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Jun 16 2012

It must be John the Baptist!

Some old bones have stirred up new hope among the gullible that Jesus really did live, die, and live again (Wouldn’t that mean he didn’t die though?). It’s all based on some radiocarbon dating and molecular analysis of genetic material that Christians may now suddenly find irrefutable:

Reuters– claim to have unearthed six bones belonging to John the Baptist has received a boost from scientists who have concluded after dating them and analyzing their genetic code that they could indeed be relics of the man who baptized Jesus.

The remains, which include a molar and a piece of cranium, were found in July 2010 in a marble sarcophagus in the ruins of a medieval church on the island of Sveti Ivan, or Saint John, off Bulgaria’s Black Sea coast near the resort of Sozopol.

If you read down a little further, the bones were radiocarbon dated to roughly 2000 years ago and genetic markers suggest they all came from the same individual, who in turn probably lived in or near the Middle East.

That’s it. Nothing about how old the person might have been, any diseases present, what sex they were, how tall or short they may have been, etc. What we have here are a handful of bone frags that probably date to the approximate time of Augustus Caesar and which bear signs suggesting the individual was of Eastern European or ANE descent and not from African, Asia, or the pre-Columbian Americas. And this data was gathered using two methods creationists and their flocks will tell us otherwise cannot be trusted and might even represent a scientific conspiracy of some sort.

That’s the same sort of molecular biology that shows how closely we are related to chimps, monkeys, mammals, vertebrates, and metazoans. That’s the same sort of physics showing the earth is ancient, the universe far older, and which places transitional hominids in the precise chronological order they need to be in for human and primate evolution to make sense. Will the faithful now embrace those fields of study? Don’t hold your breath.

It’s entirely possible that there really was a person who came to be known as John the Baptist, and it’s remotely possible that these are his remains. I’ skeptical that there would be anyway to ever nail that down, but it’s not impossible. The idea that it proves a magic invisible sky wizard impregnated a virgin female with his celestial offspring, who went on to fake his own death and rule the cosmos with daddy, that’s a bit of a stretch and that’s saying it nicely. Because a tall tale like that doesn’t sink or swim based on the existence or non existence of a minor mortal character doing routine things like dunking someone’s head below water. It’s not the John or the baptizing that makes it hard to accept on face value — that’s kind of like saying we know Santa exists because how else can you explain Rudulph’s red nose? It’s the magic invisible sky wizard part that lacks credibility.

12 comments

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  1. 1
    ambassadorfromverdammt

    John the Baptist? Shouldn’t that be John the Waterboarder?

    Then there is the crucifix. Christianity – the religion of the Holy Torture Devices.

  2. 2
    Cuttlefish

    There were also three animal bones. I wonder how their analysis went.

    Sozopol is a beautiful ancient town, surrounded by the worst sort of tourist-trap schmaltz, on the Black Sea. The museum where the relics are being exhibited holds some gorgeous examples of early Christian iconography, and a nice collection of artifacts. The influx of money from this is at least better than it going to the local mob.

    I don’t think there was a single church in Bulgaria I went to that did not have relics of some sort. As some of the articles on this story have pointed out, if we believe all the relic claims, John the Baptist had three heads and six arms (I believe there are churches that claim to have his entire head, or entire right hand; I may have seen some, but it wasn’t something that would have stood out to me). I do remember getting our guide to nervously giggle as she translated some of the relic labels for me–one small pebble, for instance, was actually (no, really!) gathered from the site of the miracle of loaves and fishes.

  3. 3
    busterggi

    Can’t be the bones of the baptizer – all real Christians know that science stuff is nonsense because it says the shroud of Turin is a fake.

  4. 4
    StevoR : Free West Papua, free Tibet, let the Chagossians return!

    (Wouldn’t that mean he didn’t die though?).

    Meh, Buffy the vampire slayer died twice. At least. And prevented a few apocalpyses. Apocalypti? Whatever.

  5. 5
    StevoR : Free West Papua, free Tibet, let the Chagossians return!

    ^ She saved the world – a lot.

  6. 6
    stevenbollinger

    “Some old bones have stirred up new hope among the gullible that Jesus really did live, die, and live again”

    “New hope”? You mean that Christian faith had been dying out before this? On its last legs? News to me.

    Does anyone happen to know when Christians began collecting relics? Some silly apologist sources say relics were collected “in all eras of Christianity,” but those sources also tend to tell you that God is real and Jesus is magic, and I’m not going for any of that, or for much of anything they say about the first couple of centuries AD. I know that Constantine the Great financed relic-findings expeditions by his mom, Saint Helena, in the early 4th century. That’s the earliest account of relic-hunting of which I know. So if these bones really are 2,000 years old, it would surprise me.

    And it would be interesting for the study of early Christianity. I’m sure God doesn’t exist — not 100%, but I’m not 100% sure of anything, and yet I still use the word “sure” like a normal person, and I see no reason to make an exception here — and I’m not sure that Jesus existed, but early Christians definitely did exist, and it’s interesting to study how early they existed and how their superstitions spread.

    But so very often, stories of sensational archaeological finds are very poorly-reported. (To me, if relics associated with John the Baptist turn out to be 2,000 years old, that in itself would be sensational, no matter what the relics might turn out to be.) First things first: is Tom Higham correctly quoted in the Reuters article? Does he really work for Oxford? Are he and the other scientists referred to in the story serious people or dingbats?

    “Higham plans to apply for funding to analyze purported John the Baptist relics from other places to see if any of them came from the same individual whose remains were found on Sveti Ivan.”

    If Higham isn’t a dingbat, and if the tests and the Reuters story are accurate, and if he gets that funding, and if further tests prove that relics in other places are from the same 2,000 year old man — lots of if’s all stacked up there — that wouldn’t prove john the Baptist had existed, much less a non-magical, non-resurrecting Jesus, but it would be very interesting.

    It would also be an occasion for believers to go apeshit, but they’re going to do that no matter what happens. Viz the Shroud of Turin.

  7. 7
    Randomfactor

    A molar and piece of cranium? Presumably found on a platter?

  8. 8
    grumpyoldfart

    …scientists who have concluded after dating them and analyzing their genetic code that they could indeed be relics of the man who baptized Jesus.

    Or they could be the remains of John The Baptist’s next door neighbour who thought Jesus was c-nt, or a drunk who got run over by a Roman chariot, or any one of the millions of people who were around at that time.
    `

    And what were the names of those scientists again? The ones who went out on a limb and put a name to the bones? I’ll bet they work for a Christian college.

  9. 9
    Crudely Wrott

    Also consider the multiple foreskins of Jesus, the dozens of nails said to have pierced him, the hundreds of chunks of the real, really real cross and the thousands of miscellaneous relics coveted by churches across the entire old world and one can only reach one conclusion. People do so love to collect bits of shit and pass them off as the only one left and therefore God and Jesus and so on and on and on . . .

    I ought to be spending more time in landfills. That’s where the really big money is!

  10. 10
    apostate

    And this data was gathered using two methods creationists and their flocks will tell us otherwise cannot be trusted and might even represent a scientific conspiracy of some sort.

    To be fair, we do not know if those who are making the claim also believe in New Earth Creationism. However, I have not heard of anyone opposing the conclusion based on the fact that they used these methods. I wish I could see a New Earth Creationist respond to this finding.

  11. 11
    d cwilson

    @ Crudely Wrott:

    For people who insist that you have to accept the entire story on faith alone, they seem awfully desparate to find tangible evidence to back it up.

  12. 12
    Lord Elmo Bringer Of Death

    Its more like saying santa claus exists because someone found a reindeer tooth and piece of skull with some preserved reigns showing it may have been used to pull a cart, or even *gasp* a sleigh…

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