The finding of Christ’s tomb
This past week or so has been filled with stories about the possible finding of a so far unknown tomb complete with the remains of Jesus and other members of his family. The stories were to generate publicity for a documentary set to air on the Discovery channel in the U.S. and on Vision TV in Canada this weekend. Naturally, a book is set to appear this spring (likely before Easter?) The basic content of the stories so far seems to be that:
In 1980 a tomb was excavated in a district of Jerusalem. Inside this tomb the excavators found ten ossuaries (bone boxes made of stone) which included some skeletal remains. The ossuaries were inscribed with names that were common at the time such as Joseph, Jesus, Mary, and Judah. At the time little was made of this discovery.
About fifteen years ago the BBC made a film suggesting that this might be the tomb of Jesus. The suggestion seems to have been laughed away by all. Now drawing on the fame of the Da Vinci Code and using the prestige of DNA evidence these film makers put forward the theory that the remains found are in all probability those of Jesus of Nazareth, his parents, his wife Mary Magdalene, and his child, Judah. The film will apparently try to make a case based on statistics to establish this probability. The DNA likely could only show that one set of remains was not related to the others (its unlikely that the filmmakers sent to heaven for a control DNA sample).
What to make of all this? Well, first of all the early Church was quite clear about the tomb - it was empty. St. Paul in the first letter to the Corinthians is also quite explicit: "If there is no resurrection from the dead, Christ himself cannot have been raised, and if Christ has not been raised then our preaching has been useless and your believing it is useless..." (1Cor: 15:14). Secondly, the fact that other people at that time were named Jesus, Mary, and Joseph is not surprising. For example, one article that I have seen suggests that about twenty percent of the female population at that time was named Mary. Jesus was not the most common male name but it was still relatively common (sixth most common according to the article). So, for example, my neighbors are named Frank, Ken (his son), and Marj. If twenty years from now (never mind two thousand years) I go to a cemetery in another town far from here and find a family plot with just those markers, (mentioned above) it is extremely unlikely that I am viewing the graves of my former neighbors. So, I am not going to lose sleep about this so-called "earth shattering" discovery. In fact, it seems like "deja moo" to me (I’ve heard this bull before). I suspect that visions of the fortune made by the Da Vinci Code dance before the eyes of the film makers and obscure any honest search for truth.
It seems to be that plain greed as the motivation for projects such as this is the most likely explanation for their existence. Another explanation seems to be (in my opinion) an almost antirational quality of modern culture that makes people ready to believe in cover-ups and in bizarre alternative explanations for events. One of the first examples that I can recall came with the book, Chariots of the Gods, which theorized that intervention by space travelers was the most likely explanation for the achievements of ancient civilizations. That book was popular and spawned a whole industry of people providing alternative explanations for things. Finally, I think that some people who are nominal Christians are ready to accept stories that cast doubt on traditional teachings of the Church because they are more comfortable with picking their own beliefs rather than accepting the beliefs handed down by the Church.
Update: I watched most of the documentary last night on Vision TV. It was fairly boring. You have to accept a series of highly dubious conjectures about the identity of the individuals in the tomb and then the triumphant conclusion of the film becomes, "Then if all this is true, statistics suggest that this must be the tomb of Jesus. Of course if each of the individual conjectures is false, then the final conclusion is very false.