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On Monday morning, February 26, 2007, I heard this opening statement by Matt Lauer on the NBC Today show: "Is this the tomb of Jesus? A shocking new claim that an ancient burial place may have housed the bones of Christ and a son. This morning a Today exclusive that could rock Christianity to its core." When I saw the interview with James Cameron and Simcha Jacobovici I said to myself, "This isn’t new. It is a rehashing of the 1996 'Easter special' by the BBC!"
The segment on the Today show was an infomercial promoting the new book by Simcha Jacobovici and Charles Pellegrino, entitled The Jesus Family Tomb (hereafter footnoted as J&P 2007), and the documentary that would be aired later on the Discovery Channel called "The Lost Tomb of Jesus." The book is well written, very dramatic, and reads like a page-turning detective novel.
I said in the title of this article, the "rediscovery" of the so-called tomb of Jesus' family because in 1996, the BBC ran an Easter special called "Heart of the Matter: The Body In Question" on the resurrection of Jesus. In this documentary they claimed that the ossuaries of Joseph, Mary and Jesus were found in 1980 and were sitting in the basement of the Department of Antiquities in Jerusalem. The London Sunday Times ran an article on March 31, 1996, entitled, "The Tomb that Dare Not Speak Its Name." Jacobovici acknowledges this BBC broadcast in their book (J&P 2007:23, 24), and hints at his knowledge of the title of the newspaper article (J&P 2007: 194). Now he claims to have more information that was not available in 1996 to prove his case, and has a different interpretation of some of the ossuaries.
In the Forward to the book, James Cameron describes the research as being done with "systematic rigor" (J&P 2007: viii), and called it "brilliant scholarly research" with conclusions that were "virtually irrefutable," "compelling," and "extremely convincing" (2007: xi, xii, xiv). Is this the case, or is Cameron overstating his case?
I had the distinct pleasure of meeting Simcha Jacobovici in Jerusalem during the summer of 2005 while he was filming a segment of "The Naked Archaeologist" at the Pool of Siloam. (He wasn’t naked, nor is he an archaeologist. By his own admission, he is an investigative journalist / filmmaker.) One cannot help but like the guy. He has a charming personality and is a very colorful character with plenty of chutzpah! These comments are meant as a compliment.
The underlying premise of the book and documentary is that the family tomb of Jesus was discovered in Jerusalem and contained ten ossuaries (bone boxes) with bones of various members of Jesus' family, including Jesus himself and his son Judah. The other members of the family were Jesus' brother Jose; his mother Mary; Jesus’ wife Mariamene, who was actually Mary Magdalene; and another relative named Matthew. The book also claims that one ossuary went missing after the excavation and later surfaced on the antiquities market with the inscription, "James the son of Joseph, the brother of Jesus," so at least two of Jesus' brothers would have been buried in this family tomb.
The implication of the book and documentary is that Jesus was not resurrected from the dead as predicted by Jesus himself, and proclaimed by His disciples and the early church. They also make very subtle statements that plant seeds of doubts in the minds of the readers about the deity of the Lord Jesus Christ. The stakes are high in this discussion because the bodily resurrection of the Lord Jesus is a foundational truth to Biblical Christianity. If Jesus was not resurrected from the dead, this would rock Christianity to its very foundation. On the other hand, if the Lord Jesus Christ was resurrected from the dead, then His claim to be God manifest in human flesh would be true, and people should trust the Lord Jesus as their Savior and then follow Him as they seek to live by His principles and teachings.
The Discovery of the Ossuaries
In June of 1967, the city of Jerusalem was reunified after the Six Day War. Since then there has been extensive building activity in the suburbs surrounding Jerusalem. On occasion, building contractors would come across ancient burials of the First and Second Temple periods and other archaeological remains. The contractors had a decision to make: Do the burials and other archaeological remains get reported to the Department of Antiquities, or do they get blown up or plowed under? Unfortunately, many were not reported and were destroyed.
In March of 1980, a bulldozer exposed part of a Second Temple burial cave on Dov Gruner Street in the neighborhood of East Talpiyot, south of the Old City of Jerusalem. Fortunately, this one was reported to the Department of Antiquities and a salvage excavation took place. A double-chambered loculi and arcosolia tomb was excavated by Yosef Gath (permit number 938), with the help of Amos Kloner and Eliot Braun. Shimon Gibson drew the architectural plans of the burial cave. This excavation was conducted from March 28 to April 14, 1980. The reason for the lengthy excavation was that there was over a meter of terra rosa soil in the tomb. This burial cave contained ten ossuaries, six of which had inscriptions bearing the names of individuals on them, and pottery from the Herodian period.
An initial report of this important discovery was first published in Hebrew by Yosef Gath in the Israel Antiquities Authority’s (IAA) periodical, Hadashot Arkheologiyot (1981: 24-25), so it was not readily available to the English-speaking world. The ossuaries were not published in English until a catalogue of ossuaries in the collection of the State of Israel was released in 1994 (Rahmani 1994a: 222-224). In this catalogue, the nine ossuaries are numbered 701 to 709; the 10th ossuary, a plain broken one, was not published (1994a: 222b). The burial cave was finally published in English by Amos Kloner, one of the excavators of the cave, in the IAA publication ‘Atiqot 29 (1996) 15-22. Kloner also documented the tomb in his archaeological survey of the southern sector of Jerusalem (2000: 84*, 136; designated  76.2-8/3). In a reworking and updating of his 1980 doctoral dissertation from Hebrew University, Kloner again published the Talpiyot tomb in a book entitled The Necropolis of Jerusalem in the Second Temple Period, this time in Hebrew (Kloner and Boaz 2003: 207, 208).
Ossuaries and Secondary Burials
During the Second Temple period, Jewish burials included stone objects called ossuaries. These limestone boxes contained the bones of a deceased person after the rite of secondary burial was completed, about a year after the death of the individual (Rahmani 1994b: 191-205). In the newspaper articles and blogs concerning the Talpiyot tomb, sometimes the ossuaries are called coffins, chests, caskets, etc. This article will refer to them by their technical name, ossuaries.
It would be helpful if the Jewish burial practices were described in order to put this discussion into proper perspective. When a Jewish person died during the 1st century AD, they were usually buried in a rock-hewn tomb or a trench in the ground before sundown, or at least within 24 hours of death. The only exception was the Sabbath: in this case, burial took place after sundown.
The dead body would be left to decompose. The family would have a seven-day period of mourning called shiva. The initial mourning period was followed by a less intense period of mourning for thirty days called shloshim. However, the entire mourning period was not over until the body had decomposed, usually about a year later. The Jerusalem Talmud states: “When the flesh had wasted away, the bones were collected and placed in chests (ossuaries). On that day (the son) mourned, but the following day he was glad, because his forebears rested from judgment (Moed Qatan 1:5). In Tractate Semahot (“Mourning”) it states: “Rabbi Eleazer bar Zadok said: ‘Thus spoke father at the time of his death: “My son, bury me at first in a fosse. In the course of time, collect my bones and put them in an ossuary; but do not gather them with your own hands”’” (12:9; Zlotnick 1966:82). This practice of gathering the bones and placing them in ossuaries was called ossilegium (Rahmani 1994b: 53-55).
The Ossuaries of the East Talpiyot Tomb
Ten ossuaries were found in the Talpiyot tomb, six of which had inscriptions. Let us examine the six inscriptions. The first ossuary was given the registration number IAA 80-500 by the Department of Antiquities. Rahmani listed it as 701 in his catalogue of ossuaries in the State of Israel collection (1994a: 222b, 223a). This ossuary was decorated and had an inscription in Greek with the name “Mariamene, who is (also called) Mara” on it (Rahmani 1994a: 222b). Kloner points out: “The name Mariamene [is] a variant of the name…(Miriam, Maryam) and…(Marya). [This name] is inscribed on more than twenty ossuaries in the Israel State Collections” (Rahmani 1994: 14, 115-116). These names “are the most common feminine names of the Second Temple period” (Hachlili 1984: 189). Ilan states that Mariam is used 80 times (2002: 242-248). Mara, a contraction of Martha, is used as a second name. This name too “is common in the Jewish feminine onomasticon” (1996: 17). Mara is recorded eight times in the onomasticon of names (Ilan 2002: 422, 423, 450).
The second ossuary, IAA 80.501 (Rahmani’s 702; 1994a: 223a), was also decorated and had the name “Yehuda, son of Yeshua” on it. In English, it would read “Judah the son of Jesus.” Kloner again points out: “The name Yehuda (Judas) is the third most popular name in the Jewish onomasticon of the Hellenistic and Roman periods. In a study of 1,986 names of the Hellenistic and Roman period, conducted by T. Ilan, 128 persons were found to bear this name (Ilan 1987:238)” (1996: 18a). She later enlarged her list to 180 names (Ilan 2002: 112-125, 449). Kloner goes on to discuss the name Yeshua, or Jesus. He states that this name is “a derivative of Yehoshua (Joshua)…Yehoshua/Yeshua is the sixth most common name used during the Hellenistic and Roman periods in Eretz Israel, borne by 71 of the individuals studied by Ilan” (1996: 18a). Ilan later came up with a total of 104 names (2002: 126-133, 449).
The third ossuary, IAA 80.502 (Rahmani’s 703; 1994a: 223a), was a plain ossuary with the name “Matya” inscribed on the outside of the ossuary. On the inside of the ossuary, the name “Mat(y)a” is scratched. Both names are shortened forms of the name Matityahu, or Matthew (Kloner 1996: 18). In Ilan’s list of Jewish names, 46 males were identified with this name (1987: 238).
The next ossuary, IAA 80-504 (Rahmani’s 704; 1994a: 223), a plain limestone box with an Aramaic inscription, was the one that caused a sensation. Dr. Rahmani described it in these terms: “The first name, preceded by a large cross-mark, is difficult to read, as the incisions are clumsily carved and badly scratched. There seems to be a vertical stroke representing a yod, followed by a shin; the vav merges with the right stroke of the ‘ayin. The reading ‘Yeshua’ is corroborated by the inscription on No. 702 referring to Yeshua, the father of Yehuda” (1994a: 223). Kloner comments: “The first name following the X mark is difficult to read. In contrast to other ossuaries in this tomb, the incisions are here superficial and cursorily carved. Each of the four letters suggesting “Yeshua” is unclear, but the reading is corroborated by the inscription on Ossuary 2, above (Rahmani 1994: 223)” (1996: 18b). Both Rahmani and Kloner agree that the reading of this inscription is very difficult. In fact, both place a question mark after the translation of Yeshua. Others have suggested that the name be read Hanun. Interestingly, there was another ossuary in the State of Israel collection that has a clear inscription saying “Jesus the son of Joseph” (Rahmani 1994a: 77; no. 9). This ossuary, however, was unprovenanced (Sukenik 1931: 19).
The fifth ossuary, IAA 80-504 (Rahmani’s 705; 1994a: 223b), is another plain ossuary with the name “Yose” on it. Kloner observes: “Yose is a contraction of Yehosef (Joseph), the second most common name in the Second Temple period (Ilan 1987: 238; see Hachlili 1984: 188-190). [Simon / Simeon is the most popular name]. Ilan has recorded 232 individuals with this name (2002: 150-168, 449). Some 35% of all known Jewish males of the Hellenistic and Roman periods in Eretz Israel bore “Hasmonean” names: Matthew (Ossuary 3, above), John, Simon, Judas (Ossuaries 2 and 4, above), Eleazar, and Jonathan. Joseph was the sixth brother in the family (2 Maccabbees 8:22), and the similar popularity of this name may be explained by this fact (Ilan 1987: 2 40-241)” (1996:19).
The last inscribed ossuary, IAA 80-505 (Rahmani’s 706; 1994a:223b, 224a), was a plain limestone one and bore the name “Marya”.
The next three ossuaries that were published were uninscribed. Each had rosettes on them, and one of them had mason's marks (IAA 80-506, Rahamni’s 707; 1994a: 224a, Plate 101; Kloner 1996: 20; IAA 80-507, Rahmani’s 708; 1994a: 224a, Plate 101; Kloner 1996: 20; IAA 80-508, Rahmani’s 709; 1994a: 224a, Plate 101; Kloner 1996: 21). The tenth ossuary, IAA 80-509, is just labeled “plain” (Kloner 1996: 21). Rahmani states that it was a “plain, broken specimen” but does not list it in his catalogue (1994a: 222b).
Dr. Rahmani cautiously draws the conclusion that the ossuary of Yose (No. 705) “with that of Marya on No. 706, both from the same tomb, may indicate that these are the ossuaries of the parents of Yeshua (No. 704) and the grandparents of Yehuda (No. 702)” (1994a: 223). Is Dr. Rahmani justified in trying to assume Marya (Mary) was the wife of Yose (Joseph)? Simcha follows Tabor’s suggestion that the Yose ossuary held the bones of Jose, the brother of Jesus (Mark 6:3; J&P 2007: 65, 77). On their website Cameron and Jacobovici initially claimed: “An incredible archaeological discovery in Israel changes history and shocks the world. Tombs with the names the Virgin Mary, Jesus of Nazareth, Mary Magdalene and Judah, their son, are found and an investigation begins.” Are these claims justified?
Are These the Ossuaries of the Lord Jesus and His Family?
The simple answer to the question is NO! None of the ossuaries say “the Virgin Mary,” “Jesus of Nazareth,” “Mary Magdalene,” or “Judah, their son.” The filmmakers are reading more into the names than appear on the ossuaries. In all fairness to them, the website was later modified. Jose is identified as the brother of Jesus (Mark 6:3; J&P 2007: 65, 204). Matya is identified as either the gospel writer (2007: 62), or a relative of Mary, the mother of Jesus (2007: 78). The fact that these names appear together is purely coincidental. The names of Joseph, Mary and Yeshua (Jesus) were common names of Jewish people living during the Second Temple Period.
I am always leery of people saying, “I am not biased in my thinking, I have an open mind and will follow the truth wherever it leads.” Everybody, without exception, has biases and presuppositions in their thinking. The perspective of the book and documentary is that Jesus' bones were reburied in an ossuary in the Talpiyot tomb and he was not bodily resurrected from the dead. They do, however, allow for a “spiritual ascension” (whatever that means) (2007: 71, 137). My perspective (bias, if you will), on the other hand, is that the Lord Jesus Christ is God manifest in human flesh and that He died on Calvary’s cross to pay for sin, and three days later His body was resurrected from the tomb just outside the city walls of Jerusalem. Now that all the cards are on the table, let’s begin the critique.
Charles Pellegrino suggests that the disciples stole the body of Jesus from the tomb of Joseph of Arimathea. He quotes from the account in Matthew's gospel (27:61-66) and says that the “writer of Matthew was not familiar with the mechanics of secondary burial” (2007: 72). Quite the contrary, as Byron McCane has pointed out, Jesus was very familiar with secondary burials when He rebuked His disciple with the statement, “Let the dead bury their own dead” (Matt. 8:21, 22; McCane 1990: 31-43).
Pellegrino also suggests a scenario whereby the disciples hid in the tomb during the Sabbath and then removed the body after sunset, but before the soldiers were posted at the tomb (2007: 73). This does not account for the fact that the disciples were scared for their lives. When the soldiers came at Gethsemane, they fled (Matt. 26:56; Mark 14:50). After the resurrection, Jesus appeared to His disciples at evening. John records that “the doors were shut where the disciples were assembled, for fear of the Jews” (20:19). Yet the demeanor of the disciples changed dramatically after the giving of the Holy Spirit on Shavuot (the Day of Pentecost) in Acts 2. They boldly proclaimed the message of the bodily resurrection of Lord Jesus Christ. If they had stolen the body of Jesus, why would they preach a lie? And more than that, why would they die for a lie?
Pellegrino also wrote to Father Mervyn Fernando in Sri Lanka and asked him a hypothetical question. “What if archaeologists actually found, say bones and DNA of Jesus? Would a discovery such as this necessarily contradict what Christians believe about the Resurrection story?” (J&P 2007: 73). Father Fernando responded by calling Pellegrino’s attention to First Corinthians 15:35 and following, and saying, in part, “That is, the risen body of Christ (as understood by the apostle Paul) is a spiritual one, not the material / physical one he had in this life. That physical body would have perished, and if any part of it (bones) are recovered/identified, it would in no way affect the reality of His resurrection” (2007: 74). The reference to the spiritual body is found in verses 44 and 46. The verse say believers in the Lord Jesus will get a spiritual body, one that will be raised in incorruption, glory and power (15:42-44).
What does Jesus Himself say about that 'spiritual' body? After His bodily resurrection, He appeared to His disciples out of thin air. This spooked them and they thought they had seen a spirit (Luke 24:36, 37). Jesus tries to reassure them by saying, “Why are you troubled? And why do doubts arise in your hearts? Behold My hands and My feet, that it is I Myself. Handle Me and see, for a spirit does not have flesh and bones as you see I have” (24:38, 39). He then went on to eat fish and honeycomb! (24:41-43). When Peter and John looked into the tomb, it was empty, except for the grave cloths and handkerchief that was neatly folded on the bench of the tomb (Luke 24:12; John 20:3-8). Note specifically Jesus said He had flesh and bones. There was no decaying of the flesh, nor would there be bones left in the tomb to be collected a year later and placed in an ossuary.
According to early tradition, Joseph was buried in Nazareth (Bagatti 1969: 12; Kopp 1963: 64-66), possibly the “tomb of the saints” on the property of the Sisters of Nazareth (Livio 1990: 28). The fact that Jesus and his family were “poor” does not necessarily mean they could not have been buried in a rock-hewn tomb. Joseph was a carpenter (Mark 6:3). Some have suggested that the word “carpenter” also included the craft of stone masonry. If that is the case, Joseph could have carved out the family tomb at no cost to himself. Early tradition also places Mary’s burial in Nazareth (Kopp 1963: 65, 66). However, there is a 5th century AD tradition that places her tomb in the Kidron Valley near Gethsemane (Strome 1972: 86-90). There are some who doubt the historical accuracy of this tradition (Taylor 1993: 205, 206). A much later tradition places the burial of Mary in Ephesus in present day Turkey (Meinardus 1979: 113-117). The house where she allegedly resided was located on the mountain south of the city of Ephesus. The location of this house was supposedly revealed to Sister Catherine Emmerich in a vision (1774-1824). The name of this nun might ring a bell in some peoples mind because she was the source for some of the unbiblical scenes and events depicted in Mel Gibson’s film, “The Passion of the Christ.”
In Dr. Rahmani’s catalogue of ossuaries, he observed that: “In Jerusalem’s tombs, the deceased’s place of origin was noted when someone from outside Jerusalem and its environs was interred in a local tomb. Thus, Bet She’an-Scythopolis is mentioned in a bilingual inscription (No. 139), Berenike (No. 404) and Ptolemais (No. 99), both probably cities in Cyrenaica, each occur once” (1994: 17). This last ossuary (No. 99) was originally published by Prof. Nahman Avigad which was in a collection of ossuaries that were discovered in a tomb in the Kidron Valley on November 10, 1941 and excavated by Prof. E. L. Sukenik. There were eleven plain ossuaries that did not have any decorations on them, but all had inscriptions with the names of the individuals that were reburied in the ossuary. Two of the ossuaries had place names of where the individual was from. Avigad concluded that the “family must have come from one of the large Jewish communities of the Diaspora–Egypt or Cyrenaica…Cyrenaica is more likely to have been the country of origin of this family. Its members belonged apparently to the community of Cyrenian Jews which is known to have existed in Jerusalem in the time of the Second Temple. In the New Testament mention is made of their synagogue (Acts 6:9)” (1962: 12). In the Dominus Flavit necropolis another Cyrenian named Pilon was buried with a Greek inscription on his ossuary (Bagatti and Milik 1981: 81, 91; Fig. 23, no. 3).
Since Jesus and His family were from Nazareth in Lower Galilee and not Jerusalem in Judea, one would expect a place of origin after the name of the deceased. For example, Jesus of Nazareth, Jose of Nazareth, Matthew of Capernaum, Mary of Nazareth, Mariamene of Magdala, and Judah son of Yeshua from Nazareth. No place of origin is given on any of the ossuaries, which indicates that were all Jerusalemites from Judea.
Is Dr. Rahmani justified in saying Mary and Joseph were husband and wife? Sometimes inscriptions on the ossuaries tell the relationship between people, i.e. son of, daughter of, husband of, or wife of, etc. In the case of Marya, there is no relationship indicator, so we do not know if she was the mother, wife, sister, aunt or daughter of Joseph, Yeshua, Yehuda, one of the three skulls on the floor, or someone in the uninscribed ossuaries.
The ossuary containing the bones of “Yeshua” (704) could not be that of Jesus of Nazareth for two reasons. First, the New Testament is very clear, Jesus bodily rose from the dead. Since His flesh did not see corruption (Ps. 16:8-11; Acts 2:25-32), there could be no need for an ossuary. Second, ossuary No. 702 contained the bones of “Yehuda, the son of Yeshua.” Apparently the Yeshua of ossuary No. 704 had a son named Yehuda. Again the Gospels are clear: Jesus never married and never had children (see J&P 2007: 105). Also, both Rahmani and Kloner have questions marks after the reading of the name Yeshua on the “Yeshua, son of Joseph” ossuary. Others have suggested the name actually read Hanun.
In an interview with the Jerusalem Post, one of the excavators, Amos Kloner, states: “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.“
Did the Mariamene Ossuary Contain the Bones of Mary Magdalene?
Simcha tries to argue, based on a conversation with Dr. Bovon of Harvard Divinity School, that Mary Magdalene was the Mariamne, the sister of Philip, in the 4th century Apocryapha book, the Acts of Philip (J&P 2007: 95-103). This Mariamne was the one whose bones were buried in the Talpiyot ossuary.
Dr. Richard Bauckham, a New Testament scholar, stated in a blog on the Internet: “There is no reason at all to connect the woman in this ossuary with Mary Magdalene, and in fact the name usage is decisively against such a connection.”
There is also a chronological problem concerning the “bones.” According to the scenario in the book, Jesus was married to Mary Magdalene and they had a son Judah. That son was the “Beloved Disciple” at the Last Supper and the young boy who ran away naked from Gethsemane (Mark 14:51), who was about 10-13 years old (J&P 2007: 207-209). Assuming this is true for a minute, and assuming Jesus was crucified in AD 30, let’s crunch the numbers. Judah would have been born between AD 17 and AD 20. That would place the wedding of Jesus and Mary Magdalene between AD 16 and AD 19. Assuming Mary Magdalene was between 16 and 18 years of age when she got married, she would have been born between 1 BC and AD 4. Herein is the problem. According to the Acts of Philip (which the filmmakers believe is historically reliable), the event surrounding the martyrdom of Philip, the brother of Miriamne, takes place in the 8th year of Emperor Trajan (Roberts and Donaldson 1994: 8: 497). This would place the martyrdom about AD 104. Eusebius confirms the burial of Philip at Heirapolis and hints at a date around AD 100 (Ecclesiastical History 3. 31. 1-4; LCL 1: 269-271). If Mary Magdalene is the Miriamne in this account, she would be between 100 and 106 years of age when she proceeded to the Jordan [River] (Roberts and Donaldson 1994: 8: 503b).
Simcha assumes she died and was buried in Israel (J&P 2007: 102). If the Miriamene of the Acts of Philip is Mary Magdalene, more than likely she would have gone back to Galilee and her home town of Magdala, only a few miles from the Jordan River, not Jerusalem. There is also another chronological problem. Ossuaries ceased to be in use in Jerusalem after AD 70 (J&P 2007: 26; Rahmani 1994a: 21-25).
Simcha contends that the Romans would have executed all the heirs of anybody trying to establish a throne apart of the emperor in Rome (J&P 2007: 105, 106). In the case of Jesus, they would kill his wife and any children they might have. This scenario should raise some serious questions for Simcha’s contention. If Mary Magdalene was married to Jesus, why was she not executed on the spot? After all, she was at the cross when He died (Matt. 27:56; Mark 15:40; John 19:25). If one believes that Miriamne of the Acts of Philip is Mary Magdalene, she would have lived for at least 75 more years, through the reign of a host of Roman emperors. Why did they not find her and have her executed? Simcha states that the Romans “were very good at hunting down sons, daughters and wives” (2007:106).
The bones of Mary Magdalene are not in the ossuary of Mariamene who is also called Mara. They belong to someone else.
Is “Judah, the son of Jesus” the “Beloved Son,” the “Beloved Disciple” and the young lad in Mark 14:51?
Simcha begins this chapter by correctly observing that: “In none of the Gospels, be they canonical or apocryphal, is Mary Magdalene – Miriamne – described as being married to Jesus. Nor is a child of Jesus ever mentioned” (J&P 2007: 105). He should have stopped at this point and gone on to the next chapter. Jesus was never married and never had a child with Mary Magdalene or any other woman. Yet Simcha insists, based on the ossuaries, that Jesus was married and had a child, so any reference to these “facts” must be in “code.”
According to Simcha, in order to hide the identity of “Judah, the son of Jesus” from the Romans, the disciples spoke in code. He speculates that Judah was really called the younger brother of Jesus named Judas (Mark 6:3). He goes on to speculate that this Judas was nicknamed “the twin” based on the Greek word “Didymos” and the Hebrew word “Te-om” (translated Thomas). This Judas was also the author of the Gospel of Thomas (2007: 106-108). In his “gospel” the Parable of the Vineyard Owner is given (Saying 65).
The parable of the vineyard owner (Mark 12:1-12) is misapplied in the book. They give a novel twist to this parable by saying it “could be referring to the fate that would have awaited any surviving son sent into the world by Jesus” (2007: 108). They acknowledge just before this statement, “Perhaps, as many have interpreted, the parable is describing his own death” (2007: 108).
Rather than “perhaps,” it would be better to say, this parable is talking about the death of the Lord Jesus. Mark records the reaction of those on the Temple Mount. “And they [the chief priests, the scribes and the elders (11:27)] sought to lay hands on Him, but feared the multitude, for they knew He had spoken the parable against them. So they left Him and went away” (12:12). Some of the religious leaders were trying to eliminate the Lord Jesus, and not some imagined son.
In the parable, Mark records a statement about the son of the vineyard owner. “Therefore still having one son, his beloved, he also sent him to them last, saying, ‘They will respect my son’” (12:6). It is important to note that the son is called “his beloved.” (The Gospel of Thomas leaves out the word “beloved”). The word “beloved” is used only three times in the Gospel of Mark. A careful reader of the Greek text of this gospel would remember the two previous occasions where the word is used. The first time the word is used is at the baptism of Jesus in the Jordan River. The voice from heaven [the Father] says, “You are My beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased” (1:11). The second time is at the Transfiguration of Jesus where the same voice from heaven says, “This is My beloved Son. Hear Him!” (9:7). The context of the first two usage is clear in Mark’s gospel, so the beloved son in the parable is none other than the Lord Jesus Christ, not Judah.
Simcha states that the Gospel of John “harbors a deep secret.” He contends that the “beloved disciple” who leaned on Jesus’ chest was His own son Judah. His proof is a statement: “Unless your eating habits are very different from mine, at my dinner table only my kids cuddle with me and lean against my chest” (2007: 207). A personal analogy is not proof that Judah was the beloved disciple. One should put the event in the Gospel of John in its proper context. It was at a Passover Seder when the “beloved disciple” leans back on Jesus' chest while they are reclining during the meal. [Some translations use the word “sit”, but the Greek word is “recline”]. The disciple whom Jesus loved is none other than the Apostle John, the youngest of the disciples. He does not mention his own name when he wrote the gospel because he finally learned the lesson of humility that Jesus had been teaching.
The Apostle John does not draw attention to himself in the gospel he wrote, just like Dr. Luke does not mention his own name in the book of Acts. That is the same reason John Mark does not mention his own name when he describes the “young man” who runs away naked from Gethsemane (Mark 14:51, 52; J&P 2007: 207, 208). On the other hand, he might have been embarrassed to mention his name!
The speculation that “Judah, the son of Jesus” is the “Beloved Son,” the “beloved disciple”, or the young man in Mark 14 has no factual basis whatsoever.
Does the DNA Evidence Prove the Case?
The DNA evidence is presented as one of the smoking guns. The chapter on the DNA begins with the statement: “If these two ossuaries truly belong to Jesus of Nazareth and Mary Magdalene, DNA tests would reveal that the two people buried within were not related. All scriptural records – whether canonical or apocryphal – were clear on one genealogical point: Jesus of Nazareth and Mary Magdalene, if their DNA could be read, would be two individuals who had no family ties. But what are the alternatives? People in the same tomb were related by either blood or marriage” (J&P 2007: 167, 168, 207). I would agree with this statement, and as the mitochondrial DNA tests showed, the two were not related by blood (J&P 2007: 172, 207). But does that mean Jesus and Mary Magdalene were married to each other?
Mariamene in the ossuary could have been married to Yose, Matya, or Yehuda in the other ossuaries, one of the three skeletons that were discovered on the floor, if they were males, or someone in the uninscribed ossuaries. Or, for that matter, her husband might not have been buried in the tomb. Perhaps he died in a far-off land while he was on a business trip. Since there was no ketubah (marriage contract) found in the ossuary of Mariamene, or the name of her husband on the ossuary (Rahmani 1994a: 15a), the DNA tests prove nothing.
In an interview, Simcha was asked why he did not have the remains in the other ossuaries tested. His response was, “We’re not scientists. At the end of the day we can’t wait till every ossuary is tested for DNA. We took the story that far. At some point you have to say, ‘I’ve done my job as a journalist’” (Goodstein 2007: 10).
I think it is fair to say they did not take the story far enough. They got the results they wanted so they could say Jesus and Mary were not related by blood, so this proved, in their minds at least, that they were married. For their scenario, no further testing was needed. Perhaps with further DNA testing it would have been shown that “Judah, the son of Jesus” was not related to “Mariamene”, or that “Jesus, son of Joseph” was not related to “Maria.” The “James the son of Joseph, brother of Jesus” was not related to “Jesus, son of Joseph” or “Jose.” These results would have been devastating for their scenario, so why test any further? Leave well enough alone. This “smoking gun” fired a blank.
The Statistical Analysis
The second “smoking gun” of The Jesus Family Tomb is the statistical analysis. As we have already seen, the DNA gun was a blank with smokeless powder. As we shall see, the statistical analysis will fire a blank as well.
When doing statistical analysis, one must ask: “What are the assumptions being made?” The results are only as good as the information that is put into the computation.
The Cameron/Jacobovici/Pellegrino/Tabor team started with the assumption that Jesus was not bodily resurrected from the dead. They also assume that a poor Galilean family from Nazareth would buy a tomb in Jerusalem. One of the excavators described the burial cave this way: “It’s a good-sized tomb, carved with great care under the direction of someone not lacking funds” (J&P 2007: 9). Jesus recounted His economic status by saying: “Foxes have holes and birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay His head” (Luke 9:58). The also assume, based on their DNA “analysis,” that Jesus was married to Mariamene (a.k. Mary Magdalene). I do not believe they proved any of their assumptions, so their statistics are meaningless.
James Tabor gave an interesting, but flawed, analogy on his website. He said: “Imagine a football stadium filled with 50,000 people – men, women, and children. This is an average estimate of the population of ancient Jerusalem in the time of Jesus. If we ask all the males named Jesus to stand, based on the frequency of that name, we would expect 2,796 to rise. If we then ask all those with a father named Joseph to remain standing there would only be 351 left. If we further reduce this group by asking only those with a mother named Mary to remain standing we would get down to only 173. If we then ask only those of this group with a brother named Joseph only 23 are left. And finally, only of these the ones with a brother named James, there’s less than a 3/4 chance that even 1 person remains standing. Prof. Andre Feuerverger, of the University of Toronto, a highly regarded senior scholar in the field did the formal statistics for the Discovery project. His figure of probability came out to 1/600.”
There is one major problem with this analogy. Jesus would not have even been in the stadium! This analogy denies the bodily resurrection of the Lord Jesus.
Did the “James Ossuary” Come from the Talpiyot Tomb?
Simcha likes to add a bit of conspiracy theory to the plot of his book. He suggested that the so-called “James Ossuary” originally came from the Talpiyot Tomb (S&P 2007: 92, 184-188, 209, 210). At the conclusion of some fancy tests in a crime lab in New York, Pellegrino concluded that when the James Ossuary was “compared to other patina samples from ossuaries found in the Jerusalem environment, the Talpiot tomb ossuaries exhibited a patina fingerprint or profile that matched the James ossuary and no other” (J&P 2007: 188). Simcha speculates that the 10th ossuary was misplaced or stolen after it left the site in Talpiyot and before it arrived at the Rockefeller Museum. If the 10th ossuary is in fact the “James Ossuary,” this would add immense credence to the idea that this is the Jesus family tomb.
Dr. Joe Zias, the chief anthropologist for the IAA in 1980, has stated in emails that he was the one who catalogued all ten of the ossuaries as they came to the Rockefeller Museum. Since it was a “plain” non-descript ossuary, it was placed in the courtyard of the museum.
Again, in the Jerusalem Post interview, Amos Kloner was asked about the alleged missing tenth ossuary. Kloner responded, “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).”
It can be easily demonstrated that the “James Ossuary” and the tenth ossuary from Talpiyot are not one and the same ossuary. Ossuary 10 (IAA 80.509) was published by Kloner as “plain” with the dimension of 60 cm long; 26 cm wide; and 30 cm high (1996: 21). When the “James Ossuary” was first published, the dimensions were give as 50.5 cm long as the base and 56 cm long at the top; 25 cm wide; and 30.5 cm high (Lemaire 2002: 27, 28). When Simcha published his book, he gave the dimensions of the “James Ossuary” as 56.5 cm long; 26 cm wide; and 30.2 cm high (S&P 2007: 210). Simcha notes the 3.5 cm discrepancy on the length and dismisses the idea that the length changed when the ossuary broke en route to Toronto in 2002. He suggested, however, that in the initial measurement at the Rockefeller Museum, the numbers were rounded off and concludes that “the missing ossuary and the James ossuary may be one and the same after all” (2007: 91, 210).
Note how Simcha changes the numbers. The discrepancy in length is not 3.5 cm as stated by Simcha, but 4 cm if we take the original measurements by Dr. Lemaire. There is a 1 cm discrepancy on the width if we take Lemaire’s numbers. Instead of a 0.5 cm difference on the height, Simcha reduces it to 0.2 cm. Where Simcha got his numbers, we are not told, but it is obvious he is aware of the problem and is trying to marginalize the discrepancies.
It can be safely concluded, as Kloner has pointed out, that the 10th ossuary was never missing and is not the same as the so-called “James Ossuary.”
This ossuary still presents a problem for Simcha. According to Oded Golan, the owner of the ossuary, he purchased the ossuary in the mid-1970’s, several years before the Talpiyot tomb was excavated in 1980. These dates are important, because in 1978 a law was passed that allowed the state of Israel to confiscate any antiquities that they deemed important. That would include the James Ossuary.
Simcha can’t have his cake and eat it too. Either the James Ossuary was purchased in the mid-1970’s as Golan claims and he should be exonerated at his trial (if he did not forge the inscription), or it’s from the East Talpiyot tomb excavated in 1980 and Golan lied, thus giving him a one way ticket to jail.
Is There a Masonic Connection to this Tomb?
Jacobovici and Cameron try to add a Masonic connection to this tomb, perhaps trying to cash in on the popularity of the Da Vinci Code (J&P 2007: 123-134). The chapter entitled “Whence Came the Nazarenes” is pure speculation and has no cited documentation, so the reader cannot judge the validity of the claims.
The Three Skulls
There were three skulls found on the floor of the burial cave and mentioned several times in the early part of the book as being important. A discerning reader would most likely keep in the back of his/her mind thinking that they would play an important role later in the book (J&P 2007: 10, 11, 14). Sure enough, Simcha speculates that some of the Crusaders, or Knights Templars around the 12th century, entered the tomb and placed the three skulls in an “odd and clearly ceremonial configuration” (J&P 2007: 109, 123, 131). Gibson also had that impression, suggesting they formed a triangle pointing to the Temple Mount (2007: 15). Simcha asks if it is possible that these are the skulls of Templar leaders that were honored by being buried in the tomb of Jesus (2007: 132).
The three skulls are clearly marked on Shimon’s drawing (J&P 2007: Plate 1, facing page 110). However, only one skull appears in Kloner’s publications (1996: 15; 2003: 208). A much more plausible explanation is that these three skulls were on the shelf of the two arcosolias and rolled off during seismic activity in the area. Two of the skulls are just below the arcosolias and the other might have rolled across the floor.
There were more than three skulls associated with the tomb. Simcha tells the story of children in the neighborhood playing soccer with skulls (plural). How many there actually were, we are not told (2007: 4). They were from the antechamber of the tomb, outside the tomb proper. One of the neighbors collected two bags of bones from this area (2007: 11-13).
Simcha speculates that the Knights might have taken a skull and femur bones from one of the ossuaries, and this became one of the Templar symbols, the skull and crossbones (2007: 133, 134).
In Christian art, a skull and crossbones are usually depicted underneath the cross where the Lord Jesus was crucified. Some might suggest this is the meaning of the “place of a skull” (Matt. 27:33). The theological meaning that has been given for the skull and crossbones is that Adam was buried underneath the place of crucifixion. This was to illustrate the theological truth set forth in I Cor. 15:21 and 22: “For since by man came death, by Man also came the resurrection of the dead. For as in Adam all die, even so in Christ all shall be made alive.” Also the truth in Romans 5:12-21: “Therefore, just as through one man [Adam] sin entered the world, and death through sin, and thus death spread to all men, because all sinned…For as by one man’s disobedience [Adam] many were made sinners, so also by one Man’s obedience many will be made righteous…even so grace might reign through righteousness to eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord” (5:12, 19, 21).
The Chevron and Circle Symbols
One of the striking features of the façade of the tomb is the chevron over the entrance and a circle underneath it (J&P 2007: 7, 8, 11, 12; for a good color picture, see the cover of Kloner and Zissu 2003). Simcha speculates that the “façade is related to the promise of Jesus – as a Jewish Messiah – to build a Third Temple at the ‘end of times,’ then even the ‘Templar’ name may be related to the Talpiot tomb” (J&P 2007: 134, see also 2007: 130).
This is pure speculation on Simcha’s part. The First and Second Temples had a flat roof and not a gabled one. The architectural description of the Temple described in the Temple Scoll is of a flat roof as well. The same is also true of the “Ezekiel Temple” (Ezek. 40-48). One would assume that the Third Temple would have a flat roof as well.
At least one chevron appears on an Iron Age tomb that was exposed just south of Jaffa Gate. Shimon Gibson was one of the excavators and this author was on his team. (Broshi and Gibson 1994: 147-150, picture on page 149. The tomb on the right has a chevron above the entrance.)
James Tabor was examining an ossuary found in the Kidron Valley that had three inscriptions on it. One read “Alexander/(son of) Simon”, another read “Simon Ale/Alexander/(son) of Simon,” and also “of Alexander/Alexander QRNYT” ossuary (Avigad 1962: 9-11). Tabor claims that with the lighting just right, he saw “a chevron forming a circular gouge [modern or ancient?] to produce an inverted ‘V’ enclosing a dark circle” (J&P 2007: 129). In his report, Avigad says nothing about this. It would be surprising if something like this was missed by the keen observant eyes of Avigad.
I suspect that the chevron was an unfinished molding of a façade of a tomb that depicted a gabled roof with pediment and a circle, possibly a wreath, similar to the “Tomb of the Grapes” (Avigad 1950-51: 99, 100). Avigad also mentions that there are similar entrances in the southern necropolis of Jerusalem (1950-51: 100; footnote 7). The chevron could also represent a nefesh (Rahmani 1968: 220-225, Plate 23; 1994a: 28, 29; 1994b: 198-203). Wreaths are also known on ossuaries (Rahmani 1972: 113-116).
The skulls on the floor of the tomb and the façade with an inverted chevron and circle underneath it are Second Temple phenomena. The connection with the Knight Templars is pure speculation and not based on facts. Thus there are no Masonic connections with this tomb.
Other Factual Errors
There are factual mistakes that would have been caught if the book had been peer-reviewed and also fact-checked by the publisher prior to publication. For example, Beth Shemesh was not the ancient home of Samson (J&P 2007: 31), it was Zorah (Judges 13:2; 16:31). It is not a legend that the Judeo-Christians fled to Pella (J&P 2007: 36), but an event based in historical reality (Pritz 1988: 122-127). Pritz’s book is even quoted in the bibliography (J&P 2007: 214). John the Baptizer was not beheaded by Herod the Great (J&P 2007: 63), but rather, by his son Herod Antipas (Hoehner 1980: 110-171). The Aegean Islands do not spread “westward in long chains to the volcanic remnants of Thera” from Mt. Athos (J&P 2007: 95). Thera (Santorini) is to the south of Mt. Athos, and the only chain of islands are the Sporades and beyond them is the island of Evia and then the mainland of Greece.
The Best Explanation
In the spring of 1979, while I was a graduate student at the Institute for Holy Land Studies studying archaeology and the history of ancient Israel in Jerusalem, I attended a fascinating series of lectures at the Albright Institute in Jerusalem on ancient Jewish burial practices by Dr. Levi Rahmani. His last lecture was on ossuaries and the Jewish practice of secondary burials during the Second Temple Period. This lecture was later published in Biblical Archaeologist (Rahmani 1982). During the question and answer period, Father Pierre Benoit, the director of the Ecole Biblique, the French School of Archaeology in Jerusalem, asked Dr. Rahmani a loaded question. “Would Jesus’ bones have been placed in an ossuary?” His response was a classic. “Yes, they would have been, but something unexplainable happened!”
The best explanation for the unexplainable was given by the angel who rolled away the stone from the entrance to the empty tomb. He said, “…He is not here, for He is risen as He said” (Matt. 28:6)!
The events that transpired during the previous few days were all predicted by the Hebrew prophets hundreds of years before they happened. In fact, there were over thirty prophecies that were fulfilled during the last day of the earthly life of the Lord Jesus.
King David was also a prophet (Acts 2:30). Nearly a thousand years before the crucifixion of the Lord Jesus, David gave a vivid prophetic description of the event (Psalm 22), beginning with the cry from the cross: “My God, My God, why have You forsaken Me?” (22:1; cf. Matt. 27:46). David gave the reason God forsook His Son: because the Lord is holy (22:3). God could not look upon sin, even when all the sins of all humanity were being placed on His sinless Son. David also predicted the mockery and reproach by the crowd as Jesus was being crucified (22:6-8, 12-13; cf. Matt. 27:39-44). He foretold of the bones being out of joint and His hands and feet being pierced (22:14-17; cf. John 20:20), and even the casting of lots for his garments by the Roman soldiers (22:18; cf. Matt. 27:35; John 19:24). David also predicted that not one bone in His body would be broken (Ps. 34:20, cf. Ex. 12:46; Num. 9:12; see also John 19:36). This fulfilled the picture of the Lord Jesus being the unblemished Passover Lamb that was slain for sinners (I Cor. 5:7). The prophet Zechariah foresaw that the people of Jerusalem would look upon the LORD Messiah whom they pierced (Zech. 12:10; cf. John 19:37; Rev. 1:7).
Isaiah predicted that the Messiah would be buried in a rich man’s tomb (Isa. 53:9). Joseph of Arimathea, a disciple of Jesus, a member of the Sanhedrin, and a wealthy man, approached Pilate and asked for the body of Jesus so he could bury it before sundown, according to Jewish Law (Matt. 27:57; Mark 15:43). Pilate granted this request, thus fulfilling the prophecy of Isaiah of being buried in a rich man’s tomb.
David also predicted the resurrection of the Holy One, the Messiah (Ps. 16:8-11). The Apostle Peter gave a divine commentary on this passage, under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, on the Day of Pentecost (Acts 2:22-33). Peter had seen the Risen Lord Jesus on a number of occasions after He had been buried (Luke 24:34; Mark 16:14; John 20:26-31; John 21:1-3; Matt. 28:16-20; Mark 16:15-18; Mark 16:19; Luke 24:44-49; Acts 1:3-8; I Cor. 15:5). In his sermon, Peter quoted Psalm 16 and said it was the Messiah of whom David was predicting, and not himself. The proof of that statement was that one could still go down to the City of David and see the tomb of David. If a person could get inside the tomb, they would still see the bones of David. He saw corruption, but the Lord Jesus did not, because He was resurrected from the dead.
The prophet Isaiah foretold the reason the Messiah would die. He stated: “Surely He (the Messiah) has borne our griefs and carried our sorrows; yet we esteemed Him stricken, smitten by God, and afflicted. But He was wounded for our transgressions, he was bruised for our iniquities; the chastisement of our peace was upon Him, and by His stripes we are healed. All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned, every one, to his own way; and the LORD has laid on Him the iniquity of us all” (53:4-6). On the cross of Calvary, the Lord Jesus, the Spotless Lamb of God, died as a perfect sacrifice, to pay for all our sins so that a holy God could be just and declare those who have put their trust in Him and Him alone, justified. When a person trusts the Lord Jesus Christ as their Savior, they are justified (declared righteous) by a Holy God (Rom. 3:21-5:2).
The Importance of the Resurrection
The importance of the resurrection of the Lord Jesus Christ is clearly stated in the New Testament. The Apostle Paul writes that Jesus is “declared to be the Son of God with power according to the Spirit of holiness, by the resurrection from the dead” (Rom. 1:4). He states elsewhere that the bodily resurrection is a crucial part of the gospel, the good news of salvation when one puts their trust in the Lord Jesus. “Moreover, brethren, I declare to you the gospel which I preach to you, which also you received and in which you stand, by which you are saved, if you hold fast that word which I preached to you – unless you believed in vain. For I delivered to you first of all that which I also received: that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, and that He was buried, and that He rose again the third day according to the Scriptures, and that He was seen by Cephas, then by the twelve” (I Cor. 15:1-5).
God loved sinful humankind so much, even though they were in rebellion to Him and his Word, that He sent His Son, the Lord Jesus, who voluntarily died on the Cross of Calvary, to pay for all the sins of all humanity (John 3:16; 10:7-18; Rom. 3:23; 5:8; I John 2:2). The death of the Lord Jesus satisfied the holiness and justice of God, so that salvation could be offered to sinners as a free gift, simply by putting ones faith (trust) in the Lord Jesus Christ as Savior (John 6:47; Rom. 4:1-8). Salvation is by faith alone, in the Lord Jesus Christ alone, and no merits or works of our own can gain us entry into Heaven and God’s righteousness (Rom. 6:23; Eph. 2:8, 9; Phil. 3:4-9).
Have you trusted the One who died for your sins and bodily rose from the dead, and offers you the free gift of eternal life, a home in heaven, the forgiveness of sins and the righteousness of God?
There were people in the church at Corinth in the 1st century AD that questioned the bodily resurrection of the dead (I Cor. 15:12). The apostle Paul recounts the many eye-witnessed that had seen the Lord Jesus alive, after His crucifixion, including himself (I Cor. 15:5-8). Paul connects the importance of the bodily resurrection of the dead with the resurrection of the Lord Jesus. He sates: “But if there is no resurrection of the dead, then Christ is not risen. And if Christ is not risen, then our preaching is empty and your faith is also empty. Yes, and we are found false witnesses of God, because we have testified of God that He raised up Christ, whom He did not raise up – if in fact the dead do not rise. For if the dead do not rise, then Christ is not risen. And if Christ is not risen, your faith is futile; you are still in your sins! Then also those who have fallen asleep in Christ have perished. If in this life only we have hope in Christ, we are of all men the most pitiable” (I Cor. 15:13-19). Is the bodily resurrection of the Lord Jesus important? You bet it is!
The Conclusion of the Matter
I do not know who the Jerusalemite Jesus was that was buried in the Talpiyot tomb, but I do know where the Lord Jesus Christ is right now. After He was bodily resurrected from the tomb of Joseph of Arimathea on the third day, He physically ascended into heaven and He is seated at the right hand of the Father waiting to return to earth to establish His Kingdom in Jerusalem.
Christianity has not been “rocked to the core” by the “shocking” claims in this book and documentary. There is no need to change history. The Lord Jesus Christ was bodily resurrected from the dead. No archaeologist will ever find an ossuary with the bones of the Lord Jesus from Nazareth because He never “saw corruption” (Ps. 16:10), and thus never needed an ossuary.
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About the Author
Gordon Franz is a Bible teacher who has engaged in extensive archaeological and geographical research in the Lands of the Bible. He has worked on a number of archaeological excavations in Israel, including: Ketef Hinnom in Jerusalem, Ramat Rachel, Khirbet Nisya, Lachish, Jezreel and Hazor.
A moving video on archaeology related to the Passion Week, by Joel Kramer of Sourceflix (Off site link).