The Bones of Jesus

An alert reader, Kristen, sent in the following email:

I just saw some interesting news about some archaeologists who claim to have discovered Jesus’ ossuary and another one of a relative. I actually saw these two ossuaries at the Discovery Times Square Exhibit and they were really amazing.  After seeing the news it aroused intense dialogue between me and my roommate (she is not Christian) about what this means for Christianity.  The exhibit is really awesome and you should check it out if you have the chance.  Anyway, I’m writing to see if you could blog a response to this “finding.”

Here’s a link to the article about it: Questions Raised About Possible Clues to Jesus and His Disciples

I think it’d be awesome if you address this topic! I’d love to hear your opinion on this and I’m sure your  viewers are probably also interested in learning how they can strengthen their faith even when faced with scientific challenges to our religion.

Thanks, Kristen! Not surprisingly, I do have something to say about this!

…And some of it will be controversial…
Jonah Inscription Jesus Family Tomb

This is an Old Story

First, this is an old story that gets resurrected every year around Easter. The media loves to bring up this story around this time every year, because it loves to challenge the Christian idea that Jesus rose from the dead.

The story is basically that in 1980, archaeologists in Israel discovered a set of Ossuaries, which are stone boxes containing the bones of various families. Usually what happened is that each family had a cave or tomb in which they would lay their dead family members to decompose. Each family tomb only had so much room, and so when a body had decomposed, the bones would be put into a stone box called an Ossuary, and the names of the people would often get inscribed on to the box so that descendants would know whose bones were inside the box.

Jesus Family TombWell, of these Ossuaries discovered in 1980, six of them contain some interesting names :

  • Jesus, son of Joseph
  • Mariamne, also known as Mara
  • Maria
  • Joses (cf Mark 6:3)
  • Judah, son of Jesus
  • Matthew

What really got the media going on this story was a book and documentary that came out in 2007 called The Jesus Family Tomb. The authors raise the possibility that this is the family tomb of Jesus, and in these stone boxes lie the bones of Jesus, Mary, one of Jesus’ brothers, a son of Jesus (!), and some of the closest companions of Jesus. If this is in fact true, then Jesus did not actually rise from the dead, and the Gospel accounts are not historically true.

Should this concern us? No, on two accounts.

The Jesus Family Tomb is Full of Holes

What the media usually fails to tell us is that there are numerous quality and convincing explanations for why these are not the bones of the Jesus and Mary of Scripture.

For example, here is a list of the ten most popular male names from that time period:

1. Simon/Simeon
2. Joseph
3. Eleazar
4. Judah
5. John/Yohanan
6. Jesus
7. Hananiah
8. Jonathan
9. Matthew
10. Manaen/Menahem

And here are the top four most popular names for women:

1. Mary/Mariamne
2. Salome
3. Shelamzion
4. Martha

By comparison, here are the top ten most popular names for boys and the top four most popular names for girls in the United States during the past 50 years:

1. James
2. John
3. Robert
4. Michael
5. William
6. David
7. Richard
8. Joseph
9. Charles
10. Thomas

1. Mary
2. Patricia
3. Linda
4. Barbara

How common do you think it is, in the past fifty years, to have a family which contains six of these fourteen names? If you allow for name variations (as in the supposed Jesus family tomb), the probability is quite high. My own family contains five of the names listed above! How about yours?

So just because there is a family tomb which contains the bones of people with names similar to people we read about in the Gospels, does not mean that they are the same people. The names were very common, as anyone who has read the Bible can testify. After all, who hasn’t been confused with all the various Josephs, Matthews, Judahs, Jonathans, Simons, and Marys in the Scriptures? It is not uncommon in a Bible Study for someone to ask, “Were there only ten names people could pick from back then?”

This is just one line of evidence which raises doubt about the bones in this tomb being the bones of Jesus and Mary in Scripture. There are numerous other issues with this theory that can also be raised. If you want to find more pieces of evidence that this is not the real tomb of Jesus, I recommend this article by Darrel Bock, and this book by Rene Lopez: The Jesus Family Tomb Examined.

But What if It’s True?

Here is the big issue. What if the Gospels are wrong, and the Biblical scholars are wrong?

The Coffin of JesusSure, there are huge, gaping holes in the theory that these are the bones of Jesus and Mary, but what if the theory is right? What if Jesus really did not rise from the dead? What if these really are His bones? I don’t believe this is the case for a second, but what if, as they continue to research this, they find a document which says, “These are the bones of Jesus who is written about in the Christian Gospels. He did not rise from the dead as Christians claim, but actually died and was buried, and here are his bones.”

Of course, people could say that such an inscription is lying, in which case we would end up with a “he said she said” scenario where we try to determine whether or not such an inscription was more historically reliable than the Gospels. After all, if the critics want to argue that the Gospels are a hoax, why could it not also be possible that some first century critic of Christianity would try to undermine this fledgling faith by producing a random set of bones and claiming they were the bones of Jesus? It could have happened, right?

But again, all of this is special pleading.

Let us assume, just for the sake of argument, that the theory is true. That these truly are the bones of Jesus. That He truly did not rise from the dead. (Again, I must reiterate that I do not believe for a second that these are the bones of Jesus. I am just allowing it for the sake of argument.)

What would I say then?

Here is what I would say (and I’ll probably get blasted as a heretic for saying it)….

…So what?

Christianity trueIf Jesus did not rise from the dead, and his bones are actually in a stone box in a museum, not much would change in my life or in my theology. Sure, I would start reading and teaching the Bible a little bit differently, but that’s about it.

Yes, yes. I know that Paul says in 1 Corinthians 15:17 that if Christ is not raised, our faith is worthless, and we are yet in our sins. I agree with Paul on this.

But look at it this way. If it is all a hoax, if it is all a lie, if Jesus did not rise from the dead, what other options do we have in life? None.

I am not only a follower of Jesus simply because I think Christianity is true. I am also a follower of Jesus because I think that His teaching and His example is by far the best way to live life. So even if it all false, I am convinced that there is no alternative out there. Yes, some Christians in history have done some horribly wicked things in the name of Jesus, but I reject and condemn those actions as having anything whatsoever to do with Jesus.

Is it true that if Jesus did not rise from the dead, we are still in our sins? Yes. But then it is also true that there is no other way available to get free of our sins. At least, no other way that makes any sense. Every religion in the world offers some sort of works-based theory on how to become better people. Only Christianity offers complete freedom and forgiveness to all people based solely on the grace of God through Jesus Christ. If Jesus did not rise, then we are left with Christianity being just another man-made world religion which tries to help people live life as best as possible, and I am convinced that despite all the troubles within Christianity, it provides the best solutions to all of life’s questions and problems.

I know this answer will make some people upset. They will call me a liberal or a heretic.

But look. I am not saying that Christianity is false. I am saying it is the truest way of living that has ever existed. I believe that Jesus lived, died, and rose again. I do not believe anyone will ever uncover the actual bones of Jesus.  Nevertheless, I never run away from hard questions, and I have still asked myself the question, “What if…?” My answer to this question is what I have presented above.

If you disagree, then I ask the question right back to you: I know you don’t believe that these bones belong to Jesus of the Gospels (I don’t believe it either), but what if they do? What would that do to your faith? What would that do to your life? How would you live, think, and act differently as a result?

For me, almost nothing would change. How about for you?

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  1. says

    Chasing down relics and writing books about them does make a living for some people, does it not? I find it curious that Christians are so hungry for archaeology that “proves” the Bible, and their critics are hungry for archaeology that “disproves” the Bible.

    Most of this ends up being total nonsense. No one in this realm will ever be able to prove or disprove the existence of God, that Jesus was or was not who He said He is, that Jesus did or did not rise from the dead, that we will or will not live again and so on.

    Once again, these people are using religion, and the willingness of religious people to give them money to research and write, to make a living. Religious people tend to love this stuff.

    If Jesus did not rise from the dead, as you point out, following Jesus’ teaching and example is still the best way to live. In my opinion also, no one else has come up with a way that compares.

    If you’re a liberal and a heretic, then I’m an uberliberal and uberheretic. However, Jeremy, as followers of Jesus you and I do not need to consider if Jesus bones are in some box. We already know the answer to that question. Consider the wood – Is it only a wood or Psyche’s palace? Even those who have not yet seen the palace can know the Lord of the palace. For those who Have seen the palace and Have made it their home, they surely can attest to the fact that the Lord of the palace Does indeed Live there (a somewhat obscure reference to one of my favorite books).

    Dr. Robert Cargill (Dept. of religion at the University of Iowa) has written a number of articles on his blog and elsewhere regarding these bone boxes. You might want to check out his blog at

  2. says

    Just for the sake of the argument presented….if it were proved beyond any shadow of a doubt that Jesus did not rise, I would probably turn to Judaism, because if Jesus is NOT the Messiah, the the Messiah has not yet come….

    • says


      Full-fledged orthodox Judaism, or Reformed Judaism?

      I feel terrible for most women in orthodox Judaism. They have to shave their heads, wear black, etc.

      • says

        I’m really not sure – probably Reformed?

        But it would really be mute as I know He is alive….

        But as Paul said in one of his letters, if Christ is not raised then we are, of all people, most miserable….

  3. Clive Clifton says

    I know that my redeemer liveth. How, because he walks with me he talks with me upon life’s narrow way He lives he lives His Joys to us imparts, you ask me how i know he lives he lives within my heart.

    So much fruitless time is spent in trying to prove or disprove that the Messiah has come. There is no need to search lands or sites, (I went to Israel last year) He is stood right next to you, waiting patiently for you to invite Him in to your heart.

    Time is to short, spend it getting to know Him. No one can prove as you would attempt to do in a court of law that Jesus was the Messiah. But when you read the Holy Bible there can only be one conclusion that God in three persons is true.

    What can I say, “I was lost to the world and I’m now found” “I was blinded but now I can see” “I was deaf but now my ears have been opened” Thats called Grace, Amazing Grace.

    It’s not that people can’t believe, they don’t want to believe, what we might call rebellion.

    My chains fell off I am set free. Clive

    • says


      The personal witness of the indwelling Christ is a powerful testimony to many people!

      And as we live in love, mercy, faith, forgiveness, and joy in this world, we show the incarnate Christ to others as well, so that they may also see our love and faith, and be convinced that Christ lives in us today!

  4. Souheil Bayoud says

    First holy blood holy grail:Jesus did not die (no sacrifice for the world).Second Da Vinci Code:Jesus was married and had a family (no deity).Third Jesus tomb and bones:No bodily resurrection and maybe they will find also the kind of cigars He smoked! Believe me these people are agents of Lucifer and very soon in our days they would be in fire with their master.Keep in faith in the real suffering,death and resurrection of the Lord Jesus Christ.

  5. Souheil Bayoud says

    The death of the Lord Jesus Christ is the payment of our sins,His resurrection is the receipt of our justification.Therefore all of them are deceivers.

  6. Chris says

    Some Christians are on a 10 when they should be on a setting of about a 4. The Lord Jesus Christ, seriously, you people who do this are making all of us look like lunatics. This in your face I’m better than you because I’m a Christian who uses the term The Lord Jesus Christ blah blah blah and so on are killing our faith in a world where people are more laid back and want nothing to do with some snake oil religious sales person. Unfortunately TV will only put these type of retards on TV to represent our religion. Jesus was a laid back person who loved people and most likely didn’t care what you called him just as long as you understood and practiced what he preached because if you do everyone else is better off. I seriously doubt he would want anything to do with the hand full of crazy people in the world today who go around judging other people and preaching fire and brimstone.

    • says

      I agree. I don’t think that form of “Christianity” looks anything like Jesus, and Jesus would probably say to them something similar to what He said the Pharisees.

  7. Lutek says

    It’s not black and white, not all true or all false. Finding bones that incontrovertibly belonged to Jesus wouldn’t change much, other than perhaps modifying some extreme opinions.
    The resurrection of Jesus was not in his physical body. Physical bodies don’t just manifest out of nowhere in the middle of locked rooms, even if someone can stick a finger into a wound in that body and get a perception of touching it, it is still a spiritual one. Nor are physical bodies’ voices disembodied to speak out of nowhere on lonely desert roads. Besides, there are questions about the Book of Acts, which I’ll get to in a minute.
    Chris is right in implying that Jesus’ followers didn’t think of him as “the Lord Jesus Christ”, or the only begotten son of God, etc. Even before the gospels were written, Paul established a breakaway sect that dismissed the importance of the Torah and made no mention of the teachings of Jesus, focusing rather on the Christ as Paul understood the concept following his personal revelation. That focus in itself was probably Paul’s best contribution to Christianity as we know it. Unfortunately, he and/or his followers, notably including Luke and John, also threw in a few aspects of the Roman, Greek and Egyptian “mystery religions” so prevalent among the Gentiles of the day, who were his target audience.
    There is some inconsistency between Acts and Paul’s own writings. Also, the motives of the person writing as Luke have been questioned. Paul’s new religion did not fit well with the Jewish beliefs held by the followers of Jesus (led after the crucifixion by Jesus’ brother James). Acts appears to be an attempt to combine the two to bring credibility and ‘historicity’ to Paul’s teachings. (See “How Jesus Became Christian” by Barrie Wilson, “Paul and Jesus” by James Tabor, “For Christ’s Sake” by Tom Harpur and “The Gospel According to Jesus” by Stephen Mitchell, just to name a few resources, for more clarification.)
    Obviously, it was not God who wrote the books included in the collection we now call the Bible, however inspired any or all of those writings may have been. So it is very important to study the historical context in which the events happened and were later recorded. Then we can see what is really important: both the teaching of the Kingdom of God as expounded by Jesus, and the Christ within as revealed to Paul. Questions of divinity, virgin birth, physical resurrection and atonement were all later developments and are really irrelevant to those two points..
    So if those bones really are the bones of Jesus, so what? I, too, agree that following Jesus’ teaching and example is still the best way to live.

    • Lisa says

      Lutek, Just a whimsical response to how a physical body could appear in a locked room:

      some years ago I read a theory about this coming from a quantum physicist…I’m sorry I don’t remember the details (it went over my head for the most part anyway!) but it had to do with the fact that there is more space in an atom than matter. The nucleus of an atom is compared to a fly in a huge football stadium. Therefore, our bodies are really more space than matter and IF we knew how to do it, we could arrange the atoms in oor bodies to slip between the atoms in a wall so that we could pass through it with room to spare!

      anyway, I know almost nothing about quantum physics so I don’t know if there’s any basis in the above explanation….but one thing I remember from watching a video about quantum physics (Marlee Matlin was the narrator) is that experiments in quantum physics seems to prove that the electron of an atom can be in more than one place AT THE SAME TIME….which I thought was interesting when related to how “miracles” might be explained. Maybe we just don’t understand the physics involved!

      I used to be a science fiction fan so that might explain my interest in “solutions” like this. :-)

      • Lutek says

        An interesting comment, Lisa, and not whimsical at all. Science and theology are meant to go together, not to oppose each other.
        As I understand it, there’s no real solidity to matter at all – it’s just fields of interacting energy waves and troughs to produce standing waves of ‘matter’.
        Theoretically, sure, one ‘physical’ object could pass through another, though it doesn’t seem to work in practice. Last time I threw a brick at a window the brick passed through, but the window was greatly changed. There must be other things to consider!
        Anyway, your point leads to the speculation that the difference between the physical body and the spiritual body is not so much of substance as of degree. Maybe that will be the next development in quantum physics, once mainstream science finally acknowledges the spiritual side of reality.
        Paul himself wrote at length on the difference between the physical and spiritual bodies, in 1 Cor. 15. It seems clear to me that he was saying that the physical body and the resurrected body are different, though there are a few vague statements that could be interpreted otherwise.
        I still think that, as interesting as the discussion is, it’s beside the point. That point, in a word, is love. All the rest, including which bones are whose, is fluff.

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