The Republic of T.

Black. Gay. Father. Vegetarian. Buddhist. Liberal.

On Finding Jesus, Or What’s Left of Him

No, I didn’t find him. Despite some suggestions that I should. But apparently some folks think they have found Jesus. What remains of him, that is. And there’s a documentary film about it. [Via Preemptive Karma.]

If it proves true, the discovery, which will be revealed at a press conference in New York Monday, could shake up the Christian world as one of the most significant archeological finds in history.

The coffins which, according to the filmmakers held the remains of Jesus of Nazareth, his mother Mary and Mary Magdalene will be displayed for the first timeon Monday in New York.

Jointly produced by Emmy award-winning documentary filmmaker Simcha Jacobovici and Oscar winning director James Cameron, the film tells the exciting and tortuous story of the archeological discovery.

The story starts in 1980 in Jerusalem’s Talpiyot neighborhood, with the discovery of a 2,000 year old cave containing ten coffins. Six of the ten coffins were carved with inscriptions reading the names: Jesua son of Joseph, Mary, Mary, Matthew, Jofa (Joseph, identified as Jesus’ brother), Judah son of Jesua (Jesus’ son – the filmmakers claim).

In light of my earlier post, I almost wonder if this is the kind of thing we’re even supposed to talk about. Is there a respectful way to open question whether the gospel account of Jesus is fact or fiction? Or to say that the resurrection didn’t happen? Or that maybe he didn’t exist at all? I don’t know much more about this particular find than the article says, but it raises some interesting questions.

It’s something I’ve been interested in for a while now, actually. I don’t quite know how to talk about it without potentially being offensive though.

I actually just rented The Body via Netflix; a film starring Antonio Banderas as a priest sent by the Vatican to investigate a newly discovered tomb believed to contain the (crucified) body of Jesus. But It started when I saw the documentary The God Who Wasn’t There, which I blogged about and later reviewed. What little detail there is in the article sounds vaguely like the plot of The Body, minus any evidence of a crucifixion. But even that apparent detail, or lack thereof, would be a departure from scripture that raises a lot of questions.

What does it mean if the crucifixion, and thus the resurrection, didn’t happen? After The God Who Wasn’t There, which actually argues that Jesus never existed, I started reading books like Incredible Shrinking Son of Man: How Reliable Is the Gospel Tradition? and The Jesus Mysteries: Was the “Original Jesus” a Pagan God?. I just finished Misquoting Jesus: The Story Behind Who Changed the Bible and Why and I’m about to finish The Jesus Puzzle: Did Christianity Begin with a Mythical Christ? Challenging the Existence of an Historical Jesus (which can also be read online at

Some of them assert the theory that Jesus never existed, and all of them took me on a dizzying tour of biblical history that at the very least would raise doubts about the literal truth of scripture. And maybe that’s what started me on that particular odyssey. Perhaps it was a way to kind of exorcise the last vestiges of my own religious upbringing. There is, after all, something quite liberating about finally saying the “unsayable” and/or hearing someone else say it.

But in this case does saying or suggesting what this find, if authentic, might mean amount to saying the truly unsayable? Like this?

Most of these people call themselves agnostic, but they don’t harbor much suspicion that God is real. They tell me they reject atheism not out of piety but out of politeness. As one said, “Atheism is like telling somebody, ‘The very thing you hinge your life on, I totally dismiss.’” This is the type of statement she would never want to make.

Is there a respectful way to say “The very thing you hinge your life on , I totall dismiss?” I don’t know, and it remains to be seen what this find actually means. Becky at Preemptive Karma, though, does a good job of explaining that it may mean lots of different things to different people.

What will this all mean? Obviously, many non-Christians and some Christians will believe it. Non-Christians may well look at the story as proof that Christianity is based on a lie and should be rejected. Some Christians will likely take it as proof that Jesus was a “good teacher” or a “prophet” whose good teachings should be followed, but that he was not himself “God,” as fundamentalist Christianity views him. Many may believe that this is proof that Jesus did not rise from the dead, and that prophecies of his return mean we are awaiting the coming of another incarnation of the messiah spirit, a human teacher with divine inspiration who arrives at a crucial time in history to “save” mankind. These believe that Jesus was one of these just as Buddha, Krishna, and others have been – a belief that could someday form the basis for a uniting of the world’s great religions under a modern “messiah.”

In light of the controversy surrounding Dan Brown’s book and the film “The Da Vinci Code,” some will wonder if the “Illuminati” is about to reveal its Messiah, who, it is presumed, will claim to be the direct descendant of Jesus and Mary Magdalene – something that would be “proven” by DNA. This “Messiah” will enable a unification of the countries and religions of the world under a single individual, resulting in the promise of world peace, but the reality of world oppression by the “illuminated” few.

Fundamentalist Christians have actually been expecting a “great deception” like this and will take this “discovery” as proof that their beliefs are correct.

So, basically, everybody will take it to mean exactly what they want it to mean, and those who find it conflicts with deeply held beliefs will most likely ignore it, while others will take it as confirmation of their beliefs.

I think she’s right. It won’t change minds one way or the other, but given that U.S. foreign policy is influenced by Christian fundamentalists these days, I can’t help but think it’s at least helpful if a few more people perhaps view the bible as literature or read it as allegory instead of literal truth.

At the very least, it couldn’t hurt. In the meantime, looks like I’ll have another documentary to add to my Netflix queue.

Update: Nevermind Netflix. Apparently, I missed that it’s going to be on the Discovery Channel, which has dedicated a webpage to the documentary. There’s also a series of video interviews with the director. James Cameron will also be on CNN tonight at 9:00 PM, talking to Larry King about why he thinks the tomb is that of Jesus.

A CNN article highlights disagreements between the archaeologists who explored the tomb, over whether the claims could be true. It’s kind of funny that in the CNN video linked from the article repeatedly uses the word “faith” and the term “leap of faith” to describe the claims that are being made about the tomb. Suddenly we’re discounting “faith”? Aren’t the commonly accepted beliefs about Jesus based on “faith”? When did the rules change?

Anyway, I’ve already scheduled recordings via Tivo online. So, we’ll see. Again, I don’t think it’s going to change very many minds. Most likely people inclined to disbelieve it won’t watch, and people inclined to believe it will watch.

If nothing else, it will be interesting. I’d like to hope it could start a discussion on what it would mean to look beyond a literal reading of scripture, and to read it as something other than literal, historical fact (like, say, mythology or allegory). I doubt, however, that’s going to be the outcome.

One Comment

  1. i love it that joseph is his brother–he was helpng Mary who had an ilegitmate child (modern day could he have been a sprem donor? doubt it rape is more likely)—the best children on this earth are the most wanted–and these folks came together as a village to raise him–gays and lesbians do the same everyday–and our children are exceptional–carry on warrior parents–your childrem will have much to say on this planet