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. (https://m.scirp.org/papers/96876).

 

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

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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

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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 names...it 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

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"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,
Carolyn

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

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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.

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