Wednesday, January 16, 2008

Widow stirs Talpiot tomb tumult as scholars ponder Jesus family bone boxes

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.


emmanuela said...

One paper gives it in detail:

Following Mrs. Gat's comments, two of the five panelists - Dr. Shimon Gibson, who was a young archeologist on the 1980 dig, and Eric Meyers, a professor of Judaic Studies at Duke University - indicated that they did not believe the tomb on East Talpiot's Dov Gruner Street was linked to Jesus. Gibson also said Gat had never told him he believed the tomb was Jesus's.

Two others panelists - Israel Knohl, a professor of Bible at the Hebrew University, and James Tabor, chair of the Department of Religious Studies at the University of North Carolina - said it was very possible that this was the tomb of Jesus.

The highly respected chairman of the symposium, James Charlesworth, professor of New Testament language and literature at Princeton Theological Seminary, rejected the idea that Jesus had been buried at the tomb, but said, "We have to be open to the possibility that [the tomb] is related to the Jesus clan."

underwhelmed said...

Is there no escaping the fatuous and grasping Nekkid Arkayologist? . He is filming at the Garden of Gethsemane today. Christian viewers are more numerous, hence his tapping of their sites for gain.

Eeeew. Spare us, simcha. Go back to Canada

sign of the fish said...

Here's the latest from JPost. Not likeluy that further excavation will be allowed, according to the Jerusalem Post's ed in chief.
( Shimon Gibson, who was an archeologist on Yosef Gat's team in 1980 and has since excavated numerous sites here, said Thursday that haredi opposition would doom any such effort.

Such opposition, he went on, has long since shut down excavation by academics at Jewish burial sites here. The last such dig he could recall in Jerusalem, Dr. Gibson said, took place in French Hill 30 years ago.

The Talpiot tomb was turned into a geniza (repository for holy texts) before it was sealed, he noted, while the adjacent tomb still contains several inscribed ossuaries. "Haredi objections [to excavation there] would be impossible to overcome."

Gibson, who told this week's symposium on "Evaluating the Talpiot Tomb in Context" that he does not believe the cave is Jesus's burial place, stressed that the adjacent tomb was "definitely worthy of investigation."

He noted that because of the distance from the heart of Jerusalem, it was likely the two Talpiot tombs were owned by the same landowner, and there could be information in the second tomb of relevance to the ossuaries in the first tomb. This could be helpful, he said, "if one is looking for familial relationships."

The second tomb was uncovered shortly after the first during the construction of apartment blocs in East Talpiot, Gibson recalled, and hurriedly investigated, with a single ossuary removed, before ultra-Orthodox protests forced its closure.

Gibson lamented that "the law of the land" now prevented vital excavation work. "Of course we should be allowed to excavate artifacts. And human bones need to be examined," he said. "For one thing, they can shed enormous light on medical history."

In the wake of Wednesday's declaration by Mrs. Gat that her husband knew he'd found Jesus's tomb, an expert who insisted on anonymity charged to the Post Thursday that Israel had deliberately "covered up" the significance of the find for fear of the anti-Semitic backlash to which Mrs. Gat referred. "The Jews have suffered for 2,000 years, being blamed for the death of Jesus," the expert said. "The last thing Israel needed was to find proof of Jesus's earthly remains. Our relations with the Vatican would never have recovered."

Therefore, he said, Gat and other senior archeologists and experts decided they would reject any suggestion that the coincidence of apparent Jesus-related names on the ossuaries in the tomb was significant. "When that combination of names came up, it was like winning the lottery," this expert said. "But it was agreed that the 'Jesus talk' would be denied, and that it would be argued that the names were extremely common and their presence in a single Jerusalem tomb thus statistically unimportant. Mrs. Gat told the truth," he said, "because she's not a politician."

However, Amos Kloner, the former Jerusalem District archeologist to whom Gat reported, said Mrs. Gat was mistaken about her husband. And Gibson said any conspiracy talk was "nonsense." He said Gat, who died in the early 1990s (and not soon after the 1980 dig, as erroneously reported in Thursday's Post), "did not discuss anything relating to a possible interpretation of the tomb as that of Jesus."

Itamar Bernstein said...

I've been studying this find for years, long before it became public knowledge following the mass media exposure. I believe that it's a serious find, which warrants further study.

The critics of this find's magnitude basically argue:

1. That the Jesus family would be buried in Nazareth, not Talpiot;
2. That the 'Jesus' ossuary would have been inscribed 'of Nazareth';
3. That the Jesus family couldn't have afforded a tomb like the Talpiot tomb;
4. That the "Jesus son of Joseph" ossuary is not inscribed "Yeshua" (Jesus) at all;
5. That the names inscribed on these ossuaries were supposedly common;
6. That the "Mariamne" ossuary didn't contain the remains of Mary Magdalene, but of two other women;

I believe the first five of these allegations against the book's premise don't carry much water. The sixth argument actually supports the conclusion that this is the real thing. My comments:

1. Talpiot is the right place for Jesus' family tomb- Per Luke, 2:3-4, the family's LEGAL residence was Bethlehem, not Nazareth. The fact that Joseph and the pregnant Mary could not take the census in Nazareth but had to take it in Bethlehem indicates that Bethlehem was their DOMICILIUM under Roman Law. That basically means that they had no intention to reside in Nazareth permanently. Therefore it would have made little sense for them to have a family tomb in Nazareth, that they wouldn't be able to frequently visit at a later stage in their lives. They would have wanted a family tomb close to Bethlehem and Jerusalem, easily accessible also to future generations of the family. The fact is indeed that Mary and her children moved to Jerusalem around 30 AD.

2. The traditional name of Jesus in Hebrew, as reflected also in the Talmud, is "Yeshu Hanotzri." This appellation stems from "Netzer" (Shoot or Branch). It alludes clearly to Isaiah 11:1, indicating the Royal birth of Jesus, to substantiate his claim for Jewish messiahship. Not to indicate the place he comes from.

There's actually no evidence in Jewish sources, such as the Old Testament or the Mishna and Talmud, that a place called "Nazareth" even existed in or before the first century. I'm not disputing the evidence per the NT, that there was indeed a place called Nazareth. But to the best of my knowledge, there's no mention of Nazareth at all in any ancient writings outside the New Testament. So the place existed, but nobody knew about it. And those in close proximity in Galilee who did know about it, obviously thought derogatorily of it , cf. "can anything good come from Nazareth?" (John 1:46.) Therefore there was no reason to call Jesus "of Nazareth." Either in life or on an ossuary. He was called "Jesus the Branch" (of David) in Hebrew/Aramaic.

The line of argumentation detracting this discovery around the supposed Nazareth origin of Jesus' family may therefore be based on a very shaky foundation.

3. Talpiot is located about 2.5 miles North of Bethlehem. Jesus' family, of Davidic descent according to the New Testament, could have held the burial cave there even before it moved to Nazareth. Davidic birth was absolutely the most exalted in Judaism, always. The suggestion that any person of Davidic descent could be of the lowest social echelon, that couldn't fund or get funding for a burial cave, doesn't make much sense, if any. There's substantial evidence to the contrary, e.g. 1. Jesus had some very wealthy active supporters like Joseph of Arimatea and Nicodemus (known as Nakdimon ben Gorion in post biblical Jewish sources-one of the richest Jews in Judea;) 2. Josephus, A.J. XX, 9:1. Note the prominence of James, brother of Jesus.

4. The inscription on the Jesus ossuary does say "Yeshua bar Yehosef" ("Jesus son of Joseph")to my eye. All letters but one are quite clearly there. The only letter which is somewhat more difficult to discern at first blush is the second letter- "Shin". That's because it's written in a somewhat irregular form (in a regular Shin there are three teeth in the fork, pointing upwards. Here there are two teeth, pointing sideways to the right.) But that particular irregularity appears also on other ossuaries- notably numbers 9 (this one has two "Shin"- one with three teeth pointing to the right, and one with TWO teeth pointing to the right. Exactly like the subject inscription) and 121 in the Rahmani catalogue, which both feature also a "Yeshua."

Still, the name "Yeshua" on this ossuary is among the most, if not the most, difficult to read names of all ossuaries listed in Rahmani's catalogue of Jewish ossuaries. It is almost written as a person's complex signature on a check. Contrast that with the patronymic following the first name. This is written in a simple straightforward fashion, which is very easy to read. There's no other example in Rahmani's catalogue of a first name that has to be deciphered, and a patronymic that's so plain and clear. Is this merely a coincidence?

5. Some critics make the following comment to my post:

"The inscription, Pfann said, is made up of two names inscribed by two different hands: the first, "Mariame,'' was inscribed in a formal Greek script, and later, when the bones of another woman were added to the box, another scribe using a different cursive script added the words "kai Mara,'' meaning "and Mara.'' Mara is a different form of the name Martha.

According to Pfann's reading, the ossuary did not house the bones of "Mary the teacher,'' but rather of two women, "Mary and Martha.'"

Here's my thought about that:
If the Mariamne ossuary indeed housed the bones of Mary and Martha, these are two sisters of NT fame. One of them could have been married to "Jesus son of Joseph." -Whether or not she was Mary Magdalene (Maybe the Mary who anointed Jesus' feet and then dried them with her hair- very intimate scene.) The other sister would than also automatically belong in the family. It still fits. Actually it increases the statistical odds that this is the real thing quite substantially.
This is a very intriguing possibility indeed, fitting perfectly with John 12:3. Intimate contact with a man, as described in this NT passage, was allowed only to a woman who was an immediate blood relative of that man, his wife (...or a working woman.) That's all. Therefore Mary of Bethany was quite possibly by elimination Jesus' wife or in the process of becoming his wife. In that context, Margaret Starbird already theorized that similar anointing with spikenard oil was part of pre marriage ritual of a Davidic king, per certain passages in the Song of Songs. Note also that intercourse by itself was sufficient under Jewish Law in certain circumstances to constitute valid marriage. That practice, termed Bi'ah marriage, was abolished in the 6th century, but it was lawful in Jesus' time.

Mary of Bethany could have become pregnant by Jesus while he stayed at her house, shortly before his crucifixion. In that case it's quite possible that she bore Jesus' son posthumously and named him "Judah." And in that case both she and her sister Martha would have become part of Jesus' family, which earned them a place in the Talpiot family tomb..

Reminds me of the reaction to this find of a BBC reporter in 1996- It seems like all balls in the national lottery coming one by one.

I have no knowledge of Greek, so I can only discuss the two propositions. Assuming that the ossuary does say "Mary and Martha", here's what I think the names are:
* 1."Jesus son of Joseph"("Yeshua bar Yehosef" in Hebrew/Aramaic script;)
* 2. "Mary" ("Marya" in Hebrew/Aramaic script);
* 3. "Joseph" ("Yose" in Hebrew/Aramaic script. Precise nickname of Jesus' second brother- cf. Mark 6:3);
* 4. "Mary and Martha" ("Mariame kai Mara" in Greek)-they must have been sisters because Jewish law didn't allow burial together of two unrelated women;
* 5. "Matthew" ("Matya" in Hebrew/Aramaic script)- Name of Jesus' first cousin, son of his father's brother Alphaeus/Clophas. As James Tabor suggests in a different context, Matya could also well have been Jesus' half brother, considering a certain specific rule of the Torah (Deuteronomy 25:5-10.) This rule was applied in Jesus time- see Matthew 22:24-28;
* 6. "Judah son of Jesus"("Yehuda bar Yeshua" in Hebrew/Aramaic script.)
* Therefore out of eight names actually inscribed on these ossuaries (including the "Joseph" father of Jesus on the first ossuary) four names undoubtedly relate to Jesus' immediate family, and three other names relate to the same with a somewhat lower probability. In any event, they all relate to Jesus' extended family. Note that first century Jewish family tombs were usually a clan thing.
* The eighth name is "Yehuda bar Yeshua"- must have been the son of Jesus and one of the sisters Mary or Martha. More likely Mary, as explained above.

6. While the full versions of all these names were indeed common in Jesus' time, the derivatives, nicknames and contractions were not. Thus "Yeshua" for Jesus was less common than "YeHOshua;" ditto "YeHOsef" instead of "Yosef" for Joseph; "Marya" for Mary was extremely rare in Hebrew/Aramaic script; "Yose" for Joseph is unique. Therefore out of these eight names, two are irregularities, one is a particularity, and one a singularity.

BOTTOM LINE- Ask yourself inversely a hypothetical question- If the Talpiot tomb hadn't yet been found, how would Jesus' family tomb have looked , which ossuaries would it have contained, to when would it have been dated and where would it have been located.

I would have thought of a tomb just like the tomb we're discussing. It fits perfectly with what I'd have expected Jesus' family tomb to be. Right place, right period, right names. I therefore believe that this matter, delicate as it obviously is, warrants further investigation. This could include opening and examination of the adjacent tomb, and forensic examination of the skeletal remains found in the Talpiot ossuaries, and apparently reburied back in 1980. These could hopefully be relocated by comparison to the mithochondrial DNA samples already taken from two of these ossuaries.

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