I just want to get your opinion on the ten ossuaries that were found in
Israel, apparently belonging to the family of Jesus of Nasareth. I watched
part of the Discovery Channel program, and I am certainly intrigued.


It is my opinion that the ten ossuaries, or bone boxes, found in Israel
have absolutely no significance to the biblical narrative. James Cameron,
the Canadian director of The Titanic made a big splash for himself and
gained a lot of publicity for his documentary from his announcement that
he found ossuaries relevant to the family of Jesus. The problem is that
the evidence is based on the names on the artifacts. I believe we can
assume that these are indeed genuine ancient ossuaries. They were
discovered in a tomb several miles from Jerusalem 1980. The problem with
using these as evidence either for or against the biblical story is that
the connection is based only on the names found there. Apparently, one of
the ossuaries had the name Jesus (Jeshua in Aramaic), son of Joseph, two
had the name Mary and one had Judah, son of Jesus. Unfortunately for
Cameron’s claims, this tells us nothing. The most common name for males
in Israel at the time of Jesus was Jesus. Judas or Judah was also very
common. In fact, two of the apostles were named Judas. Three of Jesus’
close companions were named Mary. Obviously, if a group of ten ossuaries
had two persons named Mary included among them, this is not convincing
evidence at all that the Mary in question is the mother of Jesus.

As far as I know, not a single important scholar has agreed with Cameron’s
spectacular claims. At his press conference Cameron had a statistician
who attempted to prove that the set of names on the ossuaries are an
unlikely coincidence. His statistical argument has been unconvincing to
scholars. The statistician claimed that the chances of finding this
combination of names is one in 600. There are several problems with
this. First of all, over 900 large family tombs have been discovered in
the area of Jerusalem. If there is a one in 600 chance any single one of
them having the combination of names mentioned above, then the probability
is well over 50% that at least one of the 900 tombs will have a set of
names like that found by Cameron. Of the 900 burial caves discovered so
far, 71 of them had the name Jesus on at least one of the ossuaries,.
More than one had Judah, the son of Jesus inscribed on it. Given the
location, the number of similar burial caves and the commonness of the
names involved, we can safely conclude that these are not the ossuaries of
Mary and her son Jesus of Nazareth.

A couple other problems with Cameron’s claim bear pointing out. First, it
is strange to think that a family from Galilee would be buried near
Jerusalem. Second, even skeptics of Christianity will balk at the claim
that Jesus had children. Despite the outrageous claims of Dan Brown in
the DaVinci Code, good scholars are virtually unanimous in rejecting this
theory as unsubstantiated.

One other point. It is not very likely that anyone will ever discover the
ossuary containing the bones of Jesus for the simple reason that Jesus
resurrected from the dead. This point is so obvious that one is forced to
wonder if Cameron is a non-believer who is allowing wishful thinking to
affect his interpretation. It seems quite likely that James Cameron is
using this find as a way to indirectly attack Christianity. He claims to
be a believer, but clearly he does not believe in the resurrection. It
probably does not hurt his motivation that he is receiving a lot of
publicity and most likely is making a large profit from this completely
insubstantiable claim. I assume that Cameron is fully aware that his
claims are bogus, and that he is a publicity hound, using an important
find (important, but not connected with biblical events) to his own

John Oakes, PhD

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