03/04/07 — Jesus tomb find claim draws skepticism

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Jesus tomb find claim draws skepticism

By Matthew Whittle
Published in News on March 4, 2007 2:01 AM

When the announcement was made early last week that archeologists had found what some believe is the tomb of Jesus Christ and that inside it was evidence that not only had he not been resurrected, but that he had married and fathered a son, the reaction by many in Wayne County was disbelief.

But it wasn't a faith-questioning disbelief. It was more of a head-shaking, here-we-go-again disbelief.

"I think they'll do anything to discredit the fact of His resurrection. I think that's the basic bottom line," Rico Dixon of Goldsboro said.

Jim Cobb, also of Goldsboro, didn't necessarily think that it was an intentional attack against Christianity, but said it's likely those involved simply made a mistake.

"This was supposedly discovered in 1980. Why hasn't more been made of it in this time?" he said. "Personally, without a whole lot more research, a whole lot more documentation and a whole lot more verification, I tend to think it's just another legend or story.

"I think it falls in the same category as Dan Brown's 'DaVinci Code.' I kind of doubt it's the real thing."

He and others also questioned how the tomb could ever be truly identified as the last resting place of Jesus.

The only evidence that has been released so far, are the names scratched into the stone ossuaries (coffins) -- Jesus, son of Joseph, Mariamene (supposedly meaning Mary Magdalene) and Judah, son of Jesus. However, scholars have since said that those names were among the most popular of that time.

"How do you know it's him? Are they going to do a DNA test?" Fremont resident Tammy Wells asked. "What's it going to prove?

"I really am skeptical. I think they'd have to come up with a little more proof."

She's especially wary since another site has long been assumed to be the tomb of Jesus.

"My thing is, they supposedly built one of the Catholic churches around the tomb of Jesus in Jerusalem and they say you can actually touch the rock that closed in Jesus. If that's true, then where does this other tomb come from?" she asked.

The church Ms. Wells referred to is the Church of the Holy Sepulcher in Jerusalem's Old City, which is believed to have been built around the site where Jesus spent three days in the grave before the resurrection.

The Rev. Dr. James Garneau, adjutant professor of history and religion at Mount Olive College and a priest at St. Mary's Catholic Church in Mount Olive, explained that while there is no proof that the Church of the Holy Sepulcher stands over Jesus' tomb, it is a long-accepted belief. The church is held jointly by the Roman Catholic Church, the Greek Orthodox Church and the Armenian Orthodox Church.

"The roof covers what is traditionally considered to be Mt. Calvary and the tomb of Jesus. It's not a recent thought. At the time of the Roman Empire, it was assumed to be there," Garneau said.

The tomb making news this week, however, was found in 1980 in a southern Jerusalem neighborhood, nowhere near the church.

Garneau said it is unlikely this new tomb was that of Jesus.

"This is bad history and fantasy," he said. "There's very little they're going with. The names on the sarcophagi don't prove anything except the popularity of the names Joseph and Jesus. You don't see any major scholars coming forward supporting this."

Fellow Mount Olive College professor Dr. Daniel Gall agreed.

Gall, an associate professor of environmental science and archeology, noted that nothing about last Monday's announcement and tonight's Discovery Channel documentary "The Lost Tomb of Jesus" has any scientific merit.

The problem, he explained, is that the accepted scientific method for such discoveries -- research, testing, reproducible data and peer-reviewed conclusions -- has not been followed.

"That's the method," he said. "All that is done and then we go public, not before."

By skipping that process and creating a public debate before their conclusions could be scrutinized by the academic community, Gall continued, it's obvious that executive producer James Cameron of "Titanic" and "Terminator" fame is just out to make a buck.

"He's taken a crypt and invented a story around it," Gall said. "These are fictional characters he's making up. It's as fictional as 'Titanic.'"

Damaging to the film's credibility, Gall said, is the fact that according to recent tests done at the paleo-DNA lab at Ontario, Canada's Lakehead University, DNA recovered from the ossuaries of Maria-mene and Judah, don't match.

"From what I understand, the DNA work that was done does not link any of these people," he said.

Also damaging are the similarities between the 10 ossuaries featured in the film and another one recovered in 1980 with the name of James, son of Joseph, brother of Jesus on it. The inscription on that one was declared by the Israeli Antiquities Authority to be a forgery.

"The ossuaries are probably genuine limestone bone boxes, but the inscriptions are likely forged and treated with chemicals to make them look ancient," Gall said. "The faked patina (the weathered surface on the artifact) on the James ossuary matches the patina over the inscriptions on these others, so the inscriptions almost certainly forgeries.

"It's a common trick in that part of the world and a scam that's been around for a very long time."

He also disagrees with the other basic premise of the documentary -- that Jesus' resurrection did not occur.

"I'm a scientist and a Christian. What they claim they're trying to do is not undermine Christianity, but what they're saying is that Jesus was a man who lived 2,000 years ago, had a vision and communicated it to people. What they're saying, to Christians, is blasphemy," he said.

But, Gall continued, he does strive to keep his faith and his science separate.

"This is pseudo-science and a pseudo-documentary," he said. "The people who have done this have absolutely no academic credentials whatsoever and there's no credibility to what they're saying."

And that's a shame, Garneau added, because, "A lot of folks are going to be looking at the Discovery Channel and thinking they're looking at history and they're not.

"It's just Easter time again and they have to come up with something to talk about Jesus without talking about our Jesus."

He and other local ministers agreed, though, that the film isn't likely to have an impact on the Christian faith.

"The timing seems to be to sell movies," said Gene Carpenter, rector at St. Stephen's Episcopal Church. "Such finds I don't see as very threatening to my own personal faith and I still trust that the Holy Spirit is at work in the church and will help us deal with whatever is before us."

Most pastors barely even blinked when they heard the announcement.

"I didn't have any reaction," Dr. Louis Leigh of the First African Baptist Church in Goldsboro said. "I don't really think it matters. I see Jesus as hope, strength and salvation. We've got a 2,000-year track record of his goodness. He's beyond any physical artifact."

Jack Sauls, minister at Trinity Baptist Church in Goldsboro, was a little forceful in his rejection of the idea.

"This is such a common thing. We are in the last days and the Lord warned us about these sorts of crazy things," he said. "They're looking for a tomb and the thing is, the Lord is resurrected. They're not going to find a tomb. They're not going to find any bones.

"Our faith rests on the fact that Jesus lived, died, was buried, was resurrected on the third day and now sits at the right hand of the Father.

"I don't give much credence to the news and people who are followers of Christ don't believe that nonsense. If someone falls for that, they didn't have much faith in the Lord anyway."

-- The Associated Press contributed to this report.