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Discovery Channel's Lost Tomb of Jesus Movie

By Gary F. Zeolla

26For this reason my heart celebrated and my tongue was very glad, and yet my flesh also will rest on hope [or, confident expectation]; 27because You will not abandon my soul to the realm of the dead [Gr., hades], nor will You give [fig., allow] Your Holy One to see decay [or, corruption]. 28You made known to me [the] ways of life; You will make me full of gladness with Your face [fig., presence]. [Psalm 16:8-11, verse 9 LXX]

29"Men, brothers! It is possible [for me] to speak with confidence to you* concerning the patriarch David, that he both came to the end [of his life] and was buried, and his tomb is with us until this day. 30Therefore, being a prophet and knowing that God vowed to him with an oath, from [the] fruit of his reproductive organs according to [the] flesh [fig., from one of his descendents], to raise up the Christ [or, the Messiah] to sit on his throne, 31having foreseen [this], he spoke concerning the resurrection of the Christ, that ‘His soul was not left in the realm of the dead [Gr., hades], nor did His flesh see decay [or, corruption].' [Psalm 16:10] 32This Jesus God raised up, of which we are all witnesses! (Acts 2:26-32).

The Apostles were Liars

The above is from Peter's sermon on the Day of Pentecost. In it, he is contrasting the facts that the location of David's tomb was known by all and that David's body had decayed in the grave, with Jesus, who was raised from the dead and whose body did not undergo decay.

However, according to the movie The Lost Tomb of Jesus by the Discovery Channel, shown on Sunday, March 4, 2007, Peter is purposely and knowingly telling a lie here. According to the movie, Peter and the other apostles stole the body of Jesus and moved it to another tomb. Then a year later, after the flesh had decayed, they went back and took up the bones of Jesus and placed them in an ossuary (a small box hewn out of rock) and then placed that into another tomb. Later, the bones of other family members of Jesus were placed in ossuaries and entombed in the same place.

This moving around of the bones of Jesus and the burial of the bones of His family in the same place all occurred during the very time-period in which Peter and the other apostles were proclaiming throughout the Roman Empire that Jesus had risen bodily from the grave no more to die again. But since they knew that Jesus' body had decayed, they were all lying.

The Discovery Channel got the idea of the apostles stealing the body of Jesus from Matthew:

11Now while they are going, look!, some of the guard [of soldiers] having come into the city reported to the chief priests all the [things] having happened. 12And having been gathered together with the elders, and having taken counsel [or, having plotted], they gave much money to the soldiers, 13saying, "Say, ‘His disciples having come by night stole Him while we were sleeping.' 14And if this is heard by the governor, we will persuade him, and we will make you* free from anxiety [fig., we will keep you* out of trouble]." 15So having received the money, they did as they were taught. And this account was spread widely among Jews until this day (Matthew 28:11-15).

Here Matthew is saying that the idea of the apostles stealing the body of Jesus was a made up story by the Jewish leaders to cover up the fact that the body of Jesus was missing. But according to the Discovery Channel, it is Matthew who is making things up. Matthew is saying this tale was a lie when in fact, it is what happened.

3So Peter went out, and the other disciple, and they began going to the tomb. 4Now the two were running together, and the other disciple ran ahead more quickly than Peter and came first to the tomb. 5And having stooped down, he sees the linen strips lying, although he did not enter. 6Then Simon Peter comes, following him, and he entered into the tomb. And he looks upon the linen strips lying [there], 7and the facecloth which was on His head not lying with the linen strips, but apart, having been rolled up in one place.

8So then the other disciple, the one having come first to the tomb, also entered, and he saw and believed [or, was convinced]. 9For they did not yet know the Scripture, that it is necessary [for] Him to rise again from [the] dead. 10So the disciples went away again to themselves [fig., to their own homes] (John 20:3-10).

Here John is relating how he and Peter first came to the tomb of Jesus and found it empty, except for the grave clothes that were left behind. John believed it was empty because Jesus had risen from the dead. But in fact, according to the Discovery Channel, John and Peter would have already been to the tomb before this, when they stole the body of Jesus and moved it to another tomb. So either John made up this story or he and Peter were simply play-acting when they ran to the tomb to see if it was empty. They already knew it was empty since they had previously stolen the body.

35And so He says in another [Psalm], ‘You will not give [fig., allow] Your Holy One to see decay.' [Psalm 16:10] 36"For David indeed, having served his own generation by the counsel [or, plan] of God, fell asleep [fig., died], and he was added to [fig., buried with] his fathers and saw decay. 37But [He] whom God raised up did not see decay. [cp. Acts 2:25-32] 38Therefore, let it be known to you*, men, brothers, that through this One the forgiveness of sins is proclaimed to you*, 39and from all [the things] from which you* were not able to be justified [or, declared righteous] by the Law of Moses, in this One every[one] believing is justified! (Acts 13:35-39).

Here, Paul is reiterating the same statements made by Peter, even quoting the same Old Testament passage (Psalm 16:10). Now Paul was not one of the original twelve apostles, so he would not have been in on the supposed plot to steal the body of Jesus. But given the similarity between this sermon and Peter's on Pentecost, Paul most likely got the material for this sermon from Peter. So Peter is clearly teaching not just the masses but other Christian leaders the idea that Jesus' body did not undergo decay.

Moreover, Paul initially had been an enemy of the Christian faith, trying to squash it, so if there had been a tomb containing the bones of Jesus, Paul would have used this fact in his diatribes against the Jesus movement. But apparently, Paul never found about this tomb, or if he had, he is now lying about it.

The bottom line is that the Discovery Channel presented its movie with the claim that in no way would the claims of the movie hurt the Christian faith. But in fact, if the claims of the movie are true, then Peter, Matthew, John, Paul, and the other apostles were all liars. They went around proclaiming the bodily resurrection of Christ when if fact, they all knew that Jesus' body had decayed. As such, it brings the rest of their writings into suspect. If they lied on this most important point, they very well could have lied about everything else they wrote about Jesus.

The Discovery Channel tries to evade this conclusion by saying that the resurrection of Jesus was spiritual not bodily in nature. But the above passages and others that are referenced in my Scripture Workbook clearly show the apostles believed in and proclaimed a bodily resurrection of Jesus.

The Evidence

So what is the evidence for the Discovery Channel's claims? A tomb was found in Jerusalem back in 1980 with ten ossuaries in it. Six of these ossuaries had inscriptions on them. One of these was said to have the inscription "Jesua son of Joseph" on it. That in itself is not that earth-shaking. Jesua (Jesus) and Joseph were common names at the time.

But found on the other ossuaries were the names: "Mary; Matthew; Mary; Jofa (Joseph, Jesus' brother); and Judah son of Jesua." (BBC). This collection of names, it is said, proves this is the "Jesus family." The first Mary was said to be the mother of Jesus. As indicated, the Jofa (or Joses) is the name of one of Jesus' brothers (Matthew 13:55). And Matthew is a common name in the genealogy of Jesus as recorded in the Gospel of Luke (3:24,26,29,31). So this, it was said, proved that Matthew was a relative, probably another brother of Jesus.

But the linchpin is that the second Mary was identified as being Mary Magdalene. This assertion was based on two points. First, the name is actually written as "Marianna" and it was said that this was a very unique spelling of the name for the time since this was the only ossuary that has been found with this spelling on it. Second, Marianna was equated with Mary Magdalene based on her name being spelled in this fashion in a fourth century document. So these points together "prove" this second Mary was Mary Magdalene.

A statistician was cited as saying the odds are simply too great that another family would have all these same names associated it as they are with the Jesus of the New Testament. So this had to be the family tomb of the Jesus of the New Testament.

Meanwhile, another ossuary was discovered elsewhere with the inscription "James, son of Joseph and brother of Jesus" on it. James is the name of another brother of Jesus in Matthew 13:55. It was then asserted in the movie that this ossuary belonged with the others but was previously stolen.

Furthermore, DNA evidence was proclaimed as proving the movie's assertions.

The documentary asserts that tests on samples from two of the coffins show Jesus and Mary Magdalene were likely to have been buried in them and were a couple. The film-makers used this finding to claim that the coffin marked "Judah son of Jesua" contains the son of Jesus and Mary.

So the movie followed The Da Vinci Code in claiming Jesus and Mary Magdalene were married and even had a child.

No So Fast

So the evidence seems pretty strong; a collection of names that could only have associated with the family of Jesus, as proven by statistics, along with DNA evidence supporting the claim.

But not so fast. There are many holes in these claims. In fact, after the two-hour movie, there was a one-hour show, consisting of a discussion between the filmmakers and two archeologists who disagreed with their conclusions. But, as I feared, the archeologists were barely given a chance to speak. Almost the entire hour was taken up by the filmmakers reiterating their claims.

And it should be noted that the producers of this film were just that, filmmakers. They were not archeologists or any other kind of scientists, so why not give the bona fide archeologists a chance to speak? But it was clear that the Discovery Channel really was not looking to have its movie critically challenged. But one of the archeologists was able to get out that he considered the film to be a case of "archeo-porn." It was stimulating and exciting, but with no real substance.

Quotes from Archeologists:

This writer is not an archeologist, so it is hard for me to make specific comments on the integrity of the archeological evidence. But consider the following:

Israeli archaeologist Amos Kloner, who was among the first to examine the tomb when it was first discovered, said the names marked on the coffins were very common at the time. "I don't accept the news that it was used by Jesus or his family," he told the BBC News website. "The documentary filmmakers are using it to sell their film" (BBC).

In 1996, when the British Broadcasting Corp. aired a short documentary on the same subject, archaeologists challenged the claims. Amos Kloner, the first archaeologist to examine the site, said the idea fails to hold up by archaeological standards but makes for profitable television. "They just want to get money for it," Kloner said….

Kloner also said the filmmakers' assertions are false. "It was an ordinary middle-class Jerusalem burial cave," Kloner said. "The names on the caskets are the most common names found among Jews at the time." (NBC11).

Archaeologists also balk at the filmmaker's claim that the James Ossuary -- the center of a famous antiquities fraud in Israel -- might have originated from the same cave. In 2005, Israel charged five suspects with forgery in connection with the infamous bone box. "I don't think the James Ossuary came from the same cave," said Dan Bahat, an archaeologist at Bar-Ilan University. "If it were found there, the man who made the forgery would have taken something better. He would have taken Jesus." (NBC11).

The DNA Evidence:

As for the supposed DNA evidence, when this was advertised before the movie, it made it sound like they had tested the bones of "Jesus son of Joseph" and this proved they were from the Jesus of the New Testament. But, of course, this would be impossible. The only way to use DNA to prove human remains are from particular person is to have a DNA "exemplar" from the person to compare it with. In other words, you would need to have some DNA for which there is no doubt it came from Jesus, and then compare that to DNA taken from the bones. But, of course, no such comparison DNA is available.

All that the DNA evidence showed was the Jesus and the second Mary (Marianna) were not related maternally, meaning they did not have the same mother and the Mary was not the mother of the Jesus. The filmmakers then concluded from this that they had to be married since this was a family tomb. But this conclusion was really a leap. Assuming they were of the same family (which is an unproven assumption itself), they could have been related in many other ways, such as half-brother and half-sister through the father, cousins, uncle and niece, aunt and nephew, father and daughter, or even some other more distant relationship.

What was most disturbing is that the only DNA testing that was done was on the Jesus and the second Mary. But what would have been interesting to know is if the Jesus was in fact the son of the first Mary, if the Jofa was in fact the brother of the Jesus, if the Matthew was in any way related to the Jesus, if the "Judah son of Jesua" was in fact the son of the Jesus and the second Mary. But none of this testing was or could be done since there was not sufficient DNA material to test. So we are left to just accept these claims with no evidence.

Identification of Names:

As for the identification of the names, the film also took a leap in assuming the Matthew was a brother of Jesus, never mind that this name is not in the list of the names of the brothers of Jesus in the Bible (Matthew 13:55). This is an important point. If the Matthew was not related to the Jesus but was just some kind of family friend, then it could very well be that the second Mary was just a family friend as well and not Jesus' wife as was asserted.

As for the second Mary being Mary Magdalene, appealing to a fourth century document for the spelling of a first century name is pretty weak. But even weaker is the claim that the spelling "Marianna" was very unique in the first century. Again, this claim was based on this being the only ossuary with this spelling. But as one of the archeologists tried pointing out in the after-show but was cut off, the number of ossuaries with inscriptions that have been discovered represents only a very small fraction of the number of people and hence names of people living at the time of Christ. If could very well be that if we had a better "census" of the names of the time that Marianna would turn out to be a very common name.

Tips from Forensic TV Shows:

It would have also been nice if some testing was done on the bones to determine the ages of the various people when they died. This is commonly done on forensic TV shows like Bones. But here, they never seemed to even have asked if the ages supported the claims. In other words, if the Jesus were the Jesus of the New Testament, then the bones should show he had been in his 30s when he died. And if the first Mary was in fact the mother of the Jesus, then she should have been considerably older than the Jesus.

Also commonly done on Bones is to determine the cause of death just from examining the bones. In this case, it should have been easy to determine if the Jesus had been crucified. If he had been, there should be marks on the bones of the wrists and feet from where the nails had been driving in and from the nails rubbing against the bones when the person raised and lowered himself while hanging on the cross in order to breathe. Such marks have been found on the bones of other crucifixion victims of the time. But no mention was made in this regard about the Jesus.

But this is an important point that should have been addressed. If the Jesus was not crucified, then he most definitely was not the Jesus of the New Testament. All of the earliest sources, both Christian and non-Christian, are emphatic that the Jesus of the New Testament was crucified.

And taking clues from another forensic TV show, CSI, much is often made in it about the "chain of evidence." You have to be sure you know who collected the evidence, who handled the evidence, and that it was stored safely and left untouched until it was examined.

But in this case, the ossuaries in the tomb were considered unremarkable when they were first discovered, so not much care was given to them. This can be seen by the fact that one of them was somehow "lost." This is how, as one of the quotes above indicated, the "James ossuary" came to be forged and later claimed to be the missing ossuary. But what about the others? They were placed in a large warehouse with thousands of other ossuaries and forgotten about for years. Can it be sure that they were not tampered with in this time? Can it be sure that someone did not move the ossuaries around, making it look like this collection of names were all found in the same tomb?


A trial is currently undergoing in Israel in regard to the James ossuary and its probable forgery. Could any of the others be forgeries as well? If not from modern-times, why not from the time of Jesus?

Remember, the apostles were proclaiming that Jesus had risen bodily from the grave. If the Jewish or Roman leaders who were trying to squash the growing Christian movement could have produced the bones of Jesus, this would have stopped the Jesus movement in its tracks. So maybe someone tired a forgery to this effect, but the forgery was exposed, so no one believed it. And what we have in this tomb is just the remains of this forgery.

No One Knew About Such a Tomb:

Of course, there is no evidence that such a forgery was attempted back then. But also without evidence is that the family tomb of Jesus was known by anyone, believers or non-believers alike. In other words, if in fact there had been a tomb that contained the bones of Jesus and that later the bones of other family members were added to this tomb, you would think that the word would have gotten out and again, the whole Jesus movement would have been squashed. But somehow, the early Christians managed to keep this "Jesus family tomb" hidden from everyone.

Amazing Scenario:

And this takes us back to the beginning of this article. What makes this claimed scenario even more amazing is that the very same apostles and family of Jesus who knew exactly where the bones of Jesus were located and even entombed additional bones there over time continued to proclaim that Jesus had risen bodily from the grave, despite being persecuted and in most cases executed for this claim, all the while knowing it was all just a hoax.


If the Discovery Channel had really been looking for the truth about the tomb, the ossuaries, and their implications, they would have published the results of their research in an archeological, scientific journal. Then bona fide archeologists and other scientists would have had a chance to weigh in on the evidence. Then once a consensus had been reached in the scientific community the results should be released to the public. This is how scientific research is supposed to be conducted.

But as it was, the Discovery Channel chose to make a fast buck by producing a dramatic movie based on very preliminary research for which there is much disagreement. And in doing so, the Discovery Channel has done a great disservice to the public.

"I don't think that Christians are going to buy into this," said Mr Pfann, who was interviewed by the film-makers. "But sceptics, in general, would like to see something that pokes holes into the story that so many people hold dear." (BBC).

This quote is probably correct. It is unlikely that this film will shake the faith of most Christians, but those who have already decided against the Christian faith will latch onto this as one more excuse to reject the claims of Christ. But if this movie is just "archeo-porn" as the archeologist after the movie stated, then this rejection of the Christian faith is without basis, and the non-Christian must still seriously considered the claims of Christ.

20But now Christ has been raised from [the] dead! He became the first-fruits of the ones having fallen asleep [fig., having died]. 21For since by means of a man death [came], also by means of a Man [is] [the] resurrection of [the] dead. 22For just as in Adam all die, in the same way also in Christ all will be given life. 23But each in his own order, Christ [the] first-fruit, afterwards the [ones] of Christ at His Arrival [or, Coming] (1Corinthians 15:20-22).

9that if you confess with your mouth [the] Lord Jesus [or, [that] Jesus [is] Lord], and believe in your heart that God raised Him from [the] dead, you will be saved! 10For with the heart it is believed to righteousness, and with the mouth it is confessed to salvation (Romans 10:9,10).

46And He said to them, "Thus it has been written, and thus it was necessary [for] the Christ to suffer and to rise from [the] dead the third day, 47and [for] repentance and forgiveness of sins to be proclaimed in His name to all the nations, beginning from Jerusalem (Luke 24:46-47).


Scripture taken from the Analytical-Literal Translation of the New Testament of the Holy Bible: Second Edition (with changes made in preparation for the Third Edition.). Copyright 2005, 2007 by Gary F. Zeolla of Darkness to Light ministry (www.dtl.org). Previously copyrighted 1999, 2001 by Gary F. Zeolla. All bolding in Scripture quotes is added.

BBC News. Jesus tomb found, says film-maker.

Discovery Channel. "The Lost Tomb of Jesus." Broadcasted on Sunday, March 4, 2007, and follow-up show.

NBC11. Director Claims Discovery Of Jesus' Tomb."

Books and eBooks by Gary F. Zeolla, the Director of Darkness to Light

Discovery Channel's "Lost Tomb of Jesus" Movie. Copyright 2007 by Gary F. Zeolla.

The above article was published in Darkness to Light newsletter
and posted on this Web site April 24, 2007.

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