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The tomb where Jesus Christ is said to have been prepared for burial and then buried following his crucifixion has now been dated to the imperial Roman era around the time of Constantine. A recent study shows that it is more than 1,700 years old, going against the accepted belief.
The analysis of pieces of mortar taken from the original limestone burial bed and a marble slab that covers it date back to AD 345. This has led Kristen Romey, archaeology editor for National Geographic, to write , “We finally have scientific proof that this site, the tomb of Jesus Christ, one of the holiest sites in Christianity, has been unbroken for seventeen hundred years.”
NBC News describes the scientific testing carried out,
“To date the tomb, known as the Holy Edicule, conservators from the National Technical University of Athens looked at radioactive elements in the architectural glue that fit it together. They also used ground-penetrating radar and laser scanning.”
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Specifically, National Geographic writes , “mortar samples were independently dated at two separate labs using optically stimulated luminescence (OSL), a technique that determines when quartz sediment was most recently exposed to light.”
National Geographic reports that the tomb said to belong to Jesus Christ was opened in October 2016, the first time in centuries. It is located in the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem’s Old City. As Romey said “It marks the site of the crucifixion, the burial and the resurrection of Jesus Christ according to Christian tradition.” Historical documents suggest that Romans identified this as Christ’s tomb around 326 AD.
The entrance of the tomb during the renovations. ( Corey Jaskolski / National Geographic )
Previous assessment of the architecture in and around the tomb led scholars to suggest it only came from the time of the Crusades. The burial bed, where Christ was said to have been anointed following his crucifixion, was covered with a marble cladding which further covered another marble slab. That older, broken marble slab incised with a cross which rests directly on the burial bed has now been called the “earliest Roman shrine on the site.”
The central part of a mosaic in the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem, on the outer wall of the Catholicon behind the Stone of Unction. The mosaic depicts Jesus being taken down from the cross, and his body being anointed prior to placing in the tomb. (M diet/ CC BY SA 3.0 )
Newsweek reports the church was totally demolished in 1009, but it was later rebuilt. However, that destruction raised a doubt in the minds of modern scholars – could it be the same location that was labeled Jesus Christ’s burial site by Romans who discovered and enshrined it almost 17 centuries ago?
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According to National Geographic , the results of the recent test say it is. Yet, they also note,
“While it is archaeologically impossible to say that the tomb is the burial site of an individual Jew known as Jesus of Nazareth, who according to New Testament accounts was crucified in Jerusalem in 30 or 33, new dating results put the original construction of today's tomb complex securely in the time of Constantine, Rome's first Christian emperor.”
Today reports that National Geographic will be showing a documentary related to this discovery, “The Secrets of Christ's Tomb," this Sunday. National Geographic also built a 3D replica of the tomb site in its Washington, D.C., USA museum.
National Geographic archaeologist-in-residence Fredrik Hiebert said he believes there may be more discovered from the tomb, “There is so much information in the data that was collected by the restorers during the conservation project. There are many, many stories still to be told.”
What Was Found in Christ’s Empty Tomb?
Warning: If you are not a believer in the divinity of Jesus Christ yet choose to continue reading, keep an open mind but prepare to be challenged.
Good Friday, the day annually associated with Christ’s crucifixion, is solemnly observed and followed by the jubilation of His resurrection on Easter Sunday. Let us be reminded that Jesus’s body was never found. If it were, Roman and Jewish authorities would have celebrated. And Christianity — which eventually grew into the world’s largest religion on the foundational event of Christ’s resurrection — never would have been birthed.
My belief in the resurrection is non-traditional. Having been born and raised Jewish, my parents told me that the “Jesus story” was a “fairy tale” and a “magic show” to make people feel good — and that we did not believe in Jesus because we were Jews. End of discussion, until I later learned that Jesus was Jewish, which I found confusing. But amazingly and thankfully, Jesus impacted me when I was 9 years old, about which I recently wrote.
My faith journey aside, on this Easter, I want to pose a question with miraculous answers: “What was found in Christ’s empty tomb?”
Over 2,000 years ago in Jerusalem, according to John’s Gospel, cloths were found in His empty tomb:
Then Simon Peter came, following him, and went into the tomb and he saw the linen cloths lying there, and the handkerchief that had been around His head, not lying with the linen cloths, but folded together in a place by itself (John 20:6-7).
Today, millions of Christians believe that these two distinct sets of cloths still exist.
“The linen” is the Shroud of Turin and “the handkerchief” is the Sudarium of Oviedo, (called “the napkin” or “head cloth” in many Bible translations).
By tradition and for centuries, the two cloths have been linked, and then in the modern age by geometry, forensics and AB blood type.
But first, let’s define and describe both cloths.
The better known of the two is the Shroud of Turin, traced with a colorful, fascinating history and housed in the Cathedral of St. John the Baptist in Turin, Italy, since 1578. This perplexing linen cloth measuring 14.5 feet by 3.5 feet is purported to be the burial shroud of Christ, and it is the most studied, analyzed, and revered relic in the world.
Chief among the many reasons why the Shroud continues to baffle modern science is that the linen displays a continuous front-to-back image of a crucified man. Moreover, the image clearly shows that his body endured about 125 scourges from a Roman flagrum (whip), and the blood marks around his head are consistent with those made by a crown of thorns. Incredibly, every visible mark on the body image could be a witness to Christ’s suffering and death as recorded in the four Gospels — with no broken bones, fulfilling an ancient prophecy cited in John (19:36).
The only comprehensive, extensive, scientific study ever performed on the Shroud was in 1978. In what was called the Shroud of Turin Research Project (STURP), over 30 scientists famously concluded that the image on the cloth: “Is not the product of an artist.”
STURP also determined that the man’s image does not penetrate the cloth — but rests on top and is consistently only two microfibers deep. Such consistency is an “artistic” feat impossible to replicate with human hands.
And those Shroud mysteries adjoin a long list that defies explanation.
For example, in 1898 the new technology of photography revealed that the man’s image on the cloth is a photographic negative, which turns positive when reversed by the camera. Furthermore, the cloth contains “3D distance information” that was graphically, scientifically, and artistically explored in the dramatic and popular 2010 History Channel documentary "The Real Face of Jesus?"
That “real face” brings us back to the Sudarium of Oviedo — the “handkerchief” or “napkin” purportedly found in the tomb and, by tradition, thought to have covered the face and head of Jesus immediately after he was removed from the cross. (Similar to today when, after someone dies their face is covered.)
The Sudarium resides in the Cathedral of the Holy Savior in Oviedo, Spain. The cloth was first mentioned in AD 570 by Antoninus of Piacenza, who wrote that it was located in the monastery of St. Mark, in Jerusalem.
The “handkerchief” measuring 33 x 21 inches is a bloodstained, soiled rag, and unlike the Shroud, the Sudarium does not contain an image. However, it does have a pattern of face and head stains linking the Sudarium to the Shroud. And that was the conclusion of a 2016 scientific study at the University of Seville in Spain. As reported in Aleteia, the Shroud and the Sudarium “almost certainly covered the cadaver of the same person.”
Utilizing principles of geometry and forensics, chief researcher Juan Manuel Miñarro said the number of correlations between the two relics “far exceeds the minimum number of proofs or significant points required by most judicial systems around the world to identify a person, which is between eight and 12, while our study has demonstrated more than 20.”
Miñarro cited “points that demonstrate the compatibility between both cloths,” including the forehead as well as the nose, right cheekbone and chin, which “present different wounds.”
Henceforth, if you want to believe that the Sudarium and the Shroud validate each other, there is ample evidence to support such a conclusion.
Of course, no discussion of the Shroud is complete without mentioning the controversial 1988 carbon -14 test dating the cloth to between 1260 and 1390 and concluding that the Shroud was a "medieval forgery."
However, over the ensuing decades, the test’s conclusion has been debunked by numerous scientists because the piece tested may have been subjected to a medieval reweave or repair as determined by chemical analysis in 2005.
Nonetheless, the radiocarbon dating provides a convenient excuse for atheists and naysayers to ignore the Shroud’s myriad of unexplained mysteries verified by STURP’s findings. Also, linking the Shroud to the Sudarium, which has a documented historical trail to the sixth century, means that the carbon date is off by at least eight centuries!
Finally, if you are without faith this Easter and your approach to religion is “show me,” challenge yourself by learning the facts about these two cloths and the resurrection of Jesus Christ. Think about the age-old question surrounding the Shroud of Turin with its image of a crucified man — “Is it the greatest hoax ever perpetrated or a deliberate and purposeful sign from God?”
Choosing to accept that “sign,” or any divine sign opens you to experience the forgiveness and love of the risen Lord Jesus Christ, and that is no fairy tale or magic show.
The Talpiot Family Tomb
The Talpiot Family Tomb was discovered in 1980 and likely belonged to a middle class family in the first century. Photo Credit: Israel Antiquities Authority
Located about 5km south of the Old City of Jerusalem is the Talpiot Family Tomb. It was originally discovered in 1980, but rose to fame with the 2007 Discovery Channel documentary, “The Lost Tomb of Jesus,” which was produced by James Cameron and directed by Simcha Jacobovici.
Ten ossuaries were discovered within the Tapiot tomb bearing names such as Jesus, Mary and Joseph. The filmmakers identified one of the ossuaries bearing the inscription “Mariamene” as belonging to Mary Magdalene, suggesting she was married to Jesus. 3 Only two of the ossuaries contained a patronym helpful in identification: “Jude, son of Jesus” and “Jesus, son of Joseph.” This has led some to conclude Jesus of Nazareth and Mary Magdalene had a son named Judah. However, scholars have pointed out that the presence of names such as Jesus, Joseph and Mary is not as compelling an argument as the filmmakers made it out to be. Simply put, they were among the most popular Hebrew names in the first century A.D. Cameron and Jacobovici have read more into these names than is warranted. 4
Supporters of the Talpiot tomb also point to DNA testing, which demonstrated that Jesus and Mariamene were not maternally related. In the Discovery Channel documentary, the filmmakers use this as evidence to suggest they were married. Critics have pointed out, however, that they could have been paternally related (ie. father and daughter, or grandfather and granddaughter).
Scholar James Tabor contends that that the famous “James, brother of Jesus” ossuary came from the Talpiot tomb, suggesting it was the family tomb of Jesus of Nazareth. Chemical testing that was financed by filmmaker, Simcha Jacobvici, is often cited as evidence that the James ossuary came from the Talpiot tomb. A “chemical fingerprint” is said to have been found on both, with similar trace amounts of phosphorus, chrome and nickel, components in the clay of East Jerusalem soil. As impressive as this sounds, however, a very small sample size was used, calling into question the results. Moreover, the James ossuary may have come from another tomb in East Jerusalem the tests do not prove it came from the Talpiot tomb. Also, the physical appearance of the James ossuary, with its pitted and worn surface is unlike the smooth limestone surfaces of the ossuaries from the Talpiot tomb. Archaeologist, Shimon Gibson, who was one of the original excavators of the Talpiot tomb has stated, “I don’t think the James ossuary has anything to do with Talpiot.” 5
It is interesting to note that, of the scholars interviewed for the documentary, all but James Tabor (who believes it is the family tomb of Jesus) have since objected to the way their statements were used and misrepresented. 6 This, in and of itself, should give people pause in accepting the conclusions of the filmmakers.
Finally, the supporters of the Talpiot family tomb have failed to adequately explain the most obvious flaw in their theory: since Jesus’ family was from Galilee, why would they have a family tomb in Jerusalem? Archaeologist, Jodi Magness, has pointed out that, at the time of Jesus, only wealthy families buried their families in rock-cut tombs and used the secondary burial practice of later interring the bones in ossuaries. A poor family from Galilee would have used an ordinary grave. Furthermore, Magness asserts that the names on the ossuaries from the Talpiot tomb indicates that the tomb belonged to a family from Judea, where people were known by their first name and father’s name, whereas Galileans would have used their first name and hometown. 7
Verdict: Amos Kloner, one of the original excavators of the Talpiot family tomb, sums it up best: “It makes a great story for a TV film. But it’s completely impossible. It’s nonsense. There is no likelihood that Jesus and his relatives had a family tomb. They were a Galilee family with no ties in Jerusalem. The Talpiot tomb belonged to a middle class family from the 1st century CE.“ 8
'Key to the Riddle'
According to a professor of Bible studies at Shasta Bible College and Graduate School in California, US, compelling archaeological and biblical evidence exists that could finally resolve the dispute.
"Greater love has no one than this, than to lay down one’s life for his friends." John 15:13
Images of The Garden Tomb from my trip to Israel, Feb 2020. pic.twitter.com/DDkUUmOQjR— Heather (@HKateE) April 2, 2021
According to the scientist, after a study of the Garden Tomb in 1974 by Israeli archaeologist Gabriel Barkay, it was determined that the tomb did not date back to the time of Jesus.
"From the flat ceiling of the tomb, to the layout of the tomb and chambers itself, to the marks left by the tool used to chisel out the burial benches, to a closer look at the objects discovered in a small-scale dig in front of the tomb itself in 1904, every piece of evidence indicates the tomb was first used 700 to 800 years before Jesus," Meyer is quoted as saying.
According to the expert, the Bible clearly states that Christ was buried in a tomb that had not been used before.
Underscoring the similarity of the Garden Tomb to the tombs at the nearby St. Stephens Catholic Church, dated to the Iron Age 2 (1000 to 586 BC), Meyer said:
Meyer added that both the “authority of Scripture” and reexamination of the history of the tomb point to the fact that the Garden Tomb cannot be the empty tomb of Jesus.
"All the evidence points to the Church of the Holy Sepulchre as being the tomb in which Jesus rose from the dead."
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A Look Inside the Tomb of Christ
People line up to visit the renovated Edicule, the shrine that houses what is believed to be the tomb of Christ.
Several samples of mortar from different locations within the Edicule were taken at that time for dating, and the results were recently provided to National Geographic by Chief Scientific Supervisor Antonia Moropoulou, who directed the Edicule restoration project.
When Constantine's representatives arrived in Jerusalem around 325 to locate the tomb, they were allegedly pointed to a Roman temple built some 200 years earlier. The Roman temple was razed and excavations beneath it revealed a tomb hewn from a limestone cave. The top of the cave was sheared off to expose the interior of the tomb, and the Edicule was built around it.
A feature of the tomb is a long shelf, or "burial bed," which according to tradition was where the body of Jesus Christ was laid out following crucifixion. Such shelves and niches, hewn from limestone caves, are a common feature in tombs of wealthy 1st-century Jerusalem Jews.
The marble cladding that covers the "burial bed" is believed to have been installed in 1555 at the latest, and most likely was present since the mid-1300s, according to pilgrim accounts.
When the tomb was opened on the night of October 26, 2016, scientists were surprised by what they found beneath the marble cladding: an older, broken marble slab incised with a cross, resting directly atop the original limestone surface of the "burial bed."
Some researchers speculated that this older slab may have been laid down in the Crusader period, while others offered an earlier date, suggesting that it may have already been in place and broken when the church was destroyed in 1009. No one, however, was ready to claim that this might be the first physical evidence for the earliest Roman shrine on the site.
Is This Really The Tomb Of Christ?
The new test results, which reveal the lower slab was most likely mortared in place in the mid-fourth century under the orders of Emperor Constantine, come as a welcome surprise to those who study the history of the sacred monument.
"Obviously that date is spot-on for whatever Constantine did," says archaeologist Martin Biddle, who published a seminal study on the history of the tomb in 1999. "That's very remarkable."
During their year-long restoration of the Edicule, the scientists were also able to determine that a significant amount of the burial cave remains enclosed within the walls of the shrine. Mortar samples taken from remains of the southern wall of the cave were dated to 335 and 1570, which provide additional evidence for construction works from the Roman period, as well as a documented 16th-century restoration. Mortar taken from the tomb entrance has been dated to the 11th century and is consistent with the reconstruction of the Edicule following its destruction in 1009.
"It is interesting how [these] mortars not only provide evidence for the earliest shrine on the site, but also confirm the historical construction sequence of the Edicule," Moropoulou observes.
The mortar samples were independently dated at two separate labs using optically stimulated luminescence (OSL), a technique that determines when quartz sediment was most recently exposed to light. The scientific results will be published by Moropoulou and her team in a forthcoming issue of the Journal of Archaeological Science: Reports.
Archaeologist at Jesus' tomb site: "What was found is astonishing"
JERUSALEM -- In the innermost chamber of the site said to be the tomb of Jesus , a restoration team has peeled away a marble layer for the first time in centuries in an effort to reach what it believes is the original rock surface where Jesus&rsquo body was laid.
Many historians have long believed that the original cave, identified a few centuries after Jesus&rsquo death as his tomb, was obliterated ages ago.
But an archaeologist accompanying the restoration team said ground penetrating radar tests determined that cave walls are in fact standing -- at a height of six feet and connected to bedrock -- behind the marbled panels of the chamber at the center of Jerusalem&rsquos Church of the Holy Sepulchre.
&ldquoWhat was found,&rdquo said National Geographic archaeologist Fredrik Hiebert, &ldquois astonishing.&rdquo
The work is part of a historic renovation project to reinforce and preserve the Edicule, the chamber housing the cave where Jesus is said to have been entombed and resurrected. It is the centerpiece of one of Christianity&rsquos oldest churches and one of its most important shrines.
&ldquoI usually spend my time in Tut&rsquos tomb,&rdquo said Hiebert about the Egyptian pharaoh Tutankhamun&rsquos burial site, &ldquobut this is more important.&rdquo
National Geographic is partnering with Greek restoration experts to document the work.
A 12th-century building sitting on 4th-century remains, the Church of the Holy Sepulchre is the only place where six Christian denominations practice their faith at the same site.
The Edicule was last restored in 1810 following a fire, and is in need of reinforcement after years of exposure to humidity and candle smoke. A hulking iron cage built around the Edicule by British authorities in 1947 for support still stands, but is not enough.
Renovations at this holiest of spots require mutual agreement by the church&rsquos various custodians, and that is notoriously hard to secure. The denominations jealously guard different parts of the site and often object to even the slightest of changes.
Last year, Israeli police briefly shut down the building after Israel&rsquos Antiquities Authority deemed it unsafe. It prompted the Christian denominations to green light the repairs, which began in June.
Pilgrims line up throughout the day for the chance to crouch in the Edicule&rsquos tiny room. They kneel before a white marble encasing, said to cover a surface hewn from the side of the limestone cave where Jesus&rsquo body was laid before his resurrection.
Church officials closed the Edicule to pilgrims beginning Wednesday evening, and workers used a pulley to slide open the marble slab, in hopes of reaching the burial surface. Hiebert said the slab hadn&rsquot been removed since the year 1550.
Underneath the marble was a layer of debris. By Thursday afternoon, workers had finished removing the debris, revealing something unexpected: another marble slab.
Hiebert said he thinks the second slab, which is grey and features a small etching of a cross, dates to the 12th century. It is cracked down the middle, and underneath it is a whitish layer.
&ldquoI don&rsquot believe . that is the original rock,&rdquo Hiebert said. &ldquoWe still have more to go.&rdquo
The main Christian communities that govern the church have allowed the work crew only 60 hours to excavate the inner sanctum, Hiebert said. Experts are working day and night to reach the tomb&rsquos core and to analyze it.
&ldquoWe will close the tomb after we document it,&rdquo said Antonia Moropoulou, an architect at the National Technical University of Athens, which is supervising the renovation.
The restoration team wants to tightly seal the core of the tomb before injecting parts of the shrine with mortar for reinforcement, so the material doesn&rsquot seep inside what is considered to be the holy rock.
One part of the tomb will remain exposed. Experts on Thursday cut a rectangular window in one of the Edicule&rsquos marble walls, so pilgrims will be able to glimpse, for the first time, a part of the limestone wall thought to be the tomb of Jesus.
David Grenier, secretary of a group that oversees Roman Catholic church properties in the Holy Land, stood with a few other Franciscan friars, watching the work crew in awe.
&ldquoWhat happened here 2,000 years ago completely changed the history of the world,&rdquo he said. &ldquoTo be able to dig, let&rsquos say, to the rock where the body of Jesus was laid . it&rsquos overwhelming joy.&rdquo
At one point, a National Geographic film crew documented the site as clergy burned incense around them in a daily church rite.
After the film crew cleared out, a pair of clergymen in brown frocks, and an Israeli policeman stationed at the church to help keep the peace, clambered over a pile of work tools, electrical wires and a yellow hard hat on the Edicule floor to lean into the inner chamber and snap cell phone photos of the exposed tomb.
&ldquoIt&rsquos a historic moment, huh?&rdquo the policeman said.
First published on October 27, 2016 / 6:25 PM
© 2016 The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.
Have Researchers Found Jesus Christ's Tomb?
In Jerusalem, that ancient and holy city, people's houses are built on bones. For thousands of years, hundreds of generations of Jews, Muslims and Christians have been laid to rest in its rocky soil. Tova Bracha has always known that the tiny, rose-bordered concrete plot next to her apartment building covers an ancient Jewish burial tomb, but she never thought much about it. "It just didn't seem important when there are so many tombs anyway that have been found around Jerusalem," she says. Rushing home for the Sabbath, her arms full of groceries, Bracha laughs at the suggestion that the tomb might be of considerable religious interest. Maybe she can make a fortune selling trinkets to tourists, she jokes. Maybe the value of her home will soar.
This week the Discovery Channel, together with HarperSanFrancisco, announces the release of "The Jesus Family Tomb," a television documentary and a book that aim to show that the tomb next door to Tova Bracha's apartment, located in a nondescript suburb called East Talpiot, is, well, the family plot of Jesus Christ. Spearheaded by a well-known TV director named Simcha Jacobovici, and produced by "Titanic" director James Cameron, "The Jesus Family Tomb" is&mdashboth in book and movie form&mdasha slick and suspenseful narrative about the 1980 discovery of a first-century Jewish burial cave and the 10 bone boxes, or ossuaries, found therein.
With the help of statisticians, archeologists, historians, DNA experts, robot-camera technicians, epigraphers and a CSI expert from New York's Long Island, Jacobovici puts together a case in which he argues that the bones of Jesus, Mary and 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." Faced with the controversial theological and historical implications of what he calls his "rediscovery," Jacobovici is sanguine. "People will have to believe what they want to believe," he says.
His critics are arming themselves for battle. "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 &hellip He got this guy Cameron, who made 'Titanic' or something like that&mdashwhat 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." Cameron's reply: "I don't profess to be an archeologist or a Biblical scholar. I'm a film producer. I found it compelling. I think we're on firm ground to say that much."
Here is what we know. One Friday afternoon in 1980, a construction crew unearthed an ancient tomb. This was not unusual. The 1980s marked a construction boom in Jerusalem hundreds of tombs were uncovered and, with them, thousands of ossuaries. In the first century C.E., in the time of Jesus of Nazareth, Jewish families with means built tombs in the hills throughout Judea and stored the remains of their loved ones in those caves, in ossuaries. A newly dead body would be laid out on a rock shelf. When that body decomposed, family members would stack the bones inside a box and tuck the box into a niche. Over generations the caves grew crowded with boxes, and families, eager to conserve space, often put two or three&mdashor even six&mdashskeletons in one box. In Israel today, first-century ossuaries are so ubiquitous they are used in gardens and living rooms, as planters.
As common as these discoveries were, the Talpiot crew knew the drill. They immediately stopped work and called in the Israel Antiquities Authority, the government agency that controls and protects Israel's archeological treasures and runs the Rockefeller Museum. That Sunday, after the Sabbath, a small team of IAA archeologists arrived to excavate the site. Under pressure from the builders, the archeologists worked fast. "I tried to record as much as I could without thinking too hard," says respected archeologist Shimon Gibson, who was a young surveyor at the time and worked on the site. "Time was of the essence, and I tried not to panic as I measured and scribbled &hellip This was an emergency evacuation." The human remains in the cave, he says, were given over to the religious authorities, who reburied them in accordance with Jewish law.
Ten ossuaries were taken away to the IAA warehouse. Six of them had inscriptions&mdashlabels, if you will, to remind family members of what, or who, the boxes contained. Here are the names the archeologists found carved on ossuaries in the Talpiot tomb, the names that Jacobovici found so powerful: Jesus, son of Joseph Maria Mariamene Matthew Judas, son of Jesus and Jose, a diminutive of Joseph. The official report written by the 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. It was disturbed in antiquity, and vandalized. The names on the boxes were common in the first century (25 percent of women in Jerusalem, for example, were called Miriam or a derivative). The report does not speculate on family relationships, nor does it make any connection between the inscriptions and the figure countless Christians through two millennia believe physically rose from the dead and, according to tradition, "ascended into heaven." After taking inventory, Zias put the ossuaries on shelves in a warehouse, where they sat undisturbed (except when the BBC came to shoot them in 1996) for more than 20 years.
To this day, Kloner says the burial cave is not extraordinary. "It's a typical Jewish burial cave of a large size," he says. "The names on the ossuaries are very common names or derivatives of names." The echo of the names of the members of the Holy Family, he says, "is just a coincidence."
Jacobovici strongly disagrees. An observant Jew with an interest in Biblical history, Jacobovici became obsessed with ossuaries in 2002, when he was working on another Discovery program about another bone box. This one said, "James, son of Joseph, brother of Jesus." Unlike the Talpiot ossuaries, which were discovered, as the archeologists say, "in situ," and were therefore accepted as authentic, the James box came to light via an antiquities dealer named Oded Golan. Despite its uncertain provenance, Jacobovici&mdashand a number of scholars&mdashhailed the James box as real, the first definitive link of an artifact to Jesus of Nazareth. The Discovery movie was followed by a storm of publicity&mdashuntil the IAA stepped in, declared the James inscription to be fake and Golan to be a forger. Golan's forgery trial in Israel is ongoing he denies the charges.
Jacobovici is not a quitter. He believed then, and still believes, in the authenticity of the James inscription ossuary, and he took on the task of investigating the Talpiot boxes with zeal. He had stumbled across those ossuaries in the IAA warehouse during his James research and was astonished both by the inscriptions&mdashand by the IAA's refusal to consider them worthy of further inquiry, its refusal to "connect the dots," as he would say. Politics, religion and archeology are inseparable in Israel unpopular opinions, of any sort, are not welcome&mdashand, to say the least, allegations that someone had found the bones of Jesus would be immensely unpopular among Christians. Jacobovici, however, is not afraid of being unpopular. With Cameron's help, he got Discovery's backing and a $3.5 million budget.
The filmmaker rests his case on four main points. First, he says, recent Biblical scholarship argues that Mary Magdalene's real name was Mariamene, a common first-century derivative of Miriam. Second, DNA tests show that microscopic human remains scraped from the Jesus box and the Mariamene box are not related, at least not matrilineally, leaving open the possibility that the two humans whose bones were once in those boxes were married. Third, the patina on the Talpiot ossuaries&mdashthat is, the mineral crust accumulated over centuries&mdashmatches that of the James box. This "discovery," if provable, is complicated but critical to Jacobovici's argument: the match means, he says, that the James ossuary originally lay in the Talpiot cave, thus answering questions about the James box's provenance. It also increases the probability that the tomb belongs to the Holy Family. Jesus had four brothers, according to the Gospel of Mark two of their names&mdashJoseph (or Jose) and James&mdashwere found in the Talpiot tomb.
The technique Jacobovici uses to "prove" the match between the James ossuary and the Talpiot tomb is a technology he calls "patina fingerprinting," which he and his coauthor Charles Pellegrino (a scientist who helped Cameron write "Ghosts of the Titanic") essentially invented for the purposes of this project. By comparing the mineral content of shards from the Talpiot ossuaries with shards from James, and by looking at them under an electron microscope with the help of a CSI specialist, Jacobovici and Pellegrino say they have a match. But do they? It's impossible to know for sure. For John Dominic Crossan, leader of the liberal Jesus Seminar and author of "Excavating Jesus," the biggest questions relate to the early break-in: who vandalized the cave, when, what did they do there and why?
The fourth part of Jacobovici's argument is statistical. Individually, he concedes, all the names on the Talpiot ossuaries are common. Charlesworth of Princeton Theological Seminary says he has a first-century letter written by someone named Jesus, addressed to someone else named Jesus and witnessed by a third party named Jesus. But the occurrence of these names in one place, with these specific idiosyncrasies, how likely is that? Andrey Feuerverger, a statistician at the University of Toronto, came up with an estimate: 600-1 in favor of the tomb's belonging to the Holy Family.
Good sense, and the Bible, still the best existing historical record of the life of Jesus of Nazareth, argue against Jacobovici's claims. All four Gospels say that Jesus was crucified on the eve of the Sabbath all four say that the tomb was empty when the disciples woke on Sunday morning. "The New Testament is very clear on this," says Alan Segal, religion professor at Barnard College. "Jesus was put in a tomb that didn't belong to him and then he rose and there was nothing left." For Jacobovici's scenario to work, someone would have had to whisk the body away, on the Sabbath, and secretly inter it in a brand-new, paid-for family tomb&mdashall before dawn on Sunday. As Segal goes on to argue, "Why would Jesus' family have a tomb outside of Jerusalem if they were from Nazareth? Why would they have a tomb if they were poor?"
If this were the tomb of Jesus, Mary and Joseph, what of the other holy tombs, accepted by tradition or posited by scholars, around the world? The Roman Catholic Church accepts two places for Mary's grave: one beneath the Dormition Abbey in Jerusalem, the other in Ephesus. Constantine said in 328 that the final resting place of Jesus Christ&mdashfrom which he rose&mdashlay on the rock at the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem. In a book published just last year, James Tabor, a Biblical scholar at the University of North Carolina at Charlotte and the leading academic voice who lends enthusiastic, if qualified, support to Jacobovici's claims, wrote that he looked for, and found, a legendary tomb of Jesus near the city of Safed.
Jacobovici is a maverick, a self-made Indiana Jones, and as this story unfolds he will be accused of a lot of things. Archeologists who have been sifting through sand for decades, with little recognition and less pay, will call him an opportunist riding a Dan Brown wave. (Buried in the movie is the hypothesis that Jesus and Mary Magdalene had a child whose remains were in the "Judas, son of Jesus" ossuary.) Curious friends will call for further study. Perhaps Tova Bracha will even find pilgrims at her door&mdashpeople in search of answers to questions that have at once confounded and inspired humankind since the tomb in which Jesus was laid was first found empty on that long-ago Jerusalem dawn.