Jesus, family man

Yesterday was Easter and to expand the area of understanding around Jesus and Christianity the article below is reprinted and a link to THE LOST TOMB OF JESUS is below.

Geoffrey Clarfield, National Post

Published: Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Christians are preparing to commemorate the birthday of the founder of their religion on Christmas Day. In North America, it has become a family occasion and the acme of the social season. Yet there are almost one billion Christians living in different parts of the world, and each sect commemorates the holiday in a different way.

During the last two centuries, fewer and fewer people born into the Christian faith have accepted the four Gospels as the last word on the birth, life and death of Jesus. Ever since the French Enlightenment, a growing number of scholars have begun to look at the New Testament "critically," trying to unravel the history of the people who wrote it and who appear in its pages.

Using all the methods of textual criticism, historiography and anthropology they can muster, they have tried to pierce the veil of tradition and reveal the historical Jesus. They make use of the New Testament but also Church documents and the many gospel writings that were ultimately rejected by the Church fathers in the fourth century AD.



Ironically enough, at the end of the day, you have to choose which historical reconstruction of Jesus Christ you can "believe in," or accept as an accurate historical reconstruction of the man, on the basis of reason. There are a growing number of options to choose from. Here is a sample of some of the dominant theories now taught in the universities: Jesus the Prophet of Social Change; Jesus the Apocalyptic Prophet; Jesus the Revolutionary; Jesus the Magician; and Jesus the Cynic Philosopher.

Each theory is championed by a particular scholar and a growing academic literature which is nigh on impossible for any one person to master. There is even a Jesus seminar where the authors of these theories meet, trying to reach academic consensus.

What is emerging from this consensus is an acceptance by a growing number of scholars about the Jewish nature of Jesus and the early Christian community for at least the first hundred and some years of Christianity. It was a community that circumcised its sons, taught them the Five Books of Moses in Hebrew, spoke Aramaic and some Greek, followed the dietary laws and fulfilled all the commandments of the law as preached by teachers during the time of the Mishna (early Talmud). Some followers may have believed that Jesus Christ had risen from the dead and would soon return to this world to bring an era of peace and justice. Perhaps others argued that the "kingdom is within you." That — and not much else –is what distinguished them from what we would now call their Jewish neighbours.

This changes our picture of Jesus, for in first-century Judea life was lived with relatives; we now have a growing awareness of Jesus the family man, which gives us a partial genealogy of his family and descendants –Dan Brown, beware!

In the Book of Matthew 13:55-56 we read, "Is not this the carpenter’s son? Is not his mother called Mary … And are not his brothers James and Joseph and Simon and Judas? And are not all his sisters with us?" In the books of Matthew and Mark we hear of four of Jesus’s brothers. In Matthew they are James, Joseph, Simon and Judas, whereas in Mark they are, James, Joses, Judas and Simon. In English translations Judas is often rendered Jude. The New Testament does not name Jesus’s sisters but we know that there were more than one. In Matthew it mentions "all his sisters" and in Mark it mentions "his sisters."

These descriptions caused later Christian theologians a lot of trouble, for they tried to reconcile virgin birth with the above passages. Many modern theologians believe that the brothers and sisters of Jesus were born from the natural union of Joseph and Mary after Jesus’s birth. Traditional Orthodox theologians have argued that they were children of Joseph from an earlier marriage, whereas many Catholic theologians argue that they were first cousins. Regardless, it is clear that Jesus’s siblings spent most of their time together with Joseph and Mary in Nazareth. They were family.

If we move into the world of non-canonical Gospels and early Church writings we come to the most famous historian of the early Church, Bishop Eusebius. Eusebius quotes an earlier second-century historian called Hegesippus, a convert to Christianity from Judaism. He tells us that Jesus had an uncle, a brother of Joseph named Clopas. Mary of Clopas witnessed Jesus’s crucifixion. She may have been the wife of Jesus’s uncle, i. e., Jesus’s aunt. On the road to Emmaus one of Jesus’s disciples has a vision of him. In the book of Luke he is called Cleopas which may be a variation of the same family name.

After his crucifixion, many of Jesus’s brothers became leaders of the Church, including James. He is mentioned by Paul, who calls him "James the Lord’s brother." James’s death is also mentioned in Josephus’s histories. Paul mentions that Jesus’s brothers had become Christian missionaries.

Julius Africanus, a native of Jerusalem who in the early third century lived in Emmaus, wrote that members of Jesus’s family had travelled the land preaching, reminding one and all of their direct descent from his family. This is a common phenomenon noted by anthropologists of religion. Max Weber called it "lineage charisma."

When James was martyred, Simon, the son of Clopas and Mary, became bishop of Jerusalem. He was then martyred during the reign of Trajan some time between 98-117 AD. Hegesippus then chronicles members of Jesus’s family up to the third generation. These include two grandsons of Jesus’s brother, Jude, called Zoker and James. They were tried by the Emperor Domitian and admitted to being of the family of David.

And then there is no further direct evidence. The trail goes dry except for a curious piece of indirect evidence. During the persecution of Christians by the Emperor Decius in the mid-third century, there was a martyr named Conon. When interrogated, Conon said, "I am of the city of Nazareth in Galilee, I am of the family of Christ, whose worship I have inherited from my ancestors."

Less than 75 years later, Christianity had become the favoured religion of the Roman Empire under Emperor Constantine. But it was a different kind of Christianity than that practised by the early Jewish Christians.

Now the New Testament was a Greek document. The majority of Christians were Greek speakers. The cultural background of a majority of Christians was the pagan Greek culture that was redefining the nature of what was becoming fourth-century Orthodoxy. This was the time of the Council of Nicea, which formally canonized the New Testament and made any other gospel non-canonical and heretical.

One of the foremost scholars of the New Testament, Bart Ehrman, argues that here began the "misquoting of Jesus" — a phrase he uses in a book by that name to argue that large sections of the New Testament were altered to fit the theological debates of the fourth century. He says that drove it away from many of the meanings and narratives that were part and parcel of the belief system of the first Christians, Aramaic speaking sons of Judea who were direct relatives of Jesus. Despite their theological differences, most modern NT scholars agree that the original books were written or conceived of in Hebrew or Aramaic.

When anthropologists study the movement of a religion from one ethnic group to another they see an inevitable process. The religion becomes indigenized and that is what happened to early Christianity. It lost touch with its Semitic roots and the Semitic communities lost power. They either died out or were absorbed into the new Hellenistic versions of the faith.

So, one must become a tad skeptical when we hear that Constantine’s mother, a woman born in England, came to Jerusalem from Constantinople in the early-fourth century and miraculously discovered the site of the tomb of Jesus under a Roman temple. She then built a church which would later be the site of the Church of the Holy Sepulchre where it is thought Jesus was buried. One of the legends suggests she determined the site by force, which is rarely a guarantee of veracity, as truly religious people will often rather die than reveal the location of sacred burial places.

I have visited the church many times. It is a fabulous structure, with layers of architecture from different historical periods. Its gilded shrines are divided among feuding sects whose altars are often inches away from each other. Indeed, the place was once a quarry and probably included burial caves from the time of the temple of Herod. It is thought that local Jews pointed out the site to Queen Helena, the mother of Constantine. But it is not clearly a family tomb typical of the upper classes of Jerusalem where Jesus and his family may have been put to rest.

On my latest trip to Jerusalem, after visiting the Holy Sepulchre I took a cab to the neigbourhood of Talpiot, where I used to live in the late 1970s. I stood in a typical Israeli suburb looking at a garden beside a stairway about a hundred yards from a local synagogue. Below the garden, hidden from view, lies a first-century tomb complex that was discovered by Israeli archaeologists when I lived there and only later made famous by the Israeli-Canadian filmmaker Simcha Jacobovici, who believes it is the real tomb of Jesus.

Jacobovici and his team’s claims have caused a storm of controversy. As the British New Testament expert James Crossley points out, "The overwhelming majority of biblical scholars are committed Christians" so they have heavily invested in the Holy Sepulchre as the tomb of Jesus; and until now, there has been no real competition. Nowhere in the New Testament does it say where Jesus was buried exactly, yet all the details of his burial in those books follow Jewish custom of the time to the letter. This new candidate for Jesus’s final resting place is a classic first-century Jewish tomb. It was probably made for an upper-class family and it includes ossuaries typical of this period.

The names on the ossuaries include Jesus son of Joseph, Mary, Mariamene, Joses, a Matthew and a Judah, son of Jesus. Three other ossuaries are nameless. This remarkable "family resemblance" to some of the dramatis personae of the New Testament has been the subject of a huge argument between Jacobovici’s team and critics on the statistical possibilities of this being a unique find.

But they are missing the simplest of points: There is precious little direct archaeological evidence for the tomb of the Holy Sepulchre being a Jesus family tomb. On archaeological grounds alone it is the weaker of the two candidates as so much of the evidence is based on oral tradition. This other garden tomb is also walking distance from all the events described in the crucifixion narrative. As all the bones are gone, there is no point in arguing about the resurrection, for that is about faith, not archaeology.

This garden tomb is a family tomb of a man named Jesus who most likely lived and died during the time of Jesus Christ, as that kind of tomb was no longer made when the Jerusalem temple was destroyed in 70 AD. Was this the tomb of Jesus? Perhaps, perhaps not.

If not, it is still no doubt the same kind of tomb that Joseph of Arimathea gave to the family of a Jesus, son of Joseph. Maybe it was a donation by a wealthy follower, as Jesus came from Galilee. Either way, it was most likely used by him and his immediate kin — a family tomb for a family man. It might just be the real thing.

3 thoughts on “LOST TOMB OF JESUS

  1. It’s actually a nice and useful piece of info. I am happy that you shared this helpful information with us.
    Please keep us up to date like this. Thanks for sharing.

Comments are closed.