Friday, March 02, 2007

Thoughts on the emerging Ossuary Debate.

You have probably heard the accounts and reports of the finding of the alleged “Tomb of Jesus”. I am not going to write a defense or case here for either side of this debate, but I will give you things to consider as you see this unfold over the next few weeks or months.

Foundational presupposition – it’s not a hoax.

Now remember, when we talk of this ossuary, we presuppose that it’s not another hoax. Do remember that there
have been archeological mishaps and frauds in the past (everything from fake paleontological finds to Holy artifacts) and some scholars are now saying that the James ossuary we heard of more than a year ago was an authentic ossuary with a later forged inscription of James name on it.

A case so compelling till you hear the counter arguments.

It has been said by wise philosophers that an argument is so compelling till you have heard the counter argument. Remember your economics class where socialism seemed so good till you heard the capitalist critique of it or vise versa? The fact is that many times when we follow the evidence, we have good arguments for both sides and end up having to make a choice of most plausible rather than from absolute proof – since such proof requires measurements and empiricism that we just can’t get sometimes from matters of history. Sometimes however, Science catches up over time and empirical measures can be obtained from new technology,
like the sequencing of the Neanderthal mitochondrial DNA has pretty much proven (though debate still exist for a small few) the hypothesis that modern humans arose in Africa before migrating to Europe and replacing the Neanderthal population with little or no interbreeding.

I suspect (with my present ignorance on the matter) that the complexity of the evidence will be compelling both ways and reach a point with no more qualifying experiments to break the stalemate between the arguments for and against. Such stalemates have left some cases in history and archeology unresolved,
like the Getty Kuros, but we don’t get so worked up on them because of the low level of vested interest.

So my advice here is that everyone, should hear arguments from both sides, and be left to make up their God given minds – and its our Christian responsibility to make sure that the counter arguments are put out there where people will see them.

Epistemological choice we make on the questions of religion.

You will hear of the use of statistics in this debate (which we must not be too quick to dismiss) and how those inscriptions have to high a probability of the name pool to be talking about anyone else than the Christian Jesus. The thing is, the stats can go both ways, because since it is a probability, it could be that this case is from the minority amount and not the majority. We simply need a lot more test to supplement the use of the statistics. The fact is, you make a choice in subscribing to a theory of what is more plausible from the evidence presented to you – but you have to be very aware of the fact that your making a choice.

Religion is not motivated by rationale alone.

I repeated myself again about the fact that we make a choice of what to believe with the risk of looking like a Postmodern agnostic! But I do so to lay a foundation for this important point, that our decisions on the matters of religion are not motivated by rationale alone. The question of motivation is crucial, as it works to affect our industriousness in examining the evidence, the equality of honest evaluation we give to both sides of the argument and so forth. Motivation can even blind us subconsciously to compelling evidence before our eyes.

I am not saying that this matter will never be resolved; it could be that the evidence is so compelling for one side that any honest person will see it clearly. But no matter how compelling the case will be, there will be some people who would not budge from their position, and when we engage this battle, we have to learn to respect them and let them be.

Also I think its best at some point to resolve this matter for what it is – if it’s a historical issue, let’s leave our emotional baggage and religious zeal aside and engage the arguments and matter with professionalism and with clearly defined historical tools and analysis.

The economics of a controversy.

Lastly, do keep an eye on the economic paradigm of this controversy. Dan Brown has proven the profitability of this genre of media (books, documentaries, movie rights, etc.) and given the cultural climate of the USA, where many feel that the nation has been taken captive by religious zealots (sometimes paranoia, sometimes reality) – there are both monetary and non monetary benefits to shaking up Christianity. One has to wonder if James Cameron has been successful since Titanic, or if the actual motivation for this documentary of theirs was the great money that will follow this great controversy. On the counter side, he could be doing this from a passion of the truth – but the statistics are doubtful I suspect.


jacksons said...

Wailing at the Tomb?

Christians Should Face the Facts in The Discovery Documentary

By Gregory Koukl

The documentary “The Lost Tomb of Jesus” hadn’t even aired yet and many Christians were already in a panic. Just the suggestion that someone found Jesus’ bones in a limestone box had believers by the droves shaking their fists or sticking their heads in the sand in a don’t-confuse-me-with-the-facts posture.

Apparently, many Christians don’t even need to see the evidence to pass judgment. When one Evangelical web site polled its visitors with the question, “Do you believe the ‘Tomb of Jesus' documentary, which denies the resurrection of Christ?” 97% said no. This was three days before the documentary even aired. Blind faith is so convenient, isn’t it? You never have to actually confront your critics.

Then there’s the bullies. One media watchdog demanded Discovery “cancel this slanderous ‘documentary.’” Another prominent Evangelical organization composed this letter for their constituents to hammer Discovery with:

"I resent the Discovery Channel's attempt to demean and belittle Christianity by saying it is based on a lie. It is hard for me to believe that The Discovery Channel would dare do such a 'documentary' on any other religion.

"It may turn out that you have done Christianity a favor by awakening millions of Christians to your anti-Christian bias and bigotry. Perhaps they will no longer stay silent."

This kind of bullying is profoundly embarrassing to me, a follower of Christ, and should be discomfiting to every thoughtful Christian. It is not only a dismal retreat from a legitimate challenge that must be answered; it’s obscurantist.

Look, if the Bible says it and you believe it, that might settle it for you, but it doesn’t settle it for millions who might be interested in your ideas and are waiting to hear a thoughtful response to what appears on the surface to be a fair challenge.

There are good reasons to doubt the conclusions of this documentary, but no one will ever know them if Christians pull up the drawbridge and bellow from the parapet. Having seen the documentary, here are some problems that quickly come to mind:

Scholars have known about these tombs for over 25 years. There’s a reason they haven’t taken these names seriously. Only three have any direct biblical significance: Jesus, Mary, and Joseph. And that cluster of names is statistically unremarkable. In fact, it would be odd if a family with those three names was not found in a tomb together, given their common use (there are at least four ossuaries discovered inscribed “Jesus, son of Joseph,” and one in four women were named Mary, so it’s even money that one of these tombs would have that combination). And connection of Jesus to any of the other names? Wild speculation. So what you have here is a creative guessing game.

The entire argument is based on the statistical significance of the names in a cluster. If Jesus was married, and if Jesus was married to a woman named Mariamne, and if Mariamne was also a nickname for Mary Magdalene, and if Jesus had a brother named Matthew, and if Jesus had a son named Judas, and if the now-famous James ossuary belonged to James the brother of Jesus, then you’d have all the members of Jesus’ family together in one tomb. But that’s a lot of “ifs.

Even though this is called the “Jesus Family Tomb,” there is no hard evidence that any of these so-called “family members” is even related. The only DNA testing that’s been done—between Jesus and Mariamne—came up negative. Let me repeat that: The DNA test came up negative. That is fact. The rest is speculation.

The documentary claims, “Jesus and Mary were married, as the DNA evidence suggests.” This is nonsense. Think about it. How can DNA evidence suggest someone is married? DNA can’t “suggest” anything about legal relationships, only biological ones. In this case, the DNA evidence showed Jesus and Mary were not related by a mother, not that they were husband and wife. The truth is, she could have been married to any one of the males in the tomb, or to none of them for that matter. The DNA “suggests” nothing.

The researchers claim they’re just trying to connect the dots? Fair enough. But why connect the dots the way they did? I’ll tell you why. Because it tells their story. There are many other legitimate ways to connect those same dots—some much more probable than the way the documentary connects them, but won’t give the story they’re promoting. But, of course, that wouldn’t create breaking news, would it?

Jesus’ family was a poor family from Nazareth, not a middle- to upper-class family from Jerusalem. So this tomb is the wrong kind of tomb located in the wrong city.

The documentary claims Jesus spoke in codes. This is false. Jesus spoke in parables, like many of the teachers of His day, not in codes that needed to be deciphered. They say Mary Magdalene was Jesus’ most trusted apostle. But you have to wait 400 years before this evidence pops up in any alleged historical record. They said that Jesus’ family members were executed because He was a pretender to throne of Israel. This is pure fiction. Notice what this accomplishes, though. All of these little exaggerations and inaccuracies make an unlikely tale sound more plausible when, on its own unembellished merits, it is not.

What we have here are two different characterizations of what happened to the body of Jesus of Nazareth 2,000 years ago. One is based on artifacts—the ossuaries—and one is based on documents—the historical records of Matthew, Mark, Luke, John, Peter and Paul. Now granted, these kinds of things are not entirely exact science, but all things being equal, which do you think gives us more precise information, bone boxes or written records? The written records, obviously.

The claim of Jesus’ resurrection, was part of the earliest, most primitive testimony regarding Jesus. And it was made by those very same people that the documentary suggests knew Jesus’ bones were actually secretly buried in Jerusalem. Why would so many of them die for this lie when they knew it was a lie? It doesn’t add up. But that’s what you must believe if you take seriously the conclusions of this documentary.

If Christianity stands or falls on the historical fact of Jesus’ resurrection, as the Apostle Paul said, then Christ’s followers have no liberty to retreat behind blind faith or hide behind an angry scowl.

No, if you’re a Christian you shouldn’t run, whine, scream, or have a religious tantrum. Instead, you should be thanking the Discovery Channel for giving you the chance to step up to the plate and knock this soft ball out of the park.

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Daud said...

ettFantastic, Fantastic response - Kudos to sifu Greg again!! This must be the best one i've seen so far... Maybe somebody should translate!! hahaa

Sze Zeng said...

New Documentary Aims to Prove Christ's Resurrection