Brief Reflections of an Epigrapher on Talpiyot Tombs A and B

Professor Christopher A. Rollston, Emmanuel Christian Seminary

Much can, and no doubt will, be said about the proposal (and new volume) of Professor James Tabor and Filmmaker Simcha Jacobovici that Jesus of Nazareth was married to a woman of Magdala named Mary, that they had a son named “Judas” and that their tomb has been found in East Talpiyot (Jerusalem).  Of course, this all started several years ago with the same individuals proposing the same basic thing about a tomb dubbed “Talpiyot Tomb A.”  Recently, these same scholars investigated a tomb that they have dubbed “Talpiyot Tomb B,” and they believe that this new tomb demonstrates the veracity of their previous conclusions.

The following is a summary of my conclusions (see my longer treatment of this topic in a following post for my more detailed analysis):

  1. The technology that was used to explore Talpiyot Tomb B is stunning and auspicious.  Certainly the applications for this technology will be both broad and deep.  Tabor and Jacobovici are to be congratulated for leading in the development and employment of these robotic and photographic technologies, and it is hoped that these technologies can be refined even more during the coming months and years.  The technology is the sensational component of this venture.
  2. While the epigraphic finds from these tombs are somewhat important and interesting, they are not earth shattering.
  3. There is no necessary connection between these two tombs and there is no convincing evidence that some famous figure of history (such as Jesus of Nazareth, Joseph of Arimathea, or Mary Magdalene, etc.) was buried in these tombs.
  4. Furthermore, these tombs do not provide any evidence that can be construed as suggesting that Jesus of Nazareth and Mary Magdalene were married or had a child together.
  5. I highly doubt that the inscription in Talpiyot Tomb B refers to a resurrection.  In any case, many Jews during the Second Temple Period believed in a resurrection, long before the rise of Christianity. Thus, even if there were some evidence for a notion of a resurrection in this tomb, it does not necessarily follow that this was a Jewish-Christian tomb.
  6. I am certain that the tetragrammaton (i.e., “Yahweh”) is not present in the four-line inscription from Talpiyot Tomb B.
  7. The ornamentation on the ossuary in Talpiyot Tomb B that Tabor and Jacobovici wish to consider “Jonah and the Whale” (with Jonah pitched on the nose of the whale!) is a nephesh tower or tomb façade, just as Eric Meyers has stated.  Such an image is quite common in the corpus of ossuaries.
  8. The word “Mara” was quite common in Aramaic, for many centuries.  It is a masculine singular noun.  It could be used as a way of referring to an official of some sort, a respected person, a husband, or a patriarch of a family.  It has been argued that “Mara” could be a shortened form of the name “Martha” at times and as such it could be feminine.  That is possible, but the main point is that it is not prudent to assume that the “Mara” in these ossuary inscriptions must be feminine.  After all, they are most easily understood as masculine, not feminine.

Summary: Ultimately, therefore, I would suggest that these are fairly standard, mundane Jerusalem tombs of the Late Second Temple period.  The contents are interesting, but there is nothing that is particularly sensational or unique in these tombs.  I wish that it were different.  After all, it would be quite fascinating to find a tomb that could be said to be “Christian” and to hail from the very century that Christianity arose.  Moreover, it would be particularly interesting to find a tomb that could be associated with Jesus of Nazareth and his family.  But, alas, the evidence does not suggest this.  A basic methodological stricture is this: dramatic claims require dramatic and decisive evidence.  In this case, Tabor and Jacobovici have strained the evidence far beyond the breaking point.  As Eric Meyers said in his blog post: “we may regard this book as yet another in a long list of presentations that misuse not only the Bible but also archaeology.”


6 thoughts on “Brief Reflections of an Epigrapher on Talpiyot Tombs A and B

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