By Eric M. Meyers and Christopher Rollston, ASOR Blog Guest Editors for March 2012
It has come to the attention of the ASOR Blog that a newspaper article about the so-called “Patio Tomb” in East Talpiyot was published in Hebrew in DAVAR on May 22, 1981 (this tomb has also been called “Talpiyot Tomb B”). The article was entitled, “Haredim Prevent Removal of Ossuaries from Ancient Tomb,” written by the late archaeologist and journalist, Zvi Ilan. Within the article, Ilan notes that religious extremists prevented the Israel Antiquities Authority (IAA) in 1981 from excavating the tomb. Although Amos Kloner (the excavator for the IAA) wished to excavate the tomb, he was not permitted do to so, nor was he even permitted to remove artifacts from the tomb (although he managed to remove a small ossuary belonging to a child). In fact, he was forced to abandon his attempt to write a full scientific report. Kloner’s incomplete report is mentioned briefly in Tabor and Jacobovici’s book.
Recently I have posted on the blog of the American Schools of Oriental Research my readings, and some plausible renderings into English, of the four-line (fourteen letter) Greek inscription from Talpiyot, along with images visually demonstrating that this inscription does not refer to “Yahweh” (i.e., the tetragrammaton), but rather to “bones.” Thus, this inscription is just the sort of thing that is well attested in Late Second Temple and Early Post-Biblical funerary contexts (here is this article: http://asorblog.org/?p=1989 ). Continue reading →
By: H. Gregory Snyder, Professor of Religion, Davidson College
Back in October, James Tabor invited me to join in a conversation that was underway between himself, Richard Bauckham, and Jim Charlesworth. Tabor submitted eleven photos of the ossuary bearing the four-line inscription for our inspection, and all of us engaged in a lengthy debate about possible readings.
For the record, Bauckham and I were not given the so-called Jonah image until later, when the people at the Discovery Channel forwarded an advance copy of the film for our scholarly comment. At that time, I expressed the opinion that the figure on that ossuary represents an amphora or a vessel of some kind, however non-standard, and cannot be taken as an image of Jonah, and nothing has occurred to dissuade me from that judgment. I say this to make it clear that in nearly all matters of consequence, I do not share the conclusions presented in the book or the film. But James Tabor has been forthcoming and above-board in all our exchanges, and we have enjoyed a productive conversation.
Christopher A. Rollston, Toyozo Nakarai Professor of Old Testament and Semitic Languages, Emmanuel Christian Seminary
The publication of a four-line Greek inscription from a tomb in East Talpiyot (Jerusalem) has generated substantial interest, especially because of the dramatic claims surrounding it (Tabor and Jacobovici 2012). James Tabor has argued that this inscription reads as follows: “DIOS IAIO UPSŌ AGB.” He translates it as “Divine Jehovah Lift up, Lift up.” He believes this to be a Christian tomb (in fact, he states that it is arguably that of Joseph of Arimathea) and that this inscription is to be understood as reflective of an early Christian confession of a belief in the resurrection (and he has also argued that some of the ornamentation on a different ossuary from the same tomb is distinctively Christian). Continue reading →
Juan V. Fernández de la Gala, Forensic Anthropologist and Zooarchaeologist, Associate Professor of History of Medicine, Universidad de Cádiz, Spain, email@example.com
SUMMARY: Professor Tabor’s team has recently explored a first century Jewish tomb found in Jerusalem. One of the ossuaries showed a nicely carved icthyomorphic design on its front façade that Professor Tabor interpreted as Jonah’s whale and suggested that it was related to the closest followers of Jesus of Nazareth.
The finding has provoked an increasing interest in mass and professional media. In the last days, some archaeologists have already questioned Tabor’s interpretation and its consequences. Dr. Fernández de la Gala, professor of History of Medicine at the University of Cádiz (Spain), a forensic anthropologist interested in zoological symbolism in funerary contexts, has analyzed and discussed the case and proposes that a reasonable interpretation of the drawing is that is a funerary neck amphora instead, as other scholars have also indicated.
ASOR is pleased to announce that it has made an issue of Near Eastern Archaeology (NEA 69:3/4 ) available for free on JSTOR for the next month. This issue of NEA contains articles by leading scholars that examine the hypothesis that a Talpiot Tomb belonged to Jesus’ family. The issue contains articles by Eric M. Meyers, Shimon Gibson, Sandra Scham, Christopher Rollston, and Stephen J. Pfann. The issue also contains an extensive response by James D. Tabor.
Preamble: I should first explain that in the autumn of 2011 I took part in a lengthy email correspondence about this inscription with James Tabor, Greg Snyder and Jim Charlesworth. It was a profitable conversation in which we made real progress in both reading and interpreting the inscription, though we certainly did not reach full agreement, especially on the interpretation. (Tabor’s references to me in footnotes to his article, ‘A Preliminary Report …,’ recently published on the internet, reflect that conversation.) We were all bound by a non-disclosure agreement until last week, when the material was made public. At that time Greg Snyder and I had not seen the so-called ‘Jonah’ image and we did not discuss it until much more recently and then much more briefly. Our efforts were focused intensively on the inscription, for which we had the benefit of a number of photos, not only those that have now been published in the book (Tabor and Jacobovici 2012) and on the internet. My own interpretation of the inscription developed through that conversation, but I have modified it very recently (so that some of my argument in what follows is not already known to Tabor, Snyder and Charlesworth).
By: Mark Goodacre, Dept of Religion, Duke University
The current discussion of Talpiot Tomb B, the “patio tomb”, has largely centered on the interpretation of the picture on one of the ossuaries. But Tabor’s and Jacobovici’s argument that this tomb is linked with Jesus and his disciples is related to their earlier claims about Talpiot Tomb A, the “garden tomb”. The case that this is the Jesus family tomb was made in 2007 in a book, a film and a website.[i] It was largely based on a claim about statistics — this cluster of names, bearing so close a relationship to the names of members of Jesus’ family, was most unlikely to have occurred by accident. Continue reading →
James F. McGrath, Clarence L. Goodwin Chair of New Testament Language and Literature, Butler University, Indianapolis
The discovery of ossuaries in tombs in the Talpiot neighborhood of modern Jerusalem would almost certainly never have made international news or led to book deals, were it not for the claims of a relationship between those ossuaries and texts from the New Testament. While most of the criticisms of the recent claims made by James Tabor and Simcha Jacobovici have focused on epigraphy and inscriptions, interpretation of iconography, and other matters related to the physical evidence, there are also problems with the claims in so far as they pertain to the New Testament texts. If there is any correlation at all to be made, it must treat all the evidence, including the texts, using the appropriate tools and methods of historical inquiry. Yet on this point, and from this perspective, the narrative being woven by Jacobovici and Tabor is problematic.
Dr. Joan E. Taylor, Dept. of Theology and Religious Studies, King’s College London
It is easy to feel in this quest to identify the picture of a ‘whale’ a sense that we are all staring at the same ink-blot and seeing different things. The architectural edifice/tower/tomb monument theory does not quite work, because there are little ‘flaps’ on each side, the sides are concave and the circular blob is not explained well. In addition, as James Tabor has said, no one would draw a tomb monument upside down on the side of an ossuary. However, no one would draw a fish in this position on an ossuary either. Instead, viewed the right way up, there is a simpler solution: the picture depicts a small receptacle often used in tombs, called an unguentarium. Continue reading →
James D. Tabor, University of North Carolina at Charlotte
I want to thank ASOR’s executive director Andy Vaughn, guest editors Eric Meyers and Christopher Rollston, and participating colleagues, for devoting time and space to a special consideration of the ideas expressed in the non-specialist book, The Jesus Discovery as well as the more technical paper I have published at the web site The Bible and Interpretation, “A Preliminary Report of an Exploration of a Sealed 1st Century Tomb in East Talpiot, Jerusalem” during the month of March. Whether damned or praised—and so far there has been much more of the former than the latter—it is an honor to have ones ideas considered by colleagues. Continue reading →
I was a member of a team assembled last summer by a major media outlet to evaluate this project. Sitting in a stately conference room, Mr. Jacobovici, Professor Tabor and Professor Charlesworth presented their discoveries for the consideration of an internationally renowned group of scholars. The members of the evaluating team then offered our professional evaluations of this project. Continue reading →
In December, 2010, I was asked to participate in a National Geographic film project that—I was led to believe—would investigate the image of Jonah in early Christian art. I was asked to fly to Rome in January in order to be filmed in the catacombs and comment on the figure of Jonah as it appeared in the iconographic décor of those underground cemeteries. It was made clear that my expertise in ancient Christian art, especially in regard to representations of Jonah, was the reason for this invitation. Continue reading →
Robert R. Cargill (firstname.lastname@example.org)
Assistant Professor of Classics and Religious Studies, The University of Iowa
Images of the 'Tomb of Absalom' (1 C. CE Jerusalem) flank an image carved into an ossuary. Photo credits: Left: Brian796 (http://blog.travelpod.com/travel-photo/brian796/2/1264692913/the-tomb-of-absalom.jpg/tpod.html). Center: MSNBC Cosmic Log (http://cosmiclog.msnbc.msn.com/_news/2012/02/27/10521007-new-find-revives-jesus-tomb-flap) Right: Ariel Horowitz on Wikipedia (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Avtomb.JPG).
Professor Jodi Magness
Department of Religious Studies, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill
As usual, the arrival of the Easter season this year is heralded by a sensational archaeological claim relating to Jesus. In March 2007, we learned from a TV documentary and accompanying book that the tomb of Jesus and his family had been discovered in Jerusalem’s Talpiyot neighborhood. The producer was undeterred by the fact that not a single archaeologist – including the tomb’s excavator – supported this claim (for my comments see http://www.archaeological.org/news/279; also see Eric Meyers’ response to the current claim). Now the same producer has identified remains of early Christian followers of Jesus in a tomb nearby. What is the basis for this new claim? Photos taken by a robotic arm that was inserted into the tomb supposedly show a graffito depicting a whale incised on an ossuary, and an inscription containing the Tetragrammaton and the word “arise” or “resurrection.”
Professor Christopher A. Rollston (email@example.com) Professor of Semitic Studies, Emmanuel Christian Seminary
I. THE CLAIMS OF TABOR AND JACOBOVICI: THE NEW BOOK
Here are the basic claims of James Tabor and Simcha Jacobovici: “Talpiyot Tomb B contained several ossuaries, or bone boxes, two of which were carved with an iconic image and a Greek inscription. Taken together, the image and the inscription constitute the earliest archaeological evidence of faith in Jesus’ resurrection.” They go on and state that these ossuaries “also provide the first evidence in Jerusalem of the people who would later be called ‘Christians.’ In fact, it is possible, maybe even likely, that whoever was buried in this tomb knew Jesus and heard him preach.” Continue reading →
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.
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. Continue reading →
Professors Eric Meyers and Christopher Rollston will be the guest editors of the ASOR Blog for the month of March. ASOR plans to invite scholars in ASOR and the field to react to the proposals made by Professor James Tabor and Filmmaker Simcha Jacobovici in their new book, The New Jesus Discovery. The ASOR Blog will host responses from scholars throughout the month of March, and these responses will be moderated by Meyers and Rollston. The discussion will start today (Tuesday, February 28th) with several posts from Meyers and Rollston: Continue reading →