The Jesus Family Tomb: Controversial Book

What if Jesus didn’t exist at all? Today many experts are saying exactly that. The theory is that he was a conflation of pagan god-man and death/Resurrection myths with first-century Jewish messiah traditions and that he had no more historical substance than Zeus.

The story began from construction work in March 1980 at Talpiot, a suburb of Jerusalem some 5 km south-east of the historic city established in 1922, contractors uncovered the entrance to a previously unknown tomb carved into the local limestone bedrock. 

Its entrance was marked by a carved façade with a steeply carved false pediment and a circle beneath; there are other tombs of similar design in the area, which appear to date from the first centuries BCE and CE.

The Jesus Family Tomb team brings together archaeologists, scholars, journalists, and filmmakers with a wide range of experience and expertise. What they all share is a passion for asking questions.

Simcha Jacobovici
Simcha Jacobovici (Associated Producers) is an Emmy-Award winning filmmaker, author, and journalist. An Israeli-born Canadian, Mr. Jacobovici is host and Executive Producer of the series The Naked Archaeologist (VISION TV), recently commissioned for a second 26-part series.

His feature documentaries have been praised internationally and include Falasha: Exile of the Black Jews (1983), Deadly Currents (1991), Hollywoodism: Jews, Movies & the American Dream (1997), Quest for the Lost Tribes (1999), and The Struma (2001). His film about the James ossuary, James, Brother of Jesus (2003), aired on Discovery Channels internationally.

James Cameron 
(Executive Producer)
Best known for films like The Terminator (1984), which he wrote and directed, Aliens (1986), nominated for seven Academy Awards, The Abyss (1989), Terminator 2: Judgment Day (1991), True Lies (1994) and Titanic (1997), the highest grossing movie in history and winner of 11 Oscars, James Cameron has another side: documentaries.

His obsession with all things sci-fi combined with his fascination for the Titanic led him to organize a 2001 expedition to explore history’s most famous shipwreck. His move to documentary dates to this voyage, for which he co-designed miniature robotic vehicles as recorded in his 3-D Imax movie, Ghosts of The Abyss. Expedition: Bismarck followed in 2002 and Aliens of the Deep, his latest 3D IMAX film.

Felix Golubev

Felix Golubev (Associated Producers) recently co-produced the award winning feature-length documentaries The Exodus Decoded for The History Channel in the U.S. and Discovery Channel Canada, and Sex Slaves for the CBC, Channel 4, and PBS. Other Golubev co-productions include the documentary series Betrayal, Impact of Terror (2004); James, Brother of Jesus (2003) for Discovery International; and The Struma (2001). Born in St. Petersburg, Russia, Felix Golubev is a graduate of the Ryerson Polytechnic University Radio and Television Arts program in Toronto.

Dr. Charlie R. Pellegrino

Charles R. Pellegrino is the best-selling author of several books relating to archaeology, including Return to Sodom and Gomorrah, Ghosts of the Titanic, Unearthing Atlantis, Ghosts of Vesuvius and the New York Times best seller Her Name, Titanic, which in part inspired James Cameron’s film Titanic. Further, his dinosaur-cloning formula inspired Michael Crichton's monster hit Jurassic Park. Plus, Charles Pellegrino introduced Jacobovici and Cameron to each other, making The Jesus Family Tomb film possible. Dr. Pellegrino (who has a Ph.D. in paleo-biology from the University of Wellington in New Zealand) lives in New York City. Most recently, he has co-authored the book The Jesus Family Tomb (Harper Collins, 2007) with Simcha Jacobovici. He also writes science fiction.

Dr. James D. Tabor
(Chair of the Department of Religious Studies at the University of North Carolina at Charlotte) 
James D. Tabor is a biblical scholar and author whose current research involves Judaism in the time of Jesus, the Dead Sea Scrolls, and other ancient documents related to understanding the historical Jesus. His new book, The Jesus Dynasty: The Hidden History of Jesus, His Royal Family, and the Birth of Christianity was published by Simon & Schuster in April, 2006 to critical acclaim.

His undergraduate and M.A. degrees are in Biblical Languages (Pepperdine University), and his Ph.D. is from the University of Chicago in the area of Biblical Studies, with an emphasis on Christian Origins and ancient Judaism. Tabor made headlines around the world in 2005 with his co-discovery (with archaeologist Shimon Gibson) of an ancient cave connected with the ministry of John the Baptist.

Controversial Book
The Talpiot Tomb has generated controversy, scholarly debate, and analysis over the past year. It created an academic stir that shows no sign of ceasing just yet. Lately, some scholars have made comments that we view as doubtful and others have made assertions in some instances not supported by the data at hand.

Not only are some of the names on the bone boxes relatively common names, but no writings of Jesus' life, canonical or apocryphal, reported a marriage or children. The authenticity of the nine remaining ossuaries, and of the names inscribed on them, is under no doubt or suspicion.

The tomb in Talpiot, excavated in 1980 during salvage archaeology, originally contained ten ossuaries  - bone boxes for secondary burial. Of the ten, one has disappeared - presumably stolen. Of the other nine, six were inscribed with names:
  • Yeshua bar Yosef - inscription in Aramaic, meaning "Jesus son of Joseph." By itself, it does not constitute conclusive evidence, since there must have been over a thousand men named "Yeshua bar Yosef" in first-century Jerusalem. However, the other five names are all allegedly connected with the New Testament Jesus.
  • "Mariamne, also known as Mara", an inscription in Greek. "Mara" could be the Aramaic word for "Lord" or "Master", the Hebrew name meaning "Bitter" (found in Ruth 1:20), or a nickname, a shortened version of "Mariamne."
  • Maria - a name apparently in Latin, but written in Hebrew letters.
  • Yosa - believed to be the same as Ioses or Joses, the name of one of the brothers of Jesus listed in the New Testament's book of Mark (6:3). Yosa is the diminutive of Yosef similar to Joey being the diminutive of Joseph in English. Such a name has not been found in any ossuary other than this and it is noteworthy that the ossuary was that of an adult. Hence, the book speculates, this would be a strong indication that Yosa would be the son of Yosef, or Yeshua's brother ("Yeshua bar Yosef") just as in Mark.
  • Yehuda bar Yeshua - "Judah, son of Jesus." Otherwise unknown. According to the authors, same as Jude, known also as Thomas, the "Twin." Among the several theories presented in the book is that he was the son of Jesus, but was publicly presented as the brother of Jesus, in order to save him from being executed as a pretender to the throne of Israel. He was known as "Twin" (Thomas, Didymus, etc.) presumed to be his brother but really his father.
  • Matiah - a name in Hebrew, the original form of the names of the apostles Matthew and Matthias. His presence in the family tomb implies he was also a relative of Jesus, as were some of the other apostles.

So, what are the odds that this is Jesus’ tomb? According to Cameron and Jacobovici, the statistical improbability of these names belonging to another family than that of Jesus Christ is 600 to 1. However, scholars challenge many of the assumptions in their interpretation of the facts. Let’s look:

1. It is true that these ossuaries were discovered in an ancient tomb. But thousands of similar tombs have been discovered in Jerusalem. And ossuaries were often used for the bones of more than one individual. In fact, according to Dr. Craig Evans, PhD, author of Jesus and the Ossuaries, the tomb carried the bones of about 35 different individuals, and about half were from these ossuaries. Evans also notes that there was considerable contamination of the site.

2. Are Cameron and Jacobovici correct about the names they assert are on the ossuaries? Not according to many experts. Some were written in Aramaic, others in Hebrew, and another in Greek. This indicates they were not buried in a similar time period. It is not even clear that “Jesus” is named on any of the ossuaries. Dr. Evans’s personal examination of the ossuary was inconclusive. Stephen Pfann, a biblical scholar at the University of the Holy Land in Jerusalem, is also unsure that the name "Jesus" on the caskets was read correctly. He thinks it's more likely the name "Hanun." Ancient Semitic script is notoriously difficult to decipher.

Additionally, it should be noted that the names of Jesus, Mary, and Joseph were extremely common in the first century. About 25% of the women in Jesus’ day were named Mary. Joseph was also a common name. And about one in ten had the name, “Jesua”. Dr. Evans indicates that approximately 100 tombs have been discovered in Jerusalem with the name “Jesus” and 200 with the name “Joseph.” The name “Mary” is on far more.

"Each name with the exception of Mariamene seemed common to their period, and it was only in 1996 that the BBC made a film suggesting that, given the combination, it might be that family. The idea was eventually discounted, however, because, as New Testament scholar Richard Bauckham asserted 'the names with Biblical resonance are so common that even when you run the probabilities on the group, the odds of it being the famous Jesus' family are "very low."

3. The statistical support for the entire “Jesus tomb” theory rises or falls on the question of Mary Magdalene. So did the name Mariamene e Mara mean Mary Magdalene, as Cameron and Jacobovici attempt to prove? Not according to most experts. Their interpretation is simply not supported by evidence. Bauckham notes, “The first use of ‘Mariamene’ for Magdalene dates to a scholar who was born in 185, suggesting that Magdalene wouldn't have been called that at her death. “

So, even though Cameron and Jacobovici employed a statistician, Andrey Feuerverger, to support their case, his numbers were based upon assumptions disputed by the majority of scholars. In fact, Feuerverger himself admits that the assumptions were given to him by Jacobovici, and that the single biggest factor in his 600 to 1 odds was the identity of Mariamene e Mara being Mary of Magdalene. Feuerverger defends his role in an interview with Scientific American, "I did permit the number one in 600 to be used in the film—I'm prepared to stand behind that but on the understanding that these numbers were calculated based on assumptions that I was asked to use."

Yet Dr. Randy Ingermanson’s statistical analysis of the probability indicates that there is less than one chance in 10,000 that this was the tomb of Jesus of Nazareth.

4. But what about the DNA tests? Doesn’t that prove Jesus was in the tomb? Let’s look closer at what the DNA test measured. It took residue (there were no bones to examine) from the ossuaries Jacobovici identified as belonging to both Jesua and Mariamene, and used mitochondrial DNA testing to see if they were related. The results proved to be negative, indicating to him that the two individuals were not related maternally. He thus assumes the two were married. But Bauckham isn’t impressed. He writes, “If ‘Jesus’ and ‘Mariamene’ weren't related matrilineally, why jump to the conclusion that they were husband and wife, rather than being related through their fathers? “

It is the fact that these particular names have been discovered in the same tomb that has fueled speculation that it really could be Jesus’ tomb. But many scholars believe Cameron and Jacobovici have skewed the evidence to build a case that just isn’t there. Additionally, there are many contradictory questions that need to be answered before one jumps to a conclusion that overturns centuries of historical scholarship.

If It Really Was Jesus' Tomb–
1. Why don’t Cameron and Jacobovici cite scholars who disagree with their conclusions? For example, in 1996, when the British Broadcasting Corp. aired a short documentary on the same subject, archaeologists challenged the claims. In fact, the vast majority of archaeologists dispute their claim.

2. Since the custom was to bury the dead in their home town, why would Mary and Joseph’s family tomb be in Jerusalem instead of Nazareth? Middle East researcher and biblical anthropologist Joe Zias states, "It has nothing whatsoever to do with Jesus, he was known as Jesus of Nazareth, not Jesus of Jerusalem, and if the family was wealthy enough to afford a tomb, which they probably weren't, it would have been in Nazareth, not here in Jerusalem.” Zias dismisses Cameron's claims as "dishonest".

3. Why didn’t Jesus’ enemies, the Jewish leaders, expose the tomb? They searched unsuccessfully throughout Jerusalem for any evidence of Jesus’ body, claiming that Jesus’ disciples had stolen it. They hated Jesus enough to want him crucified, and would have been elated to discover his tomb, if it indeed existed.

4. Why didn’t the Romans expose the inscriptions as belonging to Jesus? Roman soldiers controlled the entire city of Jerusalem, and they knew his body was missing from a tomb they had been guarding.

5. Why didn’t contemporary Roman or Jewish historians write about the tomb? Not one single contemporary historian mentions the tomb in question.

6. Why was the James Ossuary, which has been labeled a forgery, cited by Cameron and Jacobovici as one of the reasons for the tomb‘s validity? CBS News correspondent Mark Philips reports “the archeological establishment has lined up to label this claim as bunk. This is the second time The Discovery Channel has been involved in a disputed claim about an ancient tomb,” reports Phillips. The man at the center of the previous case is now facing trial for forgery.” Ben Witherington, an early Christianity expert who was deeply involved with the James Ossuary, says “there are physical reasons to believe it couldn't have originated in the Talpiot plot.”

7. Why are Jacobovici and Cameron waiting until just prior to Easter to launch both the book and documentary? Amos Kloner, the first archaeologist to examine the site, said the idea fails to hold up by archaeological standards but makes for profitable television. "They just want to get money for it," Kloner said.

8. Why would Jesus’ disciples endure torture for claiming he was resurrected, if they knew it was a hoax? New Testament scholar Darrell Bock asks, “why would Jesus' family or followers bury his bones in a family plot and then turn around and preach that he had been physically raised from the dead?"

My Personal Questions is:
1. Is Jesus "Really" death and never go back as the holly book saying...?
 2. Is he merried to Maria Magdalena....?
3. Who is James...?...Is he "Brother of Jesus" or "Son of Jesus"...?

The answer is here:
"But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you." - Mat 6:33

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