Jesus makes the front covers of TIME and Newsweek more often than any other person in history. Have you ever noticed how stories about Him usually pop up during the Advent and Lenten seasons? That is understandable since these are historical and spiritual landmarks for Christians. But rather than genuinely exploring the Christian faith or tying in with the celebration of the season, the news stories seem intended either to:
- challenge the convictions of the faithful
- distract seekers who might be interested in the scriptural accounts of these events or
- provide something interesting and entertaining for those who are committed to disbelief.
In any case, it seems that these articles are timed to undermine.
I don’t remember seeing many articles at Passover disputing the veracity of the Exodus account. I don’t recall reading any stories during Ramadan questioning the behavior or historicity of the accounts of Mohammed. Of course I affirm the truth of the Old Testament and deny the truth of the Koran. But I find it interesting that Jesus seems to be singled out as being or doing other than what He claimed to be and do at the times of year that especially celebrate Him.
The latest media attack on His claim to be the Resurrection and the Life appeared Sunday, March 4, in the form of the recent Discovery Channel special, “The Lost Tomb of Jesus: Evidence That Could Change History.” The show had great production values. The story unfolded with edgy suspense; the music was eerily dramatic. James Cameron (of the movie “Titanic” fame) has the skill of a world-class movie producer, while the star of the show, Simcha Jacobovici appeared credible as an “Orthodox” Israeli archeologist. They claimed to unveil the discovery of the literal tomb of Jesus Christ, his “wife” Mary Magdalene, and at least one offspring of the holy couple. The entire piece was actually an elaborate hoax, seemingly designed to secure television ratings, make money and undermine the Christian faith.
Let me summarize a few of the fallacies of the program:
- The discovery of this tomb is not recent. It was unearthed nearly three decades ago in 1980. Experts who examined it at that time concluded there were no unusual findings. Noted archeologist Amos Kloner, who first examined the tomb, called the Discovery Channel program’s claims “nonsense.”
- Jesus and Miriam were very common names (more than 100 tombs and ossuaries have been found inscribed with the name of Jesus) as were Matthew, Judah and Joseph, whose names were also included in the tomb. Concluding that the Jesus and Miriam buried in this tomb were Jesus Christ and His wife would be an incredible leap. It would be like finding a tomb with the names Abe and Mary, and announcing that this must be the real tomb of Abraham Lincoln.
- The tomb was unearthed in the Jerusalem suburb of Talpiot. Jesus’ family was from Nazareth, so it is far more likely that a family tomb would be found there. James, the half-brother of Jesus, was indeed the leader of the Jerusalem Church, but his name is not among those mentioned on the ossuaries. Why would he allow family members to be buried in Talpiot and not Jerusalem?
- The supposed DNA evidence proves only that the Jesus and Mary buried in the tomb were not from the same bloodline and therefore may have been married. Mary might have been married to any of the other men buried in the tomb as well; but regardless of which if any of the people she was married to, there is no proof that the Jesus in the tomb was Jesus of Nazareth.
- The Jewish leadership of Jesus’ day had an urgent and unfulfilled need to discover the body of Jesus. The apostle’s claims about His resurrection turned 1st Century Israel upside down, but all could have been put to rest if the leaders could have disproved their claims. With so much at stake it strains credulity to think that the family burial plot would remain such a well-kept secret until 1980.
Perhaps the Discovery Channel hoped to capitalize on the intense interest the general public showed in the bizarre theories associated with the “DaVinci Code” book and movie. Perhaps money is a driving force behind the sensationalism and seemingly endless slanted critical journalistic attacks on the claims of Christ, but I suspect a darker and more spiritual motive. Many skeptics seem desperate to disprove the Resurrection. Clearly they don’t want to deal personally with the implications if it’s true. And there seems to be a delight in considering anything that might seem to show the Resurrection to be false, no matter how bizarre or unfounded.
Moishe Rosen tells the story of a Jewish woman who approached him after a church service expressing her profound skepticism toward Christianity. She was surprised when Moishe responded by announcing that yes, the case for Christianity stands or falls on the basis of one miracle, and that if she could disprove that miracle the entire case would collapse. He then changed the subject to see if she was really interested. “How did you get to the church today?” he asked.
“By bus,” she replied, immediately adding, “but tell me, what miracle?”
“The resurrection of Jesus,” he responded. Of course Moishe was echoing what the apostle Paul wrote to the church in Corinth in the first century. “And if Christ is not risen, your faith is futile; you are still in your sins!” (1 Corinthians 15:17).
Paul was writing when there were still living eyewitnesses who could personally attest to this historical event. Believers today find our faith strengthened against skepticism as we rely on those eyewitness accounts in Scripture, as well as other historical and logical evidences.
The woman who approached Moishe couldn’t disprove the Resurrection that day long ago, any more than the folks at the Discovery Channel could disprove it this month. Unfortunately, too many believers seem to be shaken by every wind of popular nonsense that attempts to sweep away our faith. Many are attracted to the sensationalism of programs like “The Lost Tomb of Jesus” and do not know how to detect the fallacies or how to compare the credibility of the Bible with the credibility of contemporary “experts.”
In his new book titled “Religious Literacy,” Boston University Religion professor Steve Prothero states that while more than 90% of Americans say they believe in God, only a small percentage have a working knowledge of the Bible or of general religious doctrines. Prothero calls for the teaching of religion courses, including introduction to the Bible, in public high schools. We in Jews for Jesus were heartened by Hebrew Union professor Michael J. Cook’s recent call for members of the Jewish community to familiarize themselves with the writings of the New Testament. We understand that he does not agree with the claims of the New Testament; nevertheless, his forthcoming book, “Modern Jews Engage the New Testament: Enhancing Jewish Well-Being in a Christian Environment,” may lead many of our Jewish people to explore the New Testament. May it be so, Lord, for we know that, “faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the word of God” (Romans 10:17).
As followers of Jesus we need to strengthen our faith in Him and the power of His Resurrection by studying and learning the Scriptures. We ought to be familiar with the proofs for the Resurrection and other evidences for our faith. Jews for Jesus has many resources available on our website that will help you express your confidence in the truth of the Scriptures and the reality of the Resurrection. For starters, try these:
Remember that most skeptics are not as confident in their skepticism as you are in your faith. We need not feel defensive when giving a defense for our faith. So when someone challenges your faith, put the onus on the skeptics to prove their skepticism. You can do this by challenging them to disprove the Resurrection. Doubtless, more skeptics have become believers by accepting that challenge than we will ever know.
As we approach this year’s celebration of Yeshua’s Resurrection, let us renew our commitment “to contend earnestly for the faith which was once for all delivered to the saints,” “always be ready to give a defense to everyone who asks you a reason for the hope that is in you, with meekness and fear” (Jude 3b; 1 Pet.3:15).