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. kentuckyscience.com

    Finite Universe – zero and one are equal (matter can be infinitely divided into nothing – God is Nothing that created everything out of emptiness) "At the Planck distance and the Planck time all physics, as we know it today collapses. This is the reason we call the beginning of the big bang a singularity. You cannot apply ordinary reasoning there. Zero and one have no sense there.OK?" J-P Buri There should be no doubt in anyone’s mind that the Big Bang views one and zero as being equal, since it states that zero appeared out of the absence of zero; then zero created something. Many scientists believe or have faith that light does not have mass, thus they believe the Universe is Finite. Religion promotes the most commonly accepted idea of the group. If light does not have mass, then it would be impossible to move an electron. Light described as a particle means nothing, if it has no mass since it would be impossible to distinguish from nothing because no mass means void of substance. If it has no substance, then nothing is present to distinguish the particle from other particles. The finite universe supports the view that gravity is an ACCELERATION. And that nothing determines how matter moves. Based on the finite universe, someone who is highly educated does not respond to what has been learned, yet relies on nothing to prevent them from walking in front of a bus. Yes, we are made of atoms that are arranged in a way to make us appear to be different than other atoms found in stars. Thus how we behave is significant to understanding the difference between something and nothing.

    June 23, 2012 at 7:01 am |
    • valerian

      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.

      June 23, 2012 at 7:43 am |
  2. Name*Chedar

    The only way to prove that this bone belongs to the so called "saint" is to burn the bone and see if the remains turn into "Sarira". If it did not turn into "Sarira" then it's either the bone does not belong to John the Baptist or John the Baptist did not even attained the 1st stage of sainthood.

    June 23, 2012 at 6:51 am |
  3. joha

    Want to buy a bridge?

    June 23, 2012 at 6:39 am |
  4. Atheism is not healthy for children and other living things

    Prayer really changes things

    June 23, 2012 at 5:34 am |
    • Name*Chedar

      Tell that to those people who are suffering right noe in Africa

      June 23, 2012 at 6:53 am |
    • The Bird Is The Word

      Really? Then show me the GodFax.

      June 23, 2012 at 7:13 am |
    • Fladabosco

      You are so right. As far as I can tell, prayer makes people into idiots. It makes them believe all sorts of things that are not true. It makes them kill their own children. It makes them believe that everything will be alright as long as they mumble certain words.

      There are many good things that come out of religion and I think in general, prayer and belief in god are healthy things. But let's be honest it can turn people into unthinking zombies who expect a ruler from the heavens to take care of them personally. And it can turn them into total jerks.

      June 23, 2012 at 7:14 am |
    • Fladabosco

      And as the incredibly Reverend Salvatore Fladabosco used to say, more human suffering has been avoided by the washing of hands than the kneeling in supplication.

      June 23, 2012 at 7:15 am |
  5. TheGreenMan

    Those bones would have more validity if the head of the skeleton was missing.

    June 23, 2012 at 4:28 am |

    in life i learnt something to be on the believing side because even if it turns out to be false it's a win win situation for but the one who chose not to believe is in deep trouble, so choose to believe.

    June 23, 2012 at 3:52 am |
    • HotAirAce

      Cue Fallacy Spotter...

      June 23, 2012 at 3:58 am |
    • tallulah13

      So I guess you believe in every one of the literally thousands of gods ever worshiped by humanity, because you can't be too careful.

      June 23, 2012 at 4:31 am |
    • JWT

      Choose to believe : SO you want people to fake it. Relly cool.

      June 23, 2012 at 6:21 am |
    • Fladabosco

      Ahhhd say you learned yerself some pretty dumb things.

      June 23, 2012 at 7:15 am |
    • diegohomans

      Read up on that. It's called Pascal's Wager and is largely thought to be ironic, i.e., a joke.

      June 23, 2012 at 7:30 am |

    You see folks all these discoveries are good they are all signs that the almighty God lives but the painful thing is not to believe in His existence and then one day u will stand before Him what will say?

    June 23, 2012 at 3:49 am |
    • HotAirAce

      Bullsh!t. You don't have single fact to support your claim that your, or any, god exists!

      June 23, 2012 at 3:57 am |
    • Jay McKeen

      I'll repeat Bertrand Russell's intended statement, if he found himself after death standing at the Gates facing St. Peter and Company: "Gentlemen, I was wrong."

      June 23, 2012 at 6:08 am |
    • JWT

      Why are you here – you are not my god

      June 23, 2012 at 6:22 am |
    • Bob Dobbs

      Where have you been?

      June 23, 2012 at 10:15 am |
  8. kaelinda

    "To one who has faith, no explanation is necessary. To one without faith, no explanation is possible." – Thomas Aquinas

    June 23, 2012 at 3:25 am |
    • Colin

      thank you kaelinda, you have just convinced me fairies exist,

      June 23, 2012 at 3:27 am |
    • Robb

      ah yes a quote from someone who advocated the death penalty for heretics, well NOW you have convinced lol

      June 23, 2012 at 4:48 am |
  9. Flamespeak

    My mind is effectivelly boggled. How can anyone on the planet believe that scienctist can give a 100% confirmed result when they lack any of John the Baptist's DNA to compare this specimen to?

    At best they will be able to say what race, gender, and age the specimen is, but that will be about all.

    June 23, 2012 at 2:39 am |
    • people are so lazy

      ... and if you actually read the article, you will see there is no scientific claim made that it IS John the Baptist, just that is it a male from the time period. Seriously, how is the statement "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" not enough to already have made your point?

      June 23, 2012 at 4:54 am |
  10. asif

    John The Baptist's or not . . . old bones is what they are . . . just old bones. I'll never understand why some people gravitate toward digging up old bones. I think it's a fetish more than anything else. Old bones . . . who really cares whose they are? People are sick, starving, being slaughtered. And I, as a compassionate human being, should turn my attentions to old bones and relics from the past? . . . can't fill a stomach on history.

    June 23, 2012 at 2:04 am |
    • mandarax

      How strangely incurious of you.

      June 23, 2012 at 2:41 am |
    • rebel

      People have been suffering from diseases and hunger since ages, things havent changed a wee bit. If it wasnt for the belief and fear of god then man would have been just another animal with no morals, for an unbeliever they maybe just old bones but for believers they are proof of their faith. Those bones may not be possessing special powers or things like that but it is the bones of a prophet, a saint and its been handed down for ages, a way of honoring the person.

      June 23, 2012 at 5:05 am |
    • JWT

      Belief in god has nothing to do with being moral people

      June 23, 2012 at 6:26 am |
  11. logan5

    Even if.....I'll say it again, even if these are the remains of the biblical character John the Baptist, they do absolutely nothing to prove the divinity of Jesus or the existence of the Christian god. But of course Christians will come out of the wood work claiming this is PROOF of their god and the legitimacy of their belief system.

    June 23, 2012 at 1:38 am |
    • joe

      Nah. Don't need bones of 1st century people to prove anything. The proof is in the pudding. Experience with Christian ways is what brings people around to belief. Prayer, and then witnessing it's effects is a big one. Asking, and then receiving, is another. Or, as it says 'knock, and it will be opened' is another one. That's what moves people, not old bones. Truth, not boxes of ideas or of bones.

      June 23, 2012 at 2:00 am |
  12. Kevin

    Its a 1st century fraud. it could be any man in that box from the first century and nothing more. the church is known to commit fraud. if you believe otherwise you are only deceiving yourself.

    June 23, 2012 at 1:33 am |
  13. The_Mick

    Most of these relics stem from the time St. Helena, mother of Emperor Constantine the Great (who made Christianity the Official Religion of the Roman Empire), roughtly around the year 300 A.D. visited the Holy Land. When the mother of the ruler of the western world asks you to find relics and sites, you do not disappoint her. So rediscovered at that time were: the "true cross", the site where Mary met the Angel Gabriel in Nazareth, Golgotha and the path Jesus walked to Golgotha, the location of the stable in Bethlehem, the location of the Sermon on the Mount, etc. etc. My guess is they found John the Baptists bones, despite the fact Herod had him beheaded and the body was probably disposed of secretly so no martyr effect would occur.

    June 23, 2012 at 12:59 am |
    • Shadow

      I had forgotten the head on a silver platter story..great point, lol..his body wasn't with his head. LMAO

      June 23, 2012 at 1:13 am |
  14. letsallBeGrateful

    Liberals are such morons. Hey, I found bones that are dated a few thousand years ago. Why... they have to be from JESUS or JOHN THE BABTIST. There were only..... hundreds.. OF MILLIONS of people on earth, but it has to be them! Liberals are retards.

    June 23, 2012 at 12:45 am |
    • Alex


      June 23, 2012 at 12:50 am |
    • ButterSquash

      lol/ Not sure who you're upset with, but I think you have gotten your groups mixed up

      June 23, 2012 at 12:57 am |
    • letsallBeGrateful

      More liberal ignorance. Live in bliss all you want, but it won't change the fact that liberalism is a mental disorder.

      June 23, 2012 at 12:59 am |
    • Shadow

      "Letsallbegrateful" They're right, if you understand the difference between a Liberal and a Conservative. A Liberal goes for new ideas and a Conservative clings to old ideas. In this case, the old ideas would be clinging to a body found in the same era of a story in the Bible MUST be John the Baptist, even though the writings found with him match up to 300 years past that era. Believe it or not..everything isn't a Liberal vs. Conservative argument..sometimes..it's just common sense when a person has a knowledge of history. Without that knowledge, you should stick to the political battle of Obama vs. Romney where no one has a clue of the difference between fact and fiction and no one really cars because they have picked a side already.

      June 23, 2012 at 1:10 am |
    • logan5

      Liberals?? Umm...don't you mean "conservatives??" LOL

      June 23, 2012 at 1:39 am |
  15. TAK

    Wow. Talk about a leap of faith (pun intended). Using exactly the same logic these clowns are using, someone can carbon date my bones in two thousand years and declare they've found Barrack Obama.

    June 23, 2012 at 12:45 am |
  16. Shadow

    They weren't referred to as "Saints" in that era(Not until 300 A.d. which was way far off from John's, supposed. baptism of Jesus.) , thus...complete b.s.. Why must the public continue to deal with this sci-fi series in the, supposed..."news"? It's simple, for non-simpletons, it's a forgery to try to give solid stone to a pretend story that is made of sandstone and breaks when touched.

    June 23, 2012 at 12:11 am |
  17. Reality

    From p. 4:

    The existence of JB is one of the few certainties of the NT. JB's life to include his execution however like everything in the NT got twisted to suit the likes of the NT authors.

    To wit:

    "Professor JP Meier, University of Notre Dame, [Ma-rginal Jew II,171-76] reviews the material relating to John's execution, before concluding:

    When it comes to the imprisonment and death of John, Josephus, not Mark (6: 14-29) must serve as our main source. Receiving a folkloric legend already remodeled as a pious account of a martyr's unjust execution, Mark used the story for his own purposes. The tradition he inherited preserved the most basic facts: sometime after Jesus' baptism, John was imprisoned and executed by Antipas. Mark's story also had a v-ague recollection that Antipas' irregular marriage to Herodias was somehow connected with the Baptist's death, but lively imagination and OT allusions had long since developed the nexus in a different direction from what we read in the Antiquities. Coming as it does from a diverse matrix and being developed in a very disparate fashion, Mark's account supplies valuable independent confirmation of the most basic points of Josephus' report. Beyond those, Josephus is to be preferred for history; Mark is to be mined for tradition history and theological intent. (p. 175)"

    Add this to the "dismemberment" of the rest of John's sacred body and one is very skeptical about having said bone relics scattered all over the globe. Smells to "high heaven" of tourist traps.

    See added discussion at http://www.faithfutures.org/JDB/jdb197.html

    June 23, 2012 at 12:01 am |
    • Stephen

      I sense that you have a theollgical axe to grind and therefore discount the bulk of what you say. And for the record, you should know that ancient historians usually included multiple accounts of a single event, as the job of the historian is to gather as many accounts of the event in question as possible. The point is, there is almost never one absolutely definitive account of an historical event. The good ancient historian presented various accounts and left it to the reader's judgment as to where the truth lay. Consider too how the Gospels in some instances have conflicting accounts of the same event. This in fact points to the veracity of the writers. A scriptural whitewash, as you suggested happened, would have ironed out these conflicts. You approach to matters of scripture and faith strike this reader as disengenuous.

      June 23, 2012 at 12:19 am |
    • Reality

      You will have to read the studies of contemporary historians and NT scholars to see how they decide the authenticity of historical events and passagess. Rigorous conclusions rely on the number of independent attestations, the time of the publications, the content as it relates to the subject and time period, and any related archeological evidence. Professors JD Crossan and G. Ludemann's studies are top notch in this regard in the area of the historical Jesus .

      June 23, 2012 at 8:12 am |
  18. Challenger1

    The bible, and religion in general was invented to enforce morals on people both by force and voluntarily. Think about it, what better way to make people behave than to tell them there is an all knowing, all seeing power that can damn you for eternity or grant you eternal paradise.

    June 22, 2012 at 11:40 pm |
    • Mohammad A Dar

      If you knew where yo came from, you will never commit hinduism, absurdity like this, study results of Hedaron project in Switzerland land,

      June 23, 2012 at 12:01 am |
    • TAK

      Exactly. He sees you when you're sleeping... he knows if you've been naughty or nice... Wait, wrong myth. How old are kids when they figure out that one is BS? Five? Six, tops? Yet the one about the invisible bearded man in the sky, grown adults still fall for that one.

      June 23, 2012 at 12:52 am |
    • rebel

      in reply to mohammad a dar: i wonder what hinduism has done to you, hinduism is probably the oldest religion and hindus are one of the most tolerant people towards other religions, hinduism hasnt a history of forcible conversions like islam or christianity has done. please study more on a subject before deciding whether to like it or hate it. dont just go by hearsay. by the way im a christian and not a hindu if thats what ur thinking.

      June 23, 2012 at 7:25 am |
  19. The Bird Is The Word

    Almighty God sits on his throne
    While his children all weep, wail, and moan
    He likes to do slaughter
    Much more than he ought'er
    But why? 'Cause it gives him a bone.

    June 22, 2012 at 11:27 pm |
    • Mohammad A Dar

      Ya, lay it on "HIM", way of hindu's, deniers of truth absolute to hide their own hinduism, criminality, not for long.

      June 22, 2012 at 11:30 pm |
  20. Peteyroo

    Whether it is John the Baptist or Sam the Plumber is irrelevent. It would be interesting to see what can be learned from the bones, such as diet, general well-being, etc. As far as it being John the Baptist, I believe it is as likely as a civilization two millenia from now digging up a skeleton found in New York City and assuming it's Woody Allen.

    June 22, 2012 at 11:22 pm |
    • The Bird Is The Word


      June 22, 2012 at 11:27 pm |
    • Mohammad A Dar

      Hypothesis, exploitation's to hind, fool humanity.

      June 22, 2012 at 11:28 pm |
    • Mistrust

      But Woody Allan ain't no saint

      June 23, 2012 at 12:18 am |
    • The Bird Is The Word

      @Mistrust: No? Then why did Mia Farrow keep saying, "Oh GOD! Oh, GOD!"?

      June 23, 2012 at 12:44 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.