Monday, January 28, 2008

Talpiot Tomb Update

Last week the Jerusalem Post ran an interesting interview with James Charlesworth, who chaired the Jerusalem symposium on the tomb. Charlesworth is professor of New Testament Language and Literature at Princeton Theological Seminary and director of its Dead Sea Scrolls Project. Here is part of the interview:

You consider that constellation of names [inscribed on the ossuaries in the tomb] to be extraordinary?

Yes, I'd use the word extraordinary. If I'd found a 'Jesus son of Joseph,' a 'Mary' and a 'Jose,' I certainly wouldn't have tried to suppress the possibility it related to a human figure. I also wouldn't have jumped to the conclusion that we have a match.

It should have elicited a 'Wow! What have we found?'
And that's where we are now. I want to get an honest inquiry going, in which you are open to every possible conclusion.

In your concluding remarks at the symposium, you rejected the idea that Jesus's bones were buried at the tomb with objections that seemed more subjective than rigorously scientific. [Charlesworth described the 'Yeshua son of Yehosef' ossuary inscription as 'graffiti, just scratching,' and the ossuary as 'lousy,' adding that he found it unthinkable that the followers of Jesus would have put 'the remains of "the messiah" in such a horrible ossuary.']

I don't rule it out. It's my explanation for why it is difficult to accept it.

If Jesus's bones were found, would that undermine Christian doctrine?

There are some who say, 'if his bones are not in heaven... then I can't be a Christian.' My response is that Christian faith is emotional, but it's based upon reflection of some very brilliant Jews who were making extraordinary claims about a man who is human and who brought God's presence into their midst.

I'm taking people back to the sources. What does it mean to accept that Jesus was fully human and fully divine? Too often the confession is reduced to one statement: Jesus is God. That is heresy.

And the legitimate formulation?

Jesus is fully human and fully divine. That's the anchor of the faith. That's what distinguishes Christianity from Greek myth...

To claim that God raised Jesus from the dead does not mean it was the transmigration of the soul or a bodiless resurrection. The confession from the beginning was that somehow, incomprehensibly, the resurrected Jesus had a body, but it wasn't a body that would decay again.

Speaking for myself, I can't imagine any archeological discovery that would hinder Jewish or Christian faith. If we found the bones of Jesus, I can still confess that I experience a resurrected Lord.

All of us are on one side of the grave, and we don't know what's on the other side of that eternal divide.

Charlesworth is in Israel until April and he is working with the authorities to obtain the permits necessary to take a team of experts into the tombs and do some further exploring. Part of the controversy around the tomb has risen because of the poor job done by the team that made the discovery. Among other mistakes they contaminated the DNA samples. So stay tuned.

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