Has The Family Tomb Of Jesus Been Discovered?
Opinion is divided. There are as many people who are convinced as there are people who think that there is absolutely no chance of this being the Jesus family tomb. Let’s first see why some people think that it is.
Some people believe that the very location of the Talpiot tomb is indicative of its significance. The importance of the location can only be appreciated if one understands the location of the Temple. It was aligned from east to west with the Holy of Holies towards the west end of the Temple. It is generally agreed that from west to east there were “the Holy of Holies, the sanctuary, the altar and court of the priests, the Court of the Women (Court of Prayer), and the eastern wall, separated from the Temple by a portion of the Court of the Gentiles”.
Importance Of The Alignment Of The Talpiot Tomb
This alignment has to be seen with reference to the location of the four or five gates of the old city. These gates were aligned east to west in such a manner that the rising sun shone directly through the gates into the sanctuary. Of these gates the Nicanor Gate is of particular importance because it is this gate that appeared on early Roman coins and it is this gate that is symbolized over the entrance to the Talpiot tomb. This is the gate through which Jesus rode into Jerusalem and then onto the Temple coming down from the Mount of Olives. Besides there is a significant relationship between the latitudinal coordinates of the Talpiot tomb and the coordinates of the Temple Mount.
It was believed that it is through the eastern gate that the Messiah will come at the time of judgment. Therefore it is of significance that the Talpiot tomb is aligned to this gate and that a chevron is symbolized over the entrance to the tomb.
It has been argued by some that it is reasonable to expect that the tomb of Jesus would be in Jerusalem rather in Galilee. Although assuming that Nazareth may have been the hometown of Jesus and his brothers and sisters, it is quite likely that all of them had relocated to Jerusalem following Jesus. John Dominic Crossan an Irish-American New Testament scholar, has reasoned that it is possible that James the brother of Jesus moved to Jerusalem long before the crucifixion of Jesus (1).
Another reason why the tomb of Jesus should be in Jerusalem and not in Nazareth could be because Jesus had his roots in Jerusalem and not in Galilee. It is quite likely, the notion that Nazareth was Jesus’ hometown originated because of an attempt at retrospective prophecy fulfillment – the confusion arising from Isaiah’s prophecy and the word netzer. It is possible that Jesus could have been called a Nazirite – an ascetic like Samson. Or the word netzer could simply mean born from the line of David. In this case Jesus’ hometown would be Jerusalem.
Names Belonged To The Family Of Jesus
Individually, the names found on the ossuaries from the Talpiot tomb were names that were very common during that period, for them to all be found in one tomb is indeed rare. Since they are all names of individuals who belonged to the immediate or extended family of Jesus has led many people to believe that this is indeed the Jesus family tomb.
It is generally agreed that the names on the ossuaries from the Talpiot is a close match to the family of Jesus of Nazareth that cannot be brushed aside without due consideration, when you add the ossuary of “James son of Joseph” to the list it is almost slam dunk that this tomb is indeed the tomb of the Biblical Jesus. But then there is more than just one problem why this cannot be done.
Why The Talpiot Tomb Cannot Be The Tomb Of Jesus
Rahmani who catalogued all the ossuaries in the possession of the state of Israel opined that “In Jerusalem’s tombs, the deceased’s place of origin was noted when someone from outside Jerusalem was interred in a local tomb.” It was the custom that ossuaries of deceased belonging to Judean families bear inscriptions that indicated the ancestry or lineage by naming the father. For instance the ossuary of Judah would bear the inscription “Judah son of John”. However ossuaries of deceased from outside Judea would bear an inscription giving the place of origin of the individual. Even the Gospels and historians such as Flavius Josephus refer to the difference in inscriptions between Judean and non-Judean ossuaries. Because the Talpiot ossuaries make no such distinction, some scholars believe that the tomb is not the tomb of the family of Jesus of Nazareth, but is in fact no more than the tomb of a Judean family (2).
Not Enough Reason To Conclude This Is Not The Tomb Of Jesus
But this is not reason enough to conclude that the Talpiot tomb is not the family tomb of Jesus of Nazareth. Consider that of the 895 ossuaries belonging to the State of Israel and catalogued by Rahmani, only 227 are inscribed. And yet of the ten ossuaries found in the Talpiot tomb, six bear inscriptions. This is much higher than the general average of about 25%. Besides this, the ossuary bearing the inscription the “Yeshua bar Yehosef”, is the only ossuary with such an inscription. In spite of the limited patronymics the cluster of names on the ossuaries of the Talpiot tomb has statistical relevance. If Jesus had a family tomb, it would have been logical to expect the names of the individuals listed in the Talpiot tomb. The only name that may come as a surprise is that of Judah who some think is the son of Jesus that he had with Mariamne or Mary Magdalene
Hollywood director James Cameron and Canadian investigative journalist Simcha Jacobovici made a documentary about the Talpiot tomb and called it The Lost Tomb of Jesus. The documentary was aired once on Discovery Channel. Britain’s Channel 4 which was also supposed to the air the documentary canceled the program. As expected the highly explosive nature of its conclusions attracted a lot of criticism from academics and many Christian clerics (3).
However a prominent New Testament specialist from Princeton Theological Seminary, Prof. James Charlesworth, was sufficiently interested to organize a conference in Jerusalem in January 2008. He invited over 50 archeologists, statisticians and experts in DNA, ceramics and ancient languages, to debate as to whether or not the Talpiot tomb is the tomb of Jesus Christ.
The Tomb Of Jesus – An Endless Debate
Although the deliberation as to whether this is indeed the tomb of Jesus will go on for years to come, the participants voted unanimously that the tomb, now sealed should be reopened and studied further. Jacobovici told Time magazine “I feel vindicated”. “It’s moved from ‘it can’t be the Jesus’ family tomb’ to ‘it could be’” (4).
One argument against the Talpiot tomb being the tomb of Jesus is that Jesus was too poor to afford a rock-cut tomb. While Magness supports this contention she concedes that one of the followers of Jesus was Joseph of Arimathea, an influential and wealthy man. It is not unreasonable to expect that Joseph of Arimathea to have provided a rock-cut tomb for Jesus. After Jesus, James his brother took over the leadership of the movement, and in a short time he had such a sizeable following that even Josephus mentioned it in his Antiquities. It is likely that one of his followers could have provided Jesus with a permanent burial place. Besides if the family of Mary, Martha, and Lazarus, of Bethany could afford to bury their dead in a rock-hewn tomb, why not Jesus (5) (6).
Shimon Gibson of the IAA has stated that from all the many excavations in the Jerusalem area no trench graves were discovered and that only rock-cut tombs were prevalent, giving rise to the conclusion that even average Jews in Jerusalem practiced burial in tombs rather than trench graves (7).
However it must be remembered that with the exception of Matthew, none of the other evangelists make any mention of where Jesus was buried. Even John whose source is independent of Mark and Luke says nothing about whose tomb Jesus was buried in. Only in Matthew is Joseph of Arimathea described as a “rich man” who buries Jesus in “his own new tomb”. This seems like a tendentious attempt by Matthew to show that this was the fulfillment of the prophecy of Isaiah who talks of a suffering servant who is buried in the tomb of a rich man (8).
In John we learn that “in the place where he was crucified there was a garden, and in the garden a new tomb, where no one had ever been laid. So because of the Jewish day of Preparation, as the tomb was close at hand, they laid Jesus there” (John 19:41-42). What John said comports well with the primary which is Mark. Both agree that this was a burial that was hurriedly done. John states clearly that it was a temporary burial that was necessitated as it was the day of preparation as the next day was the Sabbath (9).
To further show that Jesus was poor and could therefore not afford a rock-cut tomb Jodi Magness Professor, University of North Carolina, claims that “the Romans generally reserved crucifixion for the poorer classes, who they regarded as common criminals.” This is however not the case. Prof. Magness is most likely not right on both counts: neither was Jesus poor nor was he considered a common criminal. Even if Jesus was poor and considered a common criminal by the Romans, Professor Magness seems to forget the capabilities of faithful followers. There are earlier referred instances to bear this out. According to Mark (Mark 6:29) the followers of John the Baptist placed his body in a tomb. From the Syriac “Ascents of James” we learn that the followers of James bury the murdered Stephen in a tomb near Jericho. So even if Jesus was poor, and a condemned criminal, surely his followers would have found a tomb in which to bury him.
The reason cited by some scholars as to why Jesus could not have had a tomb in Jerusalem is that being from Nazareth, it was reasonable to expect that if he did indeed have a tomb, it would have been in Nazareth and not in Jerusalem. And even if he did have a tomb in Jerusalem some scholars say that the ossuaries would have borne in addition to names the place of origin of the individual such as “Jesus of Nazareth, Jose of Nazareth, Matthew of Capernaum, Mary of Nazareth, Mariamene of Magdala, and Judah son of Yeshua from Nazareth” (10).
Amos Kloner concluded based on the totality of the finds at Talpiot that the tomb can be dated “from the end of the first century B.C.E. or the beginning of the first century C.E., until approximately 70 C.E.” He also estimated that the bones of approximately 35 people were recovered from the tomb. His approximation is that there were the bones of 17 people inside the ossuaries and the bones of another 18 outside.
However according to Shimon Gibson who was part of the excavation team “the number of interments in the cave is unknown, but, basing himself on data obtained from other tombs that have been studied, Kloner believes that it might have been about thirty-five individuals. Unfortunately, this is mere guesswork since the anthropological remains from the Talpiot tomb were never examined or quantified” (11).
Another reason cited as to why the Talpiot tomb is not the tomb of Jesus is that if there was a tomb with his physical remains, all that the enemies of Jesus had to do to discredit him was to point to the tomb. In that case the belief and the teaching that Jesus resurrected bodily would have had no validity. Further there is no tradition of the Talpiot tomb ever being venerated by the followers of Jesus.
Scholars say that the ossuary supposed to have contained the physical remains of Jesus could not possibly be that of the biblical Jesus for the simple reason that it bore no embellishment or title befitting a master or messiah (12).
However others are convinced that the Chevron above the entrance and the cross mark on the ossuary of Jesus think are sufficient adornment, considering that the Essenes did not want to draw attention either to themselves or the tomb. If others did not know about the existence of the tomb is because it was the guarded secret of a secluded group.
Dominic Crossnan reasons that there would have been no tomb to mark the burial of Jesus as he “died a criminal’s death on the tree of shame” and would have been “eaten by dogs”. However others counter this, saying that although the Romans used crucifixion “to maintain peace and order and punish rebellious provincials for incitement to rebellion and acts of treason” archeological evidence and Jewish laws show that victims of crucifixion were not prevented from being buried. As the bible narratives show, Pilate did not object to Arimathea burying Jesus.
The names in the Talpiot tomb so closely match the members of Jesus’ family that a statistician from Toronto, Canada argued that the chance of the cluster of names being found in one tomb was 1:600. However Bock and Wallace claim that the names involved are too common for the hypothesis to be true. Enlisting the support of Tal Ilan, Stephen Pfann, and Amos Kloner, the two state that a mere 16 names account for 75% of the names in use then.
Each of the names from Talpiot made up 3% to 9% of the population of that time. The duo claimed that “…these names are not just common, but extremely common.” But this line of reasoning is untenable considering that the name Jesus on an ossuary occurs only four times in Hebrew/Aramaic and five times in Greek, for a total of nine out of 227. This argument is also weak considering that one cannot equate commonness of individual names to the occurrence in a tomb of the group of names (13).
Take the name Joseph, it was quite common – 14% of the population. But if you take the specific Aramaic form of Yose occurs only thrice. That by no means makes it common. The bottomline is that it is not the frequency of names that one must consider but the cluster of names. As such when considering a “Jesus family tomb” the question to ask is: What is the probability of there being a 1st century Jewish family tomb with a Jesus son of Joseph, a brother named Yose, and a mother named Mary being found? This is the material with which a statistician can analyze correlate the results with what a historian might then hypothesize as the probability of these specific names being found in a pre-70 CE Jesus tomb (14). In fact of the several tombs that were excavated in the Jerusalem area over the last 200 years not a single tomb was found even with the limited group of names: Jesus son of Joseph, Maria, and Yose.
As regards the reburial of Jesus Prof. Meyers states “”The issue of why Jesus would have had a secondary burial after having his body taken from the tomb of Joseph of Arimathea and buried elsewhere on the third day and then again a year later in an ossuary is a serious issue that cannot easily or readily be resolved… least, the practice of reburial in an ossuary is most often associated with the most pious individuals, namely, the Pharisees, and it is difficult to associate Jesus with the more conservative wing of that group”(15).
Even if the burial practice of the Pharisees was followed in the case of Jesus the tomb contained within the Church of the Holy Sepulcher could not have been his final resting place as the tombs within it were interconnected (16). At best the tombs within the Sepulcher as Kloner suggests must have been “a borrowed tomb” that was owned by the Sanhedrin.One fact is quite evident: this was not the tomb of a rich man – the tomb of Arimathea. Either that or as Matthew claims the prophecy of Isaiah 53:9, was not fulfilled (17).
For this reason the tomb inside the Church of the Holy Sepulcher cannot be the final resting place of Jesus. And for reasons already stated neither does the Garden Tomb qualify. Merely by elimination the Talpiot tomb is the most likely the family tomb of Jesus.
Joe Zias stated in an interview in late 2005 and early 2006 that he first noted “Jesus son of Joseph” when the “Jesus Son of Joseph” documentary was being made. According to him the cluster of names was so “unusually impressive” that if they were not of verified provenance he would have been suspicious of forgery (18).
What Simcha Jacobovici, Prof. Tabor and others have tried to show is that the Talpiot tomb could possibly be the tomb of Jesus. However critics have trashed this claim without assigning any substantial refutation. As long as there is no proof to the contrary it is likely, based merely on the one ossuary of “Yeshua”, that the Talpiot tomb is the tomb of Jesus. There has been no proof to the contrary (19).
If this is the family tomb of Jesus there are some questions that need to be answered. The glaring question is why all the members of Jesus’ family were not buried in this tomb. This may or may not have been the case. According to Amos Kloner it is quite possible that the tomb contained more than ten ossuaries and that it was also possible that the bones of more than one individual were kept in a single ossuary. Besides, according to Amos Kloner the bones of approximately 35 people were recovered from the Talpiot tomb –approximately the bones of 17 people inside the ossuaries and the bones of another 18 outside.
So it is quite possible that Jesus’ entire family could have been buried in this tomb, except that no attempt was made to study the bones for possible identifications.
Please also read my blogs:
“The Talpiot Tomb – An Accidental Discovery” at bit.ly/1mrgdgQ
“Is This The Ossuary of Mary Magdalene?” at bit.ly/1RTTpna
“Judah – Was He The Son Of Jesus And Mary Magdalene?” at http://bit.ly/1Z4LNO0
“Jesus And Mary His Mother – Are These Their Ossuaries?” at http://bit.ly/1mF9sbx
”What Happened To The Bones From The Talpiot Tomb?” at http://bit.ly/1IUmRHa
”How Important Is The Chevron above the Entrance to the Talpiot Tomb?” at
(1) Koopmans, John. (2008). Talpiot Tomb – Fascinating New Discovery. Retrieved 2011, from http://www.bib-arch.org/scholars-study/jesus-tomb-01.asp
(2) Ben-David, Yirmәyahu .(2008). Burning Issues: Talpiot Tomb Complex. Retrieved 2011, from http://www.netzarim.co.il/Museum/Sukkah03/Burning%20Issues%20Talpiot%20Tomb.htm.
(3) McGirk, Tim. (2008). Jesus ‘Tomb’ Controversy Reopened. Retrieved 2011, from http://www.time.com/time/world/article/0,8599,1704299,00.html
(4) McGirk, Tim. (2008). Jesus ‘Tomb’ Controversy Reopened. Retrieved 2011, from http://www.time.com/time/world/article/0,8599,1704299,00.html
(5) (Finegan, Archaeology of the New Testament, pp. 359-374).
(6) Ben-David, Yirm?yahu . (2008). Burning Issues: Talpiot Tomb Complex. Retrieved 2011, from http://www.netzarim.co.il/Museum/Sukkah03/Burning%20Issues%20Talpiot%20Tomb.htm
(7) Gibson, Shimon. (2009). The Final Days of Jesus. The Archaeological Evidence. HarperCollins Publishers Inc. New York.
(8) Two Burials of Jesus of Nazareth and The Talpiot Yeshua Tomb. (2007). http://www.sbl-site.org/publications/article.aspx?articleId=651
(9) Two Burials of Jesus of Nazareth and The Talpiot Yeshua Tomb. (2007). http://www.sbl-site.org/publications/article.aspx?articleId=651
(10) Franz, Gordon. (2012). The So-Called Jesus Family Tomb ‘Rediscovered’ in Jerusalem. Retrieved 2012, from
(11) Gibson, Shimon. (2009). The Final Days of Jesus. The Archaeological Evidence. HarperCollins Publishers Inc. New York.
(12) Evans, Craig & Feldman, Steven. (2007). The Tomb of Jesus? Wrong on Every Count. Retrieved 2011, from http://www.bib-arch.org/scholars-study/jesus-tomb-02-b.asp
(13) Talpiot Dethroned. (2000-2012). Retrieved 2011, from http://www.bibleinterp.com/articles/talpiot357921.shtml
(14) Tabor, James. (2007). The Talpiot Tomb: Separating Truth from Fiction. Retrieved 2011, from http://www.jesusdynasty.com/blog/2007/04/
(15) Ben-David, Yirm?yahu . (2008). Burning Issues: Talpiot Tomb Complex. Retrieved 2011, from http://www.netzarim.co.il/Museum/Sukkah03/Burning%20Issues%20Talpiot%20Tomb.htm
(16) Obscurities around the Tomb of the Holy Sepulcher. (2000-2012). Retrieved 2011, from http://www.bibleinterp.com/articles/tombs358017.shtml
(17) Tabor, James. (2008). Archive for the ‘Talpiot Jesus Family Tomb’ Category. Retrieved 2011, from http://www.jesusdynasty.com/blog/category/talpiot-jesus-family-tomb/page/2/
(18) Tabor, James. (2007). The Talpiot Tomb: Separating Truth from Fiction. Retrieved 2011, from http://www.jesusdynasty.com/blog/2007/04/
(19) Ben-David, Yirm?yahu . (2008). Burning Issues: Talpiot Tomb Complex. Retrieved 2011, from http://www.netzarim.co.il/Museum/Sukkah03/Burning%20Issues%20Talpiot%20Tomb.htm
(Fig 1) Model reconstruction of the Nicanor gate in Jerusalem http://www.magnoliabox.com/art/370985/model-reconstruction-of-the-nicanor-gate-in-jerusalem-in-66-ad