Jesus’ Supposed Tomb – Important Issues and Questions

Following is a list of issues and questions that I think are worth examining in regard to this recent controversy.

A. The names on the ossuaries were very common at that time.

1. Charlesworth of Princeton Theological Seminary says he has a first-century letter written by someone named Jesus, addressed to someone else named Jesus and witnessed by a third party named Jesus.  This demonstrates the commonality of the name Jesus.  Isn’t it likely that other names would be common as well?  Think about it.  The name “Mary” occurs in the gospels several times in reference to different women.  Also, If Christianity were on the rise in the culture, it makes sense that people would adopt Christian names as they eagerly moved away from the imposing Roman Empire’s rule. This would increase the name frequency.

2. ‘Jesus’ and ‘Joseph’ were common names of the time, and another ossuary bearing the same inscription [Jesus son of Joseph] was revealed by archaeologist Eleazar Levi Sukenik in a 1931 lecture in Berlin.  However, this ossuary is set apart by its presence in a tomb alongside others bearing names associated with Jesus’ family… The fact is that “Jesus son of Joseph” exists elsewhere in archaeological findings.

3. 25% of the Jewish women in the first-century Judea had the same name of Mary. Again, this is evidence of a very common name usage.

B. The ossuaries are inscribed in different languages:  Aramaic, Hebrew, and Greek.

1. Jesus, James, Judah are inscribed in Aramaic.  Yose (Jose, Joseph), Maria, and Matthew are in Hebrew. “Marianmene e Mara” (Mary Magdelene) is the only one written in Greek.  If the tomb is of Jesus’ family, why are the inscriptions in different languages? Does this suggest that different individuals, perhaps in different times, and of different backgrounds were buried in the tomb?  Remember, families used the same tomb and ossuaries for generations. Therefore, we can expect to find the same tomb to have ossuaries with different inscriptions, in different languages, along with similar DNA since the same families would be using them.  See point E below.


C. The Inscription dates are from 1 B.C to 1 A.D.

1. Frank Moore Cross, a professor emeritus in the Department of Near Eastern Languages and Civilizations at Harvard University, told Discovery News, “The inscriptions are from the Herodian Period (which occurred from around 1 B.C. to 1 A.D.). The use of limestone ossuaries and the varied script styles are characteristic of that time.

2. This is important because the gospel accounts record Jesus’ life up to 33 years of age.  If Jesus lived long enough to get married, have a child, etc., it would be after he was 33.  If Jesus died around 50 A.D. (just picking a date), then how do we account for Jesus’ bones being buried in an ossuary that has an inscription dated from about 1 B.C.?  Shouldn’t the inscription be dated to some time after, say 33 A.D.?A. This is solid evidence against the ossuaries being of Jesus family.

D. Families were buried in their home towns.

1. In this case it would have been Nazareth, not Jerusalem.   Jesus was known as Jesus of Nazareth.  If this really is the tomb of the biblical Jesus, then why is he buried somewhere other than his hometown, Nazareth?  This would have gone against Jewish culture and custom.

2. Also, shouldn’t the burial inscription have read “Jesus of Nazareth” or “Jesus of Nazareth, son of Joseph” if it were the Jesus of the New Testament?

3. There was a two day burial window under Jewish law.  This meant that a person had to be buried within two days of death.  Therefore, he might not be buried in his hometown.  However, after the body decomposed and only the bones were left, it would appropriate to move them.  Since ossuaries contained only bones, why is it located in Jerusalem and not Nazareth?

E. The same ossuaries were used for generations to store bones

1. Point B is supported by the fact the same ossuaries were used for several generations to house bones, sometimes containing as many as six sets.  This would mean that the contents therein could be of family members long after the time of Christ.  It could even be of non genetically related individuals, by marriage, who get added to the tomb later on – which might explain why the inscriptions are in different languages.

2. Having similar genetics in the ossuaries doesn’t prove it is Jesus’ tomb.  It only proves there are similar genetics.  There is no known way to establish that the genetics in the ossuaries are those of Jesus.  At best, it can only be inferred and inferences are not fact.

F. The family of Jesus was poor.  Joseph was a carpenter and couldn’t afford such an elaborate burial.

1. To have a tomb and various ossuaries made was an expensive undertaking.  Since Joseph was a carpenter, Jesus would’ve learned his trade from his father.  Carpenters were not rich.  Therefore, how is the existence of an expensive tomb with ossuaries explained in light of this information if it is supposed to be at the family of Jesus?  This does not support the idea that it was Jesus’ tomb.  In fact, it speaks against it.

G. What of the existing documents (gospels)?

1. The gospels in the New Testament are excellently preserved historical documents that are consistent with the time, place, and culture in which they claim to describe.  If Jesus did not rise from the dead, then what about the gospels accounts?  Are they fakes, compilations, lies, forgeries, or legitimate and accurate historical documents

2. Are these eyewitness accounts contained in the gospels less valuable than names on ossuaries found in a tomb?  Surely, an explanation needs to be established to account for the claims of the gospel accounts if in fact they were lies or fabrications.


H. If the gospels are used to verify the names on the ossuaries, why are they not also used to verify that Jesus rose from the dead?

1. There seems to be an inconsistency in using the Gospels to verify the names on the ossuaries but then deny the claim of those same Gospels concerning Jesus’ resurrection.  Why accept the names but reject the resurrection when both are described in the same documents?  Is it because the presuppositions of those who examine the evidence do not allow for the miraculous?  If that is the case, then beliefs are forced upon evidence and the evidence is interpreted in light of those beliefs.


I. The Acts of Phillip

1. In the book The Acts of Phillip is the term “Mariamene” which some scholars think it refers to Mary Magdelene.  Therefore, the inscription in the tomb which uses that term has been linked to the biblical Mary Magdelene via this old document. However, the oldest copy of the Acts of Phillip is from the fourteenth century and is a copy of a fourth century text.  How reliable is the document known as the Acts of Phillip?  The text is generally considered to have been a late 4th or early 5th century fantasy, involving miracles and supposedly clever dialogue, which it claims caused Phillip to win many converts. So, is a phrase in a fantasy-based document evidence that Jesus married Mary Magdelene?

J. Why aren’t there any accounts of Jesus having a family recorded in any reputable ancient writings?

1. This is, essentially, an argument of silence and is not the best argument.  Nevertheless, there is no credible historical evidence suggesting that Jesus had a family.  If Jesus were that important of a figure and if he had a family, in contradiction to the gospel accounts, then why are there no reliable records of this recorded anywhere?

2. If Jesus had a son, and a wife, and was walking around Israel, it would have been around the time that the gospels were being circulated which were initially written anywhere from the 40’s to the 60’s, with John possibly written later.  You’d think that the Jews and Romans would have countered the circulating gospels by simply saying, “Hey, Jesus lives with his wife and son over in Jerusalem.”

3. Also, after the gospels had been circulating and Jesus’ son was alive and well (as the ossuary evidence has been interpreted to support), certainly someone (Jewish and/or Roman) would have documented that Jesus indeed had a son in contradiction to the widening distribution of the gospel records. After all, both the Jews and the Romans had reasons to not want Christianity to flourish.  So, why are there no such accounts of Jesus’ son in existence?


K. Why didn’t the critics of Christianity produce Jesus’ body?

1. This is similar to point J.  Since the Jewish culture as well as the Roman authorities did not want Jesus’ resurrection to be believed, since it contradicted both of their theological and social power structures, and if Jesus did get married and have children, then why is their no record of those authorities producing the person and/or body of Jesus? You’d think this would have been settled long ago if Jesus really did live and breathe after the gospels’ recorded resurrection and Acts account of his ascension.


L. Statistical analysis of the names

1. How do they know which names were and were not common in those days?  Isn’t this a relevant question to ask when making statistical analysis?  Joseph, Jesus, and Mary were very common names at the time.  As Christianity grew, it would make sense that people would take the names of Jesus, Mary, Joseph, etc., as a sign of respect for and identification with their Christian beliefs.

2. Statistics can be manipulated.  We’re not suggesting that these statistics were, but there needs to be an explanation dealing with how common the names were in the culture at that time and the criteria needs to be examined.

3. Even if the statistical analysis shows the coincidence to be improbable, it still does not demonstrate that Jesus was in the ossuary.  After all there are too many other questions and problems that counter that conclusion.

M. Counter evidence

1. Archaeologist says it isn’t Jesus’ tomb.  In 1996, when the BBC aired a short documentary on the same subject, archaeologists challenged the claims. Amos Kloner, the first archaeologist to examine the site, said the idea [of the tomb being that of Jesus] fails to hold up by archaeological standards but makes for profitable television….It was an ordinary middle-class Jerusalem burial cave…The names on the caskets are the most common names found among Jews at the time…The cave, it [Kloner’s report] said, was probably in use by three or four generations of Jews from the beginning of the Common Era. It was disturbed in antiquity, and vandalized. The names on the boxes were common in the first century (25 percent of women in Jerusalem, for example, were called Miriam or a derivative).

2. Incorrect reading of names?  Pfann [a biblical scholar at the University of the Holy Land in Jerusalem] is even unsure that the name “Jesus” on the caskets was read correctly. He thinks it’s more likely the name ‘Hanun.’

3. Alternate burial site locations.  James Tabor, a Biblical scholar at the University of North Carolina at Charlotte and the leading academic voice who lends enthusiastic, if qualified, support to Jacobovici’s claims, wrote that he looked for, and found, a legendary tomb of Jesus near the city of
Safed.

Before we make any emotional, knee-jerk reaction regarding this issue, let us first examine both sides. The complete version of the article which I used as my source can be found here.

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