DEATH OF JESUS AND ATONEMENT

DEATH OF JESUS

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Michelangelo's Pieta
Although a big deal is made about Christmas and the virgin birth it is what happens after Jesus died that lies at the heart of Christianity. This event is remembered with the religious day of Good Friday. "The soldier plaited a crown of thorns, and put it on His head, and arrayed him in a purple garment and they came unto Him, and said, Hail King of the Jews!...They took Jesus thereof and He went out bearing the cross himself.” Some scholars think that the “crown” he wore was probably not a crown of thorns but a wreath of acanthus leaves.

Jesus most likely died from loss of blood after a Roman centurion plunged a sword into the side of Jesus while his mother Mary, Mary Magdalene and his disciple John watched silently. His last words, according to the Bible, were “My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?” Afterwards, according to Mark, “Jesus gave a loud cry and breathed his last...The centurion, who was standing in front of him. Had seen how he died, and said, “In truth, this man was the Son Of God." According to John 19:32-33: “Then the soldiers came and broke the legs of the first and the other who had been crucified with him. But when they came to Jesus and saw that he was already dead, they did not break his legs."

Jesus is believed to have died sometime between A.D. 29 and A.D. 33. According to the Bible, Jesus was crucified on the cross which he was forced to carry at Golgotha ("the skull place" in Hebrew), or Calvary, at around three o'clock in the afternoon at the time of Passover, just before the Sabbath.

The following are some examples of how the New Testament explains the death of Jesus: 1) 'For the Son of Man himself did not come to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many'. — Words attributed to Jesus in Mark 10:45 2) 'Drink all of you from this', he said. 'For this is my blood, the blood of the covenant, which is to be poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins.' — Words attributed to Jesus in Matthew 26:28 3) “Well then, in the first place, I taught you what I had been taught myself, namely that Christ died for our sins, in accordance with the scriptures... — Written by Paul in 1 Corinthians 15:3

Mark's gospel is the only one that really describes the passion story in much detail. Professor L. Michael White told PBS: “The way Mark tells the tells the story of the death of Jesus... is to see him as a lonely figure who goes to his death abandoned by all of his followers and supporters and even abandoned by his God. Jesus from the cross says ..., "My God, my God, why have you forsaken me"? The Jesus of Mark's gospel is a lonely figure, at times, waiting for the vindication of God. [Source: L. Michael White, Professor of Classics and Director of the Religious Studies Program University of Texas at Austin, Frontline, PBS, April 1998 <>]

Websites and Resources: Christianity Britannica on Christianity britannica.com//Christianity ; Religious Tolerance religioustolerance.org/christ.htm ; History of Christianity history-world.org/jesus_christ ; BBC on Christianity bbc.co.uk/religion/religions/christianity ;Wikipedia article on Christianity Wikipedia ; Early Christian Writing earlychristianwritings.com ; Internet Ancient History Sourcebook: Christian Origins sourcebooks.fordham.edu ; Christian Answers christiananswers.net ; Christian Classics Ethereal Library www.ccel.org ; Early Christian Art oneonta.edu/farberas/arth/arth212/Early_Christian_art ; Early Christian Images jesuswalk.com/christian-symbols ; Early Christian and Byzantine Images belmont.edu/honors/byzart2001/byzindex ; Jesus and the Historical Jesus ; Britannica on Jesus britannica.com Jesus-Christ ; Historical Jesus Theories earlychristianwritings.com ; Wikipedia article on Historical Jesus Wikipedia ; Jesus Seminar Forum virtualreligion.net ; Life and Ministry of Jesus Christ bible.org ; Jesus Central jesuscentral.com ; Catholic Encyclopedia: Jesus Christ newadvent.org ; Bible and Biblical History: Bible Gateway and the New International Version (NIV) of The Bible biblegateway.com ; King James Version of the Bible gutenberg.org/ebooks ; Bible History Online bible-history.com ; Biblical Archaeology Society biblicalarchaeology.org ; Internet Jewish History Sourcebook sourcebooks.fordham.edu ; Complete Works of Josephus at Christian Classics Ethereal Library (CCEL) ccel.org

Crucifixion of Jesus


Many people were crucified in Jesus's time. Christ himself was crucified with two other convicted criminals. According to Luke: "When they reached the place called The Skull, there they crucified him and two criminals, one on his right, the other on his left. Jesus said, “Father forgive them for they do know what they are doing.”

According to John: "The soldiers therein when they had crucified Jesus took His garments and made them in four part, to every soldier a part...After this, Jesus, knowing that all thing are now finished, that the Scripture might be accomplished, saith, I thirst. Thee was set there a vessel full of vinegar; so they put a sponge full of vinegar upon hyssop, and brought it to His mouth. When Jesus therefore had received the vinegar. He said, 'It is finished': and He bowed His head, and gave up His spirit."

Jesus was likely nailed to the cross with a nails hammered through his wrists and ankles not through wrists and ankles rather feet and hands. Based on how other crucifixions were carried out, Jesus likely carried the crossbeam of his cross, not the whole thing to Golgotha.

In 1968, archaeologists found the remains of a crucified man in a burial box outside Jerusalem whose wounds were remarkable similar to those described in the Bible as possessed by Jesus. His open arms had been nailed to a crossbar, his knees had been doubled and turned sideways, his legs were nailed on either side of the cross (not together as is often depicted in paintings) with a large iron spike driven horizontally through both heels. The anklebones had broken in a way that called to mind the passages in John. Although it was known that the Romans crucified thousands of alleged criminals and traitors, his was the first crucifixion victim ever found.

Book: The Death of the Messiah by Father Raymond E. Brown (Doubleday, 1994)

Between the Crucifixion and Burial of Jesus

So as not violate the laws of the Sabbath, which began at sundown on the day Jesus was crucified, Jesus's body was taken off the cross a few hours after he was nailed there and quickly placed in a tomb provided by a sympathetic Sandhedrin named Joseph Arimathea.


Garments divided by cast lots

According to Mark 15:44-46: "Pilate, astonished he should die so soon summoned the centurion and enquired if he had been dead some time. Having been assured by this by the centurion, he granted the corpse to Joseph who bought a shroud, took Jesus down from the cross, wrapped him in the shroud and laid him in a tomb which had been hewn out of the rock. He then rolled a stone against the entrance to the tomb."

Three days passed before anyone opened the tomb to begin the formal burial. No work could be done on burial on the Sabbath (Saturday) so Jesus's followers had to wait until Sunday. Some Roman guards were stationed at the tomb because Jesus had said he would rise from the dead and Pilate was worried that Jesus’s disciples would steal the body and tell the people a miracle has occurred.

Burial of Jesus

The Gospels say that after the crucifixion, Jesus’s body was brought down from the cross and placed in a tomb. Matthew 27:57-61 reads: 57 As evening approached, there came a rich man from Arimathea, named Joseph, who had himself become a disciple of Jesus. 58 Going to Pilate, he asked for Jesus’ body, and Pilate ordered that it be given to him. 59 Joseph took the body, wrapped it in a clean linen cloth, 60 and placed it in his own new tomb that he had cut out of the rock. He rolled a big stone in front of the entrance to the tomb and went away. 61 Mary Magdalene and the other Mary were sitting there opposite the tomb. [Source: New International Version (NIV). Bible Gateway]

Luke 23:50-24:12 reads: 50 Now there was a man named Joseph, a member of the Council, a good and upright man, 51 who had not consented to their decision and action. He came from the Judean town of Arimathea, and he himself was waiting for the kingdom of God. 52 Going to Pilate, he asked for Jesus’ body. 53 Then he took it down, wrapped it in linen cloth and placed it in a tomb cut in the rock, one in which no one had yet been laid. 54 It was Preparation Day, and the Sabbath was about to begin. 55 The women who had come with Jesus from Galilee followed Joseph and saw the tomb and how his body was laid in it. 56 Then they went home and prepared spices and perfumes. But they rested on the Sabbath in obedience to the commandment. [Ibid]

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Burial of Jesus from
a Hungarian pray manuscript 1192-1195
Reza Aslan wrote in the Washington Post: “If that were true, it would have been because of an extremely unusual, perhaps unprecedented, act of benevolence on the part of the Romans. Crucifixion was not just a form of capital punishment for Rome. In fact, some criminals were first executed and then nailed to a cross. The primary purpose of crucifixion was to deter rebellion; that’s why it was always carried out in public. It was also why the criminal was always left hanging long after he died; the crucified were almost never buried. Because the point of crucifixion was to humiliate the victim and frighten witnesses, the corpse would be left to be eaten by dogs and picked clean by birds of prey. The bones would then be thrown onto a trash heap, which is how Golgotha, the place of Jesus’s crucifixion, earned its name: the place of skulls. It is possible that, unlike practically every other criminal crucified by Rome, Jesus was brought down from the cross and placed in an extravagant rock-hewn tomb fit for the wealthiest men in Judea. But it is not very likely. [Source: Reza Aslan, Washington Post, September 26, 2013]

Followers of Jesus After His Death

Michael Symmons Roberts wrote for the BBC: “If Jesus' miracles were signs or clues to his identity, then his followers must have had a growing sense of excited anticipation as his teaching, preaching and healing hit its climax. In his final months and weeks, which culminated in his arrival in Jerusalem and a showdown with the Jewish and Roman authorities, they must have felt that those signs were finally being fulfilled. [Source: Michael Symmons Roberts, BBC, September 18, 2009. |::|]

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Christ and Mary Magdalene by Rembrandt
“Here, at last, was the prophetic voice with the timbre of Elijah's voice, speaking hard truths to those in political and religious power. Here, at last, was the leader who would take up the mantle of Moses and Joshua, who would foment revolution, overthrow Roman tyranny and liberate the people of Israel. All those signs were there in his miracles; all those identities, all those hopes. What then must those followers have thought, as he hung from a bare wooden cross with nails through his hands and his feet, defeated and dying? In those desperate hours, he must have looked more like another deluded rebel who had got it badly wrong; just another young man with big ideas who had underestimated Roman power. Even his closest disciples must have agonized. Who exactly had Jesus been? And what was his life about? |::|

Professor John Dominic Crossan told PBS: “If I could dare to put myself in the mind of those disciples on the day after [the crucifixion], I would think the primary thing in their mind is not, "Are the Romans going to come after us?" but, "Is God going to come after us? Does this mean a divine judgment on Jesus? That he has not spoken for God? That all of this about the Kingdom of God is all wrong... We're lost." I think what they have to do, first of all, is not try and find out information about what happened. That's not the first thing on their mind. Survival, not information, is what's on their mind. [Source: John Dominic Crossan, Professor Emeritus of Religious Studies, DePaul University, Frontline, PBS, April 1998 <>]

“The only place they can go, eventually, is into the Hebrew Scriptures, into their tradition, and find out, "Is it possible that the elect one, the Messiah, the righteous one, the Holy One,... is it possible that such a one could be oppressed, persecuted and executed?" They go into the Hebrew Scriptures, and of course, what they find is that it's almost like a job description of being God's righteous one, to be persecuted and even executed. And slowly then, the searching of the Scriptures convinces them that Jesus is still held, as he has always been, in the hands of God.... <>

Meaning of the Death of Jesus

According to the BBC: “The New Testament uses a range of images to describe how God achieved reconciliation to the world through the death of Jesus. The most common is the image of sacrifice. For example, John the Baptist describes Jesus as "the lamb of God that takes away the sins of the world". (John 1:29) Here are some other images used to describe the atonement: 1) a judge and prisoner in a law court; 2) a payment of ransom for a slave's freedom; 3) a king establishing his power; 4) a military victory. [Source: BBC, September 18, 2009 |::|]

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Entombment by Rembrandt
“Did Jesus take the punishment for humanity's sins when he died on the cross? That idea is called penal substitution and is summed up by Reverend Rod Thomas, from the evangelical group Reform, as "When God punished he showed his justice by punishing sin but he showed his love by taking that punishment himself". |::|

Professor Shaye I.D. Cohen told PBS: “The most difficult thing for us after 2000 years is to bring our imagination down when we're looking at the passion of Jesus. Because we want to think the whole world was watching, or all of the Roman Empire was watching, or all of Jerusalem was watching. I take it for granted there were standing orders between Pilate and Caiaphas about how to handle, lower class especially, dissidents who cause problems at Passover. If it was an upper class person, a very important aristocrat, of course, they would be shipped off to Rome for judgment. That would be handled completely differently. What would happen to a peasant who caused trouble in the Temple and maybe endangered a riot at Passover? Standing orders, I would take it, crucifixion, as fast as possible. Hang him out as a warning. We're not going to have any riots at Passover. That's, I think, what happened to Jesus. What happened in the Temple caused his death. And I don't imagine any, for example as we find in John's gospel, dialogues between Jesus and Pilate.

Why Did Jesus Die?

Christians believe the death of Jesus was part of a divine plan to save humanity. But exactly how could this work? Atonement and reconciliation, Theories of the Atonement and Penal substitution are all issues that have bearing on how his death is perceived.

Professor Paula Fredriksen told PBS: “It's unclear how he actually gets into trouble. He wouldn't have wandered into the crosshairs of the Priests, because compared to how the Pharisees are criticizing the Priests, what Jesus is doing is fairy minimal.... If he had been complaining about the Priests, or criticizing them, or criticizing the way the Temple was being run, this would just [be] business as usual; this is one of the aspects of being a Jew in second Temple Judaism. So it's really quite unclear how he would have gotten into trouble for religious reasons, which are the reasons the gospels are concerned to construct. [Source: Paula Fredriksen, William Goodwin Aurelio Professor of the Appreciation of Scripture, Boston University, Frontline, PBS, April 1998 <>]

“I think we have to settle firmly on the historical fact that he was crucified and therefore, killed by Rome.... I would prefer, rather than try to invent or import some kind of improbable religious reason for him getting into trouble and then trying to explain how a religious authority could somehow seduce or cajole Pilate into obliging them and executing Jesus, I prefer a simpler hypothesis. To think that he was turned over to Rome because there was a perceived danger, that Pilate, who has a terrible reputation for the way he behaved when he went up to Jerusalem for these pilgrimage holidays, was on the verge of some kind of muscular crowd control. People would get hurt or killed when Pilate felt so moved. And perhaps for this reason Jesus was turned over to Rome, and sure enough, Pilate, consistent with the record we know of him elsewhere, kills Jesus. But Pilate killed lots of people. <>

Why Were Jesus’s Followers Not Harmed?


Disciples leave their hiding places to "watch from afar in agony"

Professor Paula Fredriksen told PBS: “That's right. Jesus' followers are not rounded up and killed. Only Jesus is killed. That's one of the few firm facts we have about it. What this means, at the very least, is that nobody perceived Jesus as the dangerous political leader of a revolutionary movement. If anybody had thought he was a leader of a revolutionary movement, then more than Jesus, probably, would have been killed.... [Source: Paula Fredriksen, William Goodwin Aurelio Professor of the Appreciation of Scripture, Boston University, Frontline, PBS, April 1998 <>]

“I think there's some kind of cooperation between the chief priests and Pilate. The chief priests always had to cooperate with Rome because it's their job. They're mediating between the imperial government and the people. Particularly at Passover, which is a holiday that vibrates with this incredible historical memory of national creation and freedom. <>

“And there's Rome and the Roman soldiers standing among the colonnade of the Temple looking down at Jews celebrating this. So it's a politically and religiously electric holiday. And it's in this context that Jesus is turned over to Rome, lest there be, I think, some kind of popular activity. The gospels depict him as preaching about the Kingdom of God in the Temple courtyard in the days before Passover. That could be enough. That could be enough right there. <>

Atonement and Reconciliation

“According to the BBC: “The events leading up to the arrest and crucifixion of Jesus are well-told by the Gospel writers, as are stories of the Resurrection. But why did Jesus die? In the end the Roman authorities and the Jewish council wanted Jesus dead. He was a political and social trouble-maker. But what made the death of Jesus more significant than the countless other crucifixions carried out by the Romans and witnessed outside the city walls by the people of Jerusalem? [Source: BBC, September 18, 2009 |::|]

“Christians believe that Jesus was far more than a political radical. For them the death of Jesus was part of a divine plan to save humanity. The death and resurrection of this one man is at the very heart of the Christian faith. For Christians it is through Jesus's death that people's broken relationship with God is restored. This is known as the Atonement. |::|

“What is the atonement? The word atonement is used in Christian theology to describe what is achieved by the death of Jesus. William Tyndale introduced the word in 1526, when he was working on his popular translation of the Bible, to translate the Latin word reconciliation. In the Revised Standard Version the word reconciliation replaces the word atonement. Atonement (at-one-ment) is the reconciliation of men and women to God through the death of Jesus. |::|

“But why was reconciliation needed? Christian theology suggests that although God's creation was perfect, the Devil tempted the first man Adam and sin was brought into the world. Everybody carries this original sin with them which separates them from God, just as Adam and Eve were separated from God when they were cast out of the Garden of Eden. |::|

“So it is a basic idea in Christian theology that God and mankind need to be reconciled. However, what is more hotly debated is how the death of Jesus achieved this reconciliation. |There is no single doctrine of the atonement in the New Testament. In fact, perhaps more surprisingly, there is no official Church definition either. But first, what does the New Testament have to say? |::|

Theories of the Atonement


Atonement

According to the BBC: “Theologians have grouped together theories of the atonement into different types. For example, in Christus Victor (1931) Gustaf Aulén suggested three types: classical, Latin and subjective. More recently in his book Christian Theology: An Introduction Alister E. McGrath groups his discussion into four central themes but stresses that these themes are not mutually exclusive. His four themes are: 1) The cross as sacrifice; 2) The cross as a victory; 3) The cross and forgiveness; 4) The cross as a moral example. [Source: BBC, September 18, 2009 |::|]

“The cross as sacrifice: The image of Jesus' death as a sacrifice is the most popular in the New Testament. The New Testament uses the Old Testament image of the Suffering Servant (Isaiah 53:5) and applies it to Christ. The theme of Jesus's death as a sacrifice is most drawn out in the Letter to the Hebrews. The sacrifice of Christ is seen as the perfect sacrifice. In the biblical tradition sacrifice was a common practice or ritual. In making an offering to God or a spirit, the person making the sacrifice hopes to make or mend a relationship with God. |::|

“St Augustine too wrote on the theme of sacrifice: By his death, which is indeed the one and most true sacrifice offered for us, he purged, abolished and extinguished whatever guilt there was by which the principalities and powers lawfully detained us to pay the penalty. — Augustine - The City of God “He offered sacrifice for our sins. And where did he find that offering, the pure victim that he would offer? He offered himself, in that he could find no other. — Augustine - The City of God |::|

“The cross as a victory: Jesus on the cross against a red sky. The New Testament frequently describes Jesus's death and resurrection as a victory over evil and sin as reprsented by the Devil. How was the victory achieved? For many writers the victory was achieved because Jesus was used as a ransom or a "bait". In Mark 10:45 Jesus describes himself as "a ransom for many". This word "ransom" was debated by later writers. The Greek writer Origen suggested Jesus's death was a ransom paid to the Devil. |::|

“Gregory the Great used the idea of a baited hook to explain how the Devil was tricked into giving up his hold over sinful humanity: ‘The bait tempts in order that the hook may wound. Our Lord therefore, when coming for the redemption of humanity, made a kind of hook of himself for the death of the devil.’ — Gregory the Great |::|

“‘Although the victory approach became less popular in the eighteenth century amongst Enlightenment thinkers - when the idea of a personal Devil and forces of evil was thrown into question - the idea was popularised again by Gustaf Aulén with the publication in 1931 of Christus Victor.’ — Aulén wrote of the idea Christus Victor: |::|

“‘Its central theme is the idea of the Atonement as a Divine conflict and victory; Christ - Christus Victor - fights against and triumphs over the evil powers of the world, the 'tyrants' under which mankind is in bondage and suffering, and in Him God reconciles the world to Himself.’ — Gustaf Aulén |::|

Cross and Forgiveness and a Moral Symbol


According to the BBC: “Anselm of Canterbury writing in the eleventh century rejected the idea that God deceived the Devil through the cross of Christ. Instead he presented an alternative view which is often called the satisfaction theory of the atonement. In this theory Jesus pays the penalty for each individual's sin in order to right the relationship between God and humanity, a relationship damaged by sin. [Source: BBC, September 18, 2009 |::|]

“Jesus's death is the penalty or "satisfaction" for sin. Satisfaction was an idea used in the early church to describe the public actions - pilgrimage, charity - that a christian would undertake to show that he was grateful for forgiveness. Only Jesus can make satisfaction because he is without sin. He is sinless because in the Incarnation God became man. The theory is thought out by Anselm in his work Cur Deus Homo or Why God became Man. |::|

“Moral influence theories or exemplary theories comprise a fourth category used to explain the atonement. They emphasise God's love expressed through the life and death of Jesus. Christ accepted a difficult and undeserved death. This demonstration of love in turn moves us to repent and re-unites us with God. Peter Abelard (1079-1142) is associated with this theory. He wrote: ‘The Son of God took our nature, and in it took upon himself to teach us by both word and example even to the point of death, thus binding us to himself through love.’ — Peter Abelard |::|

“Abelard's theory and the call to the individual to respond to Christ's death with love continues to have popular appeal today: ‘Our redemption through the suffering of Christ is that deeper love within us which not only frees us from slavery to sin, but also secures for us the true liberty of the children of God, in order that we might do all things out of love rather than out of fear - love for him that has shown us such grace that no greater can be found.’ — Peter Abelard |::|

Church of the Holy Sepulcher

The Church of the Holy Sepulcher lies on the traditional site of Christ's crucifixion, burial and resurrection---Golgotha or Cavalry. All the historical and archaeological evidence seems to indicate it is in the right place. In Jesus’s time executions were carried out on a hill outside the city walls. The site was on a hill outside the walls in Jesus’s time. Furthermore, the niche style grave is consistent with that of Jesus’s time and there are written statements to its authenticity that date back to the A.D. 2nd century.


Holy Sepulchre Tomb in 1887

The site was discovered underneath a Temple of Aphrodite by Saint Helena, the mother of Byzantine Emperor Constantine, along with---tradition says---the True Cross, the Crown of Thorns and the lance used by a Roman Soldier to pierce Christ on his way to Calvary. Considering it was her first pilgrimage to the Holy Land, she didn't make out so bad. Upon her return, Constantine, the man who christianized Rome, ordered a building to "surpass the most magnificent monuments any city possesses." Ten years later in A.D. 335 the first Church of the Holy Sepulcher was finished.

Throughout its 1650 year history the church has been destroyed and rebuilt many times and has been altered and subdivided countless times by the various Christian sects that lay claim to it. In 613 Constantine’s church was destroyed by Persians. It was rebuilt and razed again in 1009, this time by Saracen Muslims. The church was rebuilt again and greatly expanded by the Crusaders, who gave it its present Romanesque cross-like shape. Much of what you see today dates back to the Crusaders.

At the center of the Church of the Holy Sepulcher is Christ’s marble tomb. Reminiscent of an outdoor mausoleum, it can accommodate a half dozen or so people inside it. Visitors enter and exit a few at a time through a small opening that requires them to hunch over. Inside most people pray for a few moments and then leave.

Near the entrance to the church is the Stone of Unction, where Christ’s body was cleaned, anointed and dressed before it was buried. It is often surrounded by weeping women dressed in black, bowing and kissing and rubbing oil into the stone. Some splash the stone with rose water and collect as much water as they can with sponges, squeezing the water into bottles to bring back home.

A room in the south-east corner of the church has been placed on top of Golgotha, or Calvary, where Christ according to tradition Christ was crucified. The gray rock mass of Golgotha is protected by a plexiglass case. Here, a narrow half circle of stairs leads to a chapel---with a Greek Orthodox side and a Roman Catholic side “placed over the spot where Christ was nailed to the cross.

Tomb of Jesus Christ

Kristin Romey wrote in National Geographic: “The traditional location of that tomb, in what is now the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, is considered the holiest site in Christianity. It’s also the place that sparked my quest for the real Jesus. In 2016 I made several trips to the church to document the historic restoration of the Edicule, the shrine that houses the reputed tomb of Jesus. Now, during Easter week, I return to see it in all its soot-scrubbed, reinforced glory. [Source: Kristin Romey, National Geographic, November 28, 2017 ^|^]


Tomb of Christ in the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem

“Standing shoulder to shoulder with holiday pilgrims waiting to enter the tiny shrine, I recall the nights spent inside the empty church with the conservation team, coming upon darkened nooks etched with centuries of graffiti and burials of crusader kings. I marvel at the many archaeological discoveries made in Jerusalem and elsewhere over the years that lend credibility to the Scriptures and traditions surrounding the death of Jesus, including an ornate ossuary that may contain the bones of Caiaphas, an inscription attesting to the rule of Pontius Pilate, and a heel bone driven through with an iron crucifixion nail, found in the Jerusalem burial of a Jewish man named Yehohanan. ^|^

“I’m also struck by the many lines of evidence that converge on this ancient church. Just yards from the tomb of Christ are other rock-hewn tombs of the period, affirming that this church, destroyed and rebuilt twice, was indeed constructed over a Jewish burial ground. I recall being alone inside the tomb after its marble cladding was briefly removed, overwhelmed that I was looking at one of the world’s most important monuments—a simple limestone shelf that people have revered for millennia, a sight that hadn’t been seen for possibly a thousand years. I was overwhelmed by all the questions of history I hoped this brief and spectacular moment of exposure would eventually answer. ^|^

“Today, on my Easter visit, I find myself inside the tomb again, squeezed alongside three kerchiefed Russian women. The marble is back in place, protecting the burial bed from their kisses and all the rosaries and prayer cards rubbed endlessly on its time-polished surface. The youngest woman whispers entreaties for Jesus to heal her son Yevgeni, who has leukaemia. ^|^

“A priest standing outside the entrance loudly reminds us that our time is up, that other pilgrims are waiting. Reluctantly, the women stand up and file out, and I follow. At this moment I realise that to sincere believers, the scholars’ quest for the historical, non-supernatural Jesus is of little consequence. That quest will be endless, full of shifting theories, unanswerable questions, irreconcilable facts. But for true believers, their faith in the life, death, and Resurrection of the Son of God will be evidence enough. ^|^

Discovery of Jesus’s Tomb?

The fate of Jesus’s body is unclear. The faithful believe it ascended to heaven. Many scholars think it was devoured by dogs. In 2007, the Discovery Channel, filmmaker Simcha Jacobovici and James Cameron, director of Titanic and Avatar , produced a documentary called The Last Tomb of Jesus in which they claim to have found the tombs of Jesus and his family.

The claim is based on the discovery of 10 bone boxes, or ossuaries, in a crypt that was unearthed by a construction crew in the Talpiot neighborhood in southern Jerusalem in 1980. Although they were dated to around the A.D. 1st century the boxes were largely ignored and sat in storeroom of the Israel Antiquities Authority until six names on the ossuaries were revealed. In addition to “Jesus Son of Joseph? there were there two Marys (Maria and Mariamene), a Matthew (a possible relative of Jesus’s mother), a Yose (the name by Jesus’s brother Joseph in the Gospel of Mark) and “Judah son of Jesus.” One historian calculated that the odds of so many names being associated with Jesus found in one place were 600 to 1.


Talpiot Tomb of Jesus

Many scholars challenge the interpretations based on the fact that all the names involved where very common names at the time when Jesus lived and that 1st century ossuaries are so common in Jerusalem they are used in gardens as planters. A report by archaeologist Amos Kloner of 900 burial caves in the Talpiot (also spelled Talpiyot) area found the name Jesus 71 times, including one that said “Jesus son of Joseph.” The report also said in A.D. 1st century Jerusalem about 25 percent of women had some variation of the name Mary. Question were also riased about how the inscriptions were read, and in one case, if it could even be read.

The discovery also raised theological questions. If Jesus was resurrected why would he be buried with his family? And could this mean that Jesus had a wife and children, calling into question whether he was the Messiah as claimed. One of the inscriptions is written in Greek as “Mariamene e Mara,” which can be translated as “Mary, called the master.” According to some old Christian sources, including the second-century theologian Onigen and the fourth-century non-canonical Acts of Philip, Mary Magdalene is referred to a “Mariamene.”

Mitochndrial DNA collected from the boxes indicates that Jesus and Mariamene were not related, which the makers of the documentary take a huge leap and say suggest that Jesus and Mariame were married. On that and other findings the skeptical Christian scholar R. Joseph Hoffman told U.S. News and World Report, “Amazing, how everything falls into place when you begin was the conclusion---and a hammer.”

The same angle had been pursued before. In 1996, researchers for a BBC religious program found three A.D. first century caskets in Jerusalem with the names Joseph, Mary and Jesus, son of Joseph. Most archaeologists dismissed the finding as just a coincidence, for Joseph, Mary and Yehoshua (Hebrew for Jesus) were very common names in the A.D. first century. Moreover, scholars believe that Joseph probably died and was buried in Galilee. The caskets were small and contained only bones. They were excavated in 1980 from an ossuary and were stored in a warehouse, where the researchers found them.

Image Sources: Wikimedia, Commons

Text Sources: Internet Ancient History Sourcebook: Christian Origins sourcebooks.fordham.edu “World Religions” edited by Geoffrey Parrinder (Facts on File Publications, New York); “ Encyclopedia of the World’s Religions” edited by R.C. Zaehner (Barnes & Noble Books, 1959); King James Version of the Bible, gutenberg.org; New International Version (NIV) of The Bible, biblegateway.com; “Egeria's Description of the Liturgical Year in Jerusalem” users.ox.ac.uk ; Complete Works of Josephus at Christian Classics Ethereal Library (CCEL), translated by William Whiston, ccel.org , Metropolitan Museum of Art metmuseum.org, Frontline, PBS, “Encyclopedia of the World Cultures” edited by David Levinson (G.K. Hall & Company, New York, 1994); National Geographic, New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, Smithsonian magazine, Times of London, The New Yorker, Time, Newsweek, Reuters, AP, AFP, Lonely Planet Guides, Compton’s Encyclopedia and various books and other publications.

Last updated September 2018

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