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Slandering Jesus: Six Lies People Tell about the Man Who Said He Was God

Slandering Jesus: Six Lies People Tell about the Man Who Said He Was God

by Erwin Lutzer

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Both skeptics and believers want the truth about the man who claimed to be God. Renowned scholar Dr. Erwin Lutzer provides the ultimate answers. Drawing on decades of rigorous Bible study and teaching experience, he examines six widely-held beliefs about Jesus Christ—untruths that have even infiltrated even the church—and counters them with facts. The


Both skeptics and believers want the truth about the man who claimed to be God. Renowned scholar Dr. Erwin Lutzer provides the ultimate answers. Drawing on decades of rigorous Bible study and teaching experience, he examines six widely-held beliefs about Jesus Christ—untruths that have even infiltrated even the church—and counters them with facts. The fabrications include:

  • The family tomb of Jesus was discovered
  • Jesus escaped the crucifixion
  • Jesus wanted and needed Judas to betray him
  • Jesus was just a man
  • Jesus is one way among many to God
  • Jesus has a dark secret
Using clear logic and historical evidence, Dr. Lutzer explains how these lies sprouted and grew, gives readers deeper insight into the true character and qualities of Jesus, and equips readers to identify and expose lies that demean him.

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Tyndale House Publishers
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Tyndale House Publishing, Inc.

Copyright © 2007 Erwin W. Lutzer
All right reserved.

ISBN: 978-1-4143-1460-0

Chapter One

LIE #1 Jesus' Family Tomb Has Been Discovered

"... the odds [are] 2.5 million to one in favor of the Talpiot tomb being the tomb of Jesus of Nazareth." -The Jesus Family Tomb

The family tomb of Jesus has been discovered!

That's what I was hearing on CNN, Fox News, and MSNBC along with several other news channels. The buzz was that a tomb discovered in the Jerusalem suburb of Talpiot in 1980 has turned out to be the tomb of Jesus and His family. Several ossuaries were found in the large tomb and one of the inscriptions read "Jesus son of Joseph," and four others were purported to have the names of Jesus' other family members.

An ossuary is a bone box. For the well-to-do, the custom was to keep the dead body for a year or so until the flesh rotted; then the bones were placed in a limestone box where they could remain for centuries. So this latest finding suggests that after Jesus died, His disciples laid His body in the tomb of Joseph of Arimathea and then returned to steal His bodyto keep it somewhere until the flesh decomposed, and that later the bones were reburied in an ossuary in the family tomb.

After hearing the reports, I bought a copy of the book The Jesus Family Tomb, by Simcha Jacobovici and Charles Pellegrino. I read it on a flight to Phoenix and then I watched the two-hour Discovery Channel documentary, The Lost Tomb of Jesus, that detailed the discovery of the tomb. It was cleverly, and shall I say seductively, presented with the clear agenda of persuading people that the location of the bones of Jesus had been found.

Many people are asking: What are the chances that these authors could be right? And what difference would it make to Christianity if in fact the bodily resurrection did not occur?


When this tomb was first discovered in March 1980, it included ten ossuaries and dozens of skeletons, some of them on various shelves along the tomb walls. Because such burial sites are common in Israel, the bones no longer exist today-either having been disposed of or destroyed by vandals. Six of the ten ossuaries in this particular tomb were inscribed, the others were not. Reportedly, the following inscriptions were found:

Yeshua bar Yosef-Jesus, Son of Joseph

Mariamene e Mara-Mariamne, also called Master

Maria-a Latinized version of the Hebrew "Miriam"


Yehuda bar Yeshua-Judah, son of Jesus

Yose (or Yosa)-a nickname for Joseph

Let's review these six names to better understand the claims that are being made. The primary ossuary reads "Jesus, Son of Joseph" and would have contained the bones of Jesus; "Mariamene e Mara" is supposedly a reference to Mary Magdalene, the wife of Jesus; "Matia" refers to Matthew, who was a disciple of Jesus but not a relative (no one knows why his ossuary would have been placed in the family tomb of Jesus); "Judah, son of Jesus" is believed to be the son of Jesus and Mary Magdalene; and finally "Joseph" who is listed in the Gospel of Mark as a brother to Jesus (Mark 6:3).

Before I proceed, I should point out that only nine of the ten ossuaries were actually catalogued when the Talpiot Tomb was excavated in 1980. The tenth had no markings and since ossuaries are common in Israel, it was deemed of no special value and left to be discarded or sold.

However, both in their book on The Jesus Family Tomb and on the Discovery Channel documentary, the authors argue that the tenth was actually the ossuary of James, the brother of Jesus. If this ossuary, which has been widely publicized, was originally in the tomb, they believe there is even a greater probability that the names are those of the family members of Jesus.

However, we can quickly dispense with the notion that the ossuary of James was originally in this "family tomb." First, it was found in the 1970s-before the discovery of the so-called family tomb of Jesus in 1980. Second, the original archaeologists who found the Talpiot Tomb assure us that the tenth ossuary was simply not catalogued because it had no markings. Third, the dimensions of the James ossuary do not match the recorded dimensions of the tenth ossuary found in the Talpiot Tomb. Fourth, fourth-century historian Eusebius says that the body of James (the half brother of Jesus) was buried alone near the Temple Mount and that his tomb was visited in the early centuries. And finally, at least part of the inscription on the James ossuary was deemed forged, and Oded Golan, the man who bought it, is currently on trial for fraud.

Facts, however, did not get in the way of the hype that surrounded the revelation that the family tomb of Jesus had been found! The authors requested patina testing to be done on the soot or dust of the James ossuary to see if it matched the materials found in the tomb. To their own delight, they declared, "It is a match!" But the scientist who did the tests backed away from such a conclusion, saying that the test did not prove that the James ossuary had been in the Talpiot Tomb but only that it was possible it had been there. In other words, the "match" only meant that the James ossuary was consistent with the Talpiot Tomb; presumably it would have been consistent with other tombs as well. The bottom line is that the testing establishes no positive links to the tomb.

Without the James ossuary, we still have five names, all purportedly linked to the family of Jesus. So, we must ask, could this be the place where the bones of Jesus were buried?

Moviemaker James Cameron was involved in the project and wrote the preface to the book on the family tomb. He says that the conclusions of the documentary are virtually irrefutable and stunning in their implications. He writes that the story told about Jesus' family tomb "is pieced together from hard physical evidence, evidence that cannot lie."

So, what shall we believe?


Before we evaluate the evidence, we must dispense with some myths and rather foolish notions that have surrounded this discussion.

The first bit of nonsense says that if the bones of Jesus were discovered, it would not affect the Christian faith. Incredibly, I saw self-proclaimed Christians on television saying that if the documentary were true, it wouldn't invalidate Christianity. After all, the argument goes, Jesus arose spiritually not physically. The book The Jesus Family Tomb perpetuates the same fantasy by arguing that the discovery of Jesus' bones would not harm Christianity because "the New Testament does not tell us that its chroniclers believe that Jesus, when he ascended, needed to take his entire body with him!" That's like saying that Columbus crossed the ocean spiritually, but not physically. According to these authors, Christianity would not be affected if Jesus did not rise from the dead!

Let us say it boldly: If the bones of Jesus were discovered, our faith would collapse like a house of cards held together by ropes of mist! For one thing, Jesus predicted that He would rise from the dead in His body (Luke 9:22 and John 2:18-22). Furthermore, the whole point of Jesus' death and resurrection is that He redeemed us body, soul, and spirit. Jesus conquered death, and because He lives we shall live also.

Understandably, when Jesus appeared in His resurrected body, the disciples were so astonished that they were tempted to think they were seeing a ghost. So Jesus said to them, "Why are you troubled, and why do doubts rise in your minds? Look at my hands and my feet. It is I myself! Touch me and see; a ghost does not have flesh and bones, as you see I have" (Luke 24:38-39). Then, as further proof, He asked if they had anything to eat and they gave Him a piece of broiled fish, which He ate in their presence (Luke 24:41-43).

Consider the explicit words of Paul:

And if Christ has not been raised, our preaching is useless and so is your faith. More than that, we are then found to be false witnesses about God, for we have testified about God that he raised Christ from the dead.... And if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile; you are still in your sins. 1 CORINTHIANS 15:14-15, 17

If Christ has not been raised, we are shown to be false witnesses of God! Our faith is futile and we are still in our sins. The notion that Jesus rose from the dead with a new body, while His old body lay in the grave, is a modern idea and is contrary to the Jewish understanding of resurrection.

If Jesus' bones rotted in an ossuary, our faith is in vain and we are of all men and women most miserable. We have no hope of heaven, no hope of seeing Jesus-and we have believed a lie. Like the old country preacher Vance Havner used to say, "If the resurrection of Jesus is a myth, then I am mythtaken, mythified, and mytherable!"

There is, of course, a form of Christianity that does not need an empty tomb. But it is a powerless kind of Christianity that is unable to save us from our sins-a Christianity that has no confidence in the final triumph of Jesus over sin and death, and that reduces Christianity to the wishes and ideals of other religions.

But before we assign Christianity to the dustbin of history, we have to ask: How valid is the claim that the family tomb of Jesus has been found? How does the evidence that these are the bones of Jesus compare to two thousand years of historical discussion and research on this topic? More on that in a moment.

We must dispense with a second inconsistent notion-the claims that the Bible should be treated differently than other ancient books. For some reason, when it comes to the Bible, the standard rules of textual analysis do not apply. For example, in his preface to The Jesus Family Tomb, James Cameron says of Jesus, "... a compelling case has been made that he never existed at all but was a myth created to fulfill a specific need."

He continues, "Until now, there has been zero physical evidence of his existence. No fingerprints, no bones, no portraits done from life, nothing. Not a shred of parchment written from Jesus' own hand." So, Cameron says, this discovery of the tomb of Jesus is doing Christianity a favor because now at least we know He existed! At last Christians can breathe more easily!

The question, of course, is this: What if the same standard of evidence were used for the existence of Plato, Socrates, or Julius Caesar? Do we have fingerprints of these historical individuals? Of course not! Even if we had fingerprints of Jesus, how could we know that they were His? The value of fingerprints applies only when they are compared to existing fingerprints to see if a match can be discovered. Clearly, Cameron's requirement is preposterous.

Do we have the bones of Plato, Socrates, or Julius Caesar? Of course not! Do we have portraits drawn from real life? Of course not! So why don't we conclude that they are but myths created to fill a specific need? No fingerprints, no bones, no portraits from life. Nothing.

By insisting on evidence that is demanded of no other historical figure, Cameron has in a single sentence dispensed with both Christian and pagan sources that affirm that Jesus lived and was put to death, and also that He rose from the dead. The shared results of centuries of scholarship are neatly set aside by the demand for a level of evidence that in principle cannot exist.

Given this kind of methodology, we get a hint early on as to how the evidence for Jesus will be treated. From now on, the Bible will be quoted only when it supports a theory, and will be summarily dismissed when it disproves a theory. These researchers are willing to accept a story that describes the burial of Jesus in the tomb of Joseph of Arimathea because it can be pressed into service to support their family-tomb theory, but they are unwilling to accept the next paragraphs in Scripture, which describe the resurrection of Jesus with equal detail. Many such examples exist throughout the book.

Finally, we must dispense with the notion that the Gnostic Gospels present a more reliable historical account than the canonical Scriptures. The Gnostics were teachers who tried to combine Greek philosophy with Christianity. Their so-called Gnostic Gospels were written later than the New Testament Gospels and were known by the early church to be fraudulent. They do not even purport to be historical. Yet in books such as The Da Vinci Code and The Jesus Family Tomb, these later documents are quoted as if they are infallible.

While The DaVinci Code was advertised as fiction (though it purported to be historical fiction), The Jesus Family Tomb claims to be sober history. And yet, as we shall see, the authors must turn to a dubious fourth-century text to make a crucial identification of one of the ossuaries in the family tomb.


So, let's go back to our original question. What is the probability that the Talpiot Tomb is indeed the family tomb of Jesus? In their book, Jacobovici and Pellegrino say that the odds of these names occurring together randomly is one in 2.5 million. The Discovery Channel special modestly suggests that the odds are one in six hundred. Still, these are very great odds that would point to this Talpiot Tomb being the tomb of Jesus and His family.

We must begin with what the authors also acknowledge, namely that the names on the ossuaries were very common in New Testament times. Scholars tell us that there are about eighty tombs and about twenty-six ossuaries with the name Jesus on them. The exact number is disputed because the inscriptions on ossuaries are notoriously difficult to decipher and not all are agreed on. However, to find the name Jesus inscribed on an ossuary is not in itself remarkable, since about one out of every twenty males was named Jesus.

Twenty-five percent of all the women who lived during the time of Jesus were named Mary, which explains why there are six Marys in the New Testament. And among the 233 ossuaries catalogued, the name Joseph appears about 14 percent of the time. So the experts agree that about one out of seven males was named Joseph.

The fact that these names were so common in the first century explains why, when archaeologists discovered this tomb in 1980, no one thought this could be the tomb of Jesus and His family. The ossuaries were carefully catalogued and put into the Israel Antiquities Authority (IAA) warehouse in Israel. Then, more than ten years later, the BBC told the story of the tomb, and Amos Kloner, Israel's most prominent archaeologist, affirmed that these were common names and that it was far-fetched to say that this could be the tomb of Jesus' family. So the report simply disappeared off the news radar, only to be recycled in a sensational book and a Discovery Channel special. The fact that the BBC viewed it as a nonstory should tell us something about its importance.

But the authors of The Jesus Family Tomb say that they did take the fact that the names were common into account, and still reached a high degree of probability that this was Jesus' tomb. So we have to analyze their results more carefully. Probabilities are based on assumptions; bad assumptions lead to bad probabilities.

Although the "Jesus, Son of Joseph" ossuary is the most significant, second in importance is the ossuary with the inscription "Mariamene e Mara," which is said to belong to Mary Magdalene, the wife of Jesus. How do the authors conclude that this name refers to Mary Magdalene, since the names are very different?

They argue that some members of the early church called Mary Magdalene Mariamne, and the authors appeal to the Aramaic to say that the word Mara means "master." They translate the inscription as "Mariamne Master." From this, the fiction is developed that Mary Magdalene was not only the wife of Jesus, but also recognized to be His lead disciple.


Excerpted from SLANDERING JESUS by ERWIN W. LUTZER Copyright © 2007 by Erwin W. Lutzer. Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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