Talpiot Tomb Ossuaries in New York–What are the Chances?

Yesterday at Discovery Times Square (226 West 44th Street | 866.987.9692) we held our press conference revealing for the first time the results of our robotic camera exploration of a sealed 1st century Jewish tomb in East Talpiot, a suburb of Jerusalem as published in our book The Jesus Discovery. On display were museum quality replicas of two of the ossuaries or limestone “bone boxes” from the tomb–the one with what we take to be a “Jonah” image and the one with the four line Greek inscription–both of which we argue are connected to followers of Jesus. It was incredibly moving to see them for the first time–even for those of us who conducted this exploration. We had spent hours meticulously studying the tomb by remote cameras and now, before our eyes, it seems as though the ossuaries themselves had emerged into the light of day. James Sanna, the director of the museum, will put them on display through April 15th. Here are two photos taken yesterday. I think viewing the Jonah image in this context makes a huge difference. You can clearly see the head of the stick figure, almost touching the bottom border of the ossuary–as if the figure is being spit out on land–not in the water, just as the text of the book of Jonah says. Some of my colleagues were arguing yesterday on various blogs that what we have identified as a Jonah image is actually a funerary pillar or monument–called a nephesh in Hebrew. Although we did consider this view initially we rejected it. After all, the so-called “tower” would be up-side-down–which makes no sense at all–and the little fish swimming along the top would make no sense at all. The second ossuary, with the Greek inscription, is professionally done–in other words, from the ossuary “shop,” of the time, but the inscription appears to be an individual expression of faith. We have offered a number of possible translations but it seems to have to do with being lifted or raised up–and in the context of this tomb, with the Jonah image, we identify it with followers of Jesus.

Jesus Family Tomb Ossuaries in NY

Co-incidentally Discovery Times Square, as you might know, is also currently running a fabulous Dead Sea Scroll exhibit in conjunction with the Israel Antiquities Authority. I have had seen the one in Charlotte, where I live, and I have seen the exhibit at the Shine of the Book in Jerusalem many times, but this NY exhibit is truly spectacular. Everything about it, from start to finish, is fascinating, and it contains much more than the Dead Sea Scrolls but a glimpse into the entire biblical world as revealed by archeology. Now it just so happens that in one of the displays, showing what burial was like in Jerusalem in the period 20 BCE to around 70CE is a mock-up of a tomb filled with ossuaries–but not just any ossuaries–four of those on display are from the Talpiot “Jesus” tomb of 2007 controversy! These include the “Jesus son of Joseph,” “Maramene Mara,” Yose, and Matthew. Few visitors pay them any mind or even recognize what is on display. These have absolutely nothing to do with the new display from our latest discovery from the “patio” tomb–located less than 200 feet away. In fact they will be touring a number of cities in the United States (Philadelphia, Chicago, etc.) over the next few years–as part of this Dead Sea Scroll exhibit. I also wanted to mention that right now the NY exhibit has the famous text that I first published with Michael Wise in 1995–we scholars call it 4Q521–the one that mentions the Messiah raising the dead–with a strong parallel to Luke 7:22-23–one of the early saying of Jesus from the Q source. I had studied it for hours in photos but had never seen the real thing. I had no idea it was there. My heart skipped a beat and my knees got a little weak when I realized what I was looking at!

So, if you are striking distance of NY do not miss the Discovery Times Square Exhibit. You can see this amazing Dead Sea Scroll exhibit–now through April 15th–but also, as a bonus, and entirely separate from the Scrolls, see our museum replicas of the new ossuaries–precise copies of the real things still sealed inside the tomb in Jerusalem. Now that is surely worth the price of a ticket…