Problems with the Jesus' Tomb Theory

I’ve compiled a short list of problems with the theory that Jesus’ family tomb has been located in Jerusalem. 

  1. All historical evidence suggests that Jesus’ family lived in Galilee; no evidence suggests they lived in Jerusalem.  They visited for holidays and Jesus was killed there on one of the holidays.  Jesus’ brother James lived there several decades later.  But there is no evidence that Jesus’ mother, father, or Mary Magdalene lived in Jerusalem.
  2. People were buried where they lived. There is no evidence that the bodies of Jesus’ family were transported from Galilee to Jerusalem.
  3. There is no historical evidence that Jesus received a secondary burial (in an ossuary or otherwise).  All historical evidence suggests that he was buried once in a tomb near the crucifixion site.
  4. There were many people in ancient Jerusalem who had the names Jesus, Mary, Judah, and Joseph. We do not know how many people lived in Jerusalem, we do not know the precise date of these ossuaries (anywhere between 50 B.C. and 70 A.D.), we do not know the relationship of any of the people in the tomb. It is possible that the Judah inscribed on one ossuary is the son of the same Jesus who is inscribed on another ossuary. And it is possible that it was a different Jesus. It was common for ancient peoples to use names in the family when naming their children.  Remember the wonder when Zechariah named his son John when no one else in their family had that name.  One of Joseph’s sons was named after his father.
  5. Of the six inscribed ossuaries, only two give the name of the father (Jesus son of Joseph and Judah son of Jesus). The other individuals, including Joseph and Mary, could be related in any variety of ways to the other individuals. That Joseph is the brother of Jesus is only one possibility of many. That Mary is the wife of Jesus is only one possibility of many.
  6. Mary Magdalene is always identified as such in the Gospels (see Matt 27:56, 61; 28:1; Mark 15:40, 47; 16:1,9; Luke 8:2; 24:10; John 19:25; 20:1,18). It is interesting, then, that if this is her ossuary, that she would not be similarly identified. Instead she is allegedly identified with a name which only appears in a late (4th c.) source of dubious value. 
  7. It is a non-issue that DNA analysis shows that the Jesus and Mary buried in this tomb were not from the same family. All women buried in a family tomb would be there as a result of marriage, so none of them would be related to the men, with the exception of children or an unmarried woman. It would be worthy of mention if the woman was related to the man.
  8. It is possible that the name Jesus has been misread and instead is the name “Hanun.” This may not be true, but it is mentioned by Stephen Pfann, one of the world’s best experts on Aramaic from the 1st century A.D.
  9. It is difficult to imagine a scenario in which followers of Jesus died for a man who they knew was buried over the next hill.  When Peter declared to thousands of people in Jerusalem that “God raised [Jesus] from the dead,” I think someone would have raised their hand and mentioned the tomb.  How the fact that Jesus actually had a son (and a sexual relationship with a woman) was kept a secret until recent times is also quite hard to fathom. 

There may not be a “silver bullet” that makes this theory impossible, but the preponderance of the evidence makes it so unlikely as to require a tremendous amount of faith. If every assumption is accurate, then possibly this is the tomb of Jesus’ family. But if any one assumption is wrong, the whole thing falls apart. 

There are many who are writing about this, and some are mentioned in today’s links below.  See also the helpful analysis by Nathan Busenitz here. 

The location of the tomb is in the modern suburb of Talpiyot, about 2 miles south of the Old City.  Contrary to some assertions, the tomb is not too distant to be part of Jerusalem’s cemetery in the 1st century A.D.  The tomb with the ossuary of Caiaphas was found just north of Talpiyot.

Tomb of Jesus (Tuesday links)

Here’s a round-up of some of the latest on “Jesus’ tomb.”  The main AP story is everywhere, including here, and there is a slideshow with about 50 related images hereABC News and the NY Times have their own stories.  The JPost story includes some quotes from Shimon Gibson and Dan Bahat.  JPost also has a review of the documentary and Larry King had an interview with the documentary’s producers, Al Mohler and James Tabor.  Some of the original data from Kloner’s dig and Rahmani’s Catalogue of Jewish Ossuaries, including a drawing of the burial cave, is available in a pdf file at the Discovery website.

Ben Witherington has a lengthy response, and a few additional points in the comments section.  Leen Ritmeyer has a brief response, as does Darrell Bock.  The historian Paul Maier wrote a book on just such a fictional scenario (Jesus’ body being found), and his comments are posted here.  Christopher Rollston has some good insights here, as does Aren Maier, Mark Goodacre, and Chris Heard

Apocryphicity claims the Acts of Philip is not referring to Mary Magdalene but to a different Mary. 

Michael Heiser wrote an article related to the “James, brother of Jesus” ossuary several years ago that has a number of relevant points about this particular tomb and the frequency of the names.

If you don’t want to wait for the movie (March 4 on Discovery Channel), you can buy the book now. 

It’s currently ranked #6 at Amazon.  In one year, you’ll be able to buy it for three bucks or less (just like the “Cave of John the Baptist” book, which was a similar one-night sensation).

I’ve started a short list of scholars who are believe or reject this theory.

Reject it:

Non-Christian scholars: Amos Kloner, Dan Bahat, Aren Maier, Joe Zias, Jodi Magness, William
Dever, Lawrence Stager

Christian scholars: Stephen Pfann, Leen Ritmeyer, Ben Witherington, Paul Maier, Steven Notley, Andreas Köstenberger, Jerome Murphy-O’Connor
Believe it:

Non-Christian scholars: James Tabor

Christian scholars: None known


Non-Christian scholars: Shimon Gibson (skeptical, but doesn’t rule out the possibility)

Christian scholars: None known

Update 3/1 and 3/2: Some scholars added to list.


Tomb of Jesus (Monday links)

If you’ve just heard about this story, you can read my initial comments here.  More sound analysis can be found at James White’s site and at the internetmonk.  Joe Zias, a retired expert in paleopathology in Israel, has some good comments on the ANE-2 list today (here and here, may require free membership to view).  And the Discovery Channel will have a discussion forum with experts including James Charlesworth, Amy-Jill Levine, and James D. Tabor.  Tabor will have more on his blog in days to come, and he appears to be a big promoter of this new theory, especially as it will help his book sales.  Tabor’s starting point is that Jesus certainly had a human father and he certainly never walked out of his tomb.


Filmmakers Find Jesus' Tomb and Body

I hate these kind of stories, because everyone with any training in archaeology related to the Bible can see it’s a fraud from a mile away, but everyone else takes it so seriously.

The first thing to note in this “discovery” is that it was made by a filmmaker and a Hollywood director.  That should make you suspicious.  Why archaeologists and other scholars didn’t have any inkling of this until it was revealed by movie-makers should smell more like Indiana Jones than serious scholarship.  Of course, it is altogether possible that these amateurs did make the greatest discovery ever in biblical archaeology.  If so, it will be recognized as authentic by those who are experts in the field.  If not, the filmmakers can pour millions of dollars into creating a “documentary” that ignores the scholars and appeals directly to the (largely ignorant) public.

The previous work of these two filmmakers is not irrelevant to this story; this is not their first foray into biblical archaeology.  Their recent “The Exodus Decoded” reveals their methodology: partial presentation of evidence combined with twisted interpretation and a complete lack of scholarly support.  Add $3 million for amazing special effects and eye candy.  Simply put, no one with any knowledge of the field (secular, religious, liberal, conservative) buys what they were selling.  For a 14-part review, see Chris Heard’s blog.

The filmmakers don’t want to reveal specifics of their discovery of Jesus’ tomb, but they have leaked enough details to get excitement up for their Monday press conference.  So detailed analysis will have to wait (and if anyone else is doing it, I’m going to save time and simply link to them), but for now, here’s some that you won’t hear at the press conference or in the multi-million-dollar made-for-TV movie, from the the Jerusalem Post.

But Bar-Ilan University Prof. Amos Kloner, the Jerusalem District archeologist who officially oversaw the work at the tomb in 1980 and has published detailed findings on its contents, on Saturday night dismissed the claims. “It makes a great story for a TV film,” he told The Jerusalem Post. “But it’s impossible. It’s nonsense.”
Kloner, who said he was interviewed for the new film but has not seen it, said the names found on the ossuaries were common, and the fact that such apparently resonant names had been found together was of no significance. He added that “Jesus son of Joseph” inscriptions had been found on several other ossuaries over the years.
“There is no likelihood that Jesus and his relatives had a family tomb,” Kloner said. “They were a Galilee family with no ties in Jerusalem. The Talpiot tomb belonged to a middle-class family from the 1st century CE.”

This scholar is not a Christian and is not motivated to protect religous beliefs of Christians.  He is an expert on burials from the time of Christ.

In short, this “discovery” has nothing to do with facts and everything to do with financial gain.  You can make a lot of money and gain a lot of notoriety by creating the most sensational of discoveries.  It would all be so much better if journalists would call up a few experts, determine that the story is rubbish, and then publish nothing about it.  Unfortunately, journalists are complicit in perpetuating the fraud, because sensational stories like this are good for their ratings.


Palace of David: 2006-07 Findings

Aren Maeir has posted a short report from his visit to Eilat Mazar’s excavation in the City of David. 

Mazar just concluded a six-month season and has uncovered more of the monumental building that she believes may be identified with the palace of David.  Maeir says:

The structure is in fact very impressive, and it appears, based on the finds from below this astounding structure, that it was built no later than the late Iron Age I, since no later finds were found in the fills below this structure. Also, in one area, Iron Age IIA pottery was found in a context of secondary construction and use of the building. What this clearly means is that in the verly late Iron Age I, or the very early Iron Age IIA (whether you date this to late 11th/early 10th, or late 10th), there were substantial public architectural activities in Jerusalem. 

Read the whole post and the comments, especially the one by Zachi Zweig.  This is the sort of stuff that newspapers should be covering, not the silly nonsense so often featured.  Mazar’s findings may radically affect our understanding of Jerusalem in ancient times, and that’s without regard to whether she has found David’s palace or not.

Elsewhere, Ronny Reich told a group of us today about some 200 bullae, a beautiful carved pomegranate, and a huge quantity of fishbones that have been discovered in the City of David in the last couple of years.  These are significant because they date to the 9th century B.C. and have Phoenician elements.  Reich suggests that these may be related to influence from the northern kingdom via Queen Athaliah.  An article is due out on this in Qadmoniot (Hebrew) in the near future, with an English translation to follow in another journal.


Dr. Leen Ritmeyer's Blog

One of my favorite scholars on matters related to biblical archaeology is Leen Ritmeyer.  I am impressed not only by his scholarship but by his gracious and humble spirit.  As architect for the Jerusalem excavations of Benjamin Mazar and Nahman Avigad, Ritmeyer has sketched many of the reconstruction drawings that you see in books and on posters.  He’s done significant work on sites outside of Jerusalem as well.  I am happy to recommend his work whenever I get the chance.  His latest work is his magnum opus, The Quest: Revealing the Temple Mount in Jerusalem.  I’ve been recommending it to students for years, though it only was published last year.

Ritmeyer now has a blog in which he intends to address matters related to the Temple Mount and biblical archaeology.  His first post is a brief response to the new theory by Joseph Patrich which locates the temple facing the southeast on the basis of a cistern.  Ritmeyer’s blog is welcome and recommended!


Logos Software: Near East Archaeology Collection

A representative of Logos Research Systems has contacted me with a note about their Pre-Publication offer for the Near East Archaeology Collection (3 volumes).  The retail price for the set is $430, but they are offering it now for $100.  The three volumes are:

Studies in the Archaeology of the Iron Age in Israel and Jordan, edited by Amihai Mazar (2001).

Urbanism in the Aegean Bronze Age, by Keith Branigan (2002).

Excavations by Kathleen M. Kenyon in Jerusalem 1961-1967, Volume III: 
The Settlement in the Bronze and Iron Ages, by Margreet Steiner (2001).

I was initially reluctant to mention it here because I feel that these are not foundational archaeological works, which most of this blog’s readers probably would be better suited for.  In fact, these books are all quite advanced and I would only recommend them for the scholar, graduate student, or a real nerdy armchair archaeologist.  For me personally, the first volume is the most valuable.  This alone is $150 new at Amazon.  Logos software, of course, offers significant advantages for an electronic edition.

As a Pre-Pub offer, customers get the lowest possible price, as the price goes up once enough orders are received.  If enough orders aren’t placed, the books are never produced.

I’d love to see Logos offer in the future some more foundational archaeological works, such as:

Mazar, Archaeology of the Land of the Bible

Stern, Archaeology of the Land of the Bible, vol 2

Ben-Tor, ed., Archaeology of Ancient Israel

Hoerth, Archaeology and the OT

McRay, Archaeology and the NT

And I would get real excited if they could get the archaeological encyclopedia sets:

The New Encyclopedia of Archaeological Excavations in the Holy Land, 4 volumes

The Oxford Encyclopedia of Archaeology in the Near East, 5 volumes

I fear that most/all of these will never happen because publishers tend to be difficult to work with.  It
seems to me that publishing an electronic edition several years after the initial publication is a win-
win situation.


Various Thoughts on Jerusalem Ramp and More

So much is going on in Jerusalem these days with protests over excavations that I’m not even trying to keep up with it on this blog.  Paleojudaica stays right on top of it with his “Temple Mount Watch” so that’s the place to go for twice-daily doses.  Instead, I offer a few brief comments.

The Washington Post on Sunday had a pretty balanced article concerning Jewish construction in the Old City.  Of course, there are things I think could have been said better, but overall it’s a helpful read on a controversial subject (which is going to get even more heated in months/years to come, I predict).

Today’s Jerusalem Post has an article on “finds” already from the Temple Mount ramp excavation. 

There’s no real content to the article; mostly it is what they expect to find, which is pretty obvious to anyone who knows about the excavations to the south.  I think the article is an archaeologist’s attempt to try to stem the increasing tide of those calling for the excavation to stop.  BTW, they’ve been digging for about a week and have already dug down three meters?  That makes me wonder if R. A. S. Macalister is in charge of this project.

The reason why the excavation should not be stopped: it gives Muslims de facto sovereignty over the Western Wall area.

Some articles are quoting Meir Ben Dov as a Jerusalem archaeologist claiming the excavation is unnecessary and provocative.  In the newspaper to those not familiar with Jerusalem politics, Ben Dov could be any average scholar.  In fact, he is widely scorned by those in his profession.  He’s the one archaeologist the journalists can find to give them an “alternate viewpoint.”

Would you rather learn something useful about Jerusalem instead of spending lots of time on endless controversies which will all pass?  Here are three great books about archaeology around the Temple Mount:

Leen Ritmeyer, The Quest: Revealing the Temple Mount in Jerusalem.  Very new, very good.  $60, and worth it.

Eilat Mazar, The Complete Guide to the Temple Mount Excavations.  (Out of print; used ones here).

Ronny Reich, Jerusalem Archaeological Park.  (1 at Eisenbrauns; used ones here.)

The best book on Jerusalem overall is still Hershel Shanks, Jerusalem: An Archaeological Biography.  Twelve years old, but most is still accurate and you can’t beat the illustrations.

Elsewhere, I am working on a phenomenal collection of old materials on the Temple Mount and Jerusalem by early explorers in the 1800s.  I hope to have that available later this year.


Why the Muslims are Mad

I’ve been thinking about how to respond to the latest Palestinian violence against Israel because of the ramp removal near the Western Wall.  A BBC article does a good job of explaining things and so I’m going to save some time and quote from it.  The first half of the article details the history of the Temple Mount.  I have highlighted some key statements.

The blue lines mark the limits of the Temple Mount, which is controlled by the Muslim religious authority.  One of the gates providing access to the Temple Mount is the Mughrabi Gate, and it is the earthen ramp leading to this gate which is the basis for claims that the Israelis are undermining Al Aqsa Mosque.  Any viewer can see, however, that the ramp is outside of the Temple Mount, has no bearing on the structure of the Temple Mount, and is immediately adjacent to the Jewish prayer area of the Western Wall.

Picking up the BBC story from 1967:

Israel allowed the Muslim religious authority known as the Waqf to administer the whole compound. But the Israelis claimed the right to enter it at will to keep security control. They enforce this claim regularly.
They do so by entering the compound through a small gate known as the Mougrabi or Moors’ Gate.
It is this gate that is at the centre of the current controversy.
Because the gate is high up in the wall (it overlooks the Western Wall,) it has to be reached by either an earth mound or a walkway.
Last year [actually three years ago], the earth mound collapsed after a rainfall [actually a snowfall]. So a temporary wooden structure was put up. The current work is designed to replace this with something stronger and more permanent.
This entails removing the remains of the earth mound down to bedrock in order that there can be secure foundations for the new walkway or bridge.
An independent observer, Father Jerome Murphy-O’Connor, from the French institute the Ecole Biblique in East Jerusalem, said that the work was “completely routine”.
“This work is not inside the Haram. It is outside, leading to the Moors’ Gate. The earth ramp fell down and has to be replaced,” Father Murphy-O’Connor, author of an Oxford University guide “The Holy Land”, told me.
“I do not know why the Palestinians have chosen to make an issue out of this. It is a recognised Jewish area under the arrangements that prevail in the Old City.
“One can contrast this to the extensive excavations just round the corner in a Muslim area where huge pilgrim hostels from the 8th Century were revealed, with no protest. There has also been no protest over digs at the City of David nearby.
“There is absolutely no danger to the foundations of the al-Aqsa mosque since that is built on the huge Herodian blocks that are still there.”
The reason for the protest does not really have much to do with archaeology in fact. It is a protest about presence. The Palestinians and the wider Muslim world have an objection to anything the Israelis do that touches on the Haram.
Such work is seen as symbolising a threat to Palestinian and Muslim identity and a rallying point for Palestinians to express their desire for their own space, their own state.
In this atmosphere, the arguments of the archaeological academics do not carry much force.
The Moors’ Gate is perhaps even more sensitive than other sites, as it is the only gate to the compound for which the Israelis hold the key. They do so, Father Murphy-O’Connor said, under an agreement reached in 1967 between General Moshe Dayan and the Waqf.
In 1996, the Israelis tunnelled further along the Western Wall, prompting riots and unrest. Again, the issue was not so much the actual dig as the concept.

There’s a little more, including a nice diagram at the bottom of the article that shows the relation of the ramp to the Temple Mount and Al Aqsa Mosque.  The Jerusalem Post has an article explaining the “Intimidation Tactics” at work.

HT: Paleojudaica


Barkay Lecturing in U.S.

Dr. Gabriel Barkay is a distinguished archaeologist in Israel whose significant discoveries include the silver amulets from Ketef Hinnom.  His current project is sifting the debris from the Temple Mount. 

Barkay is lecturing this month in various places in the U.S.

Feb. 1 New Rochelle, NY—Beth El Synagogue

Feb. 4-7 Dallas, TX—Dallas Theological Seminary

Feb. 5 Fort Worth, TX—Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary 7pm

Feb. 8 Lubbock, TX—Lubbock Christian University, 7 pm

Feb. 9-10 Ashland, OH—Ashland Theological Seminary

Feb. 11 Silver Spring, MD—Jewish Center, 2:00pm

Feb. 12 Wheaton, IL

Feb. 13 Milwaukee, WI

Feb. 14 Madison, WI

Feb. 15-16 Springfield, MO—Missouri State University

Feb. 20 Atlanta, GA—Atlanta Museum, Emory University

Feb. 22 Southern California—UCLA and UC Riverside, 9:00 AM and 6:00 PM

Feb. 27 Nyack, NY—Alliance Theological Seminary, 6:30-9 p.m

If you have never heard Barkay speak, you can see a short sample taken by a student on a recent tour here.  Of course, he’s better in person.

HT: Yehuda News

Update (2/10): The entry for Feb 15 was corrected and the lecture for Feb. 27 added.