Regarding Magness and Talpiot

Whether Jesus was buried in a common criminal tomb owned by the Sanhedrin as required by the Mishnah or in a tomb owned by Joseph of Arimathea has no bearing on the Talpiot tomb. All the Gospels agree that Jesus’ body is missing from the initial burial tomb. The tomb is empty in all the Gospel versions. And there is no record of anyone witnessing the resurrection. We have no records from the first century that indicate whether Jesus’ final burial tomb is known or unknown.

By Kevin Kilty
College of Engineering and Applied Science
University of Wyoming

Mark Elliott
Department of Religious Studies
University of Wyoming
January 2012

Jodi Magness has written an important work titled Stone and Dung, Oil and Spit: Jewish Daily Life in the Time of Jesus, which combines the study of texts and archaeology. It is a work that makes important contributions to understanding Jewish life during first-century Palestine.1 In this paper, we examine her comments, though brief they are, on the alleged Jesus family tomb at Talpiot and the James Ossuary.2

Some of the reasons Magness rejects any connection of the Talpiot tomb to the family of Jesus are as follows:

  1. The family tomb should be in Nazareth, not in Jerusalem.

  2. Rock-cut tombs were used by the upper classes in Jerusalem. The family of Jesus could not have afforded this type of tomb.

  3. Jesus of Nazareth and not Jesus son of Joseph would be what we expect inscribed on Jesus’ ossuary. His ossuary should reflect his Galilean origin.

  4. The early Christian community was too poor to assist in purchasing a rock-cut tomb for the family.

  5. The names on the ossuaries from Talpiot were very common.

  6. James most likely could not have been buried in a rock-cut tomb.

Owning a Rock-cut Tomb

Magness seems surprised that Jesus’ family would have been able to afford a rock-cut tomb or that it would be located in Jerusalem rather than Nazareth.3 She argues that the “…family did not own a rock-cut tomb in Jerusalem--for if they had, there would have been no need for Joseph of Arimathea to take Jesus’ body and place it in his own family’s rock-cut tomb!” We have addressed this assertion and others regarding the Talpiot tomb previously (see notes below).

Jesus was crucified in Jerusalem. There is no literary evidence that Jesus’ family had a tomb in Nazareth or that Jesus was buried there. Later Jewish law requires that the deceased be buried and not moved to the family tomb in a remote region (Semachot 13,7). There was no opportunity to move the body to Nazareth after his death. The Gospels are all unambiguous about Jesus being placed in a tomb in Jerusalem. There was no attempt to move the body to Nazareth for burial. Furthermore, many of Jesus’ family members lived in Jerusalem after his death (Acts 1:4): his mother Mary, other brothers including James, the leader of the Jesus movement. According to Josephus, James died in Jerusalem (Antiq. 20.9.1) and there is no evidence that he was taken to Nazareth to the hypothetical family tomb.

Joseph of Arimathea

Magness states a Jesus family rock-cut tomb would not make sense since Joseph of Arimathea placed Jesus’ body “in his own family’s rock-cut tomb!” This argument is a conflation of New Testament sources. Only in Matthew does Joseph of Arimathea “own” a new tomb (27:60). The other Gospel sources do not support Matthew’s contention that the tomb of Jesus was buried immediately after his death in the tomb of Arimathea’s family tomb. If Joseph somehow devoted a tomb to Jesus’ family, we believe this was done at a later date. It is a bit too convenient to have a new tomb ready at Jesus’ crucifixion. In fact, Matthew’s depiction of Joseph of Arimathea is the least reliable in the Gospels: this version of Joseph of Arimathea portrays him as a rich man and a disciple of Jesus. A concept at variance with Mark and Luke, Joseph is described as a “respected member of the council” in Mark (Mk 15: 43), where at the trial of Jesus all the members of the council condemned Jesus to death. Luke softens the condemnation by Joseph by stating that he was a righteous man, a member of the council and “had not agreed to their plan of action” (Lk 23:51). Undoubtedly this is an attempt by Luke to sanitize Mark and clear Joseph of any charge of participating in Jesus’ death. Both Mark and Luke agree that Joseph was a member of the council. If Joseph was a disciple, why does he disappear from the Gospel accounts? This episode caused the early Christians some angst over Joseph’s role concerning Jesus’ death. Matthew goes further in editing Mark. He removes any hint of Joseph’s connection to the council and the subsequent condemnation of Jesus. Matthew’s version of Joseph as a rich disciple of Jesus who readied a new tomb for Jesus’ death is simply a rewrite of an embarrassing state of affairs in early Christian history.

Finally, in John (19:38), Joseph is indeed described as “a disciple of Jesus, though a secret one because of his fear of the Jews…’ John is the most virulently anti-Jewish of all the Gospels. He makes this statement to increase hatred towards John’s Jewish community scattered throughout his Gospel. John’s hateful depiction of the “Jews” (never differentiated) is so extraordinary that according to him, Jesus stated that the “Jews” worship the devil--a liar and a murderer (John 8:43-44). None of Johns’ portrayals here should be accepted.4 The most we can say is that Jesus died shortly before sunset on Friday, and Joseph of Arimathea buried him according to Jewish law.

In our opinion, the unlikelihood that Joseph of Arimathea owned a tomb is irrelevant to this story. Whether Jesus was buried in a common criminal tomb owned by the Sanhedrin as required by the Mishnah or in a tomb owned by Joseph of Arimathea has no bearing on the Talpiot tomb. All the Gospels agree that Jesus’ body is missing from the initial burial tomb. The tomb is empty in all the Gospel versions. And there is no record of anyone witnessing the resurrection. We have no records from the first century that indicate whether Jesus’ final burial tomb is known or unknown.

Where is Jesus’ Family Buried?

Magness rules out the possibility that the family of Jesus was buried in a rock-cut tomb in Jerusalem. Another alternative would have been trench/slit graves-- rectangular shafts sunk into the ground where the body would be laid out horizontally at the bottom of the shaft. Were Jesus and his family buried in a trench grave/slit grave? That appears to be unlikely regardless of the economic status of Jesus’ family. Trench graves are atypical in the Jerusalem area for the Second Temple period. Rock-cut tombs are standard. Shimon Gibson argues that trench graves are rarely found in Jerusalem. The only cemetery in the area with trench graves was discovered at Beit Safafa a few kilometers south of Jerusalem. According to Gibson, it was the only one discovered, and the uniqueness of this burial site has lead Boaz Zissu to propose these tombs were an Essene cemetery.5 Zissu points out that “Unlike the hundreds of Second Temple period burial caves that have been found in Jerusalem, Beit Safafa’s deep shaft graves are extremely rare…. The shaft graves are the graves of individuals, while family tombs are the norm in Jerusalem.”6

Zissu believes only the poorest families would be buried in the fields. Were Jesus and his family buried in the fields outside of Jerusalem? One can hardly comprehend that the early Christian community allowed the family of Jesus to be buried like paupers in the fields near Jerusalem. For Magness, the nascent Christian community could not have contributed to a purchase of a rock-cut tomb. Magness depicts the early Christian community as one that lived in “communal poverty.”7 This again is contrary to the New Testament’s depiction of the financial situation of the disciples and the early Christian community. We find no evidence that the early Christian community could not have provided financially to building, donating, or buying a tomb for Jesus’ family. We have suggested a number of scenarios to explain how this was accomplished. Though we have strong doubts about Joseph of Arimathea donating a rock-cut tomb immediately after Jesus’ death, we did suggest in a previous article he might have done so later. This would explain the acquisition of the Talpiot tomb at a later date.8

The Early Christians lived in “Communal Poverty.”

The early Christian community had skilled artisans among their members to build a tomb. They could have easily raised the necessary funds to purchase a tomb. Acts portrays the early Christians’ financial circumstances contrary to Magness’ narrative. It is profitable to read the entire verses in Acts:

Now the whole group of those who believed were of one heart and soul, and no one claimed private ownership of any possessions, but everything they owned was held in common. With great power the apostles gave their testimony to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus, and great grace was upon them all. There was not a needy person among them, for as many as owned lands or houses sold them and brought the proceeds of what was sold. They laid it at the apostles’ feet, and it was distributed to each as any had need. There was a Levite, a native of Cyprus, Joseph, to whom the apostles gave the name Barnabas (which means “son of encourage-
ment”). He sold a field that belonged to him, then brought the money, and laid it at the apostles’ feet (Acts 4:32-37).

The incident concerning the unfortunate Ananias and his wife Sapphira, who sold a piece of property and kept back some of the profits, also supports our contention this was not a community in dire need (Acts 5). Furthermore, Acts informs us that a number of priests were part of the early movement, “The word of God continued to spread; the number of the disciples increased greatly in Jerusalem, and a great many of the priests became obedient to the faith” (Acts 6:7). Certainly some of these priests had financial means and increased the movement’s economic capability. The early Christians do not appear to be a community that was in “communal poverty.”

We still maintain that

The ossuary could have been moved from several modest tombs until this final resting place. Furthermore, several wealthy benefactors who were impressed with Jesus’ message could have donated money for the purpose of a dignified tomb shortly after his death. We believe that it was possible early on that early followers of Jesus did have the financial means to purchase a tomb after his crucifixion. Luke (8:1-3) indicates that a small group of women provisioned Jesus and the Apostles: ‘Joanna, the wife of Herod’s steward Chuza and Susanna and many others, who provided them out of their resources.’ These women apparently followed Jesus to Jerusalem, and we are informed that ‘Mary Magdalene, Joanna, Mary mother of Jesus and the other women’ were at the empty tomb (Lk 24: 1-10). These women could have pooled their resources with other followers of Jesus and purchased a tomb. It is likely that the collective wealth of the community could have easily purchased a tomb for Jesus or his family early in the movement’s history.9

Preserving the Memory of the Tomb

Magness adds that had the family “owned a rock-cut tomb in Jerusalem, presumably some of his followers would have preserved the memory of its existence… and venerated the site.”10

Evidently this did not happen. We presume Jesus and his family, including James, were buried in Jerusalem. It is highly unlikely they were simply buried in unknown graves in a field somewhere in the city. All the Gospels are unequivocal that Jesus’ body is missing from the first tomb. It is logical to assume his body was moved at a later date and was buried in another location. Why there is no historical source or memory of a venerated Jesus family tomb is a matter of speculation. As we have indicated elsewhere, “the early followers of Jesus had a need to keep the location of the tomb silent; its existence contravenes the movement’s theological claims to resurrection. A publically revered tomb containing an ossuary of Jesus’ bones would have compromised early Christian doctrine. As the Gospel of Matthew states, “He is not here; for he has been raised” (28:6). Such a tomb would have been antithetical with early Christian belief. A secret tomb was not.”11 It is likely that “The final resting place of Jesus’ body could have easily been a secret among his family and one or two followers, all who wished to continue the movement based on the teachings of this remarkable individual. Preserving the memory and deeds of a charismatic figure was not unusual in the ancient world.”12

Common Names

Magness supports the claims from other scholars that the names on the ossuaries are common.13 We have tried to dispel this misperception in a variety of ways in several publications. The most common male name found on the ossuaries from the Talpiot Tomb is Joseph, and even this name occurs with a frequency of only 83 times out of every one thousand men. The central question, though, is not how common are the various names individually, but rather how common would be this association of names? Here we will offer a variety of calculations to show that the combination of names is not common at all.

Let us first discuss the name Yoseh, which is a name we believe to be central to identifying the occupants of this tomb. Is Yoseh an unusual name in its own right, which occurs in the pertinent time period with a frequency of about three per one thousand men; or is it, as a number of people suggest, merely a variant or nickname for Joseph, and should be then associated with a frequency of 83 per one thousand men? What do we do about the names Matthew and Mariamne? We have no data about either name, and so we will treat Matthew as any male name and Mariamne as any female name. This is a very conservative way to handle these two names. Mary is obviously an important name among the Jesus family, and is a name that occurs with a frequency of about 21 times per one hundred women. What do we do about Judah? We can consider Judah as an unknown person, and treat this name as we did Matthew. However, Judah is also the name of someone in the Jesus Family.

Group of names in addition to Jesus Son of JosephYoseh as Common as JosephYoseh as a rare namePosterior probability of unique association among 1000 tombs.

Mary, Yoseh304703% or 47%

Mary, Yoseh, Judah20086020% or 86%

Mary, Yoseh, James31092031% or 92%

Mary, Yoseh, Judah, James77099077% or 99%

Table 1: Likelihood ratios. These are a measure of the power of evidence derived from name association about the Talpiot Tomb being the Jesus Family Tomb. We included the name James in several instances in order to assess how including the James Ossuary in the tomb would change our beliefs.

Let us assume, as we have argued, that the Jesus Family is buried in a tomb in the Jerusalem area. Table 1 shows calculated likelihood-ratios which one should interpret as a measure of the power of evidence in this name association. By multiplying our a priori belief (probability) that this tomb is that belonging to the Jesus Family by these ratios, we arrive at the probability after considering this name evidence. As one may see, the interpretation of Yoseh has a strong influence on the calculations, but in all cases the likelihood-ratios are significant and suggest that a further examination of the physical evidence from this tomb is warranted. Table 1 includes the possibility of James also having been inscribed on an ossuary in this tomb. We wish to point out that no tomb in Jerusalem has ever been discovered that includes Jesus son Joseph, Mary and Yoseh, our smallest subset of Jesus family names in the Talpiot tomb. We believe it is unlikely that anyone would uncover another tomb in the Jerusalem area with this association of names. To underscore this point even further, one could note that of all tombs in the Jerusalem area that do contain the name Jesus on an ossuary, no other contains anything like a similar cluster of pertinent family names.

Jesus of Nazareth or Jesus son of Joseph?

Magness considers the lack of ossuary inscriptions that indentify the origins of the deceased as another strike against the Talpiot Tomb. She states, “If the Talpiyot tomb indeed belonged to Jesus’ family, we would expect at least some of the ossuary inscriptions to reflect their Galilean origin, by reading for example, Jesus [son of Joseph] of Nazareth (or Jesus the Nazarene)….”14

This claim has been repeated by a number of scholars.15 We have previously demonstrated this claim is not supported by the evidence available.16 The assertion

…that an ossuary holding the remains of Jesus would not be inscribed with Jesus son of Joseph is not supported by statistics of the ossuaries catalogued by Rahmani. Out of the 227 ossuaries recorded in Rahmani, about half of the inscriptions refer to the deceased and their kinfolk, and there are . . . seventy-three inscriptions that refer to the father of the deceased.17 Very few ossuaries are inscribed with the names of the deceased person’s birthplace or hometown. Indeed, there are only six such ossuaries inscribed with origins or birthplace listed in Judea or its immediate environs. There are nearly twice as many ossuaries that are inscribed referring to women and the names of their husbands than those mentioning local origins. Statistically, ossuaries are far more likely to refer to the deceased person’s nickname than their local origins. Nicknames include ‘the dour,’ ‘the amputated,’ ‘the mute,’ or ‘strong,’ ‘beetle-browed,’ ‘the small,’ ‘grasshopper,’ ‘the fat or stout,’ and ‘one-eyed.’18

It is important to note that “…place names on ossuaries are so rare among observed inscriptions that Jesus son of Joseph is some twelve times more likely to occur as an inscription than Jesus of Nazareth.”19 Furthermore, we could only establish three inscribed ossuaries in Rahmani’s Catalogue “…located in Jerusalem tombs referring to origins from Judea or its environs. The paucity of inscribed ossuaries indicating origins uncovered in Jerusalem tombs does not sustain the claim that only Jews living outside Jerusalem inscribed their place of origin. As we have mentioned above, statistically, an inscription like “Jesus of Nazareth” would have been exceedingly rare. Jesus son of Joseph matches the archaeological evidence uncovered in the tombs of Jerusalem."20

James’ Burial

Magness argues that along with Jesus’ family, James the brother of Jesus could not have afforded a rock-cut tomb, “And finally, James’ opposition to wealth and the wealthy makes it hard to believe that he would have been buried in the kind of rock cut tomb that was a hallmark of the elite lifestyle. James’ conflict with the Jerusalem elite might even have led to his execution….”21 To strengthen her theory, Magness quotes from John Painter, “James’s conflict with Ananus was a result of his opposition to the exploitation of the poor by the rich aristocratic ruling class and in particular the exploitation of the poor rural priesthood by the aristocratic urban chief priests.”22 Painter writes this situation is a “scenario in which to understand the conflict between James and Ananus….”23

James may have opposed Ananus and the wealthy priesthood, but no source indicates he was put to death for being a critic of the upper classes, or a supporter of rural priests. Josephus, our best witness and historical source for this period and who was contemporaneous with James, does not support this “scenario.” Josephus noted that James was arrested and stoned to death for violating the law, and not for protesting the treatment of the rural priesthood:

He [Ananus] assembled the Sanhedrin of judges, and brought before them the brother of Jesus, who was called Christ, whose name was James, and some others, and when he had formed an accusation against them as breakers of the law, he delivered them to be stoned: but as for those who seem the most equitable of the citizens, and such as were the most uneasy at the breach of the laws, they disliked what was done….24

Magness then points to Hegesippus as a source that supports her argument that James was buried in a pit grave or trench grave marked by a headstone.25 The writings of Hegesippus, which are from the early 2nd century, are almost entirely lost. Only a few fragments of his work were preserved centuries later by Eusebius. Hegesippus is a difficult source for the death of James. His account is more detailed than Josephus but contains in our opinion some doubtful assertions.

In Hegesippus, James is depicted as a nazarite who “drank no wine nor strong drink, nor did he eat flesh. No razor came upon his head; he did not anoint himself with oil, and he did not use the bath.”26 Perhaps James took a vow to become a nazarite, but nowhere in the New Testament does James explicitly do so or is he called a nazarite. Hegesippus represents James as the High Priest, “He alone was permitted to enter into the holy place; for he wore not woolen but linen garments. And he was in the habit of entering alone into the temple…” Only the High Priest entered the Holy of Holies on the Day of Atonement. James as the High Priest is fiction. None of this should be accepted as evidence.

As for the death of James, Hegesippus appears to accuse the scribes and the Pharisees as the parties responsible. But this is a difficult story to accept since the Pharisees, as recalled by Luke, were also a sect of believers in Christ who attended the famous Jerusalem Council, which James headed (Acts 15). Hegesippus has them tossing James over the Temple Mount wall. Once on the ground he was stoned and then clubbed to death. “And one of them, one of the fullers, took the club with which he beat out clothes and struck the just man on the head. And thus he suffered martyrdom. And they buried him on the spot, by the temple, and his monument still remains by the temple.”27

Hegesippus even views James’ death as fulfillment of prophecy, “And they fulfilled the scripture written in Isaiah: Let us take away the just man because he is troublesome to us; therefore they shall eat the fruit of their works.”28

Sadly, on historical grounds much of what Hegesippus writes is improbable. Whether any of what he notes can be viewed as more than confused ramblings in the 2nd century is doubtful. He is indeed a slender reed on which to base objections to the Talpiot Tomb.

James Ossuary and the Patina, the Exceptional Evidence

Magness and the opponents of Talpiot Tomb and the James Ossuary are right to insist as Christopher Hitchens has written “exceptional claims demand exceptional evidence.” Let’s consider the following. There are several studies concerning the authenticity of the James Ossuary by a group of scientists that have testified in Israel at the Oded Golan forgery trial regarding the contested ossuary and other objects. They claimed that the patina, a coating of various chemical compounds such as oxides or carbonates formed on the surface during exposure to the elements or weathering process, located on the ossuary and in the inscription is “authentic.” The patina found in the letters of the inscription, and located all over the ossuary is indicative of slow growth over many years. Thus, the inscription is not a modern forgery.

Professor Wolfgang E. Krumbein of the University of Oldenburg, Germany, recently argued that he

…found traces of natural patina inside the ossuary inscription in at least three different sites of the inscription (in the first and last sections of the inscription)…. Although the ossuary inscription was recently contaminated by the IAA and/or police who, perhaps inadvertently, recently removed almost all the material inside the letters of the inscription, we found miniscule traces of the natural patina inside some of the letters.30

The Israeli Antiquities authority has declared the inscription a fake. However, it appears several of their experts contradicted themselves at the Golan trial, or admitted that they had mistakenly identified the patina as modern. We have verified a comment in Oded Golan’s essay submitted to this site31 on the witnesses and evidence at his trial. A scientist who testified at the trial substantiated in a personal email the following with some minor changes:

Neither the prosecution nor the IAA presented even a single witness who was an expert on ancient stone items, or patina on antiquities and who ruled out the authenticity of the inscription or any part of it. The inscription was engraved by a single person. The findings of all the tests, including those of prosecution witnesses Goren and Ayalon, support the argument that the entire inscription is ancient, and that several letter grooves are covered by the natural patina that developed there over centuries. The inscription was partially cleaned and contains probably traces of detergent/s (cleansers) that mislead the results and the interpretations of Goren and Ayalon.

Magness brings up an interesting point, “Even if the inscription of the James Ossuary is authentic, it does not refer to James the Just, the brother of Jesus.”32 This proclamation does provide certain advantages over the perceived chaos regarding the scientific battles emanating at the Golan trail in Jerusalem. However, let’s examine the probability of an ossuary like the James Ossuary. If one were to take names of men in First Century Palestine at random and apply three to an ossuary inscription, the probability of having Joseph, Jesus, and James be the three is about 47 in one million. That is a very small probability indeed. Even if we located as many as, say, ten thousand such ossuaries with three names on them, an inscribed ossuary with James, Joseph, and Jesus would still qualify as an unlikely find. Since there is one historical association of these three names in a family that we know of, we would say, contrary to Magness’ claim, that this ossuary is that of the James the brother of Jesus. Again, to underscore this point further, Camil Fuchs at Tel Aviv University33 has calculated the likely number of deceased men named James in the entire population of 1st century Palestine from 3 C.E. to 70 C.E. that would have had a brother named Jesus, a father named Joseph, and the wealth or social standing to have warranted such an ossuary. He finds that this expected number is less than two, and, though the true number is uncertain, even at 96% confidence it would not exceed four. This ossuary probably points to a unique individual— there are not many such ossuaries waiting to be found.

Shrouded in the debate on the James Ossuary and Talpiot is an extraordinary paper published at Bible and Interpretation, mostly ignored by biblical scholars, by A. Rosenfeld, C. Pellegrino, H. R. Feldman, and W.E. Krumbein.34 The authors advanced a theory that the “…patina of the unprovenanced James Ossuary exhibits geochemical fingerprints consistent with the patinas of the Talpiot ossuaries. This strengthens the contention that the James Ossuary belong [sic] to the assemblage of the Talpiot ossuaries.” Fourteen burial caves were examined including the “Talpiot cave.” It is instructive to read the following from their paper:

The patina of the unprovenanced James Ossuary was analyzed by three different laboratories: by the SEM-EDS method (Rosenfeld and Ilani (2002) in the Geological Survey of Israel; Pellegrino (op. cit.) examined in Suffolk crime Lab. NY; and by Prof. Vertolli, of the Royal Ontario Museum. The results were consistent in all labs. The characteristic elements of the James Ossuary patina are silicon, phosphorous, titanium, iron, aluminum, and potassium. The only tomb including the ossuaries’ patinas with which the ‘James’ Ossuary patina fingerprints appeared to be consistent is the Talpiot Tomb…The phosphorous peak originates from the dissolution of the bones whereas the titanium and aluminum peaks can be linked to clay particles and the silicon peak originates from quartz grains that come from atmospheric exposure to dust and soil…The James Ossuary is very similar in size to the missing 10th ossuary (Kloner 1996). The measurements of the width and the height are identical, but the length falls short by 3-4 cm. Dimensions of carved stone ossuaries are not typically identical on parallel sides; moreover, the length of JO has changed between measurements as a result of having been broken and repaired along its length. Based on similar size and the elemental fingerprints it is possible to conclude that the James Ossuary is the missing 10th ossuary from the Talpiot cave….35

If this connection between the Talpiot tomb ossuaries to the ossuary inscribed James son of Joseph brother of Jesus proves to be accurate, then James was undoubtedly buried in a rock-cut tomb. James son of Joseph is what we would expect to find inscribed on an ossuary uncovered in Jerusalem, and that the names of the deceased person’s birthplace or hometown and an inscription like “Jesus of Nazareth” would have been exceedingly rare. James son of Joseph supports our contention that Jesus son of Joseph matches the archaeological evidence uncovered in the tombs of Jerusalem.

These reports are essential in determining the authenticity of Talpiot and the inscription of the James Ossuary. They are available and not obscure or impenetrable. Regrettably, many of Magness’ assertions on Talpiot began to collapse years ago. Her book contains no information on these scientific results. Perhaps the material was unavailable to her. We are hopeful her second edition will address these issues. We have read no information that contradicts the links of the patina examined on the James Ossuary to the Talpiot tomb. We urge that fair and unbiased examinations of the evidence concerning the patina be replicated. In particular, it would be useful to have some measure of the rate of false association of a patina with a tomb. Critics of Talpiot and the James Ossuary are required to engage this evidence. We state plainly, biblical scholars must seek out argument and disputation based on the evidence at hand because the issue of Talpiot will not be settled by focusing on the behavior of Simcha Jacobovici.


1 Jodi Magness, Stone and Dung, Oil and Spit: Jewish Daily Life in the Time of Jesus (Wm. B. Eerdmans, 2011).

2 Ibid., 172-80.

3 Ibid., 172.

4 See Maurice Casey on the “Jews” in John, Jesus of Nazareth (T&T Clark, 2010), 521-23.

5 Shimon Gibson, The Final Days of Jesus (HarperCollins, 2009), 134.

6 Boaz Zissu, “Odd tomb out.” Biblical Archaeology Review, 25(2) (1999): 50-55+.

7 Magness, 176.

8 M. Elliott and K. Kilty, “Inside the Numbers of the Talpiot Tomb.” Mar. 20, 2008,

9 Ibid.

10 Magness, 174.

11 Inside the numbers.

12 M. Elliott and K. Kilty, “Talpiot Dethroned,” January 2010,

13 Magness, 172.

14 Ibid., 173.

15 It is now in a popular textbook by James Hoffmeier, The Archaeology of the Bible (Wilkinson House, 2008), 165. Unfortunately, Hoffmeier recycles the same inaccurate information found on the net and in Magness' work, 164.

16 M. Elliott and K. Kilty, “Probability, Statistics, and the Talpiot Tomb.” June 10, 2007, 24-26,

17 L. Y. Rahmani, Catalog of Jewish Ossuaries in the Collections of the State of Israel, (Israeli, Antiquities Authority, Jerusalem, 1994),17.

18 “Probability,” 25.

19 Ibid. There are only a few locations outside Judah referred to on other ossuaries such as Berenike in Cyrenaica as a possible location, #404; Ptolemias, possibly Cyrenaica, #99; Hin in Babylonia or near Caesarea, #290. There are a number of ossuaries inscribed with a name that scholars suspect are common to Egypt or Cyrenaica. These place names are too speculative to be regarded as evidence of origins, and cannot be considered in the same category as inscribed place names. See note 34.

20 Ibid., 26.

21 Magness, 176.

22 John Painter, Just James: the Brother of Jesus in History and Tradition (Uni. of South Carolina, 2004), 140.

23 Ibid., 141.

24 Josephus, Antiquities (20.200-1).

25 Magness, 179.

26 Hegesippus,

27 Ibid.

28 Ibid.

29 A. Rosenfeld, C.Pellegrino, H. R. Feldman, and W.E. Krumbein, “The Connection of the James Ossuary to the Talpiot (Jesus Family Tomb) Ossuaries,” May 2011,

30 Wolfgang E. Krumbein, "External Expert Opinion on three Stone Items," September 2005,

31 Oded Golan, “The Authenticity of the James Ossuary and the Jehoash Tablet Inscriptions,” April, 2011,

32 Magness, 179.

33 Camil Fuchs, “Demography, literacy, and names distribution in ancient Jerusalem—How many James/Jacob son of Joseph, brother of Jesus were there?” The Polish Journal of Biblical Research, V 4, No. 1, 3-30, December 2005.

34 “The Connection of the James Ossuary to the Talpiot (Jesus Family Tomb) Ossuaries,” May 2011,

35 For the 10th ossuary see James Tabor, “The Talpiot Tomb: Separating Truth from Fiction (Completed),” April 29th, 2007, http://www.jesus
separating-truth-from-fiction/Jesus Dynasty

Comments (40)

Thank you so much for writing this article! Rather than comment at length, allow me to share a link to a blog post I wrote with some thoughts of my own. I am delighted that research is ongoing into such important questions as the patina on the James ossuary inscription and the minerological evidence for its connection or not with the Talpiot tomb.

#1 - James F. McGrath - 01/10/2012 - 03:47

A great piece! The best so far on this subject. THANK YOU SO VERY MUCH!

#2 - Eldad Keynan - 01/10/2012 - 09:13

While I still have serious reservations about the ossuary inscription (part b) and the patina's authenticity; and while I don't think citing Oded Golan on the subject bolsters your case, I do appreciate the meticulous care with which you address it.

I'm not convinced, but you've given me some things to think about. What more could anyone ask?

#3 - Jim West - 01/10/2012 - 22:22

Thanks for your article. I think it is a great contribution to the discussion and I can only wish and hope that all the "Talpiot detractors" who are not up to date on the latest materials, even those posted on your Web site, will read a bit before trashing those of us who have always said this tomb deserves a careful and scientific consideration. We are talking about a tomb here, not a film, a book, or a "theory." What is the evidence and how should we access it. Same with Golan, like him or not, his article, which I think few seems to have read, does seem to offer a fair and balanced presentation of the facts that came out in the trial. I have not seen anyone offer any substantive refutation to what he says.

I do disagree with your point about the early followers of Jesus perhaps having a "secret" tomb of Jesus and keeping it that way in order to foster off a false believe in resurrection. I have to agree with the conservatives here, that is highly improbably. It implies deception and duplicity on the part of the followers, knowing they had his body but representing otherwise. I think it is far more likely that the earliest followers had apparition-like experiences, not the “bodily” encounters reported by Luke and John and they are perfectly okay with the “bones” respectfully interred in a family tomb. After all, Mark has no appearances at all, showing that our earliest gospel could circulate just fine without such stories—which then of necessity are later and added for obvious apologetic reasons—i.e., hysterical women first found the empty tomb, those who claimed to see him saw a ghost, etc. We have to separate pre-70 and post-70. The gospels, with the possible exception of Q and Mark, are post-70. What the community in Jerusalem, say, between 30-63 or so were doing is unknown to us in terms of a tomb of Jesus. They well might have been visiting it and venerating Jesus as spiritually ascended to heaven, as Paul indicates in 1 Corinthians 15 and 2 Cor 5. The old body is shuffled off like clothing and the new clothing is then “put on.” You don’t keep the old clothing around, or “take it to heaven.” After all, Paul says Jesus was buried. But he sees “resurrection” as the raising from the “dust” of a “spiritual body,” that he calls a “life-giving” spirit. The Lubavitch today regularly visit the Rebbe’s grave but believe nonetheless he is glorified in the ‘Olam HaBa and is the Moshiach.

After 70 CE, and even more so the disasters of 135ff we have no records of what Jerusalem followers of Jesus knew or did not know. When we get our first pilgrim accounts of holy places in the 3rd and 4th centuries there is no certainty about the location of places connected to Jesus, much less where the pre-70 followers might have venerated his grave.

#4 - James D. Tabor - 01/11/2012 - 00:22

Jim West wrote "...I don't think citing Oded Golan on the subject bolsters your case...." We would like to reiterate that Golan's account regarding the patina and the inscription was confirmed to us in an email by one of the scientists who testified at the trial.
M. Elliott and K. Kilty

#5 - M. Elliott and K. Kilty - 01/11/2012 - 01:40

Well, let me briefly state my opinion on this matter. This paper a very good reply to Magness's 6 points. But my doubts are elsewhere.

1) Marko Sammech admitted to CBC 60 Minutes to have forged 10-20 artifacts for Golan, who kept the ossuary in his house for 25 years and then he realized he could own a biblical relic.

2) There's no agreement on the patina being really ancient: at least, we have Yuval Goren's opinion that there is no such patina on the word Jesus.

3) There is no record of a presumed Jesus family tomb in Early Christianity. As for Jesus’ tomb - the Holy Sepulchre - first Christians preserved very good oral traditions. And, beyond tradition, relics were invented and forged starting from the IV century. The place of James’ burial was venerated and remembered in early Christianity. Eusebius preserves to a grave-marker or monument to James. Jerome does it in his seemingly more precise variation on the tradition “His tombstone with its inscription was well known until the siege of Titus and the end of Hadrian’s reign” (Vir. ill. 2). First pilgrims to Jerusalem noticed different places and relics connected to James: his house, his throne when he was bishop, his tomb, and Theodosius writes that James’ bones were venerated in the Kedron Valley tomb. No evidence or memory of a family tomb. And considering that early Christians were eager to venerate the most absurd places and objects (such as the tub of Baby Jesus or the place where household servant in Nazareth was born, St. Amadour) I find it difficult to overcome the fact that there is no record on this family tomb.

4) The so-called missing ossuary is not the 10th Talpiot tomb ossuary, as clearly stated here by those who excavated and catalogued the tomb (

5) “Without Mary Magdalene the tomb is like any other tomb with an unremarkable common set of names.” (Andrey Feuerverger), and Stephen Pfann has proved beyond doubt that there is no such name on the ossuary (

6) Good remarks on Jewish burial practices (, in fact at least 35 individuals were buried there (

7) IAA epigraphists and paleographers are convinced that at least the second part of the inscription is a fake.

So, even IF the patina and the inscription will be proved absolutely authentic beyond any doubt (and I seriously doubt it will ever happen), the evidence of the existence of a presumed Jesus family tomb is missing at all. For the above reasons, I remain highly skeptical about it being the "real thing".

#6 - Antonio Lombatti - 01/11/2012 - 13:43

Thanks for your comment Antonio. Just a few caveats here and there.

I am thinking, judging from your comments, that you might not have had time to read the Golan article at this site. What Golan represents about about the trial is accurate so far as I have been able to tell and endorsed by those who were there (TIME correspondent Matthew Kalam, etc.), as M. Elliot has pointed out, see especially on Yuval Goren's updated testimony. Also the latest posts on Gibson's suggestion of not a 10th but an 11th ossuary.

The estimate of number of individuals buried in the 1980 tomb was just that--as Kloner has said, an estimate based on "averages," not any kind of study of the bones, which was never done by anyone. We don't even know what happened to the bones but presumably they were either discarded or passed along, years later when such IAA stored materials were handed over by mandate to the Heredim for common reburial. So the truth is, we have no idea how many individuals were buried in those ossuaries.

Mariamene remains a possible reading of the inscription even with Pfann and others suggesting Mariam kai Mara. Since this unusual diminutive spelling, with the letter "nu," only occurs in two other texts in all of Greek literature, both referring to MM (Hippolytus and G.Philip), it is at least interesting that the revered Rahmani came up with this precise "misreading" without knowledge of such. What would be the chances of that? Leah DeSigni has also endorsed this reading. I think we have to remain open. What Feurverger said was not "if the name is Mary Magdalene" but if this spelling of the name is one "most appropriate" for MM it counts differently, statistically speaking, than the more common spelling Miriam or Miriame. Also Yose is very rare, again, see the articles on Bible Interpretation with some very important updated studies taking into account post-Feuerverger questions.

I recently listed with links the latest seven articles, in addition to the current one here, on this site, for easy reference for those who have not had time to keep up. I know you are familiar with most of these Antonio, but for those who are not:

Best wishes, keep up the good work,


#7 - James D. Tabor - 01/11/2012 - 16:52

Dear Dr. Kilty and Dr. Elliott, Hi!!! Thank you both for this awesome article!!!!! Forgive me if you emphasized this in your article, but I do not think that you did. Isn't it important too that Professor Yuval Goren found ancient original patina in the word "Jesus" of the inscription? This would mean that the whole inscription is authentic and ancient. In the October 31, 2008, posting of the "James Ossuary Forgery Case in Shambles" article on the Biblical Archaeology Review website, we have: "More importantly, on cross-examination Goren was forced to admit that after the police had removed this covering, he could see original patina in the critical word 'Jesus.'"
With Much Gratitude and Admiration, Michael

#8 - Michael Welch - 01/11/2012 - 18:44

We appreciate Antonio Lombatti's reply. Here are our comments. The patina issue is crucial. Biblical scholars should allow the geologists to settle this. All we can say on the matter is that one of the scientist who testified at the trial stated that "Neither the prosecution nor the IAA presented even a single witness who was an expert on ancient stone items, or patina on antiquities and who ruled out the authenticity of the inscription or any part of it." We all need to view the evidence contrary to this.

We recognize that Christians revered the area of the Church of the Holy Sepulchre as the location of Jesus' first burial centuries after his crucifixion. However, all that tells us is what Christians believed in the 2nd-4th centuries. Every Gospel account emphatically states that the body is missing from the initial burial. As we mentioned in the article there is no 1st century evidence of the followers of Jesus revering any tomb. As you well know, by the 4th century during the time of Eusebius, Christian pilgrims wrote they visited many revered biblical sites such as Mt. Carmel where Elijah did his sacrifice, the spring of the prophet Elisha, the house of Rahab the harlot, the place where the Israelites placed twelve stones at the Jordan River, the plain where David killed Goliath, and the well where the Samaritan women drew water. They were shown the waterpots used at the wedding of Cana, the vineyard and the rock where Judas betrayed Jesus in the garden, and the tombs of Isaiah and Hezekiah. We hear of Egeria visiting the 'holy mount of God' and the cave of Moses. And according to the famous pilgrim of Bordeaux he visited a vault where they laid the lord's body 'and he rose again on the third day.' See Wilken, The Land Called Holy. There were many pious nuns and eager clergy ready to show devout pilgrims a variety of sites related to famous kings, saints, prophets, miracles, acts of God and Jesus. Whether they were accurate is another matter.

As for the missing tenth ossuary, A. Rosenfeld, C. Pellegrino, H. R. Feldman, and W.E. Krumbein claim "Based on similar size and the elemental fingerprints it is possible to conclude that the James Ossuary is the missing 10th ossuary from the Talpiot cave…." They argue that the patina on the James ossuary matches the patina on the Talpiot tomb. We would like to see evidence that is contrary. Where is the tenth ossuary?

We have never used the Mary Magdalene inscription in our computations and as for the names being common, this is a false analogy stated over and over again. Pointing out, correctly,that names found in the Talpiot Tomb are common, does not mean that the combination is common. Consider the following, "In 2826 names in all written sources for the Greco-Roman period in Palestine, 330BCE to 200CE, which includes 712 valid persons recorded on ossuaries (Tal Ilan), there are only three occurrences of Yeshua/Jesus linked with Yehosep/Joseph, and one of these instances is Joseph, Joshua’s brother. Three examples linking Jesus and Joseph cannot be considered typical or common for this period in Palestine."
See our "Inside the Numbers" and "Talpiot Dethroned" in notes above.

Concerning your comment on the James Ossuary, " IAA epigraphists and paleographers are convinced that at least the second part of the inscription is a fake." We have not surveyed all epigraphers on this issue or recalculated how only James son of Joseph would change our calculations; however, we found this according to BAR
" At the trial, not a single expert in the Semitic script of the period testified that the inscription was a forgery."
If accurate, then we all need to rethink our assumption on the inscription.

M. Elliott and K. Kilty

#9 - M. Elliott and K. Kilty - 01/11/2012 - 21:28

I\\\'m somewhat surprised that scholars, aside from less than a minyan, may still believe that James Ossuary/Talpiot tomb of the Jesus Family foolishness. Rather than belabor the point most of the opinions expressed here were dealt with by colleagues in the past. The geological expertise in fact has been some of the easiest to discard along with BAR declaring that they were able, with their \\\'limited resources\\\' able to show that the ossuary was cleaned by Golans mother prior to it be moved to her sons house in ca 1990, with a local detergent which caused problems. I called the manufacturer and that detergent which BAR claimed was used to clean the ossuary was not commercially on the mkt until the mid 90\\\'s. Their geological claim that, on the basis of the patina, the ossuary was outside the tomb for several hundred yrs should have been a red flag in terms of what can happen when non-specialists in the world of biblical archaeology get involved.
Yesterday I tried to pick up a copy of their book on the tomb at second hand book shops here in Jerusalem and there are many, none had it so I went to two of the better known book shops and neither had heard of the book and then was forced to go on line to see if any library in the country had a copy. No library in the entire country had a copy, which sort of speaks volumes about how serious the book was and the creditability of many of those involved. Remember this tomb of Jesus of Nazareth is one of several which they have ‘discovered’ or supported within the last few years. And that James ossuary gets U-Hauled from place to place, tomb to tomb, depending on the film/book they are writing or publishing.

For those of you still wishing to believe, despite overwhelming evidence to the contrary, take a look at the \\\'track record\\\' of the Talpiot tomb co-author Charles Pellegrino in the following NT Times article and decide for yourselves. In fact, the authenticity of the inscription and tomb is on par with the co-authors PhD and those non-archaeologists posing in the media as biblical archaeologists.

And lastly, despite what James Tabor has to say for himself, Simcha and perhaps Cameron it\\\'s ALL about a book and a film which went \\\'south\\\' not to mention their current attempt to publish The Jesus Discovery, which has not passed peer review by the folks at National Geographic and a host of others.

Joe Zias

#10 - Joe Zias - 01/11/2012 - 22:20

Addressing Lombatti's point number 2 to comment # 6.
“There's no agreement on the patina being really ancient: at least, we have Yuval Goren's opinion that there is no such patina on the word Jesus.”
Dr. Lombatti's information is probably not updated. Prof. Yuval Goren declared during the trial (2004-not resumed yet) in the Jerusalem District Court, that he observed a natural developed patina within the engraving of the letter Ain in the word Yeshu and he also presented a similar natural patina within the letter Shin. This is contrary to his first forgery definition of the “IAA Material Committee” (2003). Thanks to Michael Welch (comment #8) for reminding us about BAR’s article on the cross examination of Prof. Goren.

The prosecution witness Dr. Orna Cohen, expert on ancient stones working with the IAA, testified during the trial that she certainly identified natural patina that was developed within the letters Het, Yod, Shin and Ain in the words “Ahui D’Yeshua.”

Both prosecution witnesses Dr. Yardeni and Dr. Misgav confirmed in the Court that their investigations indicate that the inscription of James Ossuary is authentic. Needless to repeat that the geologists (cited here by Kilty and Elliot) in their archaeometric researches as well as in their testimonies of the trial determined that the patina within the inscription of James Ossuary is authentic.

Amnon Rosenfeld

#11 - Amnon Rosenfeld - 01/11/2012 - 23:30

Golan claims in the bibleinterp article here that these scholars support the authenticity of the James Ossuary, Andre Lemaire, Ada Yardeni,
Hagai Misgav, Shmuel Ahituv, Yosef Naveh, Y. L. Rahmani, Esther Eshel, and Roni Reich. Why are we arguing about this? Lombatti's comments on epigraphists and paleographers are apparently inaccurate. What say you Mr. Zias? Your war on scholars who disagree with you is inappropriate.

Brian Wood

#12 - beww - 01/11/2012 - 23:56

In response to A. Lombatti
Lombatti raised the following points (quoted by their original numbers). Here is my respond:
4) "The so-called missing ossuary is not the 10th Talpiot tomb ossuary, as clearly stated here by those who excavated and catalogued the tomb ("
- In fact, there were 11 ossuaries; 10 inside, and one, broken, out of the tomb. Did this one undergo a reconstruction? No record, as we've been told. So, we might have two ossuaries missing. Thus we may ask "those who excavated and catalogued the tomb" to tell us what they know but we don't.

5) “Without Mary Magdalene the tomb is like any other tomb with an unremarkable common set of names.” (Andrey Feuerverger), and Stephen Pfann has proved beyond doubt that there is no such name on the ossuary (
- The names were not common. The so called "commonness" of the Talpiot names has been proven to be not true. The method employed to calculate this "commonness" is misleading, and so are its results and conclusions. Counting a generic name, say – Yosef, together with all its derivatives is a wrong method. It could not be applied to a specific find and site. I saw Pfann's LAZER spectacle, meant to dismiss the Mariamne. Well – it was highly skilled and showed superb technique. Yet experts in the relevant fields that attended this show (Jerusalem, January 2008), simply did not agree.

6) Good remarks on Jewish burial practices (, in fact at least 35 individuals were buried there (

- Not true. Hiding behind rough statistics will never change simple facts. And the fact is that "those who excavated and catalogued the tomb" must have removed the bones from every individual ossuary. No one in the world knows better than them how many individuals were exactly in each ossuary. Why would three professionals raise statistical claims when they can simply tell the world simple facts? The answer lays in the minds and hands of "those who excavated and catalogued the tomb". The fact that both Kloner and Zias use this statistical shield instead of telling us the real numbers is, at least, odd. Both had the ossuaries in their own hands. Zias saw the bones with his own eyes. Why, then, the statistical shield is used again and again? After all, it is claimed:" in fact at least 35 individuals were buried there". 35 is only the result of a statistic calculation, not based on counting physical finds. Another fact is a real fact: both Kloner and Zias are members of a tiny group of people, namely: ""those who excavated and catalogued the tomb". No statistics required, then.

7) IAA epigraphists and paleographers are convinced that at least the second part of the inscription is a fake.
So, even IF the patina and the inscription will be proved absolutely authentic beyond any doubt (and I seriously doubt it will ever happen), the evidence of the existence of a presumed Jesus family tomb is missing at all. For the above reasons, I remain highly skeptical about it being the "real thing".

- It's really sad, that even the most appreciated scholars declare that no matter what, they will reject any possible evidence.

#13 - Eldad Keynan - 01/12/2012 - 14:43

Thanks for the article. Comments on my blog at:

#14 - Mark Goodacre - 01/13/2012 - 04:32

More "bones statistics". It has been claimed that there were 35 individuals in the Talpiot Tomb. This figure is the result of a statistical counting method. Since there were 10 ossuaries, as Kloner tell us in his article (Atiqot 29, 1996), and the average was 1.7 bodies in an ossuary, then we have the remains of 17 individuals in the ossuary. That is: the other 18 must have been on the tomb's floor. We also know that the excavators found three (3) skulls on the floor. Now we may add: ONLY three. Simple calculation show that 15 interments are missing. Scavengers? "Bones robbers"? Or maybe a misleading average?

#15 - Eldad Keynan - 01/13/2012 - 18:47

Regarding Yoseh and Joseph, there are two possibilities:

1) Yoseh is a totally different name.
2) Yoseh is totally exchangeable with Joseph

If 1 is true, then this is not the tomb of Jesus.
If 2 is true, then the posterior probability is (83 + 3) / 1000 = 86/1000

#16 - A. Baldrich - 01/13/2012 - 20:33

For the another side of the story that Zias posted from the New York Times, readers are referred to the Hiroshima controversies at In particular, the comments by Steven Leeper, Masahiro Sasaki, and George Zebrowski address all of the major questions about Pellegrino, including the veracity of the Hiroshima story.

Amnon Rosenfeld

#17 - Amnon Rosenfeld - 01/14/2012 - 06:44

To A. Baldrich; since I'm not in the field of Math and statistics, can you explain the following?

"1) Yoseh is a totally different name.
If 1 is true, then this is not the tomb of Jesus."

Thank you

#18 - Eldad Keynan - 01/14/2012 - 07:35

Part I
We appreciate Mark Goodacre's comments and we are eager to explain our position. He disagrees with our interpretations of Talpiot regarding Yoseh and the ossuary inscribed Judas son of Jesus. Matthew, who read and edited the book of Mark, replaces Joses/Yoseh the brother of Jesus to Joseph. Because of Matthew's change are we to assume that the name Yoseh is not rare and should always be treated as Joseph? We have always offered alternative calculations that treat the name Yoseh as a variant of Joseph, or as a rare name in its own right. However, the documentation regarding the name Yoseh should be examined closely before rendering a decision in how it must always be interpreted and whether the name is rare.

In 2826 names in all written sources for the Greco-Roman period there are 3 examples of Yoseh in Hebrew (6 are in Greek). The name in Hebrew is only inscribed on one ossuary located in Talpiot, on Jason's Tomb and in the Murabbaat papyri. The nickname cannot be considered "common" regardless if is a variant of Joseph or any other name. Simply stated the critics of Talpiot continue to insist that the name Yoseh is not rare when all available records indicate the opposite.

A variation of this same argument maintains that Yoseh is a variant of Joseph used to differentiate between father and son. Let’s examine evidence. In Tal Ilan’s compilation of the literature for the Greco-Roman period there are 138 occurrences of the name Joseph for which we find a number of father-son relationships. Of these, 34 involve a father named Joseph, and one involves a grandfather named Joseph. Another 102 combinations involve a son named Joseph, and one involves a grandson named Joseph. In five instances in all combinations of Joseph the other person is named Joseph. In no instance is either one of the paired Josephs called Yoseh--should we not find a Yoseh to differentiate between the Josephs?

What we see is that there is no example of this combination, Joseph son of Yoseh or Yoseh son of Joseph, anywhere in the written record during the Greco-Roman period, used in the way the critics contend. There is only one instance where there is a combination of a Yoseh and a Joseph and they are inscribed on different ossuaries, and those ossuaries are in the Talpiot tomb.
Continues on Part II

#19 - M. Elliott and K. Kilty - 01/14/2012 - 19:20

Part II

Goodacre 's criticism of our calculations is one we hear often:
"The whole case for the identity of the Talpiot Tomb with Jesus'
family is based on the idea of an extraordinary positive correlation
between clusters of names. It is unacceptable when calculating
probabilities to ignore contradictory evidence."

This is not an accurate characterization of our position. We have calculated posterior probabilities using Yoseh as a rare name, and Yoseh as just any instance of Joseph; we have calculated using Judah as neutral to the calculation, and as Judah as the Judah in Mark simply misidentified as a brother; we have calculated from the standpoint of James possibly having been in the tomb or not; and we have left Mariamne out of the discussion altogether. Indeed, the only "evidence" we have regarding this tomb at present is the inscriptions themselves; we calculated every conceivable combination of possibilities, and allowed the reader to see what the results are. The only thing we have not done is to discount the evidence of this tomb completely because it does not conform to a Christian tradition that Jesus was unmarried and had no offspring. But there is no physical evidence supporting this tradition.

Certainly a son of Jesus named Judah is surprising, perhaps, but not unlikely. As we have mentioned a number of times, there is no evidence that Jesus was not married. No Gospel indicates that Jesus was celibate for his entire life. Paul’s letters never mention celibacy regarding Jesus. The Gospels are silent concerning Jesus’ marital status. They have nothing to say about whether or not Jesus had been married previously or had a son. As we stated in our previous post, the Gospels rarely reveal any information on the marital status of Jesus’ apostles. There is a brief mention of Peter’s (Simon’s) mother-in-law but nothing on his wife or possible children” (see Mk 1:30). Can we suppose that all the original disciples excluding Peter were not married simply because their marital status remains unmentioned in the Gospels? If it weren’t for Paul’s brief comment concerning the wives of the other apostles and the brothers of the lord and Cephas (I Cor 9:5), we would have no credible information concerning the wives of the apostles. As for Jesus' marital status and the inscribed ossuary Judas son of Jesus, we suggest that the Gospels and Letters of Paul cannot provide the evidence to discount the possibility Jesus had a son. As one blogger told us, what should Jesus call his son, Vito?

#20 - M. Elliott and K. Kilty - 01/14/2012 - 19:21

The question is not about the rarity of the combination; the question is about whether Joses is synonymous with Joseph, which clearly it is. In a way, we don't find a lot of inscriptions with 'Dick' for Richard or 'Tommy' for Thomas. The name Joses wouldn't be rare, since we have literary attestation to the name in several sources (and it appears also in Greek and Latin inscriptions in Egypt); as a name used in conjunction with Joseph there is no doubt of this. That is the argument Mark Goodacre is making.

#21 - Tom Verenna - 01/14/2012 - 22:22

In our article “The Connection of the James Ossuary to the Talpiot (Jesus Family Tomb) Ossuaries” – Rosenfeld, Pellegrino, Feldman and Krumbein (2011), we emphasized the following points.
1. The beige bio-patina observed on the surface of the ossuary accreting gradually into the engraved letters of the inscription of the James Ossuary.
2. The presence of microcolonial long living yeast-like fungi as well as the oxalate minerals found within the patina indicate biological activity of slow growth over many years. Both points 1 and 2 indicate that the inscription of the James Ossuary is authentic.
3. The patina of James Ossuary exhibit the same geochemical fingerprints consistent with the Talpiot cave ceiling and the patinas of its ossuaries.
4. This strengthens the contention that James Ossuary belong to the assemblage of the Talpiot ossuaries.

Amnon Rosenfeld and Howard Feldman

#22 - Amnon Rosenfeld and Howard Feldman - 01/14/2012 - 23:10

Mr. Verenna's point about rarely finding inscriptions of "Dick" for "Richard" is not clear to us. It almost seems he agrees that "Yoseh" would not have been inscribed if "Joseph" were the actual name.

However, "Yoseh" is the inscription in Talpiot. Despite the book of Matthew, the family could have easily inscribed the ossuary with "Joseph", they used "Yoseh" instead.

If three instances of Yoseh out of 2826 names in all written sources for the Greco-Roman period isn't rare (.001%) then no name is.

K. Kilty and M. Elliott

#23 - Kevin Kilty - 01/15/2012 - 04:46

It's a good article. Not a great article. Some of the arguments are muddled. But, clearly, the evidence is weighing towards Talpiot. My question is why the whole article has to end on ad hominem dig at the expense of Simcha Jacobovici? What "behavior"?

#24 - Nicole - 01/15/2012 - 23:30

Nicole, problems with 'ad hominem dig at SJ ?take a look at the self proclaimed 'investigative journalist', Ali-G of archaeology co-author and ask yourself if any of them are deserving of anything but ad-hominen attacks.

Furthermore, one article in the press wrote that it will take the publishers tens of thousands of dollars to repair the damage done by authors such as these which explains why their latest book has not and may never see the light of day.

#25 - Joe Zias - 01/16/2012 - 10:44

In response to Nicole #24: The concluding sentence was not intended as an ad hominem swipe at Jacobovici, but rather that focus and even occasional rancor in the debate has, for some, settled on messengers rather than messages.

#26 - K. Kilty - 01/16/2012 - 18:30

1) "Later Jewish law requires that the deceased be buried and not moved to the family tomb in a remote region (Semachot 13,7)"...
Can someone be so kind to tell me what is written in Semahot 13:7?

2) "Furthermore, many of Jesus’ family members lived in Jerusalem after his death (Acts 1:4)"...

"Once when he was eating with them, he commanded them, "Do not leave Jerusalem until the Father sends you the gift he promised, as I told you before". (Acts 1:4)

So a) Acts 1:4 is referred only to the Apostles and not to the Jesus'family; 2) the Apostles had to wait in Jerusalem not all their life but only until the baptism with the Holy Spirit (Pentecost).

#27 - domenico - 01/17/2012 - 08:11

I have only a handful of main points to make with regard to Zias' posting of the David Brennan piece:

If the claims made by Brennan and his fellow internet pranksters against me (in 2010) were even fractionally true, then for starters I certainly I would not be working with Asahi Shimbun on the world's largest collection of Hiroshoima and Nagasaki survivor accounts. Item: The so called phantom dissertation is nothing of the sort: "The Role of Dessication Pressures and Surface Area/Volume Relationships...Implications for Adaptation to Land" is now readily available (digitalized, VUW library); the dissertation was also honored by publication in the field's leading peer-reviewed journal. Item: With regard to the Hiroshima book, Steve Leeper, head of the Hiroshima Museum, wrote (as can be accessed on"'The Last Train from Hiroshima' is by far the best book I have ever read on the subject of the bombings... No one I know has ever articulated more fully, more accurately and more effectively the essential nature of the atomic bombings."

By championing David Brennan against "Last Train," Zias does a terrible disservice to the survivors by joining the deniers of their experiences. He makes the use of nuclear weapons against human beings, however fractionally so, more likely to happen again.

And while we are speaking about deniers of things that must never happen again, Zias could not have been more out of line with science or common sense than to champion David Brennan. With just a little further research, Zias would have seen immediately that this was the same David Brennan who accused me of not doing real forensic archaeology work in Ground Zero but, rather, helping the Bush Administration to cover up the "controlled demolition" of the World Trade Center. This is the same David Brennan who apes Iran's accusations that America attacked itself om 9/11 and who openly endorsed (as a victory for free speech) his so-called "Truthers'" giving of nazi salutes at Ground Zero, and who wrote that he did not care if I or any other 9/11 family member "got [our] feelings hurt" by the nazi salutes.

Clearly, Zias did not research any deeper. I know that if he understood what sort of beast Brennan is, he would never have championed him, in order to tear me down, in order to tear down Simcha Jacobovichi's and James Tabor's next book (before he has even read it).

Now, let me comment a bit on Simcha: There are plenty of answers in science and nature; but very few truly polymathic thinkers who find the questions no one has asked before. Is he always right? Who is? Yet, of all the people with whom I have worked, Simcha has made it onto my top 20 list of the most brilliant of them; and that is saying a lot.

Almost two years ago, Simcha told me that another lab had independently come to conclusions consistent with my survey of trace fiber evidence from the Talpiot tomb's Jesus Ossuary. The fibers are inconsistent with a primary burial. Only a single hemispherical bone fragment, consistent with a carpal, appears ever to have been placed in the ossuary, with two cloths of unusual composition. In any case, he's not there, in the ossuary. Surely there is room for even Zias to put aside his acidity, and follow the accumulating evidence, and only the evidence, and to debate it only in the scientific arena. Take it from someone who has sat in a submersible on the decks of the Titanic: Standing in the presence of these ossuaries has become as amazing and every bit as pregnant with mystery, as that.

Zias: My hand is open to reconciliation, and to exploration.

- - Charles Pellegrino

#28 - Charles Pellegrino - 01/19/2012 - 04:53

M. Elliott and K. Kilty note (# 20, 01/14/2012 - 14:20): “No Gospel indicates that Jesus was celibate for his entire life… The Gospels are silent concerning Jesus’ marital status”. Is this correct? I’m afraid not. I think that the Gospels indirectly but clearly refer to this matter. If we accept that Jesus had a wife and son, when would he have married? Of course before his baptism (cf. K. Kilty-M. Elliott, “The James Ossuary in Talpiot”, But in Mk 6:3 (//Mt 13:55-56) we read the following: “Jesus left there and went to his hometown, accompanied by his disciples. When the Sabbath came, he began to teach in the synagogue, and many who heard him were amazed. ‘Where did this man get these things?’ they asked. ‘What’s this wisdom that has been given him? What are these remarkable miracles he is performing? Isn’t this the carpenter? Isn’t this Mary’s son and the brother of James, Joseph, Judas and Simon? Aren’t his sisters here with us?’ And they took offense at him...”. This means that Jesus’ compatriots in expressing their great surprise for this new teacher they mention all members of Jesus’ family (Joseph had obviously died; Matthew says: “Isn’t this the carpenter’s son?”), almost one by one, by name or anonymously (: “Aren’t his sisters here with us?”), wondering whether he is the one whom they knew very well or not. If Jesus had a wife and son, Nazarenes will definitely reported those as key elements of his identity. The opposite would be very odd. In fact it would be highly unlikely.

#29 - Evanghelos Dakas - 01/19/2012 - 14:19

I note that the D. Johnson piece about David Brennan's "research" (the writer is either a fellow traveler in Brennan's 9/11 denier movement, or more likely did not research the accuser any more closely than Zias), quotes Michael Parfait about me and the Titanic. Among the things that I need to point out is that Parfait was passed over by expedition leader George Tulloch for the 1996 voyage to the Titanic. Parfait felt he was "entitled" to be there instead of me, and possibly without knowing it, the NYT let a man who wanted to write the book about the Tulloch era of Titanic exploration, write an angry review of the book he never got to write, "Ghosts of the Titanic." (In the Reviews section of, readers may be interested in the comments from my "imaginary famous friends," about the Parfait review; readers may also want to read, "Forensic Archaeology: The battle over Ladder 4," to get some idea of where I really stand, morally.) Perhaps the final word on the matter comes from Robert Ballard, who (though opposed to Tulloch's artifact recovery exeditions), included "Ghosts of the Titanic" in his very limited Selected Bibliography for "Titanic: the Last Great Images."

The accusation that I ever took credit for Ballard's and Dettweiler's design of the robot Argo (the first machine to conduct recon. of the Titanic) is beyond absurd. What I did design, with Brookhaven National Laboratory physicist James Powell, was the Europa melt-through probe, meant for space (a completely different machine from Argo).

The comments about Tibbetts have been doubly confirmed, and atomic bomb survivors have been coming forth in great numbers, many of them angry by American press reports and blogs (in 2010) denying their experiences and even their very existence. As for my Joe Fuoco error in the first edition of "Last Train," I own that 100%, and corrected it. Other matters: Statements against me, attribured in the press to survivor Keiji Nakazawa, were fabricated on a blog, then quoted by the press; and Nakazawa, working with Steve Leeper, has in fact been helping me to tell the story of Tanaka ("Ryuta") and the other atomic orphans (whose existence was called "fictional"). The Los Alamos physicist quoted against me (some journalist should have noticed that he had some basic problems with the speed of light) turned out never to have existed in the first place, and the two 509th veterans who sent out a very destructive Email blast against me and the Hiroshima book, using official 509th letterhead, were revealed "never to have been in the 509th."

The Jurassic Park Recipe: The full sequence of events can be read in the reviews section of After mistakenly crediting the work to the then-self-promoting George Poinar in 1991, the New York Times (in articles by Paul Helou and Malcolm Brown), corrected the record. George Poinar had been one of my severest tormentors in N.Z. in 1982, having characterized to the Smithsonian and elsewhere the idea of "the J.P. recipe" as being so wild that it could only have come from the mind of "a madman." This original peer reviewer of the work, later used his denigration of me as an oportunity to steal credit for for the very work he had earlier condemned. Under the evidence, Poinar admitted to the NYS Supreme Court that he had plagiarized the work, and under an internal investigation led by physicist Greg Benford, lost his tenured position. After observing all of this, "imaginary friend" Sir Arthur C. Clarke updated his rules about the stages through which any new or revolutionary idea must pass: (1) You're crazy! (2) You may be right, so what? (3) We knew it was a good idea all along. (4) I thought of it first! The Talpiot Tomb now appears to be entering Arthur Clarke's Phase 2; one hopes that it will never see Phase 4.

- Chgarles Pellegrino

#30 - Charles Pellegrino - 01/19/2012 - 14:49

To #29.
We would agree it is an indirect comment that says nothing about a marriage or a father or a son named Judas. Since Mark doesn't mention a father, "Is not this the carpenter, the son of Mary and brother of James..." should we conclude he was born fatherless? Why should the list mention a deceased wife? Or a statement depicting Jesus "the father of a son named Judas..." As we have mentioned a number of times, the Gospels say nothing about Jesus or the apostles' marital status. We believe the issue cannot be confirmed or denied in the Gospels or in the letters of Paul.

Mark Elliott

#31 - Mark Elliot - 01/19/2012 - 19:11

The Beloved Disciple - "Judas not Iscariot" - seated with Jesus at the table of the last supper in Gosp J. has, as Charlesworth pointed out, been identifyable with Didymos Judas Thomas. Simcha Jacabovici has made a very convincing case that this is also the adolescent boy in Gosp. John who squirmed out of his night clothes and escaped a Roman soldier at the arrest of Jesus in the garden. Some of the early aopcrypha (including the Gospel of Thomas) speak of adoption as one of the pillars of charity and faith. The much debated (and often maligned) Gospel and Acts of Philip assert that Jesus was not given authority (presumably, in the authors' minds, by God), to either marry or beget, but implies that he (like apostles who were instricted to adopt orphans and become the fathers of many sons) could have adoprted a son.

What interested me most, during discussions on this subject, was two unique Roman quirks that made adopting a son and calling the son a brother thoroughly sensible. In the time of Jesus, Tiberius, and the Sejanus revolt, no distinction was recognized between adoption and blood and an adopted son was just as dead as a biological son if the father were accused of sedition and his family were purged. The holy family and the disciples had a very clear example of this in their lifetime: Emperor Tiberius was the adopted son of Emperor Augustus. Tiberius, when he defeated Sejanus, allowed his sibling to live but killed Sejanus' children. Another distinctly Roman quirk was, during a purge, to (like all other civilizations), to kill wives, lovers, children and grandchildren - but the Romans alone allowed siblings to live. Adopting unto oneself a son and calling him your brother, or "twin," or "beloved disciple," makes perfect sense against the background of Roman law. Only in a tomb where no objects of gold or silver were placed and where no Roman was likely to enter searching for plunder, would an identification (if Didymos Judas Thomas [translated in Greek and Aramaic as "twin Judas twin"]) acknowledging the child (whether adopted or biological) as the "son" of Jesus - only there, and then, could it be safely written.

None of this contradicts the region around the Church of the Holy Sepulchre as the original site. Gosp. J. indicates it as a temporary site and the expansion of Jerusalem's walls over the site during the next decade would have necessitated the moving of the contents in all of the ossuary culture's tombs to new locations. The apocryphal Discourse of John on the passing of Maria pre-dates the Christian story of the Assumption of Maria direct to heaven and describes the carrying of her mortal remains to a "new family tomb." Didymos Judas Thomas and Matthew are described as returning to Jerusalem at the ends of their lives and attending Maria's death bed, which is consistent with the names, Maria, Matthew, and (the likely) Didymos Judas Thomas being found in the same tomb.

- - Charles Pellegrino

#32 - Charles Pellegrino - 01/20/2012 - 05:56

regarding Jesus marital status and family.

If there was a family why Jesus has entrusted Mary to the "disciple whom He loved" (John 19:26-27)? And why Mary 'from that time on' lived with that disciple?

Is it normal in the Jewish first century context that a woman goes to the house of a 'stranger' if there is a regular family with other sons and a daughter-in-law?

#33 - domenico - 01/20/2012 - 07:56

Very impressive and thought provoking article and comments. If the family of Jesus of Nazareth was so venerated, what is an explanation for the ossuary of his father not being moved to be joined with his mother? The conflicting reports of Jesus' resurrection can be accepted as a strong "spiritual" affirmation of life after death. The problem for Roman Catholics will be the doctrine of Mary's bodily assumption.

#34 - Tim Solon - 01/24/2012 - 19:38

For those of you whom have ordered the Jesus Discovery last summer for the list price of 32.00 the current price, if the book ever comes out is now down to $16.99 at Amazon. As they are ca 6 months late it might be wise to cancel the order and re-order at the new price, thus saving a little of your hard earner cash.

#35 - Joe Zias - 01/28/2012 - 19:25

I would also agree that this is a decent article, superb, except for an unqualified hypothesis of assuming that the Torah observant students of Yehoshua would conceal the fact of his death for the purpose of fooling anyone that he was somehow divine or to continue a legacy by deceit. The best translation of Mattiyahu gives only indications that this Ribi would have vehemently opposed this deceit except in only one case - if telling the truth would endanger one's life or the life of another, see for example, Avraham and Yitzkaq saving their skin by this method. The unusual design above the entrance of the tomb, if it were known to be a symbol connected to the Netzarim sect, would rather indicate that they had no intention of hiding his burial place.

Remember that Yehoshua and his students at this time are fully within the Torah observant community. See James Parkes, "The Conflict of the Church and the Synagogue." They would be considered as they were, to be Torah observant Jews. To assume deceit which would be out of character with Yaacov HaTzadik, James the Just, is anachronistic. It is a rewrite of history by the church.

Also to clarify, a grave is not, according to the Torah, a place for veneration or prayer. Bones are tamei, rendering a person that touches them unfit to remain in the camp, Vayikra 21, Bmidbar 5. Torah keeping Jews and non-Jews do not, opposed to what is practiced by some, pray at tombs or venerate the deceased.

However, tombs are very effective means to study the past. They are objective evidence.

#36 - Eliyahu Konn - 02/25/2012 - 14:11

As I have made clear in 'The Open Tomb: Why and How Jesus Faked His Death and Resurrection', Jesus' family was wealthy and was from the Judea/Jerusalem area NOT Galilee/ Nazareth as most scholars continue to claim. In the earliest references to him, he was referred to as Jesus THE Nazarene, NOT 'from' Nazareth. He was recognized as a Judean by the Samaritan woman at the well and almost all early Jewish references to him regard him as Judean. He was nicknamed 'the Galilean' as a political slight much as someone from the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries might be called 'Bohemian'. It was a type of political classification. The use of 'from Nazareth' was an attempt by early redactors to distance Jesus from the hated political center that was the Temple and Judea/Jerusalem. Since he was already known as 'the Galilean' and a 'Nazarene' it wasn't difficult to relocate him to Nazareth of Galilee in the Gospels.

As for his wealth, a careful critical reading of the Gospels indicates that his family was wealthy and powerful. The nativity stories, that so many dismiss as legendary accounts designed to exalt Jesus in the eyes of the populace, were actually written as metaphors to hide his true identity from the authorities. He was literally a descendent of David and the presumed king of Judea. This is affirmed somewhat by the presence of 'shepherds' at his birth, a euphemism for political leaders, as is confirmed by Philo in the 1st century who wrote that the men who governed the people were like shepherds and the people their flocks. Also, the frankincense, myrrh and gold given to the family at Jesus' birth were representative of the gifts afforded to royalty. A poor family receiving such gifts would have been horrified to receive such wealth because it would have guaranteed they would have been robbed and perhaps killed. Only a wealthy and powerful family would have received such gifts.

The fact that the Jesus family was wealthy and powerful removes much of the argument against the Talpiot tomb being the Jesus family tomb. They were not poor, they were not from Galilee and many of the political leaders of Jerusalem attended the birth of the coming king of Judea. Quite clearly, the Talpiot tomb would have served as their family tomb nicely.

#37 - David Mirsch - 03/15/2012 - 22:23

Is the curator at the IAA held responsible when artifacts disappear?

#38 - Eliyahu Konn - 03/31/2012 - 16:30

A grand article! It's an excellent summation as well as an excellent refutation of the stance of Professor Jodi Magness. She and her fellow debunkers cannot, apparently, be reasoned with. No matter how much evidence, facts, logic, time and effort are lavished upon her (and others in her orbit) she continues to repeat distortions, evasions, and misinformation.

This matter of the Talpiot tomb being the tomb of the historical Jesus is overwhelmingly obvious to one coming from a different religious tradition. Or from an atheist or agnostic stance. Thank you Kevin Kilty and Mark Elliott for a grand summation and refutation of the beliefs of Professor Magness.


#39 - Nathaniel Merritt - 06/22/2012 - 15:00

I find it quite interesting in your promotion of the veracity of the Talpiot tomb as Jesus’ family tomb, that you express a transparently antagonistic attitude toward the Bible. It’s one thing to dismiss Hegesippus as an author of “confused ramblings”. It’s quite another to impugn both the honesty of the gospel writers, and the credibility of their testimony in any event. This is particularly odd as you seem to like and use Luke’s record of early Christians pooling assests such that the “kitty” was robust enough to purchase a rock-cut tomb for Jesus’ family.
This style of argument Is quite childish – picking and choosing which verses are credible and which aren’t, based only on the point you’re trying to make. There is no empirically founded rational for doing so. If the overarching story is a lie, then the whole book isn’t credible. At least be honest with yourselves and your audience and toss it all out, since it is based on a conspiratorial fiction!
But I want to spend a minute analyzing your implied, if not fully explicit, contention that the early Christian community conspired to keep quite the dirty little secret that Jesus, his mother and brothers were all buried together.
I’m interested in knowing your thoughts on who among Jesus’ followers was aware on that last Passover that Jesus a) was going to murdered, and b) was going to rise out of his burial location 3 days later. Which of them, if any, had that figured out? Yes, he had told them as much, but which of them indicated any understanding of what they were hearing? In my understanding there were none.
The gospels, which you dismiss, record them cowering in fear and despair following the crucifixion. None of them expressed any confidence that the event of Jesus’ death was anything but the final act of the one they had loved, and the beginning of jeopardy for themselves. Nobody said “Fear not. You know what he told us. He’s going to rise up in a day or two to be with his Father, and then empower us.” None of that. Just fear for their own lives and abiding sorrow.
But suddenly their attitude changed to one of great joy, and inspiration to spread what they knew.
Now what possible motivation would these people have had to go public with their story, in direct opposition to the Sanhedrin and the Priests? One minute they were hiding to avoid being identified as followers of the crucified Jesus, for fear of their lives, and the next they were publicly professing that Jewish authorities were all wrong – that Jesus was, indeed, the Messiah, and they had crucified him.
Did they foresee somehow hitting the big time with a story like that in first century Jerusalem? Were they going to somehow be better fishermen or farmers with that story? Were their wives going to think more highly of them for running around telling their story instead of putting food on their family’s table? Maybe Rome paid them to sow seeds of embarrassment and reduced influence for those pesky Jewish leaders, weakening their power on their people by pulling them into a competing religious system, thus making it easier for Rome to assert it’s authority and extract taxes.
What ever their motivation was, it was big enough to incite them to keep secret the fact that their friend’s body lay rotting in some tomb – in town – and no one, NO ONE, ever figured it out until you guys came along. Not the Sanhedrin, who would have put up billboards around that place saying “Here lies your Messiah”. Not the Romans, who might well have been motivated to squash yet another anti-Caesar movement. And certainly not the craftsman who, just a year after the fact, chiseled the ossuary for his bones.
Your story, while statistically intriguing, simply fails the common sense test. There is simply no plausible, rational explanation for the behavior of the disciples in the circumstances you allege.

#40 - Douglas Martin - 02/05/2019 - 08:29

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