Tuesday, March 06, 2007

Jesus Tomb

OK, I admit it. I watched the documentary on the "Lost Tomb of Jesus" on Sunday. I wanted to be informed in case it caught on in a "Da Vinci Code" sort of way.

It doesn't look like anybody's buying it, so there doesn't seem much point in refuting it, but for my own entertainment as much as anything else, here are some things I've learned so far:

  1. Biblical scholars, regardless of theological orientation, are NOT archaeologists

  2. Film makers are neither Biblical scholars nor archaeologists

  3. Neither film makers nor Biblical scholars nor archaeologists tend to be exceptionally good at math

Now I'm not really a film maker, Biblical scholar or archaeologist, but I do have a degree in mathematics (albeit only a B.S.).

First, let me say that my impression is that the coincidence of names is pretty much the only evidence they have. The archaeologists were very dismissive of this aspect, saying "These are very common names." This seems to me to be on par with the "I live in New York and there are people everywhere" argument for New York being more populous than California. So I wanted to see the numbers.

As I was watching the film, when they finally got around to rolling out their numbers, I spotted the card coming off the bottom of the deck. After showing a simplified form of how the odds were calculated (see p. 13 here), the film maker said, "So there is only a one in six hundred chance that this is not the tomb of Jesus." But wait! That isn't what had been calculated at all!

What the statistician had actually calculated were the odds that one of the approximately 1000 tombs excavated to date would contain this combination of names. (Look here if you want to read more, or if you're a math geek read here to hear what the statistician himself is now saying.)

And this is where a sense of math comes in for the second time. The 1 in 600 odds are being touted as convincing by the film makers. The conclusion is disputed on many grounds, mostly claims that the assumptions behind the calculations were wrong. That's probably so, but the thing that gets me is that given that we are talking about the odds that one of the tombs discovered to date would have this combination of names, 1 in 600 just isn't that amazing.

Consider: 1 in 600 is about the same as the odds of winning $7 (yes, seven dollars) on a single Powerball ticket.

Would you make a documentary about that?

For the morbidly curious such as myself, check out Joe Zias' critique for a professional archaeologists' take on the whole thing.


Seven Star Hand said...

Lying about the name Jesus, for profit, yet again...

Hi Andy and all,

The most interesting aspect of this Jesus Tomb story revolves around the actual names on the bone boxes compared to what is being asserted in the effort to make a profit. Pay special attention to the tortured explanations of how names like Jesus, Mary, Matthew, Joseph, and others were "translated" (interpolated) from inscriptions that actually say otherwise. Most specifically, both Christians and those who are promoting this "Jesus Tomb" discovery and its associated assertions are profiting from the very same long-term process of obfuscation and meticulous misdirection.

For anyone, whether Christian leaders and adherents or James Cameron to keep a straight face while claiming that the name Jesus was one of the most common in Second Temple Israel is highly instructive. The name that is commonly translated as Joshua was very common, but the name Jesus is a very unique and narrowly targeted construction of recent centuries that simply cannot have truthfully appeared anywhere in the ancient Near East. Likewise, many are writing that Jesus is instead the english form of Joshua, as if the millions of english speaking Christians and Jews named Joshua have foreign names. Furthermore, does anyone know of any person named Joshua who would seriously assert that the English form of their name is Jesus? These deceptive assertions are beyond absurd.

This long-term charade about a name that simply could not have been written or pronounced in Aramaic, Hebrew, Greek, or even Latin, which is now being touted as one of the more common names from ancient Israel/Judea, serves as an illuminating microcosm for the entire New Testament and the many dubious assertions and activities that have accompanied it and Christianity throughout their entire existence. As Christians rally to "prove" that this archeological find can't be the tomb and bones of the "Jesus" and "Mary" of the New Testament, they too should honestly answer questions about why it is correct to interpolate those names in such a unique way to support the veracity of the most profitable story in history, but not to interpret an archeological discovery. Christians must truthfully answer the question of why it is wrong for the "Jesus Tomb" crew to use Christianity's own methodology to arrive at the names now being asserted as appearing on those bone boxes.

Read More ...

Here is Wisdom !!

P.S. an after-thought said...

The math part reminds me of my late father-in-law. He would often check the math contained in regular news articles and find it "didn't add up." That is due, in part, to general math illiteracy in the US, and to the general trend of journalists to be language people who usually hadn't studied any math since, what, 11th grade.

So whether through ignorance or guile, someone can pull the math-wool over our eyes easily.

Tom in Ontario said...

Ben Witherington gives some convincing refutations at his blog.


David said...

I'm right there with you on this one Andy. It is too bad that writing books and making movies that try to debunk Christianity make people so much money.