One would have to live in a monastery tucked away in some remote corner of a long forgotten country to have not heard about the James Cameron documentary detailing the astounding “discovery” of the Jesus family tomb. And yet, even then, the multi-million dollar Hollywood publicity machine would find a way to get the message out.

THE TOMB IN QUESTION: A 1980 photgraph of the Talpiot tomb. PICTURE: Amos Kloner

 

"Not so long ago The Da Vinci Code delivered a blatant attack on the Christian faith, directed specifically at, you guessed it, the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ.  We now have 'The Jesus Family Tomb' conspiracy. Yet another onslaught against the essence of the Christian faith, the resurrection of Jesus Christ."

I use the word documentary lightly, since what is presented as fact is largely based on conjecture and supposition, hardly deserving to be recognised as factual reporting. Similarly, the use of the term discovery is somewhat superfluous since the tomb was actually discovered in 1980, some 27 years previously, and discounted at the time as the tomb of Jesus Christ by most archaeologists and Biblical theology experts. 

How then can Cameron claim this is the family tomb of Jesus with any sense of credibility? Indeed, he is only able to make such a claim because people are ill-informed and tend to believe anything Hollywood thrusts down their throats, as they gaze numbly into the major source of theology in their lives, the television. 

Much has been written regarding the content of the tomb, the claims of the documentary, and the critical arguments against this being the tomb of Jesus Christ. With that in mind, the focus here will be around a nagging, persistent question I have. Why is it that the resurrection seems to be the target of so many blatant, inaccurate attempts to bring doubt and undermine the Christian faith?

Not so long ago The Da Vinci Code delivered a blatant attack on the Christian faith, directed specifically at, you guessed it, the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ. While Dan Brown asserted his novel was fictitious, he also noted that it contained some factual information. The novel was also written in a style that made it convincing and almost believable. In the end though, the claims of the book were shown to be outlandish and devoid of factual basis, despite the almost expert tone of Brown’s writing. Was it a deliberate attack to undermine the foundations of the Christian faith, or just a clever conspiracy designed to sell books and make the author a tidy sum of money? 

Similarly, we now have 'The Jesus Family Tomb' conspiracy. Yet another onslaught against the essence of the Christian faith, the resurrection of Jesus Christ. The very reason these attacks target the resurrection is because, as the apostle Paul identifies in 1 Corinthians 15, the bodily resurrection of Jesus Christ is the hinge on which the Christian faith swings. Without the resurrection our faith is impotent, and we are, in Paul’s words, to be pitied among men. James Cameron asserts that the tomb discovery doesn’t eliminate the resurrection as such, it only destroys the notion of a bodily resurrection, allowing for a spiritual resurrection. 

This sounds plausible until one realises that the Bible clearly teaches a bodily resurrection, Jesus rose in bodily form as the first fruits of the resurrection all believers can eagerly anticipate. So, if the Bible’s teaching on the bodily resurrection can be undermined, how can the Bible be trusted on anything? Quite simply, if the bodily resurrection can be disproved then it will be difficult to categorically accept anything the Bible teaches or reveals. What might be next? The second coming is only a myth, heaven is not real? The list goes on. The bodily resurrection of Jesus is central to the Christian message and defending it maintains the integrity of the Bible as accurate and life challenging.

Without going in to the vast number of reasons for discounting Cameron’s theory (and it is only a theory even though he may present it as fact), a number of salient points need to be made. Three key points discredit the Jesus tomb theory. Firstly, given that the tomb was discovered in 1980, almost 30 years ago, why was it not then considered in scholarly circles as the tomb of Jesus? The fact that it was discounted when discovered provides compelling evidence that it is still not the tomb of Jesus Christ and his family. Why now do we have an about face and all of a sudden, the tomb that was once thought of as not belonging to the family of Jesus of Nazareth, is now the Jesus family tomb, and the subject of a startling evidential documentary? This alone raises serious doubts about the veracity of Cameron’s claims.

A further compelling point is that if Jesus’ body was moved from His original tomb and eventually located in the new tomb in an ossuary, the disciples would surely have known. In fact, they must have been heavily involved in the conspiracy. Why then would they have gone on to face persecution and eventual martyrdom knowing that the whole thing was a hoax? It simply does not make any sense. Rather, they would simply have gone back to their previous lives as followers of numerous other pseudo-messiahs had done previously. But not this time. The powerful, changed lives of the disciples post-resurrection provide further evidence that Jesus was in fact raised from the dead as the Bible claims.

A final point relates to the ossuary of James, the half brother of Jesus, and head of the Jerusalem church. The James ossuary supposedly went missing from the Jesus family tomb and was discovered again in an antiquities store. Interestingly, analysis of a photograph dates to the 1970s. How could the James ossuary, photographed in the 1970s, have gone missing form a tomb that was not discovered until 1980? Further, Eusebius the historian, places the tomb of James near the temple mount, a location nowhere near the supposed Jesus family tomb. I could go on with the numerous other evidences against this “discovery” being the tomb of Jesus Christ, but would only be repeating what is readily available form other sources. For now, the point remains as to what we should do with this “discovery”.

"In the final wash up, that’s what this is. Propaganda for the Hollywood money-making machine. It just goes to show that good television does not equal good theology."

Looking into the evidence and data that refutes the claims of James Cameron and his team, one feels some sort of admiration. It takes a brave effort to present a documentary as truth when it is an obviously flawed theory. This effort is truly worthy of our respect. A Christian claim based on similar inconclusive evidence would be hastily dismissed as propaganda. In the final wash up, that’s what this is. Propaganda for the Hollywood money-making machine. It just goes to show that good television does not equal good theology.

To me, as a Bible-believing Christian, this is an opportunity for faith to be strengthened. With a little research, some reading, thoughtful meditation, and a willingness to learn, one can come to realise that this new find is simply another conspiracy aimed at undermining the cornerstone of the Christian faith. Is it deliberate or is James Cameron simply misinformed? Are he and his team simply reading into the facts what he wants to find rather than interpreting the facts and evidence in an unbiased manner? It is hard to know for sure which of these options is true. But regardless, for Christians this is an opportunity to become informed, and as the apostle Peter said many years ago, be prepared to defend our faith and give an account for the hope that is within us. This defending the faith, apologetics as we know it, is not weak, but rather forceful, deliberate, and reasoned, based on knowledge and evidence, not hearsay or vague understanding. 

The onus is on us as Christians to be informed, to research and learn, and equip ourselves to be able to carry out this charge in an effective way. The bottom line is that despite the proposals of the documentary the Bible still holds true. In the end, the claims of the Bible regarding the resurrection of Jesus Christ are believable and solid, and there is still a lack of compelling evidence to believe otherwise. If this doesn’t strengthen faith then what can?

This is an empowering way to look at what could be perceived as a threat to the Christian faith. An opportunity to grow in faith, to strengthen our belief in the teaching and truth of the Bible, and the challenge of engaging with others as we offer a reasoned defence of the present and future hope that we have in Jesus Christ. Interestingly, the Christian faith seems to wear more of these attacks than alternative faiths and belief systems. Can this be perceived, albeit in a paradoxical manner, as further support for the truth of Christianity, an effort by the enemy of truth to bring distortion and confusion? The frequency and nature of these attempts to undermine the Christian belief system is in stark contrast to similar attacks on other religions, which are sparse to say the least. Whilst devotees of other faith systems can be fanatical to an extreme, maybe Christians are just too accommodating. 

It will be interesting to see whether or not James Cameron goes down with the ship as it sinks to the murky depths where other similar unfounded conspiracy theories rest.