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. Lee

    I my humble opinion, time has no beginning or end. It is impossible for humans to contemplate this. "God" is timeless. How many worlds has God created and ended in this timeless universe, which is "endless". To say we are the only creations of God is to say humans are so important that we alone are the only inteligence period. God has created other worlds, will creat more forever. A billion years is nothing...How many John the Baptists have there been in other world, or how many Sons or Daughters has God sent to other worlds to save them. Someday, after we die and our spirit is in Heaven, wherever or whatever that is, maybe we will understand a little, but probably never understand everything...God is God..God is Great.

    July 3, 2012 at 9:00 am |
    • No Truth, Just Claims


      You have listed off a bunch of baseless assertions without any foundation that any of it is true. I could make up any story of god(s) that I wanted off the top of my head that would be just as valid as anything you stated here.

      July 3, 2012 at 11:34 am |
  2. JesusChrist Son of God Son of Mary Brother to the Holy Ghost

    Who cares about John the Baptist? Someone, please find my bones, so that there is proof I exists.

    July 2, 2012 at 9:38 pm |
  3. almsforanexleper

    These couldn't possibly be the bones of John the Baptist, because he is a RESURRECTED BEING . . . It's true because Joseph Smith said he saw him and gave the priesthood, and the power to woo women en masse.

    July 2, 2012 at 9:26 pm |
  4. Mark

    Awesome Find! Now we have another money maker for Bulgaria. Unfortunately, his remains are also claimed to be in Spain, Italy, Germany and Egypt. Will the real John the Baptist please stand up, please stand up, please stand up!

    July 2, 2012 at 5:20 pm |
  5. whatyoudontknow

    Tom, Tom, the Piper's Son
    My bad

    July 2, 2012 at 2:33 pm |
  6. whatyoudontknow

    Bro i got to tell you what ever your belief system is its doing nothing for your personality check it out no one has seen a higher power in the act of creating nor has anyone seen chemicals combining to form a cell or one life form of life evolve into another the point get off your high horse and stop pretending that you can be certain of what the origin of life is but to answer your question of what good does belief in god or the bibles inspiration is i will tell you i am proof before investigating the facts i was a dangerous selfish without a conscience person some one i trust you would not want to cross since developing a relationship with the author of the bible i have become a much much better person... i do not want to be rude but why are so so angry at the bible i understand religious fanatics and hypocrites that claim to follow the bible but what is your beef with God?
    No disrespect intended

    July 2, 2012 at 1:57 pm |
    • Tom, Tom, the Piper's Son

      Do the words "run-on sentence" mean anything to you?

      July 2, 2012 at 1:59 pm |
  7. booboot0805

    Those bones are MINE! Hail to the bigots!

    July 1, 2012 at 11:22 pm |
  8. mapleman

    If there is a GOD, where did god come from? Who or what created him? where does he live/exist? Where was he millions of years ago and what was he doing for those millions of years before he "created us in his likeness"? Was he lonely when he "created us"? If we were created in his likeness, doesn't that mean he would need oxygen and food as well? God should be ashamed of quite a few of the folks working for him and how they handle those that are behaving illegally.

    July 1, 2012 at 11:15 pm |
    • booboot0805

      Those are questions that should be asked by any high school teacher before he/she sets out to teach any other subjects.

      July 1, 2012 at 11:23 pm |
    • championsleaguer

      Just as the dinosaurs and the millenia before our existence, God was probably busy creating and enjoying his many worlds. But, don't hate God so much. And don't hate those that choose to believe. If you were God, would you not create dinosaurs and other wonders, to behold for yourself? The only reason why the Unites States of America is still an autonomous nation is because we are, in fact, "one nation under God." Our faith, even if it is a small percentage of us citizens nowadays, is why we are still in power. Just like this guy Higham, Saul was an athiest, indeed the living anichrist, and even he we given a gift of faith. You obviously (you as in all you naysayers) have a right to your own opinion, but don't let your own beliefs create hate in your heart towards others, especially God. And don't feel that if He does exist, that he is so angry at you for your beliefs that your place in hell is assured. You can always do things that make him smile, just as in the case of Saul.

      July 2, 2012 at 12:16 am |
    • championsleaguer

      and sorry about my lackluster editing job 😉

      July 2, 2012 at 12:18 am |
    • championsleaguer

      dang, I was way too lax! "... and even he was given a gift of faith..." sorry guys

      July 2, 2012 at 12:19 am |
    • Lucille

      God has and always will exist. Yes, man was created in his image, i.e. spiritual image. "Let us make man in our image..." Deity was talking and man was created (Adam) with a spirit that could communicate with God who is Spirit.

      July 2, 2012 at 6:33 am |
    • christian fundamentalist

      We cant conceive of a being in another dimension, thats like stick figures in 2D looking at somebody in 3D. The real question is, how did 'millions of years' and 'evolution from a primordial soup' become science? You are asking the wrong questions.

      July 2, 2012 at 6:35 am |
    • No Truth, Just Claims

      "We cant conceive of a being in another dimension, thats like stick figures in 2D looking at somebody in 3D."

      Christian Fundamentalist,

      Apparently you think you CAN conceive of a being in another dimension because that is what you are doing. You not on claim that there is a being, (something you admit we can't know) you claim you know which version of god it is, (which according to your definition would be even more impossible to know).

      I love it when theists define their god right out of possibility.

      July 2, 2012 at 1:44 pm |
  9. heywatchthis

    why if everyone saw a mirical there would be those who would say that it was all a put on and so they could drag it down and hate it. you know' like you

    July 1, 2012 at 8:32 pm |
    • No Truth, Just Claims

      That's right! And you know why? Because first you would have to prove it was an ACTUAL miracle and to just a claim of a miracle, something that has NEVER happened in the history of mankind.

      July 2, 2012 at 2:22 pm |
    • Some Stuff


      A real smart god (one who would tell you how to spell "miracle") would know exactly how to fix that doubt for EVERYONE. It wouldn't play guessing games... with eternal damnation as the price for just guessing wrong.

      July 2, 2012 at 2:28 pm |
  10. Orwell prefers Guyana punch

    Sign me up.

    July 1, 2012 at 7:59 pm |
  11. retrostar1000

    These are not the bones of John the Baptist, I assure you. There isn't any real proof that John the Baptist ever existed, for that matter. This is nothing more than a story on psuedo-science, with lots weasel words like "may be", "could be", and "perhaps". File this under spoof, along with ufo's and psychics.

    July 1, 2012 at 7:45 pm |
    • championsleaguer

      why not believe in John the Baptist?

      July 2, 2012 at 12:20 am |
    • Ian

      Clearly, you have no idea what this article is talking about when it mentions Josephus...or who Josephus is for that matter.

      July 2, 2012 at 10:12 am |
    • RealityCheck

      I fully believe in John the UFO Baptist

      July 2, 2012 at 4:04 pm |
  12. Jack

    Hello everyone. You are all cordially invited to visit – thestarofkaduri.com

    July 1, 2012 at 5:56 pm |
    • Peteyroo

      Jack Hammer, you're spamming us again. Just say what you want to say–briefly of course.

      July 1, 2012 at 6:00 pm |
  13. Billie Hicks

    To Peteyroo: Personally I attend a Free Methodist (Weslyan) Church. I encourage you to go to one. It is a very laid back, non judgemental, and very welcoming. In my church we have seen many miracles and we are a common, regular everyday kind of folk. We are not perfect people (no one is). We welcome all, including the baby born out of wedlock, etc.

    July 1, 2012 at 5:18 pm |
    • Peteyroo

      Thank you for the invite, but I must decline.

      July 1, 2012 at 5:44 pm |
  14. DJR

    your opening paragraph says it all. obviously you have not read the findings by national geographic of the 1980's and the shroud of turin. embedded seeds of israel origin. and nuke physics who could not begin to explain the outline of the corps itself and how it was formed. science is flying down a road of loss when it seeks to dismember the BIBLE. pre greek with the void. bang and creation start in the sea just in the first 2 pages. none of it's authors even knew about physics, gas or fossils. let alone higher education. but they saw wonders of a hand far greater than the common mind.

    July 1, 2012 at 5:12 pm |
    • Peteyroo

      What corps?

      July 1, 2012 at 5:47 pm |
  15. tim

    Can these bones heal, balance the national budget, or save mankind from himself? If not put them back into the ground an let them dust away!

    July 1, 2012 at 12:26 pm |
    • todd in DC

      No, but they cured my ET

      July 2, 2012 at 3:05 pm |
  16. Mary

    JESUS SAID: 'OH FAITHLESS GENERATION THAT SEEKS A SIGN AND NONE SHALL BE GIVEN BUT THE SIGN OF JONAH'. He said this before he was crucified and resurrected, as Jonah did, 3 days later.

    July 1, 2012 at 10:55 am |
    • Peteyroo

      Does the "sign of Jonah" have anything to do with a middle finger?

      July 1, 2012 at 2:28 pm |
    • SixDegrees

      Yeah. Funny, isn't it, how so much of the New Testament is so carefully constructed to mirror the Old? Of course, no one would ever deliberately do such a thing in order to boost their credibility. Would they?

      July 2, 2012 at 3:56 am |
  17. Mary


    July 1, 2012 at 9:02 am |
    • jwt

      So faith can be found in a pile of whale poop. Makes sense.

      July 1, 2012 at 9:16 am |
    • Peteyroo

      Really? All caps? Explain the sign of Jonah, please. You do know what it is, right?

      July 1, 2012 at 9:49 am |
  18. A Believer

    Funny how whenever there is "evidence" against a Christian belief or miracle or relic or whenever someone who abuses a position of authority in a Christian religion it is publicized all over the media. There is an ongoing steady attack on the Judeo Christian God and against Christianity in this culture. I believe these articles are publicized to make people feel foolish and others think that Christianity is foolish. If we don't watch out our country is going to become just like Orwell's book "1984" but with the Ministry of Media added in. Why doesn't CNN and other news outlets ever publicize all the good that is done by churches. How people's faith has helped them. About miracles? You never see it because most of what you read and see on the news is anti religious anti God propaganda.

    July 1, 2012 at 7:15 am |
    • Mary

      they are not interetsted in doing good...why promote God then? specially when it comes against world powers and their choices which many are so corrupt. this channel has never advocated other than goverment and corrupt...the goverment is not Christ's and the only true goverment that brings peace is far from all of us....His name is JESUSCHRIST and HE IS COMING SOON. To judge all who mocked him, scoffed at him, whipped him up, spit at him, and kept him out of his /her life. Believe in Jesus is not a cult, it is religions which are big time cult. Just ask HIM>

      July 1, 2012 at 9:05 am |
    • jwt

      Most of the good is done by the small churches, they have too much sense to want to be interviewed by cnn adn they don't need to get all hyped up about things.

      July 1, 2012 at 9:18 am |
    • Peteyroo

      We're trying to straighten you out, Abeleever. What good that churches do needs to be published? Please give examples of these good things. Exclude, of course, activities merely trying to convert folks. I mean truly good things where you expect nothing in return. Spreading the word of God is not a good thing–it's an attempt at conversion and very self-serving–one might say selfish. Exclude hate-filled sermons demonizing minorities as well. Tell me the good, nonjudgmental things you do.

      July 1, 2012 at 9:57 am |
    • Peteyroo

      Mory, explain "soon." Folks have been saying that your Christ is returning soon for 2,000 years. I suppose time is relative, but I would like your imput on just what soon is. For the sake of argument, let's say that Jesus will return (astride a golden unicorn with a leprechaun on his shoulders). When? Tomorrow, next year, next millenium, a million years? Explain!

      July 1, 2012 at 10:03 am |
    • Peteyroo

      jtw, explain "good." I'm afraid we may have very different views as to what good is. I consider it something you do expecting nothing in return except perhaps a smile–no conversion, no hymns, no sermons, no judgment. Explain, please.

      July 1, 2012 at 10:06 am |
    • Mary

      The media has never promoted the Lord God Almighty! ANd HE does not need the MEDIA . HE has his own book written thru thousand of years, by many authors, and with divine miracle powers and prophecies fulfilled. Why would the devil want to say that thre is a God and he performs miracles and that you should look up to him for your own life's sake? The media and the goverment specially Socialist goverments and Communist will tell you there is no God. The media is not God's channel on the contrary, it is his enemy's.

      July 1, 2012 at 11:15 am |
    • jwt

      Pete – visiting the sick and lonely, helping with the community, i dont know of any strings attached but the small community churches tend to be more integrated into the community. An acceptance of god is not required, at least for the ones i know. Others experiences may vary of course.

      And Mary – there is no god and if there was it would not be worthy of worship/.

      July 1, 2012 at 1:29 pm |
    • No Truth, Just Claims

      The good done by the churches do not require churches to be done.

      July 1, 2012 at 2:36 pm |
    • Peteyroo

      Not Ruth, Just Clams, what?

      July 1, 2012 at 5:58 pm |
    • retrostar1000

      Christianity has been perverse from it's inception. More people have been killed in the name of religion than all the wars of all mankind combined. What a wretched experiment it has been. Christians have nearly ruined this country by infiltrating our political system and forcing their insane beliefs upon people. Christians are out of control, incredibly judgmental bigots parading around as do-gooders, meanwhile back at the church the priest is fondling little boys and the pastor is skimming funds from the congregation. Whatever negative attention you feel religion gets it is because of their own doing.

      July 1, 2012 at 7:57 pm |
    • Steve O

      A Believer, if any evidence was provided to support Christianity or a higher power of any kind, it would be the biggest story in human history. It would trump anything else in the news cycle, it would be debated tirelessly on every news channel.

      But, there never has been and likely never will be a story like that. The reason that items disproving religion make headlines is because those are the only story available. It's not some media conspiracy, it's just that reality seems to have a bias against mysticism. Sure, there's the occasional "Jesus-on-a-cheese-sandwich" story, but I think even believers would agree that's just hokey BS.

      July 2, 2012 at 10:42 am |
    • No Truth, Just Claims


      My point is the good the church is not exclusive to the church and does not require a church. We can take the church out of the equation and the equation still works.

      July 3, 2012 at 11:21 am |
    • Bill Deacon

      The equation still works in theory without the Church. Thankfully for you, the Church actually is doing all that work so we don't have to test your theory.

      July 3, 2012 at 4:07 pm |
  19. Larry

    So in a couple thousand years if bones are found with the name larry on a moseleum in illinois it must be me right?

    July 1, 2012 at 6:59 am |
    • XOKUP

      ...and if there's a hand with one finger sticking in your eye socket that will be proof enough that it belonged to Moe.

      July 2, 2012 at 12:08 am |
  20. Michael

    Bring the mans bones together and bury him. Where do they get the right to have various body parts around the world. How ghastly. I wouldn't want my bones carried around as trophys.

    July 1, 2012 at 2:38 am |
    • Chuck

      I've always thought that too. Go dig up a grave and carry off pieces of someone? I thought that was called grave robbing.

      July 2, 2012 at 9:45 am |
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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.