Claims swirl around 'tomb of Jesus'
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And begin it has. While film producer James Cameron calls the evidence "compelling," Professor Kloner himself remains unconvinced.Skip to next paragraph
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"It makes a great story for TV, but ... it's nonsense," he told the Jerusalem Post this week. "There is no likelihood that Jesus and his relatives had a family tomb. They were a Galilee family with no Jerusalem ties. The Talpiot tomb belonged to a middle-class family from the 1st century CE [Christian Era]."
He also says that the name, "Jesus son of Joseph," has appeared on at least three or four ossuaries. Others insist that neither Jesus' followers nor his family would have thought of Jesus as the son of Joseph and used that inscription.
"The names are coincidental," says Paul Maier, professor of ancient history at Western Michigan University. "The historian Josephus records 21 Yeshuas [Jesus], and those are people famous enough to be included in his histories. And 25 percent of Jewish women at the time had the name Mary."
He also strongly disputes the equating of Mariamene with Mary Magdalene.
Joe Zias, a former senior curator at the Israel Antiquities Authority, suggests in an e-mail that this is among a list of recent dubious discoveries. He sees "too many people ... on the gravy train without so much as any sentiment for scientific truth."
As for the DNA evidence, critics say the idea captures people's attention today, but there is no DNA evidence related to the historical Jesus. "They simply say they've demonstrated that the two people are not related by DNA," says Ben Witherington, a New Testament expert and author of "What Have They Done With Jesus?" "That proves nothing. There are [many] explanations for why you could have two people in the same extended family tomb that are not related by DNA."
The testing was done on residue in the limestone boxes, since the bones they contained were buried in a cemetery after the tomb was excavated, in line with Jewish custom. DNA tests were not conducted on the other ossuaries, such as the one belonging to "Judah, son of Jesus."
Dr. Witherington also challenges the statistical analysis, charging that it involved a more selective sampling than should have been used. "Another problem is that the majority of the statistics are still in the ground – in ossuaries that haven't been dug up yet." he says. "We can't assume the evidence we have is representative of what is still in the ground."
Jacobovici stands by the analysis, and says the expert, Andrey Feuerverger, has submitted it to a statistical journal for peer review. Apparently unfazed – perhaps even pleased – by all the controversy (the bloggers are in full cry already), he concedes that the evidence "isn't 100 percent."
"All I'm saying is that you have here an interesting tomb, a compelling cluster of names, the DNA doesn't undermine the theory. Hey, world, let's look at this."
The critics have a different take. "It's the same hype that attended 'The Da Vinci Code,' which was plainly fiction. Yet this is cast as fact," says Dr. Maier. "The guy is a showman, an Indiana Jones wannabe."