The Jesus Family Tomb
By Kyle Pope
February 25, 2007, Simcha Jacobovici (an investigative journalist and
filmmaker) and James Cameron (the director of the movie Titanic)
announced to the world the discovery of what they claimed is the “Jesus Family
Tomb.” The next day, Harper Books released a book entitled Jesus Family
Tomb. Then, only a few days later, on March 4, 2007 the Discovery Channel
aired a documentary entitled The Lost Tomb of Jesus. This coordinated
effort makes the claim that the filmmakers have “discovered” a family tomb
which not only belonged to Jesus’ family, but actually contained the bones of
Jesus, His wife (Mary Magdalene) and their son.
The Talpiot Tomb
The book and
film appeal to a tomb discovered in 1980 which was accidentally broken open,
when a construction crew was building an apartment complex in Talpiot, Israel; a suburb that lies between Jerusalem and Bethlehem. Archeologists excavated red clay about one
meter high from the tomb and uncovered and removed ten ossuaries (i.e. bone
boxes). Of these ossuaries, six had the following inscriptions: IAA 80-500: “Of
Mariamne [also called] Mara” (Greek); IAA 80-501: “Yehuda, son of Yeshua”
(Aramaic); IAA 80-502: “Matya” (Aramaic); IAA 80-503: “Yeshua, son of Yoseph”
(Aramaic); IAA 80-504: “Yose” (Aramaic); and IAA 80-505: “Marya” (Hebrew-Latin).
The ossuaries were cataloged and stored with the Israeli Antiquities Authority
(IAA) and the tomb was sealed over to allow construction on the site to
the three archaeologists who first investigated the tomb (Amos Kloner, Yosef
Gat & Shimon Gibson) saw this as simply a First Century tomb with names
common to the period, filmmaker Jacobovici sees something more. He offers the theory
1. The Yeshua bar Yoseph ossuary is Jesus of Nazareth;
2. The other ossuary inscriptions represent Marya - His
mother; Yose – His brother (as stated in Mark 6:3); Matya – either the apostle
Matthew or a relative from Mary’s lineage (Luke 3); Mariamne – which he argues is
Mary Magdalene - His wife; and Yehudah bar Yeshua - His son!
3. Either Jesus was not resurrected or did not ascend
bodily; and finally,
4. The statistical probability of this cluster of names not
representing Jesus’ family is 1 in 600. Thus it is essentially “proven” that
this is “Jesus Family Tomb.”
An important figure in this
entire affair is an archaeologist named Amos Kloner. Kloner was one of three
archaeologists that excavated the tomb. In 1996 he published the official
report of the findings, “A Tomb with Inscribed Ossuaries in East Talpiyot, Jerusalem” in the IAA journal Atiquot 29(1996):15-22. Kloner is the one who
actually introduced Jacobovici to the find in 2003, when he was doing work on
the now famous James Ossuary.
Kloner is featured in the film, he very forcefully rejects Jacobovici’s theory
that this is the tomb of Jesus. According to Kloner there are more than 900
buried tombs just like the “Jesus” tomb within a 2 mile radius of Talpiot. Of
them, 71 bear the name Jesus. (“Bones of Contention Archaeologist Disputes
Claims in James Cameron’s ‘The Lost Tomb of Christ.’” by Matt Gutman. ABC
News). He suggests that the name of “Jesus son of Joseph” has been found
on three or four ossuaries and that these are common names. (“Kloner: A great
story, but nonsense.” By David Horovitz. Jerusalem Post, Feb. 27,
2007). He has even gone so far as to say that “It makes a great story for a TV
film, but it’s impossible. It’s nonsense.” (“New film claims Jesus buried in
Talpiot” By David Horovitz. Jerusalem Post, Feb. 25, 2007).
Which One Is Jesus?
mentions, a great number of ossuaries have been found with a “Yeshua” or Jesus
inscription. Yet, Jacobovici has drawn the conlusion that this tomb is Jesus
of Nazereth. Why not some of the others? In 1873 Claremont-Ganneau found,
near the Mount of Olives a number of ossuaries with inscriptions including the
name “Yeshua" (="Jesus”) commemoratively inscribed on the outside (“Jerusalem
Burial Cave Reveals: Names, Testimonies of First Christians.” By Jean Gilman Jerusalem Christian Review). Two other ossuaries were discovered in 1945
by E.L. Sukenik, at Talpiot that bear the inscriptions “Jesus, Woe!” and
“Jesus, Lament!” (A Brief Survey of Early Christian Inscriptions as
Witnesses to Christian Faith. By Walter M. Shandruk). Why wouldn’t we
rewrite history for these finds?
The “Jesus” Inscription
The fact is that
the “Jesus” inscription itself, which was found in the Talpiot tomb is not
beyond question. It is not only the sloppiest of the six, but it has a large X
mark presumably before the name. The two publications of this ossuary, L.Y.
Rhamani’s Catalog of Jewish Ossuaries, and Kloner’s report both put
question marks beside the translation “Yeshua”(?). If the X mark is understood
to be the Hebrew letter taw (as Jacobovici himself argues in the
conclusion of his book) the name is not Yeshua but Teshua “meaning
“salvation” (cf. Psalm 144:10). Teshua is a name still used in modern Hebrew.
Both Rhamani and Kloner conclude that the reading is Yeshua largely because of
the other ossuary with the inscription “Yehuda, son of Yeshua.” Even if the
inscription is “Yeshua,” in Kloner’s report he writes, “Yehoshua/Yeshua, is the
sixth most common name used during Hellenistic and Roman periods in the land of
The “Mary” Inscription
inscription “of Mariamne [also called] Mara” has its own problems. The
filmmakers appeal to a 4th century apocryphal Acts of Philip to
identify Mariamne with Mary Magdalene. Although it is unclear from this very
work whether, this woman is Mary Magdalene, they appeal to this because of its
authoritative portrayal of Mariamne (i.e. teaching, baptizing, etc.) This
leads the filmmakers to suggest that “Mara” should be understood from the
Aramaic to mean “Master.” They ignore Kloner’s report which writes, “The name
Mariamne, a variant of Miriam … is inscribed on more than 20 ossuaries in
Israel State Collections…Mara, a contraction of Martha, is used here as a
second name. This too is common…” (p. 17). Jacobovici does not even mention
this possibility. Why? It does not support the “pop-culture,” DaVinci Code
notion that sees Mary Magdalene as the wife of Jesus and leader of the
The James Bone Box
One of the 10
ossuaries taken from the Talpiot tomb has disappeared since its discovery. The
film makers suggest that the missing ossuary may be the famous “James” ossuary
brought before the public in 2002, which reads - “Yacob, son of Yoseph, brother
of Yeshua.” This ossuary, which from the antiquities market into the possession
of collector Oded Golan is currently a part of a forgery trial against Golan.
Based upon studies of the patina (the chemical coating that accumulates on
ancient objects) the filmmakers actually make a good case that it may have came
from this tomb. The final word on the legitimacy of this object has yet to
Problems With the Theory
1. It is a wealthy tomb in Judea. From all that we know about Jesus and His family it is difficult to explain why
a poor Galilean family from Bethlehemite stock, would have a fairly expensive
tomb in Jerusalem. According to Kloner the tomb belonged to a middle- or
upper-middle-class Jewish family during the first century and the cave was in use
for 70-100 years by the family (“Biblical scholars reject filmmakers' claim
about tomb of Jesus” By Judith Sudilovsky Catholic New Service).
2. The tomb
was disturbed sometime in the past. Although it is touched upon in the
book and in Kloner’s report, the film doesn’t even mention this fact. Kloner
writes, “The blocking stone (golal), apparently removed removed in
antiquity was not found…Sealing stones for the kokim [niches] were
apparently removed in antiquity and were not found” (p. 16). This fact
presents the possibility that some of the inscriptions could be graffiti.
A comparison of the “Jesus”
inscription with the with the Judah bar Yeshuah inscription at the least
presents this possibility. In the book, in a fictional narrative portion, the
assertion is made that the disturbance of the tomb was during the crusades, yet
Kloner simply says “antiquity.” Why arbitrarily say the crusades? To support
the DaVinci code idea that it was Templars who discovered some secret!
3. The names are common
– or even imitated after the gospel was spread. The statistics game that
the filmmakers play relies upon assumptions about the population of Jerusalem
2000 years ago. It presumes to know what cannot be known.
4. The filmmakers make too
many “pop-culture” assumptions. They assume the Mary as Jesus’ wife. They
assume Mariamne is Mary Magdalene. Why not Martha (from “Mara”)? They assume
that the Judah is Jesus’ son and that the Jose is Jesus brother. Why not
conclude that Jose=Joseph is the father of the Jesus’ inscription? If so, even
if the Jose were to be Jesus’ brother, the Judah son of Jesus would be great
nephew, not his son!
5. They are too quick to
accept apocryphal sources and reject the canonical. Jacobovici treats as
authoritative a 4th century apocryphal text, or Gnostic sources
which are themselves contradictory and yet rejects the 13,000 manuscripts of
the New Testament
The Testimony of Scripture
The testimony of
Scripture makes it clear that Jesus ascended before their eyes (Acts 1:9-11).
His bones, although a part of His glorified resurrection body were not left
behind (I Corinthians 15:47-53). John took Mary into his house (John
19:25-27). John was the “Disciple whom Jesus loved.” (John 21:20-24). Jesus
came in flesh. He arose & ascended (I Corinthians 15:1-7). The filmmakers
act as if their assertions do not conflict with the hope of the gospel, but the
fact is that our own hope of resurrection rests upon Jesus’ resurrection. If
Jesus’ glorified body was left behind, what hope is there for the Christian? First
Thessalonians 4:13-17 in describing the judgment says that we will “caught up” with
the body that will “rise” just like Jesus (cf. I John 3:2).
What Can We Say Then?
this Jesus’ bone box? – No. It is either a common name or graffiti placed
their either innocently or for malicious purposes. Is this the bone box of
Jesus of Nazareth? – No. If it even does read “Yeshua” it is another Joshua of
the first century. Does this prove Jesus was married with a child? – Absolutely
not. That is an assumption with no proof. The fact is that if He had been
married it would not have been wrong. Yet there is no record of it and no
record of their persecution. On the other hand there is clear evidence of the
persecution of His brothers (see Eusebius, Ecclesiastical History Bk 3.20).
Could this be the tomb of Jesus’ family? – Perhaps. Or, even early Christians
or Jews who knew the names of the gospels. Even if that were the case it
changes nothing about what has been revealed to us about Jesus Christ of
Nazareth, who remains “the same yesterday, today and forever” (Hebrews 13:8).