November 30, 2020

Resources and Responses to the “Tomb of Jesus and His Family” Story

popupossuary.jpgThere are continuing updates below. I am not adding everything, but only pertinent and helpful links. Send me any that you have. And pray as Ben Witherington III prepares to speak on this. That will be interesting, given his involvement in the James Ossuary case.

UPDATE: The original post and updated links are here. Much fuller details in this news story. And the Discovery Channel website for the movie is here. More connections to the DVC/Gnostic gospels in this information.

UPDATE II: Check out this summary of theological considerations from the Discovery Channel Web site. It’s indicative of the level of DVC-style scholarship at work here.

Resurrection: It is a matter of Christian faith that Jesus of Nazareth was resurrected from the dead three days after his crucifixion circa 30 C.E. This is a central tenet of Christian theology, repeated in all four Gospels. The Lost Tomb of Jesus does not challenge this belief. In the Gospel of Matthew (28:12) it states that a rumor was circulating in Jerusalem at the time of Jesus’ crucifixion. This story holds that Jesus’ body was moved by his disciples from the tomb of Joseph of Arimathea, where he was temporarily buried. Ostensibly, his remains were taken to a permanent family tomb. Though Matthew calls this rumor a lie circulated by the high priests, it appears in his Gospel as one of the stories surrounding Jesus’ disappearance from the initial tomb where he was buried. Even if Jesus’ body was moved from one tomb to another, however, that does not mean that he could not have been resurrected from the second tomb. Belief in the resurrection is based not on which tomb he was buried in, but on alleged sightings of Jesus that occurred after his burial and documented in the Gospels.

Ascension: It is also a matter of Christian faith that after his resurrection, Jesus ascended to heaven. Some Christians believe that this was a spiritual ascension, i.e., his mortal remains were left behind. Other Christians believe that he ascended with his body to heaven. If Jesus’ mortal remains have been found, this would contradict the idea of a physical ascension but not the idea of a spiritual ascension. The latter is consistent with Christian theology.

UPDATE III : A Jerusalem Post story, with this good quote.

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.”

The interesting thing here is that the original archaeologist sees nothing of any interest to the story of Jesus of Nazareth, and this has all been hauled out before.

UPDATE IV: You can download documentation by the original archaeologist from the Discovery website. He gives the numbers of occurrences of names on artifacts in the Israeli collections.

UPDATE V: James White looks carefully at the researchers and asks good questions. A “Must Read” post to prepare for this. I was also bothered by the varying languages used on the names, especially the Latin name, and White hits the nail: this was NOT the time for a Jewish person to be going by a Latin name. To say the least. Especially if you are Mary, and the Romans executed your son as a criminal. He also says better what I tried to say below: It all goes against everything we know from every source. With the exception of Joseph of Arimethea’s involvement, I agree completely. White also tracks down the reference to the James Ossuary being photographed in the 1970’s. Important detail, because we are going to be told it was in that tomb until 1980.

UPDATE VI: Ben Witherington III weighs in. This is the information and perspective many of us were waiting for.

James White has updated, with more links.

Paul Maier (who wrote this book 🙂 responds.

CNN is now in, as are most of the major media. If Witherington is right, the James Ossuary inclusion is a big mistake.

This Breitbart story is the second one I’ve read taking issue with the translation of the names themselves. This has a number of critical responses.

UPDATE VII: Time has checked the direction of the wind, and this story is listing all kinds of criticisms.

GetReligion, the religion and media analysis blog, is finally in on the story.

Newsweek has the most extensive coverage yet

The technique Jacobovici uses to “prove” the match between the James ossuary and the Talpiot tomb is a technology he calls “patina fingerprinting,” which he and his coauthor Charles Pellegrino (a scientist who helped Cameron write “Ghosts of the Titanic”) essentially invented for the purposes of this project. By comparing the mineral content of shards from the Talpiot ossuaries with shards from James, and by looking at them under an electron microscope with the help of a CSI specialist, Jacobovici and Pellegrino say they have a match.


UPDATE VIII: Andreas Kostenberger has a superb summary of the case against.

Darrell Bock adds his opinion, with some good stats on name frequency.

UPDATE IX: Richard Bauckham weighs in.

Craig Bloomberg responds.

UPDATE X: A post-show essay by Ben Witherington slams the door shut. This will be my last update.

(Original post starts here.) Here’s a quick outline of how I am going to respond to the claim that “They found Jesus’ tomb.” I’m still cooking this one, and may edit the post as I go along. Feel free to add your ideas in the comments.

a. Claiming to have found the tomb of any historical person takes a pretty clear shot at a very small target. It’s easy to get close and miss. Archeology is full of stories of claims to have found the tombs of famous persons that later proved wrong. The more tantalizing the target, the more the temptation to rush to judgment. The possibilities of fraud, mistakes and distortion are endless. More than caution is needed. Think Shroud of Turin.

b. The primary way of seeming to hit the bullseye (when, in fact, you’ve missed) is to shoot, then adjust the target so it appears you’ve hit the center. So in this case we have a collection of common names in the very general proximity of where Jesus lived and died. You might compare this to the chances of finding colonial era gravestones with the names George and Martha in the area of Mt. Vernon, Virginia. It is evidence that initially impresses, but the longer the entire picture is examined, the more problems appear, some of them impossible to resolve. (How many Marys and Jesuses are already in the New Testament?)

c. One of the first concerns needs to be dating. The press releases so far say “a two thousand year old” tomb. Unfortunately, if we are going to say this is the grave of Jesus of Nazareth, we’re going to need the kind of dating precision that rarely occurs in archeology. Approximations and generalizations won’t do.

Most of us recall what we recntly went through with the “Ossuary of James,” a “relic” that supposedly proved the existence of Jesus. It’s in court this week, still a matter of contention. (Interestingly, the film-makers are attempting to say the James box is from this tomb as well.)

The comparison of Cameron to the showman in “King Kong” is appropriate. When you are selling a movie starring your experts only, you are on a downhill grade for scholarly acceptance.

d. The next move is to, of course, discount the Gospels entirely except when they support your “shot.” We’re already familiar with this from DaVinci Code. In this approach, the Gospels are accurate when they tell what we want (Jesus was buried in Jerusalem, had a mother named Mary, a follower named Mary, etc.) but are completely unreliable otherwise. Even if we set aside the Christian belief in the reliability of the Gospels, we need to be able to make a case for why we accept some of the Gospel report, and then utterly reject others. I don’t see this happening.

e. There are some significant facts in this story at variance with the Gospels. Some we are familiar with. Others are new in this particular attack on the Gospels.

-Jesus’ family lived in Jerusalem. (A possibility of a very thin type, with scant evidence.)
-Jesus was married. (There is absolutely nothing to support this in the Gospels. It’s a fantasy of the critics. )
-Jesus was married to Mary Magdalene. (Ditto on no support except in a stray gnostic Gospel.)
-They had a child or children. (More ditto)
-Jesus was given an upper class burial in the Jewish community. (Apparently, if you are persuaded that the tomb in question is the tomb of Joseph of Arimethea given to Jesus and his family, then the discovery intersects with that portion of the New Testament evidence. I find it unlikely that the body and family of Jesus are in a tomb that anyone could have found easily, is absent any later Christian veneration and is, overall, a burial with honor for the family of a Roman criminal.)
-Jesus’ family was buried in this tomb after him, again, with upper class burials. (We’re now in the realm of the completely unknown.)
-The Jewish opponents of Christianity at no time had any idea where this tomb was located. (This is another major problem, especially if you say this is the tomb of Joseph of Arimethea.)
-All of this is somehow compatible with the origins of Christianity. (For me, this is where the wheels now come completely off the car. The New Testament says that it wasn’t the death or burial of Jesus that began the Christian movement as we know it, but the resurrection appearances of a crucified, rejected messiah, which were in conjunction with an empty tomb. (See Craig or Wright.)

f. In order for the “new” story to work and this tomb to be the tomb of Jesus, we have to give up major portions of what we’ve always “known” about Jesus from the ancient tradition of the Church (1 Corinthians 15) and adopt, basically, major features of the DaVinci conspiracy story. Why should any cautious person do this? Why are the obviously antagonistic attacks of Hollywood, Israeli archaeologists and U.S. television producers viable and credible views of all the evidence?)

No doubt, there will be many who will be selling the idea that this is exactly what we should do. These coffins will be the verification of the DaVinci version of a human, married Jesus who left descendants and whose family is buried together with honor.

I’ll let the reader decide if…

1) all of this is more likely than the scenario given us in the Gospels.
2) has the explanatory power to give us the Christian movement in the first century and beyond.
3) convinces the average person that Paul and the Gospel writers are all suppressing the truth and promoting a lie.

g. In this instance, some of the Jesus Seminar voices are actually helpful. In general, they question the burial of Jesus. J.D. Crossan, for example, rejects the burial of Jesus entirely as completely untenable, believing the body of Jesus was thrown in the trash for the dogs and vultures to eat. He believes the burial/empty tomb tradition is an addition.

In the current context, I would suggest that Crossan’s scenario is far more likely than a complete reworking of everything we know about Jesus in order to buy the “evidence” that he and his entire family were upper class Jerusalem Jews buried in ossuaries, even if the tomb is the tomb loaned by Joseph of Arimethea. Paul says that Jesus’ death was a curse. The Gospels say his burial at all was unlikely. The opponents of Jesus-Jesus and Roman- would have welcomed his body as evidence the disciples were liars. Jesus was a Galilean as were all of his family.

When the talk starts this week, remember: the target has moved. The shot was never close.

NOTE: Anyone dealing with the question of historical evidence about Jesus needs to read Luke Timothy Johnson’s The Real Jesus. It’s a quick read and will do you a world of good in this kind of debate. Johnson is the only major scholarly writer on Jesus willing to speak candidly about the limitations of historical evidences and the amazing conclusions of those enamored with historical method. For Johnson, the church is explainable only as a living result of the resurrection (amen).


  1. Thanks, Michael. Well said.

    Pretty historically arrogant to think we found what the Jewish and Roman authorities could not – the tomb of Jesus. And, if they could not find the tomb or the body, why not? Only reasonable explanation is: Jesus’ body was hidden by his followers to perpetuate their mythical spin on Judaism. But if so, why would those same followers be dumb enough to publicly label his tomb, bury him with his family and unravel the secret? Why would they be martyred fro a lie? Cameron’s theory is about to be yesterday’s folly, somewhat akin to the opening of Al Capone’s vault.


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