Talpiot Tomb Updates

The official website for “The Jesus Discovery” is now up. And down (bandwidth limit exceeded). An interview with the authors is here, when the site is back up.

The Jesus Discovery book by James Tabor has skyrocketed to #1 in all of its categories at Amazon and an overall rank of #174.

More than a dozen photos from the press conference are online. (HT: Joseph Lauer). Apparently
James Charlesworth, lead academic consultant to the team, skipped the show.

In a comment on Eric Meyers’ post, Tabor advances the view that Jesus’ body was first buried at the Holy Sepulcher site and then moved to the Talpiot tomb.

Robert Cargill suggests that the “fish” is a tomb nephesh and he claims (in the comments) that two photos supplied by the authors have been doctored or of different “fish.”  (I’m not convinced.)

Antonio Lombatti provides an image of another fish inscribed on an ossuary.

James Tabor confirms Gordon Franz’s observation that everyone has the fish turned the wrong way. If so, why were all of the photos released as horizontal shots?

Jodi Magness is chagrined to see archaeology “hijacked in the service of non-scientific interests.” In a comment, Tabor disagrees that such is the case and he writes of the fish etching that “at least half a dozen art historians have agreed with the Jonah interpretation.” Stephen Goranson notes that none of them have been quoted and he wonders if “signed non-disclosure agreements help scholarship.”
Michael Heiser explains why the process of using the “clueless archaeo-media” is rejected by scholars as a pursuit for cash and not for accuracy. “It’s the methodological equivalent to using mainstream media connections to announce a cure for cancer without clinical trials, or presenting one’s off-the-radar conspiratorial theory (the academic word would be avant garde) about Zionism instead of getting critical feedback from field experts first. But that’s boring and doesn’t generate sales.”
James Davila is pleased with the scholarly response to the announcement and that the media appears to be heeding it (unlike in times past).
Summaries of responses are also provided by Tom Verenna, Mark Goodacre and Stephen Smuts.

Franz: Let’s Get Our Facts Straight

Gordon Franz was at today’s press conference and has written a short piece on the experience and his amazement at some of the responses he has read. He writes:

I was at the press conference at Discovery Times Square on Tuesday, February 28, 2012 for the unveiling of the new book The Jesus Discovery by James Tabor and Simcha Jacobovici.

I am not a supporter of Simcha’s ideas, in fact, I have critiqued some of them on my website (see the Cracked Pot Archaeology section at www.lifeandland.org). But what I have found amusing is the misstatements and misunderstanding on some of the blogs by leading scholars. First of all, you should get the book and read it before you comment, or at least look at the pictures! It will save you some embarrassment.

Simcha had an exact replica of both ossuaries in question made by the museum staff at Discovery Times Square. This was accomplished by the measurements and photographs taken with the impressive robotic arm. I am grateful for Walter Klassmen for showing me how it worked. This tool will have many applications in the archaeology of Israel and Simcha should be commended for working closely with this expert to produce such a valuable tool.

The first thing that struck me on the ossuary is the orientation of the “fish.” On all the blogs and news articles I have read, the picture of the “fish” is facing the wrong way. Sometimes it is horizontal, either facing left or right, and made to look like a swimming fish. Or the “fish” has the round ball (Jonah, according to Simcha) facing upwards, thus making the “fish” look like a funerary monument.

Usually pictures of Absalom’s Pillar are shown to bolster the case for this view. The fact of the matter is that the “fish” is facing down! So we should orient the picture correctly before we continue the discussion.

My initial impression is that the “fish” looks like an ornamental glass vessel, perhaps a pitcher or flask of some sort. The Ennion vessel found by Prof. Avigad in the Jewish Quarter comes to mind (page 108 in Discovering Jerusalem). Perhaps some glass expert might suggest a better parallel from this period than the Ennion vessel, but this is worthy of consideration.


Ossuary etching compared with Ennion pitcher, both from Jerusalem. Left image: Associated Producers Ltd./Haaretz; Right: Avigad, Discovering Jerusalem, p. 108.

Tomb Preliminary Report Available

The Bible and Interpretation has now published “A Preliminary Report of a Robotic Camera: Exploration of a Sealed 1st Century Tomb in East Talpiot, Jerusalem,” by James Tabor. The 27-page article (plus figures) is in pdf format, and the website allows comments.

I took a few notes as I read the article:

The “excavation” was conducted by Rami Arav and James Tabor.

Simcha Jacobovici is listed as film director and “professor in the Department of Religion at Huntington University, Ontario.”  (Wikipedia indicates that he has an M.A. in International Relations.)

James Charlesworth is listed as “primary academic consultant.”

Eight ossuaries were found in the tomb.

The tomb was first studied in 1981. Some of the artifacts and documentation from this previous excavation are missing.

The tomb has been sealed under a condominium building since the 1981 excavation.

What is being hailed now as the “archaeological find that reveals the birth of Christianity” was not seen by archaeologists in the 1981 excavation. The four-line Greek inscription and the iconographic image (fish?) were first observed in the recent camera study.

The challenges to studying the tomb chamber by means of a robotic camera were significant.

One ossuary may be inscribed with Jonah, John, or Julia.

The interpretation of the 4-line inscription is quite difficult and there are a number of possibilities.

One work lists 108 images of Jonah in early Christian art, but these are found in the catacombs of
Rome and are no earlier than the 3rd century.

Tabor: “We are convinced that our inscription clearly makes some affirmation about either resurrection from the dead or lifting up to heaven. Whether one might identify it as “Christian,” or to be more historically precise—as associated with the early followers of Jesus, is another question. I would strongly argue in the affirmative. Although it is true that ideas of resurrection of the dead and even ascent to heaven are found in a multiplicity of Jewish sources in the late 2nd Temple period, they do not appear as expressions in burial contexts unless we have an exception here in the Talpiot tomb. That, along with the unprecedented example of writing the divine name Yahweh in Greek letters in a Jewish tomb—a place of tum’a or ritual defilement—argues for a heterodox or sectarian context.”

Tabor rejects the possibility that the iconographic image depicts a nephesh or an amphora.

Tabor believes a previously discovered ossuary with the name Yeshua (Jesus) depicts Jesus inside a fish.

Tabor: “Context is everything.”

The report includes 28 figures: maps, photos, and plans.

This preliminary report is a very helpful review and analysis of the evidence. James Tabor is to be commended for providing this to readers who want to know the basis for some of the conclusions being announced in the media. You can read the whole report here.


Jesus Discovery: Book Excerpt and Photos

The Huffington Post provides an excerpt from The Jesus Discovery book along with a series of photos from inside the tomb. Here are some excerpts from the excerpt, with emphasis added:

The discovery provides the earliest archaeological evidence of faith in Jesus’ resurrection from the dead, the first witness to a saying of Jesus that predates even the writing of our New Testament gospels, and the earliest example of Christian art, all found in a sealed tomb dated to the 1st century CE….
We believe a compelling argument can be made that the Garden tomb is that of Jesus of Nazareth and his family. We argue in this book that both tombs are most likely located on the rural estate of Joseph of Arimathea, the wealthy member of the Sanhedrin who according to all four New Testament gospels took official charge of Jesus’ burial….
We now have new archaeological evidence, literally written in stone, that can guide us in properly understanding what Jesus’ earliest followers meant by their faith in Jesus’ resurrection from the dead, with his earthly remains, and those of his family, peacefully interred just yards away. This might sound like a contradiction, but only because certain theological traditions regarding the meaning of resurrection of the dead have clouded our understanding of what Jesus and his first followers truly believed. When we put together the texts of the gospels with this archaeological evidence, the results are strikingly consistent and stand up to rigorous standards of historical evidence.

James Tabor stated in a comment here yesterday that he is “not sure how finding the earliest evidence of faith in Jesus’ resurrection would negate Christianity,” but the book excerpt above shows otherwise. In their interpretations of the evidence, the authors claim that the evidence refutes “certain theological traditions” about the bodily resurrection of Jesus. They claim that Jesus’ followers denied his physical resurrection. Yet the traditions of his resurrection go back to one of the earliest books in the New Testament (ca. AD 50). Paul wrote in 1 Corinthians 15:1-8:

Now I would remind you, brothers, of the gospel I preached to you, which you received, in which you stand, 2 and by which you are being saved, if you hold fast to the word I preached to you—unless you believed in vain.
3 For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures, 4 that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures, 5 and that he appeared to Cephas, then to the twelve. 6 Then he appeared to more than five hundred brothers at one time, most of whom are still alive, though some have fallen asleep. 7 Then he appeared to James, then to all the apostles. 8 Last of all, as to one untimely born, he appeared also to me.

These verses and the rest of the chapter make it clear that Paul is speaking of a bodily resurrection.

The same Christ that was buried was raised. The Christ that appeared to the disciples could be seen.

If Jesus’ body is still in the tomb, our faith is in vain. A spiritual resurrection is no resurrection at all.

The Huffington Post article features 10 photos and one video clip.


Rollston and Meyers on the Talpiot Tombs

Christopher A. Rollston has published a brief review of “the new Jesus Discovery” at the ASOR Blog. Among other things he concludes:

3. There is no necessary connection between these two tombs and there is no convincing evidence that some famous figure of history (such as Jesus of Nazareth, Joseph of Arimathea, or Mary Magdalene, etc.) was buried in these tombs.
4. Furthermore, these tombs do not provide any evidence that can be construed as suggesting that Jesus of Nazareth and Mary Magdalene were married or had a child together.
5. I highly doubt that the inscription in Talpiyot Tomb B refers to a resurrection.  In any case, many Jews during the Second Temple Period believed in a resurrection, long before the rise of Christianity. Thus, even if there were some evidence for a notion of a resurrection in this tomb, it does not necessarily follow that this was a Jewish-Christian tomb.
6. I am certain that the tetragrammaton (i.e., “Yahweh”) is not present in the four-line inscription from Talpiyot Tomb B.
7. The ornamentation on the ossuary in Talpiyot Tomb B that Tabor and Jacobovici wish to consider “Jonah and the Whale” (with Jonah pitched on the nose of the whale!) is a nephesh tower or tomb façade, just as Eric Meyers has stated.  Such an image is quite common in the corpus of ossuaries.
Ultimately, therefore, I would suggest that these are fairly standard, mundane Jerusalem tombs of the Late Second Temple period.  The contents are interesting, but there is nothing that is particularly sensational or unique in these tombs.  I wish that it were different.  After all, it would be quite fascinating to find a tomb that could be said to be “Christian” and to hail from the very century that Christianity arose.  Moreover, it would be particularly interesting to find a tomb that could be associated with Jesus of Nazareth and his family.  But, alas, the evidence does not suggest this.  A basic methodological stricture is this: dramatic claims require dramatic and decisive evidence.  In this case, Tabor and Jacobovici have strained the evidence far beyond the breaking point.

Thus he is essentially rejecting everything that would make this new discovery worthy of media attention. You can read his full review here. (The link has been acting up this morning, so if it doesn’t work, go directly to www.asorblog.org.)

Eric M. Meyers is no more positive.

The book is truly much ado about nothing and is a sensationalist presentation of data that are familiar to anyone with knowledge of first-century Jerusalem. Nothing in the book “revolutionizes our understanding of Jesus or early Christianity” as the authors and publisher claim, and we may regard this book as yet another in a long list of presentations that misuse not only the Bible but also archaeology.

Ouch. His full review is here (or here).

James Tabor has just emailed the following:

I am posting an article at http://bibleinterp.com that offers a preliminary report and analysis with maps and illustrations of the recent Talpiot “patio” tomb exploration by remote camera that Rami Arav and I conducted in 2009-2011. It should go up on that web site by noon today.


Fish/tomb monument image, rotated 90 degrees
Photo: Associated Producers Ltd./Haaretz

More Reports on the Jerusalem Fish Ossuary

More information about the videocamera discovery of inscriptions on burial boxes in the Patio Tomb in Jerusalem is being disclosed in advance of this morning’s press conference.

James Tabor has issued a press release through his institution, the University of North Carolina Charlotte. He claims that four of the seven ossuaries in the tomb have unique features.

MSNBC reports on the discovery and includes some evaluation by John Dominic Crossan and Ben Witherington. The article includes another photo of the fish.

The Bible and Interpretation is slated to post an academic paper on the tomb at noon today.

PaleoBabble has awarded Simcha Jacobovici a PhD. in Non Sequitur Thinking.

HT: Joseph Lauer


Jesus Discovery: Early Christian Burial in Jerusalem

Just ahead of his big press conference tomorrow in New York, the “Naked Archaeologist” Simcha Jacobovici has released a photo and some details of a discovery inside a burial cave south of Jerusalem. The dramatic find is a sketching of a fish swallowing or spewing a person along with a Greek and Hebrew inscription with the words “resurrected” or “arise” and “Yahweh.”

While hundreds of Jonah-type inscriptions have been discovered throughout the Roman empire, this is apparently the first such known from Jerusalem, indicating the early presence of Christians in the city where Jesus rose from the dead. The Jonah-fish symbol was used by early Christians because of Jesus’ prediction that he would be like the prophet: “For as Jonah was three days and three nights in the belly of a huge fish, so the Son of Man will be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth” (Matt 12:40).

The information provided to Haaretz is preliminary and intended to stir up interest as more details (and big-time spin) are revealed in the press conference, the book release, and the Discovery Channel TV show.

The article notes that the “excavation” was with a video camera sticking through the floor of an apartment. Apparently the burial cave has not been opened because of ultra-Orthodox objections.

Potentially this provides the earliest archaeological evidence for followers of Jesus in the land of Israel. Though the report doesn’t say so, some archaeologists have apparently dated the inscriptions to about AD 50.

Naturally this brief article raises more questions than it answers. We expect to learn more in the next 24 hours.

HT: Joseph Lauer


Ossuary drawing from Jerusalem.
Photo: Associated Producers Ltd./Haaretz

Tomorrow: The Jesus Discovery

The Jesus Discovery: The New Archaeological Find That Reveals the Birth of Christianity by James D. Tabor and Simcha Jacobovici releases tomorrow.

The publisher’s description suggests that the book will reveal “an iconic image and a Greek inscription” on two ossuaries which pre-date AD 70 and which “constitute the earliest archaeological evidence of faith in Jesus’ resurrection.” The conclusion is that whoever was buried in this tomb was a Christian.

The authors go further and claim that since this new tomb is only 200 feet (60 m) from the so-called Jesus Family Tomb that it makes it more likely that the Talpiot Tomb is “the real tomb of Jesus of Nazareth.”

It sounds to me that this discovery is one part fact mixed with three parts speculation. If you read the book or listen to the reports in the impending media barrage, keep in mind the difference between the artifacts and the interpretation. If the history of the two authors is any guide, the quest for fame and fortune trumps the desire for truth. The best way to get your name and your book in the media is to question the foundations of Christianity.


Weekend Roundup

Paleobabble posts a report on the Noah’s Ark fraud by one who knows the Turkish guides involved.

The report probably contains some of the true story, but it is obscured by a liberal dose of speculation and hearsay. Confidence in the author is further eroded by her lack of experience in the field, her photos of herself in conservative eastern Turkey, and her forthcoming book entitled Climbing Mount Ararat: Love and Betrayal in Kurdistan.

Eisenbrauns’ Deal of the Weekend is Ancient Place Names in the Holy Land: Preservation and History, by Yoel Elitzur. It is marked down from $65 to $26.

Ferrell Jenkins summarizes his survey of the Babylonian kings in the Bible, concluding yesterday with Belshazzar.

What did Jerusalem look like in Jesus’ days? A brief article at the Jerusalem Post describes the Herodian Quarter (Wohl Museum).

Archaeologists in Egypt have begun restoring a second boat buried next to the pyramid of Cheops (Khufu).

Neil MacGregor, Director of the British Museum, gives a 20-minute presentation at TED on the “biographies” of the Cyrus Cylinder. He believes this artifact is a major player today in the politics of the Middle East.

Eilat Mazar is warning that the antiquities on the Temple Mount are in danger because of plans to unite all of the mosques into one large one.

The seventh season of excavations at Tall el-Hammam concluded this week. According to email newsletters, the major discovery this year was a monumental gateway dated to the Middle Bronze period (2000-1550 BC).

The fifth edition of The Carta Bible Atlas (formerly The Macmillan Bible Atlas) is apparently more than just a cover re-design (as was the fourth edition). According to the publisher, “The Carta Bible
Atlas has been enriched by the addition of 40 new maps. Anson F. Rainey added maps and discussion on contemporary subjects surrounding the biblical narrative and R. Steven Notley revised and expanded the New Testament section. Prof. Notley further enhanced this volume by extending its historical reach to include the map of Palestine at the end of the third century as recorded by Eusebius, Bishop of Caesarea.” Eisenbrauns has this updated classic in stock.

HT: Joseph Lauer, Jack Sasson


Interview with Thomas Levy

Foundation Stone has posted a three-part interview from their LandMinds radio show with the UCSD professor who is excavating copper mines in the Arabah south of the Dead Sea.

“There is no Turning Back!”  Prof. Thomas Levy, UCSD, says the trowel and a good eye are no longer enough in the field. Tom rode the wave of an immense California investment in technology applied to Hirbet en-Nahas in Jordan.
The kicker is, unexpectedly, his excavations showed a rise of copper industrial production in the 10th and 9th centuries BCE, with a falling off in the 8th. This may be in conflict  with the Low Chronology, requiring a new look at the textual and archaeological interface, about which he has written and edited a book. 
Everyone is talking about his work and its implications – hear Prof Levy himself! (Barnea overloaded his circuits here in the late night Skype recording, he was so fascinated, pardon him…).

You can access the mp3 files via these direct links: Part 1, Part 2, Part 3.

LandMinds also has a facebook page.

HT: Jack Sasson

Khirbet en-Nahas Area S, Iron Age four-room workshop, view north, df080207013

Four-room workshop, Khirbet en-Nahas