If you read Christian blogs at all, it would be hard to miss this year's version of the Lenten tradition of debunking some radical new theory or "discovery" that purports to invalidate the historic claims of Christianity. The current entry is a Discovery Channel special on the Talpiot tomb in Jerusalem, which the special argues is the "lost tomb of Jesus." There will also be a book by Simcha Jacobovici and Charles Pellegrino entitled The Jesus Family Tomb: The Discovery, the Investigation, and the Evidence That Could Change History. So the usual suspects are giving us the typical full-court publicity press timed to exploit the Christian practice of reflecting on Jesus' crucifixion and celebration of his resurrection.
Articles opposing the special and the book have been written by many; some of the most helpful have been those by Ben Witherington (including an interesting and detailed comment on statistical analysis) and Nathan Busenitz at Pulpit Magazine. The basic argument that these and other Christians are making is that the names on the ossuaries in the tomb are common, and therefore should not necessarily be identified with the figures in the New Testament who bear those names, and also that the statistical analysis used by Cameron, Jacobovici, and Pellegrino--to the effect that the cluster of names is highly unlikely to refer to anyone other than the family of Jesus--is flawed and skewed to produce a predetermined outcome. I think that this type of evidential apologetic has its value, but I also think that in a significant sense it misses the point.
Dr. Witherington and Mr. Busenitz do not oppose the identification of the Talpiot tomb as Jesus' tomb because they've conducted a dispassionate statistical analysis and found the idea without merit. Rather they believe, as do I, that Jesus was physically raised from the dead, and therefore his body is not to be found in any tomb. That belief means that we have an a priori commitment to reject any purported evidence to the contrary, and we may as well admit it. This doesn't mean that critical assessment of these annual theories, always timed to exploit the season just prior to Easter, is incorrect or without value. But in responding point-by-point to the charges and slogging it out in the world of statistics, we end up lending credence to the charge and actually helping to publicize it. There must be something to it if we're this worked up about it, right?
Like I said, I'm divided on the issue. Of course, someone does need to respond to these theories, for the sake of those who may be led astray by them. It's worthwhile to demonstrate that even if you don't assume Jesus' resurrection, the claims being made are without merit. Amos Kloner, the archaeologist who oversaw the excavation of the tomb in 1980, told the Jerusalem Post, "It’s impossible. It’s nonsense.” At the same time, I think that scurrying to preemptively answer charges sends the wrong signal. Alongside the evidential apologetic, I think we need a bit of a presuppositional mindset as well. God's truth hasn't been suppressed for two millenia. It's not going to happen now. There's something to be said about standing above the fray and simply being the witness that the world needs to see.
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