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.

18 thoughts on “Problems with the Jesus' Tomb Theory

  1. There is a nice story in the gospel of Matthew (28:11-15) about rumours of Jesus body being stolen from the tomb. The gospel says: “this story has been widely circulated among the Jews to this very day”. The gospel of Matthew has been written around the 70 AD. Why should people have circulated the story, if nearby there was a tomb with the remains of Jesus, his wife and his son?

  2. Lying about the name of Jesus, again and again…

    Hello Todd and all,

    The most interesting aspect of this Jesus Tomb story revolves around the actual names on the bone boxes compared to what is being asserted in the effort to make a profit. Pay special attention to the tortured explanations of how names like Jesus, Mary, Matthew, and others were translated from inscriptions that actually say otherwise. As Christians rally to “prove” that this archeological find can’t be the “Jesus” and “Mary” of the New Testament, they too must answer the questions about why it is correct to translate those names in a special way to support the veracity of the most profitable story in history. Christians must truthfully answer the question of why it is wrong to use their own methodology to arrive at the names now being asserted as appearing on those bone boxes.

    A pivotal component of the strong delusion of Christianity revolves around the name/title Jesus Christ. Christians and others have rallied around the weak and blatantly deceptive assertions surrounding the source of the name Jesus, among others in the so-called New Testament. All of the purported uses of this name in ancient settings are actually the Hebrew and Aramaic names that we call Joshua, in all other instances. Why then all of the tortured explanations to convince people that the Hebrew name translated in all other instances as Joshua should in some special cases become the dubious name/title Jesus Christ? If these stories were the truth, why has so much deception accompanied them and those who have profited from them throughout most of the last two millennia?

    Ever consider that the New Testament and the stories of Jesus Christ are the great deceptions that the original Hebrew texts warned about? Isn’t it odd that the New Testament is full of Greco-Roman names from Europe, not from Judea? Isn’t it odd that all of the purported authors of New Testament books have European names and made numerous geographical and factual errors. For example, the proven fact that there was no town named Nazareth during the Second-Temple period. What then does the term Nazarene truly allude to and why did the Vatican and its predecessors go to such lengths to obscure the truth? Why have the Vatican, Papacy, and Christianity been characterized by such extreme duplicity and deception for their entire existence if they were truly representatives of the Creator?

    You do understand that Gog from Magog actually refers to Greeks and Romans (Greco-Romans) who invaded, subjugated, and scattered the children of Israel? Isn’t it at all worrisome that the Vatican and Christianity have “whitewashed” the names, images, and activities of all of the purported Judean characters in the long-dubious New Testament that history proves would have been dark-skinned, dark-haired locals, not blue-eyed European invaders, had they truly existed. Consequently, billions of people have long been deceived into worshipping a false god with a name and image that never could have existed in ancient Second Temple Period Judea!

    Ever heard of strong lies and strong delusion? Read 2 Thessalonians 2:11 again.

    Can you say woe, woe, woe?

    Here is Wisdom !!

  3. Well.. . this debate sure brings some interesting people out of the woodwork. . . .

    Thanks Todd for this longer, albeit, preliminary report.

    A couple comments:
    1) It seems plausible that Jesus’ family could have been buried, against custom, in Jerusalem, given their special status in the community of faith, and given that the community largely centered around that city at the time when most of them would have died.
    2) It also seems plausible that if the early followers of Jesus wanted to “cover up” his death, they might have gone to great lengths to bury Him without advertising it. However, this brings up another problem for the conspiracy theorists: that is, if they were trying to cover it up, why put the names on the ossuraries?!!!
    3) I agree with you that the suggestion about Mary Magdalene and Jesus and Judah is REALLY far fetched. There is no way in heck to prove that or even suggest that!
    4) Pfann’s analysis could be the biggest smoking gun. I want to know more about it.

    Thanks for your faithfulness and scholarship.

  4. Christopher – good thoughts and I agree. It certainly isn’t out of the question that Jesus’ family was buried in Jerusalem, but it’s hard to believe that Jesus and his son were. If anything, it makes more sense that they went to France so that no one knew. On Pfann’s reading, I’m not putting too much weight on that since it seems that no one else is reading it the same way.

    An interesting thing on many posts that I have written on this subject – someone anonymous puts a very short comment with a link to the official website. If I didn’t know better, I’d think that someone was getting paid to drive traffic there.

  5. Let us add to the mix that while there is a nice Rabbinic tradition that Jesus was a bastard, there is no tradition that “his tomb is just down the street” and everyone knows it (as anonymous asserts).
    This so-called discovery was a non-issue in the field for 20 years. It came up in our discussions of the James Ossuary, and that, most likely, is how the producers stumbled on this lovely money-making concept. *yawn* Its a boring topic and has no scholarly credibility despite what Jim Tabor asserts (ans I am bothered by that and plan to take him to task on it privately)…..

    Let’s get the public on something “real”, like the Illuminati….

  6. in1980 the tomb was found the boxes were opened the bones were buried the bones were looked at by archeologists and such,any spike holes in the hands and feet

  7. The tomb at Talpiot is located about halfway between Jerusalem and Bethlehem. I have no idea if this story has any truth to it or not, and will withhold my judgment until more scientists and statisticians, and maybe even clergy weigh in, but I will point out that the objection in this blog’s main feature holds no water. If the family lived in Bethlehem, this could have been the family tomb! If they lived in Jerusalem, this could have been the family tomb. The tomb is in between the two towns, which themselves are not far apart geographically.

  8. “…there shall come in the last days scoffers, walking after their own lusts”(2 Peter 3:3)

    “But there were false prophets also among the people, even as there shall be false teachers among you, who privily shall bring in damnable heresies, even denying the Lord that brought them, and bring upon themselves swift destruction.
    And many shall follow their pernicious ways; by reason of whom the way of truth shall be evil spoken of.
    And through covetousness shall they with feigned words make merchandise of you: whose judgment now of a long time lingereth not, and their damnation slumbereth not…”(2 Peter 2:1-3)

  9. when it comes to light that none of the bones in fact had any signs of crucifixion, then these agents of lies will than call into question the crucifixion itself

  10. I am debating whether or not to watch the Discovery Channel’s presentation of this stuff. Seems the popular media isn’t overly concerned with what the majority of scholars think if there’s a chance to “disprove” the historicity of the Bible.

    You mention of DNA testing is interesting. So there was a Jesus who was unrelated to a Mary. If it weren’t for Dan Brown and other like-minded “scholars” of an imaginative turn, would that even be newsworthy? The only real relationship that we know of that Jesus had with a Mary that would make it logical to be buried in the same tomb would be His mother, and they would have DNA that said they were related. It would not be a stretch to find a mother and a son in the same family tomb if multiple generations are buried together, would it? Get rid of “Jesus was married” and you are left with the conclusion that this is some other family. It is about as logical to automatically assign Biblical identities to these names as it would be to say that any reference from the late 18th or early 19th century in Virginia to a “George and Martha” that doesn’t have any other identifying context must be a reference to the first US president and his wife.

    Completely off topic, but I really stopped by to say that there is a great picture on p. 68 of the Jan/Feb issue of BAR. Brings back memories…

  11. Erhm….if “Seven Star Hand” has a problem with the name Jesus or “Yeshua” (i.e. yud, shin, vav, ayin in Hebrew), then he’s got a problem with the Hebrew Bible–since it occurs 28 times in the HB.

    Take a look at the Hebrew of Nehemiah 8:14. Here Joshua the son of Nun is called “Yeshua bin-Nun”.

    Isn’t it interesting that ALL of these occurences are in post-exilic books? Hence a clear development of the name Jehoshuah to the shortened form Jeshua (i.e. Yeshua) can be seen.


  12. It is unfortunate that the Jesus tomb discovery was not given a more academic reception. Instead, it was pounced upon without looking at the facts. One thing that really helped me shape this view is the video I found just this morning with the director of the movie responding to criticism about DNA, the inscriptions, everything. Hopefully this will at last let the academic community consider this discovery in a more mature and deserving light. The site is http://www.jesusfamilytomb.com

  13. The holes in the documentary are quite clear. It is based on a significant amount of hype. While the earliest criticisms (the ones coming from those that haven’t seen the book or the documentary) may have been over the top, the more calm yet swift kick in the butt by academics put the Lost Tomb of Jesus into the category of fiction.

    A new site has been developed for those that want to see all the facts of the documentary reviewed without the director’s bias. You can see it from this site:


  14. you say "The tomb with the ossuary of Caiaphas was found just north of Talpiyot." Do you have any photos or video of the tomb? the excavation? etc? Thanks!

  15. Tulin – I don't. The tomb was excavated in 1990 and quickly reburied as it is located in a beautiful park (and many Jewish people aren't happy with the excavations of Jewish tombs).

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