Perhaps you’ve heard about the “Jesus Tomb” thing being promoted by James Cameron? Initial reactions are mixed and have not been helped by James Cameron’s involvement or its Dan Brown-y narrative. But some respected voices (notably James Tabor, a NT scholar from UNC) are suggesting we should perhaps take it seriously. I give you the theory. No endorsement should be implied. Let’s discuss strengths and weaknesses.
Six inscribed ossuaries (“bone coffins”) uncovered in a Jerusalem tomb (the Talpiot tomb) contain the following names (there are three others without names):
- Yeshua bar Yehosef “Jesus son of Joseph”
- Maria “Mary”
- Yose “Joseph”
- Mariamene he Mara “Mary also known as Mara” (the only inscription in Greek)
- Matya “Matthew”
- Yehudah bar Yeshua “Jude son of Jesus”
Here’s an argument being made in favour of the ossuaries belonging to the family of Jesus of Nazareth. Again, no endorsement is implied.
1. If Jesus’ family had a family tomb, it would likely be in the Jerusalem area as we know the surviving members (e.g. James) were active in Jerusalem after the death of Jesus.
2. Whilst the names on the ossuaries are “common,” it is their statistical grouping that is interesting. We have two Mary’s, Jesus son of Joseph, Jude son of Jesus, Joseph, and Matthew. Apparently there is a 1/253,403 chance that these six names would be grouped together (another statistician arrives at 1/600). Also, “Mariamene,” “Yose,” and “Maria,” are rare forms, generally associated with Mary Magdalene, Jesus’ brother Joseph, and his mother Mary respectively. Also, “Mariamene he Mara” may have been associated with Mary Magdalene (see Origen) and may also be a title (taking Mara as “lord”). (Matya (Matthew) is the wild card. No Matthew is attested in Jesus’ family.)
3. Patina tests have been carried out on the ossuaries (patina is the ancient “dust” that collects on objects) and seem to corroborate their authenticity. The tomb was discovered as part of as controlled excavation. Also, when the tomb was first found, ten ossuaries were recovered: it is possible that the famous James ossuary (“James son of Joseph brother of Jesus”) is the missing ossuary.
4. Note that the father Joseph is not buried in the tomb. One could presume that he died and was buried earlier.
5. DNA tests on the “human residue” in the boxes show that Mariamene (Mary Magdalene?) is not related to Yeshua (Jesus).
The potential shockers in all of this would be that Jesus and Mary Magdalene had a son and that the ossuary of Jesus Christ has been found. There are no bones, however. According to Orthodox tradition, the bones were buried when the tomb was discovered in 1980.
I would like to stress that the jury is still way out on this one. Read a counter-story here. But with a heavyweight like Tabor batting for the Cameron team, any rebuttals must be carefully and soberly made. Let’s have them.