Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Debunking Christianity: Archaeological Evidence

It is difficult to read the articles posted on the Institute for Creation Research and not laugh until you pee your pants. But, when it comes to the archeological evidence for Jesus I agree.

Skeptics have often pointed out that no archaeological evidence for the existence of Jesus Christ has been discovered. And they are correct.[1]

On this point there is no actual evidence for the existence of a historical Jesus despite the insistence of some, such as James Cameron’s documentary The Jesus Family Tomb that a potential final resting place for Jesus and his family has been found. I have not seen the film, but have read the book based on the film by Simcha Jacobovici, a free lance journalist and writer who directed the film. I enjoyed it immensely while still remaining quite skeptical when finished.

The book presents a compelling story and creates a credible case, to be fair. However, when it comes to the subject of Jesus there seem to be fewer areas of history that are subject to such loud and profound disagreement and debunking. You could walk into a room with a neon sign flashing, “Jesus is here,” and you would still find experts and laity involved in heated debate over the veracity of the evidence. During his lifetime those closest to him debated who Jesus was or was not. The gospels give us this much. How much more so those of us who are removed by two millennia from the alleged events that have become part and parcel of the Christian tradition?

This debate would be fueled by some of the most intense emotions possible. Hundreds of thousands of people are invested emotionally and spiritually in the story of Jesus. You have Israel itself who would be none to pleased to have proof positive of the Christian messiah in their midst, although finding the remains of Jesus would certainly debunk the story of a bodily resurrection, perhaps proving once and for that the story believed by millions of Christians is false. Such a find might actually be a boon to Israel and to Judaism in general. It would certainly make for great tourism and “neener, neener, neener” rights.

The Roman Catholic Church and most conservative Christian groups would be quick to debunk or dismiss any such find. As suggested previously, the majority of the accepted canonical Christianities are founded on a touchstone of a Jesus’ bodily resurrection and ascension into heaven. Finding an ossuary that contains Jesus’ mortal remains would dismiss this entirely. Perhaps, a more Gnostic view of Jesus would return or, hopefully, even better we may have pounded the final nail into the coffin. Without a doubt there would remain diehards who would still hold desperately on to their original story.

Christians are tenacious if nothing else. The most conservative among them will hold on to outmoded ideas even in the face of evidence to the contrary. This is why we have scads of creationists who warp science and fact to fit into their little god boxes instead of allowing their ideas to mature and grow in the presence of new information. For these people if it isn’t in the bible then it just isn’t so.

However, we are simply speculating at this point. So is Dr. Morris when he adds an enigmatic, “at least perhaps up until the present. A recent incredible discovery may put to rest that criticism[2]” to the comment noted above. He is, of course, referring to the controversial James the Brother of Jesus ossuary discovered in recent years.

The discovery of the empty ossuary created quite a stir. However, it would appear that many reputable scholars seem to agree with Israeli experts that the bone box is a fake. The lack of clear providence concerns the Israeli experts and indeed the individual that brought the artifact to light is an antiquities dealer and collector who has had at times a questionable reputation. So say the Israelis at any rate. The Jesus Family Tomb addresses the issue of fakery and presents the case against the dealer as somewhat trumped up. The political ramification of such a find is enough to cause the Israeli government to cast doubt upon any such discovery. Jacobovici, in his book, seems to conclude that the ossuary is real or at least credible despite what the Israeli experts have to say.

But, let’s not attack Dr. Morris too readily on this issue. The authenticity of this artifact is likely to be debated for many years. As with artifacts such as the Shroud of Turin it is likely to be simultaneously authenticated and debunked for decades leaving only the conspiracy theorists and so-called secret or forbidden history enthusiasts enthralled. The Israelis do not necessarily have pure motives in regards to this artifact.

It is my opinion that a historical Jesus existed. This opinion is based simply on the messianic nature of Judaism, my understanding of religion as a cult of personality (in the beginning) and a sparse understanding of the history of 1st Century Palestine. I certainly won’t be rushing into a courtroom to try my case. It’s the claims made about Jesus and what came after that I find questionable. The risen Christ vs. the flesh and blood itinerant preacher who have been a willing martyr to his own cause is the real question for me.

Regardless of my opinion concerning the existence of a historical Jesus it is just that – an opinion. It is not based on concrete archaeological evidence. There is none. There is only the scantest of indirect evidence for Jesus life as discussed in previous essays. Dr. Morris’ “historical evidence” is what we have discussed before.

The arguments that Dr. Morris offers for the authenticity of the bone box have been debunked. The inscription that he claims is authentic has been determined by others to be faked. Though that does leave some questions regarding the patina evidence, however. The ossuary of James is an intriguing find to be certain, but in the end it doesn’t seem to be standing up to scrutiny.

Regarding the evidence for the existence of Jesus we will let Dr. Morris have the final word:

Actually, Jewish archaeological evidence of the entire period is rather sparse. There are the remains of large and extensive Roman cities, and adequate inscriptions of leaders, including Herod, Pilate and Festus. There are also influential Jews such as Caiaphas, but almost nothing can be found recording the lives of ordinary individuals. And remember that in A.D. 70 Jerusalem was totally destroyed by Titus. What may still exist is buried under the thriving modern city. Certainly the odds are against an artifact's survival. [3]



[1] Has Archaeological Evidence for Jesus Been Discovered? By John Morris, PHD – Institute for Creation Research
[2] Ibid
[3] Ibid

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