Eric Meyers’ review of “The New Jesus Discovery”

Posted in: Archaeology, Archaeology and Bible, Archaeology in the News, Epigraphy
Tags: biblical archaeology, Jesus Tomb response
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Review of “The New Jesus Discovery”
(Simon and Schuster 2012, ISBN 978-1-4516-5040-2)
Eric M.Meyers, Duke University

For nearly two millennia Christians have venerated the site believed to be where Jesus was buried. The Church of the Holy Sepulcher was built at a place where liturgical celebrations were held in honor of Christ’s death and resurrection, even before the destruction of the temple in 70 CE. Emperor Hadrian in 135 CE built his Capitoline temple there, and a shrine to Aphrodite was built adjacent to it. Constantine, the first emperor to embrace Christianity (in the 4th c. CE), decided to build a church there to commemorate the Resurrection. The temple was thus torn down; construction of Constantine’s church began in 326, and the church was dedicated in 335 CE according to Eusebius of Caesarea (Life of Constantine, 3:28). No other site in all Christendom has been more venerated and more often authenticated than the Church of the Holy Sepulcher. Nonetheless, on the basis of very little evidence James Tabor and Simcha Jacobovici would have us throw all of this tradition away and identify a Jewish family tomb in East Talpiot, several kilometers south of the Old City on the road to Bethlehem, as the “new” family tomb of Jesus.

We know these authors from the James Ossuary controversy of some years back, when they identified a tomb as the James Ossuary Tomb or East Talpiot A. Now called the new “Garden Tomb,” it is less than 200 feet from Talpiot B, or what they call the “Patio Tomb,” and which they explored with a robotic camera just two years ago. The major discovery in the new tomb is an inscription and image on an ossuary. They describe the image and depiction of Jonah being spit out of the mouth of a big fish, which they take to be proof of the family of Jesus’ belief in his resurrection. The only image of the ossuary drawing published. The book is truly much ado about nothing and is a sensationalist presentation of data that are familiar to anyone with knowledge of first-century Jerusalem. Nothing in the book “revolutionizes our understanding of Jesus or early Christianity” as the authors and publisher claim, and we may regard this book as yet another in a long list of presentations that misuse not only the Bible but also archaeology. in the book (on page 91, fig.30) is very washed out, and any fish imagery is hardly identifiable let alone that of a fish spewing out a human. In fact, the image in the book is so poorly reproduced in my copy that one suspects it has been intentionally altered so that no one could see what the the image really is. Indeed, the image actually seems to resemble a nephesh, or tomb monument, like those found in many places in Jerusalem in the first century CE and depicted on ossuaries of this very period (so for example in fig. 13 or 30 of Rahmani’s A Catalogue of Jewish Ossuaries, 1994). A nephesh is the above-ground monument of a tomb that marks the tomb below and the one(s) buried there. Also it would not be surprising that a Jewish burial of the first century CE, even in an ossuary that was a secondary burial, might be related to a belief in resurrection. This belief was central to Judaism at the time according to first-century literary sources, and it was equally held by early Christians. But a belief in resurrection is not so much the question here as is the issue of the names on the ossuaries in the two-named tombs, which the authors identify with the family of Jesus. Remarkably they claim that the names included the child and spouse of Jesus, a claim that can hardly be supported by the material data from the tombs. Much of their argument involves defending the assumption of the placement of the James ossuary in the adjacent tomb, the so-called “Garden Tomb,” and defending their readings of the inscriptions in that tomb even those readings have been rejected by the overwhelming majority of the scholarly community.

The book is truly much ado about nothing and is a sensationalist presentation of data that are familiar to anyone with knowledge of first-century Jerusalem. Nothing in the book “revolutionizes our understanding of Jesus or early Christianity” as the authors and publisher claim, and we may regard this book as yet another in a long list of presentations that misuse not only the Bible but also archaeology.

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25 Comments for : Eric Meyers’ review of “The New Jesus Discovery”
    • Jim
    • February 28, 2012

    Nicely said.

    • Tomek
    • February 28, 2012

    Do the authors give any evidence that this alleged fish is placed in fact in this way as is in the picture, i. e. horizontally?

    • Helena
    • February 28, 2012

    I saw the first oversion of this psot this morning and found it highly confusing-your reivsied version clears up several questions I had. Not that I'm taken in by Jacobi, you udnerstand,but there is still a stement in your essay I find incredible:

    "The Church of the Holy Sepulcher was built at a place where liturgical celebrations were held in honor of Christ’s death and resurrection, even before the destruction of the temple in 70 CE."

    What could the evidence for this possibly be? I don't mean for the site being the location of Christ's tomb, or any any pre-70 rituals being held there (both of which seem so incredible they hardly need discussion), but just evidence that anyone even believed such a thing in antiquity? I would guess Eusebius might mention some tradition to that effect that was adduced at the time my namesake destroyed the temple of Jupiter (if I can find my copy of the Church History in the next few minutes, I'll look it up)? But surely the reason she chose that site was because it provided an excuse to destroy a temple of Jupiter, not because of any really connection of the spot to the life or even early cult of Jesus (which would have been easy enough to manufacture-along with the bits of the true cross she 'found')

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    • James D. Tabor
    • February 28, 2012

    I want to thank my friend and colleague Eric for this brief review. I have presented my preliminary analysis in an article posted at…. I look forward to responsible feedback from colleagues. To characterize this substantial work as "much ado about nothing" is I think unfortunate, but I will leave it to other readers to examine the article and judge.

    I am surprised by two aspects of Eric's post. First, the argument that since the Church of the Holy Sepulcher was the historical tomb of Jesus therefore another tomb in Jerusalem could not conceivably belong to him and his family. This simply is illogical. Unless one believes Jesus body was taken to heaven, which historians do not entertain, since the tomb at the traditional spot is "empty," one would have to assume the body was moved and reburied-whether at Talpiot or elsewhere. This is an idea that Amos Kloner has suggested and I find convincing (see reference in my article). In other words, the gospels report, especially John 19, that Joseph of Arimathea who had charge of the burial put Jesus body in a temporary place that happened to be near the place of crucifixion. It was an emergency burial due to the Passover holiday hours away. There is no indication in Mark, Luke, or John that that tomb, just near the execution spot, just happened to be his own. So if Jesus' body was moved to a permanent place, at least hypothetically, there could well be a tomb of Jesus and his family in Jerusalem. Whether the Talpiot tomb has enough supporting evidence can be debated.

    Second, I can not see any possible resemblance to a nephesh or funerary monument in the iconographic image we have found. Eric and I discussed this when we first met and went over this evidence. I have since looked at every example of these pillars or monuments on the extant ossuaries and I can't find a single example that resembles what we have found in the Talpiot "patio" tomb. Also, there are the little fish, the diving fish on the side, and since the "ball" which I take to be the "head" of the figure, is pointed down, this "tower" would be upside down-which surely makes no sense.

    I would not even dare to cover in a blog response the entire subject of the Talpiot "Jesus" tomb but I did try to responsibly summarize the evidence as I see it in the new book, The Jesus Discovery. I think those who read it might find it is well argued and certainly presents a plausible case. I think the 2nd tomb, on the same ancient estate, further reenforces the argument.

    Finally, I have been rather surprised that my colleagues, whom I respect very highly, have apparently not kept up with even the most basic research on the Talpiot Jesus tomb-see the list of posts just on Bible Interpretation-not by me but by others. All the standard things one constantly hears ("the names are common," etc.) have been shown to be highly suspect it seems very few have kept up with the research here:…

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    • Stephan Pickering/Ch
    • February 28, 2012

    Shalom & Erev tov…the quackery of Mr Tabor and his cohorts continues. As a Torah Jew, who has studied the Hebrew and koine Greek sources for 50 years, allow me to point something out to him a few factualities. 'Yeshua benMiriam' was the fabrication of a Graeco-Roman-Egyptian revelatory death cult. There was no parthenogensis, no discipleship, no 'passion', no 'empty tomb', and no 'resurrection'. The koine Greek forgeries (the 'new testament') date from the late 2nd century CE/early 3rd century CE, and 'Paul' as more than likely the creation of those around Marcion. From the 1st century CE-3rd century CE, there is a deafening silence because the koine Greek forgeries did not exist (and, please, don't insult me if you want to discuss the church's forgeries of passages Josephus did NOT write). From the 3rd century CE to date, we have seen hoaxes, forgeries…and a relentless exterminationist paradigm leading to the gates of Auschwitz, whose stench and smoke hang over Mr Tabor's 'empty tomb'. There is no 'basic research', Mr Tabor, and you and Simcha Jacobovici are profoundly mistaken. Why? Because, as a 21st century CE Jew, I am living, breathing reminder crucifictionism (including you) have never had a covenant, that all of your 'basic research' is a reprehensible phantasy. You owe genuine scholars an apology with your 'Talpiot Jesus' tomb. STEPHAN PICKERING / Chofetz Chayim benAvraham

    • Tim Stidham
    • February 28, 2012

    I'm with Eric Myers on this one. It doesn't look like a fish. And did anyone miss that there is a little story in the JEWISH canon about a guy being swallowed by a fish? Why this would be considered a dead-lock for a Christian symbol escapes me. So even if it were a fish what would it prove? And the sign of Jonah would've been irrelevant if Jesus had not been physically resurrected and the bones were there to bury. So Christians wouldn't have used it.

    Tabor plays coy with actual belief in the resurrection in his comment above. To me, 1 Corinthians 15:1-11 allude to written tradition within 3yrs of Jesus' death that the first Christians believed Jesus had physically risen and ascended. No other theological stream. Witnesses still alive, which were then interviewed for the writing of the Gospels. Tabor may rule this out as a possibility due to his presuppositions, but that in no way points to his research as being valid enough to overturn traditional views.

    But we're just getting started with the problems in his story here. Now we are to believe that this is a family tomb, then Jesus' family tomb. And a Jesus who just happens to fit with how he wants to reinterpret the faith for post-moderns. Research way too thin, TV ratings a clear motive.

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    • Richard Bauckham
    • February 29, 2012

    The image looks more like an amphora than a nephesh to me. Note the handles on either side.

    • Robert Feather
    • February 29, 2012

    Strange that we are still arguing over a highly speculative claim for the place of Jesus' burial. The nature of Jesus' affiliations are far more relevant to where he might have been finally laid to rest. If we are to follow the New Testament testimony, he was estranged from his family at the very early age of 12 and there is little reason to assume his family would have had much say in the matter, even if they were still alive. The logical conclusion is that his disciples would have taken charge of the body and enterred him in a place he had close connections to. Where that might be is also fairly obvious.

    A wealth of recent research indicates that the gospel stories borrowed heavily from the sectarian texts from Qumran. All the evidence points to Jesus as having, at one time in his life, been a member of that Community. The New Testament, amongst many other pointers, confirms this possibility in Luke 22: 8-13. Even the Pope, Pope Benedict XVI, has come out openly and stated he now believes that Jesus partook of the Passover supper according to Essene rites.

    Very few scholars seem to have taken on board, or even be aware of, the detailed evidence presented in ‘The Secret Initiation of Jesus at Qumran’. This spells out the location of Jesus’ burial near to Qumran. For anyone who bothers to access the information the data is overwhelming and in a different league to the highly presumptive Talpiot conjectures.

    One piece of the jigsaw should help encourage a serious examination of this claim. When shown a photograph of the alleged location of Jesus' grave, Jozef Milik knew exactly where the site was and when asked if it was the true place of Jesus’ burial, he remained silent for two minutes and was clearly reluctant to answer. Eventually he said: “There are things I would not want talked about until at least 50 years after my death.”

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    • Theo
    • February 29, 2012

    I am not really expert of this subject or even a superficial ¨toucher¨ on this issue or any other in Biblical Archaeology but how (also) can we assume that if even Jesus didn't ressurect at all, How we can support that His tomb was used to other ¨merely¨ humans, assuming we are dealing with a death of God-son and more likely that His disciples would make sure that this place was kept untouched or impure of any sinful human beings. I am asking (but if there is any answer please let me know). I don't know but I can assume based on bible that the romans and the pharisaeus tried to investigate the missing body and tried to search the body to prove that Jesus didn't ressurect at all… Please, I am really ignorant about this subject, don't get me wrong…

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    • Tracey Lee Skaar
    • March 1, 2012

    People who are SO quick to judge something false before patient and unbiased examination of all the FACTS would seem to have a greater hidden Agenda than selling a book or marketing a documentary. 

    • Matt Sutherland
    • March 2, 2012

    The "fishy" image appears to be an Ethiopian dining basket called a Mesob. An ancient, travelling, device to store and carry food that is still widely popular in Ethiopian culture today. There is artful hatching in the Mesob's mid-section, like most (if not all) Mesobs around today. If the image you show above is turned counter-clockwise onto its side you can see the knob at the top of the basket's cover and two carrying straps dangling at its sides. There's really no mistaking what it is.

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    • Tim Noonan
    • March 6, 2012

    Eric Meyers, most of the worlds historical and contemporary philosophers and scientists would state that truth is more important than temporal tradition. But thank you for a 'near perfect' example of 'group think.'

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    • Susan Burns
    • April 13, 2012

    Remarkable insight to the person that first suggested this was Jonah's whale. Who was this? Tabor? Simcha? Who first said it?

    • F Wesley
    • May 7, 2012

    I'm always discouraged when people use science to proselytize. I'm disappointed that public libraries will not only purchase such books, but put them on display as though people should read them.

    The trickery, false preaching methods slithery christian writers will go through to continue ridiculous bronze age myths proves itself that their religion is false, as they are supposed to be the examples of honesty… yet just look at how they act! These writers, Tabor and Simcha could care less about doing research in a indifferent manner, they could care less about honesty. Their goal is to indoctrinate the masses of unsuspecting…. a shameful example of what Christians are turning to to attack good science.

    • kirsten bourbeau
    • September 29, 2016

    I am greatly disappointed in that you do not admit to any of the uncanny evidence found supporting the Tomb of Talpiot. I am convinced, and have noticed that the only people that attack the tomb with bias are those that have “faith.” I expect more from those involved with research. What are so many afraid of? The lies told to convince the public in your favor are a gross misuse of power- which has turned millions away from The Church. It is an injustice to God and to Jesus that the lies continue to be told. Further, it is the lies that keep us from peace, from God.

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