What Did You Find this Summer at the Mount Zion Dig?

This is the question I have been asked most often during the week I have been back home from spending a month excavating in the Old City of ancient Jerusalem. I have told our students and participants to answer with the retort–“everything that is there, from modern back to Iron Age.” This is indeed the proper response as we do not favor sensational finds or monumental structures–archaeology is the material evidence of the human past–all the evidence from all the past. But to be specific the word is now out, as of today, from our own archaeologist Dr. Shimon Gibson,  who has co-directed our Mt Zion excavation with me since 2006. Our interviews appear in the Charlotte Observer, now on-line and in print in tomorrow’s newspaper. So the word is out.  You can follow all the news at our main

University Web site: http://digmountzion.uncc.edu
Our Facebook site here: https://www.facebook.com/groups/digmountzion/

Shimon Gibson Interview: http://www.charlotteobserver.com/news/science-technology/article27905509.html

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One clarification, our dig does not cost $100K per week, if it did we would be staying at the King David Hotel. It is more like 100K per season/year, meaning everything from field operations to conservation and post-excavation. Somehow those figures got mixed up in the story below.




UNCC archaeology team in Jerusalem unearths 1st-century mansion

  • UNC Charlotte team unearths lavish, lower-level rooms from the time of Jesus
  • Remains of early Roman mansion ‘extraordinarily well preserved,’ says dig director Shimon Gibson
  • This summer’s find: a complete vaulted room

The 2015 excavations at Mount Zion, as seen from Jerusalem’s city wall.| Rachel Ward – UNCC



Shimon Gibson marvels at a depth of irony that’s borderline mythological: While digging up Jerusalem’s past, he’s also digging up his own.

The UNC Charlotte adjunct professor of archaeology has been co-directing an annual dig on Jerusalem’s Mount Zion that returns him to the historic, mysterious region he first explored as an 8-year-old. The UNCC team is using maps Gibson made in 1975 – at age 17 – as it uncovers unprecedented findings that provide important clues about life in firstcentury Jerusalem.

“This dig is the only academic archaeological expedition currently working in Jerusalem,” said Gibson, 57, an English native. “UNCC did some probes in the early 2000s, but it was in 2006 and 2007 that we really started excavating.”

This summer his crew has continued to investigate a finished bathroom it discovered in 2013, on the lower levels of what it believes to be an early Roman mansion. The team also found another complete vaulted room, again easing decades of concerns by archaeologists that remains from first-century Jerusalem were poorly preserved.

“These remains are extraordinarily well preserved,” Gibson said, “such that not only do we have the complete basements of houses with their rooms intact, but also the first story of these houses are also very well preserved. This is truly amazing.”

Reasons for the buildings’ condition are twofold, he said: Occupying Romans destroyed the Jerusalem of Jesus’ era in AD 70. The city was deserted for 65 years, until the Roman emperor Hadrian rebuilt a city on the ruins. “Then, in the Byzantine period (AD 330-1453), the buildings were filled in so the area could be flattened in order to build houses and structures on the top.”

Because of the elaborate nature of objects found in these buildings and their proximity to an excavated mansion in the nearby Jewish Quarter, “we surmise that the houses either belong to aristocrats, or probably to well-to-do priestly families,” Gibson said. If this can be verified – ideally via an inscription or document – the find may provide details about the lives of those who ruled Jerusalem at the time of Jesus.

One UNCC discovery underscoring this opulence was the largest number of murex shells ever found in the ruins of Jerusalem during that period. Murex – a Mediterranean sea snail–was coveted due to a rich purple dye that could be extracted.

Gibson said many of the tools used in digs haven’t changed over the years – pickaxes, hoes, trowels, brushes used for cleaning, buckets for carrying. He credited technological advances and a more sophisticated approach to digs as primary factors in the team’s finds.

UNCC student Brijesh Kishan calculates elevations at the site of the Mount Zion dig. | RACHEL WARD UNCC

UNCC student Brijesh Kishan calculates elevations at the site of the Mount Zion dig. | RACHEL WARD UNCC

An example: “In the 1970s, they excavated on the southern side of Jerusalem the remains of a medieval gate that dated to the beginning of the 13th century. Nothing was known about the area outside the gate.

“Well, this season, we know because of new scientific techniques of microarchaeology,”which involves taking soil samples. “We were able to determine once and for all that this area was a marketplace. So outside of the gate of the city was a marketplace where they specialized in the selling of chicken eggs and fish.”

Another newer approach is counting pot shards. “By charting these millions, billions of pot shards statistically, we can trace the movement of different types of vessels that date back thousands of years. This is a main way of dating for archaeologists.… Also, there’s all kinds of technology that can record and visualize remains that didn’t exist 40 years ago.”

Gibson says the mindset of archaeologists has evolved as well: “Forty years ago, it was all about getting down to the bottom as quickly as possible and unearthing the earlier remains as quickly as possible. Now we’re much more sensitive to the academic questions that are being asked about certain periods of time.”

James Tabor, a professor in UNCC’s department of religious studies, met Gibson during an excavation after the archaeologist had been studying agricultural landscapes in the area of Ein Karem, the traditional hometown of John the Baptist. Tabor said their collaboration is part of an unusually large community effort.

“Eighty percent of funding for these digs comes from the Charlotte community,” Tabor said. “These people aren’t just writing checks. We get people of all ages and faiths who join us on these digs,” which he said typically last about four weeks and cost $100,000 a week.

He’s excited about future possibilities. Gibson, who has lived in Jerusalem and conducted digs there most of his life, will teach a UNCC course on the history of Jerusalem this fall.

Tabor hopes public tours will be available at some of the dig sites several years down the road – and that thanks to UNCC’s strong ties with Jerusalem, “maybe there will even be a day when UNCC will be able to design an archaeological site there after having done the excavations.”

Israeli Court Finds Joe Zias Guilty of Libel

Additional news coverage: The Times of Israel

From Simcha Jacobovici’s blog this morning, breaking news from Israel…

Lod District Court (Lod, Israel) – After 4 years in court, Judge Jacob Sheinman handed down a landmark decision today in my libel suit filed against former Israel Antiquities Authority (IAA) curator Joseph Zias.

I’m used to criticisms. As a journalist, I’m committed to the principle of free debate in a democratic society. But free speech ends where libel begins, and Zias crossed every red line of a civilized debate. He accused me, among other things, of “forgery”, “planting archaeology”, “pimping the Bible” and “inventing Holocaust stories”. He also accused me of being in intimate contact with various criminal elements around the world. All these are horrible, made up lies that he circulated on the Internet and sent to various universities, publishers and broadcasters. Incredibly, he found some people to support him, especially those with a theological axe to grind.

After I sued him, Zias and some of his supporters claimed that my lawsuit was an attempt to stifle free speech and academic criticism – as if libel and lies are a legitimate part of academic discourse. I only called 4 witnesses to make my case. For his part, Zias argued that he had spoken the truth and called 25 witnesses in his defense. But the strategy backfired as most of his witnesses testified against his position!

Today, the judge threw the book at Zias. He quoted Israeli law stating that freedom of speech has to be balanced with protecting a man’s “good name”. He found that Zias did not prove a single allegation. By the end of his 38 page ruling, the judge found Zias guilty on 10 counts of libel – 6 of them “pre-meditated libel with an intention to cause harm”. To underline the seriousness of Zias’ wrongdoings, the judge fined him a total of 800,000 NIS.

I waited a long time for this moment. Justice has been served and a clear message has been sent to those who use bullying and defamation as a tactic to silence free debate.

Over the past four years I have constantly heard colleagues incorrectly characterizing the Zias lawsuit as a “freedom of speech,” issue, as if Simcha Jacobovici filed his complaint to stifle legitimate criticism and debate on his work. Joe is desperate to cast things that way so he can appear the victim rather than the perpetrator–of slander and defamation–which he most surely is.  If you are interested in the facts, here they are. I know only too well what is at stake here because I have been the victim of Joe’s slander myself, having been a close friend of his for over 20 years. The only difference is Simcha Jacobovici decided to sue Joe whereas I have chosen to ignore Joe’s ugly behavior as much as possible while providing those interested in the facts of the case as I know them.

Zias & Tabor at Qumran

Scholars in my field of ancient Judaism and early Christianity often sharply disagree on issues. Pointed critiques and exchanges are common and welcome, so long as they remain respectful. This has been the case with the academic discussion of the Talpiot tombs in Jerusalem and their possible relationship to Jesus of Nazareth and his family over the past few years.  You can find a representative archive of strongly differing articles atBible & Interpretation here.

Jodi Magness and I laid out the parameters of the early stages of the debate, pro and con, on the Society of Biblical Literature web site here and here. Near Eastern Archaeologypublished a forum involving me and four other scholars on the topic in late 2006, see here. In March 2012 the ASOR Blog devoted the month of March to an intense academic discussion of the new discoveries in the Talpiot “Patio tomb” resulting from the robotic arm probe, see here.  Most recently Prof. James Charlesworth has published the proceedings of the 2008 Princeton Symposium in Jerusalem, The Tomb of Jesus and his Family with over 30 contributions to the discussion, representing a cross sections of interpretations and viewpoints.

PrincetonTalpiotWhat is happily absent from this intense academic discussion is personal defamation, slander, and libel. Unfortunately that has not been the case with Joe Zias, former Israel Antiquities Authority curator, who has publicly and vocally slandered and defamed me as well as my colleague Rami Arav and filmmaker Simcha Jacobovici, in connection with our exploration of the Talpiot tombs. Many of my colleagues have cheered Zias on, mistakenly thinking that he is merely expressing his views and disagreeing with us on the interpretation of evidence.

The truth is Zias has moved way beyond respectful academic critique into defamation, libel, and personal slander. I know this firsthand because I have copies of e-mail and letters he has written to my Dean, Provost, Chancellor, literary agent, and publisher–Simon & Schuster, as well as dozens of colleagues, charging me with “conduct bordering on the criminal,” “planting of evidence,” and calling for my dismissal for academic misconduct. In fact, in those e-mails he even charges that we “faked” the Jonah ossuary image and entered the tomb clandestinely, planting it for later filming and “discovery.” Zias urges Simon & Schuster not to publish our book, The Jesus Discovery, charging that our work is based on fraudulent claims. More recently he has expanded his critique to the commendable work Gene Gallagher and I did on Waco–which was even praised by the FBI–charging that my defense of “cult leaders” before congress gave support to the Oklahoma City bombing. Early on I wrote him a couple of e-mails and urged him to drop the personal attacks and participate in the academic discussion, inviting his critique of any aspect of our archaeological exploration of the “Patio tomb” or our interpretations of these tombs. He replied that my career was ruined, that UNC Charlotte had shown itself to be an institution with no academic standards, and that none of my students would ever find jobs or achieve any respect in our field–even though our program in Religious Studies at UNC Charlotte is one of the finest in the country.

So far as I know, even though Joe Zias is surely the most vocal critic of our work on the Talpiot tombs, he has yet to publish a single scholarly article setting forth his own counter arguments or positions. What he has done is constantly post personal attacks in “Comment” sections of media and blog pieces against me, Rami Arav, Simcha Jacobovici, and those he loosely calls “The BAR Crowd,” (which apparently includes editor Hershel Shanks and anyone who is associated with Biblical Archaeology Review).

What is particularly ironic in all this is that Zias, back in 1996, was the first one to speak in favor of the possibility that the Talpiot “Jesus” tomb belonged to Jesus and a likely wife, expressing his amazement at the uniqueness of the “cluster of names” to a BBC film crew.

I care about Joe and his family on a human level and have always treated him with kindness and respect, despite his abuse and slander against me.  I take no joy in his personal pain, though I am pleased that justice has prevailed in this case. The lawsuit was never about Zias’s right to strongly express his disagreement with the theses of Simcha’s films on the Talpiot tombs or the books he had co-authored. It was specific in charging Zias with personal libel, slander, and defamation. Zias had a defense fund set up and various colleagues who have negative views of Simcha’s work have mistakenly taken the issue to be that of Zias’s right to the academic freedom of dissent. Joe has charged that “big money” interests have conspired to keep him from speaking out, punishing him for simply expressing his criticisms. Such is simply not the case, as hundreds of my colleagues who have gotten Joe’s defamatory e-mails can testify.

The Talpiot “Jesus” Family Tomb: Case Closed

On April 5th, 2015, Haaretz, Israel’s most respected newspaper, published a Hebrew article by Nir Hasson, their archaeology correspondent. Here is an English Translation provided by Simcha Jacobovici.

Jesus was buried in Jerusalem’s Armon Ha’Natziv/Talpiot neighborhood and may have had a wife and child

Dr. Aryeh Shimron used chemical analyses to find a clear link between ossuaries discovered in the Talpiot Tomb and the ossuary of the “Brother of Jesus” – reigniting debate on Jesus’ burial place.

By Nir Hasson

Jerusalem – A geological study supports the claim that a Second Temple Period burial cave, excavated 25 years ago in the Armon Ha’Natziv/Talpiot neighborhood in Jerusalem, belonged to the family of Jesus of Nazareth. That’s the conclusion of geologist Dr. Aryeh Shimron, who used chemical analysis to examine a possible link between the ossuaries (bone boxes) found in the Talpiot burial cave and the ossuary known as the bone box of the “Brother of Jesus”. Supporters of the theory maintain that this study could have far-reaching implications. If Dr. Shimron is right, Christians are wrong about the location of Jesus’ burial cave (Church of the Holy Sepulcher) and about the fact that Jesus did not have a wife and son.1


The burial cave known as “The Talpiot Tomb” was discovered in 1980, during construction of the Armon Ha’Natziv/Talpiot neighborhood. An excavation of the tomb uncovered ossuaries from the Second Temple Period, such as can be found in many burial caves in the Jerusalem area. Though the names inscribed on these ossuaries were common during that era, the cluster of names in the same tomb provoked interest. Among the names are “Jesus, son of Joseph”, “Maria”, “Mariamene”, “Judas son of Jesus” and “Yose”.

The tomb has provoked international interest in the last decade largely due to the films and investigations of journalist Simcha Jacobovici. He makes the statistical argument that, at the time, there could not have been another family in Judaea with that particular combination of names.

Parallel with the story of the Talpiot tomb, the archeological world was rocked in the last few years by another story –the “Brother of Jesus” ossuary. Antiquities collector Oded Golan owns a bone box that bears the inscription “Jacob (James in English), son of Joseph, brother of Jesus”. The State of Israel claimed in court that Golan faked the second part of the inscription (“Brother of Jesus”) so as to boost the ossuary’s value. Three years ago, after a long judicial battle, the district court of Jerusalem ruled that the State failed to prove its case.

In the last few months, following another judicial struggle, the ossuary was returned to Golan and he allowed Dr. Shimron to examine it. It’s clear to everyone that if Shimron can prove that this “Jacob/James ossuary” came from the Talpiot tomb, statistically speaking, there would be no doubt that the tomb belonged to the family of Jesus. The “James” ossuary, after all, is inscribed with three names: “Jacob”, “Joseph” and “Jesus”. It also describes familial relations between these people: Jacob son of Joseph, brother of Jesus. Two names from Talpiot were especially interesting to Simcha Jacobovici – “Mariamene” and “Yose”. These are rare versions of “Joseph” and “Mary” that are cited in early Christian writings. Jacobovici has also linked the Talpiot tomb with a close by burial cave, which contained symbols that are, according to his research, consistent with the iconography of early Christianity.

Shimron, who has been working at the Geological Survey of Israel (GSI) for 25 years, began his inquiry into this topic after hearing a lecture delivered seven years ago by one of the archaeologists who discovered the cave, Dr. Shimon Gibson. Gibson mentioned in passing that when they first encountered the cave it was completely blocked with earth. “When I heard that, I realized that there was a geo-chemical key here that can be utilized,” says Shimron. The cave, he explains, was most likely sealed during a dramatic earthquake in 363 C.E/A.D. This turned the Talpiot tomb into a kind of chemical time capsule that sets it apart from other caves.

Throughout the years, the limestone ossuaries in the cave absorbed elements from the earth that covered it. In this way, the Talpiot tomb developed a clear “chemical signature” that sets it apart from other tombs. Dr. Shimron conducted dozens of tests to check for these elements. [In addition to the Talpiot tomb ossuaries], the Israel Antiquities Authority provided about twelve random ossuaries. Recently, following its return to collector Golan, Shimron was also able to examine the “Brother of Jesus” ossuary.

The results of the examinations, as Dr. Shimron displays them in a series of charts, are unequivocal. Every chemical element Shimron examined in the James ossuary displayed the “chemical signature” shared by the Talpiot ossuaries and falls within the Talpiot chemical cluster. “The evidence is very powerful” he says. “It is almost without a doubt that the ‘James, Brother of Jesus’ ossuary came from the Talpiot tomb.”

Statistician Camil Fuchs had already established – based on the names inscribed on the James ossuary, their familial ties, the fact that the buried person was an adult, and the literacy displayed on the ossuary – that there could have been no more than two families with this particular combination of names in Judaea throughout the Second Temple Period. If, in addition to the names on the James ossuary, we now also add the names found in the Talpiot tomb to the cluster, there can be only one conclusion: the Talpiot tomb belonged to the family of Jesus of Nazareth.

“I’m saying this as a journalist, not as a researcher or a statistician,” says Simcha Jacobovici, “but it’s clear that by adding the ‘James, Brother of Jesus’ inscription into the mix, this supports the authenticity of the inscription and completely changes the statistical name balance of the tomb. From here on in, you can only argue against the Talpiot tomb from the point of view of faith and theology – you can say that you don’t care about the facts, that you believe what you believe and that’s that. But what I’m saying is not a gut feeling. These are facts. This case is closed.”

If this is indeed the Jesus family tomb, Dr. Shimron’s findings are of monumental importance – they imply that the IAA has in its possession the ossuary of Jesus himself – “Jesus, son of Joseph” – and of a man called “Judah, son of Jesus”. Their bones were buried in an unknown location 25 years ago, when the tomb was found. This also means that Jesus of Nazareth, contrary to popular belief, had a son.

But for this to be true, Jacobovici has to overcome a basic problem with his theory: when was the James ossuary removed from the Talpiot burial cave? During his trial, Oded Golan presented a photograph showing the ossuary in his possession as of 1976– four years before the Talpiot cave was discovered. In response, Jacobovici offers two alternatives. According to the first scenario, one of the ossuaries was stolen during the excavation, and Golan’s picture is dated incorrectly. And, indeed, the archaeologists reported finding ten ossuaries, whereas the IAA has only nine in its possession today. Another possible scenario is that the James ossuary was stolen and sold to Golan a few years before the discovery of the Talpiot tomb.

The theory’s opponents point out another issue. If Jesus’ earliest followers wanted to bolster the myth of his rising to heaven, there would be no sense in burying him in his family tomb – the first place skeptics would go to find proof of his “earthliness”. It is more likely that they would have concealed his remains. Jacobovici’s answer: “The problem is that we’re looking at this through Christian theology, rather than through Jewish history. If you take a Messianic Lubavitcher [an Orthodox Jewish Hasidic sect] today and ask him if the Rabbi of Lubavitch rose to heaven, he will say “yes”. If you ask the same Hasid if the Lubavitvher Rabbi has an earthly grave, he will also say “yes”. They do not believe that their Rabbi gathered up his kidneys and physically rose to heaven, body and all. A physical ascent – that’s Christian theology. It isn’t fact. The first believers weren’t Christians; they were Lubavitcher types.”

Prof. Amos Kloner, a former senior member of the IAA and one of the Talpiot cave excavators, rejects Jacobovici’s theories – as well as Shimron’s study – out of hand. First, Kloner is convinced that the “Brother of Jesus” inscription is both fake and modern”. Second, the missing ossuary from the Talpiot cave was listed in the archaeological reports as broken, uninscribed and without decoration. Last, there could not have been another ossuary in the tomb. “The ossuaries were completely buried,” he says. “They were not visible under the earth, so it makes no sense that one of them was at any point removed from the cave. I’d like Shimron to conduct his research on several more ossuaries. So far, his findings are not unequivocal. This whole business,” he adds, “is a commercial bluff.”

Dr. Shimon Gibson adds: “If there was another ossuary in the tomb, we should have found an imprint in the ground. I hope Aryeh Shimron publishes his research and then we can respond to it.”

Collector Oded Golan, who owns the ossuary and can potentially profit by linking it to Jesus, isn’t rushing to adopt the theory. “I bought it from someone who claimed he found it in the area of Silwan, not Talpiot,” he says. “The study is not statistically solid, it needs more samples. But we can’t rule out the theory that the James ossuary came from Talpiot.” If it turns out to be true, Golan believes that the cave served Jesus’ family, but not Jesus himself. “The argument about the specific versions of the names ‘Yose’ and ‘Jacob’ is a strong one, but there could certainly have been another man in the family who was called ‘Jesus, son of Joseph.”

  1. JDT Comment: No one is claiming that the Church of the Holy Sepulchre as the temporary tomb of Jesus, near the place of his crucifixion is invalided by the discovery of the Talpiot “Jesus” tomb as is implied by so many of the stories out this week. It as if I and others are playing a game of “who moved the tomb” which is decidedly not the case. Unless one believes Jesus body (bones and all) went up to heaven–since the tomb in the Church of the Holy Sepulchre was never thought to have held the body of Jesus past Easter Sunday–Jesus must have been buried elsewhere. See my SBL paper on-line here for further exposition on this point–in response to Jodi Magness who accepts Jesus was first buried the rock-hewn tomb in the Church of the Holy Sepurchre, but apparently things he was then removed (she does not explain how or by whom) and buried in a “trench grave.” What we can say is that all of our sources claim that Joseph of Arimathea had charge of Jesus’ burial and it would have been him who would have provided a permanent tomb for Jesus–and I would argue, subsequently for his family. 

The “Jesus” Tomb Story: Does the Evidence Add Up?

Many years ago a man from the BBC came to me and he asked me if the Dead Sea Scrolls will harm Christianity. I said to him that nothing can harm Christianity. The only thing which could be dangerous to Christianity would be to find a tomb with the sarcophagus or ossuary of Jesus – still containing his bones. And then I will surely hope that it will not be found in the territory of the State of Israel. –David Flusser1

LA_Cathedral_Mausoleum_Ascension RD In future years I believe that Easter Sunday, April 5, 2015 will be remembered as a pivotal date upon which the evidence identifying the ancient tomb in east Talpiot, a suburb of Jerusalem, as that of Jesus of Nazareth and his family reached a critical mass in favor thereof. The story in the New York Times, “Findings Reignite Debate on Claim of Jesus’ Bones,” reported by Isabel Kershner and published prominently on page A-4 marked a watershed moment. It might take a decade or even a century, who knows, for the implications of this evidence to be widely acknowledged by historians, theologians, and the public–but I believe that day will come.

Before this latest evidence I thought the case was quite strong. Given the collective evidence related to both the “Jesus” tomb (Tomb A) and the nearby “Patio” tomb (Tomb B)–the one under the condo building–less than 60 meters away, I was 90% persuaded–if one can put a “percentage” on such things. The evidence I find so persuasive is summarized here: The Case for a Jesus Family Tomb: An Overview and The Tombs at Talpiot: An Overview of the Jesus Discovery.2

If one adds the ossuary inscribed “James son of Joseph, brother of Jesus,” to the mix, the probability case is closed. There is a succinct summary just published this week by Jerry Lutgen, “The James Ossuary in Talpiot: More About Probability,” covering all the variables, and showing the probability with the James ossuary added to our cluster reaches 100% or virtual certainty.

I have previously responded to some of the press coverage generated by the New York Times story, see my “news roundup” here. In this post I want to specifically address the April 9th CNN piece, “Jesus’ Tomb Story: Does the Evidence Add Up?” by colleagues Joel Baden and Candida Moss. After rehearsing the basic “Jesus tomb” story, including the latest claims about the James ossuary originating in that tomb, Baden and Moss offer their summary assessment:

It is a compelling story. But it is also a fragile one. This small group of scholars, scientists and filmmakers has presented us with a intricate puzzle, in which all the pieces have been perfectly aligned. But pick up any single piece to examine it more carefully, and it crumbles to dust.

Then they proceed to go through these “pieces” of evidence, one-by-one, seven in all, asserting that not a single one of them hold up. The Baden and Moss piece is quite remarkably comprehensive, but at the same time succinct, and I commend them for putting before a wide audience most of the essential issues related to “The Jesus Tomb Story.”

But there is a problem. Not a single one of their seven assertions hold up!

Rather than crumbling to dust quite the opposite is the case, as we shall see. Baden and Moss have unfortunately misunderstood, or misstated each of the seven “pieces” they propose to examine. I will go through them one by one and offer what I hope might be some helpful response and evaluation:

1.The box that supposedly says “Jesus, son of Joseph” definitely says “son of Joseph,” but that first, crucial name is very much in doubt. One scholar suggested that it says Hanun, just to give a sense of how uncertain the reading is.

This first assertion is the one I find the most surprising–that the name “Yeshua” is “very much in doubt.” I am at a loss to understand how Baden and Moss have arrived at this conclusion or could possibly support it. I discussed the inscription with Frank Cross back in 2004 and he stated without the slightest equivocation that it read “Yeshua bar Yehosef,” though pointing out it was informally written and badly scratched–which is often the case with such ossuary names. Rahmani, Kloner, Zissu, Rollston, Pfann, Ilan, and Price/Misgav, who have all formally published on the subject, all agree. Far from the reading being “very much in doubt,” I can’t think of a single epigrapher who disagrees or proposes an alternative to the “Yeshua” reading.


It is true, as Rahmani (CJO: 704)3 and  Price/Misgav (CIIP 1:1: 474)4  note, that the scratches on the ossuary running through the letters make it more difficult to read, but as Rahmani notes, one can separate those from the incisions rather assuredly–leaving the letters themselves as: Yod, Shin, Vav,’Ayin. When one examines the ossuary directly, as I have done, the Yod is a bit difficult to distinguish due to pitting and scratching but the Shin, Vav, and ‘Ayin are absolutely clear. Given the proper names we know from the time there is simply no other alternative.

2. Schematic drawing of YeshuabarYehosef

The reading is further corroborated by the clear, non-graffiti inscription (IAA 80.501), “Yehuda son of Yeshua’, from the same tomb, likely the son of this Yeshua. So far as I know everyone is in agreement on this reading, including everyone at the 2008 Princeton conference in Jerusalem devoted to evaluating “The Tomb of Jesus and his Family” (see note 2 below).

Baden and Moss completely misunderstand the position of Stephen Pfann, whom they reference without naming, who once suggested a reading of “Hanan.” Pfann and I have discussed this tomb countless hours over the years, we excavate together at Mt Zion and are close friends.  We disagree on just about everything related thereto–but not the inscribed name “Yeshua.” Stephen does not dispute the reading “Yeshua,” (as Baden and Moss imply here) but has argued that Yeshua was written over a prior name that he now thinks “with some imagination” might have been Yudan.5

Accordingly, for Baden and Moss to assert that the name Yeshua is “very much in doubt” and that the reading of the name Yeshua “turns to dust” upon examination is simply untrue and misleading to say the least.

2. And the box that supposedly belongs to Mary actually says “Mariam and Mara,” which suggests that there were actually two women buried in that single ossuary. It is also a problem that while all the other ossuaries are inscribed in Aramaic, this one is in Greek.

I am not at all clear on why the “Mariamene/Mara” ossuary inscribed in Greek is a problem, in contrast to the other five inscriptions being in Aramaic. Ossuary inscriptions are often in Greek (30%), including lots of examples of the name “Mary,” alongside those in Aramaic or Hebrew in the same tomb, and sometimes Greek and Hebrew mixed on the same ossuary (10%). Further, if one wanted to argue that the Mariamene of this ossuary might be identified with Mary of Magdala, a wealthy woman from that very Hellenized city, who had friends even in Herod’s court (Luke 7:2-3), having a finely decorated ossuary (in contrast to the others) inscribed in Greek, seems to fit her well.

Mariamene Inscription

As to the question of one or two women, it is of course possible we are dealing with two names here, and several epigraphers have argued that Rahmani’s original reading of “Mariamne who is also called Mara” (CJO: 701) should read Mariam and Mara.6 Even if that be the case, as Price points out (CIIP 1:1:477) one can still read the inscription as “Mariam who is also (known as) Mara,”–referring to one woman. This remains true in Greek today; a girl with the two names Sophia and Maria could be referred to as Sophia kai Maria–Sophia also known as Maria. So this objection is really no objection at all.

Further, even if one granted two women named Mary and Martha–it would be hard to eliminate them from any Jesus family tomb–given the intimate position of the sisters Mary and Martha in the gospel traditions, their close relationship to Jesus and his family, and a possible conflation of “Mary of Bethany” with Mary Magdalene, as Jane Schaberg and many others scholars have suggested.7

3. As for the names on the other ossuaries, some of them fit perfectly well into the Jesus story (Joseph, for example, Jesus’ younger brother). Others, however, not so much: Matia (Matthew), not a member of Jesus’ family according to the Bible, and, more problematically, Yehuda bar Yeshua — Judas, son of Jesus.

The main problem with this objection is the assumption that we have something called “the Jesus story” that can serve as a control for what fits or does not fit archaeologically with the historical Jesus. What we have to realize is that our textual traditions (primarily the N.T. gospels) are not only late (post-70 CE), but extremely limited and fragmentary theological proclamations. Understandably, they are mostly silent in providing any basis for such exclusionary statements as to who “belongs” or does not belong in the “Jesus story”–much less the extended Jesus family. So the assertion that “Matthew” is not a part of the Jesus family “according to the Bible” is naive and misleading.

Think about all we do not know.

We don’t know a single name of any of the wives or children of any of the 12 apostles–much less the wider group of disciples. Are we to assume these important individuals never existed? Luke mentions “70” disciples that Jesus appointed and sent out but we don’t know the name of a single one of them–much less any wives or children! Fortunately, Mark (followed by Matthew) gives us the names of four of Jesus brothers–James, Jose, Simon, and Jude (Mark 6:4). But true to form, Jesus sisters are neither named nor enumerated, nor are their husbands if they were married.

When women and children are left out of the “Jesus story” it is not because they did not exist, but because they were not considered important to name. Luke and John never name any of Jesus’ brothers. So our knowledge of the names of these four brothers hangs on the “thread” of a single verse in Mark (whom Matthew uses as his source). Were there more than four? We have no way of knowing. What about half-brothers or step brothers–assuming these four are children of Mary? Paul names James but none of the others, and mentions none of their wives by name (1 Corinthians 9:5). We do get Jude’s name, as a brother of James, from the letter bearing his name and Hegessipus, a 2nd century Jewish convert to Christianity, mentions the sons (or grandsons) of Jesus’ brother Jude, arrested as descendants of David, during the reign of Domitian (Eusebius, Church History 3. 19-20). So we know Jude was married with children, but we surely do not know anything about his family in our New Testament sources.

Can we really say with any confidence that a name such as Matia/Matthew does not belong  in a Jesus family tomb? I would argue quite the opposite. We do know that the name Matthew (in various forms: Matthat, Mattathias, Maath, et al.) is the most frequent name in the immediate family lineage of Jesus–there are four listed in three verses (Luke 3:23-26). It is  not a particularly common name (2.5% of males, contrasted with Joseph at 8.6%), so since it is particularly associated with the Jesus family line its presence in the tomb is not so surprising. Mark tells us that Levi, also know as Matthew, who is one of the 12, is a son of Alphaeus (2:14), as are James and presumably Jude, his brother or son (Mark 3:18 and Acts 1:7). There is a high mathematical probability that these three are related and quite arguably brothers of Jesus8

But more to the point, we would not expect any identifiable tomb from the period to contain only names of whom we were aware from our literary sources. Mark Goodacre, who advised Baden & Moss on their article, has often argued that the names Matthew and Jude son of Jesus in this tomb are outliers and thus should count against this being identified with Jesus of Nazareth.

Let’s take two tombs of individuals we can identify from our 1st century literary records–the high priest Joseph Caiaphas (John 18:13 et al., Josephus, Antiquities 18:35) and Simon of Cyrene, the man impressed to carry Jesus’ cross, and his sons Alexander and Rufus (Mark 15:21). The Caiaphas tomb (CIIP: 461-465) had five inscribed ossuaries of a total of 12, but other than “Joseph son of Caiaphas” we can’t identify any of the other family names from our records (Qafa, Shalom, Shem, Miriam). We have no idea of the name of the high priest’s wife, or children, or any others of the family, but the presence of these names hardly disqualify the tomb from being that of the high priest Caiaphas mentioned in our gospels.  In the case of the Simon of Cyrene family tomb (CIIP: 324-332) nine of the eleven ossuaries were inscribed, with a mixture of Hebrew and Greek, but we don’t know any the names from our Jesus story other than Simon and Alexander his son (i.e. Horea, Arristoboula, Ya’akov, Mnaso, Sabatis, Sara, Thaliarchos, Philiskos, Ioanes), but that would not preclude us from identifying this as the likely family tomb of Simon of Cyrene and his son Alexander–who are named by Mark.9

The same holds with any wife or child of Jesus–or of any of his disciples. It is true that the figure of Jesus is more prominent in our records than Caiaphas and Simon and Alexander, but in terms of personal biographical information we know precious little. As a Jewish teacher in his 30s Jesus was likely married, but our records of Jesus’ life and teachings are not history or biography but theological presentations of the divine Son of God, asexually born of a virgin (Matthew and Luke), or descended from heaven (John), with the divine authority of God himself on earth to forgive sins (Mark).

The one most likely candidate for a wife of Jesus, given all we know of her from later sources, is Mary Magdalene, who mysteriously shows up at Jesus crucifixion and who is mentioned even ahead of Jesus’ own mother as taking charge of the intimate task of washing his naked corpse and anointing it for burial. She is also “first witness” of Jesus’ resurrection and appears to have had the role of both apostle and leading teacher–even above the male disciples–but her place and importance is ignored or muted in Paul, our Gospels, and the book of Acts, as Jane Schaberg, April DeConick, Ann Graham Brock, Karen King and many others have shown.10

Of the “Judah son of Jesus” in this tomb we know little–other than he is the son of Jesus. The inscription is formally written, the ossuary is nicely ornamented (like Mariamene but in contrast to Yeshua, Mariah, Matai, and Jose), and it is one of the smaller ones in the tomb–perhaps indicating Judah died at a young age, which also might account for his obscurity. Here I refer the reader to Kilty and Elliot’s excellent contribution at Bibleinterp.com: “On Yoseh, Yosi, Joseph, and Judas son of Jesus in Talpiot.” It is also entirely plausible, as James David Audlin has argued, that early Christian traditions about the desposyni (δεσπόσυνοι) or those “belonging to the Master,” refers not just to ancillary family members (nephews, cousins, etc.) but to Jesus’ own offspring.11 Hegessipus, a 2nd century Jewish convert to Christianity, mentions the sons (or grandsons) of Jesus’ brother Jude, arrested as descendants of David, during the reign of Domitian (Eusebius, Church History 3. 19-20). So we know Jude was married with children, but we surely do not know anything about his family in our New Testament sources.

The Talpiot Jesus tomb contains six inscribed ossuaries out of the nine in the Israeli archives, which is a very high percentage (66%). In contrast Rahmani puts the overall percentage of inscribed vs. non-inscribed ossuaries in the Israeli State Collection at 25.2% (231 of 917). If the Jesus tomb had a set of names such as Eleazar, Menachem, or Daniel, for instance, or names of women such as Sarah, Bernice, or Alexandra–none of which can be identified with Jesus’ family and its wider circles–it would be a real stretch to try and identify it with Jesus of Nazareth. In surveying all the other known tombs with ossuaries inscribed with any form of the name “Jesus” in Greek or Aramaic–and there are only 18–none of them could be the tomb of Jesus of Nazareth, either because of invalidating patronyms (Jesus son of Matthew, Jesus son of Judas, Jesus son of Dositheos, et al.) or entire sets of outlying names (Chares, Eiras, Erotas, Doras, Megiste, Ariston, Helena, Shelamzion, Chananiya, Shapiraet et al.). All told we have over 600 inscribed ossuaries from approximately 900 tombs so far exposed in the necropolis of ancient 1st century Jerusalem.12 This alone does not prove the Talpiot tomb is Jesus’ tomb, but it does undermine the constantly repeated claims that these names are extremely common and there are lots of other tombs with such a set of names. That is simply not the case.

4. Supporters of the theory regularly point to the remarkably collocation of so many biblical names in a single tomb. But as most every other scholar has pointed out, these were just about the most common names in that period, especially Joseph and Mary.

Of all the objections to identifying the Talpiot “Jesus” tomb with Jesus of Nazareth and his family this assertion, that the “names are common,” one hears the most often. The implication is that just about “any tomb” of the time might have this cluster of names. I can’t count the times I have heard this, usually as the first thing coming out of the mouth of a naysayer. The Talpiot tomb is the family tomb of “some” Jesus, maybe “Jesus the baker,” or “Jesus the cobbler,” but there is no reason to think it might belong to Jesus of Nazareth. This assertion is simply incorrect. It is the cluster of names together, based upon name frequencies, that one has to guage. Rather than belabor the point, that has been so extensively demonstrated by a range of experts, I refer the reader to Kilty and Elliot’s excellent articles, “Talpiot DeThroned,” and “Regarding Magness and Talpiot,” along with the further statistical studies to which they link.

I suspect the mantra “the names are common,” will eventually become moot once it becomes wholly evident, based on Aryeh Shimron’s latest evidence, that the “James” ossuary also belongs in the cluster.

5. The evidence from the tomb next door — the ossuary with the early Christian symbol of Jonah and the fish on it — is equally hard to swallow. It seems that the only people who see a fish on that box are those who already thought that Jesus was buried next door; just about everyone else sees an abstract geometric pattern, or perhaps the depiction of a jar.

This is simply incorrect. Two of our finest epigraphical experts, Rachel Hachlili and Émile Puech agree that we have the inscription YONAH written across the image of a fish, and neither of them think the “Jesus” tomb has anything to do with Jesus of Nazareth. James Charlesworth agrees, but does not think the Yeshua in the tomb is Jesus. Any Israeli child on the street can read the inscription: Yod, Vav, Nun, Heh.

Yonah Inscription

Many of my colleagues in our initial ASOR month-long blog discussion in March 2012 that was devoted to The Jesus Discovery first identified the iconic image as a nephesh or tower–but that was quickly abandoned in a couple of days when someone pointed out such a tower would be upside down! Subsequently many settled on the idea of a jar or amphora.13 I don’t recall anyone arguing the image was an “abstract geometrical pattern,” so I am not sure to what Baden and Moss refer in that regard. But that was before Charlesworth identified the name YONAH on the mouth of the fish/jar.14 But why write “Jonah” on the mouth of a jar? And even with some imagination the image itself resembles no jars or amphora images on any other ossuaries, coins, or art from the period. Here is the clearest image we have, unaltered in any way, taken from our robotic camera feed:

03 Original Jonah Image - no cgi copy

I remain convinced we have in Talpiot tomb B our earliest depiction of the “sign of Jonah,” as a symbol of resurrection–an image we associate with the early Jewish messianic Jesus movement.

6. As for that inscription about God raising someone up, it seems that this was a case of mistaken reading. The Greek most likely says something far less interesting: “Here are bones. I touch them not. Agabus.” Agabus would be the name of the deceased, perhaps.

It is surely the case that four or five alternative readings of the Greek inscription on the ossuary in Talpiot tomb B have been proposed, see my discussion here comparing each of them, but it is not established that any reading differing with Rollston’s proposal, favored here by Baden and Moss, is a “mistaken reading.” The different proposals turn upon rather technical matters, as is often the case, namely how one reads one ambiguous letter (Serif Iota or Tau) and how one understands the spelling and grammar. Here is an example in English that is somewhat parallel:


Should we read this as “God Owns All Eggs” or “Go down Sal Leggs,” with the possessive of the name Sal understood and Legs misspelled? I favor the simple reading, given the context in this tomb, next to our Jonah inscription and image.

Greek Inscription #1

The four line Greek inscription can be simply read: O Divine IAIO [Yahweh], Raise up! Raise up! [Hagbah] or perhaps, I, Divine IAIO [Yahweh], raise up! Raise up! [HagbahI]–with alternating bilingual Greek and Hebrew transliterations. This is a perfectly acceptable reading and it reflects precisely the cry of Jonah in the belly of the fish (Jonah 2:2, 5-6). To take the final three letters (ΑΓΒ) is a cipher for the name–Agabus (Αγαβας), as Richard Bauckham first suggested, and Rollston accepted, is possible but seems a stretch.

7.  Then there is the James ossuary. The question of the authenticity of the inscription on the box — the ossuary itself is certainly ancient — is so fraught that the dealer who owns it was taken to trial for antiquities fraud.

Even if the trial ended without proving claims of forgery, we have no idea where the artifact came from.

What’s more, almost every expert in ancient epigraphy has concluded that while the name James seems authentic, the words “brother of Jesus” are patently from a different hand, and most likely a much later, if not modern, addition.

It is simply not the case that “almost every expert in ancient epigraphy” has so concluded. It is of course possible the words “brother of Jesus” were added in antiquity by a different hand, though neither epigraphers André Lemaire of the Sorbonne nor Ada Yardeni of the Hebrew University, think so. Both testified at the forgery trial that the inscription was authentic. Orna Cohen established that there is original patina in the words “brother of Jesus” and Yuval Goren later changed his testimony and agreed–despite his view that the inscription was faked. The entire James ossuary controversy is too complex to rehearse here but here is a “Reader’s Guide” with relevant links for those wanting to delve deeper.

Baden and Moss close their piece expressing doubt about the validity of Dr. Aryeh Shimron’s latest chemical tests as reported in the NYTimes story and asserting that any tomb of Jesus containing his bones would have undermined early Christian faith in Jesus’ resurrection. I have addressed the former quite extensively here, and the latter here, just this past week, so I won’t rehearse my responses in this already overly lengthy post!  I do wish, however, that Baden and Moss had given us a bit of a glimpse as to what they think, as historians, regarding the dead body of Jesus–if it was not buried in a tomb in Jerusalem what might have conceivably happened to it?15

  1. Quoted by Neil Silberman, The Hidden Scrolls (New York: Putnam, 1994), p. 129. 

  2. The Talpiot “Jesus” tomb was exposed by a construction blast on Thursday morning, March 27, 1980–the weekend before Passover and Easter. The tomb and its contents were ignored for exactly sixteen years, until Easter 1996, when a BBC television crew, quite by accident, got interested in the six inscribed ossuaries found in the tomb with the names: Jesus son of Joseph, Jose, Mariah, Mariamne/Mara, Matya, and Jude son of Jesus; gathering dust in the Israel Antiquities Authority (IAA) warehouse then located in Romemma, a suburb of West Jerusalem. The resulting TV special was accompanied by a London Sunday Times front page story titled “The Tomb that Dare Not Speak Its Name”–both on Easter Sunday. The “bombshell” implied in the story was not only that the bones of Jesus of Nazareth might have been discovered in a Jerusalem tomb, but that he was presumably married, and had a son! No published report had ever been written on this forgotten tomb in East Talpiot but IAA director Amir Drori, upset and embarrassed that he had never even heard of this now famous tomb, commissioned Amos Kloner to rush out a publication that appeared a few months later. The official word to be given to the press was a simple message: “The names are extremely common, this tomb is no different from hundreds of others. We took no special note of it for that reason.” Kloner’s publication appeared in record time, in the Fall issue of the IAA’s journal, “A Tomb with Inscribed Ossuaries in East Talpiyot, Jerusalem,” Atiqot 29 (1996); 15-22. A brief whirlwind of media coverage swirled about in 1996 and the tomb was once again forgotten with the dismissive mantra “the names in the tomb are extremely common,” for the next decade.

    On October 21, 2002 Hershel Shanks, editor of Biblical Archaeology Review, announced that an ossuary inscribed “James son of Joseph, brother of Jesus” had surfaced in Jerusalem in the hands of a private collector of antiquities. The November/December issue of Biblical Archaeology Review devoted the entire issue to the discovery, with reports by experts as to its authenticity and likely connection to Jesus of Nazareth. Shanks published a book, co-authored with Ben Witherington,The Brother of Jesus: The Dramatic Story & Meaning of the First Archaeological Link to Jesus & His Family (HarperSanFrancisco, 2003) and Discovery Television aired a film, directed by Simcha Jacobovici–a newcomer to the world of “Biblical Archaeology,” as well.

    In 2006 I offered an overview of what we knew of Talpiot “Jesus” tomb in the Introduction of my book, The Jesus Dynasty (Simon & Schuster) but no further investigation had been done. At the end of that introduction I offered the speculative possibility that a 10th missing ossuary from the Jesus tomb might be the ossuary of James the brother of Jesus that had now come to light. At the time we were not even clear that there were three tombs clustered together, with two of them still intact–on the same ancient estate. As it turned out the Jesus tomb was in a walkway garden area between condo buildings, but sealed over with a concrete slab, and the second tomb was under a condo building–discovered in 1981 but never excavated.

    In 2007 Simcha Jacobovici refocused attention on both tombs with his co-authored best-selling book, The Jesus Family Tomb (HarperOne) and the Discovery Channel documentary, produced with James Cameron, “The Lost Tomb of Jesus.” The web site jesusfamilytomb.com archives all the background information related to research on the tomb that went into the film. Jacobovici’s efforts not only drew worldwide media attention and sparked controversy but pioneered a full scientific investigation of the Jesus tomb including epigraphical analysis of the names, formal peer reviewed statistical studies on name frequency clusters, DNA tests on bones in the ossuaries, and comparative chemical tests on the patina of the Jesus tomb ossuaries, the James ossuary, and a set of control ossuaries from other tombs in Jerusalem. None of these kinds of studies had ever been done before for any ancient tomb in Jerusalem.

    In January 2008 the 4th Princeton Symposium on Judaism and Christian Origins was devoted to the topic of exploring the Talpiot “Jesus tomb” from every area of expertise–archaeology, history, statistics, DNA, chemical patina tests, and cultural context. The conference drew over 50 scholars from throughout the world. The major papers are now published in a 585 page volume edited by James Charlesworth, The Tomb of Jesus and His Family (Eerdmans 2013) containing the papers from the conference. There was plenty of controversy at the Symposium, with vocal reports in the press asserting all sorts of claims on one side or the other, you can read my full report on the Society of Biblical Literature web site, “The Meyers/Magness Talpiot Tomb Statement: Some Observations.”

    The book, The Jesus Discovery​, published in 2011 (co-authored with Simcha Jacobovici) is the most comprehensive treatment of everything dealing with all three Talpiot tombs with full documentation on all the issues of controversy. It includes full chapters on the excavation and explorations of Tomb A and B; the James ossuary, Mary Magdalene in history and tradition, bones and DNA tests, and the development of early Christian views of resurrection. It is all there. There is also a web site for Tomb B with photos and all sorts of other documentation on our 2010 robotic camera probe. The recognition of the name “Yonah” (יונה), as read by Charlesworth (and confirmed epigraphers Hachlili, Puech, and Deutsch) on a fish-like icon on one ossuary with a Greek inscription about “raising up” on another, appears to reflect a form of Jesus-related resurrection faith that the early Jewish messianic Jesus movement referred to as “the sign of Jonah” (Matthew 12:38-40). By the 3rd century iconography depicting Jonah’s “resurrection” from the great fish became the dominant motif in Christian funerary art–whereas it was unknown as a image in Jewish art. 

  3. L. Y. Rahmani, A Catalogue of Jewish Ossuaries 

  4. Corpus Inscriptionum Iudaeae/Palestinae, Vol 1, Part 1, eds. Cotton, et al. 

  5. See Pfann, “Demythologizing the Talpiot Tomb,” in Charlesworth, ed. The Tomb of Jesus and His Family, pp. 174-183. Price/Misgav (CIIJ: 474) characterize Pfann’s theory as speculation that can not be conclusively shown. 

  6. I continue to be convinced, with Leah Di Segni and others, that Rahmani’s reading of the name as Mariamne is correct, based on the precise name in the same letter form on the lid of another ossuary (CJO: 108). There the name appears alone, as a form of the name Maria, and one would hardly argue it should be read “Mariam and…” with no second name. 

  7. See “Sorting out the Marys.” 

  8. See Andrew Sill, “The Apostles and Brothers of Jesus,” in Charlesworth, The Tomb of Jesus and his Family, pp. 434-443. 

  9. See Tom Powers “Treasures in the Storeroom: Family Tomb of Simon of Cyrene,” Biblical Archaeology Review (July-August, 2003), pp. 46-51, 59. A version of Power’s analysis can be read at: http://israelpalestineguide.files.wordpress.com/2010/06/alexander-son-of-simon-ossuary-illustrated-2010-edit.pdf.  

  10. See, “Schaberg’s Resurrecting Mary Magdalene: A Review, and Karen King, The Gospel of Mary of Magdala: Jesus and the First Woman Apostle (Polebridge Press, Santa Rosa, California, 2003)  

  11. See his article,  “Father Jesus: Clement’s Agraphon and Julius’s Desposynoi Suggest Widespread Early Belief that Jesus had Children.” More generally see my post “Was Jesus Married?,” and more extended thoughts here in several parts. 

  12. See footnote 6 in my paper “An Overview of the Jesus Discovery,” archived here and a breakdown of all the other names in the Talpiot tomb and where else they occur here.  

  13. See “It’s a Bird, It’s a Plane, It’s a Fish.”  

  14. See “Inscription on the Jonah Image Says Jonah.”  

  15. No one is claiming that the Church of the Holy Sepulchre as the temporary tomb of Jesus, near the place of his crucifixion is invalided by the discovery of the Talpiot “Jesus” tomb as is implied by so many of the stories out this week. It as if I and others are playing a game of “who moved the tomb” which is decidedly not the case. Unless one believes Jesus body (bones and all) went up to heaven–since the tomb in the Church of the Holy Sepulchre was never thought to have held the body of Jesus past Easter Sunday–Jesus must have been buried elsewhere. See my SBL paper on-line here for further exposition on this point–in response to Jodi Magness who accepts Jesus was first buried the rock-hewn tomb in the Church of the Holy Sepurchre, but apparently things he was then removed (she does not explain how or by whom) and buried in a “trench grave.” What we can say is that all of our sources claim that Joseph of Arimathea had charge of Jesus’ burial and it would have been him who would have provided a permanent tomb for Jesus–and I would argue, subsequently for his family. 

Talpiot Tomb Fatigue Syndrome

Although many of my colleagues are suffering from a malady called TTFS  (Talpiot tomb fatigue syndrome), and likely view further posts on the subject (especially from me!) akin to “beating a dead horse,” I trust their condition will not be chronic. This is not to be confused with a related but more rare condition TFS (Tabor Fatigue Syndrome) that is easily handled with proper consultation. Nonetheless, I continue to find the vast majority of folk, academics included, are “underinformed” on the subject. I think if I hear the dismissive mantra “The names in the Talpiot tomb are extremely common” again I will be down to my last nerve.

TTFS Image

I have been inundated with calls, emails, Facebook messages, and queries in the comments on my FB pages about all sorts of Talpiot related questions since the story in the New York Times, “Findings Reignite Debate on Claim of Jesus’ Bones,” was published so prominently last week. How many Talpiot tombs are there? Were there bones in the ossuaries? Were DNA tests done and what were the results? Wasn’t the James ossuary inscription shown to be a forgery? Were not these names found in this tomb extremely common? Is there any evidence Jesus was married? How could there be a tomb of Jesus known to his followers and they still report he was resurrected?–and on and on it goes. I realize some are coming to this Jesus tomb story late and are not up on the basic facts. I can’t really tutor everyone who asks about the basics, not because I don’t want to–I am a teacher by trade–but for lack of time. In just about every case the answer to these basic questions are readily at hand. If you read and dig a bit you will learn all you want about the Talpiot tombs rather easily. Here are some places to start, based primarily on my own work on the topic, but also branching out to further resources written by others, most of which are online and readily available.

The book, The Jesus Discovery​, published in 2011 (co-authored with Simcha Jacobovici) is the most comprehensive treatment of everything dealing with all three Talpiot tombs with full documentation on all the issues of controversy. It includes full chapters on the excavation and explorations of Tomb A and B; the James ossuary, Mary Magdalene in history and tradition, bones and DNA tests, and the development of early Christian views of resurrection. It is all there. There is also a web site for Tomb B with photos and all sorts of other documentation on our 2010 robotic camera probe. Also, Jacobovici’s 2007 book, The Jesus Family Tomb, remains an indispensable introduction to the subject as a whole.

Then there is the rich volume edited by James Charlesworth, The Tomb of Jesus and His Family (Eerdmans 2013), a wonderful 584 page collection of essays from the Jerusalem 2008 Princeton Symposium on Judaism and Christian Origins covering every aspect of the topic. There was plenty of controversy at the Symposium, with vocal reports in the press asserting all sorts of claims on one side or the other, read my full report on the Society of Biblical Literature web site, “The Meyers/Magness Talpiot Tomb Statement: Some Observations.”

In terms of web resources there is a lot. You might want to begin with my exchange with my friend Jodi Magness, one of the most vocal Talpiot tomb critics (“the Talpiot tomb is not – indeed, cannot – be the tomb of Jesus and his family“) on the Society of Biblical Literature web site, archived here and here. There is quite a bit more archived at the SBL site that you can retrieve by searching for “Talpiot.” The web site Bibleinterp.com has special topical sections on both the Talpiot Tombs and the James ossuary, see here and here. All sorts of papers and documents are archived there and can be downloaded or read online. They represent views both pro and con and cover just about every issue that has been discussed. I would recommend in particular the ASOR papers with exchanges between me, Mark Goodacre, and Chris Rollston, see: The Tombs at Talpiot: An Overview, plus my overview of the Jesus tomb published in Charlesworth’s volume that you can access on-line here: The Case for a Jesus Family Tomb: An Overview. Simcha Jacobovici also has numerous posts on his blog, Simchajtv.com, try searching for “Talpiot.”

There are many dozens–alright hundreds!–of posts on my blog but you might begin with these and follow the links, plus run searches for “Talpiot” or “James” if you are not sated after reading these and want more: