National Geographic touts a 3-D film on the “tomb of Christ” (now with bonus comment by Alvin Plantinga)

April 25, 2018 • 12:30 pm

UPDATE: Note that an “Alvin Plantinga” has commented favorably on the National Geographic fiction (comment #14 below). I can’t be sure that it’s the Alvin Plantinga, known for convoluted Sophisticated Theology™, but I’m guessing it is. If you respond to him, be polite!


What the bloody hell is happening with National Geographic? Article after article is about religion—often Christianity—and all of these latter assume that Jesus was a real person (the implication is a divine person). Is this the way the Murdochs, who now have a controlling stake in the magazine, expect to turn a profit?

Reader Scott called my attention to a new exhibition at the National Geographic Museum in Washington, D.C. Here, Ceiling Cat help me, is the announcement (click on screenshot to go to page):

At the bottom of the photo you can read this: “PLAN YOUR VISIT: Exhibition features a short 3-D film with active 3-D glasses. Exhibition not recommended for guests susceptible to motion sickness or dizziness.”

Not recommended for those susceptible to fairy tales, either!

The whole page and its accompanying pdf pamphlet cast no doubt on the claim that this is indeed the tomb of Christ, nor, indeed, on the existence of Christ himself. The only nod to skepticism is this brief statement in the pdf file:

EVERYONE, WHETHER DEVOUT OR NOT, can feel a spiritual power when visiting holy sites such as the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem, home to what many Christians believe is the site of Jesus’ burial and resurrection.

Can feel”? Or “will  feel”? (There’s a difference.) At any rate, the whole allure of this exhibit is the claim that it really is Jesus’s burial spot, something that couldn’t be verified unless there were some contemporary information inside the tomb.

But as we all know, and which Biblical scholars are loath to admit, there is no evidence for the existence of a Jesus person outside of Scripture—and if he existed, there should be. I’d love for National Geographic to publish a scrupulously honest article: “Jesus: Did he really exist?” Imagine how subscriptions would drop!

For example, in the first video below, produced by the magazine, it exhorts you at 40 seconds in to “Team up with conservation experts and historians as they race to restore the tomb of Christ.” Really? Is there no doubt about this? And get a load of the “science and faith” bit at the end, as if they are complementary ways to establish the provenance of this tomb.

In the second video, also by National Geographic, they open the sealed tomb! At 1:34, the caption appears: “This is the first time that anyone alive today has seen the holy bed.” That, of course, presumes it’s the holy bed. Do they expect to find an engraving that says “Jesus slept here”?

Of course there are no remains or other indications of what was in this spot, but that of course is just what the Bible predicts! In this case, the absence of evidence IS evidence.

At best the archaeologists might be able to date the cavity to around the time Jesus is supposed to have lived, but that will convince only the credulous. There’s a reason they’re called “sheep.”

When did National Geographic completely abandon its scientific bent to pander to the faithful? If you still subscribe, why?

112 thoughts on “National Geographic touts a 3-D film on the “tomb of Christ” (now with bonus comment by Alvin Plantinga)

  1. Ng lasted years longer than the History Channel and such. I expect they’ll start running ads for guns soon.

  2. National Geographic is more interested in entertainment than education ever since they came under the control of Fox.

    1. They’re in it to make money, and this is the way to attract subscribers.

      When I used to subscribe, there was always one major historical or similar (archaeology, anthropology etc.) article a month. It appears those articles are being poisoned by religion.

  3. My Mom buys NG for us. I stopped reading it shortly after the Borg took it over.

    First centerfold article on (I forget what exactly) religion I punted on it.

    The thing drips with religion these days.

    It’s Murdochified. R.I.P.

  4. I think it is almost as great as the Geraldo Rivera / Al capone hidden treasure there in Chicago. Another highly religious experience and television flop.

    1. I saw Geraldo on Fox News 2-3 weeks ago lamenting his failure to stick by the Palestinians. He appears to have contracted SJW disease. Apparently everything the Palestinians do is okay because they’re an occupied people.

      1. I think he became a Fox loony as well. Just a great example of someone to stay far away from if possible.

  5. As of 2015, the circulation was 6.5 million down from about 12 in the mid-1980s. So I guess people are voting with their pocketbooks. We dropped our subscription some years ago, the quality was well and truly gone and the last few years the subscription was more of a habit than anything else. Sad, it used to be a good magazine.

    1. I would expect that their decline in subscribers has more to do with the general malaise afflicting all magazines. Their Murdochian venture is more an effort to stem the bleeding.
      Poor blighters.

  6. My mother has given me a subscription as a Christmas gift for thirty years. It is for her a family tradition. I don’t have the heart to tell my 97 year old mom thar NG has become something I can not stomach and please stop sending to me. Every month I take it from the mailbox and deposit it directly in the trash.

    1. Indeed. And he only died just the once for us. He could have died more often if he really wanted us to stop sinning.

      1. Not to mention it didn’t even work. Still the majority of humans are being tossed into the pit. Nice try Jesus I guess.

  7. Team up with the Murdochs and their marketing department as they race the clock to stir up excitement where there wasn’t any in the first place.

  8. “. . .there is no evidence for the existence of a Jesus person outside of Scripture. . . .”

    This isn’t entirely accurate. Perhaps the strongest evidence that Christ existed comes from the writings of early non-Christian historians, including Tacitus and others, who report the existence of Jesus, along with his crucifixion under Pontius Pilate, as factual. (Tacitus passage here:

    But that says nothing, of course, about the veracity of the tomb claims.

    1. There are also other writings from the period that are not “scripture”, such as the Gospel of Judas or the Gospel of Thomas.

      There is a stronger bit of evidence. There were no Jesus cults before AD 30 and there were Jesus cults by AD 50. The simplest explanation is that there was a cult leader.

    2. Tacitus is far from reliable–even as far as (or particularly) Nero is concerned. He was writing for successor emperors who hated Nero.

      In any case, his paragraph is perfectly compatible with the version of history where an enthusiastic but untrustworthy writer, Saul, publicizes the myth of a Jewish prophet. (Not saying that this is the case, just pointing out that repeating an opinion held by some in AD 110 or so is not a strong
      evidence for what happened a century ago. )

    3. The Tacitus passage, if not an interpolation, would have been written around 115CE, so it’s not contemporary evidence. It also fails to provide a source for the claims regarding “Christus” (not Jesus), so at best it’s simply a regurgitation, not a confirmation, of Christian beliefs from that time.

      1. That may be true. It may not since, as you say we do not know Tacitus’s sources.
        Is a mention in Tacitus better than nothing? I think it is; we accept lots of things on single notices in later texts. So the no evidence claim is false.
        Is it proof positive? Of course not. But even if it’s a regurgitation it’s proof that the Jesus cult existed by then. Small Jewish cults were common. We have single (uncontroversial too) notices of them, and their leaders. Why is it implausible that a cult which emerged at that place and time should have a cult leader?

        1. You presuppose that the cult leader was the one that the Gospels “point at”, which is not necessarily the case.

          In fact, it seems very likely to me there were “Christians” of various sorts throughout at least the first century. Paul’s letters give all sorts of tantalizing hints. For example, “We preach Christ crucified.” Why say *that*? Were there other Christians who preached that Christ was (say) stoned, because this was a *Jewish* mystery religion?

    4. The Tacitus passage, if not an interpolation, would have been written around 115CE, so it’s not contemporary evidence. It also fails to provide a source for the claims regarding “Christus” (not Jesus), so at best it’s simply a regurgitation, not a confirmation, of Christian beliefs from that time.

      1. The Romans were pretty good with their record keeping. More likely to me he had this from Roman sources. He certainly had good access to Roman sources and did use them.

        But that is neither here nor there. What I wonder is why the historicity of Jesus is an interesting question – I know of no examples of religions which were not founded by single charismatic individuals. Are there any? If not, then why think otherwise (I assume that this is the point of questioning historicity)? His/her actual name does not seem important.

        1. This would have been written after the First Jewish–Roman War, about a purported execution that occurred decades before it, that would have been far less significant at the time (before the growth of Christianity), so would unlikely to have been reported back to Rome contemporaneously.

          Given that this war led to Judea first falling to Jewish zealots, then to the Romans (who put Jerusalem to the torch), it is entirely possible that many Roman records held in Judea were destroyed.

          1. That may be.

            But still … why is this an interesting question from an atheism point of view? If not one person then another (or others).

            1. 1) It’s probably more interesting as more atheists are exposed to Christian apologetics attempting to shore up the historicity of Christ than for the historicity of the other purported founders.

              2) Christianity looks very different from hindsight if it was founded by Paul of Tarsus than if it was founded by Jesus Christ (I remember being confused about Paul’s central, but disconnected-from-Jesus, position within Christianity, when I was being brought up a Christian). It turns it on its head and makes his Epistles the central teaching of Christianity, rather than the Gospels. Sometimes who the charismatic founder was matters.

              3) Most polytheistic religions (including Hinduism) lack a single charismatic founder.

        2. “religions which were not founded by single charismatic individuals”

          [to our knowledge]

          The John Frum Cargo Cult
          Mayan/Aztec/other Mesoamerican religions.
          The Incan religion
          All forms of traditional animism

    5. The issue of evidence for a historical Christ, even as a fully mortal human who got kilt for creating trouble, has been dealt with here several times before. The upshot of all those postings is that the best and most scholarly records are very very likely baloney. None of them are convincing evidence that this person even existed.

    6. Tacitus merely confirms the existence of Christians in the 60’s i.e. about 30 years after the death of Jesus and he himself was writing even later than that.

      There are no known contemporary sources for the life of Jesus except Paul, who never actually met him. E even his information is somewhat sketchy (and second hand).

      1. And Hebrews, also in the canon, but from perhaps about the same time, which says explicitly what Paul says somewhat sketchily – Jesus was never on earth. (Chapter 8.)

  9. This is concerning. Someone should really do something on whether or not Jesus really existed, but now I don’t think they would be the right ones to do it. With this exhibit, it seems like they are assuming that this was the actual tomb of Christ and that he did exist.

    I have a documentary by National Geographic from 2004, I believe, that I have had for a while. I only watched the first 12 minutes or so recently. It seems like there are skeptical historians commenting so it should be interesting. It’s called In Search of Easter.
    Early on, I realized that it would be impossible for Jesus to rise from the dead, be born of a virgin mother, or be the son of god. My guess is that he was a real person who became something of a legend. It was so long ago but I read The Mythmaker: Paul and the Invention of Christianity by Hyam Maccoby. That might be why I thought he was still real.

    I just found this article which is interesting. It looks like it was written by a professor at the University of Cambridge. What is the historical evidence that Jesus Christ lived and died? It’s by Simon Gathercole. I’d love to see what other historians have said about the following:
    “What did non-Christian authors say about Jesus?
    As far as we know, the first author outside the church to mention Jesus is the Jewish historian Flavius Josephus, who wrote a history of Judaism around AD93. He has two references to Jesus. One of these is controversial because it is thought to be corrupted by Christian scribes (probably turning Josephus’s negative account into a more positive one), but the other is not suspicious – a reference to James, the brother of ‘Jesus, the so-called Christ’.
    About 20 years after Josephus we have the Roman politicians Pliny and Tacitus, who held some of the highest offices of state at the beginning of the second century AD. From Tacitus we learn that Jesus was executed while Pontius Pilate was the Roman prefect in charge of Judaea (AD26-36) and Tiberius was emperor (AD14-37) – reports that fit with the timeframe of the gospels. Pliny contributes the information that, where he was governor in northern Turkey, Christians worshipped Christ as a god. Neither of them liked Christians – Pliny writes of their ‘pig-headed obstinacy’ and Tacitus calls their religion a destructive superstition.”

    There was a different documentary that wasn’t by National Geographic on the “real Jesus” and it mentioned something about the Gnostic gospels. It would be wonderful if National Geographic stopped doing anything related to this.

    1. “It would be wonderful if National Geographic stopped doing anything related to this.”

      The National Geographic “About” page, states: “At National Geographic, we believe in the power of science, exploration and storytelling to change the world.” This topic apparently qualifies under “storytelling.”

      1. I am all for storytelling, until it gets sold as science or exploration. When I hear talk about the “Tomb of Jesus”, I get it as a metaphor, like the “Mask of Agamemnon”. But now people seriously present it as the tomb of Jesus. Next, the sledge of Santa?

    2. Ben Goren, who used to post here frequently, once contributed a guest-essay called ‘On the Historicity of Jesus.’ It is a pretty near-definitive case for the ‘myth’ side of the question: no historical Jesus. Perhaps his post is still available to readers of WEIT.

      1. Thank you. I found it and read it. I don’t really know enough about it to respond properly to that. A couple of weeks ago I found a History Channel Magazine at the grocery store called Jesus – His Life and Story. I skimmed it last night and it seemed to have a skeptical, historical approach to it. On the second page or so, it started off with the four things on which scholars and historians agree. There were these four things and that was it. I believe it was something like he lived in Palestine, he was a Jewish teacher or something like a teacher (maybe preacher – I’d have to check), he was publicly killed (under Roman rule – I believe it said), and there was one more thing. It says on the front of the magazine to post until June of this year. Here is the only link I could find for it:

        At this point it would seem like it would be good to figure it out for the sake of getting it right and then educating people. Because it is so messed up, fabricated so much, and then used for power, control, and destruction, who even cares, though.

        It might be a good idea to teach the old and new testaments in a history class.

        I think that all of the made up things were possibly based on a real person, but if that much nonsense was made up at all, it’s not that difficult to convince me that all of it was made up. I don’t know.

        1. “It might be a good idea to teach the old and new testaments in a history class.”

          Why would you want to do that? Would you also teach the Koran and Bhagavad Gita there?

          Maybe a class in ancient literature would be appropriate.

          1. Right, right. I meant something like you suggested. It wouldn’t be to teach what the new testament says as historically accurate. It might be something more like a class showing what was written at that time and why it was made up.

          2. I apologize. I actually forgot I took a class similar in high school called Myth, Legend, Bible. It basically studied the similarities among the three. Here I was thinking of focusing specifically on the new testament, its fabrications, and motives of the writers in an accurately historical context.

            1. No apology necessary!

              In principle I personally like the idea of teaching about religion in schools. But in practice I’m opposed to it because the believers will always try to turn it into proselytizing. It would work only if you could mandate that teachers be indistinguishable from atheists.

  10. But as we all know, and which Biblical scholars are loath to admit, there is no evidence for the existence of a Jesus person outside of Scripture—and if he existed, there should be.

    Sure there is, the textus receptus of Josephus has him writing:

    Festus was now dead, and Albinus was but upon the road; so (the High Priest) assembled the sanhedrin of judges, and brought before them the brother of Jesus, who was called Messiah, whose name was James, and some others; and when he had formed an accusation against them as breakers of the law, he delivered them to be stoned.

    It doesn’t look like a Christian gloss, which would typically be over the top. But anyway, I’m not one to argue this issue much, and I’m definitely not saying it proves anything, you just can’t say that there’s no evidence for the existence of Jesus outside of Scripture. You can argue it, but it’s certainly there to be argued about.

    Perhaps what was meant was completely contemporary sources, as Josephus’s writing is somewhat after Jesus would have lived. True, but many historical figures are only known by somewhat later sources (Socrates, for instance), and Josephus was in the priestly Jewish milieu for some time prior to writing.

    Not that there’d have to be other sources, that I can see. But they do exist.

    Glen Davidson

    1. If I were you, I’d read Richard Carrier on Josephus before you state with such certainty that it constitutes “evidence”. It doesn’t.

      Here’s something on the web:

      An excerpt:

      The latest research collectively establishes that both references to Jesus were probably added to the manuscripts of Josephus at the Library of Caesarea after their first custodian, Origen—who had no knowledge of either passage—but by the time of their last custodian, Eusebius—who is the first to find them there. The long passage (the Testimonium Flavianum) was almost certainly added deliberately; the later passage about James probably had the phrase “the one called Christ” (just three words in Greek) added to it accidentally, and was not originally about the Christian James, but someone else. On why we should conclude thus I’ll explain shortly.

      Carrier and others suspect the Jesus references in Joesphus are later additions. If you care to refute what he says in that piece, be my guest.

      1. He didn’t do anything there but assert what he wants to be so. And you complain about me calling it evidence by appealing to Carrier, as if he were the final word (fallacy of argumentum ad verecundiam).

        Quod gratis asseritur, gratis negatur

        . I don’t have to refute a mere appeal to authority.

        Glen Davidson

        1. Carrier is not an appeal to authority, and you certainly didn’t have time to read it before you made your comment. In general, many scholars think the mentions of Jesus by Josephus are later additions, not just Carrier.

          About James, see here:

          It’s telling that you say you’re not the one to argue this issue, and yet you maintain that Josephus is “evidence” in seeming ignorance of the huge dispute about that, and the fact that scholars are coming to a consensus that it’s a later interpolation that proves nothing about the existence of a Jesus.

          Your comment is rude in response to one that is not. And your ignorance about Josephus is combined with that rudeness, which I don’t like on this site.

        2. Appeals to authority can be confidence raising sometimes. In this case, many of the criteria are met. (E.g, Carrier reads Greek, which I know enough to see that he’d be right to point out that text does not say “Messiah”, which is Hebrew.)

      2. As laid out be a fervent partisan, Lee Strobel, in his book, The Case for Christ, the Josephus writings come off as worthless: All the important passages (the ones pointed to by Xians as “evidence”) were later Xian additions.

        Even as handled by an fervent partisan, whose entire book is intended to evince the evidence for his god.

      3. Carrier is described on Wiki as an “atheist activist,” which in itself casts some doubt on his motives, if not his methods. Re the latter, a number of reviewers have challenged them (see quotes from Wiki below, bolding added). Not saying I believe them; I haven’t read Carrier and know little about Bayesian probabilities, so how would I know? But here they are:

        Carrier’s methodology in his work on the historicity of Christ was reviewed by Aviezer Tucker, a prior advocate of using Bayesian techniques in history. . . . He said that “Carrier is too dismissive of such methods because he is focused on hypotheses about the historical Jesus rather than on the best explanations of the evidence.”

        Reviewing On the Historicity of Jesus: Why We Might Have Reason for Doubt, Christina Petterson of the University of Newcastle, Australia, in the academic journal Relegere, says Carrier’s methodology is “tenuous,” that she was “shocked” by the way he uses mathematics, and that Carrier uses statistics in a way that seems designed “to intentionally confuse and obfuscate.”

        In the peer-reviewed scholarly Journal for the Study of the Historical Jesus, Daniel N. Gullotta, reviewing Carrier’s On the Historicity of Jesus: Why We Might Have Reason for Doubt, says he finds Carrier’s arguments “problematic and unpersuasive,” his use of Bayesian probabilities “unnecessarily complex” and criticizes Carrier’s “lack of evidence, strained readings and troublesome assumptions.”

        1. Your first sentence is a classic ad hominem. The real of your post is about his book of which I have read some and I would argue that those criticisms of the book are accurate from what I read and what I understood (which is a subset of what I read!).

          However, the article that PCC(E) linked is not the book, and so you should address your arguments to the article instead of quoting other people’s reviews of a different document if you want to refute it.

          FTR I believe, on balance, Jesus did exist although I’m not prepared to go much further than “he was the founder of Christianity and was probably executed”. This is my opinion and is based on nothing more than my own guesstimate of the balance of probabilities.

          1. I just don’t think that we have near the evidence that a Jesus-person existed that we do, say, for Napoleon, or Pericles. Yet people get so worked up about it that they’re willing to defend the Bible itself as “evidence,” or fraudulent “evidence” like Josephus. If it were someone other than Jesus, I don’t think people would be so willing to accept his existence (not necessarily the folks here, but Biblical scholars like Bart Ehrman who seem to me a bit credulous).

            For if we can’t even get convincing evidence that a Jesus person existed, then the entire basis of Christianity is out the window.

            I’m willing to accept, pending further evidence, that Jesus is based on a real person, but I don’t yet have that evidence. And, of course, as Hitchens said, “All your work is still before you”: you have to show that Jesus was divine and was the son of God/God, and worked miracles and was resurrected.

            1. I just don’t think that we have near the evidence that a Jesus-person existed that we do, say, for Napoleon, or Pericles.

              I completely agree with you on that point. Also, Christians love to mention Julius Caesar, erroneously claiming there is more evidence for Jesus than him.

              Where I would take issue is that the Bible is not one thing. It’s a collection of documents and should be treated as such. Even some of the documents in it have multiple sources, for example, I think it is fairly well established that the gospels of Matthew and Luke both have at least two sources (note: I do not wish to imply that either of these two sources can be traced back to the time of Jesus, both could be complete fabrications).

              The writings outside the Bible are not evidence of Jesus. If not Christian forgeries, the mentions of Jesus in Josephus, Tacitus and Suetonius et al only tell us that there were Christians in existence when they were writing. None of those listed authors made any attempt to link what they wrote to witnesses from the time of Jesus.

              On the other hand, people ignore the existence of Christianity itself. It seems to me that a religion very likely has a founder. Christianity probably had a founder. The question for me is whether the Jesus talked about in the gospels is a fictionalised version of the original founder of Christianity. I answer that question with “yes in my opinion”.

              For if we can’t even get convincing evidence that a Jesus person existed, then the entire basis of Christianity is out the window.

              I find this an odd statement because, for me, the entire basis of Christianity was out the window long before I heard that anybody was questioning the existence of historical Jesus. Some mythicists approach the subject with almost as intense a fervour as Christians trying to prove them wrong as though it mattered. I don’t think anybody questions the existence of Joseph Smith or L Ron Hubbard,and yet most of us dismiss their religions as nonsense.

              This is not a hill on which it is worth dying at least not for atheists.

              1. “Some mythicists approach the subject with almost as intense a fervour as Christians trying to prove them wrong as though it mattered.”

                Agreed. Also, I think that denying or questioning that Jesus existed undermines rather than bolsters the secularist position–especially because, as you say, it doesn’t matter and is totally unnecessary to debunking the Biblical claims about a virgin birth, miracles, the resurrection, etc. Given the mental contortions one has to go through to discredit the historical evidence, it seems like a perverse, even desperate, line of argument. Surely any atheist worth his salt could concede that Jesus of Nazareth was a real person without losing either ground or face in challenging the absurdities of Christian dogma. Let it go.

    2. But please look at the end of that paragraph you quoted –

      “Whereupon Albinus complied with what they said, and wrote in anger to Ananus, and threatened that he would bring him to punishment for what he had done; on which king Agrippa took the high priesthood from him, when he had ruled but three months, and made Jesus, the son of Damneus, high priest.”

      Clearly that Jesus was not the Christ if he was the son of Damneus, the high priest. A sloppy interpolation by an ancient Christian who didn’t read ahead far enough.

    3. I have difficulty imagining why anyone could conclude that the Testimonium Flavianum is anything but a Christian interpolation. Here is this Jewish historian writing a monumental history of the Jews during this period, and he inserts a short paragraph of 127 words affirming the most astounding of Christian claims and then leaves it at that. The guy sure didn’t recognize a big story when he saw it.

  11. Happy to see that National geographic is taking a serious and affirmative look at Christian history and tradition.


    Alvin Plantinga

    1. Hi Alvin

      What have you decided to do with the $1.4 million award from the Templeton Foundation that you won last year for “reshaping theism”?
      Do you think these Big Money prizes will improve philosophical & theological inquiry?

      I think it will encourage bogus scholarship in these cash strapped times


    2. Dr. Plantinga,

      I look forward to you encomia for the future NG articles:

      “[T]aking a serious and affirmative look at Hindu history and tradition”. And “evaluating” their claims with the same unquestioning language as the current article.

      “[T]aking a serious and affirmative look at Islamic history and tradition”. And “evaluating” their claims with the same unquestioning language as the current article.

      “[T]aking a serious and affirmative look at Buddhist history and tradition”. And “evaluating” their claims with the same unquestioning language as the current article.

      “[T]aking a serious and affirmative look at Norse pagan history and tradition”. And “evaluating” their claims with the same unquestioning language as the current article.

      “[T]aking a serious and affirmative look at Greek Olympian history and tradition”. And “evaluating” their claims with the same unquestioning language as the current article.


      1. Then there is the great John Frum of cargo cult claim. One of the most revealing examples of how an entire religion can be made.

    3. Will their look at Christian history and tradition include a big glossy piece on the Inquisition and the burning of Giordano Bruno for his cosmological theories, I wonder?

    4. Ever seen their hats? That is one crazy religion judging by some of their hats. Hard to take that seriously.

    5. I think the magazine can take a serious look at Christian history and tradition (objective, with the full range of legitimate scholarship and controversy represented) or it can take an affirmative look (partisan, biased, and proselytizing.) Even if all the Christian claims are true, a science-based magazine cannot and should not cross the line of reporting and endorse matters of faith.

      1. Even if it came to the mainstream scholarly consensus on some of these topics that would be far better than this stuff. I’m a mythicist but I am under no illusions that they would go that far. What they *could* do is go far as explain the “lacks” and not items like Paul’s holding that Jesus was “made” not born, Hebrews saying that he wasn’t on earth, etc. which are harder to deal with.

    6. Christianity certainly has a history, but its traditions are founded on superstition and fairy tales. Therefore NG shouldn’t highlight the tradition stuff like a Jesus tomb.

      I also hope you understand they are simply exploiting your religion, right?

      1. I didn’t think it was Alvin Plantinga as soon as I read it.

        Not that I know of him by anything but reputation (from this site), but surely a philosopher of any standing would have produced at least a paragraph rather than a borderline-trollish one-liner?


  12. “When did National Geographic completely abandon its scientific bent ..”

    It’s much worse, yes.

    But it has never been much good in the last 40 years, IMHO. Lots of very nice pictures. But I’d be interested to learn of any really important contributions to science–or even much that’s worthwhile in science popularization, over that period, given the quality of competitors such as Canadian Geographical. Perhaps USian teachers and parents were somewhat limited in their awareness.

    Sounds gruesome, and is not something I’d want, but if there were a devil and he or she forced me to choose, otherwise both go, I’d have him or her snuff out in 1980 Murdoch sooner than Drumpf. Non-existence ever of either and humans would very likely now be much better off, not just because of Nat. Geo. of course.

    1. Also I should have mentioned “Archaeology”, can be found at

      Get an initial deal on subscription.
      It’s US/UK mixed I think

  13. As an atheist, I find the video quite informative. It is an excellent illustration of how one goes about constructing the “The Greatest Show…” out of supposition, fabrication, and emotional appeal.

  14. They could at least mention that there are multiple candidates for the tomb of Jesus of Nazareth, and that the identification of this place with J’s tomb dates to the 4th century.

    As Wikipedia reports “According to Eusebius of Caesarea [writing in the 3rd and 4th century-JLH], the Roman emperor Hadrian in the 2nd century AD built a temple dedicated to the goddess Venus in order to bury the cave in which Jesus had been buried. The first Christian emperor, Constantine the Great, ordered in about 325/326 that the temple be replaced by a church”

    However, the “Garden Tomb” discovered in the 19th century, and the 1994 Talpiot tomb with the inscription “Yeshua bar Yehosef” have also been proposed.

    The NatGeo PDF is circumspect and deferring to doubt in a few places, while still maintaining there is a “spiritual power”. But it seems as if the videos are much more gung-ho on the faith aspect.

    However, I think there are several Bible scholars quite willing to admit there is only scanty and late-dated (non-contemporary) evidence for Jesus outside the Bible (plus a wee tad for his alleged brother James). Folks like Ehrman simply think the most straightforward reading of the existing albeit biased (some would say “contaminated”) evidence is an existing Jesus.
    (IMO, George Wells made a respectable but weak case for a non-existent Jesus, but Earl Doherty’s arguments are really crazy.)

    1. Of course there are those who claim the vortices near Sedona, Arizona, also give off “spiritual power” – maybe Jesus is buried in each of them.

  15. I quit the National Geographic magazine about two years ago after one too many religion articles masquerading as archeology. I wrote and told them that I was quitting after years of subscribing because I looked to them for articles about science and the natural world, not endless pages showing people doing pilgrimages on their knees carrying crosses. They didn’t answer.

  16. What’s happened to NG is so sad. Growing up in the 1970s, it opened up my mind to geography, history, astronomy and archaeology. Now it seems to have turned into a glossy tabloid.

  17. I cancelled my subscription to NG quite some time ago, being explicit about why. Every time I got a request to resubscribe, I sent it back with a message that I wouldn’t until they stopped the Christian articles. It’s been quite some time since I’ve heard from them.

    Of the many sources I’ve read about the historicity of Jesus, or Christ, I am unable to accept that Christ existed in any of the various forms in which he was presented in the New Testament and other Christian writings. With relatively little evidence from the New Testament, I can accept the possibility that Jesus, the Jew, might have lived. This is largely due to the New Testament (not Tacitus) references to James, the brother of Jesus, head of the followers of Jesus in Jerusalem, who lived Jewish lives and disagreed heartily with the belief systems about Jesus Paul was spreading in the gentile world. If Jesus lived, probably he was a Jewish Rabbi. That he was transmuted into Christus outside of Jerusalem, with many changing characteristics over the centuries, is attributable to gullibility and need.

    1. As I understand it (and I know very little), there were quite a lot of prophets around at that time. I’d find it quite odd if there wasn’t at least one called Jesus (which is just a variant of Joshua).

      Of course, any similarity to persons or events depicted in the Bible… yadda yadda


  18. What struck me when I visited this site was that the traditionally held site of the crucifixion of Jesus is *within the same bulding* – about 30 metres from the sepulchre. I find it hard to believe that a high-born Jew, Joseph of Arimathea (who according to the Bible donated his tomb to Jesus), would have located that tomb just s stone-throw from where the Romans were crucifying criminals.

    All these sites were established when Helena, mother of Constantine, made a pilgrimage there in the 320s. So even if Jesus existed, to think that the location of that tomb could be accurately surveyed 300 years after the event just beggars belief. And the NG should have said something to that effect.

    1. I’ve always imagined it playing out this way:

      Helena: I’m here to find the tomb of Jesus. Money is no object.

      Local: What a coincidence! It’s in my backyard. Stop by tomorrow and bring your money. Excuse me now, I’m off to buy a shovel.

  19. Interesting, my parents mentioned that they wanted to go see some kind of virtual NG church exhibit in DC… I kind of zoned out on the topic, but this has got to be what they meant.

    Well, I give them (NG) this – they know marketing, as I am always trying to get my mom to sight-see in the area with me and she’s not into it, but she’s going to make a special trip just for this. Given the way the magazine and print (and even online) news industry has such a hard time generating revenue, I guess it’s pretty obvious why they’re going this route. In the words of Wyclef, “Dolla dolla bills y’all”.

  20. Did the Romans not record virtually all aspects of their lives? Would a figure of the supposed stature of the biblical Jesus not figure somewhere in their writings? If half of what is told in the bible were true surely their would be many first hand contemporaneous accounts of His life and death, teachings and miracles. Instead the best we ever seem to get are dubious accounts written decades after the event. A bit sad really.

  21. If Jesus had been a living person who had done even a fraction of what Christians claimed, news of his existence would have traveled to the Emperor of Rome, the Warlords of Europe, the Kings in India and the Emperor of China at the speed a horse can gallop and the worlds attention would have been focused on that part of the world ever since.

    Just as with Sherlock Holmes’ dog that didn’t bark, the evidence that’s missing tells us more than the evidence we have.

    1. Yes, Rome had a perpetual problem with its grain supply. If Jesus had really done that loaves and fishes trick, Tiberius would have had him brought to Rome, as quick as boiled asparagus, and forced to perform it over and over.

    2. If he did a fraction of the miracles claimed, I’d agree. But if he merely did a fraction of the preaching and then subsequently getting executed – not so much.

  22. I’m adapting something I wrote elsewhere, but it fits this post.

    I think there is enough evidence to say that it’s more likely than not that a man named Jesus existed and was the inspiration for Christianity. Keep in mind, there’s a big difference between Jesus, miracle working son of God, and Jesus, peasant street preacher and minor cult leader. You’d expect a lot of evidence for the former, but not so much for the latter. Some of the best sources of this evidence include:

    -Josephus (Antiquities of the Jews)
    -Tacitus (Annals)
    -Paul’s Letters
    -The gospels themselves (canonical & non-canonical)
    -Early Christian apologetics (such as Justin Martyr, Origen and Minucius Felix)

    Granted, most of those sources were written a little after Jesus, but that’s true of many historical figures, especially from a couple millennia ago (e.g. Hannibal). And evidence is especially hard to come by for minor figures, which, if Jesus was merely a peasant street preacher, is all he would have been in his own time (how much attention did Marshall Applewhite receive in modern times before his cult’s mass suicide). And sure, the gospels are biased accounts, but even in them, the ‘difficult’ passages reveal attempts to reconcile the life of a real, historical person with the myth and legend that had grown up around him (e.g. Jesus’s baptism by John the Baptist – the very fact that the son of God had to be baptized, as well as how the story was altered from the earlier Gospels to the later ones).

    I’ve mentioned it on this site before, but this is one of the best explanations I’ve seen for why Jesus likely did exist:
    Do credible historians agree that the man named Jesus, who the Christian Bible speaks of, walked the earth and was put to death on a cross by Pilate, Roman governor of Judea?

    I also recently finished reading Bart Ehrmans’s How Jesus Became God, and it seemed like a pretty plausible scenario.

    FYI, the source I adapted:
    How can anybody be sure there was, in fact, a historical Jesus Christ?

    1. What you said. It reminds me of the saying, “when you hear hoofbeats, think horses, not zebras.” Some guy claiming to be God’s special baby? Horses all the way. Some guy inventing some *other* guy a generation or two back, this other guy being the son of God? Very zebra. Some partisans of various different “saviors” coming together to amalgamate their different teachers into one single figure? A zebra from Venus with pink and green striped tentacles.

  23. “EVERYONE, WHETHER DEVOUT OR NOT, can feel a spiritual power when visiting holy sites…” I lived in the West Bank (Beit Jala) for three years while assigned to the US Consulate General in Jerusalem. Saw MANY “holy sites” MANY times. The only “feeling” I had was of the history, not anything religious, when I’d visit. My favorite was the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem for its rafters, mosaic floors, 1000+ year-old graffiti carved into the exit of the grotto (i.e. the spot where Jesus was allegedly born,) and for the shouting matches the various sects of priests would get into over who got to clean what.

    1. “EVERYONE, WHETHER DEVOUT OR NOT, can feel a spiritual power when visiting holy sites…”

      Bit like the spiritual power the Taliban felt when visiting the buddhas of Bamiyan…?


  24. EVERYONE, WHETHER BUNIANIST OR NOT, can feel lumberjack power when visiting fabled sites such as the ten thousand lakes of Minnesota, home to what many Bunianists believe is the site of Paul’s stomping and chopping. Pilgrims visit thousands of stumps which they hold are evidence of Paul’s exploits…

  25. “Team up with conservation experts and historians as they race to restore the tomb of Christ.”

    Okay, so what’s the bloody hurry? Guy’s been dead for 2000 years. He’s not going to crumble any faster if they take a break on weekends…

    (Okay, this is more a generic snark at ‘reality TV’ where everything has to be urgent, everything has to be amazing (sorry, ‘awesome’), and everything has to be of earth-shaking importance…)


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