Did archaeologists really find bones belonging to John the Baptist?
Relics found in an old Bulgarian church is believed to be those of John the Baptist, the biblical figure said to have baptized Jesus.
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Strangely, the three animal bones (one from a sheep, one from a cow, and one from a horse), were all about 400 years older than the human bones in the reliquary. Those three bones all seem to come from the same time and location, Higham said. They may have been placed there as a way to desecrate the human bones, he said. Or someone may have just been trying to make the bone box look a little more impressive.Skip to next paragraph
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"It is very curious," Higham said. [Gallery of Dead Sea Scrolls: A Glimpse of the Past]
Historical research by Oxford professor Georges Kazan suggests that relics supposedly from John the Baptist were on the move out of Jerusalem by the fourth century. Many of these artifacts were shuttled through the ancient city of Constantinople and may well have been gifted to the Sveti Ivan monastery from there.
None of this proves that the bones belonged to a historical figure named John the Baptist, but researchers haven't been able to rule out the possibility, Higham said. Their study has not yet been published in a peer-reviewed journal, but a program detailing the research will be aired on the United Kingdom National Geographic Channel on Sunday (June 17). National Geographic funded the research.
Even if the monks of Sveti Ivan believed the bones to be St. John's, they may not have been. Fake relics were and still are common. For example, at least 30 nails have been venerated as the ones used to keep Jesus Christ on the cross (biblical scholars debate whether three or four nails would have been used). Likewise, French theologian John Calvin once noted that if all of the supposed fragments of Jesus' cross were gathered together, they'd fill a shipload. Even Joan of Arc has been the subject of forgery. A 2007 study found that alleged pieces of her body kept in a French church actually belonged to an Egyptian mummy. [9 Famous Art Forgers]
The Sveti Ivan box is not the only reliquary said to hold the remains of John the Baptist, Higham said. If the researchers are able to test other bones said to be the saint's, they could build a circumstantial case for their authenticity. Nevertheless, a positive identification will likely remain out of reach.
"Definitely proving it, I think, is going to remain ever-elusive," Higham said.
Editor's Note: This article was updated on June 15 to correct the nationality of Kazimir Popkonstantinov and Rossina Kostova. They are Bulgarian, not Romanian.
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