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Study Resources :: Text Commentaries :: Don Stewart :: Objections to the Resurrection of Jesus

Don Stewart :: Has the Tomb of Jesus and the Burial Box That Contains His Bones Been Found in Jerusalem?

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Has the Tomb of Jesus and the Burial Box That Contains His Bones Been Found in Jerusalem?

Objections to the Resurrection of Jesus – Question 21

The Bible makes it clear that three days after His death on the cross, Jesus Christ was alive again. The resurrection of Jesus from the dead was the central message of the first believers. From the time of Jesus until the present, believers have placed their hope in a resurrected Christ.

However, from the day Jesus came back from the dead, there have been those who have attempted to dispute this historical fact. The first attempt at denying Jesus’ bodily resurrection is recorded for us in the Gospel of Matthew. The Roman Guard was told to say that Jesus’ disciples had stolen His body. This would account for the empty tomb. Since this first theory was proposed many other attempts have been made to deny that Jesus actually rose from the dead. All of the theories have miserably failed because Jesus did indeed conquer death.

Another Attempted Refutation of the Resurrection

Recently, a new attempt has been made to refute the fact of the resurrection. There is the claim that the actual box that contained the bones of Jesus Christ has been found. As we shall see, this recent claim makes no more sense than any other one which has been made throughout history.

The Claim

The claim can be simply stated as follows: the actual burial box or ossuary which contains the bones of Jesus, His mother Mary, His wife Mary Magdalene and His child Judah were found in a cave in the city of Jerusalem in 1980. While some attempts were made to identify these bones with the historical Jesus in 1996 it was not until 2007 that the world supposedly found out that the body of Jesus was actually buried in a cave in Jerusalem.

The Implications

If the bones of Jesus were truly found in this burial box, then the entire Christian faith comes crashing down. This is the claim of the New Testament writers. The Apostle Paul penned the following:

Now if Christ is preached as raised from the dead, how can some of you say, “There is no resurrection of the dead”? But if there is no resurrection of the dead, then Christ has not been raised; and if Christ has not been raised, then our preaching is without foundation, and so is your faith. In addition, we are found to be false witnesses about God, because we have testified about God that He raised up Christ—whom He did not raise up if in fact the dead are not raised. For if the dead are not raised, Christ has not been raised. And if Christ has not been raised, your faith is worthless; you are still in your sins. Therefore those who have fallen asleep in Christ have also perished. If we have placed our hope in Christ for this life only, we should be pitied more than anyone. (1 Corinthians 15:12-19 HCSB)

Paul said if there is no resurrection, then there is no Christianity. It is that simple.

Does this put the end to the Christian faith as some have claimed? What does the evidence tell us?

Response to the Claims

There are a number of responses we can make to these claims. Indeed, there are so many problems with this theory that one is hard pressed in knowing where to start. We can list the following.

Problem 1: Written Documents Always Take Precedence over Artifacts

The first problem with this so-called find has to do with a basic question in deciding the truth of the matter. How does one go about determining if Jesus rose from the dead? Where do we look first? A basic rule to guide us is that written documents must always take precedence over any artifact that is discovered. Why? Because the written documents make specific claims about what occurred to whom; in this case, Jesus. On the other hand the artifact which was discovered by chance makes no specific claims whatsoever about the Jesus of the New Testament. It is a burial box that has a name on it, Jesus, but no further identification is given.

Thus, with the New Testament we have 27 separate documents, by eight different authors, all independently testifying that Jesus had risen. From the four gospels, as well as from the Book of Acts, we are given a number of specific details about Jesus’ death, burial and resurrection. We know when He was buried, where He was buried, that the tomb was empty three days later. We are also told by these witnesses that Jesus rose from the dead and appeared to them. This is their consistent claim.

Since we have considerable eyewitness testimony to what occurred, given in specific detail, there must be powerful evidence, of a specific nature, to overturn such claims. This is simply common sense. We would apply the same standard in dealing with any other question, whether it be ancient or modern.

However, this is what we do not have with this burial box. As we shall see, there is no consensus among scholars on a number of basic issues dealing with this artifact. We’ll now consider some of these problems.

Problem 2: The Identification of the Name of Jesus Is Disputed

Another primary problem has to do with the identification of the names on the burial box. While some scholars insist that the name Jesus is on one of the ossuaries, others are not so certain. Indeed, it has been suggested that instead of the name Jesus, the actual name is “Hanun.” If this is true, then the entire theory collapses.

In addition, the identification of Mary Magdalene as being in one of the other burial boxes is also a disputed issue. There is no clear identification with her at all. In fact, there are better ways in which to understand the name than attributing it to Mary Magdalene.

Problem 3: There Are Names of Family Members on the Ossuaries That Do Not Belong to Jesus

There is something else. The New Testament is very clear as to the names of Jesus brothers. We read the following in the Gospel of Mark:

“Isn’t this the carpenter, the son of Mary, and the brother of James, Joses, Judas, and Simon? And aren't His sisters here with us?” So they were offended by Him. (Mark 6:3 HCSB)

Yet on this particular box we have the name Matthew as one of the dead Jesus’ relatives. There is no “Matthew” in Jesus’ immediate family.

Problem 4: Jesus Was Living in Jerusalem with His Wife and Child

Something else needs to be addressed. If this was the actual burial box of Jesus and, if indeed He was married to Mary Magdalene and had a child, then we would have to believe the following. While Jesus’ disciples are proclaiming that He has risen from the dead, in the very same city of Jerusalem, Jesus is living there with His wife, and eventually His son, without anyone identifying them. Furthermore, Jesus’ disciples are being persecuted for their proclamation of His resurrection and they will all, with the exception of John, become martyred. All of this is occurring while Jesus is living openly in their midst. To say this is ridiculous is to put it mildly!

Problem 5: The Gathering of Jesus’ Bones

Another problem has to do with the gathering of Jesus’ bones in the ossuary. This would take place about one year after His death where His flesh decomposed to the place that only His bones were left. If someone knew He was dead, and that His body was lying in some tomb, then they would have to have been part of this huge conspiracy. But who was involved? His disciples certainly believed He had risen. His own family testified to the fact that He had risen from the dead? Who is keeping this fact secret from these people?

Problem 6: Jesus the Liar

If this were the actual burial box of Jesus, then Jesus of Nazareth would be the greatest fraud in history. While He was still alive, living with His wife and child, He was allowing His own disciples to falsely proclaim that He had risen from the dead. This would make Him the willing perpetrator of the greatest hoax in history.

Problem 7: The Conversion of James and Saul

There is also the issue of the conversion of James, Jesus’ brother, and Saul of Tarsus. They were unbelievers before the resurrection of Jesus. Something convinced them that He had risen from the dead. Each of these men testified it was seeing the risen Christ. How do we explain their conversion?

These are some of the many problems relating to the idea that the burial box that contained the bones of Jesus Christ has been found. The evidence says otherwise. Indeed, many other things could be said to show how ridiculous this idea is. What we can conclude is this: Jesus Christ is risen indeed.

Summary – Question 21
Has the Tomb of Jesus and the Burial Box That Contains His Bones Been Found in Jerusalem?

The Christian faith has been attacked from the very first day of its existence. Therefore, attacks are not new. One of the latest has to do with the claim that the box that contained the bones of Jesus have been found in the city of Jerusalem. It was splashed across the headlines in 2007 as if this was some new find. As usual, there is nothing new under the sun. This same claim had originally been made in 1996. Nobody took much notice of it at that time. In the same manner, nobody should give much credence to the latest “Jesus’ family tomb” claim.

Basically, what happened is this. A tomb was discovered in 1980 which had a number of burial boxes, or ossuaries. The names on the boxes were in some senses similar and in other senses different, to Jesus’ family. One box claimed to contain the bones of one Jesus, son of Joseph. A diminutive form of the name Mary was on another of the boxes.

From this find, a convoluted theory was hatched how this burial box once contained the actual bones of Jesus Christ as well as His wife Mary Magdalene and His son Judah! Since the media gave it its full attention it was thought that there might be something to it. Yet, this is not the case.

Rather than go into all the specifics of this misguided theory we can raise the following points which should put it to rest.

First, on the one hand we have the New Testament; written documents which give specific references to the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus. The New Testament contains a great deal of information about Jesus’ last hours, how He was executed, where He was buried, and the fact that eyewitnesses claimed to have seen Him three days after His death.

We have at least eight different lines of evidence from the various writers which support these claims. Compare this to these boxes that merely have names on them. There is no claim as to when exactly these people lived or that they are in any way related to the Jesus of the New Testament. None whatsoever.

The written documents which make direct claims about Jesus should be our starting point in determining what had happened. If someone is going to refute what they say, the refutations must be specific and convincing to overturn the testimony of the New Testament. The burial boxes do not even begin to accomplish this. Consequently, we should not take them seriously.

Add to this the fact that the identifications of the boxes are disputed. The name “Jesus” might not read “Jesus.” The so-called reference to Mary Magdalene on one of the other boxes is even more disputed. Other possibilities make much more sense. So not only do we have mere boxes versus the testimony of the New Testament, the actual wording on the boxes is disputed.

There is also the problem of the names on the other boxes. They do not match the names of Jesus’ family. In fact they contradict what the New Testament documents say; documents that have proven over and over again to be reliable.

This theory gets even more absurd. Jesus would have to be living in the area of Jerusalem with His wife and child at the same time His disciples are proclaiming in that very city that He had risen from the dead! Indeed, they were not only proclaiming the truth of the resurrection, they were suffering and dying for it. Are we to assume none of the antagonists to Christianity could find where Jesus was living? Are we to assume His disciples did not know He had not died?

The fact that someone gathered the bones of this “Jesus” and put his name on the burial box is another indication we are not talking about the Jesus of the New Testament. If there was any chance Jesus had not risen and that He was buried somewhere in Jerusalem the Roman and Jewish authorities would have pointed this out. Instead, all they could come up with is the theory Jesus’ disciples stole His body. This, of course, assumes that there was no body in the tomb.

If Jesus had not risen from the dead, then He is a liar. Christianity is one giant hoax. Either He is Lord of all or not Lord at all. Yet, there is no evidence anywhere that Jesus every lied about anything.

There is also the problem of the conversion of James, Jesus’ brother, and Saul of Tarsus. These men were not converted until after Jesus had risen. Something caused them to believe that He had risen from the dead. What could it have been if Jesus was still living with His wife and child in Jerusalem? No comment really needs to be made.

The “Jesus Family Tomb” is another of many attempts which have been made to refute the Christian faith. Like all others, it miserably fails.

Can We Really Know What Happened to Jesus and Does It Actually Matter What Occurred? ← Prior Section
Was Jesus Raised Bodily from the Dead? Next Section →
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