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. Molestation is not healthy for children and other living things

    Religious people are uber intelligent.

    June 22, 2012 at 5:33 pm |
  2. trekie70

    Haven't many churches in Europe claimed to have biological remnants of famous people? Why should we take this find at face value? Simply dating the bones to the time of Jesus isn't enough for me.

    June 22, 2012 at 5:30 pm |
    • Kerlos R

      Are you building your faith on the remains of famous religious people? do not waste your time!

      June 22, 2012 at 6:25 pm |
    • OneTruth

      Kerlos. How is that building your faith on the remains of famous religious people any more a waste of time than "regular" faith?

      October 17, 2012 at 4:26 pm |
  3. These Bones PROVE God Exists and Jesus Was Truly The Messiah!

    Just a David Koresh's bones prove he was the Final Prophet of God.

    June 22, 2012 at 5:28 pm |
  4. Krug Lamner

    Christians only believe radiocarbon dating when it proves bones are old.

    Apply it to evolution and they'll say it's a lie.

    June 22, 2012 at 5:24 pm |
    • The Huge Molars of Horst Nordfink

      Good one, Krug! You nailed it!

      June 22, 2012 at 5:33 pm |
    • cbinal

      Wrong. Study radiocarbon dating and hopefully you'll see the assumptions and flaws.

      June 22, 2012 at 5:35 pm |
    • Kerlos R

      Krug we believe in our bible as is READ the Bible without preconceived opinions then you might understand the misconception that bible contradicts science.

      June 22, 2012 at 6:20 pm |
    • John

      I have studied radio carbon dating and find nothing that supports the interpretation that the world is 6K years old.

      June 22, 2012 at 7:58 pm |
    • John

      Kerlos R So is the great flood the entire world covered up to the highest mountain and clearing after 40 days a scientific event? If so did the water recede into the core of the earth or did it evaporate? If it did either, why is it not detectable in the 100,000 year old ice formations at either the south pole or in various deep glaciers like on Geenland?

      June 22, 2012 at 8:03 pm |
    • OneTruth

      cbinal and kerlos. Please explain and provide examples.

      October 17, 2012 at 4:24 pm |
  5. Larry

    The shroud of Turin, it has already been said, is likely from a period, (14th century) when Jaques De Molay , the GrandMaster of The Knights Templar was captured and tortured by the King of France. The King purposely inflicted wounds similar to those inflicted on Jesus. If the shroud was actually wrapped around anybody, IIt was likely DeMolay. Like it or not.

    June 22, 2012 at 5:20 pm |
    • Mikey

      I know. It is fascinating to think that the shroud could have wrapped the most famous Knight Templar. And would explain so much of the physical evidence of the shroud.

      June 22, 2012 at 5:25 pm |
  6. rybl101

    There is only one true cosmic, Jewish zombie who requires you eat his bread-flesh and telepathically swear allegiance to Him weekly so He will, in turn, remove the sin embedded within your soul by the mistake made by a rib-woman who was convinced by a talking snake to eat a magic apple.

    Disbelieve at your own peril!

    June 22, 2012 at 5:18 pm |
    • Kerlos R

      what is this? the cosmic conspiracy theory

      June 22, 2012 at 5:44 pm |
    • Chris

      You lack sincerity.

      Even as you hate Him and intentionally blaspheme and pervert every single issue you mentioned, the LORD wants you to choose mercy instead of justice for yourself. He wants to give you mercy and blessings. You don't "swear allegiance". He knows you. Your word is worth as much as mine. Squat.

      All you have to do is trust Him.

      June 22, 2012 at 6:24 pm |
    • John

      Chris the above post is in sarcasim, but please explain why the Christian religion believes in the canibalist ritual of transsubstantiation? The weekly eating of the flesh of Christ and the weekly drinking of his blood?

      June 22, 2012 at 8:07 pm |
    • Joepub

      Don't worry your little head about it. You are not one of the chosen, not everybody gets it.

      October 17, 2012 at 4:14 pm |
    • OneTruth

      Chris. Please explain what perversion of the christian faith that you see in rybl's post?

      October 17, 2012 at 4:18 pm |
  7. Moby Schtick

    So these bones are from that time period. Um, ok. How is that news?

    June 22, 2012 at 5:14 pm |
  8. G Ford

    Well, if the bones are those of John the Baptist, it will not have a head since King Herod was presented his head on a platter – while his disciples buried his body themselves.

    June 22, 2012 at 5:13 pm |
  9. Mohammad A Dar

    An other tool for hindu pagan christian's to make claim for their hinduism, absurdities about Jesus, no one lived by Jesus name in history of human before hinduism, innovation of hinduism, paganism called Christianity , John was killed by hindu Jew's, criminal self centered, his head was buried in Egypt and Body in Syria to prevent resection according to their hindu fabricated belief. .

    June 22, 2012 at 5:12 pm |
    • Mikey


      June 22, 2012 at 5:27 pm |
    • Mohammad A Dar

      hindu, monkey

      June 22, 2012 at 5:30 pm |
    • Huebert

      English is not your first language is it?

      June 22, 2012 at 5:52 pm |
    • Kerlos R

      Mohammad it is really disappointing to hear from one who did not read the bible, be outspoken on Christianity, i would ask u to read it as your Q'uran ask You to do it and i will be glad to start a chat.

      June 22, 2012 at 6:17 pm |
    • Mohammad A Dar

      Who cares, English is hinduism, corruption of Latin by hindu's criminals in following of hindu corruption called Sanskrit to fool humanity.

      June 22, 2012 at 6:24 pm |
    • Mohammad A Dar

      Kerlos R---No need to hind, assume in hinduism, ignorance, I have studied book of contradiction called bible and know history of it well.

      June 22, 2012 at 6:27 pm |
    • Hammer Of The Gods

      The Missing Years Of Jesus.

      Cesearean, son of Julius Ceasar and Cleopatra fled Egypt when it fell to an attack By Rome.
      He was assisted by royal family members.
      He traveled by the silk route to Tibet and studied budism until his 30th birthday.
      He returned to Egypt as "Jesus Christ" (JC/Julius Ceaser) Jesus Christ translate in Egyptian to "Son Of Isis.

      Julius Ceaser emporer of Rome, and Cleopatra queen of Egypt had a son.
      Ceaser was declared a god by the Roman senate, so Cesearean was the son of god.
      Cleopatra had decalred herself the Reincarnation of the virgin godess Isis (see above)
      so Cesearean was the son of a virgin.

      Cleopatra (after Ceasers murder) had three more children (with Marc Antony, commander in Cesaers army)
      Boy girl twins, and another boy.
      The girl (selene/Mary magdalene) and both boys reunited with Cesearean, now called Jesus Christ to help him
      get back his throne.
      Now that "Jesus" is the hier to the throne of both Egypt and Rome, Octavian (Adopted son of Ceaser)
      now sitting on the throne in Rome, wants Jesus dead.
      The rest you know.

      June 27, 2012 at 1:58 pm |
  10. Scientist

    This is good news for Christians and Muslems, alike.It would be interesting to see whether the other three heads and arm bones are from the same person. That would be reassuring because having a bone from somebody in that period doesn't exactly identify them as coming from a particular person. After all, John the Baptist and Jesus were not the only people alive then, or it would have been a very empty place.

    June 22, 2012 at 5:08 pm |
    • agathokles

      You think "the other three heads" could be from the same person??? Some Scientist you are!

      June 22, 2012 at 5:23 pm |
    • Kerlos R

      It is well known that christian churches share the remains of their saints among them for blessings. eastern christian churches do exactly know where are the remains of the disciples and saints of that area. You only need to dig deeper into coptic church archives as one source or the Greek orthodox church's archives.

      June 22, 2012 at 6:13 pm |
    • Mohammad A Dar

      Kerlos R-----Do you know inception of cross and the meanings of it, What do you call horizontal lines in the middle of orthodox cross and what does it mean including souce of it.

      June 22, 2012 at 6:33 pm |
  11. Atheism is not healthy for children and other living things

    Prayer changes things,

    June 22, 2012 at 5:08 pm |
    • Satan

      Pray. Is what you're praying for part of God's plan? Your prayer is redundant. Is your prayer not part of God's plan? Your prayer is futile. Praying is worthless. 🙂

      June 22, 2012 at 5:45 pm |
  12. Dave

    Since Jesus bones were found at Talpiot in 1982, it should be no problem to compare DNA with his cousin John. Now to convince the IAA to give back the ossuary which they have had in storage since then.

    June 22, 2012 at 5:08 pm |
    • Skeptic

      LOL. I have some prime Florida swampland to sell you.

      June 22, 2012 at 5:20 pm |
  13. Rynomite

    Fred – The fact that Communist regeims suppressed organized religion was due to the political ideology that the state would be able to more efficiently control the minnds of its people if it didn't have to fight against church organizations.

    Saying an athiest = communist is no different than saying christian = Republican.

    Noone is re-writing history. Just criticizing the attempt to label incorrectly.

    June 22, 2012 at 5:07 pm |
  14. Jack B.

    The statement, "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. " within the last 18 months has been re-examined and it is now believed that the bases for the allegations of forgery are not well-founded. There turn out to be logical examinations for the supposed "flaws" in the first modern review. Not saying they proved that Jesus was wrapped in there but it makes a strong case it was someone who had been crucified, stabbed in the side and suffered wounds to his head.

    June 22, 2012 at 4:54 pm |
    • Dave

      The cloth of the shroud could not have been made before 450 CE. The loom required to create that type of cloth wasn't invented until then.

      June 22, 2012 at 5:10 pm |
    • Byron

      The shroud of Turin is a primitive photograph of Leonardo DaVinci.

      June 22, 2012 at 5:16 pm |
    • cbinal

      Jack I am a Christian and the Shroud is an amazing piece of art, that's all. There is so much wrong with it that I won't go through it all but, just get this, the person on the image is like 6'7" on the front and 6'9" on the back. Also, being someone that works on 3D CAD systems and does some Art, take body paint, smear it on, lay a cloth on top of you and then pull it off and watch the distortion. Also, burial cloths in that day were wrapped like a mummy and it even says in the Bible that he had a separate cloth for his head.

      June 22, 2012 at 5:29 pm |
    • Kerlos R

      The shroud or bones authenticity does not effect Christianity a bit. you are discussing religion because you are looking for the truth and u are terrified for the notion that if God do exist then you are missing out on knowing him. once i was told it is nice to talk about God but it is much better talking with him

      June 22, 2012 at 6:08 pm |
  15. Chance

    Honey B
    If that where the case our choices wouldn't be ours; they would be God's calculated choices for us.

    June 22, 2012 at 4:53 pm |
    • Chance

      Meant to post somewhere else...

      June 22, 2012 at 6:02 pm |
  16. Ted

    How do we know that these bones have not already been carbon dated and then handed to the archaeologist?
    They seem to be in an awful hurry to get them tested considering it could be anybody from that time.

    June 22, 2012 at 4:44 pm |
  17. Jt_flyer

    Interesting but when the bones start bleeding, I'll believe it. Besides all the pictures I've seen show John the Baptist had blond hair and blue eyes. How could he possibly have been from the Middle East?!?

    June 22, 2012 at 4:29 pm |
    • Fred

      Not sure where you're finding these pictures you are referring to.
      Every picture I've ever seen drawn of him showed either a dark-haired young man or
      a depiction of him as a mostly bald old man.

      June 22, 2012 at 4:49 pm |
    • Nate


      June 22, 2012 at 5:00 pm |
    • Kerlos R

      Do u really want to believe or u want to find every reason no to. If faith u want to find then are looking in the wrong places.

      June 22, 2012 at 5:59 pm |
  18. Hunter

    Interesting that Jesus and John the Baptist were from the middle east. I wonder how many so-called Christians can really absorb that fact.

    June 22, 2012 at 4:19 pm |
    • freeme10

      It's not really interesting, because most people should know that nearly every location mentioned in the bible was within 200 miles of Jerusalem.

      June 22, 2012 at 4:25 pm |
    • FlyontheWall

      It is likely today the Both Jesus and Juan would both be radical muslims today, and probably be terrorists. Makes you contemplate every belief system on the planet, and how sad they really are, and hate mean and hateful human beings can be on all three sides of the fence.

      June 22, 2012 at 4:29 pm |
    • Fred

      Seriously? You believe that?
      Maybe you need to stick to the funny pages.

      June 22, 2012 at 4:50 pm |
    • Mikey

      Fly...they were Jews not Arabs or Romans. Pay attention.

      June 22, 2012 at 5:28 pm |
    • Kerlos R

      would u prefer if they were chinese or russians or any other nationality!!! does it really matter. please guys religion is not a story. it is a life u choose to live it or not is your choice.

      June 22, 2012 at 5:53 pm |
  19. Sharkfisher

    What really amazes me is how angry at and frightened of atheists are of a God they claim doesn't exist and how they believe they have the freedom to express their beliefs but would take that freedon from anyone who disagrees with them.Thats just another communistic trait .

    June 22, 2012 at 4:17 pm |
    • Honey Badger Dont Care

      Logical and rational does not equal angry and afraid.

      Funny xtian.

      June 22, 2012 at 4:24 pm |
    • Rynomite

      That is a completely nonsensical post.
      Atheists are not angry or frightened of any god quite simply because it would be irrational to be angry or frightened of something that does not exist.
      Atheists ARE however frustrated by and frightened of people who worship gods. We are frustrated because we cannot understand how people can ignore basic logic. We are frightened because people who ignore logic are currently a majority and like to force their beliefs on others.
      We most assuredly think everyone should have the freedom to express their beliefs; just not the power to force them onto others.
      P.S. Communisim is a political ideology and is not related to atheism. Trust me, I'm athiest but vote republican cause I have $$$.

      June 22, 2012 at 4:29 pm |
    • Huebert


      Do you know what a communist is?

      June 22, 2012 at 4:40 pm |
    • Fred

      I guess you guys seem to have forgotten how the Communists suppressed religion almost from Day One.
      convenient of you to forget that, but there are still a few of us out here who aren't drinking the Kool-Aid of
      rewriting the history books to push an agenda.

      June 22, 2012 at 4:52 pm |
    • Rynomite

      Fred – The fact that Communist regeims suppressed organized religion was due to the political ideology that the state would be able to more efficiently control the minnds of its people if it didn't have to fight against church organizations.

      Saying an athiest = communist is no different than saying christian = Republican.

      Noone is re-writing history. Just criticizing the attempt to label incorrectly...

      June 22, 2012 at 5:08 pm |
    • Rynomite

      FYI – Jesus would have been considered a Socialist

      June 22, 2012 at 5:10 pm |
    • Mohammad A Dar

      No, son of blessed Mary was a republican.

      June 22, 2012 at 5:14 pm |
    • Just Claims, No Truth


      We are not afraid of your god, we are afraid of the actions that are taken in the belief of god.

      Christian camp "You cannot find true happiness unless you accept Christ as your savior"

      Atheist "I'm fine, thanks."

      Christian camp "Maybe you don't understand, only Christians can be happy, and we want this country of America to be happy so we must be Christians!"

      Atheist "No thanks, as I said, I'm fine."

      Christian camp "Well if you can't understand we will just get a majority to pass legislation to force you to obey Christian laws, we'll put references to our God on your money, we'll make your children proclaim "One nation, under God" in your pledge, we will deny the rights of legal relationships to those who don't follow our biblical custom of one man and one woman, we will ban the right of a mother to terminate a pregnancy based on our belief that a fertilized egg has an ever living soul, we will denigrate and persecute those who do not accept our truth, we will get a tax exempt status for our Church so they will not be chipping in when it comes to providing real benefits to all Americans, we will put a litmus test on any and all elected positions to make it almost impossible for a non-believer to be elected to any position of power. And on top of that if you complain we will say you are the ones being hateful. I mean, why do you spend time on these boards bashing us, why do you even care?..."

      Atheist "Fvck you guys..."

      Christian camp "See, so much hate..."

      June 22, 2012 at 5:36 pm |
    • Just Claims, No Truth


      First the suppression of religion in communist countrie was a power move, to one based in atheism.

      Second, I also am aware of religion suppressing science, also a power move except it is claimed to be from "god".

      June 22, 2012 at 5:41 pm |
    • Mohammad A Dar

      Church is nothing but hindu temple, dungeon of illegality to deny truth absolute under the banner of Pharoahnic cross and spread hinduism, racism, foundation of hinduism, crime against humanity labeled as Christianity in hindu Judasim, filthy secularism by hindu's of Egypt.

      June 22, 2012 at 5:47 pm |
    • Fearless Freep

      *** there are still a few of us out here who aren't drinking the Kool-Aid of
      rewriting the history books to push an agenda.

      The only one rewritting history are.......you guessed it.....

      Republicans and Christians.

      June 27, 2012 at 2:09 pm |
  20. johnfrichardson

    So for once it isn't a transparent fraud. I suppose that's progress of sorts.

    June 22, 2012 at 4:14 pm |
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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.