LOUISVILLE, Ky. The alleged discovery by archaeologists and genetic scientists of the "lost tomb of Jesus" is nothing more than a made-for-television hoax that will not undermine the Christian faith, R. Albert Mohler Jr. said Feb. 26 on CNN's "Larry King Live."
A documentary titled "The Lost Tomb of Jesus," set to air on the Discovery Channel Sunday night, purports to present archaeological, statistical and genetic science findings that demonstrate a tomb unearthed in 1980 contains the remains of Jesus and his family.
Executive producer James Cameron and director Simcha Jacobovici told viewers the so-called DNA evidence from the tomb makes a compelling case that it contained the remains of Jesus and his family. The tomb is inscribed with the name of "Jesus, son of Joseph," along with five others: "Mary," "Mary known as the master," "Judah son of Jesus," "Jose" and "Matthew." The ossuary for Mary's husband, Joseph, was not found, according to the documentary's website. Supporters of the documentary claim one of the Mary's is Mary Magdalene, Jesus' "wife."
Mohler, president of Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, said the use of alleged "DNA evidence" to prop up the documentary's theory is impossible to a point of being farcical. The archaeologists who unearthed the tomb nearly three decades ago in Talpiot, Jerusalem, dismissed such claims, he said.
"The archaeologists there in Israel, who are the closest to this, who have the greatest expertise, are not only looking at this with skepticism, but basically dismissing its claims," Mohler said.
"The DNA testing is to me the most laughable aspect of all of this. I mean, frankly, there could be a thousand, thousand different explanations for whatever DNA pattern they could find. No one has the DNA of Mary. Trying to bring this into a modern crime investigation is like trying to go back and figure out who exactly put the first dagger into Julius Caesar. It's impossible."
"Jesus" and "Mary" were common names in the Middle East during the first century, and it would not be difficult to find tombs containing the remains of persons with those names, Mohler said.
Cameron and Jacobovici say the statistical improbability of having Jesus, Mary Magdalene and Judah, "Jesus' son," in the same tomb, give significant credibility to the documentary's thesis. Jacobovici said the documentary aims "to report the news and not to engage in theology" and argues that DNA technology not available in 1980 has helped to identify the tomb's occupants.
Calling the documentary's claims "far-fetched," Mohler said Christians will continue to stand on the truth of Scripture that Jesus rose from the dead and will not be swayed neither by pseudo-science nor contrived statistics.
"There is no time machine here that is going to take us back to the First Century and actually tell us what happened there," he said.
"I'm going to base my beliefs on the Scriptures which hold together far better than the kind of farcical documentary we are talking about here, throwing in a little bit of statistics. I mean, you're talking about the most common names, especially the most common male names, also female with the name Mary, you're talking about anything that could be found just about anywhere."
James Tabor, chairman of the department of religious studies at the University of North Carolina at Charlotte and William Donohue, president of the Catholic League, also appeared on the program.
Tabor said he has been working on the findings for the past three or four years and, due to the cluster of names found on the tomb and the statistical probabilities involved, sees the documentary's theory as "very worthy of consideration."
Mohler expressed surprise at Tabor's sympathy for the theory and said the documentary is nothing more than made-for-television sensationalism.
"We are talking about moving all of the pieces here to make for sensational television. And frankly, that's why I think most Christians are going to take this without any seriousness at all," he said.
Donohue agreed and urged that the documentary's appearance during the season in which Christians celebrate the Lord's resurrection is standard secularist fare. Year in and year out, new theories debunking the claims of Christ appear just in time for Easter, he said. Like some of Cameron's other works, which include "The Terminator," "Aliens" and "Titanic," the latest flick is pure science fiction, Donohue said.
"Give me a call when somebody has got the real evidence on something like this," Donohue said.
"Every Lenten season, we are treated to the same kind of speculation. 'Jesus was just a carpenter (they say).' I suppose we will learn next year he did his apprenticeship at Home Depot or Lowe's. I'm just simply not going to sit here and listen to something about an argument which is predicated on nothing but idle speculation."
Mohler concurred, saying the documentary is "perfectly timed for the season." He also pointed out that the resurrection is a lynchpin of the Christian faith and an obvious target for skeptics. Echoing the Apostle Paul's words, Mohler said if Christ has not risen from the dead then Christianity is buried alongside its entombed Messiah.
But it is Scripture and not a trumped-up television documentary that is the final arbiter of truth for the believer, Mohler said. If Jesus had remained in the tomb, first-century opponents of Christianity would most certainly have found His body and put it on public display, Mohler said, adding that Christ's disciples would not have died for beliefs they knew to be false."In any court of law, you can't just call anything evidence," he said. "It has to be an evidence trail that makes sense. It has to be evidentiary material that fits the context. Nothing could ever prove there's no DNA there's nothing that could ever prove these bones are the bones of Jesus. It makes no sense."