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The Magazine of The Evangelical Lutheran Church in America

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Jesus' tomb?

Just weeks ago your pastor proclaimed Jesus’ tomb empty. But some archaeologists have proclaimed they’ve found this tomb.

On March 4 the Discovery Channel tapped into the recent fascination surrounding Jesus’ life: namely, that a crypt discovered in 1980 contained the remains of Jesus and Mary Magdalene.

“The case for it being the tomb of Jesus is weak, at best, both in terms of the archaeological evidence and what is known of the history of the early church,” said James Hanson, associate professor of religion at St. Olaf College, Northfield, Minn. “Each step in the case requires a particular and often strained interpretation of the data. In the end it seems easier to believe in the resurrection than in the highly speculative reconstruction of what might have happened.”

Hanson’s second concern goes to the core of the Christian faith: “That Jesus of Nazareth triumphed over death. ... Even if the tomb were found, it’s important to remember that while the New Testament is unequivocal about the resurrection, it’s not univocal about what exactly happened—[Martin] Luther himself famously gave up on trying to harmonize the four divergent Gospel accounts of the first Easter, and Paul’s visionary experience is different yet.

“What’s more, scholars are constantly making new discoveries, and revising past ones—that’s the nature of historical inquiry.

“So it would be foolish to let one’s faith rise and fall with the vicissitudes of historical scholarship, especially if preoccupation with what exactly happened in Jesus’ tomb obscures the importance of his life—his call to love God and neighbor, to do the will of God.”


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