Saturday, June 16, 2012

John the Baptist's Bones?

A recent press report indicates that some human bones have been dated to the 1st century.  The bones were found in a bone box.   Oddly, the bone box also contained some animal bones, and these bones were about 400 years older than the human bones.  Who knows whose bones these are.

The article reports:
The human bones in the box included a knucklebone, a tooth, part of a cranium, a rib and an ulna, or arm bone. The researchers could only date the knucklebone, because radiocarbon dating relies on organic material, and only that bone had enough collagen for a good analysis. The researchers were able to reconstruct DNA sequences from three of the bones, however, showing them to be from the same person, likely a Middle Eastern man.
Thus, this is quite unlikely to be the bones of John the Baptist.

Mark 6:17-29
For Herod himself had sent forth and laid hold upon John, and bound him in prison for Herodias' sake, his brother Philip's wife: for he had married her. For John had said unto Herod, "It is not lawful for thee to have thy brother's wife."

Therefore Herodias had a quarrel against him, and would have killed him; but she could not: for Herod feared John, knowing that he was a just man and an holy, and observed him; and when he heard him, he did many things, and heard him gladly.

And when a convenient day was come, that Herod on his birthday made a supper to his lords, high captains, and chief estates of Galilee; and when the daughter of the said Herodias came in, and danced, and pleased Herod and them that sat with him, the king said unto the damsel, "Ask of me whatsoever thou wilt, and I will give it thee." And he sware unto her, "Whatsoever thou shalt ask of me, I will give it thee, unto the half of my kingdom."

And she went forth, and said unto her mother, "What shall I ask?"

And she said, "The head of John the Baptist."

And she came in straightway with haste unto the king, and asked, saying, "I will that thou give me by and by in a charger the head of John the Baptist."

And the king was exceeding sorry; yet for his oath's sake, and for their sakes which sat with him, he would not reject her. And immediately the king sent an executioner, and commanded his head to be brought: and he went and beheaded him in the prison, and brought his head in a charger, and gave it to the damsel: and the damsel gave it to her mother.

And when his disciples heard of it, they came and took up his corpse, and laid it in a tomb.
There are two important things to note here. First, his head was separated from the body. The head was given to Herodias, and the corpse was taken by John's disciples. Second, notice that John's disciples buried his body. They did not maintain his body as a relic, but placed it in a tomb.

Thus, while it's not impossible that someone collected his head from Herodias, and then dug up his remains to keep them as relics, it seems unlikely.

The article goes on to point out the abundance of forged relics. A particularly amusing note comes from a relic of a different kind:
Even Joan of Arc has been the subject of forgery. A 2007 study found that alleged pieces of her body kept in a French church actually belonged to an Egyptian mummy.
It's possible that this relic has a similar origin.


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