I don’t know why, but I love to learn about archaeology, especially religious archaeology. A few years ago, Simcha Jacobovici came out with a documentary and book called The Jesus Tomb. In it, he makes a claim that the bones of Jesus may have been located in a tomb unearthed in Jerusalem. Of course, the Da Vinci Code, while fiction, makes a claim that Jesus and his wife, Mary Magdalene were actually buried in France. A few months ago, I watched a documentary called Bloodline, which actually goes further, and makes the case that yes, indeed, the bones of Christ and Mary are found in France. (You can learn more at the official website.) I just came across a third source, which claims that Christ’s bones are actually located in India. See this website.
(If you want a review of these 3, click here.) So, with Christ being resurrected, Christians would obviously find these 3 sources as problematic. If Christ was really resurrected, there should be no bones, right? I must say I was really intrigued by Simcha Jacobovici’s position. Simcha is a Jew, and said that if the bones were really discovered, then it would actually give credibility to Christianity, because it would in fact give proof that Jesus was an actual person. (Of course, there are many who claim Jesus never existed, citing lack of evidence.)
So, it got me thinking. Obviously, all 3 can’t be right. But what if one of them is right? Critics of Christianity would loudly trumpet the fact that the resurrection couldn’t have happened if the bones were found. They already make claims that say this discovery “would shake the foundations of Christianity”, seeming to imply that Christianity would somehow disappear. But would it really disappear?
I don’t think so. Let’s assume for sake of argument that one of these positions was scientifically proved correct–Jesus bones have been positively found. Now, while I am sure it would cause much re-evaluation among Christians, I do not believe Christianity would vanish. I suspect that many Christians would have to re-evaluate the resurrection. Here’s some possible scenarios that I see happening.
(1) The resurrection is actually not a physical resurrection. I believe many people already believe this. When we look at it, it’s a little tough to reconcile with the scriptures, because Jesus ate fish and honey after his resurrection. “Touch me” was his reply–so it does seem to be a fact that he was physically resurrected. But perhaps this physical resurrection would only apply to him, and not us?
(2) Perhaps there was some sort of stem-cell/cloning technique for the resurrection. Perhaps Jesus “corruptible” body is on the earth, but his new “celestial” body looks/feels the same, but is basically a perfected clone of his human body.
(3) Perhaps the resurrection is not important at all. Perhaps the Gnostics had it right, and the body is not needed in heaven. Perhaps, Jesus true purpose is not the resurrection, but rather his purpose was to teach spiritual truths. In this scenario, the resurrection is meaningless, and Christ’s atonement and teachings are what really matters.
I’m sure there are other options. Can you think of some? If Christ’s bones were truly found, would it really spell the end of Christianity, as skeptics claim?
If Christ’s bones were found, it would be freakin’ awesome to look at His DNA. I mean, think about it – its half God’s DNA. Its mind-boggling just to consider. It would totally change the human genome project as we know it.
What do you mean “scientifically proved correct”? What would constitute evidence of such a thing?
There aren’t even any writings by anyone who met Jesus in the flesh — we certainly don’t have his address or any DNA to match.
chason is on to a very important fact. there is simply no way that any bones could be proven scientifically that they would be from Jesus. I also watched the film Bloodline, which I thought was very good, in the atmospheric, spooky, conjecturing way, but there was no science in the film at all.
If Christ’s bones were found, it would simply mean, for me, that we still don’t know enough about this world to say definitively anything. What absolute truths do we even know for a certainty? What can we say that we know enough of to say for certain would never ever change, because all has been revealed about that thing? Is there anything? This is probably one of the reasons why Jesus taught us to limit our speech to “ya ya, nay nay.” Because we make arses of ourselves when we say more or less than that.
Kate, That’s an interesting thought. If Jacobivici has indeed found Christ’s bones, he did a DNA test, and the DNA was no different than man’s DNA. He did show that the bones of Jesus and Mary were not related, implying they were husband and wife. So, if Jacobovici’s findings are correct (and I’m not saying one way or the other), then this would imply 2 other things I didn’t mention: (A) God’s DNA is no different than man’s DNA, or (B) if God’s DNA is different, then Jesus would not have been divine. I suspect most Christians would have a real problem with B.
Chanson, you’re right–I don’t believe there is a way to scientifically prove these bones were from Jesus. I realize my assumption is just that–a big assumption. I just thought this is an interesting thought experiment. My main point is that contrary to skeptic’s claims that such a find “would shake the foundations of Christianity”, perhaps it would cause a ripple, but I don’t think such a find would prove that Christ wasn’t divine, as the skeptics would like to insinuate. I think Christianity would keep growing, even in the face of such “evidence.”
If Jesus’ body was found (and this could somehow be verified) it would mean that the gospel is false and we are still in our sins. Saint Paul wrote, “And if Christ has not been raised, our preaching is useless and so is your faith. Moreover we are even found to be false witnesses of God.” Also, in response to the DNA question, Jesus’ DNA was entirely human. He was one hundred percent human. He was not half God-half but fully God and fully Man. According to the flesh, Christ was in every way as we are. None of the alternatives proposed above can be reconciled with scripture or the historical, grammatical, meaning of the term resurrection. If Christians adopted these ideas they would be willfully ignorant or dishonest.
My first thought was similar to Dan’s and Chanson’s: how could bones possibly be scientifically proven to be Christ’s?
This kind of story brings up an interesting point. There are those out there who would attempt to “prove Christianity wrong.” Or prove Mormonism wrong. Or prove this or that wrong by pointing out something new learned about this or that event. Because record keeping wasn’t the same back in the ancient times as it is today, there are far too many instances where something like this would occur. There are a couple of problems with this.
1. The believers make themselves gullible targets by claiming infallible truth when they really only hold partial truths. In the case of Jesus Christ’s resurrection for example, do we really know whether or not his body would actually be taken from the ground in which it was laid to rest and reunited with his spirit? That’s what our scriptures claim, but what if the whole absolute truth was more nuanced and complex than that? I mean, for example, how exactly do you reunite one’s soul with the body incinerated by a nuclear blast (or are the souls of those poor Japanese lost forever because their bodies are truly wipe out?), or even more simply, how do you reconnect a soul with a body that has been cremated and the ashes scattered over the ocean (or Scotty’s ashes which were sent into the sun! I’d like to see which angel was put in charge of collecting those pieces!). Essentially, my point is that we only have a general idea how things work. Believers need to be flexible on this, or they will set themselves up as prey to those who see an easy target.
2. Those who attempt to play gotcha actually help us get a better view of the world around us, and we shouldn’t be fearful of what they research. If we truly believe we are right, in the long run, discovering that Jesus’s bones are still here on earth would do absolutely nothing to our belief that Jesus was resurrected. It only changes our understanding of what resurrection really means, which we still do not fully understand.
There was a 2001 film starring Antonio Banderas and Olivia Williams based on this very topic. It wasn’t very well executed, but I thought it was an interesting idea for a story.
MH: As people have pointed out, it would be impossible to verify any of Jesus’s remains. In fact, almost any artifact that might surface relating to the historical Jesus is almost certain to be a forgery/fraud. This results from the incredible disparity between Jesus’s mega-celebrity today versus his almost total inconsequence during his lifetime. Jesus didn’t merit a single mention even one contemporary non-Christian/non-Jewish source. Meanwhile today, he’s widely regarded as the most important person to have lived on Earth. Throw in the basic inventiveness of people and the potential to cash in, and the equation will always yield the same result: hoax.
Meanwhile, if we explore your thought experiment, I think you’re asking: what if the evidence existed to show that Jesus was an ordinary human whose life was lived according to the established principles of human history. I put it to you that we don’t need the experiment, because all the evidence we need to be confident about this question exists. We don’t need “gotcha” evidence, as Dan calls it. We can consider this question even though the historical Jesus wasn’t important enough in life to merit mention. All we need to live your experiment is a broad perspective on human history and within it, an in-depth look at the development of the New Testament, the rise and evolution of Christianity, and (if we like) the history of the Restoration. If we approach all of that with an open heart and open mind, we will see quite clearly that the early Christian writings (both those which made the arbitrary canonical cut and those which didn’t) have the same character and quality of all human texts. In observing Christian history, we will see that as successful as it is, Christianity has functioned the same way as all other human institutions and ideas. And finally the Restoration — which created new institutions which inevitably failed to replicate (restore) the largely mythical primitive/apostolic Christian church of the 1st century — has likewise behaved in a way that is entirely consistent with normal human history. Thus we already live in the world of your thought experiment; we just have to think about it.
What I take from this is that science and religion don’t mix. No matter how much “scientific proof” one can use to illustrate they were Christ’s bones (or that the native americans have no DNA match with peoples of the middle east, or that the earth never flooded, etc., etc.) believers will disregard the science or conform the science to fit in with their beliefs.
Right, so I agree with you on some level:
First off I would definitely put this “evidence” in quotes — just like you did — since so many critical pieces of the puzzle are missing that there would be no way to prove that such “evidence” is real.
Secondly, you’re right that evidence is unlikely to “shake the foundations of Christianity.” But you don’t need to postulate such an absurd scenario to demonstrate that. There are plenty of major points where real-world evidence contradicts the Bible and/or the Bible contradicts itself. But religion takes a lickin’ and keeps on tickin’! 😉
Without trying to come across too critically, this experiment is just shy of the larger question: “what if we could scientifically prove that Jesus was not the Christ”. In which case we would probably have to say, “wow, I guess he’s not”. If such a thing could be proven, then while certainly some forms of Christianity would continue to persist on the margins, it would become largely abandoned within a few decades. That all of course would depend on some very compelling scientific proof. The challenge however, is that undergirding principle of faith upon which most all Christianity hangs. We make claims about God, angels, the order of heaven, and mans purpose in mortality, all on the confidence of intangibles such as faith, or spiritual promptings. As of yet, the only real metric for testing the integrity behind the basis of these assertions is logic and experience, and that’s obviously to subjective for universal appeal. Given that most people here come from a Mormon perspective (ie, our flavor of the only true Church) it should be noted that a long standing example of the futility of such an argument, ie the Catholic Church, has been around nearly unchallenged as one of the worlds dominant denominations for nearly eight hundred years. Not that a thought exercise is somehow innapropriate, but just that we should bear in mind the liklihood of actually addressing the matter in any circumstance other than an intellectual exercise. Again, if we were confronted with scientific proof (underscore “proof”), there would be a moment of chaos, but ultimately society would progress.
“This results from the incredible disparity between Jesus’s mega-celebrity today versus his almost total inconsequence during his lifetime. Jesus didn’t merit a single mention even one contemporary non-Christian/non-Jewish source.’
John, this is an excellent point. When people ask me why more Jews didn’t accept Jesus when he was on the earth, I tell them it was because most of them never heard of Him and they had their own favorite Messiah candidate!
If Jesus’ bones were found, the Jews would have been right along and thus, very hard to live with from now on! And I’d just change back,
How is this any different than asking what would happen if the Joseph Smith papyri were found?
Some might think that “the very foundations” of the CoJCoLDS would be shaken. Yet we know the answer to this question: the LDS church has continued to grow since the papyri were found and translated in 1967. The church and apologists came up with lots of ways to mitigate or outright dismiss the modern translation of these texts, and the church went on with nary a hiccup.
Why would we think Christianity as a whole would be any different if the bones of Jesus were found?
I agree completely with Kari.
People who want to believe will find ways to dismiss the science. People who don’t want to believe will put stock in the science.
yes, kari and dexter, and skeptics will continue to dismiss spiritual arguments when they fail to give religious arguments any validity.
BJM – I saw that movie, too, with Antonio Banderas as the sexy priest.
As to Jesus’ bones, I can already write the apologetics: resurrected beings are clones of some sort vs. actually restoring the existing corpse to life.
John Hamer’s point is well taken. I’ll only add that it would be far more damaging to Christianity to determine through an examination of the earliest scriptural codices that none of the early Christians believed Christ was divine, or IOW, to determine that the concept of divinity was fabricated at a date that is proven to be much later. Then Christianity might go the way of Buddhism or Islam, not go away, but change the theology significantly to fit that kind of model – Jesus as a model for spiritual teaching vs. an atoning messiah.
From a LDS theology standpoint, I think it’s clear that a resurrected body has “flesh and bones” (but not blood, which has never been explained to me. Anyway…)
So if Jesus mortal bones were found, would that mean he wasn’t resurrected? IMO, the two are unrelated. As N (#8) pointed out, there’s too much shared carbon among life forms to beleive individuals will be resurrected from the exact molecules that composed their mortal bodies. (If JS is right about animal resurrection, all the meat-eating animals will be short on material, if herbivores are resurrected first. And what about the sailors eaten by sharks…)
I think the answer is that resurrected, celestial bodies are made from celestial material with different properties than we now possess (e.g. Moroni coming THROUGH the ceiling of JS’s bedroom) So if we assume that bones could be proven to be Jesus’ it still wouldn’t impact my faith even a little.
I think opinions 1 and 3 in the OP are easily dismissed using the standard works.
yes, kari and dexter, and skeptics will continue to dismiss spiritual arguments when they fail to give religious arguments any validity
If that’s the way you feel, why even write such a post as this?. If you don’t want cultural mormon skeptics to be involved in the discussion, don’t invite the discussion with topics like this, stick with testimony bearing. But it seems obvious to me that you’re longing for the attention/discussion when you post both here and on your personal blog.
If you want to have an actual discussion, I will rephrase my point. If skeptics think that the discovery of Jesus’ bones would mean the destruction and downfall of Christianity, there is a real life example that would suggest otherwise. When the Joseph Smith papyri were found and translated the translation turned out to be nothing like the foundational book of scripture that claims to be a translation from those very same papyri. Did the LDS church fold up and whither away? No. It has continued to grow and expand, becoming a truly international church.
So why would we think that Christianity would be any different? Different movements within Christianity would come up with all sorts of arguments and explanations that would allow believers to continue to believe. Would some persons leave Christianity over such a find? Yes, just like some have left the LDS church over the Book of Abraham. Would Christianity fail? Even as a skeptic and non-believer I would answer this question “no.”
“I think the answer is that resurrected, celestial bodies are made from celestial material with different properties than we now possess”
If God was the literal contributor of 50% of Jesus’ DNA, then either He must maintain the earthly type of nucleic acid genetic material(or have it banked), or has the power to assemble nucleic acids to form genetic material as needed.
The website that has the apologetic writing about the Adam God theory contains the BY conjecture that God and his Wife came down to the newly created-yet perfected earth and partook of the fruits composed of the dust of this earth in order to obtain the elements needed to create a tabernacle for Adam’s spirit. That would suggest an opinion–only opinion of course–that Celestial bodies DO have different properties than we now possess.
Perhaps I shouldn’t have lumped you in with Dexter’s comment, though he did agree with you enthusiastically. I specifically used the word “dismiss”, because that was the word Dexter used. I see you didn’t like my “dismissal” of your argument, and I hope you see that I don’t like Dexter’s “dismissal” of my argument as non-scientific. While I agree that there is certainly much faith involved in my position, Dexter’s tone was tactless (more so than yours.) My comment was more of an illustration that we should be more tolerant of other’s disagreement. As I’ve said before, I usually disagree with Cowboy, but his tone is respectful, and he doesn’t come off as offensive. I hope you’ve noticed that I can get a little irritated with overly zealous TBM’s as well.
I agree that John Hamer’s point is well taken. My purpose was to illustrate some beliefs about the resurrection that are usually taught in church. While I am sure people on the bloggernacle think option #2 is the best, I’m not so sure that typical “chapel” Christians would be comfortable with that position. I think many people have said that if the bones are out of the grave, then that person has been resurrected. Certainly, the NT talks about the graves which opened up and the saints appeared to many upon Christ’s return. This story seems to imply that the bones were used as material for the resurrection. Also, the story of a Lamanite child’s bones disturbed due to farming, and the flesh suddenly appearing on the bones does not seem to support option #2 either. I don’t believe option 2 is commonly believed by most Christians in general, especially since many Christians have ethical problems with stem cells and cloning.
I think we’re assuming that “resurection” requires the former body. The scriptures certainly allude to that with the empty tomb story, etc., but I’m not so sure that it’s true. That may have just been fitted to the understanding of the people at the time. (and us as well)
We’re all going to be “resurrected”…even those whose bodies have been totally changed into other elements such as gasses. Former remains of bodies are not needed IMHO.
I’m not sure that finding Jesus’s bones would prove, or disprove, anything.
Suddenly the fate of Kara Thrace on BSG is making much more sense to me . . . 🙂
Yes, “absolute proof” of who’s bodies those are is sorely lacking.
Recently, I saw one TV documentary where 2 ancient cities that were destroyed catastrophically fit Sodom & Gomorrah in date & location. Distorted walls & fallen towers showed a big earthquake did great damage there. But, until someone finds definite proof, no one will know for sure. A friend said they need to find the “Welcome to Sodom” sign to know. 😉
Mike, was that an episode of Digging for the Truth? I saw a compelling episode on Sodom and Gomorrah too, and have been considering a post for quite some time. The episode I saw even was able to find ash from the “fire and brimstone” mentioned. Apparently the building materials were made of highly flammable sulfur. (It must have been a very smelly place to live.)
Bruce Johns, if Jesus bones were found, I think it would give some credence to the report in the NT that Jesus body was stolen, which is why the tomb was empty. Certainly, it seems to call the 4 Gospels’ conclusion that the tomb was empty because the bones were used in the resurrection.
“What if Christ’s Bones Were Found?” Then we’re all fu…d! 😮
I agree with Kari in #20. That’s essentially the point I was trying to make.
BTW, Mormon Coffee had a very interesting debate on almost exactly the same question here.
In a nutshell, this was their claim: That finding the body of Christ would be a big problem for Christians — since “Faith must me anchored in reality or else it is not true” — unlike Mormons who just ignore the mountains of evidence against their beliefs.
(And note that that post brought me out of my lurkdom on that site to dispute their comparison of the evidence…)
Hmm, I would think that the bones of Christ would be a significantly bigger challenge to my faith than the Book of Abraham papyri. If only because the “translation process” Joseph used is much easier for me to view in some sort of post-Modern light (Joseph Smith’s translation of the Book of Mormon often didn’t even include the original plates). The D&C came to him in revelation only, with multiple revisions at times. So it’s a lot easier for me to think that Joseph’s “translation” was just a revelation like the others that he got. Those who object and say that it seems that Joseph tried to translate it the Old Fashioned way (if you examine his notes), well, I’d just counter by saying, “If Joseph was a fraud, why would he even ATTEMPT to do it the Old Fashioned way? What made him think that was even an option? He knew he wasn’t a linguist or a scholar.”
Of course, there are counters to that, too. But that’s right about where my mind settles. The “test” of scripture, to me, is whether I read it and whether the information contained therein resonates with me spiritually. Which the Book of Abraham does.
It would be strange to find the bones of Christ, however. We’d have to somehow reconcile everything we know about the Apostles and early Christianity with this new information. The Apostles all testified that the Tomb was empty, and that Christ literally took up His body again. It seemed that the fact that Christ’s new body still had the scars in his hands and feet and side was intentional – to prove to the witnesses that it was indeed the same body. So were the Apostles hallucinating, or were they actively trying to deceive everyone? Christ’s tomb didn’t seem to be a secret. There were guards at the tomb. Joseph of Arimathea was a wealthy man. If it was an active deception, and the Apostles were lying about Christ and perhaps rolled away the stone while the guards slept and stole the body, why would they “label” the tomb where we hypothetically find Christ’s bones? And why would they spend the rest of their lives covering up this deception, perhaps even giving their lives? Finding the bones of Christ would be a big problem that doesn’t make much sense given all the other information we have.
So I, like the others, might be having a hard time understanding your post. As in, what are you REALLY asking?
I feel like some of you think that I might have some hidden agenda. I don’t claim to have all the answers here. i’m just trying to stimulate some thoughtful conversation. so many on the bloggernacle act as if belief in Christ is cut and dried, but when we look more closely at the Savior, we can find instances where belief in him can be just as challenging as in modern prophets. is our faith in Christ a thoughtful faith, or is it based on naive myth? I suspect many of us haven’t examined controversial aspects of the Savior nearly as much as controversial aspects of mormon beliefs.
Many archaic views of resurrection are problematic. Consider that however one dies, unless extraordinary means are used to preserve and contain the remains, they will decompose and reenter the environment where they will be incorporated into other living beings, including other human beings. Further, there is little difference between this process, the accelerated process of cremation in which the ashes (basically the involatile metal salts and metal oxides that remain after our mostly organic structure is pyrolyzed at high termperature in a furnace) are scattered. The process of being vaporized in a nuclear blast is simply a more extreme version of this in which even the usually involatile salts and oxides are subjected to such a high temperature that they are turned into plasma and dispersed. But the products of that vaporization will also reenter the lifecycle chain of material reutilization. Ashes to ashes, and dust to dust is an apt description of our formation and demise.
So the concept that resurrection involves the physical reuniting of our spirit with our actual prior physical remains previously “laid to rest” is difficult to reconcile with the reality that each individual alive today incorporates material from the terminal remains of countless, perhaps millions of people who lived and died in ages past. Many of the atoms in our bodies may have each passed through many lives before finding their way into our physical structure. If every dead body headed for ressurection had to assert a claim check on each of its atoms, there would be many claims for almost every atom.
I don’t know how resurrection physically proceeds, but it seems to involve a process which does not necessarily involve the reincorporation of the physical body we left at death. If that is true, finding the bones of an allegedly resurrected being doesn’t really inform us as to whether resurrection actually took place or not. It is a non-issue.
You know, that’s actually a very good point, Jeff. Especially considering the constituent cells in my body are constantly dying and replacing themselves as I type this message. The “body” that I have right now isn’t even the same “body” I had 10 years ago. Which body will be resurrected? If I die when I’m an old man, certainly I will not be resurrected as an old man. That makes me think.
Am I missing something because this seems much ado about nothing. Does it really matter whether Jesus had magic DNA through God or was actually Joseph’s son or even the son of a roman soldier who raped Mary as some have suggested? Isnt it more important what he said and did and whether if he was correct in his explanation of what God is like, the nature of his kingdom, and God’s endorsement of Jesus? This of course takes us to the resurrection part but again do bones even matter? What matters is whether he lived again in some corporeal form not that a specific bone was part of his new body.
I get why all this might matter to people who believe that Jesus has to have a specific bone in his new body or that he has to have magic dna but perhaps we should consider that divinity comes from who we are and how we act (we are all invited to follow in his steps and do even greater works according to him) and not from special dna. Virtue and goodness seem much more important than super powers or super whatever from dna.
J Madsen, you sound very “gnostic” in your assessment. Gnostics believed that the body is basically irrelevant–it’s Jesus words and knowledge which matter, not his resurrection (or lack of it.)
However, for Christians, the resurrection is probably the central part of the message–it’s what makes Jesus unique. Some would call Jesus merely a prophet, but the resurrection makes him more than a prophet. The resurrection proves he is divine. From this point of view, finding the bones is problematic, because they were supposedly utilized in the resurrection miracle. For Christians (Catholics/Orthodox/Protestants/Mormons), finding the bones should be problematic, because it calls the gospel accounts of the resurrection into question.
However, the Gnostic position seems to be more appealing. Perhaps they had it right (or at least this part of the story right) after all?
I think corporeal resurrection matters, and matters greatly, just not the assertion that the bones “were supposedly utilized in the resurrection miracle.” The point is that he is living breathing flesh not that his body is composed of the exact same matter he occupied when living.
Let me add that by corporeal I mean that there is some substance to his body not that it necessarily has to be the same as our flesh now, it just has to be real, ie composed of matter or some substance.
J Madsen, I tend to agree with you. However, don’t you think that your interpretation calls the Gospel accounts into question? Are you somehow saying that when the tomb was empty, that the bones were there? Jesus couldn’t have possibly decomposed that quickly.
MH, good question. I really dont have an answer for that. I think the empty tomb is on pretty solid ground. NT Wright does a good job of addressing it in his book on the resurrection.
Im sure God could vanish the bones or decompose them but Im really not sure what to do if you have actual bones given the empty tomb. Ill have to think about this more. Then again Im not sure how you ever prove they are Jesus’ actual bones.
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