The Importance Of A Proper Burial
Before we get to the bones from the ossuaries excavated from the Talpiot tomb let us see the importance of a proper burial from a Jewish perspective.
A proper burial according to Jewish tradition was considered a sacred duty. This was especially so during late antiquity in the Mediterrean world. The first reason of the Jewish people for a decent burial was for the sake of the dead themselves. This thinking has been given special attention in the scriptures in the story of Abraham where he is said to have purchased a burial cave for Sarah (Gen 23:4-19). The importance of decent burial is also borne out in the accounts of the patriarchs and monarchs of Israel. (1)
The second reason for a proper burial was for the sake of the land – to avoid desecration of the land of Israel. This is emphasized in the Mosaic Law: “And if a man has committed a crime punishable by death and he is put to death, and you hang him on a tree, his body shall not remain all night upon the tree, but you shall bury him the same day, for a hanged man is accursed by God; you shall not defile your land which the Lord your God gives you for an inheritance” (Deut 21:22–23).
This sentiment is also borne out in Ezekiel: “They will set apart men to pass through the land continually and bury those remaining upon the face of the land, so as to cleanse it . . . Thus shall they cleanse the land” (Ezek 39:14, 16).(2)
During the first century predominantly Jews used a limestone box called an ossuary for storing the bones of dead family members. One reason for this was to save space. This was done during secondary burial. At first the dead were interred in sepulchers and the bodies were left to decompose for a couple of years. Then the bones were collected and kept in a limestone box or ossuary. (3)
In addition to space-saving the other and significantly more important reason for the use of ossuaries was the belief that with the disintegration of a deceased’s flesh, sins were also removed and the individual would become eligible for resurrection (Romans 7:24).
The Bones from the Talpiot Ossuaries
On the basis of published material it is not clear which of the anthropologists worked on the bones that were recovered from the Talpiot tomb.
It is also not clear which bones came from which ossuary. It should be remembered that it was common for the bones of more than one individual to be stored in a single ossuary. The report regarding the bones does not mention any evidence of any of them belonging to a crucified person. Anthropologists were aware of how the bones of a crucified person will look like as they had similar evidence of a crucified person from the tomb at Givat Hamivtar. If there was similar evidence from the Talpiot tomb surely it would have been reported. This conclusion is said to have been drawn by Dr. Shimon Gibson (4).
However Shimon Gibson, although not an archeologist, should know that not all victims of crucifixion have a nail stuck in their heel. A closer look at the Givat Hamivtar heel will show that there is a piece of wood also stuck to the bone. Apparently the nail had lodged itself in a tough knot and could not be extracted clean and as a result a piece of the tough wood came off together with the nail. Besides no one examined the bones for any tell tale signs of crucifixion. If anyone had noticed any bruising of the bone it could only have been Yosef Gath. And if he did notice anything there is no report to that effect (5).
Nevertheless other scholars are of the opinion that this line of reasoning is flimsy. While the doubt regarding which set of bones came from which ossuary may hold true in the case of the ossuaries that were not inscribed, such a question does not arise in the case of the inscribed ossuaries. If no sense was made of the bones, it is without doubt the consequence of sloppy handling (6).
There Is No Report As To What Happened To The Bones
In an interview with Peter Nathan, Joe Zias expresses the opinion that one of two eventualities occurred regarding the bones from the Talpiot tomb:
One that the religious people could have got hold of them or two that the archeologist Yosef Gath gave them to the religious people. Joe Zias also states that in spite of turning his office upside down he could neither locate the bones nor any report as to what happened to them (7).
While this is the conclusion of Joe Zias, Amos Kloner wrote in “A Tomb with Inscribed Ossuaries in the East Talpiot,” Atiqot 29 (1996) that the bones from the Talpiot ossuaries “were in an advanced stage of disintegration” However Kloner makes no mention of the three skulls that Shimon Gibson recorded in his layout drawing of the tomb. He goes on to say that the bones were reburied once the excavation was completed. However since Kloner was not involved in the excavation, it is apparent that he wrote his report based on the report of Yosef Gath who had by this time died (8).
A Contradictory Statement About The Bones
Although Shimon Gibson had declared that by the time he reached the Talpiot site on March 30, 1980, the first day of excavation, the ossuaries were already removed.
Nonetheless Gibson states that the bones “weren’t removed or even examined until they reached the Rockefeller Museum, at which point they were recorded. The bones were then looked at.” Joe Zias the anthropologist responsible for examining the bones contradicts Gibson by stating that the bones were never received by the Rockefeller Museum and therefore the question of their disappearing does not arise. In fact it was the responsibility of Joe Zias to “note the number of buried individuals within the ossuaries, estimate their sex and age, and look for evidence of pathologies on the bones”.
Joe Zias confirms the report of Kloner that when the tomb was first entered the stones were removed from the kokhim and that the bones were scattered. He expressed the opinion that this was the consequence of the tomb being robbed twice: once in antiquity and then by the construction workers who exposed the tomb (9).
However not everyone agrees with this robbery angle since Jewish tombs were not like the Egyptian tombs and contained no valuables. What is most likely is that the bones were given to “the ultra-orthodox for reburial” (10).
Later in 2007 Kloner told the Jerusalem Post almost three decades after the excavation that the bones were in advanced state of decomposition and due to haredi – the most conservative form Orthodox Judaism – demands no anthropological tests were conducted on the remains and they were given to the Religious Affairs Ministry to be buried along with remains removed from various other excavation sites. The bones were then buried by the Jewish burial society and the whereabouts is not known (11).
However, Joe Zias who was the curator at that time contradicts this statement saying that when he took custody of the ossuaries, they were empty (12).
As per some sources the ossuaries with the bones still inside them were transported to the IAA on the day of the discovery and given the numbers 500-509. This seems more likely since the task assigned to the excavating team was to simply remove the ossuaries as quickly as possible, recode and tag the findings and make an accurate survey map. Therefore the bones coming out at the excavation stage is most unlikely (13).
In all likelihood the bones were still in the ossuaries when they were received by the IAA. There is no record of when or who gave them to the Ultra-Orthodox for reburial. Apparently this seems to have been done without any documentation. Or is Mr. Joe Zias simply looking for something to shift the blame to (14).
Other Typical Tomb Items And Were Three Skulls Were Also Found
In addition to the ossuaries and other typical tomb items, also found were three skulls on the floor.
Simcha conjectures that the Crusaders or Knights Templars entered the tomb sometime during the 12th century and arranged the three skulls in an “odd and clearly ceremonial configuration.” He even wonders if these skulls were that of Templar leaders that were buried in this tomb as a mark of honor. Even Shimon Gibson suggested that the skulls were arranged in a triangle pointing to the Temple Mount. Even as regards the three skulls, while Shimon Gibson clearly shows their location inside the tomb, Kloner mentions only one in his report. It is possible that the three skulls were at one time on the shelf of the arcosolias and then rolled off due to seismic activity. Two of the skulls apparently remained where they fell, while the third seems to have rolled some distance across the floor (15).
According to Simcha there were more than three skulls. According to some reports children living in the vicinity were said to have been playing with skulls and bones. One of the neighbors living there is said to have collected two bags full and handed them over to the authorities. Simcha thinks that the skull and femur from the tomb inspired the Templar symbol – the skull and crossbones (16).
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
(1)(2)Jewish Burial Traditions and the Resurrection of Jesus, Craig A. Evans, Acadia Divinity College
(4) Ben-David, Yirmәyahu. (2008). Burning Issues: Talpiot Tomb Complex. Retrieved 2011, from http://www.netzarim.co.il/Museum/Sukkah03/Burning%20Issues%20Talpiot%20Tomb.htm
(5) Ben-David, Yirmәyahu. (2008). Burning Issues: Talpiot Tomb Complex. Retrieved 2011, from http://www.netzarim.co.il/Museum/Sukkah03/Burning%20Issues%20Talpiot%20Tomb.htm
(6) “Jesus Tomb” Controversy Erupts—Again. (n.d.). Retrieved 2011, from http://www.bib-arch.org/scholars-study/jesus-tomb-01.asp
(7) Ben-David, Yirmәyahu. (2008). Burning Issues: Talpiot Tomb Complex. Retrieved 2011, from http://www.netzarim.co.il/Museum/Sukkah03/Burning%20Issues%20Talpiot%20Tomb.htm
(8) Keohane, Steve. (n.d.). Documentary claim – tomb of Jesus and the entire (postulated) Holy Family found in Jerusalem cave. Retrieved 2011, from http://www.bibleprobe.com/jesustomb.htm.
(9) Ben-David, Yirmәyahu. (2008). Burning Issues: Talpiot Tomb Complex. Retrieved 2011, from http://www.netzarim.co.il/Museum/Sukkah03/Burning%20Issues%20Talpiot%20Tomb.htm.
(10) “Jesus Tomb” Controversy Erupts—Again. (n.d.). Retrieved 2011, from http://www.bib-arch.org/scholars-study/jesus-tomb-01.asp
(11) “Jesus Tomb” Controversy Erupts—Again. (n.d.). Retrieved 2011, from http://www.bib-arch.org/scholars-study/jesus-tomb-01.asp
(12) Ben-David, Yirmәyahu. (2008). Burning Issues: Talpiot Tomb Complex. Retrieved 2011, from http://www.netzarim.co.il/Museum/Sukkah03/Burning%20Issues%20Talpiot%20Tomb.htm
(13) Ben-David, Yirmәyahu. (2008). Burning Issues: Talpiot Tomb Complex. Retrieved 2011, from http://www.netzarim.co.il/Museum/Sukkah03/Burning%20Issues%20Talpiot%20Tomb.htm
(14) Ben-David, Yirmәyahu. (2008). Burning Issues: Talpiot Tomb Complex. Retrieved 2011, from http://www.netzarim.co.il/Museum/Sukkah03/Burning%20Issues%20Talpiot%20Tomb.htm
(15) Franz, Gordon. (2007). The So-Called Jesus Family Tomb ‘Rediscovered’ in Jerusalem. Retrieved 2011, from http://www.biblearchaeology.org/post/2007/03/the-so-called-jesus-family-tomb-rediscovered-in-jerusalem.aspx
(16) Franz, Gordon. (2007). The So-Called Jesus Family Tomb ‘Rediscovered’ in Jerusalem. Retrieved 2011, from http://www.biblearchaeology.org/post/2007/03/the-so-called-jesus-family-tomb-redisco
Ossuary from the nearby Talpiot “Patio” Tomb with skeletal remains Inside. IAA Photo taken in 1981 upon receipt of the ossuary at the Rockefeller lab. http://www.simchajtv.com/the-talpiot-jesus-tomb-what-might-have-been-the-bones/
(Fig 2) The skeleton of a crucified man https://40.media.tumblr.com/8a550967ff36a083151cb9da91ce4654/tumblr_nyihryoCMv1ukgx4io1_400.png