April 12, 2007
Visitors to Mt. Carmel in Israel are always amazed at the beautiful Persian Gardens on Hazionut Street in Haifa. These gardens surround the Bahai Shrine, whose golden dome dominates the port. This is the central shrine of the Bahai faith. This recently minted religion holds that all religions are equal and contain the truth.
The founder of this religion was Mirza Ali Mohammed. In 1844, he declared himself the Bab, the "Gateway" to God. He was arrested in 1845, and then executed in 1850. And this shrine now houses his tomb.
Throughout the course of history, religious leaders have been untimely put to death. All have died. No one escapes the grave. Abraham is dead. Buddha is dead. So too Confucius and Mohammed. But only the tomb of Christ is empty.
Over the years, there have been claims to have discovered the tomb of Jesus with his bones still in it. In 1935, Kiyomaro Takeuchi claimed to have discovered a 1,900-year-old document locating the tomb of Jesus in Herai Village in Aomori district of Japan. The Ahmadiyya Muslims, a 19th century rationalist Islamic sect, claim they have the tomb of Jesus in Srinagar, Kashmir, India.
Most recently, on February 26, 2007, the Discovery Channel held a news conference in New York to unveil the TV documentary "The Lost Tomb of Jesus" by James Cameron. The news conference also trumpeted the companion book
The Family Tomb of Jesus by the film's Israeli-born director Simcha Jacobovici. The TV documentary claims that Jesus’ burial cave and body has been discovered near Jerusalem. These claims piqued the interest of the average person.
The evidence that Cameron claims in his documentary is not new. The tomb he examines was already discovered in 1980 in the Jerusalem suburb of Talpiot. In fact, the BBC aired a documentary on the subject in 1996. The vast majority of archaeologists disputed the claim.
Once before, the news was buzzing with a similar discovery. In October 2002, a 2,000-year-old ossuary (a box that holds bones) was discovered in Jerusalem. It bore the inscription "James, son of Joseph, brother of Jesus." People became excited. A great discovery. This was sensational news. This was the first archaeological proof that Jesus existed. This inscription was the first reference to the three men outside of manuscripts. One New Testament scholar even said this ossuary would rival the Dead Sea scrolls.
On June 17, 2003, the Israel Antiquities Authority pronounced the ossuary, which purportedly held the bones of a brother of Jesus, a forgery. They are prosecuting its owner. Nonetheless, Jacobovici, who made a 2003 Discovery Channel film about it, maintains it is authentic.
Responsible scholarship would have placed the claims about the tomb of Jesus and his family in the hands of fellow archaeologists for scientific review before going so public. The Christian faith has nothing to fear from any archaeological discoveries. “The dialogue between faith and reason, religion and science, does not only make it possible to show people of our time the reasonableness of faith in God as effectively and convincingly as possible, but also to demonstrate that the definitive fulfillment of every authentic human aspiration rests in Jesus Christ” (Pope Benedict XVI,
Address to the Plenary Assembly of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, February 10, 2006).
Faith and reason are not at odds. The desire for the truth is part of human nature itself. Whatever science uncovers by its legitimate methodology can be a benefit to reason in the search for truth. “There is thus no reason for competition of any kind between reason and faith: each contains the other, and each has its own scope for action” (
Fides et Ratio, 17).
To claim to have discovered the bones of Jesus is simply to say that the Christian religion is based on a lie. Would such a claim ever be made against another religion today? The new documentary on the tomb of Jesus and his family was released just weeks before Easter? Was the timing of the release merely accidental? The Christian faith falls or stands on the truth that Christ has been raised from the dead. His tomb is empty. He lives. No other religion makes this claim.
This is the first of a two-part series on the Resurrection and the tomb of Jesus.