Jesus, Mother Mary, and Joseph... sounds rather like my great aunt sputtering in surprise on some April Fools' Day, but this is part of the litany of names scratched on ancient bone-boxes unearthed in a Jerusalem suburb back in 1980 which were at the center of an academic conference which concluded in Jerusalem this afternoon.
The Third Princeton Symposium on Judaism and Christian Origins was called to evaluate the Talpiot Jesus Family tomb in the academic context of Jewish burial (and reburial) practices in the Second Temple era and Jewish belief in the afterlife. You can already find the tomb on Google Earth and Wikipedia, even though it's been resealed: you'd think by popular demand the academics might give it the nod.
After days of sound and fury amongst preachers and professors, the jury still is out on whether these ossuaries-- labelled Jesus, son of Joseph; Maria (in Aramaic); Mariamne (in Greek); Matthew; Judas, son of Jesus; and Yose, a diminutive of Joseph-- might have anything to do with the remains of Jesus H. Christ. Two of the academicians said no way, two said the 'evidence' was encouraging, and one diffident scientist said more digging must be done, since there is not enough evidence one way or another to rule out a possible link with Jesus of Nazareth. An official report written by the Israeli archeologist Amos Kloner found nothing remarkable in the discovery. The cave, it said, was probably in use by three or four generations of Jews from the beginning of the Common Era.
(See the links at right in the sidebar "Gripes,Hypes & Bones to Pick" for earlier posts and articles about Talpiot.)
The real show-stopper happened when the widow of archaeologist Yosef Gath was called onstage to receive an award for her late husband, who had catalogued the bone boxes back in 1980. (The tomb already had been vandalized by latter-day Crusaders, so there was a limit to what a full-scale dig would have yielded.) She told the audience in Hebrew that her husband had always suspected that the cluster of famous names might be linked to THAT Jesus; but as a holocaust survivor, he was reluctant to unleash a possible backlash onto the Jews with his dramatic find. "The world has changed in our lifetime," she had said, accepting the honors.
Simcha Jacobovici, the Naked Archaeologist for Discovery Channel who'd resurrected the tomb controversy in a broadcast last year, attended the conference. "When she said that, I just started shaking," he confided to journalists. His speculations have not been vindicated yet, though, and some scholars propose reopening an archaeological dig in Talpiot to gain more information.
Some cynical conference-goers thought that the pro Talpiot-buffs had exploited the Israeli widow, and wondered why, if it's the one, not a single tradition or legend had flourished around this humble cave tomb in Jerusalem's 'burbs. "The hypothesis smells a bit bogus to me," sniffed one scholar over falafel and beer afterward.