27 Comments

What if Christ’s Bones Were Found?

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.

I probably should give a review of these 3 sources.  Of the 3, I liked The Jesus Tomb best.  Jacobovici does DNA tests on the bones, chemical tests on the ossuaries, and uses statisticians to try to locate the probability of find a tomb with Jesus, two Mary’s (mother and wife), a brother James, and son of Joseph.  You may disagree with his results, but he did make a valiant effort to be scientific about it.  (A note about an ossuary.  Apparently at the time of Christ, people were often buried in a tomb.  After about a year, the body would decompose, leaving only the bones.  To save space, it was a custom to take the bones and “re-bury” them in a much smaller limestone box.  The largest bone in the body is the upper leg, so the box would only need to be about 2 feet long, and the bones would be placed there to save considerable space.  Often names were etched into these limestone boxes to identify the bones.)

Bloodline was dreadful.  Honestly, it was so hokey, I actually couldn’t pay attention to the whole thing.  It was supposedly a real life cloak and daggar documentary.  The producers would set up interviews with experts of Jesus’ bones in France, and they would either end up dead prior to the interview, or would just refuse.  Of the experts they managed to actually interview, most seemed like whack-jobs to me.  I give it no credibility.

I have just briefly skimmed the India site–I came upon it a few weeks ago.  I don’t quite know what to make of it yet.  I have heard people compare Christ to Buddha, and some claim they might have been the same person.  I do know of an ancient tradition that the Apostle Thomas (yes, Doubting Thomas) served a mission to India.  (Apparently, these claims about Thomas seem pretty credible.)  I also know that India has an ancient Christian history.  Really, I need to learn more, but it is interesting to me.

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?

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27 comments on “What if Christ’s Bones Were Found?

  1. I would lean towards #2, that the “corruptible” body is not needed or used in the resurrection. After all, some earthly bodies are blown to smithereens, cremated, etc, and there is not even any dust to be salvaged.

    As far as DNA is concerned, I’m not sure how it would be relevant in the case of Jesus since we have no DNA samples from him or any descendents.

    One thing I’ve always wondered about is that if the body is supposed to be restored to perfection after the resurrection, why would Christ still have the nailprints in his hands? Were they really THAT necessary for the apostles to accept that he was really back? Will he have them for eternity?

  2. I hate to say this, BUT, this post has the potential to take off in dozens of directions. Let me see how many I can take it in:

    1. FD, I have wondered the same thing about the nail prints since I was just a boy. It almost takes away from the story, making it seem less credible.

    2. For me, #2 makes the most sense, and if there is a resurrection, this is how I imagine it be.

    3. Couldn’t they just compare the DNA to the Merovingians?

    4. I have read that one possibility is that the vinegar given to Jesus was laced with an herb that caused one to appear dead. He was then taken down from the cross and placed in the tomb. He then revived 3 days later (really not much over 24 hours). This is why he still had the nail wounds. Then after spending time with the Apostles, he disappears (to France with Mary?) Anyway just a theory.

    5. Many of those that think Jesus never existed have pretty compelling evidence found in the scriptures themselves. There is a group that believes that Jesus was the invention of none other than Paul. Way too much for this post, but another theory.

    Okay, that’s enough directions for me. I apologise, but obviously I don’t mean it because I am still going to press the Submit Comment button.

  3. Bishop, I have a bit of trouble with the 4th possibility. According to the Gospel of John, a soldier pierced Christ’s side with a spear after his death. I would think that, even if He appeared dead, that injury would have killed Him. But that’s me.

  4. T, It very well could have killed him, but it might not have. The herb that could have been used was well known at the time. I’m not saying that’s what happened, in fact I don’t believe it happened either. Just throwing it out there.

  5. I guess I should have given more time to the original purpose of the post. I did say that #2 made the most sense for me, so following that vein, I would have to agree with MH that finding Christ’s bones would not be the death knell of Christianity.

    Perhaps a topic for another post would be, “Would the discovery that the BoM was fiction be the death knell of Mormonism?” I personally don’t think it would any more than finding Christ’s bones. As MH mentioned, it would merely shift the paradigm and the body of the Church would have to re-focus on something else…like Christ (CoC comes to mind).

  6. FD, from the story in the New Testament, it appears the scars were necessary. Remember, that Mary, and the apostles on the road to Emmaus didn’t recognize Jesus, so apparently his appearance was not easily recognizable. Also, it demonstrated that Jesus was not a ghost.

    Bishop Rick, I’m not sure why you feel a need to get digs in about the church. You have some really insightful comments sometimes, but other times (“BoM is fiction”) are off-topic and really show an agenda toward negativity in regards to the church. I’m not sure why you have a need to bring negativity into the conversation.

    As to your other points, I’m not familiar with Merovingians, so can you explain that a little better? As for the vinegar theory, I think that’s a little tough to swallow (ok, a little pun there). 🙂 I’ve never heard of vinegar having any ability to bring on temporary unconsciousness. If he had been unconscious, the spear wound would have bled profusely, or probably would have initiated him bleeding to death, so I think the vinegar theory is not backed up scientifically.

  7. MH, I think you need to read my post again, only this time give me the benefit of the doubt that I did not intend a “dig”. Then see if you still think the comment was off topic and negative in nature. My intent was to use that as a comparative example of something (like finding Jesus’s bones) that would NOT be the death knell of a religion.

    The Merovingians are the French dynasty that were purported to be the literal descendants of Jesus and Mary (according to the Da Vinci Code). That statement was totally in jest.

    The theory behind the vinegar (laced with the herb) is that the heart rate slows to a point that the person is observed to be dead. This would also prevent them from bleeding to death from a single wound. Not guaranteed of course, but the possibility is there.

  8. Bishop Rick – sounds as though you have read Lamb: The Gospel of Biff, Christ’s Childhood Pal. If not, I think you’d like it.

    While I like the sound of #2, honestly, I wasn’t that impressed with Simcha Jacobovici’s scholarship – he seemed more Samantha Brown than scholar to me. However, the concept is certainly cool. I don’t think it would be the death knell of Christianity so much as it would seriously challenge Christian literalism (similar to a finding of the BOM as non-historical). More likely than finding Christ’s bones (because seriously, they could be the right date but impossible to prove they were really his), would be finding textual evidence that resurrection as a Christian tenet post-dated Christ & the 12 apostles by a wide margin. But even that leaves the door open to lost texts and the concept that oral traditions were correct while early surviving texts were not.

    I suppose we’re left with a mix of faith and doubt in the end, no matter how you slice it.

  9. hawkgrrrl – I have not read that, but will now look it up.
    I agree that the post-Christ textual evidence would not be as damning as actually finding Christ’s bones, but if there WAS a way to prove that a set of bones actually did belong to Christ, I still don’t think it would kill Christianity.

    In reality, it doesn’t matter what can or cannot be proven. People will believe what they choose to believe, and will react how they choose to react.

    If you use FD as an example, she no longer believes the LDS church is the ONLY true church…yet she still chooses to be an active member. This is not due to marital pressure as her husband is not a member.

    If you believe the BoM is fiction, it IS fiction to you. Just like if you believe it is factual, it IS factual to you. Same thing goes for Christ and the resurrection.

    So if either of these 2 things could be proven right or wrong, it wouldn’t necessarily require a positional change for a church. I would hope that a position change would come from the appropriate leaders if a doctrine or belief was proven false, but its certainly not required.

  10. To me, fact and fiction are somewhat useless terms in a spiritual sense, but I too am a non-literalist. Our actions and the kind of person we become seem far more important than whether something is true or not, historical or mythical.

  11. Hawkgrrrl, is that really a book, or a joke?

  12. HG, I couldn’t agree more.

  13. The book is real and can be found here online: http://bit.ly/3r1tTM
    I’m reading it now.

  14. @hawkgrrrl Well said. I think divinity is revealed through our actions. As I was commenting on the Book of Mormon, whether it is divine scripture does not rest on the fact or fiction of its origin, but on the actions of those who read it.

  15. BTC:

    I do sort of understand your point, but belief in the historicity of the story would certainly affect HOW I went about selecting my actions. As to the bones themselves, I think at my age I’ve pretty much changed every cell in my body eight or nine times already, so I wouldn’t necessarily connect ressurection with any aspect of the old body. Atoms are atoms.

  16. One realization long ago sealed in my mind that we cannot be resurrected from the same atoms: the matter of my current body almost certainly includes matter from the bodies of the dead, by simple ingestion. Not all graves are hermetically sealed, after all, and as grotesque as it may seem, dead people do have a tendency to be recycled into the “bottom” of the food chain.

  17. I wonder, if the resurrection is not a physical one, why has the Church always discouraged people from being cremated? I’ve never really understood that.

  18. Brief word of warning on the book, that is probably unnecessary here, but what the hey – it does have sex and the F word in it (several times), but it is a totally great read.

  19. I think a real life example to the point that MH raises in his original post, and Bishop Rick then raises in comment #6 is that we can see exactly what happens when a foundational story is shown not to be accurate in looking at the Joseph Smith papyri and the Book of Abraham. 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 findings, and the church went on with nary a hiccup.

  20. I do want to comment on option (1) at the top. When I was single, I dated a Lutheran woman. She invited me to Bible study on Wed nights, and I became good friends with her pastor. On one of our dates, we were discussing the resurrection. She told me she didn’t believe in a physical resurrection, and that she believed that all Lutherans believed the same way. I was so shocked by her answer, that I actually went to her pastor to verify her information. I was prepared to pull out Job 19:26, And though after my skin worms destroy this body, yet in my flesh shall I see God:

    I had a great talk with her pastor. Before I could pull out the Job scripture, he did. I told him what my date had said, and he said something classic.

    “Am I surprised? Yes, and no. Yes, she ought to know better, but I’m not surprised that people in my congregation don’t know better.”

    I don’t know how the CoC portrays the resurrection, but I know I’ve been in LDS church meetings and heard that if the bones are no longer in the grave, then the person has been resurrected. Now perhaps this is Mormon folklore talking–but I suspect other Christian religions feel the same way. I think option 2 makes a lot of sense, but I’m not sure that mainstream Christians believe in such a thing–especially since many Evangelicals and Catholics are against stem cell and/or cloning techniques.

    FD, on your question about cremation, I think you’ll find this link informative (it is lower on the page). Quoting briefly,

    Where do Latter-day Saints fit into this picture? We reaffirm the perspective that the body is good and, as a creation of God, is to be respected. But as the Church has moved into nations other than the United States, there has been recognition that cultural practices differ. Generally, Latter-day Saints in the Western world have felt that nothing should be done which is destructive to the body. That should be left to nature. Church leaders have counseled that only in unusual circumstances or where required by law should cremation take place. 11

    Ultimately, after consultation with the Lord and with priesthood leaders, the family must decide what to do. If the person has been endowed, some special instructions are available for the family from local priesthood leaders. Even if a body is cremated, a funeral service may be held if the ashes are buried or deposited in a mausoleum. 12

    Where there is no overriding reason to cremate, burial is still the preferred method of handling our dead. In the end, however, we should remember that the resurrection will take place by the power of God, who created the heavens and the earth. Ultimately, whether a person’s body was buried at sea, destroyed in combat or an accident, intentionally cremated, or buried in a grave, the person will be resurrected.

    Now, I know the Bruce R McConkie says in Mormon Doctrine that cremation is bad. However, his father-in-law Pres (and prophet) Joseph Fielding Smith said it is ok. The Ensign article above doesn’t encourage cremation, but there is nothing wrong with it either.

  21. […] you want a review of these 3, click here.)  So, with Christ being resurrected, Christians would obviously find these 3 sources as […]

  22. “I’ve been in LDS church meetings and heard that if the bones are no longer in the grave, then the person has been resurrected.”

    I suspect this is folklore since, as far as I know, even bones can be eventually broken down by the elements. I presume that the ones that archaeologist dig up only survived because the conditions were right. I’m guessing that there are many people who have lived on this earth who have not left a single trace of their physical body. Yet they will be resurrected.

    “Now perhaps this is Mormon folklore talking–but I suspect other Christian religions feel the same way.”

    I think you’re right because I do remember my Calvinist Baptist friend telling me many years ago that if Christ’s bones were ever found, his faith would be destroyed. I was a bit surprised but didn’t ask him any more about that at the time. I guess now I know why he said that.

    I remember watching a documentary about a certain tribe in Madagascar who dig up their dead once a year and “visit” with them, tell them about the past year’s happenings, etc. It was bizarre and beautiful at the same time to see people literally cradling a bag of bones and having a nice family visit. 🙂

    Personally, I’ve never cared one way or the other about cremation. And yet I know my dad is really bothered by the thought of it, particularly because my grandparents have expressed a desire to be cremated when they die. Some people, I think, take comfort in knowing that their loved one’s body is still “there.” And I can understand that.

    One thing that I’ve found interesting about Norwegian culture is that even though very few of them are religious and hardly anyone goes to church, they are very dedicated to upkeep of their loved ones’ gravesites — even distant relatives that they weren’t particularly close to. If you visit a Norwegian cemetery, it’s hard to find a single grave that doesn’t have fresh flowers in front of it at all time, which of course requires regular tending to in the summer months. As well, at Christmas, birthdays, and special days, people will bring flowers to the grave (summer) or light a candle (winter). On Christmas Eve, when it gets dark really early, the cemetery is a sea of lighted candles. It’s really quite beautiful! To not take care of the gravesites in your family is something that would be considered pretty shameful and neglectful.

    Ironically, back home where people are a bit more religious, it’s not such a big deal. Even in my own family and among church members I knew, I don’t think hardly anyone would ever visit the graves of relatives regularly, except perhaps on special days. My family never visited the graves of relatives unless we were out for a stroll in the cemetery and happened to pass by. (Sounds callous, I know. 🙂 ) And I’m no exception. I guess it’s because I don’t really think of the person being “there.” I’ve told my husband that if I go before him, I could be buried in a cardboard box for all I care, because I personally feel so little attachment to the body once the spirit is gone. And yet I really respect and admire the practice of tending to a person’s physical remains and resting place. Perhaps if someone really close to me died, I would want to frequent the gravesite.

    It’s funny, I was thinking of this just yesterday when a patient, whose family was estranged and wanted nothing to do with her, died during my shift. They don’t embalm bodies in Scandinavia (one of the funeral practices that are quite different here), so after the nurses washed and dressed the body, the rest of us at work went in to view her. It felt a bit strange, because to me, it wasn’t “her.” She had moved on, in my mind. I’m not a fan of open caskets or viewings because those tend to be the lasting images of the person that stay in my head. And I don’t like to remember them that way.

    It’s interesting that despite all my issues with Mormonism and lack of spiritual manifestations (like whenever I know people at work are close to death, I’m always on the “lookout” for any indications of spirits coming to accompany the person home, etc, but so far nothing), the Mormon concept of the afterlife is so deeply-ingrained into me that I just can’t really imagine it any other way. Maybe that’s why I see the physical remains as becoming so irrelevant once the spirit is gone.

  23. Many syncretistic religions formed gnosticism. Gnosticism was rivaling against Christianity and gnosticism held itself better religion as Christianity was. Word gnosticism comes from Greek word gnosis, which means knowledge. Gnosticism was various effects, for instance, some Gnostics taught that divinity can be achieved through unity of the man and woman. This thought led some Gnostics to reach for divinity through sexual intercourse between the man and woman. There existed also some Gnostics, who abstained from sexual intercourse. When we know the fact that Gnostics held Christians as their enemies and that Gnostics held themselves better as Christians and that Gnostics wanted to show in every way that Gnosticism was better as Christianity, so Gnostics made so called gnostic gospels were they twisted, slandered and misrepresented the real gospels. Gnostics went so far in this misrepresent that they wrote “new gospels” by faking the real gospels. In these faked gospels Gnostics wrote that Jesus Christ was an ordinary man who has a sexual relationship with Mary Magdalene.

    http://koti.phnet.fi/elohim/marymagdalene.html

  24. FD, I’ve never been very comfortable about death, or cemeteries. When my brother and sister died, things changed pretty radically for me. I used to live just a few miles from my sister’s grave and visited often. However, I have moved, and it is quite a distance to visit now, so I do it rarely. I had the experience of choosing my brother’s plot, and picked an area near a nice shade tree. I don’t live very close, but I do try to go and decorate his grave once in a while.

    telson, thanks for the link. It does seem to be quite militant in its beliefs, but I think it has some good information.

  25. telson, are you aware that it was the Catholic church that determined which gospels were true and which were fake? Do you think there may have been a few mistakes made in that determination?

  26. “What if Christ’s Bones Were Found?” They couldn’t be. Duh. To prove that some crusty old crucified bones were his and not someone elses’ you’d have to have a DNA sample of his blood to compare them to. If transubstantiation were true you could take some consecrated Catholic communion wine and extract his DNA from that and compare to the bones, but since it isn’t, there is no sample to comparison. Hence, you could never prove it if you did find his bones, so its a moot question.

  27. WOW, that was great. (can’t stop laughing).
    I think we SHOULD try to extract a DNA sample from communion and plug it into the DNA project so we can determine the lineage.

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