Defending the Theistic View

Jesus’ lost Talpiot tomb — Part 1

In 2007, Simcha Jacabovici, the maker of the “Exodus Decoded” released a documentary called the Lost Tomb of Jesus. The claim in his film is that in 1980 the lost family tomb of Jesus’ family had been found but that this fact had been ignored.

The film begins by saying that one gospel (namely Matthew) mentions that after Jesus’ death there were two stories about how his body was removed from the tomb of Joseph of Arimathea. It suggests that although the gospel calls it a lie that Jesus’ disciples may have stolen the body of their master and given it a burial in a family tomb. Later, Jesus’ family would have performed the last ceremony over his remains.

Despite the implications for Christianity if proved to be true, the documentary assures its viewers that it is possible to believe in Christianity without believing in Christ’s bodily resurrection. In theory, it says, the resurrection may have been spiritual though this flies in the face of John 2: 19, 21 which says that Jesus himself predicted his own bodily resurrection. It then cites Professor John Dominic Crossan of DePaul University who says:

If the bones of Jesus were found in an ossuary in Jerusalem tomorrow — and without doubt let’s say they are definitely agreed to be the bones of Jesus — would that destroy Christian faith? It certainly would not destroy my Christian faith. I leave what happens to bodies up to God.

The truth of the matter is this documentary has come under fire, not just under Christian apologists, but also by secular scholars. The reasons why both secular and Christian scholars reject the Lost Tomb of Jesus are identical. And in this post I plan on showing why.

Of interest to Simcha’s conclusion were the names on the ossuaries from the tomb. And of most interest was one with the Aramaic inscription “Yeshua bar Yosef” (or Jesus son of Joseph.) — Apparently this was enough to make Jacabovici suspect that this was the tomb of Jesus. Also, there are other names on the other orssuaries that seem to resemble names  from Jesus’ family such as “Maria” and “Yoseh.”

There has been some criticism of Jesus of Nazareth with the ossurary of Jesus son of Joseph on the basis that there is no evidence that he was known as the son of Joseph by his early followers. — Personally I do not have a problem with him being called “the son of Joseph” because, in a sence, he was because Joseph was the man who raised him. But the problems of the identification of this ossuary go beyond this.

In an article from the Archaeological Institute of America written by Jodi Magness, a distinguished Professor of the University of North Carolina in the Department of Religious Studies shows other problems with the identification of this tomb as Jesus’ family tomb. She says:

Had Jesus’ family owned a rock-cut tomb, it would have been located in their hometown of Nazareth, not in Jerusalem. For example, when Simon, the last of the Maccabean brothers and one of the Hasmonean rulers built a large tomb or mausoleum for his family, he constructed it in their hometown of Modiin. In fact, the Gospel accounts clearly indicate that Jesus’ family did not own a rock-cut tomb in Jerusalem –for if they had, there would have been no need for Joseph of Arimathea to take Jesus’ body and place it in his own family’s rock-cut tomb!If Jesus’ family did not own a rock-cut tomb, it means they also had no ossuaries. (Emphasis mine)

She shows even more inconsistencies between the assumption that the ossuary of Jesus son of Joseph with that of the Jesus of the New Testament:

L. Y. Rahmani, an Israeli archaeologist who compiled a catalogue of all of the ossuaries in the collections of the state of Israel, observed that “In Jerusalem’s tombs, the deceased’s place of origin was noted when someone from outside Jerusalem was interred in a local tomb.” On ossuaries in rock-cut tombs that belonged to Judean families, it was customary to indicate the ancestry or lineage of the deceased by naming the father, as, for example, Judah son of John (Yohanan); Honya son of Alexa; and Martha daughter of Hananya. But in rock-cut tombs owned by non-Judean families (or which contained the remains of relatives from outside Judea), it was customary to indicate the deceased’s place of origin, as, for example, Simon of Ptolemais; Papias the Bethshanite (of Beth Shean); and Gaios son of Artemon from Berenike. Our historical and literary sources (such as the Gospels, Flavius Josephus, etc.) often make the same distinctions between Judeans and non-Judeans (for example, Galileans, Idumaeans, Saul of Tarsus, Simon of Cyrene, and so on). If the Talpiyot tomb is indeed the tomb of Jesus and his family, we would expect at least some of the ossuary inscriptions to reflect their Galilean origins, by reading, for example, Jesus [son of Joseph] of Nazareth (or Jesus the Nazarene), Mary of Magdala, and so on. However, the inscriptions provide no indication that this is the tomb of a Galilean family and instead point to a Judean family.

So if this were the Jesus of the New Testament, due to the customs of the time, his ossuary inscription should therefore say “Jesus of Nazareth son of Joseph” because he was a Galilean that died and was buried in Judea. Since this isn’t the case with the Talpiot Tomb this means that this “Jesus son of Joseph” is a Judean, not a Galilean. — In my opinion, these facts alone are enough to disqualify the Talpiot tomb with that of Jesus of Nazareth. But, these facts, that it makes no sense for a Galilean family to have a family tomb so far from home, and that on Judean ossuaries the origins of outsiders that died in Judea were customarily identified are never mentioned in the documentary. This is most probably because the entire premise of the film would have been defeated.

Another final problem with the assumption that this ossuary is that of Jesus of Nazareth is pointed out by Professor Amos Kloner, who supervised archeological work at the tomb when it was discovered in 1980, in an article for the Jerusalem Post said that:

The name “Jesus son of Joseph” has been found on three or four ossuaries. These are common names. There were huge headlines in the 1940s surrounding another Jesus ossuary, cited as the first evidence of Christianity. There was another Jesus tomb. Months later it was dismissed. Give me scientific evidence, and I’ll grapple with it. But this is manufactured. (Emphasis mine)

So assuming that one of these ossuaries is of Jesus of Nazareth, there is only a 1 in 3, (or even 1 in 4) chance of the Talpiot ossuary being that Jesus Christ, and therefore there would be a negative chance of 3 to 1 (or even 4 to 1) that it isn’t.

The chances are reduced even further when one takes into account the fact that Jesus was a poor carpenter and would not have had a family rock cut tomb because, as Jodi Magness points out, even modest tombs like this would have been way to costly. — Also, Professor Amos Kloner also mentions:

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.

So far, the evidence is definately negative. It does not seem likely that this is the family tomb of Jesus. And in later posts I plan on giving more negative evidence on the identification of the Talpiot tomb as the burial place of Jesus.

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  1. Pingback: Jesus’ lost Talpiot tomb — Part 2 « Explanation

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