Bulgarian bones could be John the Baptist's as claimed, scientists say
A reliquary box thought to have been used to carry the bones of John the Baptist.
June 22nd, 2012
07:55 AM ET

Bulgarian bones could be John the Baptist's as claimed, scientists say

By Richard Allen Greene, CNN

(CNN)– When the tools of modern science are applied to religious relics, the results are almost always the same: Science says the relics aren't what their supporters claim.

The most famous of them all, the Turin Shroud, is widely regarded as a Middle Ages forgery, and even the Catholic Church does not insist the shroud was actually used to wrap the body of Jesus himself.

So when Bulgarian archeologists announced two years ago that they had found the bones of John the Baptist, Tom Higham was skeptical.

He got a surprise.

Higham, an Oxford University scientist and an atheist who doesn't believe in "any kind of religion or God or anything like that," was asked to test six small bone fragments found on an island named Sveti Ivan - St. John.

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The bones turned out to be from a man who lived in the Middle East at the same time as Jesus, Higham said.

"We got a date that was exactly where it should be, right in the middle of the first century," said Higham, a radiocarbon dating expert.

It's not proof that they belonged to John the Baptist, since there's no DNA database of early Christian saints, the archeologist who found the bones said.

But the mere fact that the testing didn't prove the bones are fakes is unusual.

Archeologist Kazimir Popkonstantinov led the team that found them under the altar of a fifth century basilica on Sveti Ivan, a Black Sea island off Sozopol on the south coast of Bulgaria.

The bones were in a reliquary, a container for holy relics, with a tiny sandstone box.

Written on the box in Greek were the words, "God, save your servant Thomas. To St. John. June 24."

Scientists take samples of the bones for radiocarbon and genetic analysis.

The date is the Christian feast day of John the Baptist, believed to be his birthday.

When the bones were found in 2010, Popkonstantinov said it was "logical to suggest that the founders of the monastery did their best to bring relics of its patron saint."

Higham, the deputy director of Oxford's Radiocarbon Accelerator Unit, got involved because a colleague knew the Bulgarian archeologists. National Geographic was also interested, so it provided funding for more extensive testing than Higham originally planned, and made a film about the project.

Radiocarbon dating showed that the bones were from the right period to be from John the Baptist, Higham said, while genetic testing showed it was a man and all the bones were from the same person.

DNA testing by colleagues at the University of Copenhagen suggested that the person was most likely to have been from the Middle East, he said.

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More detailed nuclear DNA testing could pin down his location even more accurately, Higham said, but "does cost quite a lot of money."

There is reasonably good historical evidence that John the Baptist, whom Christians believe baptized his cousin Jesus, did exist, said Paul Middleton, a senior lecturer in Biblical studies at the University of Chester.

All four gospels and the contemporary Jewish historian Josephus say he was beheaded on the orders of the ruler Herod Antipas, Middleton said when the bones were found.

The six small bones are far from the only relics purporting to belong to him.

Four locations, from a mosque in Damascus, Syria, to a museum in Munich, Germany, claim to have his head, while the Topkapi Museum in Istanbul, Turkey, has a relic alleged to be his right arm.

A monastery in Montenegro says it has his right hand, while another in Egypt has a crypt containing relics of the saint.

Tom Higham says he can test them to see if they match.

"We have a complete genome. It's possible that we could step this a step further and see if there is any similarity," in the genetic material of all the relics.

"We've sort of got interested in this. It's not beyond the realms of possibility, and we know that there were relics moving out of the Middle East in the fourth and fifth century," he said.

But for him, the project remains a purely scientific one.

"I'm an atheist," he said. "I perceive this as an archeological dating problem. We have some bones and we're trying to get as much information out of them as we can."

CNN's Simon Hooper and Susannah Palk contributed to this report.

- Newsdesk editor, The CNN Wire

Filed under: Belief • Bible • Christianity

soundoff (1,475 Responses)
  1. Tg

    Our human minds have no capacity or ability to understand Gods infinite wisdom and power. No one will ever fully understand God. If someone is waiting to fully understand, unearth proof and figure it all out before they will believe, then they will never believe. Christianity is based on faith. Faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen.

    June 30, 2012 at 6:58 pm |
    • Peteyroo

      If I have faith and believe with all my heart that the earth is flat, will it be flat?

      June 30, 2012 at 9:25 pm |
    • levy214

      What is the use of a mind if your God demands you not to use it if you want to experience him? What kind of kakadoo is that? Would you blindly follow a God or person that requires you to kiss his ass daily, take your money or threatens to burn you in eternity if you dare to use your brain!!

      June 30, 2012 at 10:12 pm |
    • Commojoe

      This journey of faith may be just what this unbeliever needs to bring him to faith. Who knows?

      July 1, 2012 at 12:43 am |
  2. b overby

    George Carlin said it all....if there is a God that is all powerful, all knowing, created the stars and the planets and all living creatures, why does he always need money?

    June 30, 2012 at 4:39 pm |
    • gkingii

      God doesn't need money. Some of the people who presume to speak for him want it. Some for worthy purposes, but far too many for self-aggrandizement, wealth and access to power. Carlin was making a joke, b. It's what he did. Or didn't you notice.

      June 30, 2012 at 6:07 pm |
    • levy214

      If there was a God, he would strike all his lying apologists, false preachers, politicians and hypocrites!!

      June 30, 2012 at 10:18 pm |
    • Bill Deacon

      When I give you money, that is between me and God. What you do with it is between you and God.

      July 2, 2012 at 12:58 pm |
  3. judy

    .. I believe God is real... if I'm wrong.. I have nothing to lose... if I'm right.. I have everything to gain... what about u? you are in a no win situtation...you will die one day and you have no hope.. I have hope to be with Him for eternity...end of story.

    June 30, 2012 at 3:25 pm |
    • What IF

      This is another tired repeti.tion of Pascal's Wager. Don't they teach you *anything* in church?

      - What if the real "God" is Allah, or Vishnu, or Zeus, or Quetzalcoatl, or any of the other of thousands which have been dreamed up over the centuries? Some of them are very jealous and vengeful and will relegate you to nasty places for not worshiping them. You'd better cover your butt by believing in ALL of them and fulfill their wishes and demands.

      - What if the real "God" rewards those who use logic and reason and punishes you as a silly sycophant?

      - What if the real "God" detests those who believe something just to cover their butts in eternity?

      June 30, 2012 at 3:30 pm |
    • tallulah13

      Judy, you may not understand this, but some people prefer the truth over pretty, unsubstantiated promises of eternal life. Despite the fact that I enjoy my life, I'm okay with a finite existence. Truth be told, I have no desire for immortality. Sorry.

      And as "what if" pointed out, what if you have chosen to worship the wrong god? Humans have worshiped thousands of gods throughout history. Of the currently active religions, hinduism is older than the judeo-christian tradition. Perhaps you should start worshiping all gods, just to be sure.

      June 30, 2012 at 4:47 pm |
    • JWT

      But judy you have chosen the wrong god – you know thor will pound you into the ground like a tent peg with hammer for being wrong!

      June 30, 2012 at 5:32 pm |
    • gkingii

      However you put it, belief is far more logical than presuming all this world and it's wonders just happened once and only once in all of time and space. It's more reassuring, isn't it, Judy. Hang in there and keep your sense of humor. You can us it to laugh at all the non-believers who think their puny intelligence is superior to all others and all else.

      June 30, 2012 at 6:10 pm |
    • Wayne

      One thing about atheists that seldom disappoints is their unwarranted display of intellectual arrogance. Not that academic credentials supports such displays but those are usually absence or very weak as well. Citing Paschal's wager and a bunch of absurd "what if's" hardly impresses. Faith is a belief in things unseen (unobserved) which places it outside the domain of scientific method and not subject to such critique. If any of you had sufficient wits you would know that refrain from your pitiful arguments and leave those like Judy alone.

      June 30, 2012 at 6:43 pm |
    • Etc. Etc.

      "Faith is a belief in things unseen (unobserved) which places it outside the domain of scientific method and not subject to such critique."

      Then "faith" in Quetzalcoatl is every bit as valid as any other. Why didn't/don't Christians leave others alone.

      June 30, 2012 at 7:00 pm |
    • JWT

      Then judy should stop saying things that are stupid beyond belief.

      June 30, 2012 at 7:00 pm |
    • What IF

      Sorry, Wayne, @judy broached the subject of "what if"; and her scenario is every bit as absurd as the ones listed (even if it is most heartily wished for).

      June 30, 2012 at 7:06 pm |
    • tallulah13


      Your comparison is silly. There is nothing to indicate that the Earth is the only planet in the universe to hold life; far from it. On the other hand, believing in a god because you personally don't understand how the universe was formed is rather like a child believing in Santa Claus because they don't know how else the presents would get under the tree. And believing in a god "just in case" is plainly dishonest.

      June 30, 2012 at 7:14 pm |
    • Peteyroo

      You believe in God because you are scared!

      June 30, 2012 at 9:27 pm |
    • Kettle meet Pot

      Wayne, don't look now, but your intellectual arrogance is showing. Smug must be the color of choice this summer, you wear it so well.

      June 30, 2012 at 9:43 pm |
    • levy214

      Judy as many others have said so eloquently..its pure arrogance and BS to think that your God, one of thousands, is the only one that "may" exist. There were and still are ancient civilizations with Gods predating yours. According to your logic, all those non Christians civilizations, before and after BC, were send to burn in eternity! That is the God you Kiss ass..If that is what you need , knock your self out. However, once you start seeking your imaginary Gods favor by voting to impose your beliefs on others,is where your gullibility becomes a danger to us all!

      June 30, 2012 at 10:59 pm |
    • sam stone

      only the end of the story for those who have no reasoning ability.

      July 2, 2012 at 3:33 pm |
  4. Darrius

    Rather its his bones or not it doesnt matter he is dead but God is alive and well the jesus from the bible is a real person who is the son of God hes not dead anymore hes alive peoplke who dont believe that will burn in hell forever there is only so much a loving God can do to save us i read the comments about christians and you guys can say whatever you want but in the end God will have the final word.JESUS IS ALIVE AND COMING SOON.

    June 30, 2012 at 1:54 pm |
    • JWT

      Please seek psychiatric help for your god delusions. Notably that your god while real in your brain is not real to others. our god has no say over other people. But the fires of hell part was really funny. You should do stand up before you are cured.

      June 30, 2012 at 2:46 pm |
    • tallulah13

      Nothing makes christians happier than thinking about hell. Why they seem to enjoy the concept of eternal suffering for people who don't believe exactly what they do is beyond me, but hey, whatever gets them through the day.

      Too bad the don't have a single shred of evidence to prove their god is any more real than Zeus or Osiris or Ganesha. If they did, maybe they'd have some authority, instead of looking like petty jerks.

      June 30, 2012 at 2:58 pm |
    • JWT

      One wonders if the christians that are so into hell live in a hell of fake god belief and they pray that on death they will find something different.

      June 30, 2012 at 5:34 pm |
    • tallulah13

      That makes sense, JWT.

      June 30, 2012 at 5:38 pm |
    • levy214

      "OMG" what in the hell is wrong with these people. Why belief a fairy tale from a time where Gods were invented to explain nature and control the flock. Guess..there is still a need to control the flock..

      June 30, 2012 at 11:13 pm |
    • Peteyroo

      The end is near! Jesus is coming soon! Or so they have been saying for a couple thousand years.

      July 1, 2012 at 1:22 am |
  5. Paul

    Nah they were the bones of Wes the NosePicker. It's obvious.

    June 30, 2012 at 12:26 pm |
  6. Robert

    If they were the bones of John the Baptist, there should be evidence that the head had been severed from the body.

    As for science disproving religeous relics, I think many scienctists have a bias. But I would point out that all of these relics at least fit the model of things that happened in the Bible. There are no shrouds of aliens. If it was that easy to make forgeries that were created in ways that cannot be explained, then why are they none that look like things from space or other rediculous things? Why is there only a shroud of a man who was crucified? Perhaps it really is the image of the Christ miraculously preserved on a piece of linen.

    June 30, 2012 at 12:24 pm |
  7. whatyoudontknow

    Well, then what the hell do you think we did in Sunday school? Play scrabble? Watch the Three Stooges?"
    more or less, your comments about the bible prove so

    June 30, 2012 at 12:11 pm |
    • TLF2380428829312

      They will always be looking for the Jesus magic but will never see any because Jesus isn't magic and is dead forever.

      Their continual disappointment will haunt them their whole lives unless they figure out that Jesus is just a Santa Claus for the adults and isn't really real.

      June 30, 2012 at 12:21 pm |
    • SouthernCelt

      You accept the fact that Jesus walked the Earth and died. If that was the end of His Story, then where is his Body? He was in a tomb guarded by two Romans, but the tomb was empty the next morning and He was seen walking around and talking by witnesses, or was that just mass hypnosis or a massive consipracy? Just tell me where His Body is, or where His Mother's Body is. Don't you think someone would have located them by now? He and His Mother where taken Body and Soul into Heaven. If you don't believe it then show me their Bodies and prove it is false.

      June 30, 2012 at 9:34 pm |
  8. whatyoudontknow

    "WhatDonut" Thats pretty funny good one the smartest thing you have posted i give you that you got me!

    June 30, 2012 at 12:08 pm |
  9. GeoGuy

    I think it's funny that Christians will accept radiocarbon (C14) dating to 'prove' or at least suggests that this was JtB-but to use science in dating deep time (Ur/Pb) or (K/Ar) it's no good.

    June 29, 2012 at 10:48 pm |
    • HawaiiGuest

      They get a lot of practice picking and choosing things from when they read the bible.

      June 29, 2012 at 10:49 pm |
    • John B

      Meanwhile, people like yourself accept "science" unquestionably when a short time ago the foremost scientists in the world insisted the world was flat.

      June 30, 2012 at 7:10 am |
    • TLF2380428829312

      Well it is flat in many places...so it is sort of flat at times.

      June 30, 2012 at 12:26 pm |
    • Paul

      Johnny B Ignorant, the buybull claims both and so contradicts itself. And science is self-checking and self-correcting. That's part of how it works. The bible is religious dogma and supposedly unchangeable even when it is far wrong (although it has actually been revised many many times).

      I'll take science over your dumb supersti.tions any day.

      June 30, 2012 at 12:29 pm |
    • SouthernCelt

      Not all Christians are fundamentalists. Since God created Science who are we to disbelieve it? I believe in Science, as well as God. No one knows what happened at the beginning of time because no one was there and there is no record of it. All is conjecture at this point in time.

      June 30, 2012 at 9:42 pm |
  10. Brynn

    I think the non religious people that comment on the religious blogs are "that guy" who sits all by himself at Starbucks all day. You know the one who usually sits in the purple chair in the corner sometimes he wears a beret because I don't know anyone who has this much free time.

    June 29, 2012 at 7:12 pm |
    • HawaiiGuest

      So when challenged on other threads, you run away spouting off generalizations you have absolutely no basis or justification for. Well done on showing how shallow the things you say are.

      June 29, 2012 at 7:13 pm |
    • Voice of Reason

      Hawaii you mad bro? You get really defensive lighten up life is to awesome to get this upset on a BLOG

      June 29, 2012 at 8:28 pm |
    • Tom, Tom, the Piper's Son

      Well, Brynn, you're wrong on all counts. Not a guy, not in Starbucks, not in a purple chair, not in possession of "that much free time."

      Got any other conjectures you'd like to have punctured?

      June 29, 2012 at 9:14 pm |
    • JT

      I think that the religious people that comment on the religious blogshere are the type of people who believe in magic and go to church and talk in tongues, and desperately spend their lives searching for a message from "God" which they never will get.

      June 29, 2012 at 10:06 pm |
    • AGuest9

      You don't know anyone who has this much free time? Obviously, you do. You posted.

      June 30, 2012 at 7:06 pm |
    • Gadflie

      Brynn, I see no evidence that the first two words of your post are true.

      July 1, 2012 at 12:03 am |
  11. Steve

    Yeah, and monkeys might fly out of my but.

    June 29, 2012 at 6:38 pm |
    • TLF2380428829312


      June 30, 2012 at 12:27 pm |
  12. Horca

    A Roman soldier gave Jesus's mom the Bulgarian bone, if you catch my drift?

    June 29, 2012 at 5:43 pm |
  13. Jack

    Hello everyone. Each of you is welcome to visit ... thestarofkaduri.com

    June 29, 2012 at 5:38 pm |
  14. DS

    I find it strange how atheists feel they must protest something they don't even believe exists!

    June 29, 2012 at 5:14 pm |
    • HawaiiGuest

      Yes because christians tend to stay quite about their faith, practice for themselves, and don't try to impose their religious views on anyone else, and give no reason for anyone to criticise them . . . wait.

      Here's something you don't get, most of the time atheists aren't protesting god (how can you protest something you don't think exists?), we are protesting the actions of the people who do believe in that being.

      June 29, 2012 at 5:18 pm |
    • OTOH

      Believers do exist, though... with all sorts of co/ckamamie ideas and delusions - and there's the rub...

      June 29, 2012 at 5:19 pm |
    • Just Claims, No Truth

      I think it's funny Christians wants everyone to pay attention to their religion, they want it included in laws and gov't and public school, they put up billboards and have TV channels deicated to it. And then when atheists pay attention they say "you shouldn't even care why not just ignore us".

      News update, you are impossible to ignore, so I am happy to spread reason to those who will listen and be an irritant to the rest..

      June 29, 2012 at 9:09 pm |
    • peridot2

      Actually, JustClaims, it's only *some* Christians who do those things. There are those of us who live our lives as Jesus told us to do, doing His work quietly as He said we should rather than making a big noise in the marketplace about it. Jesus said, 'do not let your left hand know what your right is doing.'

      He also said, 'Render unto Caesar those things which belong to Caesar and render unto God those things which belong to God.' What else does that mean but separation of church and state? If it was good enough for Jesus it's what I want. Besides, which version of Christianity would be taught in school? Baptist? I'd fight tooth and nail against that. Fundamentalism? No way would I agree to that. Catholicism? Oh, no. You see, every group is probably assuming it would be their own version that would go into school, but you and I know that would never happen. It would be a religious war between every sect. The only way to keep peace is to keep religion completely out of schools.

      June 30, 2012 at 12:11 am |
    • Just Claims, No Truth

      Nicely said Peridot2,

      Your point goes to why I would like it if Christians did not lump themselves together and instead identified by their denomination.

      June 30, 2012 at 12:25 am |
  15. Byrd

    Feed them to the dogs.

    June 29, 2012 at 4:00 pm |
  16. martin

    I've read the entire bible. Like this article, it's mainly nonsense and outright lies. The so called "good stuff" was plagarized from elsewhere. Theism is dying, but not fast enough.

    June 29, 2012 at 2:25 pm |
    • whatyoudontknow

      I've read the entire bible. Like this article, it's mainly nonsense and outright lies" that statement is clear undeniable evidence of an out right lie!

      June 30, 2012 at 1:45 am |
    • Peteyroo

      WhatDonut, it certainly is not a lie. Martin is telling the truth.

      June 30, 2012 at 1:52 am |
    • SouthernCelt

      Do you believe in anything that happened before you were born, or things you can not see, i.e. quarks? How about the effects of an Atomic bomb, Polio, Smallpox, or hundreds of other things you haven't seen? A lot of the Bible comes from people that witnessed those events. CNN wasn't there so they had to write it down. That doesn't make it any less true.

      June 30, 2012 at 8:05 pm |
  17. Brendatexas

    I doubt very few profess to be athiest when staring down death, just as there are no athiests in foxholes. Sometimes I think athiest are just trying to intellectually fashionable.

    June 29, 2012 at 1:56 pm |
    • martin

      hey moron, check out these military atheists in fox holes http://www.militaryatheists.org/expaif.html

      June 29, 2012 at 2:23 pm |
    • LinCA


      You said, "I doubt very few profess to be athiest when staring down death, just as there are no athiests in foxholes. Sometimes I think athiest are just trying to intellectually fashionable."
      Lemme guess. You think atheists are just angry at your god. You think they simply are rebellious. You think they believe in your god but are angry at their church and want to piss off the christians. How am I doing so far?

      Most atheists on this board came to be atheists because they realized that the beliefs they were indoctrinated in as a child were complete and utter bullshit. Most were devout christians of some flavor or another, at some point in their lives. They shed the delusion because it makes no sense, whatsoever.

      I sincerely doubt that any atheist that came to his or her position based on a rational evaluation of the evidence for gods, is ever going to be a believer again. The fables just don't add up. It is nearly impossible to permanently suspend the disbelief.

      June 29, 2012 at 2:34 pm |
    • JW

      There's nothing but atheists in foxholes. If they 'believed' they'd be okay because of their god, they'd get up and walk out of there.

      June 29, 2012 at 4:22 pm |
    • Tom, Tom, the Piper's Son

      You "doubt very few profess to be atheists"? Do you have a clue what that actually means?

      June 29, 2012 at 5:45 pm |
    • sam stone

      Intellectually fashionable? As opposed to intellectually dead?

      July 2, 2012 at 3:37 pm |
  18. Waldo

    Ah, I am always infatuated by those that read an article like this and feel the urge to declare their atheistic beliefs. Does someone out there care what you believe?

    June 29, 2012 at 1:17 pm |
    • Huh?


      June 29, 2012 at 1:20 pm |
    • Josh

      He is simply attempting to demonstrate his objectivity. He credibility.


      June 29, 2012 at 1:46 pm |
    • martin

      Free thinking or critical thinking is not for you Mr. infatuated :), please please stay a believer, you're being replaced in due time by the Millennials

      June 29, 2012 at 2:31 pm |
    • Son of the Most high


      June 29, 2012 at 4:44 pm |
    • HawaiiGuest


      Pastors tend not to be reliable when it comes to what atheists are. I suggest you actually talk to an atheist and find out why your statement is beyond asinine.

      June 29, 2012 at 4:47 pm |
    • Peteyroo

      Wilber, there is only one belief–there is nothing to believe.

      June 30, 2012 at 1:46 am |
    • sam stone

      Waldo: Same thing about those who come on and declare their beliefs

      July 2, 2012 at 3:39 pm |
  19. Eric

    Ahhhh, only on CNN

    June 29, 2012 at 12:06 pm |
  20. whatyoudontknow


    "I read the Bible several times during those years" In Sunday School? I dont buy it!

    June 29, 2012 at 10:25 am |
    • Peteyroo

      Well, then what the hell do you think we did in Sunday school? Play scrabble? Watch the Three Stooges?

      June 30, 2012 at 1:48 am |
    • JWT

      Sunday school – the indoctrination center.

      June 30, 2012 at 12:10 pm |
    • SouthernCelt

      Try going to a Catholic Mass every Sunday for three years. You will hear the whole Bible read to you including the Books Martin Luther deleted.

      June 30, 2012 at 7:58 pm |
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About this blog

The CNN Belief Blog covers the faith angles of the day's biggest stories, from breaking news to politics to entertainment, fostering a global conversation about the role of religion and belief in readers' lives. It's edited by CNN's Daniel Burke with contributions from Eric Marrapodi and CNN's worldwide news gathering team.