Reed questions Jesus tomb find

Posted March 16, 2007

It is believed by many that 2,000 years ago in first century Jerusalem, Jesus of Nazarene was crucified by the Romans. Gospels claim that he was buried in a tomb and two days later, Mary Magdalene, one of his closest disciples found the tomb empty.

On March 4, “The Lost Tomb of Jesus,” produced by Academy Award winner James Cameron, premiered on the Discovery Channel and offered what some believe to be evidence that Jesus’ disciples took his body to give him a permanent burial. The body would be left for one year and then his family and disciples would return for the final burial of his bones in the family tomb.

In 1980 in Talpoit, Jerusalem construction workers uncovered a tomb with an unusual marking above the entrance containing six deep chambers called locules. Inside these locules were 10 ossuaries, containers for holding the bones of the dead, one which is labeled in Hebrew, “Jesus son of Joseph.”

According to Cameron and investigative journalist and filmmaker Simcha Jacobovici, this is in fact the final resting place of Jesus of Nazarene.

Immediately following the documentary, veteran journalist and television news anchor Ted Koppel decided to add depth and debate to the subject with a televised forum, “The Lost Tomb of Jesus: A Critical Look.”

Jonathan Reed, professor of religion at the University of La Verne and co-author of “Excavating Jesus” and “In Search of Paul,” was invited to attend the forum along with several others not connected to the documentary, bringing independent and critical perspectives to the table.

“The issue is not science versus faith and religion but good science versus bad science,” Reed said.

One of the first issues brought up for discussion was about the DNA testing that took place during the documentary. During the film small amounts of DNA were taken from the ossuaries labeled “Jesus son of Joseph” and “Mariamene e Mara” (believed to be Mary Magdalene) to prove that they were not related.

The question brought to attention was that if they did DNA testing to prove that these two people were not related why weren’t the other ossuaries such as “Juda son of Jesus” or “Maria” (believed to be the mother of Jesus) tested to prove that they were related?

“If they are looking so hard to find something they are going to do everything they can to make it appear as if they have,” said Sarah Sawyer, a University of La Verne graduate with a double major in anthropology and religion.

Jacobovici’s response was that those were the only ossuaries with enough DNA for them to test and maybe now more testing will be done.

Another major concern is that one of the ossuaries was never recorded when put into storage and is now missing.

Jacobovici claims that the missing ossuary is owned by a private collector and is marked “James son of Joseph, brother of Jesus.”

The dimension of the ossuary is similar to the others found in the tomb as well as the petina, the chemical film surrounding the box, but the real issue is that the missing ossuary was originally said to have had no markings.

“I think it is interesting that they are making these types of claims,” Sawyer said.

The Israel Antiques Authority has since confiscated the ossuary and it is currently on trial to determine if the artifact is even authentic.

The debate became rather intense at times and it appeared that Reed and Jacobovici bumped heads more than a few times.

“He desperately wants the documentary to be taken seriously and I didn’t,” Reed said.

Reed along with many others feel that there are several details in both the book and the documentary that are incorrect.

“It is a series of lies and half truths strung together,” Reed said.

Madison Steff can be reached at

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