Has “Jesus’ family tomb” been identified in 2007?Does the inscription in the photo above read "Yeshua bar Yosef" or "Hanun bar Yosef"?
Due to a messy, debated, scratched inscription near the lid of an ancient ossuary, James Cameron has recently claimed to have found the “Lost tomb of Jesus” at a place called Talpiot, a neighborhood in the southeastern environs of Jerusalem.
He claims that his discovery will change history.
“The Talpiot district of Jerusalem, where the so-called Caiaphas crypt was discovered, has yielded up many tombs and ossuaries (Fishwick 1963; Kloner 1996)” [Evans, 112].
These fantastic assertions about inscriptions on ossuaries (stone boxes for the secondary burial of bones) are being made in an upcoming documentary called “The Lost Tomb of Jesus,” by James Cameron (A Canadian of Hollywood fame… Oscar winning film director of “Titanic,” “Terminator,” etc. who is producing the documentary) and Simcha Jacobovici (A Canadian Orthodox Jew who is an Emmy award winning director).
Also lending expert opinion to bolster their claims are Dr. James Tabor (Chairman of Religious Studies at the University of North Carolina at Charlotte who has just written The Jesus Dynasty that in some respects is a bit more scholarly version of the “Da Vinci Code”), Dr. Andrey Feuerverger (a professor of statistics and mathematics at the University of Toronto), and a few others.
A HISTORY OF SENSATIONALISM
In 1963, in an article by was entitled “Talpioth again and again,” Duncan Fishwick returned to examine some of the claims for ossuaries that have come from the Talpiot area outside of Jerusalem. This entry is simply the next installment. There has been a regular pattern of claims, from this area of ancient burial, that have stirred up media interest and have momentarily shaken the faith of some. These claims generally have come as attacks upon the deity of Jesus and the resurrection.
Since the nineteenth century more than a thousand ossuaries have been found in the vicinity of Jerusalem—many with “biblical names.”
In 1873 Charles Clermont-Ganneau made sensationalist claims about several ossuaries upon finding a “funerary cave” near Bethany. The Hebrew inscriptions on these ossuaries included the names: “Salome, Judah, Simeon son of Jesus, Martha, Eleazar (Lazarus), and Salampsion.” The Greek inscriptions “provided the names Jesus, Nathaniel, Hedea, Kythras, Moschas, and Marias.” The name Jesus appeared “three times in all” [Kraeling, 18].
In 1931 there was a flurry of activity among reporters distributing the story that “the tomb of Jesus of Nazareth had been found” due to the misunderstanding of a presentation by Professor E. L. Sukenik to the German Archaeological Society with regard to an ossuary that had the inscription: “Jesus, son of Joseph” [Kraeling, 18].
In 1946, Carl H. Kraeling reflected “Under a date of October 3, 1945 many American newspapers carried brief accounts of an archaeological discovery made at Jerusalem.” This time the discovery was at Talpiot. Kraeling continued, “Between them the accounts provide an interesting example of what happens to a simple record of fact when handled by sensation-hunting newspaper reporters.” The papers carrying sensationalist headlines included the New York Times, New York Daily, and the London Daily Herald, where it was written:
“…what is believed an eyewitness account of the death of Christ has been discovered by Arabs digging in the foundations of a house outside of Jerusalem. Described by the chief archaeologist of the Hebrew University of Jerusalem as a “most important discovery,” the Greek writings were believed the work of a family of Jewish disciples who stood among the multitudes on Calvary. A bitter and moving lamentation, the account was probably written within a few weeks of the crucifixion. It was incased in four stone coffins in a vault within the house, which is on the road to Bethlehem” [Kraeling, 16].
In the next issue of Biblical Archaeologist, G. E. Wright wrote: “The last number of the B.A. contained the interesting article by Professor Carl Kraeling on the urns reported last October as being the earliest witness to the death of Jesus Christ. It adequately debunked the whole thing, and showed that what we have here is merely another discovery of some Jewish ossuaries.” He also wrote that a “certain Mohammedan paper in Palestine… will have to look for other grounds on which to challenge the belief in the resurrection of Jesus” [Wright, 43].
The Official Guide to Israel in 1950, said, “About seven hundred metres behind Talpiot a tomb was excavated in 1945 and several ossuaries containing human bodies were found. Inscriptions and coins proved that the burial in the tomb took place in the years 41-42. Two ossuaries were found marked with the word “Jesus,” and some others have so far been undeciphered. It has therefore been assumed that followers of Jesus had been buried in this tomb. If this assumption proves correct, this tomb would show the earliest historical evidence known about the followers of Jesus” [Official Guide to Israel, Tel Aviv: 1950, 247].
THE INSCRIPTIONS ON OSSUARIES FROM THE TALPIOT TOMB:
According to Richard Bauckham (as quoted by Ben Witherington):
“We have a data base of about 3000 named persons (2625 men, 328 women, excluding fictional characters). Of the 2625 men, the name Joseph (including Yose, the abbreviated form) was borne by 218 or 8.3%. (It is the second most popular Jewish male name, after Simon/Simeon.) The name Judah was borne by 164 or 6.2%. The name Jesus was borne by 99 or 3.4%. The name Matthew (in several forms) was borne by 62 or 2.4 %. Of the 328 named women (women’s names were much less often recorded than men’s), a staggering 70 or 21.4% were called Mary (Mariam, Maria, Mariame, Mariamme) [http://benwitherington.blogspot.com/ (for Thursday March 1, 2007)].
The inscriptions on the ossuaries in question (5 Aramaic, 1 Greek):
1) Maryah or Maria [form of Miriam, spelled here Mem, Resh, Yod, Heh].
2) Matia [form of Matthew, spelled here Mem, Tav, Yod, Heh].
About 35% of Jewish males during this period had “Hasmonian” [Maccabean] names. These include: Matthew, John/Jonathan, Simon, Judah/Judas, Eleazar, and Joseph.
3) Yose [A contraction of Yosef (Joseph), spelled here Yod, Vav, Samech, Heh].
4) Yehuda bar Yeshua [Judah son of Yeshua/Joshua/Jesus (Gk.)].
The third most common name for a Jewish male during this period was Yehuda (Judah/Judas). Of 1986 names surveyed for this period, 128 times Yehuda [T. Ilan].
5) Yeshua (?) bar Yosef [Joshua (Hebrew) son of Joseph (Yeshua in Hebrew which in Greek is Iesous or the English rendering "Jesus"--See Acts 7:45].
Frank Moore Cross reads Yeshua bar Yosef. Amos Kloner and Stephen Pfann question this reading and suggest that it may read Hanun bar Yosef. In T. Ilan’s lexicon, the name “Jesus” was noted for 104 individuals during this period. Given that the greater environs of Jerusalem probably exceeded 100,000 in population, there were probably as many as 5,000 or more men with this name in the vicinity of Jerusalem. **Twenty-two ossuaries have been found bearing the inscription “Jesus” in some form—and four of them with the inscription Jesus son of Joseph.
6) Mariamne (?) e Mara or Mariamenou e mara [Beautifully carved in Greek].
According to the documentary this reads “Mary known as the master”—however, this could mean several things, including (but not limited to):
>“Belonging to Mariamenon who is Mara” [Genitive of Mariamenon with a second name “Mara” (a short form of Martha)]. This has been suggested by R. Bauckham [http://benwitherington.blogspot.com/ (See Wednesday February 28, 2007)]. The Discovery Channel film proposes to read Mara as the Aramaic word ‘the master’ (as in Maranatha). Bauckham later wrote: "But, since we know that Mara was used as an abbreviated form of Martha, in this context of names on an ossuary it is much more plausible to read it as a name. This woman had two names: Mariamenon and Mara. It could be that the latter in this case was used as an abbreviation of Mariamenou, or it could be that the woman was known by Mariamenon, treated as a Greek name, and the Aramaic name Mara, conforming to the common practice of being known by two names, Greek and Semitic" [http://www.christilling.de/blog/2007/03/guest-post-by-richard-bauckham.html].
>“Bel. to Mariamenon the beautiful”
>“Bel. to Mariamenon the bitter”(?), unlikely but possible.
> "Bel. to Mariamenon [and?] Mara (short form of Martha) [2 person's bones in ossuary].
>“Belonging to Maraimenon the queen(?)” this would be a rare variant of the Aramaic word rendered in the documentary as “Master”--and as such it is unlikely. But this would follow an old semitic formula (Preposition, name, definite article, title), hence: LeMariamenon haMalqah (Belonging to Mariamenon the queen). Marana can mean “Govenor" or ruler and it is an interesting possibility that this could mean “Queen” due to the title of Herod the Great’s wife and the tower named after her, the Mariamne Tower a.k.a. “e Basilis”—“the queen.” Mariamne the queen had relatives whose names included Joseph, Matthew, Judah, etc. The Jewish historian Josephus was related to the Hasmonian dynasty and had the names Matthew (Matthew Ephlias, Matthew Curtis, and two other Matthews including his own father), Joseph (three ancestors so named), and Mariamne in his own family. It is interesting what can be done with these common names...
Variants of this name “Mariamne” have been found on over twenty ossuaries.
In 1974 a text called the “Acts of Phillip” was discovered by Francois Bovon and Bertrand Bouvier in the library of Xenophrontos Monastery in Greece. The copy that they found was made in the fourteenth century, but it is claimed that the text goes back to the fourth century in Asia Minor. In the Acts of Phillip (a fourth century AD heterodox, non-canonical work), Phillip’s sister is called Mariamne and is considered by Bovon to be Mary Magdalene. In this text there are mythical elements including talking animals, Mariamne slaying a dragon, and at one point under threat she turned into a cloud of fire.
There were ten ossuaries in the tomb. Why did they just take DNA from the one marked Yeshua bar Yosef and the one marked Mariamnou e mara? How many skeletons were in these two ossuaries? Amos Kloner’s report clearly indicated multiple burials in most of these ossuaries. Does it seem like there is an agenda here?
THE JAMES OSSUARY?
The use of the James ossuary in the documentary is to strengthen the case for the tomb. This ossuary, however, has been declared a fake by the Israel Antiquities Authority. The inscription: Yaacov bar yosef achdi Yeshua (James, son of Joseph, brother of Jesus) is quite sensational. But is it real? Though the Israel Antiquity Authority’s ruling is in (forgery), the jury is still out in the collector’s trial that is on-going in Jerusalem.
Cameron and Jacobovici suggest that, based on tests that were developed just for this documentary, the patina of the James ossuary matches the patina of the Talpiot tomb’s ossuaries. They also claim that it is the exact same measure as one of the Talpiot tomb’s ossuaries that they claim “went missing.” Amos Kloner, the archaeologist who oversaw the original work in the tomb disputes their assertion that any of the ossuaries were ever missing. He also says that the James ossuary is the wrong size to have been one of this group.
In a note recently sent by Joe Zias who also was one of the archaeologists who worked at the site in 1980, Zias wrote:
Re: Jesus Tomb Sent: Thursday, March 1, 2007 6:02 AM
"Amos Kloner is right as I received and catalogued the objects, the 10th was plain and I put it out in the courtyard with all the rest of the plain ossuaries as was the standard procedure when one has little storage space available. Nothing was stolen nor missing and they were fully aware of this fact, just didn't fit in with their agenda. ShalomJoe” [See: http://benwitherington.blogspot.com/].
Zias later wrote:
Re: Jesus Tomb Sent: Thursday, March 1, 2007 4:31 PM "There was no photo of the 10th ossuary as there was no reason to photograph it, plain white ossuaries, basically once you have seen one you have seen them all. time is money and it would be a waste of time to waste resources on something which was put out in the courtyard. Remember these are large, and heavy not to forget that Kloner has the measurements. They know this from me personally. The conspiracy idea fits in well with their agenda of hyping the film as well as his/their book."Joe [See: http://benwitherington.blogspot.com/].
Numbers fly in this documentary from 1 in 97,280,000 to 1 in 2,400,000 to 1 in 30,000 that this isn’t Jesus’ tomb. The statistician eventually settles on 600 to 1 that this is Jesus’ tomb. Is that a fact, or is there a factor (or two) not being included in the mix?
POTENTIAL FOR FORGERY
In an article for MSNBC [Have Researchers Found Jesus Christ’s Tomb? March 5, 2007 issue], Lisa Miller and Joanna Chen related the Concern of John Dominic Crossan, “leader of the liberal Jesus Seminar and author of “Excavating Jesus.” According to Crossan, “the biggest questions relate to the early break-in: who vandalized the cave, when, what did they do there and why?”
One very important factor was added to the equation by David Horovitz of the Jerusalem Post. In his article “Raiders of the Lost Tomb” that appeared 2-27-2007 as part of the Post’s Online edition, he mentioned that one man “called out from a top-floor window” of one of the apartments near the tomb, “We should be charging you an entrance fee.”
The reporter then noted that this same man “recalled that the tomb had been kept open for a long time after its initial discovery, and that it had been re-opened twice in the past year or so.”
According to Kloner’s own notes, “The discovery, made prior to construction activity, was reported by K. Mandil and A. Shohat of the Solel Boneh Construction Company. The site was initially examined by E. Braun. Salvage excavations were conducted from March 28-April 14, 1980 (Permit 938)” [Kloner, “A Tomb with Inscribed Ossuaries,” Note 1, p. 22].
According to Amos Kloner’s report, the tomb was vandalized in antiquity and the blocking stone, known as a golal, was never found for this tomb. It was supposed to have been removed in antiquity. Or was it removed in more modern times? Though the original maps of the Talpiyot tomb shows that the soil level was almost a foot above the buried ossuaries, the inscription on the “Yeshua bar Yosef” ossuary was scratched in a messy fashion near the lid. Only one or two of the first four letters are fairly legible.
The inscription “Jesus, son of Joseph,” while foreign to an ascription that would be made by a follower of Jesus, is, nevertheless, more welcome in other theological circles. Atheistic, Liberal Christian, Jewish and Muslim thought is much more welcoming of such an association when it comes to Jesus of Nazareth. Many Palestinian Arabs have been known to enter tombs to find and sell antiquities. An ossuary inscription from Talpiot was the focus of Islamic claims against the resurrection of Jesus in 1945. The inscription “Yeshua bar Yosef” is the most interesting that has been found in the tomb for many reasons.
Of all of the inscriptions it is the one done poorly—scratched—with apparent lack of light or visibility. The others appear possibly to have been done outside the tomb in antiquity and are more deeply etched. “Jesus, son of Joseph” looks suspiciously like it was accomplished inside the tomb itself. If so, when was it inscribed?
Archaeologists and Scholars who have already spoken out against the claims of Cameron, Jacobovici, et al. include: Amos Kloner, William Dever, Joe Zias, Michele Piccirillo and the list is growing.
William Dever, Professor Emeritus at the University of Arizona and an expert on Near Eastern Archaeology said, “The fact that it has been ignored tells you something.”
Professor Amos Kloner, the archaeologist who was in charge of clearing the Talpiot tomb in 1980, was interviewed on 2-27-07 by David Horovitz (questions below in bold) of the Jerusalem Post:
Horovitz: What do you make of the assertion that Jesus and his family were buried there?
Kloner: It makes a great story for a TV film. But it's completely impossible. It's nonsense. There is no likelihood that Jesus and his relatives had a family tomb. They were a Galilee family with no ties in Jerusalem. The Talpiot tomb belonged to a middle class family from the 1st century CE.
Horovitz: But there is apparently such a confluence of resonant names.
Kloner: The name "Jesus son of Joseph" has been found on three or four ossuaries. These are common names. There were huge headlines in the 1940s surrounding another Jesus ossuary, cited as the first evidence of Christianity. There was another Jesus tomb. Months later it was dismissed. Give me scientific evidence, and I'll grapple with it. But this is manufactured.
Horovitz: What of the assertion that the 10th ossuary disappeared from your care and may be none other than the "James" ossuary?
Kloner: Nothing has disappeared. The 10th ossuary was on my list. The measurements were not the same (as the James ossuary). It was plain (without an inscription). We had no room under our roofs for all the ossuaries, so unmarked ones were sometimes kept in the courtyard (of the Rockefeller Museum).
INCOMPREHENSIBLE INSENSITIVITY AND OPPORTUNISM
Some questions that have been raised for consideration are:
>Why are they making these claims just before Easter?
>Why don’t Cameron and Jacobvici cite scholars who disagree with their claims?
>Why are they using the James ossuary, labeled a forgery, as evidence for their claims?
>Why would Jesus’ family members bury Jesus’ bones in a family tomb and then claim that Jesus had been bodily raised from the dead?
>Why didn’t Jesus’ enemies expose this tomb?
>Why would Jesus’ disciples endure torture, imprisonment, and die for a lie?
>Who is Matia?
>How many gaps in logic can be found related to the documentary’s use of “DNA evidence”?
>Are statistics completely reliable?
>Have the statisticians accurately factored in the popularity of the names inscribed?
>What about the tradition that says that Mary was with John at Ephesus and was buried there? >What about the Catholic tradition that places her burial beneath the Dormition Abbey in Jerusalem?
>What about the record of Eusebius that the body of James was buried alone near the Temple mount?
>Jesus family was poor and from Nazareth… why would they have an expensive family tomb outside of Jerusalem?
Some matters the Scriptures make clear:
>Jesus never married and He certainly never had a child.
>Jesus was not called “son of Joseph” by his followers.
>Jesus’ body did not decompose—He was raised bodily.
(See the end of all four Gospels and Peter’s sermon in Acts 2).
Robert Knight, who is the director of the Media Research Center’s Culture and Media Institute, said: “The Discovery Channel bills itself as the ‘number one non-fiction media company reaching more than 1.5 billion people in over 170 countries.’ But this bigoted documentary is pure fiction. Numerous leading scholars, including the Israeli archaeologist who first studied the site, have already rejected the notion that Jesus of Nazareth’s bones were found in the Talpiot tomb.” L. Brent Bozell III, president of the Media Research Center said, “In terms of credibility, the Discovery Channel will have dug its own grave if it doesn’t pull this documentary.”
The filmmakers have also located another tomb only 20-25 yards away from this tomb and after inserting cameras found that it contained three more ossuaries. Sounds like Lost Tomb II will be coming to a cable channel near you soon.
TALPIOT AGAIN AND AGAIN AND AGAIN
Isaiah the prophet (Yeshayahu haNabi) once wrote: “Who has believed our report? And to whom has the arm of the LORD been revealed?”
Those who rejected the prophet’s report will be more likely to receive the report of this Hollywood producer (et al.) whose recent claims should be seen as nothing less than a prideful, vicious, irresponsible attack upon Christians everywhere.
Michele Piccirillo, with the Franciscan Archeological Institute, said: "Before, archeology was used to do politics. Now archeology is just to do money…. There are some people interested in destroying the faith of others and that's not good” http://www.ctv.ca/servlet/ArticleNews/story/CTVNews/20070226/jesus_tomb_060226/20070226?hub=TopStories].
When it comes to the resurrection of Jesus, the issue still comes down to faith. Those who think the DNA in this tomb belongs to Jesus have faith grounded upon the opinions of a Hollywood sensationalist, a Canadian journalist, and a couple of maverick scholars who say that some etchings upon an ancient bone box—not even unique in its debatable inscription—disprove the bodily resurrection of Christ. Those who have faith that the Bible points to Jesus as the resurrected Son of God have faith grounded upon the Word of God.
James Cameron could not be more wrong—empirically, ethically, and ultimately. The find that changed history was the empty tomb.
1873 Charles Clermont-Ganneau makes sensational claims for ossuaries from Bethany.
1931 Professor Sukenik starts a media frenzy in Berlin over a presentation on an ossuary that had the inscription “Yeshua bar Yosef.”
1945 Two ossuaries found at Talpiot both bearing the name Jesus.
1963 Duncan Fishwick’s article re-examining the sensational Talpiot ossuaries.
1980 March… official “discovery” of the Talpiot tomb during an excavation for a housing project. Since the bones found in the ossuaries appear to belong to Jews, they are buried according to Jewish custom.
1996 BBC documentary “The Tomb that Dare not Speak Its Name”
2003 Simcha Jacobovici documentary on the James Ossuary.
2006 The Da Vinci Code released just before Easter.
2006 Dr. James Tabor’s book The Jesus Dynasty is released.
2007 Press Conference at the New York Public Library announcing “discovery” and documentary “The Lost Tomb of Jesus." Jacobovici and Pelegrino’s book The Lost Tomb of Jesus is released by Harper-Collins.
Evans, Craig A. Jesus and the Ossuaries, 2003; Fishwick, Duncan. "Talpioth ossuaries again.” New Testament Studies 10 (1963) 49-61; Ilan, T. Lexicon of Jewish Names in Late Antiquity (TSAJ 91; Tubingen: Mohr Siebeck, 2002); Kraeling, Carl Hermann “Christian Burial Urns?” Biblical Archaeologist 9, 1 (1946), 16-20; Rahmani, L. Y. A Catalogue of Jewish Ossuaries in the Collections of the State of Israel (Jerusalem: Israel Antiquities and Israel Academy of Sciences and Humanities, 1994); Wright, George Ernest. “New Information regarding the supposed 'Christian' ossuaries” Biblical Archaeologist 9, 2 (1946), 43.
This article in Portuguese:
Translation by Alan Amorim and Airton Santos.
Faithmaps.org on the "Lost Tomb"
'Jesus tomb' documentary ignores biblical & scientific evidence, logic, experts say
'Lost Tomb' is pure sensationalism, Mohler says on 'LKL'
Examining the 'Jesus Tomb' Evidence
Special Report: Has James Cameron Found Jesus's Tomb or Is It Just a Statistical Error? Should You Accept the 600-to-One Odds That the Talpiot Tomb Belonged to Jesus?
The Truth about the "Lost Tomb of Jesus"