Backgrounders on the Bible through Biblical Archaeology

1081 – The (not) Tomb of Jesus

Last week’s blog (below) has the best links for background on this week’s conversation on the “Tomb of Jesus” hoopla. World magazine noted how surprising it was that it was not just Christians condemning the flaws in this production, but scientists as well. In the last few days there’s been additional perspective added by a former BOOK & THE SPADE guest, Stephen Pfann, who suggests that the movie makers misread the ossuary inscriptions.

The other point we made with this program is that, sadly, there are some within the evangelical community who are also promoting “discoveries” which are no more valid than the “Tomb of Jesus.” We mentioned two self-styled archaeologists, Bob Cornuke, as well as the late Ron Wyatt.

We also discussed the controversy over the Mughrabi Gate excavation, and the live IAA webcam at the excavation site. Unfortunately, the excavation hours are during prime western hemisphere sleeping hours.

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2 responses

  1. Critics of this book, as to it’s observations and conclusions, make essentially the following arguments:1. That the Jesus family would be buried in Nazareth, not Talpiot;2. That the Jesus family couldn’t have afforded a tomb like the Talpiot tomb;3. That the “Jesus son of Joseph” ossuary is not inscribed “Yeshua” (Jesus) at all;4. That the “Mariamne” ossuary didn’t contain the remains of Mary Magdalene, but of two other women.I believe the first three of these allegations against the book’s premise don’t carry much water. The fourth argument actually supports the conclusion that this is the real thing. My comments on these points: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.The traditional name of Jesus in Hebrew, as reflected also in the Talmud, is “Yeshua Hanotzri.” This appellation stemms from “Netzer” (Shoot or Branch). It alludes clearly to Isaiah 11:1, indicating the Royal birth of Jesus, to substantiate his claim for Jewish messianship. Not to indicate the place he comes from ( to indicate that Jesus supposedly originates from Nazareth, he would have been called “Yeshua Minatzeret.” But he wasn’t called so.) In any event Jesus was born in Bethlehem, even though he grew up in Nazareth. Even when a person was called by a place in Herbew/Aramaic at that time, that appellation would refer to his place of birth, not to where he happens to live at a certain moment in his life. Thus if Jesus were to be called by a place, he would logically be called “Jesus of Bethlehem.”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. 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. It sounds almost the same as “Jesus of Nazareth” when pronounced in Hebrew/Aramaic, and therefore would easily confuse any person whose mother tongue isn’t Hebrew/Aramaic. But it shouldn’t confuse native Hebrew/Aramaic speakers.The line of argumentation detracting this discovery around the supposed Nazareth origin of Jesus’ family may therefore be based on a very shaky foundation.2. 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.3. 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.” All this is NOT difficult for a Hebrew speaking person to identify.4. Mr. Huston on 3/13/07 made 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 answer to him:”If the Mariamne ossuary indeed housed the bones of Mary and Martha, these are two sisters of NT fame. Another hit. One of them could have been married to “Jesus son of Joseph.” -Whether or not she was Mary Magdalene (Maybe the Mary who ointed 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. Some posters on an internet group where I participate actually suggested once that similar anointing was part of pre-wedding ritual of a Davidic King, per certain passages in the Song of Songs. Reminds me of the reaction to this find of a BBC reporter in 1996- It seems like all pieces of a puzzle coming together.Two other matters raised by the book relate to the meaning of the inscription “Mara” on one of the ossuaries, and to a proposition that the “James brother of Jesus” ossuary originated from the same Talpiot tomb. My comments:5. Any Jew in the first century would probably know instinctively that “Mara” is a very exalted appellation indeed. The Dead Sea Scrolls in at least two places that I saw have the expression “Mara Alma”- the exact equivalent of “Adon Olam” in Hebrew (“Master of the World”.) That is one of the most common substitute names for “Yahwe”, the ineffable name of God, in Judaism, to this day. Jews repeat this substitute name many times every day, in prayers.6. Oded Golan is on trial in Israel at this time for alleged forgery of the “James brother of Jesus” ossuary. If Mr. Golan believes or knows that the James ossuary is authentic, his defense lawyer should and could get a court order for comparative DNA tests of the James remains with the Jesus remains. The court will most probably grant such an order, because it’s material to his defense in a felony case. If this test shows these are siblings, that would constitute sufficient “reasonable doubt” to acquit Golan. (And of course enhance the statistical odds that the Talpiot tomb is the real thing.) If it doesn’t show they’re siblings, the result would be inadmissible as evidence. Therefore there’s only an upside on this for Defense.Incidentally, I believe that the book’s (or Documentary’s) story about the “Jesus” and other bones having supposedly been buried together in a common grave has to be taken with a grain of salt. It appears to contradict certain burial rules under Jewish Law. In a different context, a poster elsewhere on the net pointed out to me a second century ruling regarding common burials. Seems to me that common burials of unrelated adults are prohibited, where the bones are found separately. Therefore the remains in the ossuaries would be buried separately.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. Even if, like me, you’re not formally educated specifically in any field related to this subject, anyone with general education and common sense who’s curious enough could educate himself to form a perfectly valid opinion. 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. (Even some important evidence supporting the same expectation that this book omits in the text, and addresses obliquely only in the conclusion.)That doesn’t mean that the Talpiot tomb is the real thing beyond reasonable doubt, only that if you had a jury of completely unbiased people, either way, and that jury were presented with all material evidence, pro and con, it could quite logically have found that this is the real thing by preponderanc

    March 17, 2007 at 7:35 pm

  2. Itamar,Interesting ideas but I don’t think they stand up to closer analysis. On items one and two you might have an argument for the tomb actually being in Bethlehem but Talpiot is not Bethlehem. Being 2.5 miles away does not seem like a large distance today but it was a significant distance in the days when people walked everywhere.I don’t speak Hebrew so I’ll conceded #3.Regarding #4, I actually had a similar reaction when I first read Stephen Pfann’s analysis. Mary and Martha are close friends of Jesus, in the Gospel accounts. However, why would two adult sisters be buried in the same ossuary? That doesn’t make sense.Bottom Line – Even across a period of 2,000 years the evidence for the resurrection still outweighs any alternative explanation.

    March 17, 2007 at 8:15 pm

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