The final naturalistic theory of the Resurrection we will examine is the Wrong Tomb Theory. This theory usually purports that Jesus’ body was reburied in His family tomb, known as the Talpiot tomb. Jesus spent the night in Joseph of Arimathea’s tomb, but was then transferred to His family tomb in Talpiot. Upon finding Joseph’s tomb empty, the disciples (or someone) had simply mistaken and then created a resurrection narrative.
The Talpiot tomb was first excavated in 1980, was widely known by scholars, and deemed of little significance. It wasn’t until 27 years later that James Cameron’s, The Lost Tomb of Jesus was aired on the Discovery Channel. The film claimed that the Talpiot tomb was Jesus’ family tomb because six of the ten ossuaries (bone boxes) have inscriptions that match names from the New Testament. The claim is that this is too much of a coincidence. They further claim that one ossuary, marked Mariamne Mara (assumed to be Mary Magdalene), would only be present in the tomb if she was Jesus’ wife – since they are of no blood relation.
Issues with the names
First, and probably most importantly, the inscription “Jesus, son of Joseph” found in the Talpiot tomb is not agreed upon by scholars. The inscription isn’t clear and some scholars don’t think it says this at all. If the most important detail can’t be made with clarity, how can the conclusions which follow be clear?
Secondly, almost nobody thinks that Maramne Mara should be understood as “Mary Magdalene”. Attested by other inscriptions, Mara is actually an abbreviation of “Martha”.
As the original excavators observed, the names Joseph, Jesus, Mary, and Judah were all very common names and any inference that this must be the family of Jesus is pure conjecture. It is also nothing more than speculation to say that because DNA tests show that the “Jesus” ossuary wasn’t blood-related to the “Mary” ossuary they must have been married.
It would be quite odd that the tomb of Jesus had no Christian symbols and that Jesus wasn’t inscribed with “Lord,” or some title of the sort. Not to mention, Jesus’ family tomb should have been in Galilee, not Jerusalem, where the site was found.
Issues With a Wrong Tomb Theory
Any theory that claims the body was moved without the disciples knowledge fails because this is exactly what the disciples themselves thought had happened upon finding the tomb empty (John 20:2). Their first assumption was that He had been moved. That they would make up a resurrection doesn’t seem likely. This, coupled with the fact that the disciples almost certainly were not expecting a resurrection, means that they would not have been tricked into a resurrection had the body been moved. They either would’ve been informed, or would have easily found out.
If the body had been moved by the disciples, or someone else, and a false narrative of a resurrection were spreading, the Jewish leaders simply would have presented the body to squander the heresy. They at least would’ve said, “No, his body was moved.” However, this isn’t recorded at all in history. The earliest naturalistic explanation made by the Jewish leaders was that the disciples stole the body.
Had the body simply been moved, Paul (an enemy of Christians) and James (a non-believer) would not have converted. Both of these skeptics claimed to have seen Jesus alive after His death. A misplaced body would not have convinced them to throw away everything they previously believed and give their lives for the sake of spreading the good news that Jesus had actually risen from the dead. Skeptics are only converted after strong evidence, and those who aren’t sure about their beliefs don’t make good martyrs.
This theory doesn’t even attempt to explain how the disciples, Paul and James, and the 500 all came to believe that they had actually seen Jesus after His death – a highly attested fact agreed upon by most scholars. They weren’t convinced because they found an empty tomb. They still needed more evidence. They were convinced that Jesus rose from the dead because they were convinced they had seen Him. Any natural explanation that wishes to carry weight must attempt to explain this.
A couple of common names in a tomb don’t prove anything. Not even the brilliance of James Cameron could polish-up this theory into something believable.