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Jesus Family Tomb? (Updated)

John on February 25, 2007 at 8:27 pm

Amateur archaeologist Simcha Jacobovici, who directed a documentary which attempted to prove the Exodus happened last year, has a new program coming to the Discovery Channel. The Lost Tomb of Jesus details a tomb containing ossuaries or bone boxes that date to the first century. Here’s the backstory:

On March 28, 1980, a construction crew developing an apartment complex in Talpiot, Jerusalem, uncovered a tomb, which archaeologists from the Israeli Antiquities Authority excavated shortly thereafter. Archaeologist Shimon Gibson surveyed the site and drew a layout plan. Scholar L.Y. Rahmani later published “A Catalogue of Jewish Ossuaries” that described 10 ossuaries, or limestone bone boxes, found in the tomb.

Scholars know that from 30 B.C. to 70 A.D., many people in Jerusalem would first wrap bodies in shrouds after death. The bodies were then placed in carved rock tombs, where they decomposed for a year before the bones were placed in an ossuary.

Five of the 10 discovered boxes in the Talpiot tomb were inscribed with names believed to be associated with key figures in the New Testament: Jesus, Mary, Matthew, Joseph and Mary Magdalene. A sixth inscription, written in Aramaic, translates to “Judah Son of Jesus.”

“Such tombs are very typical for that region,” Aaron Brody, associate professor of Bible and archaeology at the Pacific School of Religion and director of California’s Bade Museum told Discovery News.

Of course there’s a lot of supposition going on here. Suppositions about family relationships, about dates, and so on. Nevertheless, the “son of Jesus” is bound to be a windfall for the Gnostics and fans of Dan Brown’s ridiculous book. In fact I saw this coming. Here’s what I said eight months ago in relation to Simcha’s special on the Exodus:

Specials like this tend to make me nervous. It reminds me of the frequently peddled stories (including one just this summer) of the discovery of Noah’s Ark. Inevitably these discoveries turn out to be bunk and the people who have jumped on the bandwagon end up looking like fools. I’m even more skeptical in this case because, so far as I know, James Cameron is an atheist. What exactly is his interest here? Is it finding truth or simply making money in the wake of The DaVinci Code conspiracy nonsense.

I think it’s probably the latter, given this latest show. The Discovery Channel is making an effort not to frame this as an attack on the Christian faith. Their Lost Tomb website has a special page devoted to Theological Considerations which states:

Even if Jesus’ body was moved from one tomb to another, however, that does not mean that he could not have been resurrected from the second tomb… If Jesus’ mortal remains have been found, this would contradict the idea of a physical ascension but not the idea of a spiritual ascension. The latter is consistent with Christian theology.

Sorry, but that doesn’t work. Ossuaries, or bone boxes, were a place to keep the bones of the deceased. Usually the body was left to decay in a tomb for up to a year before the bones were moved to an ossuary. That means a physical resurrection, as it is described in the New Testament, would be out of the question. As for a spiritual resurrection being consistent with Christian theology…where did they get that? The bodily resurrection is the core of the faith. If Jesus’ body were in the tomb, there would be no Christianity. It’s that simple.

I suspect “Jesus Tomb” is either a fraud a coincidence. Of course that won’t matter to the DaVinci Crowd and I’m sure Elaine Pagels and several dozen other neo-Gnostic scholars will jump on this with both feet. Perhaps even a few atheists will switch from the “God Who Wasn’t There” argument that Jesus never existed to the “Jesus was a married guy who had a son and was buried in an ossuary” argument. Whatever does the most damage at the moment…

Others blogging about this: Bryan at HotAir is skeptical. Texas Rainmaker notes the Time magazine story promoting this. Here’s the first paragraph by author Tim McGirk:

Brace yourself. James Cameron, the man who brought you ‘The Titanic’ is back with another blockbuster. This time, the ship he’s sinking is Christianity.

Just a hint of glee there, don’t you think? Almost makes me want to break out a famous line from an old James Cameron movie. You know the one I mean…from the first Terminator movie…Maybe this will help you have total recall:

YouTube Preview Image

Update 2/26: Cameron and Jacobovici’s transparent attack on Christianity is beginning to get the response it deserves. Here’s a roundup:

From This is London:

[T]he archaeologist who oversaw the work at the tomb described the theory as ‘nonsense’.

Amos Kloner said the names found on the coffins had been found in tombs before, adding: ‘It makes a great story for a TV film, but it’s impossible.

‘Jesus and his relatives were a Galilee family with no ties in Jerusalem. The Talpiot tomb belonged to a middle-class family from the first century.’

I also enjoy the humor with which some people are taking this attack:

Well, if this is true I will be heading to a temple instead of church this weekend.

- Mike, Omaha, USA

Amos Kloner is also quoted in this story:

“They just want to get money for it,” Kloner said.


“It was an ordinary middle-class Jerusalem burial cave,” Kloner said. “The names on the caskets are the most common names found among Jews at the time.”

Archaeologists also balk at the filmmaker’s claim that the James Ossuary _ the center of a famous antiquities fraud in Israel _ might have originated from the same cave. In 2005, Israel charged five suspects with forgery in connection with the infamous bone box.

“I don’t think the James Ossuary came from the same cave,” said Dan Bahat, an archaeologist at Bar-Ilan University. “If it were found there, the man who made the forgery would have taken something better. He would have taken Jesus.”

I think they may have made a miscalculation by including the “James, brother of Jesus” ossuary in their theory. From the Jerusalem Post:

The filmmakers claim that the 10th ossuary, said to have disappeared from the collections of the Israel Antiquities Authority, may be the so-called “James, Brother of Jesus” ossuary, rediscovered in 2002 by Israeli collector Golan, who said he had bought it from an Arab dealer in the Old City decades earlier and not initially realized its significance. Although the ossuary still has its supporters, the IAA has branded it a forgery, and Golan has been charged with running a forgery ring – charges he has denied.

Oded Golan is charged with creating dozens of frauds of which the James ossuary is only the most famous. Golan is likely also behind the Jehoash stone, another famous fraud. You can read more about Golan here. As for the James ossuary ever being in the tomb:

Kloner told The Jerusalem Post that no inscribed ossuary from the Talpiot tomb had ever gone missing.

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