Analysis: Christian heresy of the Talpiot tomb?

'The idea that they found his bones is untenable,' says church leader.

jp.services2 (photo credit: )
(photo credit: )
To say that the Holy Sepulchre is not holy and that East Talpiot, a mundane south Jerusalem neighborhood, was the final resting place of Jesus's remains is nothing short of blasphemy and a complete rejection of the foundations of Christian faith, according to church traditionalists. For the past 1,700 years it has been a centerpiece of Christian historicity that Jesus was buried in the Holy Sepulchre on the Via Dolorosa in Jerusalem's Christian quarter and was later resurrected. Throughout history all the major traditional Christian churches have vied for control over the site, one of the holiest, if not the holiest, to the Christian religion. Infighting and conflict led to an Ottoman decree in the mid-1800s. Thanks to an intricate framework of time-sharing, space division and mutual recognition of jurisdiction, six distinct Christian communities - Greek Orthodox, Armenian Orthodox, Roman Catholics, Syrian Orthodox, Coptic, and Ethiopians (who have minimal rights) - have shared the Holy Sepulchre with varying degrees of peace. Any change in the Holy Sepulchre edifice - from replacing broken toilets to creating emergency exits - is hotly disputed. Rights of possession, procession, cleaning and restoring are carefully guarded. The status quo is so fragile and the balancing of opposing interests is so complex that the sides refrain from adhering to daylight savings time so as not to upset the delicate equilibrium of prayer times. Centuries of infighting, power struggles and jockeying for positions emanate from the heart-felt belief that a tiny plot in Jerusalem's Christian quarter is the site of Jesus's resurrection. Now the producers of the Discovery TV documentary film The Lost Tomb of Jesus claim that all these churches are way off target. They are all wasting their time bickering over a site that is not even Jesus's place of burial. The real holy place is five kilometers to the south in East Talpiot. Athanasius, a member of the Franciscan Order's Custody of the Holy Land which represents the rights of the Roman Catholic Church in the Holy Sepulchre, said that the documentary raises serious questions. "We take the Holy Sepulchre seriously because we think it happened there," said Athanasius. "If we thought it wasn't there we would have to adjust our attitudes. Catholics try not to mislead their pilgrims." Nevertheless, Athanasius stressed that the documentary film's findings were contradictory to Christian oral tradition. "People have not even taken it seriously. Still, we have to wait until all the evidence is in," he said. But the truly earth-shattering claim made by the Israeli-born filmmaker Simcha Jacobovici and his colleagues, which they say is based on scientific evidence and expert scholarship, is that Jesus's remains were contained in one of 10 ossuaries found in the Talpiot cave in 1980, subsequently being sent for Jewish burial. At their New York press conference on Monday night, Jacobovici and his colleagues insisted that their assertions did not necessarily shatter Christian thinking. "Good history is never the enemy of good theology," said Dr. James Tabor, chairman of religious studies at the University of North Carolina at Charlotte. He acknowledged that the theologions would "have to sort this out," but also cited traditions asserting that Jesus's resurrection was "spiritual." But back in Jerusalem, Archbishop Aris Shirvanian said: "If they [the filmmakers] were right it would be a complete rejection of a central tenet of Christian faith." Athanasius pointed out that the empty tomb at the Holy Sepulchre was "a witness to the resurrection of Christ." He added: "The belief that Jesus Christ our Savior was resurrected and ascended to heaven is the foundation of our faith. If Jesus was buried in Talpiot we can deal with that from a theological point of view. But the idea that they found his bones is untenable."