Proving Nothing

By Mark A. Taylor

This week’s article about The Lost Tomb of Jesus likely isn’t the only critical piece about the Discovery Channel documentary you’ve read. Even mainstream media have been critical of the film’s methods, assumptions, and conclusions.

John Dawson pointed out in World magazine that this is no science vs. Christianity conflict. “This time,” he concluded, “scientists have Jesus’ back.”

He quoted William Dever, “considered by many the leading U.S. scholar on biblical archeology,” who told The Washington Post, “I’m not a Christian. . . . I don’t have a dog in this fight. I’ve known about these ossuaries for many years and so have many other archaeologists, and none of us thought it was much of a story, because these are rather common Jewish names from that period.”

Dawson’s verdict: “Practically every archeologist outside of the ones [the documentary’s director James] Cameron interviewed dismissed the film as shoddy science at best and willful manipulation with a profit motive at worst.”

Even the professor whose work figured so heavily in the film wasn’t sure about the conclusions it reached. University of Toronto statistician Andrey Feuerverger calculated there is only a one in 600 chance that the names in the ossuaries would have existed in one tomb that didn’t belong to the family of Jesus.

But, as Carl Bialik reported in The Wall Street Journal, this calculation “is based on many assumptions about the prevalence of the names and their biblical significance.” Had he assumed, for example that “Mariamene e Mara” could have been any Mary instead of Mary Magdalene, as the documentary asserts, “it would be far less likely that Christ’s family is in the tomb.” Or, in the professor’s own words, “statistically not significant.”

The same goes for his interpretation of other names found in the tomb. Ivo Dinov, assistant professor of statistics at the University of California, Los Angeles, told the Journal reporter, the number quoted in the documentary is “very, very subjective.”

Some Christians have not bothered to evaluate the documentary’s claims or to argue with them. They believe in the evidence for the reliability of the New Testament documents and they’re not swayed by yet another flimsy attempt from the faithless to prove the resurrection impossible.

Of course, if science could demonstrate that Christ married, died, and decayed like any other leader or prophet, Christianity would collapse. But this time even skeptical media and secular scholars agree that no one has proved any such thing.

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