SENTINEL 3-22-2012
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Was Jesus Christ a Real Person?

Proof of Jesus Series: Article 1

The Firpo Files

(Sentinel, March 22-28, 2012)

Aside from claiming to be the Messiah, did Jesus of Nazareth really exist? Is there evidence outside the pages of the Bible, the most popular book in history, that a historical Jesus walked the earth two thousand years ago?

Scholars & Archaeologists: Starting in 1989 I had the privilege of working with Professor John C. Trever (1916-2006), a world-renown biblical scholar and archaeologist. Wikipedia states that "Trever received a degree (B.D.) from Yale Divinity School and a Ph.D. in Old Testament studies from Yale Graduate School."

It further states "He did post-doctoral studies in archaeology through the American School of Oriental Research [ASOR] in Jerusalem."

At my behest, Trever, director of the Dead Sea Scrolls Project, kindly appeared in Search for the Sacred Scrolls, a film documentary on manuscripts of the Bible I produced and directed some years ago.

After all, as Wikipedia states, "He became the first American scholar to see fragments of the Dead Sea Scrolls in the Spring of 1948." He intimated to me that he was also the first to excitedly announce their existence to the world.

While at ASOR in Jerusalem, Trever was filling in for director Millar Burrows (1899-1990) when the Dead Sea Scrolls were "discovered." The eminent Burrows was a Yale Divinity School Professor, director of ASOR Jerusalem (now the William F. Albright School of Archaeological Research), and later the president of all things ASOR. Here's what Burrows wrote about the Bible and archaeology:

"The Bible is supported by archaeological evidence again and again. On the whole, there can be no question that the results of excavation have increased the respect of scholars for the Bible as a collection of historical documents. The confirmation is both general and specific."

"Bone Boxes": In Jesus' day the bones of dead loved ones were gathered into a limestone box called an ossuary. In the book The Jesus Discovery (2012), the authors note: "Carved from soft limestone, these ‘bone boxes' became the repositories for the bones of loved ones.

"When a Jew died the corpse was washed and prepared for burial and then laid out in a niche or, in some tombs, on a shelf carved into the walls of the tomb, until the flesh decayed.

"These burial niches are call kokhim in Hebrew and they served for the initial placement of bodies as well as for the storage of ossuaries. The shelves within the niches are called arcosolia.

"This initial laying out of the body is referred to as a ‘primary burial' and was usually followed by a ‘secondary burial' a year or more later when the flesh had decayed and the bones of the deceased were gathered and placed in an ossuary."

Scholars believe the use of ossuaries and the practices surrounding these uses help explain the meaning of certain scriptures, thereby proving that what the Bible says is in complete harmony with what occurred in the time of Jesus.

For example, when Jesus invited a man to follow him, the prospective disciple replied, "Permit me first to leave and bury my father." (Luke 9:59, New World Translation) "The cryptic reference most likely reflects this practice of secondary burial--not that the man was waiting for his father to die, but that his father had recently died and he needed to pass the obligatory first year following his father's death, when the family would gather his bones and put them in an ossuary," say the authors of The Jesus Discovery.

Recall that the kokhim was the place where the body was first laid. After it was removed about a year later, another body was placed there, initiating a cyclical process where different bodies occupied the space.

"Contrariwise, Jesus was placed in a "new memorial tomb, in which no one had ever yet been laid." (John 19:41) After he was laid to rest, they rolled "a big stone to the door of the memorial tomb." (Matthew 27:60, 66) What about this rolling stone?

The Rolling Stones?: Though the inimitable Mick Jagger and his dynamic crew have been thrilling fans for decades, the British band known as the Rolling Stones isn't quite 2,000 years old--well, not yet anyway. But the golel is.

It's a large disc-shaped stone uncovered by archaeologists that was rolled to seal the front entrance of a tomb (Matthew 28:1, 2) that was sometimes less than three feet high, also unearthed by archaeologists. That's why John was "stooping forward" to see inside.

What next? Stay tuned!