A great story, but nonsense

By now you will have heard claims that the tombs of Jesus and his family have been found in Jerusalem. Here’s the response from Prof. Amos Kloner, printed in the Jerusalem Post: A great story, but nonsense.

Prof. Amos Kloner oversaw the archeological work at the Talpiot tomb when it was discovered during construction in 1980.

What do you make of the assertion that Jesus and his family were buried there?

It makes a great story for a TV film. But it’s completely impossible. It’s nonsense. There is no likelihood that Jesus and his relatives had a family tomb. They were a Galilee family with no ties in Jerusalem. The Talpiot tomb belonged to a middle class family from the 1st century CE.

But there is apparently such a confluence of resonant names.

The name "Jesus son of Joseph" has been found on three or four ossuaries. These are common names. There were huge headlines in the 1940s surrounding another Jesus ossuary, cited as the first evidence of Christianity. There was another Jesus tomb. Months later it was dismissed. Give me scientific evidence, and I’ll grapple with it. But this is manufactured. [continue]

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2 thoughts on “A great story, but nonsense

  1. While I can’t consider myself a neutral witness to this particular news story, it isn’t my faith that is made nervous by it. Rather, it is the years of pop-religion tomes and badly researched conspiracy books that are going to come out of it that have me already irritated. 🙂

    The case that these fairly common names of the place and time represent a ‘holy family ossuary’ goes like this:

    Another estimate, commissioned by Dr. James Tabor, chair of the department of religion studies at the University of North Carolina, puts the odds at one in 42 million. “If you took the entire population of Jerusalem at the time,” says Dr. Taber, “and put it in a stadium, and asked everyone named Jesus to stand up, you’d have about 2,700 men. Then you’d ask only those with a father named Joseph and a mother named Mary to remain standing. And then those with a brother named Yose and a brother named James. Statistically, you end up with one person.”

    Since they don’t actually know the family relationships of the people whose ossuaries were apparently found together, that should read more like this. “If you took the entire population of Jerusalem at the time and put it in a stadium, and asked everyone named Jesus to stand up, you’d have about 2,700 men. Then you’d ask only those with a father named Joseph and relatives or close associates named Mary and Yose to remain standing.” My guess is that only about half of those men would have sat down.

    The only DNA relationship established in this tomb is that the “Yeshua bar Yusef” and “Mariamne e mara” are not related. that’s not exactly a compelling result.

    The James ossuary, tantalizing as it was a few years ago, is probably without archaeological worth, since archaeologists say finds such as that are only valuable when they are still associated with their original site. (The James ossuary owner has in fact been charged with forging an antiquity.) And the fact that all of this has been tied together in a pop-film and not a scholarly paper adds to its suspiciousness.

    What I think throws the thing completely is the total lack of ambiguity in the names themselves, reminiscent of the James ossuary forgery. The ‘Mary’ ossuary is inscribed in the Latin MARIA as if deliberately targeting modern Catholics. The ‘Mary Magdalene’ ossuary is written in Greek, and is ‘Mariamne e mara’ (Miriam the master), which directly plays to the specific theology of modern Da Vinci/Holy blood followers, as well as classical gnostics. And Matia (Matthew) is inscribed in Hebrew, the one disciple known in early Christianity for his Hebraic fluency. Its just all a bit too perfectly matched to the kinds of things archeologists would be interested in.

    Jerusalem became a bazaar of relic trade artifacts when Helena became its patroness in Constantine’s era. An entire industry arose trying to forge ‘authentic’ relics that would be venerated and adored, things such as the ‘true cross’ and various thorns from the crown, etc.

    It should be noted, lastly, that Jesus’ family were Galileans, and that all but a week of Jesus’ ministry was conducted in Galilee, save for the periodic Passover pilgrimmage. If all of this had been found in Capernaum, Cana, or Nazareth, in the land of Galilee, then it might be time for Christians to get nervous about the implications. But concerning relics found in a city they weren’t from, one famed for its relics trade, this film certainly represents nothing to worry about.

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