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Genealogy

The BBC, as well as the rest of the media, is reporting: Jesus tomb found, says film-maker; let the bad reporting begin.

First there weren’t coffins in the cave there were ossuaries. In the “old days” you didn’t stay in the ground after being buried. After the worms and microbes had done their thing, the bones were disinterred so the grave could be reused. The bones were put in boxes, ossuaries, for storage elsewhere. The Catacombs under Rome are bone storage areas.

The Israelis have strict laws regarding human remains, so the bones that were in the boxes that were discovered in the cave were given a proper “burial,” and are not available for testing. The most available for any tests would be fragments.

Any who as read Pharyngula more than a couple of times should know that P.Z Myers is an atheist and rather hard-core, but he is a biologist and is extremely skeptical of claims made about DNA tests from the ossuaries. If you were able to conduct tests, the most you could show would be that the people were relatives and Middle Eastern.

We are told that the inscriptions [Anglicized] indicate that the ossuaries contained the remains of Joshua son of Joseph, Matthew, two women named Mary, Judah son of Joshua, and Joseph [brother of Joshua].

The DNA can determine if, and to some degree, how these people were related, but that’s all, and being tribal, most Jews of the time would register as related.

As to who these people are, who knows? None of these names are uncommon. For example, through my Mother’s family I’m probably related to John Chapman, the whacko who went around planting apple trees after the American Revolution. Tracing the link is nearly impossible because the various Chapman families had a bad habit of naming boys either John or David. Some would reuse the name if the first recipient died as a child. This was one of the problems Vincent van Gogh had, going to church and seeing the grave of a sibling with whom he shared a birthday and name.

There were a lot of Josephs who married women named Mary. A number of them would have named a son Joshua.

I’m with PZ, this is a possibility if the dating works out, but why would the tomb be at Jerusalem rather than Bethlehem or Nazareth, if this were the Biblical Jesus. This is a data point, not proof beyond some people died and their bones were put in limestone boxes after their death.

11 comments

1 andante { 02.26.07 at 3:45 pm }

I like this part – “Academic Stephen Pfann, a scholar at the University of the Holy Land in Jerusalem, said he did not expect Christians to accept the film’s findings.

“I don’t think that Christians are going to buy into this,” said Mr Pfann, who was interviewed by the film-makers.”

Not only will the fundies not ‘buy into this’, they’ll do their damnedest to see that the movie is never shown in the U.S.A.

2 Bryan { 02.26.07 at 5:26 pm }

If they can’t come up with enough to convince non-believers, why would anyone think it would shake believers?

If you have traveled in Europe and around the Med you would know you can find “relics” everywhere: Turin has the “Shroud”, Trier has the “Robe”, there are bones an bits from various saints at every city, village, and town, and some of them are known to be frauds, but they have been frauds for so long they are still revered.

Facts have nothing to do with belief, in truth once a belief is proven, it is no longer a belief.

The movie will do well if the wingers attack it, look at the Da Vinci Code.

3 Michael { 02.26.07 at 6:07 pm }

They’re probably too late. MSNBC and CNN both featured the story prominently on their morning and noontime programming, and the Discovery Channel (according to CNN) is going to air a special this Sunday on the findings. Once the djinn is out of the bottle, the fundagelicals won’t have a prayer of getting it back inside.

One other group going gaga over these not-very-new and not-very-trustworthy findings, however, are the militant atheists. Several of them were crowing all over this morning’s diary thread on the MSNBC coverage at Big Orange this morning. Given that they still seem to think that an assertion is the same thing as proof, however, it’s been fun toying with them.

4 Bryan { 02.26.07 at 6:57 pm }

Send then over to PZ. There are rules for scientific proof, and this doesn’t make it. There isn’t enough there to draw any conclusions, and I haven’t seen any carbon dating to confirm the time frame.

5 Karen { 02.26.07 at 7:30 pm }

That *Titanic Faker* James Cameron is “most interested” in this story – If THAT tells ya anything about the validity of this claim!

And I’ll have to check out PZ’s take on the evidence here. 🙂

6 Bryan { 02.26.07 at 9:48 pm }

Umm, check his post, his comments don’t add much to the discussion because people miss the point of the post and go off on their own trip.

One of the annoying things about Middle Eastern archæology is that it is controlled by the local governments which put a higher value on politics than scholarship. Many of the “scholars” are dependent on funding from groups that have agendas that don’t permitted knowledge for its own sake.

7 Karen { 02.27.07 at 9:23 am }

Bruce Feiller has a good up at HuffPo this too. (IIRC).

But seems they make $$$ just by stirring up the controversy…so hard to stop them from having any inclination to refrain. 🙂

8 jamsodonnell { 02.27.07 at 2:49 pm }

Hmm I daresay a fair few credulous sorts will believe this Bryan. As for relics, there are sevreal “Veronicas” and there were more than one holy “prepuces” in catholic churches across europe!

9 Bryan { 02.27.07 at 3:56 pm }

A point for non-techies – the only DNA available is mitochondrial, which only provides information about an individual’s mother. As a result saying exactly what the relationship is among these people isn’t possible. Just because people have different mothers doesn’t mean they are unrelated, especially in an area where polygamy was common, and death in childbirth was rampant.

This test wouldn’t show the relationship of Edward VI, Mary I, and Elizabeth I – until recently paternity was a pretty iffy question.

There isn’t enough information to draw conclusions. More data is needed, but there doesn’t appear to be much available.

10 jamsodonnell { 02.28.07 at 2:24 am }

There is a problem with DNA evidence here… Mitochondrial DNA establishes the female relkationship as t originates from the ovum. Establishing the male line requires DNA from the Y chromosome… Even if available where are you going to get a sample of God’s DNA to establish a relationship!

11 Bryan { 02.28.07 at 10:34 am }

It also applies to the problem of remains of Judah, claimed to be a son of Joshua – that isn’t confirmed by mDNA.