Monday, March 05, 2007

The Lost Tomb of the Wilsons

As a child my father took us on regular trips to the family plot at the cemetery. On the right side of the plot lay my grandfather. Next to him lay his parents, George and Maggie Wilson. On the right, across from George and Maggie lay Francis Wilson and Ellen Boyer. All the stones identical, except Ellen Boyer's, which could make one question her relationship. One would assume, since this is a family plot, that there lay three generations of Wilsons. But without evidence, one would only be speculating.

That's what the Discovery Channel's program, "The Lost Tomb of Jesus" turns out to be: speculation. A tomb was discovered in Jerusalem in 1980 with 10 ossuaries, or small caskets for bones. Some of the ossuaries were labeled with the names of Jesus bar Joseph, Maria, Mariemene, Judah, Jose, and Matthew. Twenty some years later, filmakers Simcha Jacobovici and Titanic director James Cameron decided to "investigate." In the Ted Coppel interview following the program, Jacobovici admitted that the purpose of the documentary was to get scholars all in the same tent to investigate. Investigating evidentally wasn't his job.

Of course, for many Christians, finding the body of Christ is an impossibility. The Doctrine of the Resurrection precludes finding Christ's body on earth since He took it with him when he rose from the dead. Therefore, many Christians--myself included--find the beginning premise that the body of Christ could be found as impossible.

Another problem with Jacobovici's hypothesis is that he identifies Mariemene as the woman we know as Mary Magdalene. He uses as documentation The Gospel of Phillip, a 4th century text that recounts the story of Mary Magdalene from the point of view of her brother, Phillip. Phillip is one of the "sources" for the myth surrounding Dan Brown's book, The DaVinci Code. In The Gospel of Phillip, Mary Magdalene was called Mariemene. The problem with this source is The Gospel of Phillip is not part of the recognized canon of scripture. It was written centuries after the rest of the gospels and is not considered a trustworthy account. Other than the similarity of the name, there is no reason to connect these two women.

However, if Mariemene is Mary Magdalene, then the other Mary must certainly be Mary, the mother of Jesus. Jesus had a brother named Jose, so certainly the names are lining up. Jacobovici believes this is looking like it is the tomb of Jesus. Except, who are Matthew and Judah? Jesus had a brother named Judas, but no brother named Matthew. Jacobovici finds it's easiest to remove Matthew from the picture (after telling us that Mary, the mother of Jesus, had Matthews in her family tree), and identifying Judah as the son of Jesus and Marimene. But this is all speculation. While he does do DNA testing between Jesus and Mariemene, he does no further testing. Jacobovici doesn't even bother to mention the other three unmarked ossuaries in the tomb. He does try to connect an ossuary that turned up with the inscription "James, son of Joseph, brother of Jesus". This ossuary might be the missing 10th ossuary that was cataloged at the site in 1980, but never placed in the Israel Antiquities Authority archives. Except that ossuary was listed as having no inscription. The found ossuary is currently held up in litigation and cannot be examined, but that doesn't stop Jacobovici from using it as "evidence".

Evidence is the one thing that Jacobovici's documentary is lacking. His work is speculation. Without evidence, even genealogical information is suspect. When I ordered death certificates for the people in my family plot, I uncovered facts. My grandfather and his parents, George and Maggie, lay to the right, but on the left side of the plot lay Maggie's parents, Francis and Ellen Boyer Wilson. George's parents were buried several counties away. Because they were in the same plot, I assumed they were the same family. I was wrong. I found I had two Wilson families who had intermarried. This was my first lesson in making sure that I have evidence, not assumptions in historical research.

Jacobovici's "research" wouldn't hold up in genealogical circles. He has theories and no real way to prove them. Yet, he hopes that scholars will research these artifacts to uncover his version of the truth. So far, the scholars weighing in don't seem to be interested in the project.

To read about the problems with the statistical evidence read: Special Report: Has James Cameron Found Jesus's Tomb or Is It Just a Statistical Error?