New Evidence on the James Ossuary and its Probable Connection to the Talpiot Jesus Tomb

Employing chemical (ICP, SEM and Pb isotope) analyses we have found, based on chemical data alone, that the ossuary of James is far more similar to ossuaries removed from the Talpiot tomb than it is to any other group of ossuaries we sampled.

By. James D. Tabor,
Dept. Religious Studies, UNC Charlotte
December 2019

There is a new scientific paper published just this week by a distinguished team of international geologists, chemists, and earth scientists, titled “The Geochemistry of Intrusive Sediment Sampled from the 1st Century CE Inscribed Ossuaries of James and the Talpiot Tomb,” that is now available on-line. Based on extensive soil samples from a wide sample of Herodian tombs and ossuaries the abstract concludes:

“Employing chemical (ICP, SEM and Pb isotope) analyses we have found, based on chemical data alone, that the ossuary of James is far more similar to ossuaries removed from the Talpiot tomb than it is to any other group of ossuaries we sampled.”

These modest conclusions, based on carefully laid out methodological procedures and collection processes involving the Israel Antiquities Authority, appear to put the question of the unknown provenance of the controversial James ossuary on a new footing. I look forward to the evaluations and input of qualified scientific researchers in evaluating this new evidence. Clearly, if the James ossuary came from the Talpiot tomb, most would agree that the probability of that tomb being associated with Jesus of Nazareth and his family reaches a high level of likelihood.

For both my new and old blog readers, here is a bit of “deep” refresher background:

In October 2002 a first century stone burial box, or ossuary, inscribed “James son of Joseph, brother of Jesus,” came to public attention with a cover story in Biblical Archaeology Review. The artifact understandably drew worldwide attention and stirred sharp controversy. If this ossuary, in fact, once held the bones of the James who is called the “brother of Jesus” in the New Testament, then we would have the first direct archaeological evidence ever found that was directly connected to Jesus of Nazareth (Galatians 1:18).

Two critical issues immediately took center stage. Was the inscription authentic or was it perhaps a forgery? What was the provenance of the ossuary--where did it come from? Early on it was suggested it might have belonged with another set of six ossuaries found in 1980 that had names associated with “Jesus son of Joseph” and his family--opening the possibility that the tomb belonged to the Jesus of Nazareth clan.

In 2016 I wrote a comprehensive two-part summary of everything we knew at that time regarding these controversies that you can access here for deep background or a refresher look at What's What Regarding the Controversial James Ossuary and “The Controversial James Ossuary and the Talpiot Tomb.

My best take on all the evidence is now published in a book, The Jesus Discovery: The New Archaeological Find that Reveals the Birth of Christianity(New York: Simon & Schuster, 2012) which along with James H. Charlesworth's edited volume, The Tomb of Jesus and His Family? (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 2011), provides a balanced and diverse perspective on the whole question of the Talpiot tombs and their associated historical questions.

Article Comments

Submitted by Kenneth Greifer on Mon, 12/09/2019 - 17:29


My grandmother was named Minnie Greifer, and my father's original name was Elisha Greifer. He was born in New York City in 1925, I believe. For some strange reason, there was another lady named Minnie Greifer (I am not sure about the spelling of the either lady's first name) in New York City, who also had a son named Elisha Greifer, who was born in 1924.(He was a professor whose obituary I found.) I am guessing that the birth of one of them was probably announced in the newspaper and that name went into the other set of parent's mind somehow, and when they had a child, they gave it the same name. I don't know how that happened, but how can two people with uncommon names living in the same city around the same time name their sons the same uncommon name?
The names you dealt with are much more common, so it doesn't prove much to me.

Submitted by James D. Tabor on Sun, 12/15/2019 - 11:12


Kenneth, the issue of the significance of the inscription "James son of Joseph brother of Jesus" (assuming authenticity) and its likelihood of referring to THAT Jesus has been thoroughly explored now with many of the statistical materials archived on this web site. In terms of the James ossuary the most extensive work was done by Camil Fuchs. I would suggest you take a look at his findings, which are quite balanced and critically presented if this subject interests you. For purposes of this new publication the connection of the ossuary or the tomb to Jesus of Nazareth is irrelevant. Soil chemistry knows no is a single question--can we establish the probably provenance of the ossuary--what tomb did it come from?

Submitted by Carolyn on Thu, 12/19/2019 - 03:34


"can we establish the probably provenance of the ossuary--what tomb did it come from?"

Not only can we, it would seem that we have so established the probability.

Soil chemistry knows no names; yet the fact remains, there are names attached to the tomb from which these soil samples were taken, and if memory serves me correctly, the patina samples taken from the "bone boxes" within the Talpiot Tomb matched the patina tested on the James Ossuary which, in and of itself, ups the probabilities significantly, does it not?

In a nutshell, from a lay-woman's perspective, what do we have here:
Soil match.
Patina match.
The right time frame.
Names mistakenly considered "common" (particularly when it comes to an extremely rare nick name such as Joses - I'm not going to touch Mariamene ), and that are that are familiar to us through the New Testament writings and their relationship to one another.

The question remains, where do we go and what do we do from here to further establish this tomb, its occupants, and their relationships to one another?

It's my understanding that the ossuaries have been removed from the tomb, and what pieces and parts of whatever human remains contained within them were removed and buried? I could be mistaken, so please do correct me if I am.

It troubles me deeply that our scientific and religious communities aren't scrambling to unveil the secrets Talpiot holds and has held for some 2,000 years, though I can well understand why they don't - or won't.

Hi, James.
I knew I would find you here.

The points you bring up, Carolyn, are very interesting. We (the authors) had many discussions about them during the years we have worked on this problem. Since I am avoiding grading final reports for an engineering class this morning, I thought I might add a few comments to a question you actually addressed to James Tabor.

Let me say, first, that there are many different ways to condition the question one asks about the name associations and the chemistry. These conditions have a bearing on the answers one calculates. Let me provide one example.

Let's stipulate that the family of Jesus occupies a tomb in the Jerusalem area and further stipulate there are about one-thousand tombs in the area. Finally, assume the name frequencies of Tal Ilan pertain. In the Charlesworth volume Mark Elliot and I, using a Bayesian approach, started with a priori probability of 0.001 (0.1%) that this is the tomb of that family. In effect we are saying that any one of the thousand could equally be that tomb. The name association, as you mentioned, is not so common as people imagine from how common the individual names are. Just using Jesus son of Joseph, Joses, and Mary we arrive at a likelihood of 460, which makes the posterior probability 46%. In other words, just looking at the inscription evidence and our assumptions, one should believe there is even odds of this (Talpiot) being the tomb.

Now let's use all the same conditioning, but add James to the list of names in the tomb. Not "James son of Joseph brother of Jesus", nor "James son of Joseph", but just James. Now the posterior probability rises to 92% or thereabouts. Many people would see this as a near certainty, but one should keep in mind that there is still 1 in 11 odds of this being an unrelated tomb coincidentally having similar names. So, this is not a sure thing exactly, although it is getting closer. And there is the possibility which we discussed in this latest paper that the James ossuary could originate elsewhere but again by chance resembles the Talpiot ossuaries chemically. This is not calculable at present, but some of the ways this could happen have very small likelihood.
Now you ask "where do we go...?" Had you asked this question in 2008 I would have said there is not likely more physical evidence than the inscriptions and so there is nowhere to go. One of James Tabor's blog posts speaks of notes and other physical evidence about the Talpiot tomb that is lost. I assumed anything worthwhile pursuing was lost. Yet, there was still chemical evidence to examine which I did not learn of until five years ago. So, there is always hope something unexpected may turn up. Generally it just requires a bit of insight into how something might happen. Aryeh had such an insipration.
Now an interesting question is, what became of the metallic artifacts the James ossuary apparently contained? I have no idea if we should ever locate them, but they would add additional evidence. There is also, I think, a further story to tell using the lead isotope data; but this involves more speculation than should have gone into this most recent paper, and perhaps Aryeh or Moshe will weigh in on it in a subsequent report.
Something which I hope comes from our paper is a recognition that even small quantities of material hold significant information, and that the extreme cleaning that some artifacts receive should perhaps be rethought.

It's quite an honor to have my comment responded to by one such as yourself!

Thank you for not only taking the time to address "where do we go from here", but to offer your expert analogy that seems to address that which we know, that which we don't know; as well as those things that we may or may not ever know, lest the rocks care to further share some of their secrets and we are up to the task of searching them out. If not rocks, than surely metallic artifacts. Perhaps we will find them.

"I have no idea if we should ever locate them..." Interesting choice of words, or word, "should".

Should we or should we not, over such matters that could turn a more than a 2000 year old and supposedly known and accepted history over onto on its head!

It's a question that plagues me. Should we just leave it alone. Let it stand as it is, as nothing more than just another of countless never-to-be-certainly-knowns?

I tend to think - no, it's more than that - more than to just think. One must know, if ever truth is to be told. If ever the truth is to be known. Especially in those matters that pertain to God and Godly things, which is simply my opinion, entirely. And so it is that I firmly agree, no amount of "evidence" of that which was, and no matter how small/minute should be taken for granted or considered insignificant when it comes to matters that might cast a purer light upon true history..

So it is that we are left to this then: "there is always hope", and we will continue the quest, even so that we might know, won't we...

Most gratefully,

Submitted by Kevin kilty on Mon, 12/23/2019 - 10:35


Carolyn, thank you for your vote regarding my expertise, but in fact I just like to engage with people who think deeply and offer what insights I can about their concerns. In this case I could offer a updated likelihood calculation pertaining to the tomb being that of the Jesus family.

I did not use the word "should" as a expression of propriety or obligation, but rather an auxiliary of condition -- in the sense of "if it should come to pass". I would love that someone would happen upon the metallic objects which must have been in the James ossuary. However, this topic you brought up about "where do we go..." gives me a second opportunity to speak of where else we may go for additional physical evidence. Something crossed my mind after my response to your comment, which is that to my knowledge we have done nothing with the physical measurements of the James ossuary.

I read in one of James Tabor's posts that the missing tenth ossuary and the James ossuary have physical size close to one another. Ossuaries are manufactured items, made by a small group of craftsmen, and perhaps to particular sizes subject to manufacturing variation. It is not possible to decide if this "closeness" of physical measurements is significant or not until one has a look at the distribution of dimensions of typical ossuaries. I suppose that measuring ossuaries is standard procedure for the IAA, and might even be done according to some standard process. At any rate, a thorough examination of dimensions would constitute an independent attack on the problem of provenance.

Thanks for your thoughtful contributions to this fascinating topic.

Submitted by Carol A Billeck on Sun, 05/17/2020 - 16:12


Dear sir did you just test 25 caves like it said in your paper the owner of the james ossary said you said have done 200 to 300 caves for testing

The full set of tested Ossian is is listed in a table supplied with our paper. The exact number I could only determine by counting them, but it is in the range around two dozen, not 200 to 300.

Submitted by Mike M on Sat, 09/12/2020 - 20:15


In layman’s terms would you say this is the ossuary of Jesus brother ?

I am new to what has recently been done to verify the ossuary.

Thank you


In a word "yes".

Something one seems to fight in this context are falsified artifacts -- especially with regard to something of murky origin. There seems agreement that this ossuary is from antiquity, and no one seems to doubt one-half of its inscription "james son of joseph". There is the tantilizing possibility of a missing ossuary from the Talpiot tomb. There is powerful chemical evidence that this ossuary belongs with those of Talpiot tomb. To take one example, just the major element chemistry suggests the sediment it carried is very like a mix of the landslide material from Talpiot hill and so unlike anything from other tombs that the likelihood of it being from some other tomb is exceedingly unlikely.

Thus if one is inclined to believe that James was placed within an ossuary and is in a tomb in the Jerusalem area, the Talpiot tomb is likely to be that tomb. Then because the names inscribed on ossuaries known to be from the Talpiot tomb are so like what one would expect of members of the Jesus family, then one would be inclined, even without the inscription "brother of jesus" to believe that the jesus and james in this tomb are brothers, and the two most famous members of the jesus family.

Based on a whole range of reasonable assumptions, and the physical evidence, I am inclined to think the Talpiot tomb is the tomb of the Jesus family, and the James ossuary held the remains of "the" James. Time will tell, but you and I may not last so long to this proved or disproved.

Submitted by john zachary on Tue, 10/13/2020 - 21:28


I sincerely doubt your investigation will ever give you the "answer" you desire. However, when you die, you will discover that you have a soul that will live forever. My viewpoint comes from an out of body experience related to the book of Revelation. Should you want to investigate, go to Amazon and read Secrets, never heard until now - of the book of Revelation by John Zachary

In contrast with what I term Twilight Zone stories, scientific dating Daniel's 70-weeks prophecy using the exact science of astronomy should provide you information you are more likely to enjoy, or perhaps more appropriate, be challenged. Watch video #5 as it is a quick overview. If you want the details, I have created four more videos. I am actually working on video 7, which is how I read your viewpoint.

Submitted by Carol A Billeck on Sun, 10/18/2020 - 23:36


Where is your evidence that jesus and mary were married please dont say DNA that is a joke that could have been related through the father half brother and half sister they could have been cousins she could have been married to Jose matthew or the son of jesus which would have made them father in law and daughter in law and no Thomas was not the undercover son of jesus.

Just happened to see this one. There are plans to do further DNA testing, not with the old materials but with new methods...but collections will be done by lab affiliated individuals and tests run "double-blind" with New Generation DNA Sequencing, that gives 10x better results than conventional methods. Covid had brought evening to a halt, but it is coming...

Submitted by Hunter Klise on Wed, 04/28/2021 - 17:27


This still fails to explain a lot. You suggest that the talipot tomb and James Ossuary are related in the sense that the James Ossuary came from the Talpiot tomb. Well this is hardly plausible for many reasons:
1. The names given on the talpiot tomb are too common. All of the names given were common in ancient Israel. Especially Mary and Joseph. As for Jesus, Josephus mentions 10 other notable Jesus’s living during the time of Jesus. Also you claim that Mary Magdalene is in the tomb being the wife of Jesus. Well that might work expect according to historians Mary died in Turkey. Also there are other names that shouldn’t belong if this is solely the family tomb, names like Matthew. You’d have to claim that somehow Matthew was apart of this tomb which would be ad hoc since Matthew died in Italy. Also you claim Jose’s is the son of Jesus. Well this goes back to the idea of Jesus being married. Nearly all scholars agree the historical Jesus wasn’t married or had children.
The early church could have even used it to make Jesus more like David as David had multiple children. Also when Paul is arguing as to if Corthinans can marry he writes: “Do we not have the right to the company of a believing wife, like the other apostles and the Lord’s brothers and Cephas?”‭‭1 Corinthians‬ ‭9:5‬. If Jesus was indeed married and had children it would have certainly been mentioned and modeled.
2: According to Amos Kloner, there is no way the James Ossuary and can be connected to the talpiot tomb because of the differing dimensions. Granted, there are some dissimilarity among tombs that have been found to be related. Yet Kloner notes that theses dimensions are too unrelated.
3: Scholars also note that people buried in tombs outside of Jerusalem were known by their place of origin. We know of many people in the Bible according to their origin, people such as Mary Magdalene, Saul of Tarsus even Jesus of Nazareth. If the tomb truly was the or Jesus Christ then we could expect to find a place if orgin mentioned on the tomb. But of course we don’t find that. Plus it wouldn’t make sense not to call Jesus as Jesus of Nazareth on the tomb since he is called Jesus of Nazareth dozens of times in acts, and the gospels.
4. Lastly, the talpiot tomb was known to have wealthy owners. According to the Bible and scholars the early Christians were poor and persecuted. They rarely had the funds for food and had to share liberally. The ide of buying a tomb for a dead messiah lacks explanatory power.
Regarding the Isotope correlation of the talpiot tomb and the James Ossuary. I believe other theories are more plausible. The first I would purpose is that the relation was caused by chance due to dust storms in Israel. The owner of the James Ossuary even has a photo of himself with the Ossuary before the talpiot tomb was found. Though this may seem implausible, I believe it has more explanatory power and is less ad hoc.
The second theory is the James the brother of Jesus was buried with fellow Jewish Christians in Jerusalem that shared common names. Just as I argued earlier the names in the tomb are too common and don’t match the family of Jesus.

Overall, the idea of finding the historical Jesus and his family’s tomb is unlikely. There’s too many factors that point to this not being the tomb of Jesus like common names, dissimilar dimensions, lack of orgin name, early church not mentioning Jesus son, and the early church not being wealthy. I doubt poor fisherman would fabricate a story of a rising messiah and then give
up their lives for something they knew to be wrong.

Sir I think you meant judas not Jose as the son of Jesus they believe judas the brother of Jesus is actually his son and that Thomas and judas the son of Jesus are the son of Jesus the reason they gave why there is silence about the family of Jesus is because the church wanted to protect the family from being killed the same reason herod killed all those little ones the Roman's wanted to get rid of Jesus and his family because they were afraid Jesus was going to claim an earthly kingdom on earth please James let it go! About the missing ossary from the tomb there was no missing tomb and konner did not make a mistake on the measurements

Submitted by Jeffrey Robert Lewis on Wed, 10/05/2022 - 20:06


I've been following these discoveries for a while now and understand why the comparisons of the "Patina" is important as to the relative locale of the "James Ossuary" to the Jesus Talpiot tomb, but regarding the DNA testing why has there not been testing of DNA residue from the "Jose" Ossuary compared to the "Mariamene" DNA results previously done on her and Jesus' ossuary? Would that not be significant as to the relationship of mother and child and would go to the credibility of "Mariamene" being the mother and probable wife of Jesus?

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