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Did they really find Jesus' tomb?
By LISA BUIE
Published May 10, 2007
NEW PORT RICHEY - Don't expect the Rev. Robert Coughenour to get too worked up about a documentary in which archaeologists claim to have found the remains of Jesus, his mother, his wife, Mary Magdalene, and their young son.
It's not his style.
"I read one piece that was a rant, " said the retired minister who has participated in excavations for 30 years.
Instead, what you'll hear from the former seminary professor is cool-headed reason.
These discussions should be dispassionate, he said. They should focus on the information.
That said, the man who once taught Hebrew to noted theologian R.C. Sproul thinks the case made in The Lost Tomb of Jesus is pretty weak.
"I don't want our folks to be misled, " Coughenour said. "My interest is in Scripture, in faith, in truth."
He is scheduled to give a lecture on the issue Friday at St. Mark's Presbyterian Church in Hudson. The documentary, produced by Titanic director James Cameron, first aired in March on the Discovery Channel.
During his talk, Coughenour will mention how a Web site for the documentary announced the shocking discovery of ossuaries, or bone boxes, with the names "The Virgin Mary, Jesus of Nazareth, Mary Magdalene, and Judah their son."
"That's an astounding kind of claim, " said Coughenour, who has not seen the show but has read information on the Web sites.
He says the inscriptions on the boxes - Yeshua bar Yosef, Matia, Maria, Mariamene e mara, Yehuda bar Yeshua - are translated correctly. But those names were so common during that era that it is impossible to conclude that these are the remains of Biblical people.
Coughenour also will use Gospel accounts of Jesus' burial to dispute claims made by the show's producers, as well as what some other scholars are saying.
One of them is Paul Maier, a history professor at Western Michigan University, who describes the show as "more junk on Jesus."
Among the points Maier makes is that the holy family, even if they could have afforded such an expensive tomb, would more likely have been buried in Jesus' hometown of Nazareth, rather than near Jerusalem.
And if it indeed was a family tomb, what would Matia, translated as Matthew, have been doing in it?
Coughenour said challenges to Christianity seem to be on the rise, with novels such as The Da Vinci Code, but in reality are nothing new.
"Every Easter they find something, " Coughenour said. "You don't see the challenges to Judaism. You don't see the challenges to Islam. You don't see the Wiccans challenged."
A Discovery Channel spokeswoman said the program likely would be repeated. News releases provided by the company say a statistical study concludes that likelihood of there not having been another family entombed there is about 1 in 600. This means that this conclusion works 599 times out of 600.
The company says on its Web site that Christ's resurrection is the central tenet of the Christian faith and that the show does not challenge that belief.
Coughenour said he does not believe the tomb belonged to Christ or his family but will give any discovery a fair review.
"We owe it to any scholar who brings forward information to assess it, " he said. "I'm not going to prejudge it."
Lisa Buie can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or by phone at 813 909-4604 or toll free 1-800-333-7505, ext. 4604.
Personal: Coughenour lives in New Port Richey with his wife, Betty Zane Reed Coughenour. They have four children and six grandchildren.
Archaeological experience: Member of a team excavating the ancient biblical city of Bethel, 1960; participated in archaeological work for more than 30 years. Also published and edited numerous articles for leading archaeological journals. Directed the Kyle-Kelso Foundation, a nonprofit corporation dedicated to archaeological projects in Jordan.
When he's not digging: He directed the Timber Greens Chorus, a community chorus of 50 voices in New Port Richey. He is a member of the Master Chorale of Tampa Bay, which serves as the official Artist in Residence at the University of South Florida and is the Principal Chorus of the Florida Orchestra.
If you go
What: Discussion on the program The Lost Tomb of Jesus.
When: 1:30 p.m. Friday
Where: St. Mark's Presbyterian Church, 7922 State Road 52, Hudson.