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Tuesday, March 06, 2007

The Lost Tomb of Jesus...Here are some problems

Here is my attempt to synthesize many of the criticisms that have been levied against the Documentary film, The Lost Tomb of Jesus. Much of the information presented here comes from Ben Witherington and Richard Bauckham, as noted in the end notes.

Claim #1--The tenth ossuary is lost.

Based on this claim, the filmmakers suggest that the recent ossuary purchased on the market (not unearthed from a tomb) which had the inscription James, son of Joseph, brother of Jesus could be a likely candidate as the missing tenth Talpiot ossuary. James Tabor even goes on to say that the measurements of the missing ossuary and the measurements of the known James ossuary are a match.


1. Amos Kloner and Joe Zias who were both archaeologists who worked the original site of the 10 ossuaries in 1980. Both have categorically denied that the 10th ossuary is missing.[1]

2. Furthermore, both archaeologists have stated that the tenth ossuary was blank with no ornamental designs or any inscriptions of names.[2] This is important because the James ossuary has an inscription.

Claim #2—The James ossuary was purchased around the same time the Talpiot tomb was discovered (1980).

Relatively speaking, perhaps this is true, but preciseness is very important here. If it could be proven that the James ossuary was purchased before the 1980 Talpiot tomb discovery then the claim would surely be put to rest.


1. Oded Golan (who purchased the James ossuary) has consistently said that he purchased the James ossuary before 1978 when Israeli laws changed.[3]

2. Oded Golan, in fact said he purchased it in the mid-70’s.[4]

3. In addition to this, in his ongoing trial, evidence has been produced which shows Golan with the James ossuary in a picture dated to the seventies.[5]

This is important because the Talpiot Tomb was not discovered until 1980 making it impossible for the James ossuary to have come from it. In light of this evidence, the patina test comparing the molecules contained on both the James ossuary and ossuaries coming from the Talpiot Tomb becomes less meaningful. Ted Koppel even produced a quote from the lab clarifying that the patina test alone does not prove that the ossuaries came from the same tomb.

Furthermore, it has been noted by many that the spikes did not align precisely in the film (I noticed this as well).

Claim #3: The Jose ossuary is compelling because it is rare and there is biblical evidence which suggests that Jesus had a brother who was called Joses (Mark 6:3).

While it is true that Jesus had a brother who was called Joses in the Gospel according to Mark, it is also true that the Gospel according to Mark also records another Joses (Mark 15) who was not Jesus’ brother. So while it might be rare to find this name on an ossuary, apparently it is not so rare that two Joses were running around together within Jesus own followers.

Claim #4: Jesus, son of Joseph is Jesus of Nazareth, son of Joseph

A further question needs to be asked. The assumption by the filmmakers is that Jose is Jesus’ brother. If so, why would Jesus be the only brother distinguished as Jesus son of Joseph? Jose is not distinguished this way. It is merely Jose. Jesus own followers did not identify Jesus as “Jesus, son of Joseph.” If any of the two brothers should have had son of Joseph scripted by it if this were Jesus of Nazareth’s family tomb then it would have been Jose, not Jesus.

Matt 1:16 (NASU) Jacob was the father of Joseph the husband of Mary, by whom Jesus was born, who is called the Messiah.

Mark 5:7 (NASU) and shouting with a loud voice, he ^said, "What business do we have with each other, Jesus, Son of the Most High God? I implore You by God, do not torment me!"

Hebr 4:14 (NASU) Therefore, since we have a great high priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus the Son of God, let us hold fast our confession

Luke 3:23 (NASU) When He began His ministry, Jesus Himself was about thirty years of age, being, as was supposed, the son of Joseph, the son of Eli,

His critics call him the son of Joseph in (exception in John 1:45)

John 6:42 (NASU) They were saying, "Is not this Jesus, the son of Joseph, whose father and mother we know? How does He now say, `I have come down out of heaven'?"

Mark 6:3 (NASU) "Is not this the carpenter, the son of Mary, and brother of James and Joses and Judas and Simon? Are not His sisters here with us?" And they took offense at Him.

The claim that this is Jesus of Nazareth comes from the combination of the names and its location coupled with statistics. But as we shall see it is one big chain of speculation that cannot withstand scrutiny.

Claim #5: Maria was the styled and common name of Jesus’ mother.

Problem 1. Yet in the earliest texts to the time of Jesus (Gospel of Matthew, Mark, Luke, & John) Mariam is used just as often as Maria with reference to Jesus’ mother. In fact, Mariam is used of Mary the mother of Jesus more than Maria.

Claims #6-7: The Mariamenou-Mara ossuary belongs to Mary Magdalene. Mariamne is rare, and there is a connection to Mary Magdalene.

This will be the most technical debate involving all the arguments made by the film.


1. Mary Magdalene IS NEVER referred to in the earliest gospels (Matthew, Mark, Luke, & John) as Mariamene/Mariamne. She is always identified as Maria and Mariam Magdalene.

Why is this important? Because these particular gospels were written by individuals who lived in the same time period with Jesus and who knew Mary Magdalene.

Mariam—Hebrew name This name was most commonly translated in Greek as Maria and Mariame/Mariamme[6]

One of the major criticisms of the film is the way the producers talk about Mary Magdalene within Christian tradition. Many of the examples which are used in this film are not grounded within universally accepted Christian tradition but are found in Gnostic traditions. Gnostics are people who took some principles from the Bible and perverted its teachings to fit there own ideology. They would also use some of the characters from the Bible and tell apocryphal stories to further illustrate the perverted doctrines they believed.

In the film they allude to competing understandings of Christianity, and that the Catholic Church won out, thus they stamped out or tried to stamp other legitimate forms of Christianity. The church combating perverse theologies is nothing new. The Apostles themselves, as demonstrated in Scripture had to at nearly every turn combat some false teaching.

All of this is to say that these “Christian traditions” as used in the documentary are called apocryphal and Gnostic for reasons. They are unhistorical stories using biblical names. They are also false teachings. It is within Apocryphal and Gnostic traditions where Mary Magdalene’s name is eventually transformed from Maria/Mariam to Mariame/Mariamme.


1. Celsus—a strident critic of Christianity spells her name Mariamme (3rd century)

2. Gospel of Mary: Mariamme (3rd Century)

3. Sophia of Jesus Christ: Gnostic work spells it Mariamme[7]

Hippolytus appears to be the first writer to refer to Mary Magdalene with a spelling of Mariamne (with the ‘n’) in his work called Refutation of all Heresies (note the title).[8] Hippolytus is refuting false claims made about Mary Magdalene, similar myths propagated by the Lost Tomb of Jesus/Divinci Code theorists.

Dr. Tabor mentioned Hippolytus’ work on the critical segment of the show in defense of the name, Mariamne but he said Hippolytus’ work was 2nd century, however it was written between 228-233 making it 3rd century (even farther from the time of Jesus).[9]

In addition to this scholars are unsure whether Hippolytus himself wrote it that way because there are two manuscript chains flowing from the original and one has Mariamme and the other has Mariamne, so Mariamne may be even a later development in the 3rd century.[10]

Dr. Richard Bauckham believes the name Mariamne is a late deformation of the name Mariamme by users who were not familiar with the name (it was rarely used after the fall of Jerusalem in 70 AD). The filmmakers also put forth the Acts of Philip as another source where the rare Mariamne is used for Mary Magdalene. Again, here is the major problem. The Acts of Philip dates to the 4th-5th century (hundreds of years beyond the time of Jesus). And it is universally accepted as Apocryphal, that is an unhistorical account using Biblical characters including Mary Magdalene. So while the filmmakers are technically correct to link the name Mariamne to Mary Magdalene. It can only be established as a link to a time period hundreds of years beyond the time period the historical Jesus and Mary Magdalene. And as Dr. Bauckham has demonstrated, the name was most likely a corruption of the name Mariamme by later Greek speakers who were unfamiliar with the name.

Therefore, there is ZERO EVIDENCE that Mary Magdalene was ever called Mariamne by her contemporaries. All the evidence points to Maria/Mariam Magdalene being the name she was addressed by when speaking with 1st century Jews and Gentiles.

2. Is there really a direct connection with Mariamne (Acts of Philip, Hippolytus) with the name written on the ossuary itself, that is mariamenou? The Discovery Channel Filmmakers are equating the two presumably by contraction (Mariamene contracts to Mariamne). I say presumably because they never say, and they were never asked. Why is this important? Because the inscription Mariamenou does not come from Mariamne, but Mariamenon/Mariamene.[11]

Therefore, if Mariamne is not contracted from Mariamene as Bauckham suggests, then there is not even a connection between this inscription and the Acts of Philip anyway (even though we have already demonstrated how weak that point was).

Claim #7: Mariamenou-mara should be translated as “belonging to Mary or the Master.”

The filmmakers suggest that Mara in Aramaic means Master (maranatha; see 1 Corinthians 16:22), and we affirm this point. But did not the filmmakers say that this box alone was inscribed in Greek unlike the rest of the boxes which were inscribed in Aramaic?

Rahmani suggests that the box could be translated instead of “belonging to Mary or the Master” as “belonging to Mary who {was also called} Mara (short for Martha). It was not uncommon for a person to have a Greek name (Mariamene) and an Aramaic one (Mara).[12]

Misc. Criticisms
As I have shown already, the statistical argument is shallow once you take Matthew and Mary Magdalene out of the equation. Furthermore, we have no evidence that the Maria ossuary in this Tomb is the mother of the man identified as Jesus, son of Joseph. We have no evidence that Jose was the brother of the man identified as Jesus, son of Joseph. Statistics are only as good as the formula, and the formula presented in this documentary is rampant with gross speculation.

The DNA evidence only proved that Mariamenou-Mara was not maternally related to Jesus, son of Joseph. She could have been a half-sister from their father’s side. She could have been an aunt from his father’s side. She could have been a cousin from his father’s side, etc….

There is the claim also that the beloved disciple was not John the Apostle, but a son of Jesus through Mary Magdalene. And this was linked to the ossuary inscribed “Judah, son of Jesus.” John makes abundantly clear the purpose of Jesus’ words was to incite John the Apostle (historic understanding for the identity of the beloved disciple) to take Jesus’ mother into his own household and care for her, which the texts says he did (John 19). Yet the filmmakers said this could have been Jesus speaking to his own blood son. But did you notice the Judah, son of Jesus ossuary? It was for an infant or child. It makes no sense for Jesus to say this to a child, why? Because a child cannot take care of himself let alone his mother.

Theological Note: Dr Tabor made the point that he believes the Bible does not endorse a physical resurrection. And he alludes to 1 Corinthians 15:35. The historic Catholic/Protestant understanding of Scripture affirms the bodily resurrection of Jesus of Nazareth. Here is an attempt to understand Paul in 1 Corinthians 15:35-58 Spiritual does not equate to the opposite of physical. Paul is not saying the body will not be physical, but it will be wrought by the Holy Spirit (see 1 Cor. 2:13).[13]

The spiritual are those who have been born again, and are being changed by the Spirit into conformity to Christ through sanctification.

Reflect on Romans 8:11 Roma 8:11 (NASU) But if the Spirit of Him who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, He who raised Christ Jesus from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies through His Spirit who dwells in you.

Reflect on John 20:24-28 Thomas put his hands in the physically resurrected body. The earliest accounts make abundantly clear that Jesus body was gone (Matt 28:6; Mark 16:6; Luke 24:22-23; John 20:12).

[1] Ben Witherington,

[2] Ibid.

[3] Ibid.

[4] Ibid

[5] Ibid.

[6] Ricahrd Bauckham,

[7] Ibid.

[8] Ibid.

[9] Ibid.

[10] Ibid.

[11] Ibid.

[12] Ibid.

[13] Anthony C. Thiselton, 1 Corinthians, NIGTC, 1276-1281. See also Denny Burk,

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