National Geographic has posted a new article on the continuing excavation of the traditional tomb of Jesus. The team was allowed 60 hours of study before they had to reseal the area.

When the marble cladding was first removed on the night of October 26, an initial inspection by the conservation team from the National Technical University of Athens showed only a layer of fill material underneath. However, as researchers continued their nonstop work over the course of 60 hours, another marble slab with a cross carved into its surface was exposed. By the night of October 28, just hours before the tomb was to be resealed, the original limestone burial bed was revealed intact.
During the past few days, the burial bed has been resealed in its original marble cladding and may not be exposed again for centuries or even millennia. “The architectural conservation which we are implementing is intended to last forever,” says Moropoulou. Before it was resealed, however, extensive documentation was performed on the surface of the rock.
“The surfaces of the rock must be looked at with the greatest care, I mean minutely, for traces of graffiti,” Biddle says, citing other tombs in the area that must have been of considerable importance because they are covered with crosses and inscriptions painted and scratched onto the rock surfaces.
“The issue of the graffiti is absolutely crucial,” Biddle says. “We know that there are at least half a dozen other rock-cut tombs below various parts of the church. So why did Bishop Eusebius identify this tomb as the tomb of Christ? He doesn’t say, and we don’t know. I don’t myself think Eusebius got it wrong—he was a very good scholar—so there probably is evidence if only it is looked for.”

The full article includes several photos.

HT: Ted Weis


“For the first time in centuries, scientists have exposed the original surface of what Christians traditionally believe to be Jesus’s tomb in Jerusalem’s Church of the Holy Sepulchre, as part of a restoration project.” National Geographic has a video and photos. Justin Taylor interviews Leen Ritmeyer about the specifics of Jesus’s tomb as known from the biblical record and archaeology. The first-ever artifacts discovered in situ from the time of the First Temple have been unveiled in Jerusalem. Haaretz’s story includes a photo of a structure that was revealed. The protective cover of an enormous mosaic in Hisham’s palace in Jericho was removed for a day in advance of the construction of a protective roof. Excavations have begun in the Umayyad palace at Khirbat Al-Minya on the northwestern shore of the Sea of Galilee. Ancient tombs were discovered north of the Old City of Jerusalem during recent road maintenance. Aren Maeir suspects that the Jerusalem Papyrus may be fake. An ancient Muslim inscription indicates that the original name of the Dome of the Rock was the “House of the Temple.” The TMSP blog comments on some of the reports at this week’s conference on the Archaeology of Jerusalem, including notice of a new study that the spring house over the Gihon in the City of David dates not to the Middle Bronze Age but to the 9th century BC. The Mount of Olives cemetery was ranked #8 on Bloomberg’s list of most beautiful burial sites in the world. HT: Joseph Lauer, Steven Anderson, Agade, Charles Savelle, Ted Weis, Paleojudaica


Archaeologists working on the Gezer water system have new evidence supporting its dating to the Middle Bronze period. Volunteers are invited for next season’s dig.

A court has ruled that Elad can continue to run the Jerusalem Archaeological Park in the City of David.

The Museum of the Bible has announced plans to excavate Tel Shimron in Galilee.

Palestinians have set fire to the traditional tomb of Joseph in Shechem.

Nearly 1,000 riders completed a three-day bike race in northern Israel. Dates have been announced for Epic Israel 2016.

Nehemia Gordon shares his experience in working on the Temple Mount Sifting Project. You can donate to the effort here.

The New York Times has issued a correction for their article on the Temple Mount. Jodi Magness’s letter to the editor is here.

ISIS’s destruction of the Roman Arch of Triumph in Palymra made some Russians unhappy.

Egypt is opening a small museum at the Cairo airport later this month.

Volume 3 of NGSBA (Nelson Glueck School of Biblical Archaeology) Archaeology has been released. The articles are primarily about the excavations at Yehud and Maresha. The entire issue can be downloaded for free. Previous volumes are available here.

The Oriental Institute has begun posting their photo archives online. Images are now available from Egypt, Iran, Iraq, Syria, and Lebanon. As far as I can tell, the images are all low-res.

Jodi Magness reviews The Tomb of Jesus and His Family?, edited by James H. Charlesworth. She provides a summary of the articles, including the one by A. Kloner and S. Gibson, excavators of the Talpiot tomb. Ben Witherington provides an abbreviated version of her review.

Brent Seales is on the Book and the Spade to talk about the technology that enabled reading the oldest biblical text outside the Dead Sea Scrolls. Listen here.

Here’s a unique tour of Israel: the Life and Land of Jesus, with Wayne Stiles. This should be particularly attractive for those who want to return but don’t want to visit the same places as every time before.

HT: Agade, Joseph Lauer, Paleojudaica

Our most popular Facebook post and tweet of the week:

Mount of Beatitudes aerial from northeast, ws011415241
The Mount of Beatitudes, Tabgha, Gennesaret, Arbel – so much of Jesus’s ministry right here!

Archaeologists have discovered a Byzantine church near Abu Gosh during construction to widen Highway 1. UPI has five photos of the excavation. High-res photos may be downloaded here.

Haaretz has posted a 1-minute video in Hebrew with English subtitles.

The season at Khirbet el-Maqatir (Ai?) is underway with Bryant Wood giving a report from the first week and Suzanne Lattimer giving a report from the second week.

A summary of the first week of excavations at Tel Burna includes many photos.

If you’re interested in knowing more what’s involved in an archaeological excavation, you can check out this year’s manual for the Tell es-Safi/Gath excavation.

Israel has approved a scaled-down version of a visitor’s center in the City of David. Both sides claimed victory.

An Israeli judge ruled that Joe Zias overstepped the bounds of proper academic criticism and awarded a judgment of $200,000 to Simcha Jacobovici. Jacobovici had been seeking $3 million.

The Herodium and Herod’s palace at Jericho provide some striking geographic ironies of Jesus and Herod the Great.

PEF posts a photo with Starkey, Petrie, and Tufnell.

Ferrell Jenkins reports on recent changes made at the site of Capernaum.

Leon Mauldin explains and illustrates the significance of Nahal Besor.

Carl Rasmussen has long wanted a tour of the excavations under the Kishle and yesterday his wish was fulfilled.

The New York Times reports on how tourism in Jordan is suffering due to the conflict in Syria. That is too bad; Jordan is safe and has many important biblical sites.

Here are five reasons you shouldn’t buy that ancient artifact.

This week on the Book and the Spade Gary Burge discusses his new book, A Week in the Life of a Roman Centurion.

HT: Agade, Joseph Lauer


(by Ryan Jaroncyk)

Yesterday I shared a list of arguments concerning the identification of the Talpiot Tomb with the tomb of Jesus and his family. Last month proponents of that theory claimed that analysis of the “James son of Joseph brother of Jesus” ossuary reveals a geochemical fingerprint virtually identical to the Talpiot Tomb. If true, this means that the James Ossuary would have been buried in the Talpiot Tomb as well.

Below I have gathered arguments presented in favor of this latest claim as well as significant objections.

Supporting Arguments
1. At least one geologist who was involved in the analysis believes the geochemical link is indisputable.

2. A majority of scholars believe the entire inscription is authentic and from the 1st century.

3. The latest statistical study concluded that it is likely only 1.7 individuals with that unique combination of names and their apparent relationships on the ossuary lived in 1st century Jerusalem.

Moreover, the study calculated a 38% chance only 1 such individual existed, compared to a 32% chance for 2 individuals, 18% chance for 3, 8% chance for 4, etc.

4. There are no other “James son of Joseph” ossuaries.

5. The addition of “brother of” likely means that this brother “Jesus” was a well-known, influential public figure at the time. Jesus of Nazareth is an ideal candidate.

6. Only one other “brother of” ossuary has been discovered from this era.

Opposing Arguments

1. The results have not yet been published or submitted to a peer-reviewed scientific journal.

2. The sample size may be too small to yield meaningful conclusions.

3. This ossuary’s photograph was dated to the 1970s by a former FBI director during an Israeli trial, four years before the Talpiot Tomb was even excavated.

4. There is a 2nd-century reference and 4th-century literary evidence of James being buried in the Kidron Valley, not the Talpiot area.

5. The possible soil match could be from another area of the East Talpiot region and not this specific tomb.

6. This theory requires the Talpiot Tomb held 11 ossuaries, not 10 according to several of the original excavators.

7. This ossuary would have just happened to be the one by the opening to the tomb, leaving it vulnerable to illicit removal.

8. This would have just happened to be the only ossuary that was raided and stolen, while every other ossuary in the tomb was left untouched.

9. There is a minority of reputable scholars who question the authenticity of the inscription, specifically the “brother of Jesus” part.

10. Two statistical studies have estimated that there were 1.7 to 3.3 “James son of Joseph brother of Jesus” individuals alive during Jesus’s lifetime. The most recent statistical analysis estimated the following: 38% chance there was only 1 “James son of Joseph brother of James,” 32% chance there were 2 “James son of Joseph brother of Jesus” individuals, 18% chance there were 3 individuals, 8% chance there were 4 individuals, etc. This suggests that there is a 62% chance there were 2 or more individuals with this full appellation in 1st-century Jerusalem, meaning it is not likely to be totally unique.

11. At least three top scholars have argued that the “brother of Jesus” portion of the inscription is insufficient to link to Jesus of Nazareth, without any further descriptors.

12. James originated from a relatively poor family and lived in relative poverty as leader of the Jerusalem church, yet the style of the ossuary is consistent with wealth.

13. Josephus referred to James as the “brother of Jesus, who was called Christ” (Ant. 20.9.1 [§200]).

This differs from the James Ossuary which calls James the “son of Joseph.” In addition, Josephus’s descriptor, “who was called Christ” offers a definitive link to Jesus of Nazareth that is not present in the ossuary.


(by Ryan Jaroncyk)

As a layman, I have followed the “Jesus Family Tomb” and “James, son of Joseph, brother of Jesus” Ossuary controversies fairly closely since 2007. In an attempt to bring greater clarity to those of us who are not archaeological, biblical, or philosophical scholars, I have composed lists summarizing what appear to be the pros and cons of each position. All of my research was conducted online and focused on reading scholarly blogs and magazine articles, scholars’ personal websites, book excerpts, and popular science and news media sources.

I tried to read a variety of views across the theological and philosophical spectrum. For example, I consulted sources which offered the opinions of scholars such as James Tabor, Aryeh Shimron, James Charlesworth, Jodi Magness, Eric Meyers, Christopher Rollston, Joel Baden, Candida Moss, Hershel Shanks, Stephen Pfann, Steve Caruso, Oded Golan, Gary Habermas, Ben Witherington III, Joseph Fitzmyer, Camil Fuchs, André Lemaire, Mark Goodacre, Robert Cargill, and James Davila.

I view these lists as a “running tally” of the ongoing arguments and not the final word. Critique is welcome and future revision is likely as more data emerges.

Arguments Given in Favor of Identifying the Talpiot Tomb as the Tomb of Jesus

1. The Talpiot Tomb is consistent with the style of a 1st-century tomb.

2. Most scholars are willing to accept the full “Jesus son of Joseph” inscription as being accurately translated.

3. Jesus is called the son of Joseph in the Gospel of John.

4. Mary (and/or Joseph) had ancestors with the name (or variant) Matthew, at the level of grandfather and older.

5. The tomb contains 4 out of 6 names of Jesus and his immediate family (of those who are specifically named in the New Testament).

6. The tomb is suggestive of wealth, which is consistent with the wealthy Joseph of Arimathea, who is recorded as having buried Jesus.

7. Removal of Jesus’s body from an original tomb could be consistent with the Jewish authorities’ claim in the Gospel of Matthew.

8. Removal of Jesus’s body from an original tomb could be consistent with Mary Magdalene’s initial wondering if a gardener had moved the body, as recorded in the Gospel of John.

9. Most ancient Jewish rabbis were married, which means the hypothesis that Jesus may have been married to Mary Magdalene is at least a theoretical possibility.

10. The Talpiot Tomb does not necessarily negate any of the (first burial) accounts recorded in the Gospels.

11. Some ancient sources place Mary’s burial in Jerusalem.

Arguments Given Against Identifying the Talpiot Tomb as the Tomb of Jesus

1. At least two Aramaic scholars contest the “Jesus” portion of the “Jesus son of Joseph” inscription on one of the ossuaries. They believe “son of Joseph” is an accurate translation, but “Jesus” is not.

2. Two or three other “Jesus son of Joseph’ ossuaries have been discovered from this period.

3. Statisticians have estimated that 1 in 79 males, in and around Jerusalem during the time of Jesus, were called “Jesus son of Joseph,’ which would have been approximately 1,000 men.

4. In Acts and Mark, the earliest Gospel, Jesus is often called “Jesus of Nazareth,’ not “Jesus son of Joseph.’

5. In the earliest Gospel, the Gospel of Mark, Jesus is referred to as the “son of Mary,’ not the “son of Joseph.’

6. Mary was the most common name of Jewish females in the 1st century. 1 in 5 girls was named Mary.

7. The inscription, “Mariah,” for Mary is not unique. It is found on several other ossuaries.

8. Joseph, Mary, Jesus, and their immediate family were residents of Nazareth. Therefore, a family tomb in Nazareth, not Jerusalem, would have been more likely.

9. The Talpiot tomb bore hallmarks of a tomb for the wealthy. There is no indication that Jesus’s family was wealthy.

10. The Talpiot Tomb bears no sign, mark, or inscription of the wealthy Joseph of Arimathea.

11. The Talpiot Tomb was ornate and visible. Therefore, it did not appear to be covertly concealed so as to hide its potentially “myth-busting’ contents from potential public investigation.

12. There is no record of a “Mattia” or Matthew in Jesus’s immediate family.

13. Jesus’s other brothers (or cousins), Simon and Judas, are not present in the tomb. The Judas/Judah ossuary in the tomb belongs to a Judas/Judah who was the son of Jesus, not Joseph.

14. Besides the Mary and Mariamne e Mara ossuaries, there are no other female inscriptions despite Jesus having sisters (or female cousins).

15. [Removed]

16. There is no record of Jesus ever having had a child.

17. There is one other tomb on the Mount of Olives which contains several of these same names grouped together.

18. These type of tombs were often multi-generational and could contain bones of close relatives, extended family, adopted family, step family, and even cherished servants and slaves, making any precise familial relationships difficult to decipher.

19. All four Gospels record Jesus being buried in a tomb, by himself, by Joseph of Arimathea without ever being moved to a different tomb at any time.

20. If a small group of Jesus’s followers secretly moved his bones to the Talpiot tomb, who were they and why are there no records or even legends about them?

21. If Jesus’s bones were moved to the Talpiot Tomb, then his closest apostles, particularly Peter, James, John, and Paul were either terribly deceived or terrible deceivers themselves. Keep in mind that we have records of Peter, James, and Paul being martyred for their faith in the resurrected Christ.

22. How were James and Paul unaware of the Talpiot Tomb? Both were former skeptics who spent a good deal of time in and around Jerusalem. And James was a family member.

23. How was the Talpiot Tomb hidden from hostile sources, i.e., Roman or Jewish authorities who would have loved to squash the central teaching of Christianity at its outset?

24. Why didn’t Jesus’s subsequent family members or small band of followers who knew of the Talpiot Tomb ever destroy his alleged ossuary in order to preserve the myth of a resurrected Christ?

25. Even according to most critical (i.e., skeptical) scholars, the bodily resurrection of Christ was believed and taught no later than five years after the crucifixion. A “spiritual” resurrection was not so taught.

26. The gable and rosette of the Talpiot tomb are consistent with a pre-Christian Jewish symbol. It is not indicative of an early Christian tomb.

27. Mary Magdalene is never called Mariamne in any early historical literature. She is always called Maria.

28. There is no ancient literature that reports of a romantic or conjugal relationship between Jesus and Mary Magdalene.

29. The Mariamne Mara ossuary inscription is likely better interpreted as “Mary and Martha” or “Mary known as Martha.”

30. There is no DNA control sample of Jesus’s family to make any meaningful genetic comparisons.

31. DNA testing proved no positive links.

32. There were at least 14-18 different individuals’ bones in the tomb, making it difficult to decipher whose bones were actually tested.

33. The statistical analysis is based on several critical assumptions. If even one assumption is incorrect, the odds of this being the family tomb of Jesus begin to drop.

34. There is a 2nd-century reference and plentiful 4th-century literary evidence which points to the Church of the Holy Sepulcher as the likely burial tomb of Jesus. Numerous archaeological digs have provided evidence that is consistent with such a view.

35. The “Mariamne e Mara” ossuary has nothing of Magdala or Migdal in its inscription.

36. The “Mariah” ossuary denotes no family relationship despite a few other local ossuaries providing specific “daughter of” and “wife of” inscriptions.

37. The “Mariamne e Mara” inscription is in Greek, while the others are in Aramaic. Mary Magdalene hailed from a relatively poor Jewish fishing village, where Aramaic, not Greek, would have been spoken.

38. Non-Judean families, if buried in the Jerusalem area, often identified their specific place of origin on their tombs. Jerusalem residents did not. Jesus’s family was non-Judean, yet none of the ossuary inscriptions bear geographical identifiers.

39. If the “Yoseh” ossuary is Jesus’s brother Joses, then where is Joseph’s ossuary?

40. If “Yoseh” is Jesus’s brother, why does his tomb inscription not include “son of Joseph” as well?

41. If “Mattia” is an ancestor of Mary (or Joseph) where are the ossuaries of their more proximal ancestors?

42. If “Yoseh” was Jesus’s brother, why did they not find a “Yoseh son of Joseph brother of Jesus” inscription? Jesus was a prominent figure and many scholars consider the “James son of Joseph brother of Jesus” inscription to be authentic and identified with Jesus of Nazareth.

43. At this time, the vast majority of scholars, from all across the philosophical spectrum, reject the view that this is the tomb of Jesus of Nazareth and his family.

44. It is the universal testimony of the earliest apocryphal writings, as well as the early church historians and theologians, representing both Eastern and Western Christianity, that Mary was buried in Jerusalem, not the Talpiot area.

Recently a new claim was made that the James Ossuary originated from the Talpiot Tomb, thus greatly strengthening the case that the tomb belonged to Jesus’s family. Tomorrow I’ll share a summary of arguments for and against that claim.