The Lost Tomb of Jesus

The Lost Tomb of Jesus

The -Paleo-Hebrew door eye- aka -Eye of ascension- adorned Talpiot Tomb.
Directed by Simcha Jacobovici
Produced by Felix Golubev
Ric Esther Bienstock
Distributed by Koch Vision, Discovery Channel, and Vision TV
Release date(s) March 4, 2007
Country USA/Canada
Language English
Official website
A series of articles on
Jesus Christ and Christianity
Virgin Birth
Death and resurrection
Second Coming
Names and titles
Cultural and Historical Background
Perspectives on Jesus
Biblical Jesus
Religious perspectives
Historical perspective
Jesus myth hypothesis
Comparative mythology
Jesus in culture
Cultural depictions of Jesus

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The Lost Tomb of Jesus is a documentary co-produced and first broadcast on the Discovery Channel and Vision TV in Canada on March 4, 2007 covering the discovery of the Talpiot Tomb. It was directed by Canadian documentary and film maker Simcha Jacobovici and produced by Felix Golubev and Ric Esther Bienstock, while James Cameron served as executive producer. The film has been released in conjunction with a book about the same subject, The Jesus Family Tomb, issued in late February 2007 and co-authored by Jacobovici and Charles R. Pellegrino. The documentary and book’s claims are widely disputed by archaeologists and theologians, as well as language and biblical scholars.



Film director and producer James Cameron presents a television documentary of the discovery and examination of the Talpiot Tomb. The documentary uses the work of statisticians, archaeologists, historians, DNA experts, robot-camera technicians, epigraphers and a crime scene investigation expert. Jacobovici puts together a case in which he argues that the bones of Jesus, his mother Mary, and his alleged wife Mary Magdalene, along with some of their lesser-known relatives, were once entombed in this cave. James Charlesworth of the Princeton Theological Seminary consulted with Jacobovici on the project and is intrigued: “A very good claim could be made that this was Jesus’ clan…”[1]

Actual Discovery of the Tomb

The tomb was originally discovered in 1980 during a housing construction project. Ten ossuaries were found in the cave, including the six that are the subject of Jacobovici’s film.

“In their movie they are billing it as ‘never before reported information,’ but it is not new. I published all the details in the Antiqot journal in 1996, and I didn’t say it was the tomb of Jesus’ family,” said Amos Kloner, now professor of archaeology at Israel’s Bar-Ilan University and author of the original excavation report for the predecessor of the Israel Antiquities Authority.[2]

“I think it is very unserious work. I do scholarly work…,” Kloner said. “[This film] is all nonsense.”[2]

Ossuary inscriptions


The inscription described as Yeshua` bar Yehosef is the most disputed.


The inscription described as Yeshua` bar Yehosef is the most disputed.[3][4][5]

Six of the ten ossuaries have inscriptions. The other four ossuaries have no inscriptions. The Lost Tomb of Jesus posits that three of the ossuaries with inscriptions bear the names of figures from the New Testament.[6] The actual meanings of the epigraphs are disputed.[7] The makers of the documentary claim that four leading epigraphers have corroborated their interpretation of the inscriptions.[8] As translated in The Lost Tomb of Jesus and The Jesus Family Tomb, they read as follows:

  • Yeshua bar Yehosef, Aramaic for “Jesus son of Joseph”
  • Maria, written in Aramaic script, but a Latin form of the Hebrew name “Miriam” (“Mary”)[9]
  • Yose, a diminutive of “Joseph” mentioned (in its Greek form ιωσης “Joses”) as the name of one of Jesus’s brothers in the New Testament (Mark 6:3)
  • Yehuda bar Yeshua, Possibly Aramaic for “Judah son of Jesus”
  • Mariamene e Mara. According to the filmmakers this is Greek for “Mary known as the master.” The similar name “Mariamne” is found in the Acts of Philip: Francois Bovon, professor of the history of religion at Harvard University has suggested based on his study of that work that Mariamene, or Mariamne, was the actual name of Mary Magdalene[9]
  • Matya, Hebrew for ‘Matthew’—not claimed to be Matthew the Evangelist but “possibly a husband of one of the women in an unmarked ossuary.”[10]. The filmmakers claim that there is evidence that Mary mother of Jesus had many relatives named Matthew[9]

Four leading epigraphers have corroborated the ossuary inscriptions for The Lost Tomb of Jesus, according to the Discovery Channel.[11] William G. Dever, a retired professor of archaeology at the University of Arizona who has been excavating ancient sites in Israel for 50 years, said that some of the inscriptions on the Talpiot ossuaries are unclear, but that all of the names are common.[12]

Connection to the James Ossuary

Main article: James Ossuary

The film further claims another of the ossuaries, which went missing years ago, is the James Ossuary purported to contain the body of James, the brother of Jesus.[13]

In The Jesus Family Tomb, Simcha Jacobovici claims the James Ossuary would have been a part of this tomb, but was removed by artifact dealers, and thus discovered separately.[14] The James Ossuary’s authenticity has been called into question, and one of its past owners has been charged with fraud in connection to the artifact.

Ben Witherington III, who worked with Jacobovici on a Discovery Channel documentary on the James Ossuary, denies this connection on two grounds:

  • “The James ossuary, according to the report of the antiquities dealer that Oded Golan got the ossuary from, said that the ossuary came from Silwan, not Talpiot, and had dirt in it that matched up with the soil in that particular spot in Jerusalem.”
  • “Furthermore, Eusebius reports that the tomb marker for James’s burial was close to where James was martyred near the temple mount, indeed near the famous tombs in the Kidron Valley such as the so-called tomb of Absalom. Talpiot is nowhere near this locale.”[15]

Another consideration was that the measurements of the James Ossuary did not match the measurements listed for the tenth ossuary, which is no longer stored with the rest of the collection. The James Ossuary was listed as being approximately 50 centimeters long by 30 centimeters wide on one end, and 25.5 centimeters on the other end.[16]. The tenth ossuary in the Talpiot collection is listed as 60 centimeters long by 26 centimeters by 30 centimeters.[17] Furthermore, Amos Kloner has stated that the tenth ossuary had no inscription. And Joe Zias, former curator of the Rockerfeller Museum who received and catalogued the ossuaries, has also refuted this claim on his personal site.[2]

New information has now shown that the discrepancy in the measurements had to do with measuring the base of the ossuary, which is indeed 50 centimeters, rather than the length.The top length of the James ossuary, not the base, which is trapazoid in shape, according to the latest remeasurement carried out by the Israel Antiquities Authority, is 57.5 centimeters. This does not prove in any way that the James ossuary is the missing tenth. [2]

Statistical report

A central question has regarded the probability that a tomb might contain the specific group of names as the Talpiot Tomb. Experts such as Richard Bauckham,[18] David Mavorah[19] and Amos Kloner[19] have asserted the commonness of archaeological inscriptions bearing the name “Jesus.” Paul Maier, professor of ancient history at Western Michigan University, notes that there were at least 21 “Yeshuas” or Jesuses famous enough to be included in the histories of Josephus.[20] For their part, the filmmakers present a statistical study conducted by Andrey Feuerverger, professor of statistics and mathematics at the University of Toronto, which concluded that while the names are not uncommon, the conservative odds that such names would be found together in any one tomb around are (depending on variables) from 600 to 1.[6] to a million to 1 in favor of it being authentic.[21] However, Dr. Feuerverger later said, “It is not in the purview of statistics to conclude whether or not this tombsite is that of the New Testament family. Any such conclusion much more rightfully belongs to the purview of biblical historical scholars who are in a much better position to assess the assumptions entering into the computations. The role of statistics here is primarily to attempt to assess the odds of an equally (or more) ‘compelling’ cluster of names arising purely by chance under certain random sampling assumptions and under certain historical assumptions. In this respect I now believe that I should not assert any conclusions connecting this tomb with any hypothetical one of the NT family.” [3] Dr. Feuerverger’s assessment was based on several assumptions:

  • that the Maria on one of the ossuaries is the mother of the Jesus found on another box,
  • that Mariamne is his wife
  • that Joseph (inscribed as the nickname Jose) is his brother

Support for these assumptions comes, according to the documentary, from the following claims:[22]

  • Mariamne is the Greek form of Mary.
  • Mary Magdelene is believed to have spoken and preached in Greek.
  • Jose was the nickname used for Jesus’ little brother.
  • The Talpiot Tomb is the only place where ossuaries have ever been found with the names Mariamne and Jose, even though the root forms of the name were very popular and thousands of ossuaries have been unearthed.

Further information regarding the methodology of this study is due to be published soon.[citation needed]

On February 25, 2007, Andrey Feuerverger, professor of statistics and mathematics at the University of Toronto conducted a statistical calculation on the name cluster as part of The Lost Tomb of Jesus. He concluded that the odds are at least 600 to 1 that the combination of names appeared in the tomb by chance. The methodology of this study has been submitted to a journal, but in the meantime a summary can be found on the Discovery Channel website.[6][23] as well as the Official Site for the documentary The Lost Tomb of Jesus[24] A more detailed explanation of the statistical approach can be found also on Prof. Andrey Feuerverger‘s website[25] as well as in a recent interview given to Scientific American.[26] The frequency distribution for names prevalent during the period of time during which ossuary burials took place was inferred by studying two key sources:

  • Rahmani’s Catalogue of Jewish Ossuaries in the Collections of the State of Israel.[27]
  • Tal Ilan’s Lexicon of Jewish Names in Late Antiquity.[28]

According to Prof. Feuerverger, the goal of the statistical analysis is to assess the probability level of a null hypothesis, I quote:[25]

A ‘null hypothesis’ can be thought of here as asserting that this cluster of names arose purely by chance under random sampling from the onomasticon. The alternative hypothesis is the opposite of this, in some sense. It is not in the purview of statistics to conclude whether or not this tombsite is that of the New Testament family.

Feuerverger multiplied the instances that each name appeared during the tomb’s time period with the instances of every other name. He initially found “Jesus Son of Joseph” appeared once out of 190 times, Mariamne appeared once out of 160 times and so on:

Jesus son of Joseph Mariamne Yose Maria Product
1/190 1/160 1/20 1/4 =1/2,432,000
0.53% 0.625% 5% 25%

He next divided 2,432,000 by 4 to account for bias in the historical record and further divided that result (608,000) by 1,000 to attempt to account for the number of explored tombs from first century Jerusalem.[29][30]

Feuerverger’s conclusions have been called into question:

  • According to some multiplying the individual names’ probabilities is wrong because many permutations of the same names are possible.
  • The inclusion of Mariamne in the calculation is based on two assumptions:
    • Mary Magdelene in NT was Jesus’ wife. (There is no historical evidence for this.)
    • Mary Magdelene’s real name was Mariamne. (This assumption is disputed by some experts [31] [32].)
  • The calculation adjusts only for the 1,000 tombs found in Jerusalem instead of the whole Jewish populace that lived in the area. This effectively assumes that Jesus family in NT did indeed have a family tomb and it was among the 1000 tombs found in Jerusalem area [4] [5]. There is no historical evidence for this assumption. Some experts, including archaeologist Amos Kloner (the one who excavated the tombs) do not accept that the poor family from Nazareth had a family tomb in Jerusalem [33].
  • The inscription “Judah son of Jesus” is ignored in the calculation. Since there is no historical evidence that Jesus had any children, some people believe this inscription should be included in the calculation to reduce the probability that the tomb belongs to the Jesus family [6].

Stephan Pfann (president of Jerusalem’s University of the Holy Land) points out that the commonality of these names suggests that the probability is much lower. “Remarkably, a mere 16 of the 72 personal names [found on ossuaries] account for 75% of the inscribed names.” Among these “top 16” names are Mary, Joseph, Jesus, Matthew, and Judas.[34]

Richard Bauckham (Professor of New Testament Studies and Bishop Wardlaw Professor at St Andrews) compiled the following data to show just how common the names on these ossuaries are:[15]

“Out of a total number of 2625 males, these are the figures for the ten most popular male names among Palestinian Jews. The first figure is the total number of occurrences (from this number, with 2625 as the total for all names, you could calculate percentages), while the second is the number of occurrences specifically on ossuaries.”
Rank Name Total References Found on Ossuaries Percent of Total References (2625)
1 Simon/Simeon 243 59 9.3%
2 Joseph 218 45 8.3%
3 Eleazar 166 29 6.3%
4 Judah 164 44 6.2%
5 John/Yohanan 122 25 4.6%
6 Jesus 99 22 3.8%
7 Hananiah 82 18 3.1%
8 Jonathan 71 14 2.7%
9 Matthew 62 17 2.4%
10 Manaen/Menahem 42 4 1.6%
“For women, we have a total of 328 occurrences (women’s names are much less often recorded than men’s), and figures for the 4 most popular names are thus:”
Rank Name Total References Found on Ossuaries Percent of Total References (328)
1 Mary/Mariamne 70 42 21.3%
2 Salome 58 41 17.7%
3 Shelamzion 24 19 7.3%
4 Martha 20 17 6.1%

Colin Aitken, a professor of forensic statistics at Edinburgh University, stated that the study is based on a number of assumptions, and that, “even if we accept the assumptions, 600 to one is certainly not the odds in favour of this tomb being Jesus.” [7] meaning that even if it were true that to find this cluster of names is very unlikely it does not follow that therefore this is probably the tomb of the family of Jesus. According to the Discovery Channel documentary Feuerverger’s statistical model concludes that there is only a 1/600 chance that the Talpiot tomb is not the Jesus family tomb if Mariamne can be linked to Mary Magdalene. In his personal website Feuerverger has distanced himself from this claim, explaining: “I now believe that I should not assert any conclusions connecting this tomb with any hypothetical one of the NT family.”[35] Also, the Discovery Channel website has removed all previous associations of Feuerverger’s name with the 1/600 estimate of the Talpiot tomb not belonging to Jesus family.

DNA tests

Analysis of mitochondrial DNA (a tool for tracking matrilineage) performed by Lakehead University on the remains found in the ossuary marked “Jesus son of Joseph” and the one marked “Mariamne,” or “Mary” found that the two occupants were not blood relations on their mothers’ side. Based on these tests, the makers of the documentary suggest that “Jesus” and “Mariamne” were probably married “because otherwise they would not have been buried together in a family tomb,”[36] but the remains weren’t dated using radiocarbon to further sustain this supposition, neither was any announced DNA testing done on the others ossuaries to see if any familial relation existed there. Additionally, scholars argue the DNA tests only prove that they didn’t have the same mother and they could easily have been cousins, half brother/sister, or any number of possibilities that doesn’t include a matrilineage line.[37]

The Hashemite ruling family of Jordan claims direct descent from the Prophet Muhammad, therefore, they should be carrying Muhammad’s DNA. Muhammad was a direct descendant of Hashem, of the House of Hashem, Hashem being a direct descendant of Ishmael, the first born son of Abraham, via Hagar. Issac was the second born son of Abraham, via Sarah. Jesus was a direct descendant of King David, who was himself a direct descendant of Judah, of the House of Judah, founder and leader of the Tribe of Judah, Judah being one of the 12 or 13 sons of Jacob, who himself was the son of Issac. It is being posited here that Muhammad and Jesus are distant blood cousins. The Saudis will never permit the taking of DNA from the remains of Prophet Muhammad, or from Ali his cousin, however DNA from the Hashemites of Jordan is readily available and can be compared to the DNA that Simcha Jacobovici was able to take from the supposed ossuary of Jesus or his 2 brothers and son. If indeed the DNA from these 4 ossuaries match the DNA from the Hashemites, then we can finally put the matter to rest.

The Lost Tomb of Jesus—A Critical Look

Following the 3/4/07 airing of The Lost Tomb of Jesus on the Discovery Channel, American journalist Ted Koppel aired a program entitled The Lost Tomb of Jesus—A Critical Look, whose guests included the director Simcha Jacobovici, James Tabor, Chair of the Department of Religious Studies at the University of North Carolina at Charlotte who served as a consultant and advisor on the documentary, Jonathan Reed, Professor of Religion at the University of LaVerne and co-author of Excavating Jesus Beneath the Stones, Behind the Text, and William Dever, an archaeologist with over 50 years experience in Middle Eastern archaeological digs.

The Washington Post in an article of 2/28/07 cites Dever as being “widely considered the dean of biblical archaeology among U.S. scholars” and quotes him as saying, “I just think it’s a shame the way this story is being hyped and manipulated” and “all of the names [contained in the tomb] are common.”

Alan Cooperman, writer of The Washington Post article also states this: “Similar assessments came yesterday from two Israeli scholars, Amos Kloner, who originally excavated the tomb, and Joe Zias, former curator of archaeology at the Israeli Antiquities Authority. Kloner told the Jerusalem Post that the documentary is “nonsense.” Zias described it in an e-mail to The Washington Post as a “hyped up film which is intellectually and scientifically dishonest.”

During the documentary The Lost Tomb of Jesus, various professionals had claimed:

  1. concerning the ossuaries marked Yeshua` (“Jesus”) and the one believed to be that of Mary Magdalene: because “the DNA did not match, the forensic archaeologist concluded that they must be husband and wife”;
  2. that testing showed that there was a match between the patina on the James and Yeshua` ossuaries and referred to the James ossuary as the “missing link” from the tomb of Yeshua` (Jesus);
  3. and that an ossuary that became missing from the tomb of Yeshua` had actually been the infamous James ossuary believed to contain the remains of the brother of Yeshua`.

During Ted Koppel’s critique, The Lost Tomb of Jesus—a Critical Look, Koppel revealed he had denials from these three people Simcha Jacobovici had misquoted in the documentary.

  1. Koppel had a written denial from the forensic archaeologist asserting that he had NOT concluded that the remains of Yeshua` and Miriamne showed they were husband and wife. In fact, he had logically stated, “you cannot genetically test for marriage.”
  2. Koppel had a written denial from the Suffolk Crime Lab Director asserting that he had NOT stated the James ossuary patina matched that of the Yeshua` ossuary. He denied ever saying they were a match, and said he’d have to do much more comparison testing of other tombs before he could draw any conclusions.
  3. Koppel had a verbal denial from Professor Amos Kloner, the archaeologist who had supervised the initial 1980 dig of the tomb of Yeshua`, with whom he spoke on 3/4/07, asserting that the ossuary that later turned up missing from the alleged Tomb of ‘Jesus’ could not have been what is now known as the James ossuary. In fact he indicated there was evidence that it was not the same by saying that the now missing ossuary he had seen and photographed and catalogued in 1980 had been totally unmarked, whereas the James ossuary is marked with the name of James and a rosette.

The archaeologist William Dever summed it up when he stated on Koppel’s critical analysis, The Lost Tomb of Jesus—A Critical Look, that Jacobovici’s and Cameron’s “conclusions were already drawn in the beginning” of the inquiry and that their “argument goes far beyond any reasonable interpretation.”

Theological implications

See also: Religious perspectives on Jesus

Although the film’s premise questions theological renderings of the Bible’s account of Jesus’ resurrection and ascension (which are central tenets of Christianity, affirmed also in the Nicene Creed), the filmmakers exclusively reject this claim.[38].[39] Speaking at the news conference held at the New York Public Library, film’s religious consultant James Tabor stated that the fact that Jesus’ tomb was discovered does not put in doubt biblical accounts of his resurrection, which he said could have actually been spiritual.[40]

With regards to the ascension, however, the documentary’s website suggests that while the tomb’s discovery does not render impossible the notion of a spiritual ascension, it does do so for those who believe that Jesus physically ascended to heaven.[41]

Later in an interview,[42] Simcha Jacobovici said that the film can be seen as a proof for those who question Jesus’ existence, and stressed on the idea the film being about science, truth and facts. But it’s worth mentioning that only the few lines of theological considerations drawn on the film’s website [8], (resurrecting from a second tomb after being moved or the spiritual only ascent to Heaven) are directly contradicting the majority of Christian views, which make this confirmation of Jesus historicity at least of no use[43] from this perspective, if not tearing apart[44] the belief.

Asked what he believes about the resemblance with The Da Vinci Code, executive producer James Cameron said[45] he looked “at it as paving the way for some of these ideas that some people may consider to be quite radical, but were rather well researched in that movie” and, although the documentary team was working for a year when it was released, they decided to wait for another year “to let these ideas marinate.”

The film conflicts also with Islamic views, by which Jesus was raised bodily to heaven by God.

Contradictions with Christian views

See also: Christian views of Jesus

Besides scientific assertions (with direct theological implications), the film does propose new interpretations. Both types of suggestions contradict[46] the basis of the faith in the majority’s view,[47] if considering only Catholicism and Eastern Orthodoxy by number of members (other denominations‘ teachings being contradicted at least partially), and may be considered blasphemies[48][49][50] by the Church:

The claim that Jesus was married also undermines the theological metaphor of the Church being the “Bride of Christ” (found in the writings of the New Testament). Jimmy Akin, director of Apologetics and Evangelization at Catholic Answers, wrote: “This image would never have arisen if there was a Mrs. Jesus living right there in Jerusalem…. We know about [the wives of religion founders] because they were honored figures as wives of The Founder, and if Jesus had a wife then (a) we would know about it and (b) the whole Church-as-the-Bride-of-Christ metaphor would never have come into existence.” As for a possible “son of Jesus,” he noted: “We tend to know about even the daughters of religious founders. Muhammad’s daughter Fatima comes to mind. It would be much harder to sneak a forgotten son by the eyes of history…. It’s not just hard to sneak sons past because patriarchal cultures focus more on sons; it’s also because of this: In traditional societies, the son is looked on as the father’s natural successor.”[51]


The Chevron

The symbol of the Chevron above a circle is portrayed in a mysterious way in the film. Some assert that they are being used in such a sensational way on the official “Jesus Tomb” website and the “documentary” but that they are unlikely to be early Christian symbols at all.[52]

A “chevron and circle” pattern is clearly visible as a depiction of the facade of the Nicanor gate of the Temple of God in Jerusalem, as is visible on era coinage.[52] The Nicanor gate marked the end of a pilgrimage. The last fifteen steps are still marked by the “Psalms of Ascent,” or better, “the Psalms of the ascending ones.” The entrance to the tomb also marked the end of a pilgrimage. This can be interpreted to suggest that the occupants of the tomb were observant Jews. While it does not preclude that they were Jewish Christians that met for some time in the temple, it seems statistically unlikely according to some. Relating the chevron to the Pontormo Code, the All-seeing eye, or the Knight’s Templar is very unlikely to such authors.[52] door eye” or “Paleo-Hebrew eye of God” after he discovered the link between Paleo-Hebrew, Caanite art, and the symbols.

Archaeological Questions

The Three Skulls

Three skulls were found on the floor of the tomb in 1980 which some assert was unusual but others disagree. – “This too was decidedly not typical. In ancient Jerusalem, the dead were placed inside tombs; in tombs, the dead were placed inside ossuaries. If anything was left behind, it was a lamp or a bottle of perfume—not skulls.?”[53][54]

Criticism of the documentary

Early Christianity scholar R. Joseph Hoffmann, chair of the skeptically minded Committee for the Scientific Examination of Religion, says the film alerts the public to the fact that there are no secure conclusions when it comes to the foundational history of a religious tradition. But he charges that the film “is all about bad assumptions,” beginning with the assumption that the boxes contain Jesus of Nazareth and his family. From his view as an historian specializing in the social history of earliest Christianity, he found it “amazing how evidence falls into place when you begin with the conclusion—and a hammer.”[55]

When interviewed about the upcoming documentary, Amos Kloner, who oversaw the original archaeological dig of this tomb in 1980 said:

“It makes a great story for a TV film, but it’s completely impossible. It’s nonsense.”[56]

Newsweek reports that the archaeologist who personally numbered the ossuaries dismissed any potential connection:

“Simcha has no credibility whatsoever,” says Joe Zias, who was the curator for anthropology and archeology at the Rockefeller Museum in Jerusalem from 1972 to 1997 and personally numbered the Talpiot ossuaries. “He’s pimping off the Bible … He got this guy Cameron, who made ‘Titanic’ or something like that—what does this guy know about archeology? I am an archeologist, but if I were to write a book about brain surgery, you would say, ‘Who is this guy?’ People want signs and wonders. Projects like these make a mockery of the archeological profession.”[57]

The aforementioned Joe Zias has published in his own site a “viewers’ guide” to the Talpiot Tomb documentary, in which he systematically rebuts the film’s argumentation and gives much background information about the people involved in it.[58]

Stephen Pfann, president of Jerusalem’s University of the Holy Land and an expert in Semitic languages, who was interviewed in the documentary, also said the film’s hypothesis holds little weight:

“How possible is it?” Pfann said. “On a scale of one through 10—10 being completely possible—it’s probably a one, maybe a one and a half.”[59]

Pfann also thinks the inscription read as “Jesus” has been misread and suggests that the name “Hanun” might be a more accurate rendering.[60]

The Washington Post reports that William G. Dever (mentioned above as excavating ancient sites in Israel for 50 years) offered the following:

“I’ve known about these ossuaries for many years and so have many other archaeologists, and none of us thought it was much of a story, because these are rather common Jewish names from that period. It’s a publicity stunt, and it will make these guys very rich, and it will upset millions of innocent people because they don’t know enough to separate fact from fiction.”[12]

Asbury Theological Seminary‘s Ben Witherington III (who has also been aware of the tomb since 1980) points out some other circumstantial problems with linking this tomb to Christ:[15]

  • “So far as we can tell, the earliest followers of Jesus never called Jesus ‘son of Joseph’. It was outsiders who mistakenly called him that.”
  • “The ancestral home of Joseph was Bethlehem, and his adult home was Nazareth. The family was still in Nazareth after he [Joseph] was apparently dead and gone. Why in the world would he be buried (alone at this point) in Jerusalem?”
  • “One of the ossuaries has the name Jude son of Jesus. We have no historical evidence of such a son of Jesus, indeed we have no historical evidence he was ever married.”
  • “The Mary ossuaries (there are two) do not mention anyone from Migdal. It simply has the name Mary—and that’s about the most common of all ancient Jewish female names.”
  • “We have names like Matthew on another ossuary, which don’t match up with the list of [Jesus’s] brothers’ names.”
  • “By all ancient accounts, the tomb of Jesus was empty—even the Jewish and Roman authorities acknowledged this. Now it takes a year for the flesh to desiccate, and then you put the man’s bones in an ossuary. But Jesus’ body was long gone from Joseph of Arimathea’s tomb well before then. Are we really to believe it was moved to another tomb, decayed, and then was put in an ossuary? Implicitly you must accuse James, Peter (Cephas) and John (mentioned in Galatians 1:9—our earliest NT document from 49 A.D.) of fraud and cover up. Are we really to believe that they knew Jesus didn’t rise bodily from the dead but perpetrated a fraudulent religion, for which they and others were prepared to die? Did they really hide the body of Jesus in another tomb?”
  • “We need to remember that the James in question is Jesus’ brother, who certainly would have known about a family tomb. This frankly is impossible for me to believe.”

The Archaeological Institute of America, self-described on their website as “North America’s oldest and largest organization devoted to the world of archeology,” has published online their own criticism of the “Jesus tomb” claim:

“The identification of the Talpiyot tomb as the tomb of Jesus and his family is based on a string of problematic and unsubstantiated claims […] [It] contradicts the canonical Gospel accounts of the death and burial of Jesus and the earliest Christian traditions about Jesus. This claim is also inconsistent with all of the available information—historical and archaeological—about how Jews in the time of Jesus buried their dead, and specifically the evidence we have about poor, non-Judean families like that of Jesus. It is a sensationalistic claim without any scientific basis or support.”[61]

DNA and family evidence

Dr. Darrel L. Bock, a New Testament scholar and research professor of New Testament studies at Dallas Theological Seminary points out some of the inconsistencies, including: “If Jesus’ family came from Galilee, why would they have a family tomb in Jerusalem?”[62]

Dr. Ben Witherington III points out an inconsistency related to the James Ossuary: He points out that the James Ossuary came from Silwan, not Talpiot. In addition, the James Ossuary had dirt on it that “matched up with the soil in that particular spot in Jerusalem.” In his opinion, this is problematic, because “the ossuaries that came out of Talpiot came out of a rock cave from a different place, and without such soil in it.” Therefore, he believes that it is difficult to believe that the one known family member of Jesus was buried separately and far away from Jesus’ family.[15]

In addition, during the trial of antiquities dealer Oded Golan there has been testimony from former FBI agent Gerald Richard that a photo of the James ossuary, showing it in Golan’s home, was taken in the 1970s, based on tests done by the FBI photo lab. This would make it impossible for the James Ossuary to have been discovered with the rest of the Talpiot ossuaries in the 1980s.[22]

With reference to the DNA tests, Witherington wrote in his blog: “[T]he most the DNA evidence can show is that several of these folks are interrelated…. We would need an independent control sample from some member of Jesus’ family to confirm that these were members of Jesus’ family. We do not have that at all.”[15] This quote clarifies the fact that the documentarians do not believe they have tested the DNA and have proven it to be Jesus. They simply used DNA testing to prove that the “Jesus son of Joseph” and the “Mariamne” in this tomb were not related. The film asserted that since they were unrelated they were probably spouses. Critics contend they could have been paternally related, or related by someone else’s marriage. It is also pointed out that if Mariamne was somebody’s wife, she could just as well have been the wife of one of the other two males who were in the ossuary.

The New York Times article of February 27 (reprinted in full on many websites) states (we put the crucial words in bold):

The documentary’s director and its driving force, Simcha Jacobovici…, said there was enough mitochondrial DNA for a laboratory in Ontario to conclude that the bodies in the “Jesus” and “Mary Magdalene” ossuaries were not related on their mothers’ side. From this, Mr. Jacobovici deduced that they were a couple, because otherwise they would not have been buried together in a family tomb. In an interview, Mr. Jacobovici was asked why the filmmakers did not conduct DNA testing on the other ossuaries to determine whether the one inscribed Judah, son of Jesus was genetically related to either the Jesus or Mary Magdalene boxes; or whether the Jesus remains were actually the offspring of Mary. “We’re not scientists. At the end of the day we can’t wait till every ossuary is tested for DNA,” he said. “We took the story that far. At some point you have to say, I’ve done my job as a journalist.”

In the televised debate following the airing of the film, Ted Koppel pressed Jacobovici on the same question and received the same response. According to the authors of one blog, “the response is manifestly disingenuous. The question, in fact, necessarily arises whether the team or one of its members decided not to proceed with any further DNA tests. Such tests may have revealed that none of the ossuaries are related—hence defeating the underlying presupposition that the crypt was in fact a family tomb, and thereby eliminating any valid basis at all for producing and showing the film.”

The authors of the quoted blog also point out that one of the key supporters of the Jesus-crypt claim is also a main figure behind the recent claim that an Essene toilet has been found near Qumran — a claim which, according to them, has now been refuted in an article appearing on the website of Professor Norman Golb of the University of Chicago. In another, more recent development, The Jewish Forward has published an opinion piece by Golb, which states in part that the Jesus-tomb claim is not based on “scientific research per se, but on conjecture and a tendentious presentation of evidence — techniques feeding on a largely faith-based fascination with Christian origins.”

William G. Dever said that some of the inscriptions on the ossuaries are unclear, but that all of the names are common. “I’ve known about these ossuaries for many years and so have many other archaeologists, and none of us thought it was much of a story because these are rather common Jewish names from that period. It’s a publicity stunt, and it will make these guys very rich, and it will upset millions of innocent people because they don’t know enough to separate fact from fiction.”[12]

Jodi Magness, an archaeologist at the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill, notes that at the time of Jesus, wealthy families buried their dead in tombs cut by hand from solid rock, putting the bones in niches in the walls and then, later, transferring them to ossuaries. “If Jesus’ family had been wealthy enough to afford a rock-cut tomb, it would have been in Nazareth, not Jerusalem,” Magness writes.

According to Magness, the names on the Talpiot ossuaries indicate that the tomb belonged to a family from Judea, the area around Jerusalem, where people were known by their first name and father’s name. As Galileans, Jesus and his family members would have used their first name and hometown. “This whole case (for the tomb of Jesus) is flawed from beginning to end.”[12]

There is no information on analyzing relation of “Mary” and “Jesus son of Joseph” or any other tomb occupants. In Jewish tradition after one year, when bodies in rock-cut tombs were decomposed, bones were collected, cleaned and then finally placed in an ossuary. Due to this conduct there is no real assurance that what scientists have really examined are remnants of “Mariamne e Mara” and “Jesus son of Joseph.”

Interpretation of the inscriptions

David Mavorah, a curator of the Israel museum in Jerusalem, points out that the names on the ossuaries were extremely common. “We know that Joseph, Jesus and Mariamne were all among the most common names of the period. To start with all these names being together in a single tomb and leap from there to say this is the tomb of Jesus is a little far-fetched, to put it politely.”[19] David Mavorah is an expert of Israeli Antiquity, and (presumably) not an expert of statistics. However, Dr. Andrey Feuerverger, the statistician cited by the makers of the documentary, has said that determination of the identity of those in the tomb was the purview of biblical historians, and not statisticians. For another interpretation of the statistics see the statistics section above.

Professor Amos Kloner, former Jerusalem district archaeologist of the Israel Antiquities Authority and the first archaeologist to examine the tomb in 1980,[63] told the Yedioth Ahronoth newspaper that the name Jesus had been found 71 times in burial caves at around that time.[19] Furthermore, he said that the inscription on the ossuary is not clear enough to ascertain, and although the idea fails to hold up by archaeological standards it makes for profitable television. Quote: “The new evidence is not serious, and I do not accept that it is connected to the family of Jesus…. They just want to get money for it.”[9]

Dr. Richard Bauckham, professor at the University of St Andrews, catalogued ossuary names from that region since 1980. He records that based on the catalogue, “Jesus” was the 6th most popular name of Jewish men, and “Mary/Mariamne” was the single most popular name of Jewish women at that time. Therefore, finding two ossuaries containing the names “Jesus” and “Mary/Mariamne” is not significant at all, and the chances of it being the ossuaries of Jesus and Mary Magdalene are “very small indeed.”[18]

Concerning the inscription attributed to Jesus son of Joseph, Steve Caruso, a professional Aramaic translator using a computer to visualize different interpretations, claims that although it is possible to read it as “Yeshua” that “overall it is a very strong possibility that this inscription is not ‘Yeshua` bar Yehosef.'”[64]

Name “Mary” and derivative of it may have been used by 25% of Jewish women at that time.[65]


Lawrence E. Stager, the Dorot professor of archaeology of Israel at Harvard, said the documentary was “exploiting the whole trend that caught on with The Da Vinci Code. One of the problems is there are so many biblically illiterate people around the world that they don’t know what is real judicious assessment and what is what some of us in the field call ‘fantastic archaeology.'”[9]

William G. Dever said, “I’m not a Christian. I’m not a believer. I don’t have a dog in this fight. I just think it’s a shame the way this story is being hyped and manipulated.”[12]

Jodi Magness criticized the decision of the documentary makers to make their claims at a news conference rather than in a peer-reviewed scientific article. By going directly to the media, she said, the filmmakers “have set it up as if it’s a legitimate academic debate, when the vast majority of scholars who specialize in archeology of this period have flatly rejected this.”[12]

Joe Zias, former curator of archeology at the Israeli Antiquities Authority, described it in an e-mail to The Washington Post as a “hyped-up film which is intellectually and scientifically dishonest.”[12] He also wrote an extended Viewers Guide to Understanding the Talpiot Tomb documentary, published on his web site.[58]

François Bovon has also written to say that his comments were misused. In a letter to the Society of Biblical Literature, he wrote:[66]

As I was interviewed for the Discovery Channel’s program The Lost Tomb of Jesus, I would like to express my opinion here.
First, I have now seen the program and am not convinced of its main thesis. When I was questioned by Simcha Jacobovici and his team the questions were directed toward the Acts of Philip and the role of Mariamne in this text. I was not informed of the whole program and the orientation of the script.
Second, having watched the film, in listening to it, I hear two voices, a kind of double discourse. On one hand there is the wish to open a scholarly discussion; on the other there is the wish to push a personal agenda. I must say that the reconstructions of Jesus’ marriage with Mary Magdalene and the birth of a child belong for me to science fiction.
Third, to be more credible, the program should deal with the very ancient tradition of the Holy Sepulcher, since the emperor Constantine in the fourth century C.E. built this monument on the spot at which the emperor Hadrian in the second century C.E. erected the forum of Aelia Capitolina and built on it a temple to Aphrodite at the place where Jesus’ tomb was venerated.
Fourth, I do not believe that Mariamne is the real name of Mary of Magdalene. Mariamne is, besides Maria or Mariam, a possible Greek equivalent, attested by Josephus, Origen, and the Acts of Philip, for the Semitic Myriam.
Fifth, the Mariamne of the Acts of Philip is part of the apostolic team with Philip and Bartholomew; she teaches and baptizes. In the beginning, her faith is stronger than Philip’s faith. This portrayal of Mariamne fits very well with the portrayal of Mary of Magdala in the Manichean Psalms, the Gospel of Mary, and Pistis Sophia. My interest is not historical, but on the level of literary traditions. I have suggested this identification in 1984 already in an article of New Testament Studies.
François Bovon, Harvard Divinity School

DVD Editions

On March 15, 2007, Discovery Channel released a DVD of the documentary with a listed running time of “2 hours.” [9]

A second, “director’s cut” DVD, advertised as having one hour of bonus materials (but with a listed running time of 105 minutes, compared to the aproximately 86:30 minutes of the TV broadcast version) is set for release on April 23, 2007 by Koch Vision. [10]

See also



  1. ^ Miller, Lisa; Chen, Joanna. Raiders of the Lost Tomb. Newsweek. Retrieved on 200702-28.
  2. ^ a b c “‘Jesus Tomb’ Filmmakers Should Be Ashamed, Archeologist Says”
  3. ^ http://www.nbc11.com/entertainment/11116378/detail.html
  4. ^ http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2007/02/26/AR2007022600442.html
  5. ^ http://www.aramaicdesigns.com/index.php?title=The Lost Tomb of Jesus
  6. ^ a b c Viegas, Jennifer (2007-02-25). Jesus Family Tomb Believed Found. Discovery Channel. Retrieved on 200702-28.
  7. ^ http://www.aramaicdesigns.com/?title=Page:The_Lost_Tomb_of_Jesus
  8. ^ http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2007/02/070228135009.htm
  9. ^ a b c d e Goodstein, Laurie (2007-02-27). Crypt Held Bodies of Jesus and Family, Film Says. The New York Times. Retrieved on 200702-28.
  10. ^ http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2007/02/070228135009.htm
  11. ^ A response from my Christian Origins Professor
  12. ^ a b c d e f g Cooperman, Alan (2007-02-28). ‘Lost Tomb of Jesus’ Claim Called a Stunt. The Washington Post. Retrieved on 200703-01.
  13. ^ The Lost Tomb of Jesus: Explore the Evidence (Adobe Flash). Discovery Channel. Retrieved on 200702-28.
  14. ^ http://dsc.discovery.com/convergence/tomb/explore/explore.html
  15. ^ a b c d e Witherington, Ben (2007-02-26). The Jesus Tomb? ‘Titanic’ Talpiot Tomb Theory Sunk from the Start. Retrieved on 200702-28.
  16. ^ http://www.bibleinterp.com/articles/Official_Report.htm
  17. ^ http://www.jerusalemperspective.com/Default.aspx?tabid=27&ArticleID=1924#foot3
  18. ^ a b Hollywood Hype: The Oscars and Jesus’ Family Tomb, What Do They Share? (expanded version) (2007-02-26). Retrieved on 200702-28.
  19. ^ a b c d Pilkington, Ed; McCarthy, Rory (2007-02-27). Is this really the last resting place of Jesus, Mary Magdalene—and their son?. The Guardian. Retrieved on 200702-28.
  20. ^ Goodstein, Laurie (2007-02-28). Documentary examines supposed remains of Jesus and his family. International Herald Tribune. Retrieved on 200703-01.
  21. ^ Goodstein, Laurie (2007-02-28). Documentary examines supposed remains of Jesus. International Herald Tribune. Retrieved on 200703-01.
  22. ^ a b Laidlaw, Stuart (2007-02-26). Jesus tomb claim sparks furor. Toronto Star. Retrieved on 200702-28.
  23. ^ http://dsc.discovery.com/convergence/tomb/explore/explore.html
  24. ^ http://www.jesusfamilytomb.com/evidence/probability/jesus_equation.html
  25. ^ a b http://fisher.utstat.toronto.edu/andrey/OfficeHrs.txt
  26. ^ http://sciam.com/article.cfm?articleID=13C42878-E7F2-99DF-3B6D16A9656A12FF
  27. ^ L. Rahmani, A Catalogue of Jewish Ossuaries in the Collections of the State of Israel, (IAA/Israel Academy of Sciences and Humanities, 1994)
  28. ^ Ilan, Tal. 2002. LEXICON OF JEWISH NAMES IN LATE ANTIQUITY: PART I, PALESTINE 330 BCE-200 CE. Tubingen, Germany: Mohr Siebeck.
  29. ^ http://www.prnewswire.com/cgi-bin/stories.pl?ACCT=104&STORY=/www/story/02-25-2007/0004533923&EDATE=
  30. ^ http://fisher.utstat.toronto.edu/andrey/OfficeHrs.txt
  31. ^ Witherington, Ben (2007-02-26). PROBLEMS MULTIPLY FOR JESUS TOMB THEORY. Retrieved on 200702-28.
  32. ^ Bauckham, Richard (2007-03-01). The alleged ‘Jesus family tomb’.
  33. ^ Kloner, Amos (2007-02-27). Archaeologist Amos Kloner Doesn’t Buy The Jesus Christ’s Coffin Story.
  34. ^ Pfann, Stephen. The Improper Application of Statistics in “The Lost Tomb of Jesus”. Retrieved on 200703-05.
  35. ^ Andrey Feuerverger (2007-03-04). Dear Statistical Colleagues. personal website. Retrieved on 200703-07.
  36. ^ Goodstein, Laurie (2007-02-28). Documentary examines supposed remains of Jesus. International Herald Tribune. Retrieved on 200703-01.
  37. ^ http://www.sbl-site.org/Article.aspx?ArticleId=649
  38. ^ Jesus tomb found, says film-maker. BBC. Retrieved on 200703-05.
  39. ^ Theological Considerations—The Resurrection. JesusFamilyTomb.com. Retrieved on 200703-05.
  40. ^ Documentary Shows Possible Jesus Tomb. ABC News (2007-02-27). Retrieved on 200705-14.
  41. ^ Proviso. JesusFamilyTomb.com. Retrieved on 200702-28.
  42. ^ Simcha Jacobovici: “Da Vinci Code” is fiction, my Jesus movie is science. HotNews.ro. Retrieved on 200703-05.
  43. ^ Ignore film on Jesus’ tomb, Jerusalem Catholic bishop says. Catholic Online. Retrieved on 200403-10.
  44. ^ “If the claims of the documentary prove to be true, the faith of millions could be torn apart,” Terry Edwards, professor of Bible and Humanities at Freed-Hardeman University—Holy site or hoax? Documentary claims to find Jesus’ tomb. The Jackson Sun. Retrieved on 200703-10.
  45. ^ Cameron: Jesus tomb film is a ‘detective story’. MSNBC. Retrieved on 200703-10.
  46. ^ a b Jesus tomb discovery ‘nonsense’. The Catholic Register. Retrieved on 200703-10.
  47. ^ “The identification of the Talpiot tomb as the tomb of Jesus and his family contradicts the canonical Gospel accounts of the death and burial of Jesus and the earliest Christian traditions about Jesus.”—Has the Tomb of Jesus Been Discovered?. Biblical Archaeology Society. Retrieved on 200703-09.
  48. ^ For another definition of the word, see blasphemies at the Catholic Encyclopedia
  49. ^ “For some Christians that [Jesus bones in an ossuary] would be heresy and blasphemy and wrong, and for others I don’t think it’s going to be a big shock. They have a faith that doesn’t necessarily depend on that.”—Roy Fuller, Indiana University Southeast—‘Lost Tomb of Jesus’ is old news, scholars say. The Courier-Journal. Retrieved on 200703-09.
  50. ^ “To say that the Holy Sepulchre is not holy and that East Talpiot, a mundane south Jerusalem neighborhood, was the final resting place of Jesus’ remains is nothing short of blasphemy and a complete rejection of the foundations of Christian faith, according to church traditionalists.”—Analysis: Christian heresy of the Talpiot tomb?. The Jerusallem Post. Retrieved on 200703-09.
  51. ^ Jimmy Akin, “The Tomb of Jesus Nonsense” [1]
  52. ^ a b c R. Kirk Kilpatrick, Ph.D. on the Symbology of the Tomb “So-called “Lost Tomb of Jesus”: Mysterious Chevron and Circle?”
  53. ^ Official site quotation about the skulls. (HTML).
  54. ^ TheStar.com: Inside, they found 10 ossuaries and three skulls. (HTML).
  55. ^ “Who is Entombed in the ‘Jesus Tomb’?” U.S. News, March 12, 2007, p. 34-35
  56. ^ Bozell, Brent (2007-02-28). What Bones of Jesus?. Townhall.com. Retrieved on 200702-28.
  57. ^ http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/17328478/site/newsweek/
  58. ^ a b Joe Zias (2007-03-05). Viewers Guide to Understanding the Talpiot Tomb ‘documentary’. personal website. Retrieved on 200703-06.
  59. ^ http://www.breitbart.com/news/2007/02/26/D8NHFDRG3.html
  60. ^ Matthews, Karen (2007-02-27). Jesus tomb claim derided. Winnipeg Free Press. Retrieved on 200702-27.
  61. ^ http://www.archaeological.org/webinfo.php?page=10408
  62. ^ No Need to Yell, Only a Challenge for Some who Need to Step Up and Could (expanded) (2007-02-27). Retrieved on 200702-28.
  63. ^ Clergy, scholars assail tomb of Jesus film. The Courier-Journal (2007-02-27). Retrieved on 200702-27.
  64. ^ http://www.aramaicdesigns.com/?title=Page:The_Lost_Tomb_of_Jesus
  65. ^ “The Lost Tomb of Jesus: A Response to the Discovery-Channel Documentary Directed by James Cameron”
  66. ^ Society of Biblical Literature.

Published References

Don Sausa. The Jesus Tomb : Is It Fact or Fiction? Scholars Chime In. The Vision Press. ISBN 0-9788-3469-0.

External links

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7 Responses to “The Lost Tomb of Jesus”

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