Science and religion don’t always see eye to eye – but, in effort to uncover new details about the holy man and his descendants, a biblical scholar and a geneticist have teamed up in the search for Jesus’ DNA.
The experts are tapping into the latest technology to analyze artifacts from sites around the world, including the Shroud of Turin, the Sudarium of Oviedo, and a newly discovered set of bones thought to belong to Jesus’ cousin, John the Baptist.
It’s hoped that their investigation will lead them to a DNA sample that could belong to Jesus or a member of his family, to identify any ties to people living today.
In the new documentary by the History Channel, which aired on Easter Sunday, Oxford University geneticist George Busby and biblical scholar Pastor Joe Basile travel from Spain and Italy to Israel and the Black Sea to search for Jesus’ DNA.
Among the artifacts the team investigated are the ‘bones of John the Baptist,’ which were discovered in Bulgaria in 2010.
The 2,000-year-old bones, which showed similarities to Middle Eastern populations, could be ‘hugely important’ as he was thought to be a cousin of Jesus, as well as a disciple.
This means the two would share DNA, Busby explains.
‘We can compare the DNA from a relic to DNA from other relics,’ Busby wrote in an article for The Conversation.
‘If we find other relics purported to be from John the Baptist, or a close relative of Jesus, then we could use genetics to compare the two to see if they are likely to have come from the same or related people.
‘Also, we have growing collections of DNA sampled form people around the world, which we can use to make a guess on the geographical origins of the relics.’
Researchers also analyzed the Shroud of Turin, an ancient cloth thought by many to have been wrapped around Jesus when he was taken down from the cross, along with ancient texts, and the Sudarium of Oviedo, a bloodstained piece of cloth.
But, extracting an unknown DNA sample doesn’t mean it can simply be traced to a particular person, as they would need a known sample to compare it to.
These findings also run the risk of contamination – in the case of the bones, for example, researchers found that the DNA matched the person who’d extracted the sample.
Still, there are ways these samples can be useful in the search for the DNA of Jesus and his family, the researcher explains.
‘DNA degrades over time, so we can test any DNA extracted from ancient remains for telltale signs of degradation,’ Busby writes.
‘That means we can differentiate modern contamination from ancient genomes.
‘We can also try to take DNA from the inside of bones and sequence DNA from the people who are known to have come into contact with the artefacts to help tell the ancient DNA and modern contaminants apart.’
The researchers are hoping that, if they can find a sample of Jesus’ DNA, they can then identify any possible descendants living today – and even learn new insight on Jesus himself.