What Skepticism Isn’t

They Found Jesus’ Bones, and his family’s, including his kid’s.

Let’s go back 27 years, when Israeli construction workers were gouging out the foundations for a new building in the industrial park in the Talpiyot, a Jerusalem suburb. of Jerusalem. The earth gave way, revealing a 2,000 year old cave with 10 stone caskets. Archologists were summoned, and the stone caskets carted away for examination. It took 20 years for experts to decipher the names on the ten tombs. They were: Jesua, son of Joseph, Mary, Mary, Mathew, Jofa and Judah, son of Jesua.
Israel’s prominent archeologist Professor Amos Kloner didn’t associate the crypt with the New Testament Jesus. His father, after all, was a humble carpenter who couldn’t afford a luxury crypt for his family. And all were common Jewish names.


But film-makers Cameron and Jacobovici claim to have amassed evidence through DNA tests, archeological evidence and Biblical studies, that the 10 coffins belong to Jesus and his family.


This 90-minute documentary is bound to outrage Christians and stir up a titanic debate between believers and skeptics. Stay tuned.

Umm… no – it isn’t. It is bound to stir up some debate between believers and gullible non-believers, maybe. The Skeptic’s side will be in opposition to fabulous conclusions from the paltry evidence furnished by the film-makers.

Skepticism is much more than just disbelieving the fabulous claims of the religious without compelling evidence. It is disbelieving – or at least reserving judgment – on any claims without compelling evidence – especially the fabulous.

Points a real skeptic will make about this movie and it’s “startling conclusions”:

  • This exposition is being taken directly to the gullible public – not published in peer-reviewed academic publications.

  • With a 2,000 year space of history and a city the size of Jerusalem, it would be an extremely fortuitous event to uncover the remains of any specific (non-ruling-class) family. The chances are so small, that not even the truly faithful (or faithless) would go digging with hopes of uncovering that one family.
  • DNA evidence? Exciting sounding stuff – until you ask how DNA evidence can be used to prove the identity of a family from whom we have no DNA samples. It turns out, according to the Publisher’s blurb on the book version of this medicine show that the DNA evidence proves the relationships between these 10 people, and “[the authors] prove that statistically, there is a 1 in 10 million chance that this is a family other than the Holy family…” based on the names on the ossuaries inside: “Jesua, son of Joseph, Mary, Mary, Mathew, Jofa and Judah, son of Jesua” (names taken from the Time blog website). Innumeracy gone mad. Perhaps it is true that there is a 1 in 10 million chance that these particular names would all be related in the same family with Joseph designated as father of the individual named Jesus. However, only three of the names mentioned are normally identified historically as family members of Jesus, four if you count the second Mary as the bride of Christ according to some Gnostic histories. I don’t have to do the math to know that finding a family containing a father Joseph, son Jesus (aka Joshua), and one or two Mary’s in ancient Jerusalem would not be a statistically difficult task. That’s about all that can be done statistically. To get a usable statistic, you have to know what the “target” pattern is. There are tens of thousands of combinations of family names that *could* go in a list to flesh out the Divine Family. We can only go with the ones that are in some way special – that can in some way be specified independently. Using the names of (some of) Jesus’ traditional family is the only measure that can produce even a valid statistic. Specifying exact relationships helps (Joseph being father, for instance – it would have helped if Mary was designated as mother). This is before taking into account the missing James (Jacob), brother of Jesus.
  • Speaking of James, remember the ossuary belonging to “James, brother of Jesus”? The ossuary was real. The inscription was fake. Until the inscriptions on these ossuaries uncovered in Jerusalem are verified authentic, they are worthless.
  • As the Time blog points out, Jesus didn’t traditionally come from the kind of wealthy family that got nice sealed tombs with neat stone ossuaries. For whatever the tradition is worth.
  • Summing up – the thinking is very sloppy. A coincidence of 3-4 very common names is interesting but hardly evidence of anything but a fertile imagination on the parts of Pellegrino, Jacobovici, & Cameron.

This stuff is peurile. Please do not lump us “skeptics” in with the gullible thousands who will probably claim that this movie is a sound defeat for Christianity. Whatever kerfluffle there is between believers & detractors over this movie, please count the skeptics out of it.

No comments yet to What Skepticism Isn’t

  • Buck

    I am proud to know a real skeptic.

    I appreciate the post.

  • A very balanced response to the hue and cry that will almost certainly follow this “news” item. Thanks.

  • [...] Smijer is properly skeptical of the claims of documentary filmmakers who claim to have found the bones of Jesus. He says fat chance, we agree. Rick is morning the loss of basketball great Dennis Johnson of the storied franchise the Boston Celtics. [...]

  • RW

    Good post.
    Bryan Preston has the obvious answer, IMO,

    Dontcha think the Romans would have latched on to this tomb of Cameron’s back then, if it was so easily proven to be the tomb that contained the corpse of Christ? Christ was famous in his day; that fame earned him the ire of the authorities who had him tried and executed. All of the apostles but Judas, eyewitnesses to the crucifixion and/or events that followed, went to their deaths as martyrs claiming the resurrection as truth. It makes very little sense that the Romans would have just allowed the resurrection to go unchallenged if they had a ready way to challenge it.

    And it’s not as though the apostles were expecting a resurrection that they would have to defend. They weren’t. The crucifixion crushed their spirits, and most of them went into hiding as Christ hung alone on the cross. The Gospels record that the apostles were as mystified as everyone else was as to what had become of Christ’s body. It took them a while to get it. Once they did, they took their fight all the way to bitter (earthly) ends. Why would they do that if, in reality, Jesus had simply been buried along with the rest of his family and stayed put in the grave and they all knew this to be the case?

    It’s sorta like if we never found Osama Bin Laden & one day thousands of years from now someone did a forehead-slap and said “hey, why don’t we check the Bin Laden family tomb?”. Except, maybe, times a few zillion.

  • And Cameron’s tomb can’t be the real thing. Not when there is “proof” that Jesus lived out the rest of his days … in Japan … as a garlic farmer. ;)

    I blogged about the story back in December of ’04:

  • RW, I’m not sure how good that reasoning would be either… By the time Christianity appeared on the Roman’s radar – we don’t know where & when this happened, but it may have been 50-100 years later, and may have been in Rome rather than Jerusalem – it isn’t all that likely that anyone would have had a record of the “family tomb”. Of course, there wasn’t likely to have been a family tomb, or a tomb of any sort if it is true that Jesus was crucified – the Roman practice, as I hear it, was to leave the crucified out for the scavenging animals and the elements to dispose of. It’s not even certain that the Romans were hoping to “disprove” Christianity – they may have only wished to disband it.

    On the part of the apostles… I guess it’s safe to say that they would have known of the family burial ground, but we don’t know very much about the apostles except a tiny bit from Paul’s accounts of them from a couple of decades later, and some more from Luke’s account, written even later. We shouldn’t judge too much on what they are thought to have believed or done, since we don’t know with any certainty what they believed or did.

  • RW

    Point being: it’s not like there hasn’t been anyone or anything that would’ve greatly benefitted from exposing the ‘fallacy’ of the resurrection (quotes intentional, you know why) by producing Jesus’ body. Lord knows, a few folks around Jerusalem over the years could’ve been spared quite a bit (I’m talking about Jews, of course) if they’d have been able to give up Jesus’ body and declare to the world that they did not, in fact, kill “Christ”, but rather just another ordinary man who did not resurrect.

    I’m sure some Jew in or about the middle east would’ve stepped forward while millions of Jews were being killed throughout the last 2,000 years and spared his bretheren….had he only thought to look in the most obvious place for anyone to look were it to be real.

    I mean, seriously, think no one’s checked the Hoffa family cemetary for Jimmy’s body? Someone gonna step forward and say they’ve found Amelia Earhart buried next to her parents, in marked graves?

    t’s not even certain that the Romans were hoping to “disprove” Christianity – they may have only wished to disband it.

    And the easiest way to do that…….
    Which is more logical, using armies to do your bidding over long periods of time & going up against an entire religion or pointing to the family burial plot, digging ‘him’ up and saying “okay, game over”?

  • RW – to simplify:

    The argument: If the family burial plot existed, it would have been in someone’s favor to reveal it. They did not do so, ergo, the burial plot did not exist.

    Counterarguments: If the families burial plot existed, it would have been in someone’s favor to reveal it, if and only if, they knew of its existence and location, and if and only if they had the technology to show that it belonged to the family under dispute. Since there is no guarantee of any of those conditions, then it does not follow that we should expect such a crypt to be revealed by interested parties.

    On the Roman premise, considerations above aside, they may have viewed Christianity as a set of beliefs revolving primarily around the resurrection of Jesus. Or they may not have, and instead viewed it as a cultish political group, insensitive to reason or criticism. I think there is a significant chance that, rightly or wrongly, the Romans perceived the Christians in a way similar to how Janet Reno percieved the Branch Davidians in Waco.

    So, yes – if we make all these assumptions – that the site would have been known in detail and could be identified to the satisfaction of all parties at the time, and if people interested in revealing it believed that it would make a difference to believers, then the argument holds. But that’s too many assumptions to make a good argument with, imho.

  • RW

    “If the families burial plot existed, it would have been in someone’s favor to reveal it, if and only if, they knew of its existence and location…,”

    Jesus was kinda popular (is anyone in history ever been more popular? I mean, besides Laci Peterson & Anna Nicole) & someone took the time to label and bury the corpses. It defies Occam’s razor that no one would know until 1980.

    “Since there is no guarantee of any of those conditions…”

    Well, if we’re only going to go by things that are guaranteed, let’s go ahead and shut down the blogosphere. :)

    But that’s too many assumptions to make a good argument with, imho.

    Wait……looking at the family tomb for the bones of a member of the family – the most famous body in the history of this earth (believers or not believers, it doesn’t matter, Jesus is the most famous human to walk the planet, ever) to see if he’s there… too much of a leap? You go all out for Al Gore’s “moral issue” but looking in the Jesus family crypt for, well, Jesus, is taking too many assumptions into account?

    Throw me a bone!

  • Ok, dude – here’s your bone… If Jesus’ fame was consistent from the time he was buried until the time that revealing his tomb would have interested anyone, then likely his fame would have attached to the tomb-site and would have kept it known and to some degree identifiable.

    However, I don’t see much evidnence for Jesus carrying much fame in the years immediately following his crucifixion, and there isn’t a clear indication of how widespread his fame was during life. Clearly, if the accounts of his crucifixion are accurate, he at least had enough to draw the attention of the local authorities, but it’s safe to say he wasn’t the most famous person in the world at that time. In fact, I don’t think he really gets the title of most famous person of the world until some point after the Roman Empire made Christianity the official religion.

  • Buck

    I really didn’t think He was all of that popular during His lifetime either.

    Weren’t His followers basically considered to be wingnuts and moonbats?

    And didn’t Romans crucify Messiahs almost every day?

  • Buck – no way to know for sure. I’m sure there were people who were “famous” then who *never* got mentioned in any written accounts that survive today. The fact that Jesus was mentioned, albeit quite a while after his lifetime, and in written accounts that focused on a religious group rather than the history of the rich & famous leaves us with a question. How well known was he at the time of that writing, & how well known was he during his lifetime? My guess is not very well at either time – but it’s just that… A guess. I wouldn’t be surprised to learn something that would indicate the opposite was true. And, if the opposite is true, then RW’s reasoning would apply.

  • RW

    He certainly wasn’t as well known during life as After Death (see, even the AD – anno domini (SP?) – brings the guy to mind) but he was extremely well-known. Enough so that Caesar & the Jewish elders/leaders were afraid of his influence and….well, we all know the rest. He was brought before the pharisees (big-time leaders of that day) as a set-up because they wanted a public embarrassment of the person that they’d heard so much about….and Jesus openly debated the entire crew. No, they wouldn’t have done that for a near-nobody.

    I mean, you guys know, when the government fears the influence of a single man (even though they admit that he’s broken no laws), it’s beyond a small cult. He was no Barack Obama, to be sure, but he was definitely a popular figure at the time. :)

  • lol – this could go on for a while… I don’t think there is anyway we could say he was “definitely” very well known at the time. We can guess that he had some kind of public profile, from the nature of the stories that later grew up about him. If he was indeed crucified, then he caught the attention of at least the local authorities – maybe as high up the chain as Pilate… but that may have been because Pilate was actively fishing for troublemakers and had his scouts looking for “troublemakers”. It doesn’t mean that Pilate read about him in the Jerusalem Daily News, necessarily. We do have the tradition that Pilate was the person who ultimately had Jesus crucified, and that some of the Jewish authorities were involved, too. There isn’t any indication, however, that Caesar knew anything about him. However, whatever level of notoriety he may have had while living – there isn’t any special reason to think that anyone would have keeping records of his family burial ground even as much as 20 years later. People who remembered him after his death, or remembered stories about him, were likely more interested in his politics & religion than they were the details of his family burial plot, and might not have bothered to keep track of it at all.

  • Buck

    The fact that Jesus was feared and hated by the church and the government has always made Him a hero in my eyes. He had to be doing something right.

  • RW

    If one sets aside the “the only way is through me” portions of his red-text, what the guy is credited with saying is……well, is there anyone who can have negative things to say about his rap? The guy said some pretty powerful stuff.

    I can see why he was considered a radical of his time. He’d be a radical in today’s time, as well.

Leave a Reply




You can use these HTML tags

<a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <strike> <strong>