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: May 04, 2007, 01:15:27 PM


The Talpiot Tomb: Separating Truth from Fiction (Completed)
Filed under: Tabor's Blog — James Tabor @ 9:00 am

With the initial airing of the Discovery Channel documentary “The Lost Tomb of Jesus” in the U.S., Canada, and Israel, and the publication of the book, The Jesus Family Tomb by Simcha Jacobovici and Charles Pelligrino, the Talpiot “Jesus tomb” has generated an avalanche of media coverage and Internet discussion. A simple Google search for the string “Jesus family tomb” generates a million and a half Web sites. The passions and emotions on this topic have been high, and correct and reliable information has been hard to come by. In this post I want to attempt to sort through a list of the “fictions” regarding the Tomb, its discovery, and its investigation, focusing on things that have been reported or written over the past month that are, to my knowledge, in error.

I should also point out that a consideration of the tomb itself as an historical and archaeological site, and a fair and unbiased examination of the evidence thereof, has nothing necessarily to do with the matter of how one might evaluate the film produced by James Cameron and Simcha Jacobovici. Whether the film is judged convincing or unconvincing, good or bad, as a film, that should remain a separate issue. I personally am quite positive about the film in terms of its genre as a film, but what really matters in the end is what the evidence related to the tomb indicates in terms of its possible or even probable identification with Jesus of Nazareth.

The following is a list of what I judge to be the top twenty “fictions” related to the discussion of the Talpiot tomb.


1) Research and discussion of the Talpiot tomb as related to Jesus of Nazareth shows contempt for Christianity and is an attack on the faith of millions.

Any scientific or academic investigation of an archaeological site related to biblical history, by definition, cannot be an “attack” on faith. I often tell my students, “good history can never be an enemy of proper faith.” Historians neither disallow nor preclude evidence and the methods and tasks of history cross all lines of faith. Proper historical investigation involves posing hypothesis and testing them in order to determine what we can know, what we might suppose, and what we might responsibly assume to be the case. In the case of the Talpoit tomb, which is in fact a tomb of a 1st century Jew named “Jesus son of Joseph,” it is entirely proper to investigate in an objective manner whether this particular Jesus might be identified with Jesus of Nazareth.

2) Belief in the literal “flesh and bones” resurrection of Jesus as a physical being is fundamental to all authentic versions of Christian faith, and accordingly, the discovery of Jesus’ empty tomb on Easter Sunday morning precludes the permanent burial of his body in a second tomb.

The earliest testimony to the resurrection of Jesus comes from Paul writing in the 50s CE (1 Corinthians 15). He writes that Christ “appeared” to him but he distinguishes between a “natural” or physical (psuchikos) body, and what he calls a “spiritual” (pneumatikos) body. This spiritual body he says is not “flesh and blood” and in contrast to the “first Adam,” who was made a “living being,” of dust of the earth, is a “life-giving spirit,” made of heaven. When Paul describes death in general he speaks of “putting off” the body like a tent or garment, and “putting on a heavenly dwelling” or new body (2 Cor 5). When he describes the future resurrection of the “dead in Christ” he says they will be raised with incorruptible bodies and there is no implication that the physical components of their physical bodies, now turned to dust, will be literally raised.

The first burial of Jesus was by definition a hasty one, a “burial of opportunity,” as Joseph of Arimathea placed Jesus’ body in a tomb that happened to be nearby the place of his execution, possibly even one in an area provided by the Sanhedrin for just this purpose (John 19:42; Sanhedrin 6, 5). He would have been moved to a more permanent place of burial as soon as the Passover Sabbath was over, most likely by Joseph who had taken responsibility for the initial burial. Mark, the earliest gospel, has no “appearances” of Jesus, the account in Matthew takes place in Galilee and has a “visionary” quality to it, and the various reports in Luke and John come from a much later period when the “empty tomb” was used as proof that the “appearances” were of a flesh and bones sort. This represents a later, more literal, development in how the resurrection of Jesus was being argued with opponents.


3) Jesus and his family would not have a family tomb in Jerusalem. If there were a Jesus family tomb at all it would have been in Nazareth in the Galilee, which is the ancestral home of the family.

Joseph, the legal father of Jesus, had likely died some years earlier than Jesus and we have no record of where or how he was buried (Mark 6:3). According to Jewish law one is buried where one dies and corpses are not moved to distant locations, even in the case of an ancestral tomb in another city (Semachot 13, 7). The movement Jesus established, led by his brother James following his death, took up its permanent residence in Jerusalem. Jesus’ mother Mary and his brothers, as well as all his Galilean followers, lived in Jerusalem. When James was murdered in 62 CE, Simon, a second brother (or some say cousin), takes over leadership of the movement, still headquartered in Jerusalem. Jewish law permits a woman to be buried in the tomb of her sons, so it would be appropriate for Mary to be in such a tomb with her sons Jesus and Jose (Semachot 14, 6).

4) Jesus was a poor, illiterate, itinerant peasant, and neither he nor his followers would have been able to afford a burial cave such as the one found at Talpiot.

It is not at all clear that Jesus and his family were destitute or poor in later life. The last three years of his life he was “on the road” in terms of his preaching but he and his family had artisan skills his brothers were married and must have maintained themselves and their households and cared for their mother. Jesus also had hundreds of loyal core followers, some of whom had means, including Mary Magdalene (Luke 8:1-3), and of course Joseph of Arimathea. Someone like Joseph of Arimathea could have provided the Talpiot tomb for the family.

5) The Talpiot tomb held the remains of dozens, perhaps even hundreds of individuals, over several generations, so that the six names on the ossuaries are hardly representative of the Jewish family that used this tomb.

The idea that the Talpiot tomb held 35 or more individuals is not based on any anthropological study of the skeletal remains but was a demographic estimate that Amos Kloner offered based on averages found in tombs around Jerusalem. What the preliminary reports and notes of Joseph Gath indicate is that there were the bones in the ten ossuaries, and three skulls on the floor with bones associated with them, just below the arcosolia, as if they had been swept off, perhaps by intruders in the tomb, before they were given their secondary burial. This might help date the end of the tomb’s use to 70 CE since the family had not come back to gather these bones and place them in ossuaries. Given the six ossuaries with inscriptions, the four without, and the three additional skulls, the evidence seems to show this was a small family tomb with just over a dozen burials. This would fit a family that had taken up residence in Jerusalem around 30 CE and had made use of the tomb for about 40 years. That six of the ossuaries are inscribed is rather extraordinary and it offers us an opportunity to possibly identify the family clan as a whole.


6) The ossuary that supposedly has the Aramaic inscription “Jesus son of Joseph” might not even have the name “Jesus” at all, and its illegible scrawl, even if it does have the name “Jesus,” does not reflect the honor that Jesus’ followers would have had for him as their leader.

The reading “Yeshua son of Yehosef,” or “Jesus son of Joseph” is quite solid and confirmed by several of the world’s leading epigraphers, including Dr. Frank Cross, of Harvard University. Even though there were some initial attempts to question this reading by a few scholars when news of the Tapiot tomb first broke in late February, I think most are in agreement that we do indeed have a tomb with an ossuary inscribed “Jesus son of Joseph.” What is under discussion is not what the inscription says, but whether this particular “Jesus son of Joseph” might be identified with Jesus of Nazareth.

The “Jesus son of Joseph” inscription is in a cursive graffiti style that is somewhat difficult to read. In contrast three of the Aramaic inscriptions (Maria, Matya, Yose) are written in very clear block text, very likely by the same hand, and perhaps at the same time. In the case of Jesus of Nazareth, he died quite early, just past age 30, and the tomb is used for the next forty years, until 70 CE, so one might suppose that the other inscriptions, if they are from the Jesus family, would come later. It is extremely common to have “messy” graffiti-like inscriptions on ossuaries, even of persons of importance. The ossuary of the wealthy and influential high priest who presided over the trial of Jesus, Joseph son of Caiaphus, is quite difficult to read. Ossuary inscriptions are not intended to be on display, they are neither announcements nor proclamations. They function more as “tags” to identify the skeletal remains of a particular family member. Even if they are scribbled out, as long as they can be read by the intimate family they serve their function. There is no reason to think that an ossuary holding the bones of Jesus of Nazareth would have any sort or formal or monumental character. The plain and simple style of the “Jesus son of Joseph” ossuary itself, with its informal inscription, can be seen as highly appropriate for someone like Jesus of Nazareth. In contrast the Caiaphus ossuary is lavishly ornate with carved decorations.

7) Jesus, or Yeshua, was an extremely common male name among 1st century Jews in Palestine. Many ossuaries have been found inscribed with the name and half a dozen with “Jesus son of Joseph.”

The name Jesus or “Yeshua” is a shortened form of the biblical name Joshua or Yehoshua. It is known of course, but to say it is common is incorrect. If you take all forms of the name Joshua known to us from inscriptions and literary sources as compiled by Tal Ilan (Lexicon of Jewish Names in Late Antiquity: Palestine 300 BCE to 200 CE) one finds 100 examples of the name out of a total of 2538 male names, which is 3.9%. The specific shortened nickname “Yeshua” is less common than that. For example, on the 214 inscribed ossuaries in the Israeli State Collection, besides the Talpiot tomb (which has two ossuaries with the name), there are only three other examples of this name (Rahmani # 9, 121, 140). So it is not the case that most family tombs in the period are likely to have a person named Yeshua, and certainly not a Yeshua son of Joseph. In fact, depending on how one understands such terms, I would say the name is known but relatively uncommon. The fact is only one other ossuary has ever turned up with the name “Jesus son of Joseph” but unfortunately we do not know anything about its provenance. That makes the Talpiot tomb ossuary the single provenanced example from the period.

8) Jesus was never called “Jesus son of Joseph” by any of his followers and this is an entirely inappropriate name for Jesus of Nazareth. If this ossuary belonged to Jesus it would have likely said something like “Jesus of Nazareth,” or “Jesus the Lord.”

Although there is evidence that Jesus is not the biological son of Joseph, husband of Mary (see my Jesus Dynasty, chaps 1-4), when Joseph takes the pregnant Mary as his wife Jesus is for legal purposes known as “Jesus son of Joseph.” He is also called “son of Mary” and “son of Pantera,” but those are not his official legal patronymic designations. We have other examples of sons being called by the name of their mother. Josephus mentions a certain “Joseph son of Iatrine” (”the midwife” Vita 185) and the rabbis call Titus, son of the Roman emperor Vespasian, “son of the wife of Vespasian,” to convey doubts about his paternity (Sifre Deut 328). However, his legal name is “son of Vespasian.”

Jesus is properly and legally known as “Jesus son of Joseph.” This is the force of Luke’s designation in his genealogy where he records: “Jesus, being the son as was supposed of Joseph” (3:23). Jesus early followers called him by this name, showing it was his common designation (John 1:45), and his enemies knew him by the same name (John 6:42). It is not the case that everyone from Galilee who was buried in Jerusalem would have their town of origin inscribed on their ossuary (i.e., Jesus of Nazareth), and it is even more rare for a designation “Lord” or “Rabbi” to be included, especially in a small family tomb of this type. Ossuary inscriptions are not normally proclamations so much as identification tags–i.e., which “Jesus” is this one? The name “Jesus son of Joseph” is quite parallel in usage to what one finds on the James ossuary: “James son of Joseph, brother of Jesus,” but in this case the addition of “brother of Jesus” offers a further identification.

9) Rahmani’s reading of the ossuary inscription “Mariamene he Mara” has been corrected and actually should read “Mariame and Mara,” referring to two women, one named Mary and the other Martha. Since it is in Greek it is very unlikely that it belonged to anyone connected to Jesus or his family.

According to L. Y. Rahmani, who first published the Talpiot ossuary inscriptions in his Catalogue of Jewish Ossuaries in the Collections of the State of Israel (1994: 221-223), this particular Greek inscription (#701 in the catalogue) reads: “of Mariamene, who is (also called) Mara.” In other words we have two names for one woman. The first name is a diminutive form of Mariamene (namely Mariamenon), which is one of many variants of the common name Mariam or Mariame. Following this name there is a clearly inscribed stroke, that Rahmani says probably represents the Greek letter eta, representing eta kai, in Greek, which is used in the case of double names, signifying, “who is also called.” The second name, Mara, Rahmani takes as a contraction of the common name Martha. The name is Aramaic and means “lord” or “mistress,” but unfortunately it has no useful equivalent in the feminine in English since “lordess” or “mistress” is awkward and misleading. Mara is the feminine absolute form, while Mart(h)a is the emphatic.

Stephen Pfann has recently suggested an alternative reading: “Mariame and Mara”, suggesting two women are intended. He argues that the ending on the name Mariamene is actually the Greek word “kai,” (“and, also”) and the stroke, that Rahmani saw as standing for “eta,” he sees as a pit or scratch. I am not an epigrapher but I did have a chance recently to examine this ossuary inscription carefully in good light and it seems clear to me the stroke is part of the inscription and not a random pit or scratch. If so, then it would not make much sense to have a reading: “Mariame and/who is (also called) Mara.” Leah Di Segni, whom Rahmani consulted for his original publication, has recently reexamined the reading and remains convinced that Rahmani was correct. Pfann takes a similar approach to ossuary # 108, which Rahmani cites as another example of Mariamene. He understands part of the letter nun as a scratch, and redraws Rahmani’s genitive ending “omicron upsilon” so it become an eta. There are other technical and grammatical arguments involved that would be too lengthy to cover in a post of this sort that I want to take up subsequently, but I find the original reading of Rahmani to be convincing and I am quite wary of Pfann’s reconstruction that requires letters and parts of letters to be scratches and other letters to be redrawn. In the end this whole exercise might turn out to be moot, since two names in Greek, linked with “kai” can be a signum or double name anyway, thus “Mariame also (know as) Mara.”

That the inscription is in Greek is quite interesting. It could very well fit a woman such as Mary Magdalene. We know two things about her status in our N.T. records—she is a woman of means associated with other aristocratic or well-connected women (Luke 8:1-3), and she is from the highly cosmopolitan city of Magdala on the northwest coast of the Sea of Galilee. I discuss these details in a previous Blog titled “The Resurrection of Mary Magdalene.”

10) Yose is also a very common Jewish male name among 1st century Jews in Palestine and there is no reason to associate this form of the name with Jesus’ brother Joseph.

It is the case that the name Joseph in its various forms in Hebrew/Aramaic and Greek (Yehosef, Yosi, Ioseph, Iosepos) is relatively common. After Shimon, it is the second most common male Jewish name of the period. Tal Ilan finds 217 examples (out of 2538 valid male names) of some form of “Joseph,” or 8.6% (ratio 1 in 11.7).

However, the specific nickname Yose in Aramaic (Yod, Wav, Samech, Heh) is extremely rare. It is found only once on an ossuary, namely the one from this Talpiot tomb with only two other examples known (a papyri and an inscription). The name in Greek (Iose or Ioses) is equally rare with only five examples listed by Tal Ilan outside the N.T. gospels. In contrast, the nickname, Yosi is quite common with dozens of examples listed by Tal Ilan. It continues to be a very common Israeli nickname for Yehosef today.

This is in fact the rare form of the name of Jesus’ second brother in the various Greek manuscripts of Mark 6:3 (Yoses, Yose). At the crucifixion and burial of Jesus, Mark also mentions a “Mary the mother of Joses/Jose” (Mark 15:40; 47) and this is clearly the mother and brother of Jesus as well (see my arguments on this in The Jesus Dynasty, pp. 77-81). Matthew changes the name of this second brother of Jesus to the more common form Joseph (Matt 13:55), but some manuscripts of Matthew 27:56 still retain the original Yose.

That Mark, our earliest gospel, has passed on a tradition that associates this rare endearing form of the name Joseph for Jesus’ second brother is most significant in terms of the Talpiot tomb and what we know of Jesus’ brothers. When Jesus is crucified in 30 CE, James his oldest brother takes over. But when James is brutally murdered in 62 CE Yose the second brother, who would have rightfully taken charge, is nowhere mentioned in any of our historical records. Rather Simon bar Clophas, takes charge of the group. Most take him to be a cousin though I have argued that he is Jesus’ third brother Simon. Either way, Yose disappears from our records. I think it is reasonable to assume that by 62 CE he had died, and if so, it should not surprise us to find a Yose buried with a Yeshua bar Yehosef. This is just what one might expect in a pre-70 CE Jesus family tomb. Given the rarity of the name, its association with Jesus’ second brother, and what we know of the pre-70 CE history of the Jesus family, the presence of a Yose in this tomb is a striking and compelling datum linking this particular tomb to Jesus of Nazareth.

The other Joseph in the tomb (Yeshua bar Yehosef) is also the form of the name one might expect since Joseph, the father of Jesus, is only known to us by the regular form of the name in Greek (Ioseph), and there is no reason whatsoever to associate him with the rare nickname Yose.

Rest of article at link...

Skull and Bones

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#1 : May 04, 2007, 02:15:44 PM

Et in Arcadia ego


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#2 : May 04, 2007, 03:12:57 PM

Joe, before all this Jesus tomb stuff came out, were you aware that the author of this article was convinced that Jesus was the bastard son of a Roman soldier? Apparently he has changed his mind now.


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#3 : May 04, 2007, 03:26:01 PM

I have heard about that but didn't know it was Tabor. It's certainly more plausible than a virgin

I love the way this guy handles himself. He was on the Koppel thing after the Lost Tomb aired.
It was the 3rd hour. The original 3rd hour was cut by Discovery to make room for the Koppel
thing. When Discovery shows the special again, they will supposedly include the third hour.

I have exchanged emails with Tabor. Good guy.

I have his book "The Jesus Dynasty" on order so I'll withhold judgment on that and wait 'til
I read it. He's very knowledgeable on the Bible. As most Biblical scholars tend to be. But his
views are not mainstream on certain issues.

Skull and Bones

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#4 : May 04, 2007, 03:34:16 PM

"Et in Arcadia ego" is a Latin phrase that most famously appears as the title of two paintings by Nicolas Poussin (1594–1665). They are pastoral paintings depicting idealized shepherds from classical antiquity, clustering around an austere tomb.  One also goes under the name "Les bergers d'Arcadie" ("The Arcadian Shepherds"). It has been highly influential in the history of art and more recently has been associated with the pseudohistory of the Priory of Sion popularised in the books Holy Blood, Holy Grail and The Da Vinci Code.
This theme was first dipicted in a painting by Guercino, painted between 1618 and 1622 in which the inscription gains force from the prominent presence of a skull in the foreground, beneath which the words are carved.


What does the skull represent?  The Knight Templars, the supposed guardians of the holy grail, were accused
of worshipping Baphomet, a strange skull figure. Does the skull represent Baphomet? And who's head did it once belong to? Was it the head of John the Baptist? Were they Mandaeans (a heretical sect who believed that the true Messiah was John the Baptist not Jesus of Nazareth)? And then there is the the mystery of Rennes Le Chateau http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rennes-le-Ch%C3%A2teau in which these said paintings were brought back and studied by Sauniere.  Is the tomb of God in the Languedoc region of France?  This book seems to suggest so: http://www.amazon.com/Tomb-God-Solution-000-Year-Old-Mystery/dp/0316042757.  As an interesting sidenote, my last name translates to "shepard of the sun(son).  Same bloodline as one of the co-authors of the above book.


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#5 : May 04, 2007, 03:44:20 PM

Thanks for clearing your post up. I love that stuff.

In the Tailpot tomb, they found three skulls in the outer chamber. There may be a Templar connection.
Lots of speculation at this point.

Spartan, Tabor explains the Roman soldier theory in his blog. I haven't read it yet but I'm about to.
Thanks for pointing that out. Although, I know I'll come across it when I read his book. It doesn't
look like he has backed away from anything from first glance. Looks like some people might have
misquoted him?

Roman Soldier explanations...


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