Published in: From the Pastor’s Heart, a publication of The First Presbyterian Church, Chattanooga, Tennessee
March 1, 2007
While they were going, behold, some of the guard went into the city and told the chief priests all that had taken place. And when they had assembled with the elders and taken counsel, they gave a sufficient sum of money to the soldiers and said, “Tell people, ‘His disciples came by night and stole him away while we were asleep.’ And if this comes to the governor’s ears, we will satisfy him and keep you out of trouble.” So they took the money and did as they were directed. And this story has been spread among the Jews to this day (Matthew 28:11-15 ESV).
Just in time for Easter. Last year at this time I wrote about the Gospel According to Judas, a document that was supposed to turn Christianity on its head. All it did was get plenty of media attention for a few weeks and sold a whole bunch of books. Now, in a press conference worthy of the P.T. Barnum prize for showmanship, Titanic movie producer and documentary film maker James Cameron made an announcement expecting to shake the world. He and his team have located the tomb of Jesus, proving through DNA evidence of the bones found therein, that He did not rise again from the dead. Along with Jesus’ bones are the bones of His family. One ossuary, a container for bones, is labeled “Judah, son of Jesus.” Again, we are promised that Christianity is now in jeopardy.
I want to respond, like I did last year, with some caveats. First, I believe this will be, for the most part, out of date by next year. This is simply one more Lenten season attack on the resurrection of Jesus Christ. Such attacks have sadly become commonplace. But make no mistake about their origin. I don’t believe that Mr. Cameron is the devil. I just believe that he is an unwitting tool of the devil. Second, I believe that such claims do not convert or cause Christians to turn away from Jesus. “Even if one were to rise again from the dead” Jesus declared, prophetically, some hard-hearted people will not believe. Finding a relic of Noah’s Ark won’t bring in a revival and finding an ossuary that has Jesus’ name on it won’t stop the spread of the Gospel. “Faith is the gift of God.”
But I do want to clearly refute this latest news item. The business of linking one of the thousands of ossuaries that are buried beneath Jerusalem with a certain figure is risky. Ask those who claimed that they found the Apostle James’ remains a few years back. I even saw it on display myself. Books were put out by otherwise reputable scholars who wondered if it were so. But while some of the covers were still hot off the press, the whole thing was admitted to be a hoax. Now I am not sure this latest discovery is a hoax. Lies come in different flavors. In this case, there is clearly an ossuary. There are names on it. The names (at least as they have been deciphered now) are Biblical names. There is a family whose bones are in it. One has to take a giant leap from the artifacts in order to arrive at the fantastic conclusions of the Cameron “discovery.” It is just anti-Christian propaganda! All of the names mentioned were common names. Linking DNA to a family group in the ossuary means nothing other than they were related. Moreover, none of it agrees with the better testimony of Scripture. Jesus was buried in the borrowed tomb of Joseph of Arimathea (Matthew 27:57, Mark 15:42, Luke 23:50, and John 19:38-42). Jesus rose again from the dead and was seen by over 500 people at once (1 Corinthians 15:6). He was seen alive by those who previously didn’t believe, including Saul of Tarsus. Mary Magdalene is never linked to Jesus romantically and the idea (though Cameron and crew claimed, like the DaVinci Code, that they were married) has absolutely no ground in Scripture or church history. The diabolical idea appears in Gnostic documents hundreds and hundreds of years after Christ. Additionally, Aramaic texts from the first century are more than a little difficult to decipher and even those working on this project admitted as much. But that is a small matter given all of the other overwhelming evidences against this latest attack on orthodox Christianity. Finally, even those most intimately connected with the story, the scholars which Cameron employed to bring some credibility to the case, are abandoning ship already (they know they will never get another peer reviewed paper published again if they don’t!). Dr. Shimon Gibson, a member of Cameron’s team, admitted he’s skeptical about the claims now. Dr. Amos Kloner, who first examined the site, says that the claims simply don’t hold up according to archeological standards. Dr. Stephen Pfann, a biblical scholar at the University of the Holy Land in Jerusalem, who also is interviewed on the documentary, says the hypotheses hold little weight. And on it goes. But who is worried about facts when we have a television documentary to be pushed and some books to be sold?
The press is announcing that this story is absolutely true and cannot fail the tests of scrutiny. Didn’t Cameron learn anything from the Titanic? There were plenty of claims about the indestructibility of that doomed ship. And we know what happened to it. The same thing will happen here. The iceberg that brings this story down will not be hidden beneath the deep, dark sea. The thing that will sink this latest Easter attack will be the facts.
One thing is for sure: Mr. Cameron, and those who want to see his DaVinci-like story prosper, will not have to endure the threats and protests that the Moslems gave when some Danish cartoonist went over the edge with his caricature of Mohammed. Christians, when we are following our Lord at our best, will trust the risen Christ to work all things together for the good. We will pray for Mr. Cameron. Should he, by the grace of God, abandon this sinking ship and seek the risen Christ, Jesus will be there for Him, just like He has been there for millions and millions of people before. Mr. Cameron also can be saved from this sinking ship of a story by the very One he denies. Then the words that Celine Dion sang for Titanic will become the Easter creed for James Cameron and other sad skeptics saved from their own sinking schemes:
Far across the distance And spaces between us You have come to show you go on.