to 'Mariamne,' a Greek transliteration of the Bible name 'Miriam' borne by one of Herod's wives, to go with 'Mariamne' from thence forward. For people who make much of small differences in the way names are transliterated into different languages, and claim each different transliteration must represent a different human being, it is odd it doesn't bother them that the name on the ossuary is not 'Mariamne.'

One of the central insights of 'The Jesus Family Tomb' is that the 'Mariamne' of the 'Acts of Philip' is identical with Mary Magdalene. This identification, made by Francois Bovon of Harvard University, is not made in the text, where 'Mariamne' is identified as Philip's sister. The film-makers insist she's in there: "She [Philip's sister Mariamne] is also explicitly equated with the woman the Gospels call Mary Magdalene." (The Jesus Family Tomb, Simcha Jacobovici and Charles Pellegrino, p. 76). This text has long been known in fragmentary form. A more complete version of the text was found by Professor Bovon and translated into French, of which unfortunately I do not have a copy. The previously known text does identify 'Mariamne,' Philip's sister, with. . .Mary of Bethany!:

"It came to pass when the Saviour divided the apostles and each went forth according to his lot, that it fell to Philip to go to the country of the Greeks: and he thought it hard, and wept. And Mariamne his sister (it was she that made ready the bread and salt at the breaking of bread, but Martha was she that ministered to the multitudes and labored much) seeing it, went to Jesus and said: Lord, seest thou not how my brother is vexed?" (Apocryphal Acts of Philip, VIII. 94)

There are many 'Martha's' who work hard in this world, but the one church folk would think of is Mary of Bethany's sister. Mary of Bethany is the one who poured the ointment, the flagrant, public sinner who repented and followed the Lord. Readers of 'The Da Vinci Code' will recall how indignant the traditional identification of 'Mary of Bethany' with 'Mary of Magdala' makes Dan Brown, who accuses "the Catholic Church" of a smear campaign against this woman, because they make the same identification as Professor Bovon.

What is going on here? The documentary shares Dan Brown's indignation at Mary Magdalene's traditional job description. . .and then proceeds to re-establish it! The idea that 'Mary of Bethany' and 'Mary of Magdala' are one and the same woman does not work well with the idea that Jesus was married to Mary Magdalene. As our author's Jewish Christians would have objected, Jesus Christ is our High Priest (Hebrews 3:1), because the Messiah is both priest and king, yet a high priest cannot be married to an ex-prostitute (Leviticus 21:14). Is our 'Naked Archaeologist' friend coming up with new and hitherto unheard arguments against Jesus as Messiah? This argument would have more sting if there were any reason to believe Jesus was married to Mary Magdalene, Mary of Bethany, or anyone else. Or is he upholding Jesus' Messianic claim by conforming it to Sabbatai Sevi's pattern, in line with his apparent desire to 'normalize' Jesus as a Kabbalist sage?: "Possibly influenced by the example of the prophet Hosea who married a whore, Shabbetai Zevi married Sarah in Cairo on March 31, 1664." (Gershom Scholem, Kabbalah, p. 249). These authors are plainly on a religious quest, and it would help the reader greatly if they would frankly sketch out its goals and outlines. 'Finding' Jesus' tomb, in a wide variety of places, is a long-time preoccupation of Jewish anti-Missionary polemics: "And indeed the sixteenth-century rabbi Isaac ben Luria notes that some believe that Jesus of Nazareth ('Yeshu ha-Notzri') is buried just north of the Galilean city of Tsfat (Safed), in an area where other famous rabbis from the Roman era are buried." (Charles Foster, The Jesus Inquest, p. 194), helped along no doubt by the widespread Gentile misunderstanding that 'Jesus' is a very uncommon, perhaps even unique, name.

The 'Acts of Philip' describe 'Mariamne' travelling with Philip, Jesus' disciple and, presumably, also His brother-in-law:

"In the days of Trajan, after the Martyrdom of Simon, son of Clopas, bishop of Jerusalem, successor to James, Philip the apostle was preaching through all the cities of Lydia and Asia. And he came to the city Ophioryme (Snake street), which is called Hierapolis of Asia, and was received by Stachys, a believer. And with him were Bartholomew, one of the Seventy, and his sister Mariamne, and their disciples." (Acts of Philip, 107).

Trajan ruled from 98 to 117 A.D. Let's say if Mary Magdalene was twenty years old in 30 A.D., she would have been 88 years old at this time. (She had better hurry up and get on the boat to the south of France, while she's still spry enough to climb on board!) The identification of this 'Mariamne' with the Bible's 'Mary Magdalene' is a critical point of the film-makers' thesis, because otherwise there is no reason to identify the tomb's 'Mariamne' with 'Mary Magdalene.' There is a vacant space here. The film-makers themselves claim their ossuary tomb was closed prior to the destruction of Jerusalem in 70 A.D., so how can a woman who, by their own account, survived until the days of Trajan be buried there?


The film-makers are convinced that 'Maria,'-- spelled just like that,-- can be no other than the mother of the Lord: "Anyone who has listened to 'Ave Maria'-- the haunting Catholic liturgy in praise of the mother of Jesus -- knows that in Church tradition the Mother of the Lord is referred to in one way and one way only: Maria. . .And it's always Maria -- never Miriam, or Mary the Nazarene, or Mary, the wife of Joseph. It's always 'Maria.'" (The Jesus Family Tomb, Simcha Jacobovici and Charles Pellegrino, p. 202).

In real life, both 'Maria' and 'Mariam' occur in the New Testament. If being called 'Maria' means you cannot be 'Mary Magdalene,' then Mary Magdalene cannot be Mary Magdalene, because she is 'Maria' in Matthew 27:56: "Among which was Mary ['Maria'] Magdalene, and Mary the mother of James and Joses, and the mother of Zebedee’s children," and 27:61, and 28:1, and Mark 15:40 and 16:1. And Mary the mother of the Lord is 'Mariam' in Luke 1:27 and thereafter. It is difficult to see why it matters in the present context how Latin speakers address her.

Deja Vu

"'But what if,' Jim Cameron proposed, 'what if, for all his twists and turns of plot, Dan Brown just happened to get some of it right?'" (The Jesus Family Tomb, Simcha Jacobovici and Charles Pellegrino, p. 124). But what if he got all of it wrong, including the fiction that Jesus was married to Mary Magdalene?:

What started as fiction has morphed into science, at least the brand of science marketed by outlets like 'The Discovery Channel.' Compute the odds that another tomb will be found with the same exact suite of names,-- and of course, the odds against are high: ". . .the overall tomb assemblage is a very rare event" (The Jesus Family Tomb, Simcha Jacobovici and Charles Pellegrino, p. 112),-- then pretend you've computed the odds that this is Jesus of Nazareth's tomb!

There is no evidence for any of this entire complex of ideas: "In none of the Gospels, be they canonical or apocryphal, is Mary Magdalene -- Mariamne -- described as being married to Jesus. Nor is a child of Jesus ever mentioned." (The Jesus Family Tomb, Simcha Jacobovici and Charles Pellegrino, p. 105). Yet in the land of make-believe that is contemporary secular Jesus scholarship, all you have to do is close your eyes and wish really, really, hard, and it will all be true. In the cold light of reality, Mary Magdalene was a distinguished follower of Jesus who would not have been looked for in Jesus' "family tomb," if He had had one. In this fantasy world, she. . .or 'Mariamene,' or whoever,-- is the proof it's Him.


The Bible itself says that, if Jesus Christ did not walk out of an empty tomb, our faith is "futile:"

  • "And if Christ is not risen, then our preaching is empty and your faith is also empty. Yes, and we are found false witnesses of God, because we have testified of God that He raised up Christ, whom He did not raise up—if in fact the dead do not rise. For if the dead do not rise, then Christ is not risen. And if Christ is not risen, your faith is futile; you are still in your sins! Then also those who have fallen asleep in Christ have perished. If in this life only we have hope in Christ, we are of all men the most pitiable."
  • (1 Corinthians 15:14-19).

Of course, the fact that the Bible says something does not hinder the 'Jesus Industry' from saying just the opposite. Wouldn't Christianity be so much nicer without the Lord's resurrection, which, when you stop to think about it, is downright implausible? The latest crocodile to advance with a big, toothy grin is John Dominic Crossan:

"Because the resurrection is a metaphor. . .If you wish to take the Bible literally, do. . .But do not tell other people who take it metaphorically that they are not true Christians.” (John Dominic Crossan, quoted in Newsweek, 'Faith Tested.')

But the resurrection is not a side issue, it's the good news the apostles preached: "And we declare to you glad tidings—that promise which was made to the fathers. God has fulfilled this for us their children, in that He has raised up Jesus." (Acts 13:32-33). If they prefer to believe Jesus' remains are resting in a bone box inscribed 'Jesus son of Joseph,'-- though evidently it requires a wee bit of 'faith' to make out that inscription,-- why must they also claim to be "true Christians?" The Bible says, "That if you confess with your mouth, “Jesus is Lord,” and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved." (Romans 10:9). Where is the verse which reads, 'If you believe in your heart that God did not raise him from the dead, you will be saved?'

Spirit Person The First and the Last
Elijah Dispose of the Body
Raise the Temple The Old Testament
Almost Persuaded Intermediate State
The Competition

The Bible says that Jesus' flesh did not see corruption:

"Therefore, being a prophet, and knowing that God had sworn with an oath to him that of the fruit of his body, according to the flesh, He would raise up the Christ to sit on his throne, he, foreseeing this, spoke concerning the resurrection of the Christ, that His soul was not left in Hades, nor did His flesh see corruption. This Jesus God has raised up, of which we are all witnesses." (Acts 2:30-32)

However if the film-makers are correct in their concept of a 'spiritual resurrection,' then His flesh did see corruption. Thus if the film-makers are correct, the Bible falls to the ground. Is it likely confused and ill-informed men have better information than God's word? Trading the Bible for their overwhelming statistics is a poor bargain, because their odds have been grossly overstated. They compute the odds of finding the precise cluster of names which did occur. The odds against this are high; each linked name multiplies them higher. They then pretend that someone had predicted this precise cluster of names,-- though, of course, no one had. If they can find any match amongst the large pool of Joseph and Mary's relatives, they score themselves a 'hit' as if they had predicted just these names and none other; the verified prediction is Jesus' tomb.

Imagine a carnival hustler who guesses names. Not clever or devious enough to send a confederate into the crowd to overhear names, he guesses at random, and is paid if he scores. This does not work well. So he improves the game: he will guess four names for the one his customer bears; if the customer's name is one of the four, he wins. He calls out 'James, Joses, Judas, and Simon,' and the client answers to 'Joses.' Are the odds on this game just the same as they were when he was guessing one name per customer? Of course not! What a worthless offer against which to trade the Bible away!

It's Constantine Again

According to 'The Jesus Family Tomb,' it was Constantine, of course, who elevated Jesus to the state of supreme Deity:

"Christianity became an official state religion of the Roman Empire under Constantine in 312 C.E. Roughly three hundred years separate the Crucifixion of Jesus, as a Jew guilty of sedition against the Roman Empire, and his elevation as a supreme deity -- if not the Supreme Deity -- of that same empire." (The Jesus Family Tomb, Simcha Jacobovici and Charles Pellegrino, p.35).

Is this how it happened? Well, not quite; it's only off by three hundred years. The film-makers helpfully tell us, "Interestingly, history tells us that the Judeo-Christians were considered heretics because they held that Jesus was a man and not a divinity." (Jesus Family Tomb web-site). Which Jewish Christians would these be? John, who said, "the Word was God"? (John 1:1). Or Paul, who said, "of whom as concerning the flesh Christ came, who is over all, God blessed for ever"? (Romans 9:5). Or rather, small heretical sects which these authors prefer to count as "Judeo-Christians" in place of the apostles and their followers? More:

Jesus is God

 Who is Jesus?

The Son is God.

Your Throne, O God The Work of Your Hands Let Angels Worship
True God Express Image Visible and Invisible
For Himself Son of God Kiss the Son
A Son is born Honor the Son Only-begotten God
Pantocrator Believe on the Son Only Savior
The Dead were Judged Everlasting to Everlasting

Jesus is Jehovah God.

 Jehovah of the Old Testament.

Jesus is Jehovah.

A Voice Crying Temple Visitor Stone of Stumbling
The Rock of Israel The First and the Last Lord of all
The LORD our Righteousness Holy, holy, holy Captivity Captive
House of David Answered prayers With all His saints
Israel's Savior Giver of Life Every Knee Shall Bow
Pastoral Supply I send you prophets Who forgives sin
I am He He is Lord Call upon the Name
Doxology God with Us Lawgiver
Great Shepherd You Only Lawful worship
Builder I AM THAT I AM Moses' Veil
Wine Press Lord Willing Secret Things
Boasting Excluded King of Israel Fount of Living Waters
Searches the Heart Till Death Do us Part Angel of the LORD
Take Refuge Has Reigned On His Forehead
Me Whom they have Pierced Stretched Out My Hands Head
Keeper of Israel The Amen

Jesus is God.

 Jesus our Lord.

Jesus Christ is God.

The Eyes of the Blind Thought it not Robbery Eternally Blessed God
Fullness of the Godhead Great God and Savior Faith in Him
Redeemed King of Kings Spirit of Christ
Destroyed by Serpents Lord of Glory Renewed in the Image
New Jerusalem's Lamp Now is Christ risen Upholding all Things
Light to the Gentiles My Companion Miracles
Prosecutors' Indictment Sun of Righteousness Thirty Pieces
Testator's Death Author of Life The Blood of God
My Lord and My God One Mystery of godliness
God was in Christ The Word was God Shared Glory
Omniscience Omnipotence Omnipresence
Change Not Yesterday, Today and Forever Whose Hand?
Not of Man Receive my Spirit Believe in God
Only Holy Sole Proprietor Priests
Walk on the Water

It is odd indeed that the authors can simultaneously realize that Christianity was not even a legal religion in the Roman empire until 312 A.D., and also allege that the break between church and synagogue came about for this reason:

"After all, for the better part of two millennia the relationship between Christianity and Judaism -- Christians and Jews -- was the relationship between rulers and ruled. . .The defining moment in the ousting of the Judeo-Christians from the synagogue came around 90 C.E. with the introduction of the 'Birkat ha-Minim' curse in the Jewish prayer service." (The Jesus Family Tomb, Simcha Jacobovici and Charles Pellegrino, p. 37)

Needless to say, the Christians, a persecuted minority sect, did not rule the Jews or anyone else in 90 A.D., when the synagogue began its neighborly practice of cursing Christians.

The Incarnation

God or Man?

Not only does the Bible describe Jesus Christ as God, but Christian writers of the early centuries also so testify. Pagan observers of Christianity likewise report this as the belief of the early church:

Readers curious to see what the Nicene Creed says, may judge for themselves whether the language is Biblical or newly invented:

Biblical Proof:

Keeping Kosher

According to 'The Jesus Family Tomb,' Christians do not observe kosher because they "ignore the people who once walked with Jesus:"

"But other questions were harder to deal with, such as, 'If Jesus and his followers kept the Sabbath, followed kosher laws, and practiced circumcision, why don't Christians?' Of course, theological answers can always be formulated, but it was best to ignore the people who once walked with Jesus." (The Jesus Family Tomb, Simcha Jacobovici and Charles Pellegrino, p. 36).

To the contrary, Christians of Gentile background cannot practice kosher without ignoring "the people who once walked with Jesus," because those very people met in council at Jerusalem and decided the following:

  • "But some of the sect of the Pharisees who believed rose up, saying, 'It is necessary to circumcise them, and to command them to keep the law of Moses.'
  • "Now the apostles and elders came together to consider this matter. And when there had been much dispute, Peter rose up and said to them: '. . .Now therefore, why do you test God by putting a yoke on the neck of the disciples which neither our fathers nor we were able to bear? But we believe that through the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ we shall be saved in the same manner as they.'. . .And after they had become silent, James answered, saying, 'Men and brethren, listen to me: Simon has declared how God at the first visited the Gentiles to take out of them a people for His name. . .Therefore I judge that we should not trouble those from among the Gentiles who are turning to God, but that we write to them to abstain from things polluted by idols, from sexual immorality, from things strangled, and from blood. For Moses has had throughout many generations those who preach him in every city, being read in the synagogues every Sabbath.'
  • "Then it pleased the apostles and elders, with the whole church, to send chosen men of their own company to Antioch with Paul and Barnabas, namely, Judas who was also named Barsabas, and Silas, leading men among the brethren.
  • "They wrote this letter by them:
    The apostles, the elders, and the brethren,
    To the brethren who are of the Gentiles in Antioch, Syria, and Cilicia:
  • "Greetings.
    Since we have heard that some who went out from us have troubled you with words, unsettling your souls, saying, 'You must be circumcised and keep the law'—to whom we gave no such commandment—it seemed good to us, being assembled with one accord, to send chosen men to you with our beloved Barnabas and Paul, men who have risked their lives for the name of our Lord Jesus Christ. We have therefore sent Judas and Silas, who will also report the same things by word of mouth. For it seemed good to the Holy Spirit, and to us, to lay upon you no greater burden than these necessary things: that you abstain from things offered to idols, from blood, from things strangled, and from sexual immorality. If you keep yourselves from these, you will do well.
  • (Acts 15:5-29).

Certainly if the authors dislike the verdict of "the people who once walked with Jesus," they are free to "ignore" them, but Christians who abide by the apostolic faith cannot.

Thrice Holy Radio!

Embarrassment of Riches

There are not one but two ossuaries bearing the name 'Jesus son of Joseph:'

"I was interested only in any inscription mentioning a 'Jesus, son of Joseph.' In more than one hundred years of archaeology, only two such inscriptions have been found." (The Jesus Family Tomb, Simcha Jacobovici and Charles Pellegrino, p. 33).

This testifies to the fact that both names, 'Jesus' and 'Joseph,' were common ones in first century Judaea. But this fact had already been known to readers of Josephus. One cannot know how many of the 'Jesus' ossuaries which do not list the father also contains the remains of the son of a man named 'Joseph.'


Good Penmanship

The Romans are the 'heavies' of 'The Lost Tomb of Jesus.' Modern sentiment sides with the Boudicca's of the ancient world, not with the Romans who strove after the 'glory' that comes with robbing everybody else blind. But the Romans had their achievements, too, one of which is neat penmanship. When all the letters are distinctly formed, readers can at least agree, if the stone-mason is competent and the inscription undamaged, what the letters are. Even that much is not available with the informal multi-lingual scripts on these ossuaries.

Does 'Mary Magdalene's' inscription read, 'Mariamenou mara,' 'of Mariamene the master,' and if so, should that be interpreted to mean, '[the ossuary] of Mariamene [a.k.a.] the master,' rather than, say, 'Master of Mariamene'? Or does it read, 'Mariame and Mara,' two ladies' names?

We are not running a sprint with our film-makers but a marathon, and we must check in at every gate. If the inscription reads 'Mariamenou mara' and if that should be interpreted to mean '[the ossuary] of Mariamene [a.k.a.] the master,' and if 'Mariamne' is the same as 'Mariamene,' and if 'Acts of Philip' reveals that 'Mariamne' is Mary of Bethany's real name (meaning that her name is erroneously transcribed in the New Testament), and if Mary of Bethany is one and the same as Mary Magdalene, and if Jesus was married to Mary Magdalene, then the presence of this inscription enhances the odds this is Jesus' tomb, otherwise it does not.

At each fork in the road we must go down the same branch as the film-makers, even when there is no reason to go that way: recall, no ancient sources report that Jesus was married to anyone. If He was in fact married to a prostitute, why do none of the ancient polemicists, like Celsus, throw that back in His face? A realistic statement of the odds in favor of the film-makers' conclusion would assign a likelihood to each fork in the road, not compute the odds of finding the precise suite of names as were in fact found in the tomb, and then apply seat-of-the-pants corrections like dividing by four, or a thousand.

Low Bidder

The ossuary assigned to 'Yeshua' is a shabby looking thing, whose 'inscription' looks like a set of random scratches. It's unfortunate that the name 'Jesus,' which is of course the most interesting name on the list, is also the most difficult to decipher and perhaps is not there at all!

The unimpressive appearance of the 'Jesus' ossuary has not escaped the film-makers' notice. They attribute it to His teachings! To be sure the Lord did not encourage the kind of 'fussiness' the ossuaries represent:

  • "But Jesus said to him, 'Follow Me, and let the dead bury their own dead.'"
  • (Matthew 8:22, Luke 9:60).

This would be an argument against any ossuary rather than in favor of a slap-dash one. But the deceased do not bury themselves, those left behind do; and the 'Jesus' of the ossuary looks unloved. Perhaps His followers felt cheated, because He said, "Sir, we remember, while He was still alive, how that deceiver said, ‘After three days I will rise.’" (Matthew 27:63). Letting out the ossuary contract to the low bidder was their way of punishing Him for failing to deliver on His promise, perhaps! When the followers of a religious teacher love their master, they pull out all the stops:

Mohammed's Tomb

"May Allah's Curse be on the Jews and the Christians for they build places of worship at the graves of their prophets." (Sahih Bukhari, Volume 4, Book 56, Number 660.)

It is strange indeed that Jesus' followers were willing to die for Him, but not buy Him a nice-looking ossuary.

Enticed Israel

These film-makers are following a well-worn path to fame and fortune: make inflammatory accusations against Christianity, then sit back and count the cash. They do appear also, however, to have sincere religious motives. One of the film-makers wishes to domesticate Jesus as follows: "Many changes had occurred among the followers of Jesus. Having begun their ministry, apparently as a Jewish reformist movement never intending to start a new religion..." (The Jesus Family Tomb, Simcha Jacobovici and Charles Pellegrino, p. 82). This author would tame Him as a reform-minded rabbi and "patriot," grievously misunderstood and misused by His Christian followers, who, can you believe it, actually think He arose from the dead. This revisionist fantasy is no more compatible with what the Talmud says about Him than it is with what Christians say:

  • "On the eve of Passover, Jesus (of Nazareth) was hanged. For forty days, a herald went out before him, crying aloud: Jesus is going to be stoned for having practiced sorcery and for having enticed Israel and led them astray; let anybody who has something to say in his defense, come forward and defend him. Nobody came to defend him, so they hanged him on the eve of Passover. Ulla asked: Do you think that he was one in whose favor defenders should have been called? Was he not an enticer, to whom the Divine command applied, thy eye shall not pity him, neither shalt thou spare him (Deuteronomy 13, 8-9)?"
  • (Baraitha, B Sanhedrin 43a., quoted p. 298, The Trial and Death of Jesus, Haim Cohn).

As is sometimes pointed out, Ginger Rogers did everything Fred Astaire did, only she did it backwards and on high heels. It is less often noted that the Talmud says what the New Testament says, only it says it backwards: the compilers of the Talmud are unsympathetic with Jesus' claims. What those who love Him call healing the sick and giving sight to the blind, the Talmud calls "sorcery." What the New Testament reports as "making Himself equal with God" (John 5:18), the Talmud reports as "having enticed Israel:" namely, "If your brother, the son of your mother, your son or your daughter, the wife of your bosom, or your friend who is as your own soul, secretly entices you, saying, ‘Let us go and serve other gods,’ which you have not known, neither you nor your fathers. . ." (Deuteronomy 13:6). This is the same claim. Those who believe Him fall down and worship Him as the living God. Those who disbelieved, wanted Him executed.

So where is this emasculated 'Jesus,' the reform-minded rabbi executed for sedition,-- a circumstance of which the Talmud is unaware? He's not in the New Testament, he's not in the Talmud. . .not even the gnostics know anything about this fairy-tale Jesus! While it is politically possible nowadays for mass marketers like the Discovery Channel to make the vilest accusations against Christians, vilifying them as liars, accusing them of every sort of imposture, why is it acceptable to make the same accusations against the Talmud, which says the same thing?

Joseph's Bones

The film-makers suggest that the custom of reburying bones in stone boxes was "associated with" the Christians (The Jesus Family Tomb, Simcha Jacobovici and Charles Pellegrino, p. 28). However, there is no commendation of any such custom in any surviving Christian literature. The earliest description of bone reburial in the Bible is Joseph's instruction to the children of Israel to carry his bones back with them out of Egypt:

"Then Joseph took an oath from the children of Israel, saying, 'God will surely visit you, and you shall carry up my bones from here.' So Joseph died, being one hundred and ten years old; and they embalmed him, and he was put in a coffin in Egypt." (Genesis 50:25-26).

This they did:

"Then Joseph sent and called his father Jacob and all his relatives to him, seventy-five people. So Jacob went down to Egypt; and he died, he and our fathers. And they were carried back to Shechem and laid in the tomb that Abraham bought for a sum of money from the sons of Hamor, the father of Shechem." (Acts 7:15, Joshua 24:32).

Joseph, like his father, did not want to be buried among strangers. Could this popular custom have originated in Samaria? The author of Hebrews points out that Joseph's actions required faith: "By faith Joseph, when he was dying, made mention of the departure of the children of Israel, and gave instructions concerning his bones." (Hebrews 11:22). Faith in what? In Israel's removal to Canaan, or in the resurrection? Someone who believes death is the end of the journey has no reason to care where his bones are buried. If Joseph's request was understood to imply faith in the latter, imitating the patriarchs in this way may have been seen as a testimony to the resurrection.

Mitochondrial DNA

The media likes to replay a morality play pitting science against ignorance. . .the part of 'ignorance' being filled by us friendly folk, the Christians. One of the most-hyped features of this latest installment is the 'DNA evidence.' It is also one of the biggest cheats.

No nuclear DNA could be extracted from the ancient sludge at the bottom of these ossuaries, but mitochondrial DNA, which is inherited from the mother, was found. The results were ballyhooed as follows:

"'And,' said Simcha, 'this means---?'

"That this man and woman do not share the same mother,' Matheson said quickly and conclusively. 'They cannot be mother and child. They cannot, maternally, be brother and sister. And so, for these particular samples, because they come from the same tomb -- and we suspect it to be a familial tomb -- these two individuals, if they were unrelated, would most likely have been husband and wife." (The Jesus Family Tomb, Simcha Jacobovici and Charles Pellegrino, p. 172).

Perhaps if there had been only two persons buried in the tomb, it might be accurate to say those two are more likely to be husband and wife as opposed to father and daughter, or half-siblings who share the same father but not the same mother, or any the other possibilities left open by mitochondrial DNA. But 'Yeshua' and 'Mariamene,' whoever they may have been, have not been proven to be man and wife. Where is 'Joses' wife, or 'Matthew's,' or 'Judah's'? Several of Jesus' brothers had wives: "Do we have no right to take along a believing wife, as do also the other apostles, the brothers of the Lord, and Cephas?" (1 Corinthians 9:5). Yet the brothers' real wives cannot find room in the tomb; they must make way for an imagined wife,-- of someone who is not reported in the numerous biographical notices He received as having had any wife. Of all the unattached males in this tomb, the only one who gets a wife is the One reported not to have had one.

So all the hype: 'Actual DNA evidence proves Jesus never rose from the dead, and besides that He was married to Mary Magdalene, and they had a child named 'Sonny'! -- sails away into the stratosphere beyond anything that has been proven. But this was true from the start. The odds against finding a particular complex of names in one tomb are high, because the sample is very small and some names occur only once. Compute these odds, then pretend that precisely this suite of names had been predicted,-- though, of course, it had not, except after the fact. A different sequence of names: say, substitute 'Salome' for good old 'cousin Matthew,' would have been predicted with the same 100% unerring accuracy; the film-makers would have said, 'See? That's his sister! That proves it's Jesus!' Had 'David' been found instead of 'Judah,' why that would have been good old uncle David. The rules the film-makers operate under, according to which they are allowed to make up previously unknown persons to match names found in the tomb, and are allowed to rummage through five generations as far as 'first cousin' to find a match for any name, guarantee success. But this is like predicting the results of a suite of coin tosses after the coins have fallen. Though the odds against that suite of coin tosses are high, it is actually rather easy to do. Once having found a tomb with a 'Jesus' and a 'Mary,' everyone else can be invented to fit.


Though Christians perceive this documentary as a frontal attack on their faith, the film-makers, in their book and media appearances, remain obtuse to the idea that they are attacking anyone or anything. They seem to expect their tomb to become a place of Christian pilgrimage, and that their alternative explanation for the resurrection narratives will be readily adopted by Christians once they perceive the superiority of these new ideas to their present understanding. Yet when they explain their alternative view, it is quite hard for Christians to wrap their minds around what they are saying. They accuse the apostles of fraud and imposture in carting off the body; yet they do not accuse those who encountered the risen Lord, like Mary Magdalene, of hallucinating. They explain that these people did see Jesus, only spiritually, not physically. What does that mean? Can it be possible these people believe in astral bodies? Or reincarnation?

As best I can ferret out the mystery, the 'Naked Archaeologist,' who was the guiding force behind this venture, holds the key. The contemporary state of Israel is a very irreligious place. Those of its citizens who honor any religion at all are just as likely to follow, not the faith of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, but a strange amalgam of magic, gnosticism and European superstition known as the Kabbalah. And yes, as it just so happens, Kabbalists do believe in astral bodies and reincarnation:

The astral body in Kabbalah is called the 'tselem:' "The occult experience of the tselem as the astral body of the righteous is also mentioned by R. Hayyim Vital, R. Isaac Luria's chief disciple: 'The ethereal body of them [the righteous] is [contained] in the secret of the tselem, which is perceived by those who have purified vision.'" (Gershom Scholem, 'On the Mystical Shape of the Godhead,' p. 266). The idea that Jesus could go gallivanting around in spiritual form while His body lay elsewhere is actually perfectly normal in Kabbalah. "For the Kabbalists, the question of resurrection was answered by the doctrine of the transmigration of souls, which in turn depended upon the Kabbalah's vision of the soul itself." (Harold Bloom, Omens of Millenium, p. 208). And the Discovery Channel has the effrontery to peddle this as 'science!' Recasting Jesus as a Kabbalist sage is neither scientific nor historical, because Kabbalah only arose in the Dark Ages. In fact, some ideas are so bad it takes a Dark Age to bring them forward!

Readers of novelist Carlos Castaneda will recall that his shaman, Don Juan, used to zip around in this format. If this is what the film-makers believe, then their view is no more naturalistic than the Christian belief that Jesus walked out of the tomb under His own power; their view is equally supernatural, just different.

If so, then this documentary is not an attack by science on Christianity, but the revenge of magic on Christianity. Christians should not drink from a cistern polluted by every impure thing; reinterpreting Jesus in light of the Kabbalah is the same as to drag Him through the pagan muck.

  • "And he made his grave with the wicked, and with the rich in his death; because he had done no violence, neither was any deceit in his mouth."
  • (Isaiah 53:9).

Grave with the Rich

Jesus made His grave with the rich in His death, because He was buried in Joseph of Arimathea's tomb. This is the tomb He walked out of. The film-makers seem to believe Jesus' family, who lived in Nazareth, already owned a tomb in Jerusalem: "If all had gone according to contemporary custom, the body would have been relocated after the Sabbath and moved to Jesus' family tomb." (The Jesus Family Tomb, Simcha Jacobovici and Charles Pellegrino, p. 72). Why would Jesus' family have had a tomb in Jerusalem, and if they had, why would He have been interred in Joseph of Arimathea's tomb instead?

The assumption that this is Jesus' tomb is such a fixed idea in the film-makers minds that, given reason to believe it is not Jesus' tomb, they think themselves modest in refraining from. . .upping the odds in their favor! Available historical information suggests Jesus was not a rich man, because He said, "And Jesus said to him, 'Foxes have holes and birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay His head.' (Luke 9:58). It was pointed out to the film-makers that the people reburied in ossuaries were affluent: "Professor Camille Fuchs, a professor of statistics at Tel Aviv University, said that in evaluating ossuary inscriptions of this kind, we have to remember that only a small elite could afford family crypts. . ." (The Jesus Family Tomb, Simcha Jacobovici and Charles Pellegrino, p. 82). Now this would ordinarily be evidence against their thesis, because Jesus was not a member of the sub-population found in ossuaries. Yet they modestly refrain from factoring the information into their analysis: "Had I lowered the population of Jerusalem during the period of ossuary use by limiting our investigation to well-to-do literate people, the numbers would have played too strongly in our favor." (The Jesus Family Tomb, Simcha Jacobovici and Charles Pellegrino, p. 82). To be sure circumstances change; yet the fact that someone does not fit the profile would ordinarily reduce, not increase the odds it's him. The assumption it is Him is the fixed pole about which everything else revolves.

The film-makers are conflicted on this matter of riches and poverty. It moves one to tears that the Jesus buried in the ossuary may have been wrapped in a straw shroud. They find in this evidence that he and those who buried Him "had practiced as he preached." (The Jesus Family Tomb, Simcha Jacobovici and Charles Pellegrino, p. 192).Yet if He and those who buried Him had truly practiced what He preached, they would have refrained from an expensive luxury that brought the dead no nearer to God. He doesn't praise the Pharisees for their devotion to tomb-building: "Woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! because ye build the tombs of the prophets, and garnish the sepulchres of the righteous. . ." (Matthew 23:29). It shows the circularly of the film-makers' reasoning that, in everything that should point against their thesis, they find only more evidence in its favor.

Circular reasoning is not good reasoning! The film-makers should be matching two independent lists: the list of deceased human beings interred in the Talpiot tomb, with the list of Jesus' family members as revealed by contemporary documents. Yet instead they are progressively 'correcting' the list of Jesus' family members to correspond with the names on the ossuaries. Thus, instead of 'Judah son of Jesus' being scored a miss, we discover that Jesus had a son! They start by assuming the truth of their conclusion; they are arguing in a circle, which is the error known as petitio principii. Is the viewer concerned by the lack of evidence for any of these things: that Jesus was married to Mary Magdalene, or that He had a son? Of course there's no evidence: it's a secret! Or at least it was, until Jesus gave it away at the cross, right in front of the soldiers. . .

Married to a Prostitute

Fifteen hundred years of Christian art have made familiar the face of Mary Magdalene as the woman holding the alabaster box. However, conservative Bible commentators point out there is no clear evidence in the New Testament text to identify Mary of Bethany, the woman with the alabaster box of ointment who was known to the public as a flagrant sinner, with Mary Magdalene, who saw the risen Lord. The 'Lost Tomb of Jesus' follows upon Dan Brown's 'Da Vinci Code,' as if that work were history rather than fiction. Dan Brown was careful to stress that, in inventing a marriage between Jesus of Nazareth and Mary Magdalene, he was not asserting that Jesus was married to a prostitute:

  • “Sophie turned. 'The prostitute?'
  • “Teabing drew a short breath, as if the word had injured him personally. 'Magdalene was no such thing. That unfortunate misconception is the legacy of a smear campaign launched by the early Church.'”
  • (The Da Vinci Code, Dan Brown, Chapter 58).

But as we've seen, these film-makers, who are travelling further down the trail blazed by author Brown, and who moreover share Dan Brown's indignation at her traditional job description, nevertheless restore to Mary Magdalene her identity with Mary of Bethany! This identification is made in the 'Acts of Philip,' which the film-makers take as history, not a historical novel. Mary of Bethany was a repentant sinner:

"Now when the Pharisee who had invited Him saw this, he spoke to himself, saying, 'This Man, if He were a prophet, would know who and what manner of woman this is who is touching Him, for she is a sinner.'" (Luke 7:39).

To be sure we are all sinners, but this woman is singled out from the rest of us as a "sinner." So her sin probably was not 'anger' nor 'gluttony.' Neither could she be a known axe murderer or embezzler, or she would not have been at liberty. The concept that she was a courtesan fits the bill. The world's oldest profession has proved resistant to efforts to stamp it out. In nations suffering foreign military occupation, such as the Asian countries once occupied by imperial Japan, efforts to clean up the red light district run into an obstacle: the authorities whose responsibility it is to stamp out this vice are themselves the pimps.

It's interesting to reflect that this has happened before. Kabbalists are fond of the idea of a 'sinner-Messiah,' and long before their time, the progenitor of their race, Simon Magus, an early rival and in some respects copy-cat of Christianity, travelled about with an ex-prostitute:

  • “And almost all the Samaritans, and a few even of other nations, worship him, and acknowledge him [Simon] as the first God; and a woman, Helena, who went about with him at that time, and had formerly been a prostitute, they say is the first idea generated by him.”
  • (Justin Martyr, First Apology, 26).

In identifying the woman Helena as his "first idea," Simon assigns her a place in the gnostic pantheon:

"Now this Simon of Samaria. . .Having redeemed from slavery at Tyre, a city of Phoenicia, a certain woman named Helena, he was in the habit of carrying her about with him, declaring that this woman was the first conception of his mind, the mother of all, by whom, in the beginning, he conceived in his mind [the thought] of forming angels and archangels. For this Ennoea leaping forth from him, and comprehending the will of her father, descended to the lower regions [of space], and generated angels and powers, by whom also he declared this word was formed. But after she had produced them, she was detained by them through motives of jealousy, because they were unwilling to be looked upon as the progeny of any other being." (Irenaeus, Against Heresies, Book 1, Chapter 23.2.)

This woman is a goddess, a co-creator, who herself generated the lesser beings, "angels and powers," who created this visible world. (Gnosticism differs from Christianity in that Christianity respects God's revelation to the prophets of monotheism.) Yet she had fallen from the heights and was wandering through a series of reincarnations in human form, and had in fact forgotten who she was.

The modern 'Jesus Industry' in its varied and protean forms, in academia and in popular entertainment, is more productively understood as bad religion than as a 'scholarly' much less a 'scientific' activity. If it were the latter, an idea for which there is no evidence: that Jesus was married to Mary Magdalene,-- would not be widely accepted. So where is the appeal here? They have rediscovered the paradigm Simon was marketing and have reinvented Jesus as Simon, married to a prostitute.

Jesus preached to the prostitutes: "Jesus said to them, 'Assuredly, I say to you that tax collectors and harlots enter the kingdom of God before you.'" (Matthew 21:31). But these were human tax collectors and prostitutes, who only go around once, like we all do: "And as it is appointed for men to die once, but after this the judgment. . ." (Hebrews 9:27). Prostitutes are human beings for whom Christ died, they are not goddesses trapped in a degrading human form. Readers of 'The Da Vinci Code' will recall their perplexity at how a marriage between God incarnate and a mere mortal woman met his requirements; she had to be a goddess to embody the 'divine feminine.' And so she is. What wonders will the next installment in this series bring?

Acts of Philip

The film-makers themselves date this apocryphal work to the fourth century. What this means is that the author did not witness the events he recounts,-- the town being swallowed by the abyss, the talking animals,-- nor did he interview anyone who had. The most charitable view to take of this brand of literature is that these are historical novels. Tertullian, who had come across the 'Acts of Paul and Thecla' and knew who had written it, took the less charitable view that these authors were forgers. What we cannot know now is how this literature was marketed; what was written on the 'dust jacket,' so to speak, has been lost. Although secular Bible scholars in by-gone years tried to post-date the New Testament into the second century, papyrus discoveries have cut them off at the pass and now everyone is forced to date the New Testament to the first century. In spite of the time gap between this apocryphal literature and the first century people whose adventures it relates, popular neo-gnostic authors like Dan Brown and our film-makers prefer the later testimony to the earlier. That this is an inversion of the normal rules of evidence is only the start of the problem.

Much of this literature has a hard edge to it that Christian readers may find repellant; for instance, our heroes find the proconsul's wife bedridden, they leave her a widow. Because a writer who sits down to write an historical novel will commonly put into the story every real historical circumstance known to him, some of this literature may preserve valid historical information. Its evidentiary value though is weak. Nevertheless the film-makers take this work as if its every assertion was historical.

In the 'Acts of Philip,' Jesus delivers a little love-note to His 'wife,' Mary of Bethany, namely, 'Honey, you're gonna drown:' ". . .Mariamne's body shall be laid up in the river Jordan." (Acts of Philip IX. 137.) This work, incidentally, like all other extant works, does not report that Jesus and Mary were married. Though Jerusalem had not heretofore been known as a river town, and all the maps in the backs of Bibles show a healthy hike through forbidding territory between the two locales, these film-makers' grasp on historicity is so tenuous that they interpret this to mean Mary Magdalene will die at Jerusalem.

Authors of this literature usually have an agenda. The author of the 'Acts of Philip' would seem to be a vegetarian. Isaiah prophesied that, in the Messianic age, predatory animals would lose their ferocity:

"The wolf also shall dwell with the lamb, the leopard shall lie down with the young goat, the calf and the young lion and the fatling together; and a little child shall lead them. The cow and the bear shall graze; their young ones shall lie down together; and the lion shall eat straw like the ox. The nursing child shall play by the cobra’s hole, and the weaned child shall put his hand in the viper’s den. They shall not hurt nor destroy in all My holy mountain, for the earth shall be full of the knowledge of the LORD as the waters cover the sea." (Isaiah 11:6-9, 65:25).

Because the Messiah comes once in obscurity and once in glory, there must be two advents. Because we are now in between the two, it is, and it isn't, the Messianic age. Our sins are forgiven: yet the earth still mocks the gardener with thorns and weeds, and women still suffer in childbirth. Experience shows the animals have not yet signed on to the Messianic program, yet our fourth century author performs a thought experiment: suppose they did. Suppose the repentant leopard, along with his reprieved victim the kid, buddies now, started tagging along with the apostles, determined to "follow us wherever we go, and eat what we eat. . ." (Acts of Philip, VII. 99.) What would you feed the leopard? 'Here, Leopard, have some of this leg of lamb, it's really good!' Would that not be like giving booze to a recovering alcoholic? Why should the inoffensive lamb, no longer having to fear the lion, be left still in fear of his hungry shepherd? Vegetarianism was as popular in the ancient world as today. The Thriceholy Library features a defense of vegetarianism by the pagan philosopher Porphyry. Our author hopes to shame his readers into vegetarianism.

Eye of Horus

To judge by photos of the Talpiot tomb, the builder was implementing this design concept: the tomb is to look like a little house, with a roof and a chimney, upper window, and door which is the tomb's opening. Our film-makers see instead the mysterious eye hovering over a pyramid on the back of the U.S. dollar bill! This image, borrowed from freemasonry, has mystified generations of school-children. The explanation of what this image, purporting to be the all-seeing eye of God, is doing on the currency is best left to conspiracy theorists.

While a perfect circle may be a good enough 'eye' for a cartoon character, anyone wanting to draw an eye can do better. A featureless circle is not even close. Neither does one draw a pyramid by sketching the top and not the bottom. The film-makers are evidently the kind of folks who see whales and pigs in passing clouds, and not only that, they have succeeded in convincing the Discovery Channel that their imaginative projections constitute science.

Whatever the intent of the design, it predates Christianity: "The pointed gable over a circle or rosette is seen in other tombs and ossuaries, some of which predate the Christian era and none of which is believed to have anything to do with Jesus and His movement. We see this artistic design in the outer and inner facades of the so-called 'Sanhedrin Tombs' in Jerusalem." (Buried Hope or Risen Savior, edited by Charles L. Quarles, Kindle location 1327).