3242561I had my first crisis of faith in my final year of dental school. The crisis arose because I believed God was calling me to leave dentistry and enter the pastorate. For the only son of a Chinese diaspora family, this was madness. And suddenly following Christ was going to cost me. 

I came from a Christian family and the decision to follow Christ was expected and came with little cost. Now, I confronted a choice that meant leaving behind a comfortable upper middle class Chinese diaspora dream to serve God as a pastor, a vocation that carried no prestige and promised little financial security in Malaysian society. It became very important to know for sure whether this Christianity thing was really true.

I took a fresh look at the evidence for Christianity. In the scary months that followed I relooked at the reasons for my faith. Like many before me I found the resurrection of Jesus Christ integral to the claims of Jesus Christ. And after a reexamination of the evidence for the resurrection I came to the conclusion, again, that Jesus did rise from the dead, a unique sign that backed up his unique claim to be God come to us.

I resonated with Paul’s sentiments in his first letter to the Corinthians:

“But if it is preached that Christ has been raised from the dead, how can some of you say that there is no resurrection of the dead? If there is no resurrection of the dead, then not even Christ has been raised. 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.

But he did not raise him if in fact the dead are not raised. For if the dead are not raised, then Christ has not been raised either. And if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile; you are still in your sins. Then those also who have fallen asleep in Christ are lost. If only for this life we have hope in Christ, we are to be pitied more than all others. But Christ has indeed been raised from the dead, the first fruits of those who have fallen asleep.” (1 Corinthians 15:12-20 TNIV)

I live in a context where I am confronted by Muslims and adherents of the major world religions on one side, and materialist atheists on the other. As I dialogue with my neighbours I am acutely aware that the resurrection of Jesus Christ is foundational for my own faith and in the presentation of my faith to others.

Therefore it is hard not to get a bit disturbed when someone claims to have found the tomb of Jesus. This is precisely what is claimed in a forthcoming programme on Discovery Channel.

“This week the Discovery Channel, together with HarperSanFrancisco, announces the release of ‘The Jesus Family Tomb,’ a television documentary and a book that aim to show that (a) tomb — located in a nondescript suburb called East Talpiot, is, well, the family plot of Jesus Christ. Spearheaded by a well-known TV director named Simcha Jacobovici, and produced by ‘Titanic’ director James Cameron, ‘The Jesus Family Tomb’ is-both in book and movie form-a slick and suspenseful narrative about the 1980 discovery of a first-century Jewish burial cave and the 10 bone boxes, or ossuaries, found therein.” (Miller and Chen, Newsweek, March 5, 2007 issue.)

If Jacobovici and Cameron are right, and that Jesus did not rise from the dead, I would have to do a total relook at my faith and my life. The stakes are high indeed. And I don’t buy into the “Jesus was spiritually resurrected but his body remained in the tomb” theory. That wouldn’t cut it for me for someone who makes absolute claims on my life.

Yet I choose not to get emotional about reports like ‘The Jesus Family Tomb.’ If Christianity is true it should be able to withstand the scrutiny of good unbiased research. I am confident enough in the veracity of the gospel and therefore open to check out the discussions and see if indeed ‘The Jesus Family Tomb’ is based on credible research.

The length of this column does not allow any in depth discussion of the issues but here are some common sense observations by Paul Maier:

1) Nothing is new here: scholars have known about the ossuaries ever since March of 1980. The general public learned when the BBC filmed a documentary on them in 1996. James Tabor’s book, The Jesus Dynasty, also made a big fuss over the Talpiot tombs more recently, and now James Cameron (The Titanic) and Simcha Jacobovici have climbed aboard the sensationalist bandwagon as well.

2) All the names – Yeshua, Joseph, Maria, Mariamene, Matia, Judah, and Jose — are extremely frequent Jewish names for that time and place, and thus most scholars consider this merely coincidental, as they did from the start. One-quarter of Jewish women at that time, for example, were named Maria.

3) There is no reason whatever to equate “Mary Magdalene” with “Mariamene,”
as Jacobovici claims.

4) What in the world is the “Jesus Family” doing, having a burial plot in Jerusalem, of all places, the very city that crucified Jesus? Galilee was their home. In Galilee they could have had such a family plot, not Judea. Besides all of which, church tradition – and Eusebius – are unanimous in reporting that Mary died in Ephesus, where the apostle John, faithful to his commission from Jesus on the cross, had accompanied Mary.

(Check out the full post at: https://theologica.blogspot.com/2007/02/skeleton-in-gods-closet-paul-maier.html)

Miller and Chen has this to say in their Newsweek article (and Newsweek is hardly a pro Christian publication):

“Good sense, and the Bible, still the best existing historical record of the life of Jesus of Nazareth, argue against Jacobovici’s claims. All four Gospels say that Jesus was crucified on the eve of the Sabbath; all four say that the tomb was empty when the disciples woke on Sunday morning. ‘The New Testament is very clear on this,’ says Alan Segal, religion professor at Barnard College. ‘Jesus was put in a tomb that didn’t belong to him and then he rose and there was nothing left.’

For Jacobovici’s scenario to work, someone would have had to whisk the body away, on the Sabbath, and secretly inter it in a brand-new, paid-for family tomb-all before dawn on Sunday. As Segal goes on to argue, ‘Why would Jesus’ family have a tomb outside of Jerusalem if they were from Nazareth? Why would they have a tomb if they were poor?'” (https://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/17328478/site/newsweek/?GT1=9033)

Indeed what we cannot avoid is the historical reality that all the earliest Christians were Jews. Why would a group of people from a faith as militantly monotheistic as modern day Muslims come to embrace as Messiah, a mere human being, a carpenter who died shamefully on the cross, as their Lord and God? And be martyred for doing so?
Here is mystery indeed.

The apostle Paul tells us why he chose to bow down and worship Jesus as Lord.

“Now, brothers and sisters, I want to remind you of the gospel I preached to you, which you received and on which you have taken your stand. By this gospel you are saved, if you hold firmly to the word I preached to you. Otherwise, you have believed in vain.

For what I received I passed on to you as of first importance: that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures, and that he appeared to Cephas, and then to the Twelve. After that, he appeared to more than five hundred of the brothers and sisters at the same time, most of whom are still living, though some have fallen asleep. Then he appeared to James, then to all the apostles, and last of all he appeared to me also, as to one abnormally born.” (1 Corinthians 15:1-8 TNIV)

Jesus rose again. Our faith is not in vain.
But people will believe what they want to believe.
And some will make a lot of money.

Your brother,
Soo-Inn Tan