More Info on the Jesus Tomb Story

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Submitted March 1, 2007

Following a Feb. 26 press conference, the claims of filmmakers James Cameron and Simcha Jacobovici to have found the family tomb of Jesus made headlines around the world.

It's an attention-getting tale since, in their version of history, Jesus couldn't have been resurrected bodily as the New Testament attests (after all, they have His ossuary - a small mini-coffin - that held His bones!).

Not only that, the family tomb also held the ossuaries of Mary Magdalene, Jesus' wife, and their son, Judah. And as a bonus, Jesus' mother Mary was also entombed there!

At least that was the gist of the press conference.

Well, it's not exactly right to say they found the tomb, since it was discovered in 1980 at Talpiot (near Jerusalem) and was the subject of a 1996 BBC documentary in which such claims were refuted. But why let a few facts stand in the way of a good story, especially since a book on the subject was released the next day and a 90-minute movie is scheduled to air on The Discovery Channel?

There's serious archaeology and there's publicity-seeking, and rarely do the two mix well. Nor does it help to have biblically illiterate reporters discussing the claims.

What are some of the major problems with these claims?

• The names on the ossuaries are uncertain. Of 10 ossuaries in the tomb, six bear names interpreted as reading “Jesus son of Joseph,” “Judah son of Jesus,” “Matthew,” “Joseph” and two inscribed with “Mary”—one in Aramaic and the other in Latin. Yet some names are hotly debated. Due to degradation of the stone and shallowness of the inscriptions, some experts say that the name “Jesus” doesn’t appear at all, and that the “Mary Magdalene” ossuary actually has two names, indicating that the bones of two individuals were interred in it.

• The relationships of the individuals are guesswork. Jewish tombs of the time typically had several generations interred together. Other than occasional “son of” inscriptions, family relationships were very rarely spelled out on ossuaries. Thus, in this case, even if we assume the names are correctly interpreted, either of the “Marys” could have been married to, mother of, sister of or daughter of the “Jesus,” “Judah,” “Joseph” or “Matthew”—or to any of the people in the six unnamed ossuaries. Similarly, “Matthew” and “Joseph” could have been brothers or sons of the “Jesus” or “Judah” or similarly related to anyone in the six unnamed ossuaries.

• These were very common names among first-century Jews. Except for the Latinized “Mary” (if that is indeed the correct name), all these are common Jewish names, so it isn’t surprising to find such names together. Of Jewish names found from that time, Joseph, Judah, Jesus and Matthew were the second-, fourth-, sixth- and ninth-most-common names for males. Mary was the most common name for females. (The New Testament itself mentions five different Josephs and six different Marys!) Several other ossuaries inscribed “Jesus son of Joseph” have been found, so the combination of names isn’t unusual.  

• Names that should be found in the tomb aren’t, and some that shouldn’t be there are. The names of Jesus’ half-brothers are listed in Matthew:13:55 as “James, Joses [Joseph], Simon and Judas [Judah].” A “Joseph” is among the ossuaries, but where are the other brothers? And why would a “Matthew” show up in the family tomb of Jesus?

Of course, there are major conflicts with the Bible and history, such as:

• Jesus’ followers would not have referred to Him as the “son of Joseph.” They knew Him as the Son of God, not the son of a human father. They would not have listed a human father at all on an ossuary. To do otherwise would have essentially denied His divinity.

• There is zero evidence Jesus was ever married or had children. This idea is discussed thoroughly in a Beyond Today TV program here :

• Jesus left no physical body to be buried. The biblical accounts make it quite plain that Jesus was resurrected from the dead and His body transformed to spirit. He left no physical flesh and bones to be buried later in a family tomb! (Matthew:28:11-15).

• Early Christians wouldn’t have died for a Savior they knew was dead and decaying in the grave! Would the apostles have given their lives for a man they knew was a fraud, who promised He would be resurrected and wasn’t? Would Peter have declared to thousands that “God raised [Jesus] from the dead, of which we are witnesses” (Acts:3:15), knowing that same Jesus was dead and buried several miles away? The idea is absurd!

To separate fact from fable, request or download our free booklet Jesus Christ: The Real Story.

Further information on these issues can be found at these Web sites (and related links):

Blog posts do not undergo review by the doctrinal review team of the United Church of God. This post represents the personal opinion of the author and should not be considered the official stance of the United Church of God. If you have any questions or concerns please direct them to

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