National Geographic again osculates Christianity: touts possible discovery of Jesus’s tomb

November 28, 2017 • 10:30 am

For several years I’ve been pointing out National Geographic’s increasing descent into religious osculation, its lips placed firmly at the level of the Christian tuchas.  They love, for instance, to write articles about connecting Mary and Jesus to archaeology, which, though hardly conclusive, act as confirmation bias for Christians who aren’t comfortable accepting the Gospels based on faith alone. Those people need evidence and National Geographic gives it to them. If Christians didn’t want real empirical evidence, articles like this one wouldn’t be published.

Here, for instance, is one of those articles that gives succor to Christians who are encouraged to think that Jesus’s tomb has been located. Despite the site’s disclaimers (“purported tomb”), everything in the piece, including a video featuring an enthusiastic pro-Jesus professor, points toward the conclusion that yes, Jesus’s tomb has been found (sans bones, of course).

What, exactly was found? Well, a limestone tomb beneath Jerusalem’s Church of the Holy Sepulchre that was apparently discovered by the Romans and supposedly turned into a shrine around AD 326. The evidence for its site as Jesus’s burial place?? A marble slab (engraved with a cross) over the cave, which is taken for evidence of a shrine (e.g., Jesus), and the dating of the mortar affixing the slab to the limestone to about 345 AD.  That’s about it. Since this was either during Constantine’s reign (the Roman emperor who became a Christian) or shortly after he died, one can confect a story that Christian Romans were making memorial of Jesus’s tomb.

Against this conclusion are the facts that the “tomb” contained several niches for different bodies (this is a bit unclear), that there is no dating that it existed around 33 AD (when Jesus was supposedly crucified), the absence of any writing on the slab to indicate that Jesus was buried within, any evidence of the bones (and of course there wouldn’t be any since he was bodily resurrected), and the nonexistence of extra-Biblical evidence for Jesus’s existence as a person.  Christians would argue, of course, that Jesus wouldn’t get a new tomb, but his body simply dumped with others, and of course would scoff at the paucity of evidence for a real-life Jesus.

Regardless, what’s clear here is that National Geographic has abandoned any journalistic objectivity or skepticism, assuming that Jesus really existed and was crucified, and and has failed to point out the weaknesses of its case. I wonder why any atheist or science-minded person would even subscribe to this rag any more.

Here’s the memorial over “Jesus’s tomb”; the article doesn’t show the “tomb” itself.


h/t: Graham

40 thoughts on “National Geographic again osculates Christianity: touts possible discovery of Jesus’s tomb

  1. It’s well known that Helena, mother of Emperor Constantine, toured Palestine in CE 326 to 328 and more or less “invented” most of the Christian “sites” in order to make them destinations for pilgrimage.

    It’s rather a pity that dating back to Helena is about 300 years too late to be about actual Christian origins.

    1. Indeed. This is almost as bad as the Social Justice Warrior issue on gender from earlier this year that completely ignored nature.

  2. Christians regularly dismiss evidence that disproves their dogmata, saying that science should not and can not weigh in on religious claims. But they then celebrate any science that seems to support these same claims, saying it lends further credence to their beliefs.

    1. Yup, this is the point. They want to have it every which way, and are completely unscrupulous about what they choose to proclaim, and what they choose to suppress.

      BTW, I seem to keep reading the name they give to the shrine, “Edicule”, as “Ridicule”. I wonder why that might be.

  3. I’d like to see a new documentary series starring someone like Hector Avalos about how Biblical Scholarship has nearly disappeared because, among other things, every time it has come up against empirical evidence, particularly archaeological evidence, the evidence did not support the Bible.

  4. I’m tempted to take out a subscription, just so I can turn around and write ’em a letter telling ’em to cancel the damn thing!

    1. I cancelled my 5+ years subscription promptly after hearing Murdoch purchased the mag. I wrote a letter excoriating Murdoch and insisted he would seep his right-wing ideology into their publication.

      They wrote back (I think it was an automated response) that Murdoch’s purchase would have no influence on the magazine’s charter, blah, blah, blah. (Because everyone knows Murdoch has never changed the direction of an established media organization once it was his.) And I received this piece of shit email a couple days before a huge swath of senior staffers were fired.

      WEIT is better than Nat. Geo. even before the Murdoch takeover, but it is still sad to see an institution founded on reason to become a faith osculator. I’d like to know how many climate change articles it’s published since the takeover.

  5. There is something deeply….wrong about this paragraph. I don’t mean the fact that it undermines the entire point of the article, I mean the way it is written;

    “While it is archaeologically impossible to say that the tomb is the burial site of an individual Jew known as Jesus of Nazareth, who according to New Testament accounts was crucified in Jerusalem in 30 or 33, new dating results put the original construction of today’s tomb complex securely in the time of Constantine, Rome’s first Christian emperor.”

    Why the weird phrasing about Jesus?

    1. What else could NatGeo have called him? Using Jesus Christ or The Messiah would have blown NatGeo’s gaff.

      “Jesus” [not said or spelled that way of course] was as common in Galilee as “Dai” [Dafydd or David] is in Wales & I suppose that’s how we get Dai he Bread, Dai the Post, Dai the sheep ****er & so on… 🙂
      [just having fun]

    2. NatGeo could not have called him the “Nazoraean”, probably what he was called in his own time, in reference to a fundamentalist Jewish sect, the Zealots. (Robert Eisenman, James the Brother of Jesus)

  6. If Jesus existed (I am in the “yeah, hr probably did, but the miracles are all bollocks” camp), as a convicted criminal, he would have been buried in an unmarked – possibly mass – grave.

    1. Presuming Jesus existed, for his tomb to exist, the story of Joseph of Arimathea successfully begging from Pilate the body of an executed seditionist, thus negating the deterrence value of crucifying rebels and letting them die slowly then rot for days in front of the populace’s eyes before being dumped in a ditch, must be true.

      1. Well apparently, the Jews sometimes did get dispensation to remove their dead from the crosses so as to avoid the body being out overnight or on the Sabbath. I can build a semi plausible alternate interpretation of the gospel story that fits this.

        Namely, Joseph of Arimathea, a member of the Sanhedrin gets dispensation to remove Jesus from the cross for religious reasons (not because he was a follower). However, he is short of time before the Sabbath starts, so he stashes Jesus’ body in his own tomb for a bit. Then as soon as the Sabbath is over, which is the evening on Saturday, he moves the body to the unmarked grave where he always intended to put it. Jesus’ followers come to prepare the body on Sunday morning, not knowing J of A has moved it. Then cognitive dissonance kicks in and instead of accepting Jesus is dead, they create the myths around him.

        There’s no evidence for any of that, but it fits the narrative of Mark’s crucifixion account just as well as the official story. Note that Mark’s gospel ends before the resurrected Jesus puts in any appearances.

        1. In Josephus’ War, he contrasts the Idumeaens who “cast away their dead bodies without burial” with the Jews who “take so much care of the burial of men, that they took down those that were condemned and crucified, and buried them before the going down of the sun.” But this refers to crucifixions done by Jews, not by Romans.

          In Josephus’ dozen or so descriptions of Roman crucifixions, the victims are invariably left on the crosses as inducement for the rebels to surrender, or as warning.

          We do find this curious passage in Josephus’ War:

          And when I was sent by Titus Caesar … to a certain village called Thecoa … as I came back, I saw many captives crucified, and remembered three of them as my former acquaintance. I was very sorry at this in my mind, and went with tears in my eyes to Titus, and told him of them; so he immediately commanded them to be taken down, and to have the greatest care taken of them, in order to their recovery; yet two of them died under the physician’s hands, while the third recovered.

          It bears an uncanny resemblance to the gospel account of Jesus crucified with two others, then only he coming out alive. In both accounts, it is a Joseph — the one known alternately as ‘ben Mattathias’ or ‘bar Mattatyahu’, the other ‘Harimathaia’ — making the request.

          Whereas the works of Josephus are commonly taken as corroboration of the historical elements of the gospels, they should rather be seen as the source of the pseudo-historical elements.

  7. One of my favorite religion jokes:

    “In tonight’s news, Pope Francis* announced from the Vatican that next year’s Easter celebration has been cancelled. They found the body.”

    *It keeps getting updated as popes come and go.

  8. Well, as I posted last week, archaeology conclusively established that the author of the Gospel of Mark was very very confused about Palestinian geography, and likely had no familiarity with the region.

  9. While it is archaeologically impossible to say that the tomb is the burial site of an individual Jew known as Jesus of Nazareth, who according to New Testament accounts was crucified in Jerusalem in 30 or 33….

    It’s not actually possible to derive either date from the NT. Not surprising, as the gospels refer to events that took place in the 40s AD, while Pilate’s term of office spanned mid-20s to mid-30s.

  10. I wonder what the details are of Constantine and his connection to this tomb. Did he write anything about it? I’ve been meaning to read these National Geographic articles. I am an atheist but am interested in the history. I wasn’t aware they were skewed.

      1. I wasn’t. I just read “Is This the Face of Mary Magdalene?” Throughout the article, it is repeated that they have no way of knowing. “…whether it belonged to the Biblical figure remains a mystery.” “…a skull and bones rumored to belong to Jesus’ companion Mary Magdalene.” “’We are absolutely not sure that this is the true skull of Mary Magdalene,’ says Philippe Charlier, a biological anthropologist from the University of Versailles.” “Since then, McCarthy wrote, her remains have been ‘found’ in at least five other regions.”

        It’s really the whole article. I don’t know why anyone would even mention Mary Magdalene as a “maybe” just because. “Despite inconclusive evidence about what became of Mary Magdalene, Froesch and Charlier wanted to put a face behind the famed Saint Maximin skull.” How many times is “rumored” used? National Genofactsic.

  11. It is not only National Geo that has gone down the tubes. This morning, at the doctor’s office, I picked up a Time magazine from May 2017. About 3 pages in, there was a full page ad for “The Great Courses”. The specific course that was being touted was called “The Apocryphal Jesus: What Does the New Testament Leave Out?” The course is on CD or DVD, and is taught by “Professor David Brakke” of “The Ohio State University”. Some of the lecture titles were: “Jesus and Mary in the Proto-Gospel of James” and “Dialogues with the Risen Jesus”.

    A FULL PAGE ad! In Time magazine! Maybe I haven’t been paying attention, but when did Time cross over into fantasy?

    1. Academic historians of Christianity have been demonstrating for over a century that the New Testament is mostly fantasy.

      I am not certain, but I suspect you may be misjudging this professor and this course.

    2. The apocryphal gospels, which were suppressed, destroyed, or lost for many centuries, offer valuable insight to the complex development of Christian faith, and seriously undermine both the orthodox timeline of the church, and the historicity of the canonical gospels.

  12. I don’t see how you can complain that Christianity makes claims about the real world without any empirical evidence and at the same time fault people who look for empirical evidence. If the science is sloppy, that’s another thing, but this doesn’t seem to be the complaint.

    After all, it’s not as though the proposition that Jesus of Nazareth may have existed is on a par with asserting that he rose from the dead—i.e., it doesn’t violate any laws of physics that I’m aware of. Nor do I see—at least not from this article—that National Geographic has abandoned journalistic skepticism. Seems to me that they’re not “assuming that Jesus really existed” so much as you’re assuming that he didn’t.

    I may be missing something (I didn’t watch the video) but I can’t see anything objectionable or biased about the article.

  13. The seventh picture down in this Daily Mirror article shows the cross carved in stone. Not convincing – why stylise the cross to four equal length arms [the Greek cross] as opposed to the Latin cross? Why so small for such an important personage as JC?

    I assume the iconography & all the other ‘evidence’ dates from the 4th C & Constantine’s interfering mum [as per Coel’s comment at #1 above].

      1. Well spotted! Which is strange – this type of cross dates much later than the Sepulchre as far as I can tell from the web, approx 9thC onwards

    1. “…why stylise the cross to four equal length arms [the Greek cross] as opposed to the Latin cross?”

      Because the Christianity that has survived, Pauline Christianity, is actually a Greek “mystery religion”. Not much of the Jewish foundation of Christianity survived the Roman invasion of AD 70.

  14. I wrote a very pointed letter to the editor about this. I reminded her that these magazines often end up in school libraries and that Nat’l Geo’s attempt to ”prove” the legitimacy of a supernatural figure was a sad thing to teach children.

    ‘Spose I’ll receive a response? By the way…it’s NOT EASY to find an address for comments. Wonder why?

  15. I guess we are supposed to be convinced because no Jesus bones were found there?

    There are also no Jesus bones in my basement. Can I turn that into a probable tomb and tourist trap?

  16. Wouldn’t it be lovely if there were bones … dating to the early first century! (There is a novel currently offered on with that exact plot and murder is in the offing.)

    This is the worst kind of pandering. Jesus was/is a fictional construct. There is no tomb, except for the ones created to make money therefrom. If all of the existing shards of the One True Cross were brought together, there would be enough timber to make a dozen crosses. The venality of the “relics” business is well known and knows no bounds. The key point to Christian and Jesus archeology is that the actual number of finds that correlate to biblical events is so small that the academic disciplines have been recommended for dismantling.

    Back in the late 19th century, a horde of archaeologists descended on the “holy land” to confirm the events of the Bible. They got great exercise jumping to conclusions, but no significant finds. No reputable Jewish scholar now maintains that the events of the Jewish exile in Egypt actually happened; instead they claim that it is fictional wisdom literature. Yet American Christians know nothing of this and still often insist on “it is all real” as a conclusion.


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