Tuesday, March 6, 2007

Yeshua bar Yosef

Sometimes in my fabulous blog –- Forgotten Prophets™ Website and Parachurch, which you currently have the privilege to be reading –- I deal with silly and unimportant things such as islamism and injustice. Sometimes I deal with important things, like my abs and how hot I am. But sometimes I deal with things that defy facile characterization. Thus, the Discovery Channel has aired a documentary dealing with the purported discovery of the bones of Jesus -- that is, of the Messiah, the Risen Lord, the Lamb Who Takes Away the Sin of the World, the Lion of Judah, the Alpha and the Omega. Ring any bells? You know, Jesus H. Christ. The guy with all the crosses. The Saviour? You must have heard of him. The Son of God?

In 1980 a tomb dating to the First Century of the Common Era was uncovered in Jerusalem. In it were found ten ossuaries –- stone chests containing human bones. The ancient custom was to lay out a body in a tomb for a year, then to collect the remnant bones and preserve them in the smaller and more convenient, and more hygienic, ossuaries. Such was the plan with the crucified Jesus of Nazareth, had things gone according to expectation. In any event, the tomb in question contained ossuaries inscribed with "Joseph", two with versions of "Mary", one with "Jesus son of Joseph," one with "Judah son of Jesus", and one with "Matthew". The other four were unmarked, and have since disappeared. The "Jesus" box was simple and the writing merely scratched on –- almost shabby.

Well. There it is then. The Jesus Family Tomb. Guess all those fairy tales in the so-called "Book" are just so many fairy tales in a book ... as if there were only one book. Funny how a whole big religion could have been built on such an obvious and easily-disproved lie, such as that a man could raise himself from the dead. Ridiculous. Everyone knows that life does not come from non-life. Except for Evolution of course, which is of course a scientific fact of course. Only an idiot would argue with that. Remember, a "fact" is something the truth of which can be demonstrated. Like Evolution, where complexity and organization just randomly accrue, as is universally seen in every observable system. Duh. Why is that so hard for you to understand? You must be a religious fanatic.

Likewise, a few years ago another tomb is said to have contained an ossuary marked "James son of Joseph, brother of Jesus." The size and patina of this box are similar to those of the 1980 Jesus Family Tomb. What are the odds? Alas, the James box is known from before 1980. Alas, the discovering archaeologists of the Jesus Family Tomb flatly state that the James box was not one of the original ten. Alas, the antiquities dealer who produced the James box is being criminally prosecuted for forgery. All this however need not prevent the James box from being inserted among the Jesus Family Tomb boxes. This at least is the position of the Documentarians.

Well, I’ve been a little bit sarcastic. Allow me to manipulate my features into a serious expression for a moment and suggest that matched patinas can only prove, at best, a similar age under similar conditions. As for similar size, these things do run to form –- as coffins are generally standardized even unto this very day. The "James" ossuary is of dubious provenance, and even if it came from a reputable source, to assert that it went missing from some specific tomb is not even circumstantial evidence. It is mere wishing.

And why Matthew in the tomb? Who’s that? Surely not Levi the tax collector. And if not that, who? Widowed Mary was committed into the care of John, not Matthew. We know of no likely relative of the Joseph family named Matthew. Where are the (half-) brothers of Jesus -- James, Simon and Jude? And everyone knows that Jesus married Mary Magdalene and went to England. DiDn’t DA VenChY prOoVe iT?!?! And why would father Joseph be interred in Jerusalem? His roots were in Nazareth, where he lived and presumably died. Families do have tombs, and those tombs were located in one's own home country. Nazareth, in this case. Yes, this is presumption, but it is also best evidence.

The case hangs on, and falls apart under, a consideration of probabilities. Specifically, how many Josephs had sons named Jesus in first century Judea? Well, hardly any. Probably none, in fact. Jesus, you see, is not a Hebrew name -- it's Greek. But "Jesus" wasn’t the name of Jesus. Jesus’ name was Joshua. More precisely, his name was Yeshua. "The Lord Saves." Nice, isn’t it, when your name is a sentence, and that sentence describes the meaning of your existence. My name is Jack. It means "steal", and "assault", and "masturbation" –- it means so many things. I am a man of many parts. So. How many Joshuas were there in Judea? How many Josephs? How many Judahs and Marys and Matthews? I don’t know. No one does. But everyone knows that these were exceedingly common names. Like Joe and Sam and John –- which are, by the way, all Hebrew names.

In the three or four generations of first century Jerusalem before the Romans went Roman on the Jews, there must have been hundreds of tombs containing Joshuas who were sons of Josephs, scattered with Marys and Judahs. So what are the odds that we should find such a tomb? At least one in some number, since we have found one. The Documentarians claim that the odds are one in six hundred that this combination of names would be found. Let’s ignore the serious-unto-invalidation statistical problems with their reasoning and methodology. Let’s just grant their conclusion. Looks bad for us retro fanatical religionists, doesn’t it. But when we consider how many families there were in Judea, things look brighter. I’m too lazy to crack open my Josephus, but let’s say there were fifty thousand tombs in the region. That would mean that there were something like 83 tombs containing a Joseph and a son Jesus, and some Marys. Now the odds switch, from being a mere one in a whopping six hundred for us, to eighty two in eighty three for us -- that is, if the Nazareth Joseph, Mary and Jesus tomb were in Jerusalem, it would be only one of 83 similarly named tombs.

I know, math. Such a bore. But isn't everything? For my part, all I want to do is smoke and have sex. And I don't do either. Life is so unfulfilling. I'd smoke in the shower, if I smoked. I'd have sex with you, if I had sex. Be glad, be very glad. Cuz I can find out where you live.

This brings us to the real issue. There are two kinds of evidence. Empirical, and historical. Hard science deals with measurable and reproducible phenomena. It is testable, either directly or by secondary methods. Thus, jurisprudence and philosophy and history are excluded from empirical disciplines. These deal with logic and most specifically with testimony. The primary evidence of history is testimony.

In the New Testament we have the testimony of eye witnesses as to the foundational events of Christianity. I was there and this is what I saw -- that sort of thing. Well, witnesses can be wrong. We gauge their accuracy by internal and external consistency. Are there contradictions in one’s own story? Is there agreement with independent witnesses? I will not spend words here on the matter. I simply assert that I have studied this question with undue diligence, and have found no disharmony. Yet we hear that the Bible is full of contradictions. Am I a lunatic? Could be. But regardless of that probability, it is certainly true that there are things in the Bible that a superficial reading does not explain. There are things that, given an unsure grasp of logic or of custom or of archeology, will cause confusion. These are not contradictions. (Please, do challenge me on this. I love the details. You’re too much of a sissy though. Sissy. Yeah. Sissy.) A serious study of any case merits more than a superficial examination of the evidence.

So, the archive, the library that we call the New Testament, that collection of eye-witness testimonies, bears witness from a number of perspectives to the singular event of a resurrection from the dead. That troublesome empty tomb. If the body was stolen by fanatical disciples, why would it later be publicly immured in this particular elaborate and ornate tomb? Surely the famous rabbi and healer, whose corpse was slathered with a fortune in ointments, would have rated more than a chicken-scratched cut-rate ossuary? Jesus preached meekness, but he claimed to be a king, and this his followers took him to be. And, incidentally, it was Jesus’ enemies who called him “son of Joseph”. His followers attributed to him a rather more lofty parentage. And Jesus had a son named, uh, Judas?!

The testimony of resurrection is supported by the martyrdom of so many of those witnesses, who might otherwise have ransomed their lives from death by renouncing their fantastical claims. No such recanting is recorded. Affirmations, rather, in the face of torture. Hostile contemporary references in Roman and Jewish works support the death by crucifixion of this Jesus –- cf, Suetonius, Josephus, the Babylonian Talmud. No report claims that the dead body was produced by the highly-motivated authorities, who would thereby put down such troublesome and dangerous and blasphemous rumors. Surely the princes of the Sanhedrin would have done so given any plausible pretext. Surely the Talmud would record such evidence. Yet this public tomb of the Documentarians, with its Joseph and its Marys and the dry bones of its Jesus –- well, there it is, public, to disprove and humiliate the cult of the executed Messiah, if it could.

Does any of this prove the resurrection? Certainly not. Evidence, testimony, logic -- these are not proof. Proof is necessarily correlated with conviction. We do, each of us, have some generally unspoken level of proof that we require, to believe difficult things. Generally it’s an I have to see it with my own eyes sort of thing. Thomas, doubting Thomas is my favorite apostle. But I’m not trying to get anyone to believe anything. I’m just pointing out some really shoddy thinking that presented itself on TV. Shoddy. Like some chicken-scratched name found on some box in some fancy tomb.



SixthRomeo said...

All that work and it looks like no one commented on it!
"Biblical scholarship," much reading , much work, much synthesizing; yes, work on the abs, you probably are hot. Smoke in the shower? Steam maybe.
I think I read all the things you did, maybe more, I still read but I really like your commentary.

Jack H said...

I know, it's inexplicable to me. I'm so good, and no one appreciates it. Amazing. Just amazing.

I just can't get over it, did I say? My abs? I'm so beautiful. Just beautiful, so very.

But I don't see how you could have read all of my superb work. Did you look at Historic Christianity? The Age of Base Metal? Most Ancient Days? Not to mention any of the other excellent blogs your humble author has posted? It seems unlikely, since this is the only comment you've left, and all of my posts merit comment. Now understand, I'm not saying you're a liar. There is surely some other explanation, however implausible. Like, say, some glitch in all the computers you've heretofore used have not allowed access to the comments here. It's barely possible, I guess.


I kid.

Thanks for the kind thought. This wasn't much work, as I recall. Just stuff I happened to know. I didn't include any notes, so you know I didn't work hard on it. Just tried to be clear, behind all the silliness.