ALMA HAHN: Religious relics or no, Christ requires faith
I trust all of you have had your fill of boiled and candy eggs and have your house somewhat back in order from this Easter weekend.
Easter, unlike Christmas, is a more contemplative, somber religious celebration. Because we are human, it is difficult for us to accept things on faith alone; we want proof that a mortal Jesus walked on earth. Unfortunately, there are always people who are willing to provide that proof, whether it exists or not.
Since the time of the crucifixion, unscrupulous people have been offering objects which, they claim, were physically associated with the historic Jesus. Do you remember reading Chaucer’s “Canterbury Tales” in school?
In it, Chaucer featured many characters who represented people from all walks of life. Several church people were included, including a pardoner. A pardoner was a man of the church whose job was to help people gain forgiveness for their sins, which this man did — for a price.
One of his tricks was to sell phony religious relics (physical items associated with either Christ or his disciples). His stock included pig bones said to be the bones of saints and hair cuttings, suggested to be from the head of the Messiah Himself.
Things haven’t changed much since Chaucer’s time. Just a couple of weeks ago I saw a story about the discovery of 70 brass codices (plural of codex, a fancy word meaning book or manuscript) purported to date back to the 1st century CE. They were supposedly discovered in a remote cave in eastern Jordan about five years ago.
The area is believed to be where Christians went after the destruction of the Temple. These codices are very small, about the size of a credit card. They look like the pocket notebook my husband carries, only they are made of lead and copper. They are wired together much like a spiral notebook.
They contain illustrations similar to those of the time, and one contained a piece of leather which was carbon-dated to 2,000 ago.
The article announcing the find first appeared on March 3, 2011. By April 3, questions about the authenticity of the find were being raised. On April 9, a noted professor published this: “The Greek (text) is lifted nonsensically from an inscription published in 1958. The forger couldn’t tell the difference between the Greek letters alpha and lambda. ... The Hebrew text is in “... code, i.e., is gibberish.”
One of the greatest hoaxes offered to the gullible is wood chips from the cross. John Calvin once said, “If all the pieces (of the cross) that could be found were collected together, they would make a big shipload.”
The James Ossuary (a box for the bones of the dead) is another archaeological hoax, which made its appearance in 2003. Made of limestone and purported to be 2,000 years old, this box is inscribed “James, son of Joseph, brother of Jesus” in Aramaic.
The box itself is probably what it purports to be; it is the age of the inscription that is in question. It is thought to be a modern inscription made with older tools. This conclusion is based on scientific investigation of the patina on the box.
Many, but not all, scholars believe the ossuary to be a forgery. Its discoverer was found guilty of forgery in the courts, but not everyone agrees. As late as 2010, courts were still considering the verdict. More information, I am sure, will surface in the future. The Discovery Channel has done a great program that it sometimes repeats on this ossuary.
The Shroud of Turin is another controversial relic upon which scientists disagree. A 4-by-14-foot piece of linen, it bears what is said to be the image of the body of Christ. This artifact has been tested in many ways, and its authenticity is still questioned.
In 1390, a French bishop declared that the image of Jesus on the shroud was “cunningly painted,” a fact revealed to him “by the artist who painted it.” According to another authority, “scientifically speaking, the Shroud of Turin is a fake.”
A recent program about the shroud for the History Channel, however, describes a new investigation of the shroud with modern computer technology. The findings are amazing. Whether they prove that the shroud covered the body of Jesus is yet to be determined.
A crown of thorns, said to be the one Jesus wore, rests in Notre Dame Cathedral. (There are others elsewhere, especially in Europe.) Numerous carbon datings indicate it is old — about 695 A.D. — but not quite old enough. One authority characterizes it as “a circlet of bush, and is completely devoid of thorns.”
There are other archeological finds that are presented to the world purporting to be related to the historical Jesus. So far, most appear to be something else. We still must accept Him on faith, the essence Christianity.
Alma Joyce Hahn taught in the Benton schools for more than 30 years. Her column appears each Monday.