CNN, the New York Times, the Independent, the Jerusalem Post, and the Guardian have had articles about it. James Tabor has mentioned it on his blog more than once, and others like Mark Goodacre, Bob Cargill, and Ben Witherington have also chimed in.
I am referring, of course, to the not at all new suggestion that Jesus and other members of his family, including his wife and son, were buried in a tomb in what is now the Talpiot suburb of Jerusalem.
There is nothing new in the news reports that I can see. And so the recent attention to this presumably reflects the media’s penchant for making or reviving sensationalistic claims at Easter.
I am actually long overdue to blog about a book on precisely this subject: The Tomb of Jesus and His Family?: Exploring Ancient Jewish Tombs Near Jerusalem’s Walls edited by James Charlesworth.
Although recent reports suggested that “new” chemical analysis indicated that the James Ossuary comes from the Talpiot tomb, the data seems to be what was already known when the aforementioned book was published. It is not clear to me whether geochemical analysis can be used to identify a specific tomb from which artifacts came. This is the first instance that I am aware of in which an attempt is made to identify the place of origin of an ossuary by the chemical signature of elements in the patina. The validity of this method, and the degree of specificity and certainty it offers, need to be evaluated and demonstrated.The evidence for the authenticity of the James ossuary is not insubstantial (despite what has sometimes been claimed). But due to the combined factors of not having been documented when excavated, and having been handled poorly subsequently, it is unlikely that we would be able to demonstrate that to everyone’s satisfaction at this point. Which is unfortunate, but a not uncommon state of affairs in archaeology.
If, however, the aforementioned points could be addressed, and it turned out that the James ossuary and its inscription are ancient, and that it came from the same tomb in Talpiot as the ossuaries that say “Jesus son of Joseph,” “Mary and Martha,” “Matthias,” and “Jose,” then I think that would make it very likely indeed that we are dealing with the tomb of Jesus of Nazareth.
Historians cannot simply dismiss the possibility that we might find not just the tomb but the remains of Jesus. But when sensational claims are made, we expect a high standard of evidence. And when the investigation is done in connection with a filmmaker known to sensationalize and misconstrue the unsensational, even more skepticism is warranted.
I was pleased to see two contributions to The Tomb of Jesus and His Family? by my friend Eldad Keynan. I’m not persuaded by his view that Jesus was a mamzer – for my reasoning, see my article, “Was Jesus Illegitimate?”
And of course, for more of my thoughts on the burial of Jesus, you might want to check out my e-book, The Burial of Jesus.