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Flaws bury 'Tomb of Jesus' special, say professor, pastors

The much-hyped "The Lost Tomb of Jesus" was shown Sunday on the Discovery Channel. Directed by James Cameron, who also made "Titanic," the show made the case that a burial cave near Jerusalem discovered in 1980 contained the bones of Jesus, his mother, Mary, two of Jesus' brothers — Joseph and James — along with those of Mary Magdalene and Mary and Jesus' son.

The show used DNA sampling to prove that the bodies purported to be Jesus and Mary Magdalene were unrelated, and thus concluded they must be married. Statistical analysis also was included, stating that the common names of Jesus, Mary, Joseph and others became much more unusual when linked, especially if the second Mary (Mariamne) found in the cave was indeed Mary Magdalene.

An after-show special pitted two of the show's leaders against five scientific and religious experts. That's when viewers found out, for example, that the original archaeologist of the burial cave disputes facts presented in the show and that the statistical professor backpedaled by saying he used only figures that were given to him, which may not have been accurate.

So, was the "documentary" accurate, or merely entertaining? Were facts made to fit a presupposition or the result of critical thinking? As the world approaches the Easter season, is it possible to celebrate the resurrection of Christ without a bodily resurrection, as the show suggested?

Darrell Bock, research professor at Dallas Theological Seminary, was one of the experts on the after-show panel. He spoke with The Bee in December regarding Christmas traditions vs. facts and answered questions Friday by phone from the Sea of Galilee in Israel.

"I think every aspect of the show had problems," he said. "It's very unlikely this tomb belonged to Jesus and his family. There's no record of any Matthew in his family. Certain relatives that should have been there are not mentioned. There are just numerous problems all along the way."

Bock said he visited the site of the burial cave Thursday.

"It's just a sealed-up vault in the middle of an apartment complex," he said.

And he said the large criticism of the "Lost Tomb" premise and conclusion crosses all boundaries, from conservative evangelicals to liberal scientists to Jewish archaeology experts.

Father Joseph Illo of St. Joseph's Catholic Church in Modesto called the special "maybe 20 percent authentic and 80 percent hype. Maybe propaganda is a more accurate term."

Illo, who has a master's degree in history, said, "The major thing in my craw is dressing up 'Da Vinci Code' fiction to look like history or science. For those who have never read history or been to Israel or Rome, it's very confusing.

"There are many people who are not educated in the faith's early history, and it will just cast doubt in their minds. Worse than that, it casts doubt on any history. If this historically accepted event did not happen, then all of history is in doubt. If Peter isn't buried in Rome, which has been a historically accepted fact for a long, long time, then did Napoleon ever exist?"

The show "didn't posit any scientific evidence that this is true," Illo said. "So my faith isn't shaken. This was all fantasy."

Father Jon Magoulias of Modesto's Greek Orthodox Church agreed.

"For me, this is one more indication of the lack of historical knowledge that people have regarding the New Testament and the New Testament church," he said. "This is disheartening, one more attack on the Christian faith.

"It comes at the time of Lent, when we're preparing for the time of the celebration of the Resurrection. The Orthodox Church has always emphasized the truth of the (bodily) Resurrection. It's an attack on Christ himself to distract people to find out the truth."

Magoulias isn't opposed to critical thinking of his faith. "The church isn't trying to hide the truth from anyone," he said. "We want to reveal the truth, the promise of everlasting life. The problem is people aren't aware of the historical data that does exist."

Pastor Wade Estes of First Baptist Church of Modesto questioned the statistical probability used in the special. He gave this example: "Joel Estes is the man for whom Estes Park in Colorado is named. He and his wife had four sons and two daughters. What is the possibility that someone else with the last name of Estes, who came from Kentucky (as did Joel) and is from his family line would also have six children comprised of four sons and two daughters?

"I don't know the math, but my parents and their children match that description exactly, and the probability seems pretty astounding. Could it be more than the 600-to-1 ratio that was figured for four of the names in the (show's) tomb?"

Estes also rejects a statement during the show that Christians can retain their faith without Christ's bodily resurrection.

"The Scriptures seem very clear to me that Jesus' physical body was killed and that same physical body was raised: The body in the tomb was gone, and the body Jesus was later seen in had the marks of his suffering. He showed his disciples the holes in his hands, feet and side; he ate food, etc.

"I know of no biblical information that says Jesus' old body disintegrated or in some other fashion "went away" and he received a different body. Clearly, his physical body was transformed, brought back to life, and had new qualities that it didn't previously possess. But it still bore the marks of the body in which he suffered."

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