n the fast-moving pace of the modern world, The Da Vinci Code
(by American novelist Dan Brown) already looks like ancient history. But the memory lingers—the memory of how the book and the movie based on it skyrocketed their way (seemingly overnight) into an international sensation. Alleging a massive cover-up by the church of embarrassing secrets about Jesus and the true nature of Christianity, the book has now gone through more than 50 printings, at one point remaining on the New York Times best-seller list for 14 consecutive weeks. Some 7 million copies are in circulation.
But just as The Da Vinci Code begins to fade in the public mind, here comes the 90-minute film The Lost Tomb of Jesus, by Simcha Jacobovici, plus an accompanying book, The Jesus Family Tomb: The Discovery, the Investigation, and the Evidence That Could Change History (coauthored by Jacobovici). A National Geographic newsletter article by Blake de Pastino (dated February 26, 2007) reported the development this way:
“A tomb that once held the remains of Jesus of Nazareth—and those of his wife and son—has been found in a suburb of Jerusalem, said the makers of a controversial film. . . . The filmmakers base their claims on the study of ten ossuaries—stone boxes used to hold the bones of the dead—that were unearthed at an Israeli construction site in 1980. Inscriptions on the boxes, in addition to DNA tests of tiny bits of tissue found inside, suggest that the cave was the final resting place of Jesus, his disciple Mary Magdalene, and their son, the filmmakers said.”1
The potential for damage here is huge. However influential, Brown’s work falls in the realm of fiction. Not so The Lost Tomb . . . or The Jesus Family Tomb
. The claim being made in this case is one of credible historical and scientific validity. Expressions such as discovery “in situ,” “DNA,” and “statistical analyses” are tossed around. Said Jane Root, president of Discovery Channel (which aired The Lost Tomb
Sunday, March 4): “The evidence is compelling. The consequences are enormous.”2
Enormous indeed! For if true, it would strike Christianity at its very soul. For a Jesus who cohabits with a human person cannot also be deity. And a Jesus whose bones are discovered in a Jerusalem grave did not rise from the dead. And if Jesus is not deity and if He did not rise from the dead, then we do not have a Savior. And Christianity is a farce.
So what to make of these findings? I asked some of my colleagues. “The short answer,” says Andrews University archaeologist Randy Younker, “is that the folks on the Discovery program did not find the tomb of Jesus.” “I’m afraid I don’t think very much of [all] this,” says archaeologist Larry Herr of Canadian University College. “The big argument now seems to be over the statistics for the names appearing together on the ossuaries. [B]ut the proponents are simply assuming too much. . . .” “In general,” says veteran archaeologist Larry Geraty of La Sierra University, “I would say the claims . . . are baseless and without any evidence. Furthermore, I don’t believe you can find a reputable archaeologist or biblical scholar who will give it any credence.”
Appearing on the Diane Rehm show on National Public Radio (Monday, March 5), Eric Meyers, Duke University professor of Judaic studies and president of the American Schools of Oriental Research, argued that Jacobovici’s findings are “not a slam dunk by any means.” “The whole DNA sampling must be called into question,” he said. “There are some serious archaeological issues, in my opinion.”
All that notwithstanding, I shudder to think that millions, knowing nothing better, will accept the movie and the book as gospel. Appearing on the same show with Meyers, an articulate Jacobovici exhibited all the suave, objective-sounding tone of the seasoned reporter that he is. And as I listened, a statement from Ellen G. White came back to me: “Every position of our faith will be searched into, and if we are not thorough Bible students, established, strengthened, settled, the wisdom of the world’s great men will be too much for us.”3
The issues are more sophisticated now—and more serious. And the target is the very heart of the Christian faith.
* See also "Jesus' Tomb Discovered" in this issue.
3 Selected Messages, vol. 2, p. 386.
Roy Adams is the Associate Editor of the Adventist Review.