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.


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.


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 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


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