Reading the bones, searching for God

Oscar-winning filmmaker James Cameron claims he has compelling evidence that the remains of Jesus Christ have been found. In a special titled “The Lost Tomb of Jesus,” airing Sunday on the Discovery Channel, he also argues that Jesus had a son with Mary Magdalene, whose name was Judah.

Cameron’s documentary focuses on six ossuaries discovered nearly three decades ago in a tomb in Jerusalem. On the outside of the ancient caskets were inscribed the names of Jesus, son of Joseph, Mary, Mary Magdalene, Matthew, Joseph and Judah, son of Jesus.

What does all of this mean? It depends on whom you ask.

Creators of the documentary claim they have relatively airtight evidence that would prove with 99.99999% certainty that these are the family members and apostle of Christ, as well as Jesus of Nazareth himself. If such assertions were confirmed, it indeed would be the most significant find in the history of Christianity, if not the world.

For those whose beliefs hinge on Jesus’ bodily resurrection, physical remains would rock their entire faith. In addition, the suggestion that Jesus had a family of his own goes directly against some peoples’ image of an eminently chaste savior. It also implies that Christ’s bloodline still may be in existence, which has all sorts of implications.

I grew up in a church where I heard, week after week, the claim that if Jesus was not physically raised from the dead, our faith is meaningless. This was a terrifying prospect to me. The argument goes that if he wasn’t raised from the dead, body and all, then he wasn’t the son of God. He was just a nice guy with some good ideas.

For some, the miracles of Jesus, from turning water to wine all the way to resurrection, are the necessary evidence of his divinity. Without these, he loses his credibility as the messiah. For others, the miraculous is not confined to a few mystical, inexplicable acts recorded in Scripture. Further, the very definition of “miracle” is anything attributed to God, generally inexplicable in human terms.

Given this perspective, Jesus’ resurrection and stories take on a new kind of meaning. Whether or not such events took place exactly as stated in the Gospel texts is less important than the idea that something inexplicable and powerful took place in the birth, life and death of Jesus. God broke into the world, and nothing has since been the same. The miracles then become secondary to the very presence of someone who represented this divine in-breaking, which we still struggle to understand.

The possibility that Jesus married and had children is another affront to some Christians. For those who claim Jesus was without sin his entire life, the concept of him engaging in sexual acts is incomprehensible. This actually says more about how people perceive sex than it does about Jesus.

Scripture doesn’t say if Jesus had sex, a wife or children or not. In the Old Testament, procreation is a gift from God that is necessary to our continuation as a species. Sure, sex is the source of much pain in the world, but to blame the act itself as inherently sinful is like blaming a dollar bill for human greed.

For people whose faith requires rigid “if-then” contingencies, there is no human argument that could sway them. Every scientist in the world could verify the findings of those who discovered the tomb in Jerusalem, to no avail. For others who do not rely on history remaining just as they perceive it, this presents an opportunity for discussion, and perhaps to learn more about our religious ancestry.

Regardless, the very significance of the find, and the debate that surrounds it, indicates the very human fixation of searching for traces of the divine in the world around us. We want to find, once and for all, the thing that will answer all of our open-ended questions.

If such answers existed, there would no longer be a need for faith; we would just know. Personally, it was Jesus’ faith that is most inspiring. If it was good enough for him, it’s good enough for me.

Leave a Reply

You must be logged in to post a comment.