Just in time for the Lenten season comes an announcement: The tomb of Jesus and his family has been found in a suburb of Jerusalem called Talpiyot.
Or has it?
The connection of the tomb with the family of Jesus of Nazareth has been proposed by two individuals who had no part in its 1980 excavation; their expertise is in filmmaking, and not in any relevant academic discipline. They produced a documentary that aired on the Discovery Channel and soon set popular magazines and cyberspace abuzz. Could this assertion be true? And if so, what significance has it for Christianity as a whole and its central theme: the resurrection?
The scholarly community is debating the evidence, as is typical of academic research, particularly in archaeology and history where artifacts have been lost and where the interpretation of remaining evidence can be quite subjective.
While some scholars consider the Talpiyot tomb inscriptions to be significant indicators of Jesus' "inner circle," others dismiss them as coincidental names that were very common in first-century Judaea.
A second major question is why Jesus and his family, known to have lived in Galilee, would be buried in Jerusalem, especially considering Jesus' execution there.
A third issue centers around the relationship between the Talpiyot tomb and the tomb Joseph of Arimathaea provided, according to all four Gospels.
Eventually, it's likely that acceptance or rejection of the identification will soften, and opinions will be stated in terms of relative possibility or probability. Certainty, in the fields of archaeology and ancient history, is virtually unheard of.
What, then, about the possible significance of this discovery to Christianity itself?
One cybermessage has contended that if these findings are indeed the bones of Jesus, the discovery would end the contention that Jesus rose from the dead.
Actually, they wouldn't.
They would not refute the documentary evidence in the Gospels that people who knew Jesus saw him after his crucifixion, spoke with him, ate with him, and – in Thomas's case – touched his wounds. Such accounts must always be taken seriously by scholars and others who would understand events of the past.
Perhaps even more compelling is that Paul – then Saul of Tarsus – saw a vision of the risen Christ in his conversion experience on the road to Damascus (Acts 9 and Galatians 1). For Paul, a younger contemporary of Jesus, the resurrection was a current event; in his day, there were still eyewitnesses he could and did interview. There can be no doubt from the biblical record that Paul viewed the resurrection as an actual event (I Cor. 15:12, 20).
Paul's redemption and regeneration made the resurrection "come alive" for him. It transformed him.
Mary Baker Eddy, who discovered Christian Science, wrote: "We acknowledge that the crucifixion of Jesus and his resurrection served to uplift faith to understand eternal Life, even the allness of Soul, Spirit, and the nothingness of matter" ("Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures," p. 497).
She knew whereof she spoke. Reading a gospel account of one of Jesus' healings, she was raised up from serious injury. Investigating – through deep study of the Bible and through prayer – what had happened to her, she discovered the principles of Christian healing: how Jesus restored health and changed lives. She tested them and was able to teach them to others. Eventually, she explained them in Science and Health, which, with the Bible, has helped many find release from sin, disease, and even death.
The resurrection is not about bones in a tomb; for many people it's about lives touched, healed, and transformed in the light of the Christ. This resurrection is a power of rebirth and renewal. And it is just as available today as on that first Easter.