Thoughts of a Catholic convert

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Wednesday, March 11, 2015

More on CNN's "Finding Jesus"

Today I saw an interview with Candida Moss, NT scholar at Notre Dame and one of the experts contributing to CNN's show, about the second episode on John the Baptist ... 'Finding Jesus': John the Baptist Q&A. Each episode revolves around relics/artifacts ... the first episode dealt with the Shroud of Turin, the second with bones thought by some to be John the Baptist's, and the third episode with the Gospel of Judas.

The bones in question in the second episode were found on St. Ivan Island, a Bulgarian island in the Black Sea. There are a number of ruins on the island and under one was found a small box containing some human bone fragments ...John the Baptist's Bones Found? (National Geographic). The CNN episode depicts results of testing on the bones and seems to impy that these are indeed John the Baptist's, but as Moss points out in her interview ...

The DNA tests on the Bulgarian bones yielded only mitochondrial DNA (DNA passed down by the mother), not the more reliable nuclear DNA (the kind of DNA referred to in forensic investigations). In the original study of the Bulgarian relics (of which I was a part) the mitochondrial DNA revealed that the Bulgarian relics were of "probable Semitic origin." Thinking back to my time in the laboratory with the Copenhagen scientists, I recall that the lead investigator estimated that the probability was about 75%. The episode last night stated things a little too sharply when it said that the bones were from a Middle-Eastern man.

As for the more specific question about the genetics of Jews and members of the tribe of Levi: Current scientific technology does not reveal this kind of information even if start-up genetic testing companies promise this kind of information.

I haven't yet seen this episode myself, but in the first episode on the Shroud of Turin, it was also implied that the relic was real, even in the face of carbon dating that contradicted such an idea. In an earlier interview, Duke NT scholar Mark Goodacre deals with this issue ...

Vance Lipsey: Is there a better way to check the shroud than carbon dating? I've been told carbon dating is very inaccurate.

Goodacre: Actually, carbon dating is an excellent way to ascertain the date of an artifact. Many are disappointed, not surprisingly, that the shroud dated to between AD 1260 and 1390. I recall my own disappointment (but not surprise) on hearing the results back in 1988. But the scientists doing the carbon dating were not amateurs, and the samples were tested in three separate labs. Moreover, the carbon date cohered with other evidence that the shroud was a medieval forgery, like the fact that there is no evidence of its existence until the 14th century.

Cynthia Restivo: So I know the carbon dating was off, but wasn't it later shown that the piece of cloth used for the testing was a section that had been repaired after some fire damage or something? Which would explain why it dated different?

Goodacre: No, that's not been established. Those who defend the authenticity of the shroud often say the sample might have been taken from a part of the shroud that was repaired after it was damaged by fire in the 16th century. But this is special pleading. The scientists who took the sample knew what they were doing. Professor Christopher Ramsey noted that the unusual weave on the sample matched the weave on the rest of the shroud perfectly.


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