The Tomb of Jesus

In 1990, Israeli archaeologist Amos Kloner discovered a tomb in the Jerusalem suburb of Talpiot during the construction boom. This tomb had ten ossuaries and six of them had inscriptions related to the Gospels. No one thought much about it till  Film Maker Simcha Jacobovici (of the Exodus Decoded fame) and producer James Cameron (of Titanic) decided to investigate this and two years of their effort was shown on Sunday in the Discovery Channel documentary, The Lost Tomb of Jesus.

In the documentary, they make the claim that this tomb, was the tomb of Jesus and his family. It is not any Jesus, but the one known as Jesus of Nazereth. The tomb, according to the film makers  has markings which says Jesus, son of Joseph, Maria, Mariamene, Matthew, Judas, son of Jesus, and Jose. These are common names of that era and the Kloner thinks that it is a coincidence that the names are similar to the protagonists in the New Testament. Simcha Jacobovici thinks otherwise.

He got motivated to do this story after working on the story of another ossuary which had the inscription, “James, son of Joseph, brother of Jesus.” This was later found to be a fake. During his investigation he came across the ossuaries which had the names of Jesus and others and he was astonished by it.

The filmmaker rests his case on four main points. First, he says, recent Biblical scholarship argues that Mary Magdalene’s real name was Mariamene, a common first-century derivative of Miriam. Second, DNA tests show that microscopic human remains scraped from the Jesus box and the Mariamene box are not related, at least not matrilineally, leaving open the possibility that the two humans whose bones were once in those boxes were married. Third, the patina on the Talpiot ossuaries—that is, the mineral crust accumulated over centuries—matches that of the James box. This “discovery,” if provable, is complicated but critical to Jacobovici’s argument: the match means, he says, that the James ossuary originally lay in the Talpiot cave, thus answering questions about the James box’s provenance. It also increases the probability that the tomb belongs to the Holy Family. Jesus had four brothers, according to the Gospel of Mark; two of their names—Joseph (or Jose) and James—were found in the Talpiot tomb.[Raiders of the Lost Tomb ]

There are no contemporary accounts of Jesus’s burial and the ones closest in time are from the Synoptic Gospels dated 60-70 AD. The mythology about Jesus is that he was resurrected and ascended to heaven (Some believe that the heavenly ascension was spiritual). He never married or had an offspring. If the Talpiot tombs are proved to be true, it contradicts the Gospels and the evangelical Christian world has not taken kindly to this.

Still Christian countries did not ask for a ban on the documentary nor did they “request” Discovery Channel not to telecast it. After the documentary was telecast no one was killed. What followed instead was a detailed analysis debunking the documentary. In countless discussion forums and blogs people started finding loop holes in everything from the statistical analysis  to historical evidence. The film makers in turn have been debating scholars on forums and on Television.

In India, an organization funnily named Catholic Secular Forum wrote to the Discovery Channel’s office in India “requesting” them not to broadcast the documentary. According to CSF General Secretary, Joseph Dias, the documentary trivializes the credibility of the Bible and Christian faith. He  also added that the documentary is all mistruth and would hurt sentiments. Guess what. A few people in India were able to prevent a majority of people from seeing this documentary as Discovery Channel postponed the screening. No one stood up and asked, why not let people see the documentary and think for themselves?

There is nothing wrong with critical probes, that is what scholarship is all about, but one does have to be open to where evidence might lead, and I fear that with the matter of the Jesus tomb, such is not the case. The “end” or result is determined beforehand and is absolutely set. [Heat and Light: The Talpiot Tomb]

Postscript: Since Catholic Secular Forum does not control the Internet, here are some links for people interested in this story

13 thoughts on “The Tomb of Jesus

  1. I don’t understand what these CSF guys are doing. I think the last time I heard their name was during Da Vinci Code episode. Da Vinci came and gone and nothing happened than watching just a thriller movie. The documentary must be broadcasted and also the documentary should address all aspects of this finding.
    Let the historians find out the truth, but there are a few questions that makes me scratch my head for sometime:
    1) How do they get DNA of Jesus who died 2000 years ago?
    2) How can Jesus, the carpenter, could afford a ‘family tomb’ which would have been affordable for only the rich?
    Or is this a “hyped-up film which is intellectually and scientifically dishonest.” like this guy Joe Zias say here? –>
    Thanks you for all the links.

  2. Nitin, They sound alike. There are experts in philology who could trace these words back in history and identify from where it was derived from. So far I have not heard any such connection.
    In Spanish, Naranja is used for citrus fruits, and it is the same for Lemon in Malayalam. How did this happen? I am not sure 🙂

  3. Jo,
    1. The DNA samples were obtained from scrapings of bone fragments from the ossuaries. This point is not in debate among scholars. Even if they found DNA, they don’t have anything to compare it against.
    2. The burrial of Jesus was done by Joseph of Arimathea, who was a wealthy man. “The body was then conveyed to a new tomb that had been hewn for Joseph himself out of a rock in his garden nearby”
    See: Joseph of Arimethia

  4. JK
    Thanks for the answers.
    1) So it looks like the DNA thing doesnt have much credibility to it, right?
    2) Yes, now I remember that man Joseph of Arimethia from Bible. But again it leaves a question whether it was a family tomb etc.
    Well, let the historians find out the truth. 🙂

  5. 1. The DNA samples were used to analyze the relationship between the people found in the tomb. For example, Mitochondrial DNA analysis have shown that Mariamne Mara was neither Yeshua bar Yehosef’s sister nor mother. So the film makers made the assumption that she could be Yeshua’s wife, which need not be true.
    2. The documentaty starts with a title saying that the film makers are presenting whatever they found and they will let historians debate and agree on what is the truth.
    The last statement in the documentary is that if this is not the tomb of Jesus and his family, then there existed at the same time a person named Jesus who was son of Joseph, with two women named Mary in his life and two men named Matthew and Joseph.

  6. In fact, the James Ossuary is now thought to be genuine by most of the most serious Scholars. Meanwhile Joe Zias, the archaeologist who has been making accusations agains Simcha and Tabor etc for being dishonest has made several contradictory statements.
    So please don’t fall into the trap of declaring people to be dishonest before you all know the facts. There is certainly serious evidence in this case that deserved serious study, and Christians are not affraid or concerned about the possibilities, in contrast to what you may have heard on the TV or Radio.

  7. If you have a goat in the fight
    Linguists have always tried to push the Aryans into India through the Khyber/Bolan passes and since this whole story is imaginary they had to distort original Sanskrit texts. One such distortion was done by a famous Professor of Sanskrit at…

  8. Christianity or catholicism as I grew up in it is a religian that was exported from the Holy Land to the Romans. It is no secret that St. Paul “edited” the story of Jesus to make it more patatable to the Romans of that era. We know that certain texts were left out, such as the Gospel of Philip, because it was more political in nature and may have caused a counter productive debate within the ranks of the candidate Roman christians. Other texts may well have been destroyed to eliminate evidence to the fact that Jesus may have had his own family.
    For the Romans it was necessary to portray a figure who stood alone against the challenges before him, a hero and eventually a martyr of his own cause.
    Jesus was a Jew, very much a part of Hebrew society. He conformed in all aspects of that society, at least until the age of thiry when he began his work. It would have been most unusual for a thirty year old man not to have been married then because one could never tell how long a life would last in those times. It is almost a certainty that Jesus was well versed in Kaballah, which is the spiritual understanding of the Jewish faith at the highest level.
    It was documented in the gospels that Jesus was a prodegy as a boy who could out quote the highest of religious figures. It would therefore follow that this talent would continue to develop into his adult life. Those who were well versed in Kaballah were revered in Hebrew society for they know the true order of the creation, as do the Sufis in Islam. However, the establishment expected this knowledge to be kept a secret and it was considered dangerous for the masses. Was Jesus showering too much insight to the masses? The establishment always has an interest in keeping the common people as ignorant as possible. That way they are easier to control. Could it be that Jesus was seen as undermining the control that the religious institutions had over the masses? Although this was most likely not the intention that Jesus had, in Hebrew society, even up till this day, things are interpreted in very political and materialistic terms. For obvious reasons.
    For me the story of Jesus is still very much in the air. Some say that he was part of a sect that was centered on the banks of the dead sea. Who knows the whole truth. All I know is that there is still a lot more to discover on the issue and I welcome the efforts of the team who are involved in the investigation of the Talpiot site for bringing more statistics to the equasion of who Jesus really was, who was around him, who was he connected to and most importantly, what were his real beliefs?
    I suspect that certain vital facts are being withheld by certain religious authorities. To them I would say this. No good is ever gained from withholding the truth. In saying this I believe that very soon so much of the cat will be out of that bag that the arms of all those who are still hiding important parts of this equasion will be twisted to the extent that they will have no alternative other than to disclose what they know and put all the facts into the public domain.

  9. Would a poor family like the one Jesus of Nazareth descended from have been able to afford a family tomb?
    For some reason I always thought that the tomb that Jesus was laid to rest in belonged to one of his well-to-do followers.

  10. According to the New Testament, Jesus was buried in the fresh tomb of the wealthy Joseph of Arimathea, and not in a family tomb as is implied.
    Why would Jesus’s family have a family tomb that is close to 8o miles away from Nazareth?

  11. I’ve been studying this find for years, long before it became public knowledge following the mass media exposure. I believe that it’s a serious find, which warrants further study.
    The critics of this find’s magnitude basically argue:
    1. That the Jesus family would be buried in Nazareth, not Talpiot;
    2. That the ‘Jesus’ ossuary would have been inscribed ‘of Nazareth’;
    3. That the Jesus family couldn’t have afforded a tomb like the Talpiot tomb;
    4. That the “Jesus son of Joseph” ossuary is not inscribed “Yeshua” (Jesus) at all;
    5. That the names inscribed on these ossuaries were supposedly common;
    6. That the “Mariamne” ossuary didn’t contain the remains of Mary Magdalene, but of two other women;
    I believe the first five of these allegations against the book’s premise don’t carry much water. The sixth argument actually supports the conclusion that this is the real thing. My comments:
    1. Talpiot is the right place for Jesus’ family tomb- Per Luke, 2:3-4, the family’s LEGAL residence was Bethlehem, not Nazareth. The fact that Joseph and the pregnant Mary could not take the census in Nazareth but had to take it in Bethlehem indicates that Bethlehem was their DOMICILIUM under Roman Law. That basically means that they had no intention to reside in Nazareth permanently. Therefore it would have made little sense for them to have a family tomb in Nazareth, that they wouldn’t be able to frequently visit at a later stage in their lives. They would have wanted a family tomb close to Bethlehem and Jerusalem, easily accessible also to future generations of the family. The fact is indeed that Mary and her children moved to Jerusalem around 30 AD.
    2. The traditional name of Jesus in Hebrew, as reflected also in the Talmud, is “Yeshu Hanotzri.” This appellation stems from “Netzer” (Shoot or Branch). It alludes clearly to Isaiah 11:1, indicating the Royal birth of Jesus, to substantiate his claim for Jewish messiahship. Not to indicate the place he comes from.
    There’s actually no evidence in Jewish sources, such as the Old Testament or the Mishna and Talmud, that a place called “Nazareth” even existed in or before the first century. I’m not disputing the evidence per the NT, that there was indeed a place called Nazareth. But to the best of my knowledge, there’s no mention of Nazareth at all in any ancient writings outside the New Testament. So the place existed, but nobody knew about it. And those in close proximity in Galilee who did know about it, obviously thought derogatorily of it , cf. “can anything good come from Nazareth?” (John 1:46.) Therefore there was no reason to call Jesus “of Nazareth.” Either in life or on an ossuary. He was called “Jesus the Branch” (of David) in Hebrew/Aramaic.
    The line of argumentation detracting this discovery around the supposed Nazareth origin of Jesus’ family may therefore be based on a very shaky foundation.
    3. Talpiot is located about 2.5 miles North of Bethlehem. Jesus’ family, of Davidic descent according to the New Testament, could have held the burial cave there even before it moved to Nazareth. Davidic birth was absolutely the most exalted in Judaism, always. The suggestion that any person of Davidic descent could be of the lowest social echelon, that couldn’t fund or get funding for a burial cave, doesn’t make much sense, if any. There’s substantial evidence to the contrary, e.g. 1. Jesus had some very wealthy active supporters like Joseph of Arimatea and Nicodemus (known as Nakdimon ben Gorion in post biblical Jewish sources-one of the richest Jews in Judea;) 2. Josephus, A.J. XX, 9:1. Note the prominence of James, brother of Jesus.
    4. The inscription on the Jesus ossuary does say “Yeshua bar Yehosef” (“Jesus son of Joseph”)to my eye. All letters but one are quite clearly there. The only letter which is somewhat more difficult to discern at first blush is the second letter- “Shin”. That’s because it’s written in a somewhat irregular form (in a regular Shin there are three teeth in the fork, pointing upwards. Here there are two teeth, pointing sideways to the right.) But that particular irregularity appears also on other ossuaries- notably numbers 9 (this one has two “Shin”- one with three teeth pointing to the right, and one with TWO teeth pointing to the right. Exactly like the subject inscription) and 121 in the Rahmani catalogue, which both feature also a “Yeshua.”
    Still, the name “Yeshua” on this ossuary is among the most, if not the most, difficult to read names of all ossuaries listed in Rahmani’s catalogue of Jewish ossuaries. It is almost written as a person’s complex signature on a check. Contrast that with the patronymic following the first name. This is written in a simple straightforward fashion, which is very easy to read. There’s no other example in Rahmani’s catalogue of a first name that has to be deciphered, and a patronymic that’s so plain and clear. Is this merely a coincidence?
    5. Some critics make the following comment to my post:
    “The inscription, Pfann said, is made up of two names inscribed by two different hands: the first, “Mariame,” was inscribed in a formal Greek script, and later, when the bones of another woman were added to the box, another scribe using a different cursive script added the words “kai Mara,” meaning “and Mara.” Mara is a different form of the name Martha.
    According to Pfann’s reading, the ossuary did not house the bones of “Mary the teacher,” but rather of two women, “Mary and Martha.'”
    Here’s my thought about that:
    If the Mariamne ossuary indeed housed the bones of Mary and Martha, these are two sisters of NT fame. One of them could have been married to “Jesus son of Joseph.” -Whether or not she was Mary Magdalene (Maybe the Mary who anointed Jesus’ feet and then dried them with her hair- very intimate scene.) The other sister would than also automatically belong in the family. It still fits. Actually it increases the statistical odds that this is the real thing quite substantially.
    This is a very intriguing possibility indeed, fitting perfectly with John 12:3. Intimate contact with a man, as described in this NT passage, was allowed only to a woman who was an immediate blood relative of that man, his wife (…or a working woman.) That’s all. Therefore Mary of Bethany was quite possibly by elimination Jesus’ wife or in the process of becoming his wife. In that context, Margaret Starbird already theorized that similar anointing with spikenard oil was part of pre marriage ritual of a Davidic king, per certain passages in the Song of Songs. Note also that intercourse by itself was sufficient under Jewish Law in certain circumstances to constitute valid marriage. That practice, termed Bi’ah marriage, was abolished in the 6th century, but it was lawful in Jesus’ time.
    Mary of Bethany could have become pregnant by Jesus while he stayed at her house, shortly before his crucifixion. In that case it’s quite possible that she bore Jesus’ son posthumously and named him “Judah.” And in that case both she and her sister Martha would have become part of Jesus’ family, which earned them a place in the Talpiot family tomb..
    Reminds me of the reaction to this find of a BBC reporter in 1996- It seems like all balls in the national lottery coming one by one.
    I have no knowledge of Greek, so I can only discuss the two propositions. Assuming that the ossuary does say “Mary and Martha”, here’s what I think the names are:
    * 1.”Jesus son of Joseph”(“Yeshua bar Yehosef” in Hebrew/Aramaic script;)
    * 2. “Mary” (“Marya” in Hebrew/Aramaic script);
    * 3. “Joseph” (“Yose” in Hebrew/Aramaic script. Precise nickname of Jesus’ second brother- cf. Mark 6:3);
    * 4. “Mary and Martha” (“Mariame kai Mara” in Greek)-they must have been sisters because Jewish law didn’t allow burial together of two unrelated women;
    * 5. “Matthew” (“Matya” in Hebrew/Aramaic script)- Name of Jesus’ first cousin, son of his father’s brother Alphaeus/Clophas. As James Tabor suggests in a different context, Matya could also well have been Jesus’ half brother, considering a certain specific rule of the Torah (Deuteronomy 25:5-10.) This rule was applied in Jesus time- see Matthew 22:24-28;
    * 6. “Judah son of Jesus”(“Yehuda bar Yeshua” in Hebrew/Aramaic script.)
    * Therefore out of eight names actually inscribed on these ossuaries (including the “Joseph” father of Jesus on the first ossuary) four names undoubtedly relate to Jesus’ immediate family, and three other names relate to the same with a somewhat lower probability. In any event, they all relate to Jesus’ extended family. Note that first century Jewish family tombs were usually a clan thing.
    * The eighth name is “Yehuda bar Yeshua”- must have been the son of Jesus and one of the sisters Mary or Martha. More likely Mary, as explained above.
    6. While the full versions of all these names were indeed common in Jesus’ time, the derivatives, nicknames and contractions were not. Thus “Yeshua” for Jesus was less common than “YeHOshua;” ditto “YeHOsef” instead of “Yosef” for Joseph; “Marya” for Mary was extremely rare in Hebrew/Aramaic script; “Yose” for Joseph is unique. Therefore out of these eight names, two are irregularities, one is a particularity, and one a singularity.
    BOTTOM LINE- Ask yourself inversely a hypothetical question- If the Talpiot tomb hadn’t yet been found, how would Jesus’ family tomb have looked , which ossuaries would it have contained, to when would it have been dated and where would it have been located.
    I would have thought of a tomb just like the tomb we’re discussing. It fits perfectly with what I’d have expected Jesus’ family tomb to be. Right place, right period, right names. I therefore believe that this matter, delicate as it obviously is, warrants further investigation. This could include opening and examination of the adjacent tomb, and forensic examination of the skeletal remains found in the Talpiot ossuaries, and apparently reburied back in 1980. These could hopefully be relocated by comparison to the mithochondrial DNA samples already taken from two of these ossuaries.

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