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A Preliminary Report of an Exploration of a Sealed 1st Century Tomb in East Talpiot, Jerusalem

It seems very likely that followers of Jesus were moved to do what other Jews eschewed—in testimony to their faith in Jesus’ resurrection. Clearly the Jonah image and the Greek inscription, in such close proximity to a tomb with names corresponding to Jesus and his family, should cause us to reexamine some of the other ossuary inscriptions that Eliezar Sukenik, Bellarmino Bagatti, and others have identified as Christian—some of which are in the close geographical proximity to the Talpiot tombs.

By James Tabor
University of North Carolina at Charlotte
February 2012

To read this article in its entirety, we have presented it here in PDF format.

Comments (71)

It remains the case, to the best of my knowledge, that there is no ancient ossuary securely identified as Christian.
Stephen Goranson
#1 - Stephen Goranson - 02/28/2012 - 13:34

The image I am looking at sure looks like a picture of The Tree Of Life with the feet sprouting roots, two little hands on either side and a story of the children male and female carved into the body, with a little head on top. Thought, Out Of One Grows Many. Interesting picture
#2 - Margaret Rynn - 02/28/2012 - 20:24

I thought it was a fish spitting something out or eating something and the little hand appendages were fins.
#3 - Mary Swenson - 02/28/2012 - 23:58

Thanks, James. When we identify Jesus' first-generation-followers as the earliest Judeo-Christians, we also point at the first "Christians". The interments in this tomb were Jews, undoubtedly. Yet normative Jews wouldn't inscribe any artistic figure in the second Temple era in general, nor would they in a tomb. When it comes to the explicit name of God, יהוה, the prohibition reaches its peak. So the Jews in this tomb were not normative Jews. This is not the only fish inscribed in a tomb; there is another one in the Galilee. The cross in this tomb is also not the only cross-in-a-tomb. This combination does exist in the Galilee as well. Yes, the patio tomb is the first (Judeo) Christian tomb we know. Maybe we have also to reasses the convention that the cross is a later symbol of Christianity.
#4 - Eldad Keynan - 02/29/2012 - 01:15

The Problem with advancement in science is political stalemate, stop this evidence before it grows.
As for the Picture; the years I've studied such science I've come to know the real evidence to post christian ideals, this is certain to be one.
#5 - James Fuller - 02/29/2012 - 05:19

Why hasn't John the Baptist come into the conversation here? His beliefs and veneration of Jonah and Noah were right in line with this.
#6 - Robert Burns - 02/29/2012 - 08:11

Three questions:
1. Why is the fish symbology associated with Jonah rather than of that of the "Ichthus"?
2. Why does the Asbury Seminary prof dispute the Patio tomb theory?
3. Could not this Patio Tomb, with its resurrection references, be that of one of the people that Jesus had previously raised from the dead?
#7 - Chris Pfaff - 02/29/2012 - 09:12

To Stephan Goranson's comment, isn't it anachronistic to suggest that any mid-1st century tomb and ossuary might be "securely Christian," or not?
#8 - Jim Joyner - 02/29/2012 - 09:19

There is so much we don't understand and don't see.
#9 - moy gonzalez - 02/29/2012 - 09:46

Would it be normal for a first century tomb in Israel be inscribed in Greek? Or did I misread something?
#10 - kenny - 02/29/2012 - 11:39

"Would it be normal for a first century tomb in Israel be inscribed in Greek?"
Greek was THE international language at that time.
History is consistent in some things.
Whichever imperial nation last ruled, typically their language is predominant until the next one comes along.
#11 - JEP - 03/01/2012 - 09:08

This is a repetition of a comment that I made at ASORblog, but I believe it ought to be said here also.

We are not qualified to comment on any of the new claims; however, we do take exception to claims that scholars continue to make regarding Talpiyot Tomb A.

Rollston, on ASORblog, claims again that the names are common and that “Jesus son of Joseph”) is not unique because Sukenik found an ossuary inscribed similarly in 1931.

If we take the word unique to mean literally a single occurrence, then yes, the combination "Jesus son of Joseph" is not unique. But "not unique" does not mean so common that the combination is without interest. In arguing for non-uniqueness as the equivalent of "common and not interesting", Rollston points to the only other documented occurrence of the combination of Yeshua/Jesus and Yehoseph/Joseph on an ossuary. When we use Ilan's compilation to expand inquiry on this question, a compilation that includes 231 examples of the name Joseph, we find only one more example; Joseph, Joshua's brother. The combination of these two names occurs with a frequency that is consistent with drawing two names independently and randomly from the distribution of names in First Century Palestine, which also leads one to believe the combination is not common in any sense of the word.

Moreover, focusing on "Jesus son of Joseph" ignores that the collection of inscriptions also includes "Yoseh" and "Mary". To decide what the observation of additional known names from the family of Jesus might mean, we have reasoned as follows:

If we assume that the Jerusalem area does contain a tomb of the Jesus Family, and considering that the inverse of the number of such tombs represents a neutral probability that the Talpiyot Tomb A is that of the Jesus Family, then we and other investigators place this a priori probability at about one in a thousand--a probability low enough to render most tombs as being uninteresting to the search for the Jesus Family Tomb. However, we view the combination of names as evidence about the family in the tomb. Likelihood ratio is a measure of power of evidence and the likelihood ratio of this name combination, relative to random occurrence in the population, is about 30, if one assumes that "Yoseh" is as common as the name "Joseph", or rises to 470 if one considers "Yoseh" as a rare name in its own right. Even a likelihood ratio of 30 is significant, but a ratio of 470 is very powerful evidence of rareness of such a combination of names, and evidence in favor of being able to identify the specific family in this tomb.

Frankly, we do not expect to see such a combination of names in any other tomb, found or remaining to be found; a conservative estimate would be that one might see one other such combination of names in one-thousand tombs. If there truly is a Jesus Family Tomb, Talpiyot A is likely the best candidate. Of course this evidence may all be a coincidence, but Jacobovici and Tabor ought to be commended for bringing such an unusual find into public view, and for persevering to look for additional evidence by such extraordinary means.

Kevin Kilty
Mark Elliott
#12 - K. Kilty - 03/01/2012 - 16:15

Many over on the ASOR Blog, in fact almost all who have so far posted, have taken the position that the image I identify as Jonah and the great fish is in fact a nephesh or funerary monument...I find this so bizarre and far fetched but these are my colleagues and I respect them. I have just offered my response to this on that site but I hope we can spark a good discussion over here on on the same. As those of you know who have read this paper we considered both the nephesh and amphora possibilities but ended up rejecting them. If you read my paper two days ago take another look. I have now added photos of museum reproductions of the ossuaries and when you see where the Jonah image is, and how it is oriented, it will be clear to everyone that "this is no nephesh." Looking forward to a lively discussion here. Mark Elliot tells me this paper has had 18,000 visits!! Talk about bringing academic discussions to the public!
#13 - James D. Tabor - 03/01/2012 - 18:56

Stephen, I wonder how you are using the term Christian. Of course, if we are correct, these were Jews...but whether they saw Yeshua as exalted to heaven is another question. I think they did but I would not call them "Christian" is I were speaking from an academic standpoint. Maybe you can clarify what you mean.
#14 - James D. Tabor - 03/01/2012 - 18:57

Thanks so much for this post Mark and Kevin. It is so needed, as is a change toward civility and common decency in this discussion. See my recent blog post...
#15 - James D. Tabor - 03/01/2012 - 19:27

Dr. Tabor,

As a layperson I am following this conversation and discussion and have made a post of it on my blog. I am also importing commentary for the benefit of my readers.

Thank you for undertaking this subject and topic. I didn't know what to make of your initial findings and presentation in 2007, but I am appreciating your efforts to look at the evidence and interpret it in light of what is found pointing towards concepts that may have been previously overlooked. It has been refreshing to see this approach.

Thanks again and blessed!
#16 - Pastor Harvey Burnett - 03/01/2012 - 21:19

I've been following Dr. Tabor's work long enough to know that he's a man who gives the scientific Truth top priority in scientific discussions, even over his own personal beliefs. Such integrity is rare. I salute his professional courage in the face of the acrimony I'm sure he expected (if not to this degree) from some of his colleagues. I dare say this may be child's play relative to what may follow the release of "Paul and Jesus: How the Apostle Transformed Christianity", in November.

I've been involved in the questions raised by both of these issues/books in my own circles and have experienced the same frustrations as he has--and I have much less at stake. Fortunately, what is ultimately at stake here is the Truth, not the vanity of the various parties.

I'm in the process of reading the "The Jesus Discovery" which I just received, along with my involvement in the controversies, blogs and other news about it; so if the following question is answered in it, please forgive me.

While I think that what has been presented by Tabor and Jacobovici is not proven, I believe it is very likely. That said, for the sake of argument, assume as fact that Jesus' bones were in an ossuary in the Garden Tomb. Then I have a question:

If Jesus was buried in the Garden Tomb, why would there be an ossuary for him if he was bodily resurrected right after he died? On the other hand, why were there ossuaries in the Patio Tomb with symbols commemorating or celebrating his resurrection? Jesus' resurrection being a spiritual event seems to be the only answer that would fit, or is there another answer?
#17 - Mahlon Marr - 03/02/2012 - 09:43


Based on all the evidence, I do not accept the Talpiot tombs as having anything to do with Jesus of Nazareth. The name of Yeshua is barely legible on the ossuary. Added to this, the other name, Joseph, is written in another hand and a different time. If the folks in the tomb thought so highly of their Jesus, why not give him a nicely decorated ossuary with a neatly written name?

There are many claims made about Jesus, his family, disciples and saints after him that have bits and pieces of evidence strung together to form theories, myths and legends.

That being said, if the tomb does have a connection to Christ we should take into accout aditional anomolous information about the Yesus ossuary. Charles Pellegrino has noted that after examening the ossuary in question, it appears that only a single carpal bone was ever inside, as well as some unusual lines fragments inconsistant with a primary burial. It seems that there was never a full skeleton inside the bone box.

Now, assumeing the amphora is a fish, and the Talbiot B tomb is Christian, the evidence of the originally boneless ossuary and the Jonah resurrection motif makes perfect sense.

Jesus preached the gathered disciples around him, then began to spread the Gospel. He accomplished wonders which began to grow his movmement. Eventually, he angered the current religious and political leaders, leading to his trial.

He was beaten, scourged and crucified, with pieces of bloody flesh and bone fragments torn from his body. His followers collected their loved one, with a bone fragment that had fallen to the ground during the torture ,as a reminder of who, what and why this day was about.

They put him in the tomb, preparing his body for decay. Returning to the tomb, they discover all that is left is some cloth, which they also collect as a reminder of the Lord.

Jesus is risen, all that is physically left of him are fragemnts of bone from his crucifixion, as well as cloth worn and torn on that day.

The Christian church begins to grow around the life, teaching, crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus. Eventually, the disciples and family of Jesus begin to pass away. They have a tomb (provided by Joseph of Arimathea?)where they place their loved ones, one by one. All normal bone boxes, except for one in particular. It has a name of a loved one on the outside, and on the inside a few relics of an incredible individual who changed history.

Continuing this line of thinking, another follower of Jesus builds a tomb two hundred feet away. A believer of the resurrection, he carves a picture of Jonah's whale, an early symbol of Jesus death and rising from the grave.

This explains what we have. It fits the evidence, the names, the ossuary held mysterious relics, and a tomb with carvings in support of a resurrection.

That all being said, I don't believe. The names are common, and while the combinations may be statistically unusual, it certainly doesn't prove the tomb was related to Jesus of Nazareth. The Talpiot B tomb has more nearly indecipherable writing with disputed meanings and carved images that have been decribed as fish, tomb facades and oil holders.

Jacobovici and Tabor see archeology like an astrologer sees the night sky. The astologer sees a host of images arrayed on the dome of heaven, while the astronomer sees balls of gas. J and T have in their imagination a great great historcalish mechanism thrown together with spare parts and wishful thinking.
#18 - chris - 03/02/2012 - 12:58

I also the pleasure of seeing the ossuaries in person on a recent trip to New York with my husband. Although I initially went just to see the Dead Sea Scrolls exhibit, I was delighted to see the ossuary in person, especially since it has become the source of so much debate. I was particularly struck by the fact that I was viewing one of the earliest evidence of Christian iconography and such an important relic of history. I would definitely suggest for everyone to see this exhibit. Whether you are religious or not, it is truly a fascinating and thought-provoking experience.
#19 - Casey - 03/02/2012 - 14:29

For some thoughts on the shifting sands of the new Talpiot tomb discoveries and their interpretations see my latest blog post:
#20 - James D. Tabor - 03/02/2012 - 14:46


Your scenario addressing the implications of the possibility of Jesus' ossuary being in the Garden Tomb has a couple of problems from your standpoint as one who is obviously a Christian. It assumes that an ossuary was made for him when they all would have known that he had been resurrected bodily the Sunday after his crucifixion. Why, for the bone fragments? The existence of bone fragments would be a violation of the prophesy that none of his bones would be broken, for which John claimed fulfillment (John 19:36).

No, the names issue isn't proven, but with this new evidence, the possibility that the Garden Tomb is Jesus' family's tomb is much more likely.

I also think your ad hominem assault on Tabor and Jacobovici, referring to them as "astrologers" and otherwise implying that they're unworthy of any consideration as scholars, is way over the top, completely uncalled for, and contradicts their worthy records.
#21 - Mahlon Marr - 03/02/2012 - 18:52

There is one more element of the Garden Tomb which hasn't been brought up in the current controversy/discussion, but which should be considered--that is, the interpretation or meaning of symbol on its façade. This comes from independent source and is imminently reasonable. It can be viewed at this webpage:

In his book, "The Jesus Dynasty", Dr. Tabor relates something that one of his "university professors used to say about historical investigation: 'When you get closer to the truth, everything begins to fit.'" I've found that to be the case in the pursuit of any Truth, sometimes even to the point that they appear to fall into place almost without effort.
#22 - Mahlon Marr - 03/03/2012 - 06:00

A perfume flask or a fish--Joan Taylor has proposed that our "fish" resembles more a perfume flask or unguentarium. I discuss this in my latest blog post:
#23 - James D. Tabor - 03/03/2012 - 06:35

Here is an important quote from Richard Carrier regarding Tabor:

"It’s even more discrediting that Tabor still stands by the ... interpretation of an inscription in the other Talpiot tomb as 'Mariamene' (as supposedly a variant of Mariamne, supposedly a distinctive spelling of Mary Magdalene), when it is unmistakably Mariamê kai Mara, 'Miriam and Mara,' one very common Jewish name, the other unconnected to Jesus. An earlier epigrapher confused a single letter as nu (N) which is actually kappa [K], the one being an upside down version of the other (a common mistake even for an expert to make who might be getting tired trudging through hundreds of inscriptions). This is so glaringly obvious there can be no reasonable dispute in the matter. Yet Tabor keeps on claiming it says Mariamene. Lately he has been willing to allow that it 'might' say Mariame kai Mara…after I pointed this out. But why didn’t he notice it before?"
#24 - John - 03/03/2012 - 11:40

I have addressed this thoroughly on my blog, in my book and elsewhere. There is also new evidence that Richard is apparently not aware of in terms of this unique spelling. Richard is not the one who came up with this as anyone knows who has followed this, it was Stephen Pfann. I have met Richard and like him but the post you quote (if you read it in full) is so full of name calling, ugly false charges, personal sarcastic attacks and slander that I have nothing to say to him until he learns some manners and professionalism. It is neither helpful nor humane. Interesting that he calls the great Rahmani an "early epigrapher," and even one of the best Greek epigraphers in israel, Di Segni, also reads it this way. Richard has no modesty since he thinks his eye is better than this amazing man. But let's say Pfann was right--what two names could be more related to Jesus and his family than the sisters Mary and Martha...In point of fact you can tell by the script is is all written with one hand at one time...with the large circular flourish around it. But I won't get into it more here as I have written about it extensively and this is off-topic in terms of the patio tomb discoveries.. You might also ask him how he reads Rahmani 108. The spelling with the nu is rare but definitely valid.
#25 - James D. Tabor - 03/03/2012 - 12:31

Prof. Tabor,
Why has much of the discussion about the inscription found on the Jesus tomb been dismissed? Wouldn't that inscription shed further clues on the close relationship of the tombs in the ancient Talpiot estate? Ever since it was brought up to our attention in the first documentary, it has been completely forgotten. Would you please elaborate? Thanks
#26 - Mario Buendia - 03/03/2012 - 16:40

Mario Buendia
Which inscription on what Jesus "tomb" are you referring to?
#27 - Mahlon Marr - 03/03/2012 - 20:31

I read with interest your article. Although I clearly see a fish and like you I would send the ones who still claim it is a nefesh, an unguentarium or other type of amphora, back to Rahmani's catalogue or other compilations realised since.
However I have some questions and comments :
Why is this big fish represented vertically on the ossuary while the other instances you are referring to contain fish in horizontal drawings? Your preliminary response as to link it to the faith in the particular resurrection of Jesus and thus touching the earth, since Jesus/Jonah is represented spout out by the fish at the bottom of the ossuary, is not convincing for two reasons :
1- the whole purpose of jewish secondary burials whether in ossuaries or not, in roman Palestine, had to do with the concept of resurrection of the dead besides of course the need for burial space. There is enough Biblical, Rabbinic and epigraphic evidence, including inscribed on ossuaries, for such a correlation. A a matter of fact Rahmani was among the first to come up with this conclusion. You may read more on ossilegium and resurrection in my article : "The Imperfect Tomb of Jesus and Family" in press in eds. James H. Charlesworth and Arthur C.Boulet, Proceedings of the Third Princeton Symposium on Judaism and Christian Origins. “Jewish Views of the After Life and Burial Practices in Second Temple Judaism, Evaluating the Talpiot Tomb in Context.” (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans,forthcoming, 2012).
2- How would you interpret then the drawing on the side of this big fish on the ossuary?
While this decoration of a spitting fish might be unique on ossuary, linking it to the faith in the particular resurrection of jesus by his followers might be presomptuous at this point.
In my judgment, one should not be confused as to apprehend the Talpiot tombs as firstly jewish and then most likely judeo-christian tombs, as the evidence grows. Therefore we should free ourselves from any anachronism of later christian culture, that includes believes, literature and art.
Claude Cohen-Matlofsky
University of Toronto
#28 - Claude Cohen-Matlofsky - 03/04/2012 - 08:25

So glad to have you here Claude.

Many good points you have made. I wholly agree we could use the term "Christian" only guardedly. It can miscommunicate more than it communicates. Even Judaeo-Christians or Jewish Christianity does not help us much. I like to speak, in this context at least, of the followers of Jesus. In other words, when it comes to these two tombs, less than 200 feet apart, my beginning question, given the names, was if there was anything about them that might tie them to Jesus and/or his followers. And as you note, that would be a very JEWISH question. On the other hand, one of many sectarian varieties of Judaism(s) in the late 2nd Temple period, the followers of Jesus did have distinctive beliefs and characteristics. My question then would be, especially with the icon and the inscription--is there anything about either of these that might point, not just to Jews in general, but to followers of Jesus?

Now whether the whole purpose of the move to ossuaries was tied to belief in resurrection I am not sure. I would like to think that, but I would stress more the "individualization" that the ossuaries represent, so that the person rather than the clan (piles of undifferentiated bones) are honored and remembered. I do recall that Rahmani takes the adamant stand the ossuary ornamentation has no symbolic meaning whosoever in terms of beliefs, etc. I am not convinced that is the case, even with some of the standard motifs of ornamentation, but in this tomb--with this icon and very unusual inscription, we seem to have both. So they stand out. A real epitaph and a Jonah image. in my paper I elaborate why that is important.

On the fish's orientation I don't think it matters. In the photos showing the ossuary, our book, and my article here I show it nose down, as it is positioned on the ossuary. But it really does not matter. It is so clearly a fish it can be turned in various directions. Fish are that way in the catacombs, as are Jonah images. There is no one single orientation to make one say--oh, look, a fish. How it is turned is not the point, but how it looks--what features does it have.
#29 - James D. Tabor - 03/04/2012 - 18:20

I have had a chance to peruse the responses to our press conference and book launch (The Jesus Discovery, Simon & Schuster) for the first time. I am preparing a longer article, but in the meantime I just wanted to contextualize the discussion.

I am not surprised by the quick and personal attacks by various scholars i.e., accusing us of “hijacking” archaeology, “sensationalism” etc. We’ve heard it all before and I guess some people can’t get off that track, including the accusation that we released our book to coincide with Easter – nevermind that it was released in February and Easter is in April. Frankly, what surprises me is how quickly the negative tone was diffused and how the discussion is veering towards scholarly debate instead of ad hominem slander. The reason I’m surprised is because, generally, there is an iron rule that applies to Jesus related archaeology: everyone is wrong, about everything, all the time. Some would like to portray the controversy over the “Jesus Family Tomb” in Talpiot as one between serious scholars and sensationalists such as myself. But let’s put this into a historical context.

Prof. Tabor and I are not the first people to connect Jesus to Talpiot. In 1945, Eleazer Sukenik, who was the first to identify the Dead Sea Scrolls as being authentically from the Second Temple Period, discovered a tomb off Hebron Road in Talpiot, approximately 1,000 meters from the now famous “Jesus Family Tomb”. In the tomb, there were two ossuaries with the word “Jesus” inscribed on them in charcoal. According to Sukenik, one inscription read “Jesus Woe” and the other “Jesus Aloth”, which Sukenik interpreted as lamentations for the crucifixion of Jesus. Immediately, the scholarly and Christian community was up in arms. It turns out that Sukenik was wrong on both counts. The ossuaries were not referring to Jesus of Nazareth. Rather, there were two guys named Jesus buried right next to each other. And the first ossuary did not say “Woe”, it said “Ju” which was an unfinished version of “Judah”. Moreover, “Aloth” did not refer to lamentation but to “Aloe”. Maybe the person interred in the box was in the Aloe distribution business. As for why a scholar of Sukenik’s stature got it so wrong, just recently I heard a top scholar say in a room full of other scholars “Sukenik’s wife needed a refrigerator”. So I guess he just sensationalized for the purpose of making money.

- continued -
#30 - Simcha - 03/05/2012 - 00:35

In 1973, Prof. Morton Smith – arguably the top New Testament scholar at the time – claimed to have found a previously unknown letter of Clement of Alexandria that quoted an unknown version of the Gospel of Mark. Smith had found the fragment years before and had worked on it for over a decade, making sure that he lined up top scholars prior to publication. But that did not help him. His career went down in flames and he was accused of forging the document. As recently as 2010, York University in Toronto sponsored a conference dedicated to the question of Smith’s possible forgery.

Franciscan archaeologist, Bellarmino Bagatti, pointed to much “Judeo-Christian” archaeology in Jerusalem e.g., at the site of Dominus Flevit, but each assertion was met with universal disdain. Like Sukenik and Smith before him, Bagatti was wrong about everything all the time. Not only that, every reading of any inscription that can be linked to Jesus is retroactively changed once a connection with Jesus is established. So, for example, the ossuary that reads “Shimon bar Yonah” i.e., the disciple Peter’s name, sits neglected in the Franciscan museum at the second station on the Via Dolorosa. After I publicized its existence in a 2007 film, scholars began to debate whether, in fact, it says “bar Yonah” after all. In the 1970s Prof. Pau Figueras published an inscription on a small fragment on an ossuary in the IAA warehouse of unknown provenance. It has the name “Jesus” inside a fish complete with tail and mouth. He was immediately roundly attacked. It turns out the “Jesus” in this inscription is not Jesus of Nazareth but, rather, another Jesus buried in the ossuary. And the fish is not a fish, it’s not even a Nephesh tower or an amphora or even a perfume bottle, it’s merely a carelessly drawn circle. As for Prof. Figueras’ interpretation, well, in Levi-Rahmani’s words “….the inferences drawn by Figueras [are] excessive”.

When it comes to crosses, the story is the same. No cross is a cross if it’s connected to Jesus. For example, one of Sukenik’s “Jesus” ossuaries had charcoal crosses on all four sides. As it turns out, these are not crosses. They are “mason’s marks”. Nevermind that masons work in stone, not charcoal. Nevermind that a mason’s mark on an ossuary is meant to line up a lid to a box and serves no purpose on all four sides. Sukenik didn’t know the rule. When it comes to Jesus, everyone is wrong about everything all the time.

- continued -
#31 - Simcha - 03/05/2012 - 00:36

Which brings us to our latest discoveries and some of the over the top criticisms. In 2007, when we investigated the “Jesus Family Tomb” we were criticized for doing it in the context of a film and not a proper dig. This time, our investigation was under an excavation license issued by the IAA. We had not one but two sponsoring universities – UNC Charlotte and the University of Nebraska. There was an IAA archaeologist on site all the time. The license was jointly held by not one, but two scholars – Prof. James Tabor and veteran Israeli archaeologist Rami Arav. All under the sponsorship of Prof. Janet Levy, Chair of the Department of Anthropology at UNC Charlotte and Chair of the Archaeology division of the American Anthropological Association. Pretty solid I would say, but not good enough for some of the contributors to this site who continue to accuse us of “sensationalism” etc. Moving on, last time we were accused of not having a peer-review process. This time, Prof. Tabor published a peer-reviewed article on and at least 10 academics made formal reports on our findings prior to publication. We incorporated all of their suggestions in our book, upcoming film, website and press material. Not good enough. In fact, some of the very academics that were consulted have revised their opinions and are now attacking us on this site.

The fact is that what we found is unprecedented whether you call our Jonah image a pillar, an amphora or a perfume bottle. In the words of Yuval Baruch, Jerusalem District Head of the Israel Antiquities Authority, “there’s nothing else like it on an ossuary”. We also found a statement of faith. But even if you say it’s not about resurrection, but some kind of exaltation or testament to an ascension of some kind, there is simply nothing like it on any of the thousands of ossuaries catalogued so far. Again, those are the words of Yuval Baruch. It doesn’t help to say that many Jews believed in resurrection. They didn’t record their statements on their ossuaries. The statement is unique. Furthermore, the archaeological context is attested. Like it or not, these two tombs are linked and set apart from the rest of the Talpiot necropolis. That’s not my opinion, that’s the opinion of Dr. Natalie Messika, an expert in archaeological mapping often under contract with the IAA. As for the linkage to early followers of Jesus, the fact is that whoever made those pictures and wrote that inscription was sectarian and not normative. Jews did not – and do not – write the Tetragrammaton on a bone box filled with “tumah” or impurity. I know that there is an attempt to re-read the second line in the inscription, but the reading was confirmed repeatedly by major scholars, including Prof. Rollston who is now revising his opinion. It’s OK to change one’s mind. All I’m saying is that the vast majority of scholars see the ineffable name inscribed in the second line.

- continued -
#32 - Simcha - 03/05/2012 - 00:37

Had we found a cross, we would have been told that the cross is not a Christian symbol in the 1st century. The fact is we found a 1st century cross! Had we found nothing else, we would have been told that we should have found a fish, if we thought the tomb was linked to the early Jesus movement. But we found a fish! If that’s all we had found, we would have been told that we should have found a “Jonah”. We found a Jonah! But for some, the iron rule is the golden rule. When it comes to Jesus; everyone is wrong about everything all the time. So the cross is not a cross, the fish is not a fish, the Jonah is not a Jonah and now even the “Jehovah” inscription doesn’t say “Jehovah”.

For the record, we spent 5 years and a lot of money and effort to excavate this tomb. Never before have the IAA and the Haredi activists agreed to work together on the excavation of a 1st century Jerusalem tomb. We built a robotic arm that has pushed the envelope of Jerusalem based archaeology. We had absolutely no guarantee that we would find anything, but we did. And now it’s time for a reasoned and scholarly debate. Many top scholars have weighed in stating that this is a very significant find including Prof. James Charlesworth and Prof. John Dominic Crossan. If “scholars” stop attacking each other personally, more will go on record. Furthermore, it’s time to review, in light of the new findings, the archaeology previously dismissed. Maybe everyone’s not wrong about everything all the time. Maybe we actually found something significant this time. And maybe significant archaeology has been hiding, for decades, in plain sight.

Simcha Jacobovici, filmmaker
Professor, Religious Studies, Huntington University
#33 - Simcha - 03/05/2012 - 00:38

AMEN Jacobovici!!!!!
#34 - Pastor Harvey Burnett - 03/05/2012 - 10:46

Mahlon Marr

This is Mario Buendia. I was referring to the so called "Lost Tomb of Jesus" in East Talpiot, and to the inscription found there on one of the walls. It was a six letter inscription in possibly Greek that could not be dicipher right away before the tomb was sealed again. Do you happen to know anything more on that? And why was it not further pursued to check if this tomb is related to the patio one?

Also, do you happen to know if the two skulls found outside the niches in the Jesus family tomb were from any one of the 10 ossuaries? Where these skulls reburied also or kept by the archeologist for foresic and DNA analysis?

Sorry for asking so much...but so much to know as well.

#35 - Mario Buendia - 03/07/2012 - 21:27

Mario, I'm unaware of any inscription on the walls of either tomb. The only inscriptions I know of are on the ossuaries.
As for the bones, essentially many, including the 3 skulls in Gibson's drawing, were apparently lost. T & J have a good account of the.....situation. For a good recap and the latest on the story, I recommend their book which has brought all this to the forefront again: "The Jesus Discovery".
#36 - Mahlon Marr - 03/08/2012 - 18:18

Without discussing the larger question of the possible or impossible connections between the "Patio Tomb” and the “Jesus Family Tomb” (Talpiot cave), I would like to address what I see engraved on the façade of the ossuary, the so-called “fish” image presented to us in the press conference in NY (28.February.2012) , and in the article written by Professor James Tabor and posted on “Bible and Interpretation.” It is interesting to note that almost all those who objected to the “Jesus Family Tomb” (Talpiot Tomb) are also among those who dismiss Tabor's claims regarding the “Patio Tomb.” These ferocious attacks appear to derive from the opponents' wish to protect their previous objections to Tabor and Jacobovici's claims concerning the Talpiot Tomb. Science evolves by debate in an academic atmosphere based on facts, interpretations by open minded people with impartial views. This does not seem to be the case in relation to the "Patio Tomb."
There have been a variety of interpretations of the ossuary photos. They include a pillar, a perfume bottle, Nefesh, Avshalom tomb and a fish. I am not a specialist in biblical archaeology or in the study of Jewish burial tombs from the first century CE. I have studied geology, biology and paleontology and examined fish fossils in the Late Cenomanian rocks of the Jerusalem region. In my opinion, the most likely image in question on this ossuary is that of a fish.
The outline of the present image is fish-like, the tail is asymmetrical with a slightly concave end. The location of the short direction lines from both sides of the body is typical to fins of a fish that swims downwards. The semicircular engravings on the base of the stick figure is clearly a depiction of a gill cover of a fish. It seems that all the rows with the geometric designs including the four “Y” shape images are a schematic representation of a cultural origin.
The rounded form outside the fish's mouth containing many waving lines possible portrays a human face that can be observed sidewise. The two eyes (one narrow line the other just a dot) , a diagonal nose connected to a brow, a small mouth, a pointed chin, and wavy hair, all appear to be a schematic head of a human face.The face is connected to a stick inside the fish. This would lead one to believe that there is a possibility that the "Patio Tomb" is an early Christian tomb as Tabor maintains.

Amnon Rosenfeld
#37 - Amnon Rosenfeld - 03/09/2012 - 12:28


At first I was tempted to join the debate about your new book, but it feels too much like helping vigilantes at a lynching. As you well know, I’m a bit of a contrarian with skeptical inclinations, so I do share some of the doubts expressed by your peers.

The ad hominems are out of line, of course, but as I the comments thus far, it's not "the finds" themselves that are the source of the problem; it is the interpretive and rhetorical extrapolations being made. "There's the rub," as they say.

To summarize, I remain skeptical yet supportive of your good-faith efforts to expand public awareness. Your writing skills and your scholarly gifts are apparent to me as they must be to anyone else with an open mind. Congratulations!



P.S. I look forward to the Paul book even more.
#38 - Don Smith - 03/14/2012 - 16:58

Thanks Don, but please, why hold back. I can take the heat. I actually enjoy the process and if you read all the posts around this "town" I don't think you will think you are attending a lynching. You have seen the six major ASOR experts move (at least the ones who have commented behind a first post) from Tower/Nephesh to Amphora, to Perfume flask, and now to an ordinary two handled vessel, such as one might use to draw water in olden times--all in the course of a matter of days. Why not join the fray? We are told by some--it is so obviously a normal clay vessel, but then one has to wonder how obvious it is when major art historians like Stephen Fine have stuck with their "nephesh" idea and so far as I know, plans to both publish it and do a paper at SBL. I would welcome it. My own views are posted here and at my blog: And here and there as I have time to respond to others but obviously I can't keep up with everyone who wants to pile on the latest fashion.
#39 - James D. Tabor - 03/14/2012 - 18:23

There have been charges, false ones, on the various blogs and internet sights that the photos we have released have been manipulated, cropped, altered, and otherwise "photoshopped" in order to make them appear more likely to support our thesis of the ossuary image being that of Jonah and the big fish. I addresses these here and set the record straight and I would appreciate any of my colleagues who have posted otherwise or have heard such rumors would help me to correct the record:
#40 - James D. Tabor - 03/15/2012 - 18:30

First off, I'm sending this in two parts to make sure you get it. Originally, the number of words exceeded the limit. Don

– Question –
What has it got to do with Jesus?
– Short Answer –
Not very much!

– Explanation –
As I see it, turning science into religious speculation (on both sides of the debate) is the sum and substance of what James Tabor and Simcha Jacobovici have been able to do – yet again! Their first “discovery” materialized several years back when filmmaker James Cameron joined them to re-explore and reinterpret an ancient burial chamber located in the suburbs of Jerusalem which someone conveniently re-christened “The Jesus Family Tomb.”

For a time this media-driven spectacle made quite a stir until public interest waned and professional scholarship prevailed. From that point forward the consensus view, rightly or wrongly, denied the sensational claims, disavowing any provable connection to the historical Jesus or his clan.

Now, however, it’s déjà vu all over again.

Using a robotic camera to reenter yet another tomb, the discovery team managed to photograph various bone boxes from an earlier excavation, some with unusual inscriptions and another with pictographic ornamentation suggesting “resurrection.” Apart from the extraordinary pictures and arguing that the second site must be “connected” to the first one, they reinserted Jesus and his family into the discussion, even though said connections remain largely unsupported by most members of the scientific community.

Discovery leaders suggested further that the second tomb originally belonged to Joseph of Aramethea, that the ossuary of James was mysteriously “removed” from the first one, and that there is a visible link to the resurrection beliefs of pre-rebellion first-century Christians.

Of course, and unfortunately, that’s a lot to swallow! Here’s why.
#41 - Don Smith - 03/16/2012 - 03:26

It pains me to say this, but outsiders really don’t know the truth about the two claimants or their motives. On the one hand, both men have done wonderful things in promoting public awareness about ancient history and the challenges involved in coming to grips with what may or may not have actually happened. On the other hand, Simcha is a former journalist and a part-time filmmaker who is not an archeologist (naked or otherwise), and James Tabor is a college professor (though a gifted writer) calling himself a “historian,” but one with deep-seated religious biases who is also not an archeologist.

These facts do not mean they are unreliable investigators or manipulators of historical truth, anymore than their critics are merely attacking them out of jealousy or malevolence. It’s just that there is good reason to remain skeptical, especially with historical judgments that are mostly a matter of perception, personal preference and argumentation. There’s no right or wrong here, at least as I see it, and no Supreme Court to decide the issue, either.

The notion that the inscriptions reveal “second temple resurrection beliefs” could perhaps be true, but the claim that they actually tell “the resurrection story” is an overreach by any standards. No matter how artfully argued, it’s just an opinion, something too easily dismissed by ignorant true believers and educated skeptics alike. Even an appeal to statistics, can’t make the case.

Without getting too far into the weeds, the Rorschach analogy does seem to apply here (maybe even Heisenberg’s Uncertainty Principle). Both demonstrate the difficulty – that is to say, the impossibility – of seeing history or archeology through the lens of “showbiz ” religious inclinations. No matter how much publicity and scholarly enticement, it still adds up to a leap of faith.

Good luck & best wishes,

p.s. When it comes to “the fish” or “not the fish,” I vote for George Grubbs’ amphora. It's a better likeness!
#42 - Don Smith - 03/16/2012 - 03:30

Greetings all,

In the interest of full disclosure, I have no special training in biblical history or archaeology. (I am an academic in a different field.) Nonetheless, after reading the Tabor/Jacobovici book and trying to follow the internet discussion, I must say that I find quite convincing Professor Tabor's interpretation of the Jonah/Great Fish image, and his reasons for rejecting the interpretations as a nefesh, amphora, or unguentariam.

For what it is worth, I would like to add the following ideas to the discussion:

1. If Professor Tabor's interpretation of the image as a depiction of Jonah being expelled from the great fist is indeed correct, then might the symbol on the facade of the Garden Tomb
be an icon form of the same image? The "inverted V" could represent the fish's mouth and the circle could represent the head of Jonah.

2. Some have suggested that Professor Tabor's interpretation cannot be correct because the orientation of the fish, tail up mouth down, would be unnatural. I would like to suggest that perhaps the ossuary artist had in mind not only Jesus's "sign of Jonah" (from the Q source) but also Jesus's lesson to Nicodemus that no one can see the kingdom of God without being born from above (from John 3:3). Tail up and mouth down would then be the natural orientation.

--Drew Sills
#43 - Drew Sills - 03/16/2012 - 09:58

Is it possible that the bones within the ossuary marked for Jesus were the bones of someone else in his place.

It seems there is a bit of a paradox to say through carvings a notation of resurrection and then entomb bones---unless we look at one of two theories, the bones are not of Jesus even though they are in a ossuary with his markings. This could mean the ossuary was made under the times of when he was to be condemned to death, but in fact the ossuary houses someone elses bones? Or these bones were left behind after his spirit ascended and left his physical body behind? If they are to follow the true path of resurrection as noted through these depictions on the ossuary there is a paradox.

I have no doubt he ascended. Though there are those who say there is no scholarly proof of this. I believe this will come. Clearly, whoever wrote the carvings on these tombs believed in the ascension--yet there are bones in this ossuary.

I am uncertain but is there clear words that conotate that Jesus ascended wholly in body, after the resurrection in the Bible?

The paradox is interesting. The words of Jesus stating to his disciple James, behold your mother, as he was crucified. Could leave biblical scholars to question many things.
#44 - Lori Hovey - 03/16/2012 - 13:33

Good morning, Lori!

You have asked a most excellent question regarding the Ascension, be it a spiritual ascension or physical ascension, and having scoured the Scriptures I add my voice to yours, now. The Scriptures just aren't clear.

We can be certain though that Jesus did rise up in bodily form. Many passages attest to this:

Luke 24:51; Acts 1:1-12; John 6:62, 13:1-3, 16:5 & 28, 20:17; Acts 2:32-33; Hebrews 4:14.

The list goes on and on, all attesting to a physical resurrection, but indeed what of the Ascension?

Has the teaching of a bodily ascension been merely assumed? Even in describing Jesus as having acquired a "glorified" body, he was still in bodily form, and in this glorified fleshly form the Scriptures imply he ascended, in my opinion.

Professor Tabor, is there an understanding of this in your book? I am only on Chapter 2.

What I find confusing, however, is the four line inscription which speaks of resurrection. There are varying interpretations of this inscription: God has raised him up; He has been raised up; God raise up, as though a resurrection had not yet occurred, rather there was the hope of being raised up.

Can you give a clear, once and for all, interpretation of it please?

Also, and for pity sake, it's a fish! What else can it possibly be?

#45 - Carolyn Pendray - 03/17/2012 - 08:16

Et tu Brute? Just kidding Don, I appreciate you posting. I had invited you to express yourself and you certainly did not hold back. Just a few initial reactions if you don't mind.

I am frankly surprised at your summary assessment of the case for identifying the "Jesus" tomb with Jesus of Nazareth and his family (even without the new evidence). I somehow assumed you had kept up with things but it seems you have not. For you to assert, baldly here, that Tabor and Jacobovici sensationalize things, but the cool voice of scientific scholarship has now spoken is a complete mischaracterization. There is a thick volume of papers from our 2008 Princeton conference coming out, edited by Charlesworth, that will present the views of 40+ scholars, with lots of variations and debate back and forth. You have apparently not read even the more recent posts on this site,, in terms of the latest research. Here is some links, with articles not by me but others, if you want to catch up: You speak sarcastically of the James ossuary "mysteriously" being removed from the Talpiot tomb but are you aware of the scientific tests that indicate this very well might be the case. They are published on this very site. Sometimes it takes time for valid interpretations to find acceptance, especially when theological motives and academic heat are involved. In the end things depend on the strength of the case made and the case for the Jesus tomb, even without the new evidence, is not a frivolous one, as you imply here. I know you do not believe Jesus was taken to heaven bodily, or otherwise. So why, given the building projects around the Old City over the past 40 years, with over 1000 1st century tombs exposed, is it inherently crazy to think the Jesus tomb would be found? After all, we have Caiaphus and Simon of Cyrene and his son Alexander--so why not Jesus? That does not prove this is that tomb, but it should cause none to take stock before dismissing it out of hand as sensational or hype. No matter where one thinks Jesus was crucified--tradition site, Gordon's Calvary, etc. it is agreed that his tomb is empty--so he must have been reburied somewhere in the immediate area.

TBC below...
#46 - James D. Tabor - 03/17/2012 - 08:55

To Don Smith: Continued:

I find your comments on personal motivations and qualifications quite out of place, and actually puzzling. No idea what you mean by "deep seated religious biases" that would effect my motives or clarity of arguments on the Jesus tomb? I am not aware of ever bringing into the discussion anything whatsoever to do with personal beliefs--other than thinking dead people don't rise bodily to heaven? But I know that is not what you mean. As for not being an archaeologist, you are correct. I have never claimed to be such. But I think you misunderstand the task of archaeology. The excavation of the Jesus tomb, or any site, involves the methods and procedures of that field, that is the careful procedure of uncovering what is there and keeping proper records. But excavators are no more qualified, by their "archaeological " skills, to do linguistic or historical interpretation than scholars who do not do field work--unless they also have expertise in those areas. Actually, in terms of experience I have held IAA licenses for four different sites and have spent many months in the field, but even so, I would not claim archaeology as my academic field. But that is beside the point. I guess I should let my Ph.D. from Chicago and my 30 year record of publications speak for themselves as to whether I am an historian--my CV is on the Web. But other than this strange innuendo I don't get your point. I am thinking you have not read my book, or maybe even not the academic article posted here, but maybe I am wrong. If you have, your comments of "no evidence" and hype strike me as all the more surprising. Scholarship is based on debate and free exchange and the case I have argued, on both the inscription and the image, is on my blog and in response to others, particularly at the ASOR blog. For you to dismiss that case with a stroke of your keys, is truly begging the case. If we do have a Jonah image here, and I have no doubt we do, then we do indeed most likely have what we claim--the earliest testimony to faith in Jesus' resurrection by his followers.
#47 - James D. Tabor - 03/17/2012 - 08:56


You put your finger right on the crux of the issue. Take a look at what we argue in our book in the chapter on early views of resurrection. What we show, clearly, from the earliest sources, including Paul, is that the first followers of Jesus believed he had been taken to heaven, was at the right hand of God, i.e., was exalted and glorified, but they did not think that meant taking the physical and somehow transporting it to heaven. 2 Cor 5 makes this clear. Paul says death is liking taking of old clothing (the physical body), being naked (the soul or spirit), but unlike the Greeks, who were fine with the naked state (escape from the body), he says Christians look for a new body--putting on new clothes--that is a spiritual glorified body. Obviously when one is so "reclothed," one does not need to carry around or worry in the slightest about the old clothes left behind. He also gives the analogy of a tent and a permanent building. Once you move in the permanent building, the tent can be folded up and is not longer needed. Resurrection of the dead, in classic Jewish and Christian though, in the early days, before Christian theology came in, did not mean collecting dust of the earth, ashes, remains of those lost in the sea, bones, and somehow "reviving" that former body that has perished. Paul makes this totally clear in 1 Cor. 15. There is a natural body he says, of dust, and a spiritual or heavenly body. Finding the bones of Jesus has nothing to do with faith on the part of those who believed he had been glorified at the right hand of God. See the book for much more...
#48 - James D. Tabor - 03/17/2012 - 09:02

P.S. BTW, on the James ossuary and its "mysterious" disappearance from the Talpiot tomb, as my good friend Don Smith put it, please see my latest blog post. I encourage all Bible & Interpretation readers to examine the links here in my latest blog post: to be up to date on some of the latest research--most of which seems to be entirely absent in the current discussion on the web.The main new research is right here, on this web site, see the index of materials on the home page.
#49 - James D. Tabor - 03/17/2012 - 11:53

One final point for those who see an "amphora" in what we see as a Jonah image. Keep in mind a few things here. First of all, six of the major academic critics of our interpretation of a Jonah image and a fish argued within a day of the book's release that our icon was a funerary monument or tower (technically called a nephesh in Hebrew). These are quite common on ossuaries, there is one even in our tomb. The problems with this idea are many, not the least of which is the "tower" would have to be turned up-side-down on its head, as I point out in both the book and my article posted at this site. Within two or three days the amphora was suggested, an image that also is found on ossuaries but frankly, looks little like our image, again, I cover that in my paper and even give images for comparison. Shortly after that, one scholar came up with the perfume flask thesis. The problem was, what about that "ball" on the end. She suggested the tip of the flash was broken and that must be congealed "nard." Most recently, a "vase" has been suggested though the images cited are from the 3-6th centuries BCE, Greek, and nothing like the vases known to us from this time and provenance--Herodian Jerusalem. Keep in mind that all of these possibilities were considered by our team. We also brought in a dozen academic consultants, major well known scholars, for their input and we have reflected all the views in my paper with our own interpretations. The bottom line is that there seems to be a general admission now that our image, whatever it is, is not paralleled on any ossuary of the thousands we have--no one has come up with any image of anything that looks even remotely like our image. That alone, in my judgment, is a step forward. At least we seem to agree this image is unique, and not some common motif found elsewhere. I have offered my arguments, even on this site, as to why I am convinced the image is that of a fish with a Jonah symbolism intended. BTW, try a simple our image to any child and ask them what they think it might be. "Out of the mouths of babes and sucklings cometh forth wisdom." I am almost sure no one of them will say--looks like a jug to me.
#50 - James D. Tabor - 03/17/2012 - 12:39


If I fail to distill this commentary down to 4000 characters, I’ll subdivide it to make my case later on.

First of all, I want you to know I wasn’t being sarcastic (which, by the way, is something I can do quite well). All I really meant to do was point out the notoriety generated by the event itself, not who may or may not have been guilty of promoting or “sensationalizing” an “inherently crazy” spectacle. After all, we both know these things can get out of hand and take on a life of their own, even in academic circles.

Given my own built-in temperamental contrariness, I generally do not to speak from a fixed religious framework. And while you are right that I have yet to read everything you’ve written or everything your critics have suggested, I did manage to take in enough information to form an ill-defined preliminary opinion – something reluctantly and only partially expressed as “a lot to swallow!” I have also read your other books (though not all thirty years’ worth) and I’ve listened to you speak on many occasions, both publicly and privately. I’ve even read Horowitz’s Thirteen Candles and appreciate your connection to him, to the Old Testament, to numerology and to United Israel. However, in this particular instance neither of us, and I dare say “none of us,” can measure anything to definitively confirm or disprove your theories -- not at present, anyway. Until that happens it will remain a subject of conjecture, discussion and debate. People will keep on seeing images of Jesus in corn flakes, cloud formations and chicken Mac Nuggets.

When you say that the preponderance of scholarly evidence has turned in your favor, I hear ya, but alas I’m not convinced! It sounds like another plea to numbers (i.e. statistics) which adds up to counting opinions, no matter how you slice them. This does not mean I won’t or can’t change my mind as new evidence comes in (or as I read more). Right now I just happen to lean toward Bob Eisenman and Dominic Crossan’s views, and to those of your friend and colleague, Christopher Rollston. Collingsworth, on the other hand,is much too much “the preacher” for me.

Which brings me to your credentials. They are, of course, impeccable. (I am not being facetious here, nor am I serving up sarcasm or innuendo.) Call yourself what you will -- historian, linguist, bible scholar, “not an archeologist,” et al, I think you are eminently qualified to do what it is you (and Simcha) have done here. As I said, it’s a great service to the public at large and to the academic community. Still, there’s plenty of room for doubt, which is why I tend to think the Rorschach analogy holds up.
#51 - Don Smith - 03/17/2012 - 19:48

Thanks Don for your latest. I want to concentrate on the substantive issue here and leave the personal areas for our own discussion, maybe over some drinks in Chicago at the meetings this November. I I have a paper accepted at the SBL on the new findings, Simcha and I have been invited by Cargil and Goodacre to be on a panel, and I will likely do a Bible Fest lecture on whether or not the earliest Jewish Christian followers left behind any archaeological remains. But quickly here, to the substance of the discussion at hand.

On the Talpiot "Jesus" tomb more generally, and the James ossuary more specifically, I did not mean to imply one should poll the numbers to see what the majority academic views might be. Clearly it is the case that most of my colleagues have not been persuaded by the probably identification with Jesus of Nazareth, though on the James ossuary it might be more of a 70/30 toss-up. What I was pointing out is that there are updated studies, and yes some of them include statistical issues, that many seem to have failed to take into account in restating views that reflect more the state of the discussion in 2008. In the end, I think it is very important for one to make ones arguments and form whatever judgments on the evidence judged most compelling, regardless of what the majority seem to think. In this particular discussion I think a large part of the impetus driving things are theological predilections (i.e., Jesus' rose from the dead and his body was taken to heaven, so his tomb could not be found) and the "too good to be true" syndrome that expectedly and understandably fosters skeptical over any claim to have found something as charged as the bones of Jesus of Nazareth. I think it might be good, for purposes of discussion, to separate the issues in Talpiot tomb A from tomb B, though in our book I offer a comprehensive evaluation of the whole. In other words, one might conclude--yes, I think Tabor & Arav have discovered archaeological remains of the Jewish followers of Jesus, but no, I think that Jesus tomb nearby is another Jesus, you know, Jesus the Baker, nothing to do with the Nazarene. I surely did not mean to imply you have to read everything I have written but I wanted to note that I have offered my arguments and responses to the issues that have been raised the past three weeks on this new discussion and I think the substance of the debate is much more defined than a Rorschach test.

You might be interested to know that Dom Crossan was one of our consultants on the project and he and I have had in depth discussions on this new material. I will leave him to speak as he wishes, and in whatever forum, but he is quite supportive of our efforts and most of all has encouraged a proper academic discussion--as he put it, the tone of many of those offering views on this is neither "helpful nor humane." I have no spoken to Eisenman on this so I don't know his views. I think you probably mean Charlesworth not Collingsworth.

I think we will sort this out in time, probably sooner than later, so I look forward to the continued dialogue. I will be posting more over the next week that I hope will contribute positively to some of the confusion out there on a number of key issues that have been raised. If you haven't read this paper, to which you are commenting here, I would welcome your evaluation, as I tried my best to make it as thorough and comprehensive as possible, including the input of about 12-15 scholars that we consulted with.

#52 - James D. Tabor - 03/18/2012 - 08:27

Carolyn, glad you are reading the book, as this academic paper does not get into the theological issues that our findings, as we understand them, have raised. I hope you will keep an open mind though on your view that the "bodily" resurrection of Jesus in our sources implies the "physical" body must have been taken from this earth, or somehow transformed. As you will see once you get further into the book, a careful consideration of our sources, separating them chronologically, might yield a different view--or at least I argue such in the book. In other words, the "bodily" idea came in later, as reflected in Luke-Acts, and John, and connected with Jerusalem not Galilee, and was not the view of Paul, our earliest witness, as I pointed out to Lori above.

On the inscription there are technical discussions on the blogs but a good summary of the main possibilities, without all the technical Greek particulars, unless you know Greek--then see this paper at this site--at our web site:, see under the tab Research. There is a document called "The Resurrection Inscription." In that we tried to include our own views as well as all of our three epigraphy consultants. Unfortunately, in some cases, especially the last line, we can not be absolutely sure what it says, but if our transcription is correct (which is also subject to debate--but all of our consultants agreed), we are clear on the substance of the inscription at least.
#53 - James D. Tabor - 03/18/2012 - 08:36

Thanks, Jim. Your response is most appreciated, as are the links you always, and most graciously provide, and which I am sure to read.

The different resurrection accounts, for me, create quite a conundrum, indeed; and of course my mind is always open, having long since learned that with God, all things are possible and oftentimes, surprising!

As for Paul, (cough, cough) I've long since been awaiting the book, dear James. :-) November, I hear, from Amazon.

Yevarekh Otkha HaShem

#54 - Carolyn - 03/18/2012 - 15:42

The total silence from the sci. adviser at UCC-C and Yuval Baruch who bear a great deal of responsibility, is deafening....
#55 - Joe Zias - 03/20/2012 - 02:17

All of the photos of the four-line Greek inscription made available to our consultants are now uploaded on the web site, under photos and images. There are 17 total, including four in negative light. These are completely untouched, unedited, just as they came from the camera. If anyone wants to study them closely I suggest you print them out with a laser color printer, do not enlarge or blow up, as this distorts the pixels. In order to see clearly all the letters one must compare several photos as different angles and light show different features. Taking them all together all the letters become clear, including what we take to be a clear zeta/iota as the first letter of line 2 and a clear iota as the third letter, contra Rollston.
#56 - James D. Tabor - 03/22/2012 - 07:03

Although I am in the medical field, I have been reading the comments here with much interest. Each viewpoint certainly gets one thinking.

A few personal thoughts:

If it's a fish, then the orientation is rather curious, although Drew Sills presented a possible/plausible explanation (Drew Sills #43 03/16/2012). Another aspect I wonder about is: what is the significance of the design of the stylized, three rows of scales, especially the rectangles?

Appreciating that someone was carving this, and that every line, curve, etc. is quite deliberate, I'm puzzled at some of the 'extra' lines around where some believe is a "stick man" body. (especially north of the 'body', within the cavity.)

With regard to the "seaweed wrapped head", I found myself wondering if the artist was trying to portray what Jonah may have looked like after being exposed to the acidic, gastric juices in the 'whale'. Maybe the artist was trying to make his skin appear very shriveled?

The other comment I'd like to make is regarding the image to the right of the fish|vessel|?. I think I saw it labeled a "Temple-like structure" on the website. This is just a humble guess, but here is my impression: (

I kept trying to make sense of this image, and I can't help but wonder if I'm looking, not at a bird's eye view of the perimeter of a tabernacle or temple, but through the entrance of a tomb, looking upon an EMPTY grave. I was trying to figure out what that 'almost upside-down' "Y" was, and then saw that it was used to show dimension; the corner and depth of a rectangular hewn grave. An EMPTY grave. (*Note: it is also offset, as would be expected when entering a tomb.)

Honestly, my first impression was that the "Jonah fish" was a vessel and not a fish, however, IF the "Temple-like structure" is actually a representation of an empty grave, it would make sense that the juxtaposed image is paralleling the concept of Resurrection, and "Jonah's fish" becomes the more logical choice when viewed in this context.

What say you?
#57 - Beth Zur - 04/03/2012 - 03:19


Having completed Simcha's Lost Tomb last night, and having only made my way halfway through Discovering, I found myself even captivated by the front cover of Lost Tomb.

Perhaps this has been aforementioned, and forgive me if it has and for naivety of my question, but as I have seen it mentioned no where I am compelled to inquire - is not the circle symbolic of the soul of man, and why does the Chevron have to depict anything other than the direction into which the souls of those within the tomb ascended, which is to say a directional?

It just seems to me that the image depicts the soul of man ascending upward. Could it be as simple as that?
#58 - Carolyn - 04/05/2012 - 09:01

This is serious scholarship. Today on Mark Goodacre's blog he posted his revelation of his "face of Jesus" on one of our ossuaries: This is amusing and as a service to the curious, I am supplying video footage of Prof. Goodacre's "find": But after all the fun and games, let's not let this "face of Jesus" become a distraction from the real discoveries, namely, the earliest Christian icon ever unearthed and the only statement of resurrection faith ever discovered on a Jerusalem ossuary.
#59 - Simcha Jacobovici - 04/05/2012 - 15:22

The book of John states that Jesus said that his Kingdom wasn't of this world. If Jesus resurrected, that is, came back to life after dying, (in other words, had a "near death experience"), then he might have died at an older age, not 33. Whether he died at 33, or another age, his dead flesh eventually decomposed, as is natural. And, it's likely that his bones were collected by someone/s that knew and loved him and then placed into an ossuary. After all, we've learned that the ossuary-burial custom for his people began 20 years before he was born and lasted throughout his bible-recorded lifetime. I relish the probability that these two tombs are possibly that of Jesus, his earthly relatives, and/or those that knew him, because if he descended to a place called Hell after his hellish crucifixion on earth, and/or/rather just passed on to be with "Our Father who art in Heaven," then the tombs and ossuaries are evidence that supports a more realistic and believable theory, that it was his Spirit that descended and ascended, instead of a more mythical theory that his physical death was only temporary. Our Father's Kingdom wasn't of this world back then, it hasn't been throughout the past 2000 years, and it isn't now. Learning about the discovery of these tombs and ossuaries has had the effect of making my faith feel more solid and grounded in the belief that Jesus was a human that lived and died in this world and that he was born with God's Spirit even though he was naturally conceived and that he preached that we, too, could receive the birth-gift of God's Spirit (known as becoming born again), and that his Spirit passed on but is also shared with us. I thank God for the discoveries and interpretations that He has allowed Tabor and his team to reveal to all of us throughout the world, in this age of sharing information, uncovering deceptions, and breaking open a grand delusion. And, I appreciate reading, hearing, and exchanging with experts and amateurs, our self-developed opinions as opposed to the parroting of religious or political doctrine. Thank you.
#60 - another Christian - 04/14/2012 - 21:53

To "another Christian" - Thank you! I've wanted to express what you have expressed here for some time now, but couldn't get as focused as you have. Your comments are on target as far as I am concerned, although I do not share all of your expressed ideas.

I do believe that Jesus was born in the natural, biological way like every other human being; he was crucified, died, and was placed in a temporary tomb and later in a permanent tomb. Still later, his bones were collected and placed in an ossuary. I do believe Jesus' 'spirit' lived on, but that is based purely on faith, not fact. More on that below. I do not believe there are places called "Hell" and "Heaven," so I don't think Jesus' spirit traveled to either "place".

I do not believe the Bible is "God's word" or "inspired word." For me, it is a collection of writings of various people who related history somewhat inaccurately, and other people who tried to make sense of their hard earthly existence, the meaning of Jesus, and the meaning of life. They were doing just what people today do in the context of their places and times.

I fully ascribe to the fact of evolution; however, I ever so slightly lean towards "theistic evolution" where God supplemented the biological process and made some humans God-conscious. That too is totally non-scientific, and based on personal belief at this point. It could be that humans became "God-conscious" due purely to evolutionary mechanisms. This makes more sense to me.

Therefore, I have the hope that humans, and perhaps even other life forms, have some type of soul/spirit/consciousness that survives and has identity beyond physical death. The material evidence for this appears to be shrinking as more is learned about the brain; however, humans have yet to discover ultimate reality, as quantum mechanics, string theory, particle physics, and multiverse theory attest. The natural world is much stranger than we know. We are just now nibbling at the edges of understanding consciousness.

I'm not a "God of the gaps" person, but there is still so much we "know we don't know" that I can't imagine what we "don't know we don't know." Ultimate reality could be something that would "blow the minds" of Richard Dawkins, Lawrence Krauss, Stephen Hawking, (to name just a few proclaimed atheists).

On the other hand, the known world is much different from what billions of adherents of various religions believe. I'm afraid their minds and faith would be blown if they opened them to the truth.

To relate all this to the topic at hand, I too am happy that James Tabor and Simcha Jacobovici, and their support teams, have dared to explore the unconventional, to go against the grain, and have had the courage to "go where other scholars would not deign to go" both physically and theologically. It is usually these types of researchers who make the real breakthroughs.

It may turn out that their claims are not valid in this case, but they were willing to take that risk. We need more people in this field like Tabor and Jacobovici.
#61 - George - 04/15/2012 - 12:52

Thanks, George.

You said it, but they are also my sentiments, exactly! I hope you don't mind me repeating them.

"To relate all this to the topic at hand, I too am happy that James Tabor and Simcha Jacobovici, and their support teams, have dared to explore the unconventional, to go against the grain, and have had the courage to "go where other scholars would not deign to go" both physically and theologically. It is usually these types of researchers who make the real breakthroughs.

It may turn out that their claims are not valid in this case, but they were willing to take that risk. We need more people in this field like Tabor and Jacobovici."
#62 - another Christian - 04/15/2012 - 21:30

So this is where reasonable people are discussing this discovery. To Another Christian; you have said exactly what I was thinking but could not put into words. I hope you don't mind if I save your post for inspiration.

My first thought was that the carver was trying to disguise his message. Maybe because it was dangerous to openly proclaim allegiance to Jesus?
#63 - Susan Burns - 04/26/2012 - 10:58

I'm sorry. I need to weigh in on this….

First off, let me explain who I am. I have a degree in archaeology from East Carolina University. I studied Biblical archaeology with Dr Laura Mazow. Dr Tabor, you may know her. She actually asked me to write you on one occasion to ask a few questions about an ossuary I was doing a report on for her class. Can't remember if I wrote you or not.

Aside from Biblical archaeology, my interest was in epigraphy and early Mesoamerican scripts. I'm not talking about Mayan glyphs. I've studied those a lot. I'm talking about proto-Olmec. I went on to Grad School at Texas State University and studied archaeology and epigraphy there as well.

One thing that you begin to realize after studying script after script, and etching after etching is that people rarely made marks in burials by accident. It would just like someone kicking the flowers into Aunt Ednas grave by accident at a funeral or someone dropping the coffin and denting it by accident. You just don't see that sort of thing happening. People make marks on purpose and for meaning.

I've looked at my share of Mayan burials and pottery and some of the earlier glyphs are so marked up and scratched that you can barely tell it's anything at all. But it is. It takes a lot of work to figure it out, but it means something. I've done negative shots of pottery to bring out the details and that usually shows the finer lines in the scratch marks. Very similar to what Dr Tabor did.

I've studied the work of David Stuart as far as art history and epigraphy goes. I've read just about every work Michael Coe has written. I've been to Hieroglyphic conferences in Paris and Austin TX. What I'm saying is that, I'm not just spinning stories here. Epigraphy is something that I know and have been interested in for along time.

Now, Dr Tabors analysis of this pottery and "scratch marks" is spot on. Regardless of what everyone says, his analysis follows exactly how any academic would do it. One of the first things that you look for is a motif that is comparable to others around the same time period. You look at the style of the pottery and any markings it has. It's how archaeologist build a pottery chronology. Of course, the time period isn't much of an issue here since we know we're dealing with a 1st century ossuary tomb.

Continued on next post....
#64 - Jason Glisson - 04/30/2012 - 13:45

Continued from previous post.....

If nothing matches your motif, then you move on to symbolic meaning on any markings. In this case, it's pretty easy to see a fish. But in other cases, it may not pop out at you very quickly. When I worked in Belize with the University of Texas, I stared at a pottery sherd we found for what seemed like weeks comparing it to everything I could find in books and known pottery from the area. Never found anything like it. Until one day I turned it on its side and realized it was a certain glyph called "mo". Problem was the time period that pottery dated to, that particular glyph wasn't supposed to be around. And the only examples I could find of it were hundreds of years later. Nevertheless, other archaeologist agreed with my findings and said it could be one of the earliest examples of this glyph.

Most of the people that are making comments on these forums have watched too many History Channel documentaries and have very little academic background to make them qualified to even speak up.

The academics that have spoken up in disagreement are likely jealous or just don't look at the finer details of things. There will always be people that just refuse to believe any evidence that you put in front of them. Especially when it comes to Biblical Archaeology. You gotta have thick skin in that field, and I totally commend you Dr Tabor and Simcha for working so hard and keeping up the work after so many have kicked you down.

One thing that I distinctly remember from my Biblical Archaeology classes is that Dr Mazow always made sure that we understood you can not do Biblical archaeology with the bible in one hand and a trowel in the other. I certainly don't feel like Dr Tabor is embellishing this report. Nor has he injected anything in it that wasn't need to prove his point.
#65 - Jason Glisson - 04/30/2012 - 13:46

I’ve spent the last couple of hours perusing this article and all of the comments. I am not an archeologist, but my BA degree is in Community Development/Appropriate Technology with every project or assignment geared towards 3rd world peoples or the indigenous (Native Americans, Indians) of the US and Canada. I am of French-Canadian, Welsh, English, Scottish, Cherokee, and many others in my heritage, in that order.
One of the courses I wasn't able to take at the time along with many others was archeology; unfortunately, because I find it useful, fascinating and study it on my own. I am also an ordained minister and work in Native Ministry, with Indians of North America. Archeology is important in what I do, along with the History, Anthropology, Sociology and History of Technology courses I studied.
I arrived at this page while researching info to comment on a Facebook discussion; more of a free for all, to bring some semblance of civilized conversation to it, so I love how the debate/conversation on these comments turned out.
The other area I work with, as a recent novice, with my partner in ministry who is much more knowledgeable than me, is Paleo-Hebrew, which brings me to why I am commenting. So that you understand, I am asking this not to be contentious but to derive information and understanding from this scholarly discussion.
So after that long winded introduction, which is a Native American custom; the intro, not the long winded part, here is my question. Has/is Paleo-Hebrew been or being used as a part of this research and if so, how and how much. Is it part of any standard biblical archeology taking place today? If being used who are those looked to a experts or knowledgeable in it?
#66 - Bob Ensign - 06/22/2012 - 19:08

I must begin by saying that I haven`t seen the pictures of the Talpiot tomb, but as I read through the comments, I noticed nobody said something about the bones found under the name of Jesus?? There is a lot of evidence that Jesus was crucified, therefore did you see any signs of that? How did the metacarpals looked like? You cannot assume a particular person was inside by just examining the surface of the tomb!
Secondly, after Jesus was crucified together with other sentenced people of that time, would you think that His body was given back to his family afterwards and they were given the permission to bury him wherever they pleased?

This finding is interesting in its own way, but I would say study the bones not the surface of a tomb, that is not enough to conclude who was in there.
#67 - Catalina N - 08/25/2012 - 22:03

James H. Charlesworth of Princeton Theological Seminary has announced the identification and deciphering of a previously overlooked four letter inscription written in ancient Hebrew on the controversial "Jonah" ossuary. The inscription appears to spell out the name "Jonah" in Hebrew.
the team continued to examine the photographs of the engraving. In puzzling over cryptic marks on the fish's head they noticed what appeared to be Hebrew script inside the design. Charlesworth, being an expert in Hebrew script of the period, was called upon to analyze the markings.
It appears that the lines the team originally interpreted as representing the stick figure in the mouth of the fish also form four cryptic Hebrew letters (in the Hebrew script familiar from the Dead Sea Scrolls): Yod, Vav, Nun, Heh, spelling out (from right to left) Y O N H or YONAH -- the Hebrew name of the prophet Jonah. The inscription is engraved in letters less than 4 centimeters in height -- too deep to have been natural scratches in the stone, too intricate in shape to be random marks by the engraver.
Charlesworth is the George L. Collord Professor of New Testament Language and Literature and director of the Dead Sea Scrolls Project at Princeton. He has devoted his career to the epigraphical study of the original texts of the Dead Sea Scrolls and specializes deciphering the Herodian script of this period. So far, Israeli epigrapher Robert Deutsch has confirmed Charlesworth's reading of YONAH and Haggai Misgav of Hebrew University says there are definitely letters there although he reads them as ZOLAH rather than YONAH.
#68 - Benjamin glat - 08/26/2012 - 08:48

Jonah and the chevron/circle icon above Tomb A entrance

Below is an email I sent JT this spring about the symbol above the door of the Jesus Tomb. He responded by saying the idea had indeed occurred to himself and others.


Like millions of other readers/viewers, I've been intrigued by both the Jesus Family Tomb and the Patio Tomb. My thanks to you and your colleagues for engaging in such difficult, controversial work with such care and fidelity to the scientific method.

I'm sure someone else has brought this to your attention by now, but could the stone carving above the Jesus Family Tomb entrance be a kind of stone-parable? Namely a highly stylized version of a great fish expelling Jonah? The Jonah images inside the Patio tomb were "safe" from charges of heresy because they were hidden from view. But no tomb, including that of Jesus, could externally display graven images. Still Jesus' followers would have wanted something special to mark where they gathered to honor their master. So why not employ a favorite strategy of their teacher? A parable. In this case a stone-parable, as it were, so that those who KNEW the secret, knew; and those who didn't, didn't.

Thanks again.
#69 - Paul Diehl - 09/03/2012 - 00:35

Do the tombs show any signs of early Christian veneration such as those at Peter's house in Capernaum? Are there any very early writings - Christian, gnostic, rabbinic - that mention a tomb associated with Jesus' family?
#70 - Mary Martin - 02/22/2013 - 11:49

S.G.F. Brandon very properly, in my opinion at least, pointed out that it was utterly impossible for the body of a condemned criminal-as depicted in the gospels- to have been buried with any sort of permanency. That the country was in utter chaos, that nobody could travel anywhere, that locations securely marked were very often eradicated, that Roman soldiers were all over the country searching out zealots and other fanatical belligerents and that this went on for many years. So the question should naturally arise-although I haven't seen a single mention in this very long list of learned comments, of the unliklhood of such prepared ossuaries being found dating from between 30-40 C.E. Especially considering that all the "family" interments and much later transfers to ossuaries would need to have been carried out in secrecy.

As well, my understanding, naturally limited, is that ossuaries were used for permanent interrment, not temporary, and that the whole bodies of the dead were later revisited so that the bones could be collected and placed in ossuaries. These ossuaries seem rather elaborate considering the period. And, lastly, if the time to do all these was available, would not it be more expected that the ossuaries might be found in or a round Nazareth. That is, assuming that such a place was in existence at that time, even if available research say it did not. It seems to me that far too many of the statements by both scholars and commenters rely to a considerable degree on the Gospels. I am making not statement of fact, but posing queries.

Thank you,

#71 - Austin - 09/18/2013 - 22:20

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