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Have tomb raiders really found the bones of Jesus and his family?
by Graeme J. Davidson,
17 March 2007

Amos Kloner, the Jerusalem archaeologist who officially oversaw work at the tomb in 1980 told the Jerusalem Post, “It makes a great story for a TV film. But it's impossible. It's nonsense". He says that the names on the Talpiot ossuaries were very common first century Jewish names.

...Have tomb raiders really discovered the bones of Jesus of Nazareth? Or is the sensational claim of a Discovery Channel documentary a publicity stunt?
...Archaeologists have found numerous bone boxes, or ossuaries, in 900 first century tombs around Jerusalem. In those days, well-off families often waited a year for their loved one’s flesh to rot, then deposited the bones in a limestone casket placed in a niche in their rock-hewn burial cave. This made room for other family members to follow. Some boxes have names etched on them, including one ornately decorated ossuary bearing the name of “Joseph Caiaphas”, the high priest at Jesus’ trial. One poor chap with Yehohanan ben Hagkol scrawled on his ossuary has a bent nail through his anklebone: another crucifixion victim of the Romans.
...One empty bone box dubbed “the most important archaeological discovery from the beginnings of Christianity” has become an archaeological Pandora’s Box. The Biblical Archaeological Society and the Discovery Channel unveiled the ossuary to the press in 2002. Scratched in Aramaic on one side are the words, “James son of Joseph, brother of Jesus”. Did this ossuary once contain the bones of the apostle James, Jesus’ brother and the first leader of the church in Jerusalem?

...After doing scientific tests, the Israel Antiquities Authority concluded the bone box was genuine but “The James Ossuary inscription is a forgery”. Israeli police investigated and indicted relics dealer Oded Golan, the owner of the James Ossuary. The prosecution claims that he and others swindled millions of dollars from museums and rich private collectors by selling fake biblical artefacts.
...Golan denies he faked the inscription and several weeks ago, presented photographic evidence and an expert FBI witness to back his claim. To save face, the Biblical Archaeological Society is calling for a fresh examination of the James Ossuary by experts outside Israel. But most scholars think the inscription’s suspect.
...Nevertheless, film director Simcha Jacobovici believes tests on the James Ossuary show it came originally from a first century tomb discovered in 1980 in the Jerusalem suburb of Talpiot. In their documentary film, The Lost Tomb of Jesus, Jacobovici and producer James Cameron claim this cave is Jesus' family tomb, so the James Ossuary would have belonged there.
Ten ossuaries were found in the Talpiot Tomb and six had inscriptions: "Jesus, son of Joseph;" "Maria," a possible reference to Jesus’ mother or a sister; “Matia,” Matthew; “Jose,” Joseph; "Mariamne e mara," said to be Mary Magdalene’s real name; and "Judah, son of Jesus".
...The documentary claims DNA samples taken from Jesus and Mariamne’s ossuaries show they were from different families. So, Jesus and Mary Magdalene/Mariamne would have had to be married to be in the same family tomb. The documentary also argues the odds are more than 600 to 1 that this combination of names appeared in the same tomb by chance.
...Many Archaeologists have poured scorn on the documentary’s claims. Amos Kloner, the Jerusalem archaeologist who officially oversaw work at the tomb in 1980 told the Jerusalem Post, “It makes a great story for a TV film. But it's impossible. It's nonsense". He says that the names on the Talpiot ossuaries were very common first century Jewish names. “Jesus” is the name on 71 ossuaries and three have “Judah, son of Jesus” scratched on them. One in five women was called Mariamne.
...As the inscriptions are difficult to decipher, some scholars question whether it is Jesus’ name on the caskets. It could be “Hanun”. Others argue if Jesus’ family had their own tomb, why do the Gospels say the rich Joseph of Arimathea took Jesus’ body to his own family’s tomb. Also, as Jesus’ family came from Galilee, it would be customary for their ossuary inscriptions to reflect this: “Jesus son of Joseph of Nazareth,” “Mariamne of Magdala”, and so on. The Talpoit tomb and the ossuary inscriptions suggest a middle class Jerusalem family, not a poor Galilean family.
As for the DNA tests, we would need an independent control sample from some member of Jesus' family to confirm any relationship, and we don’t have that.
...It’s little wonder Harvard University archaeologist Lawrence E. Stager denounces the documentary for "exploiting the whole trend that caught on with The Da Vinci Code” and why Amos Kloner says, “They just want to get money for it”.



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