Jesus Discovery: A Cave Used to Bury Disciples in Jerusalem
February 28, 2012 5 Comments
UPDATE III: The Jesus Discovery website is now up and running here.
UPDATE II: A Preliminary Report of a Robotic Camera: Exploration of a Sealed 1st Century Tomb in East Talpiot, Jerusalem by Dr James Tabor in pdf. here.
UPDATE I: James Tabor has just issued a press release through the University of North Carolina: Jerusalem Tomb Exploration Reveals First Archaeological Evidence of Christianity from the Time of Jesus. Read it here.
Bible Places Blog reports:
Just ahead of his big press conference tomorrow in New York, the “Naked Archaeologist” Simcha Jacobovici has released a photo and some details of a discovery inside a burial cave south of Jerusalem. The dramatic find is a sketching of a fish swallowing or spewing a person along with a Greek and Hebrew inscription with the words “resurrected” or “arise” and “Yahweh.”
While hundreds of Jonah-type inscriptions have been discovered throughout the Roman empire, this is apparently the first such known from Jerusalem, indicating the early presence of Christians in the city where Jesus rose from the dead. The Jonah-fish symbol was used by early Christians because of Jesus’ prediction that he would be like the prophet: “For as Jonah was three days and three nights in the belly of a huge fish, so the Son of Man will be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth” (Matt 12:40).
The information provided to Haaretz is preliminary and intended to stir up interest as more details (and big-time spin) are revealed in the press conference, the book release, and the Discovery Channel TV show.
The article notes that the “excavation” was with a video camera sticking through the floor of an apartment. Apparently the burial cave has not been opened because of ultra-Orthodox objections.
Potentially this provides the earliest archaeological evidence for followers of Jesus in the land of Israel. Though the report doesn’t say so, some archaeologists have apparently dated the inscriptions to about AD 50.
Naturally this brief article raises more questions than it answers. We expect to learn more in the next 24 hours.
1. NT Blog with: Jacobovici and Tabor link burial cave to Jesus’ disciples,
There have been rumours about the latest project from Simcha Jacobovici for a while (cf. James Tabor, Exploring our Matrix and a new Facebook page, The Jesus Discovery) and now the news is about to break. So is everyone ready for another round? I’m not sure that I am, but I’m bracing myself, and getting up the strength. Here goes. The first news outlet that I’ve seen to report on this is Haaretz:
‘Naked Archaeologist’ finds signs Jerusalem cave was used to bury Jesus’ disciples Simcha Jacobovici, an Emmy-winning documentary director and producer, hopes findings of current explorations will substantiate his earlier theory that Jesus was buried in a nearby cave.
Read on here.
2. MSNBC, New find revives ‘Jesus Tomb’ flap:
Using a remote-controlled camera on the end of a robotic arm, investigators have found what could be the earliest evidence of a Christian iconography in Jerusalem, engraved on a set of “bone boxes” inside a nearly intact 1st-century tomb.
One of the limestone boxes, known more formally as an ossuary, carries a Greek inscription calling on God to “rise up” or “raise up” someone. Another box shows the carved image of a fish, perhaps with the prophet Jonah in its mouth. Allusions to fish and the “sign of Jonah” came to be widely used among early Christians, but not among Jerusalem’s Jews.
Those discoveries alone would be enough to get biblical scholars excited. But the investigators in this case are the same people who claimed five years ago that ossuaries from a nearby tomb were engraved with the names of the biblical Jesus and his family. They’re putting forth this new find as supporting evidence for their earlier claims, and resurrecting the topic in a newly published book (“The Jesus Discovery”) as well as a Discovery Channel documentary that’s due to air this spring…
Read on here.
3. PaleoBabble with, Just in Time for Easter Cash Flow: The Tomb of Jesus’ Disciples.
$imcha Jacobovici has busy. And amazingly, Easter is just around the corner (again). Oh, the irony.
The man who brought us the error-plagued Jesus family tomb, then the nails from the cross, now claims that he has found a tomb which held the remains of at least some of the disciples of Jesus. Granted, the article at the link is just a preliminary news leak to garner interest for an upcoming press conference where the world will get to see what $imcha has discovered. Still, this announcement isn’t encouraging. Here’s what we learn that supports the new discovery, at least in part:
- This cave is nearby the alleged Jesus family tomb (I read in another article that the site is considered pre-70 AD; by whom I don’t know).
- There is a Jonah and the whale symbol in it (a “Christian symbol” the article notes)
- An inscription with the word “God” in Greek, the Tetragrammaton (the four-consonant sacred name of God: YHWH), and the word “arise” or “resurrected” in Hebrew
- Apparently the Tetragrammaton is on an ossuary, something that (according to the article) has never been found on an ossuary. That would suggest a Christian, not a Jewish, burial
My first question was whether the site bears any name of a disciple. If not, why conclude it is connected with them? The feeling I get is that the only “evidence” for this is its proximity to the alleged Jesus family tomb, in which case we have a nice illustration of drawing a conclusion based on something one presumes to be true. But even if the Jesus family tomb was really that of Jesus (which I do not believe, for reasons noted by many scholars since its announcement), do we have anything else in this new site other than walking distance to link it to the disciples? If that is the basis of the argument, this is a disappointment. It’s not like the disciples were the only Christians before 70 AD who died and were buried. But in $imcha-land, that sort of thinking seems possible. I just have to think he has more than this. Otherwise, it’s just plain embarrassing. In fact, if this is all he has, I’m going to award him this blog’s second Ph.D. in Non Sequitur Thinking. I hope there is more, since the alternative would mean James Tabor, a genuine scholar, will have sullied his reputation by association with someone establishing a track record that seems fundamentally bent only toward publicity and self-aggrandizement. That would be a shame.
4. Dr Robert Cargill: Maximize the Money, Archaeology be Damned: Simcha Jacobovici Claims ‘new’ Evidence of Jesus:
…Fascinating how these stories all hit the wires the same day – Feb 28, 2012 – precisely the same day that Jacobovici’s new book gets released?? And, is it coincidence that said media marketing campaign gets kicked off during the Lenten season just before Easter?
This is nothing more than a coordinated press release to sell a book and promote a forthcoming documentary. There is no new discovery here; this has been known for years.
REMEMBER: don’t watch what Simcha says – you know he’s going to try and sell the public on his latest speculation. Rather, watch what the scholars say – or better yet, watch what the scholars don’t say, and you’ll have your answer.
As for the ‘substance’ of the argument? Witherington got it right: “one speculation upon another speculation.”
Am I shocked? Absolutely not. This is the kind of nonsense we’ve come to expect from Simcha Jacobovici: maximize the money, archaeology be damned.
5. Rollston Epigraphy: The Tomb Dubbed the ‘Jesus Family Tomb’: Inscribed Ossuaries, Personal Names, Statistics, and Laboratory Tests:
This article (below) was first published in the academic journal, Near Eastern Archaeology 69 (2006): 125-129. Here is the URL for that article: Inscribed Ossuaries: Personal Names, Statistics, and Laboratory Tests
This (2006) article is methodological in nature and attempted to put the tomb which Tabor and Jacobovici dubbed (in 2006/07) the “Jesus Family Tomb” in its broader context, hence, I first discussed the nature of prosopographic analysis (i.e., attempts to discern familial relationships between ancient peoples, and then the attempt to connect those with people known from ancient literary sources) and then I turned in earnest to the Talpiyot Tomb…
… Based on the dearth of epigraphic evidence, it is simply not possible to make assumptions about the relationships of those buried therein and it is certainly not tenable to suggest that the data are sufficient to posit that this is the family tomb of Jesus of Nazareth. Finally, it should be stated that at this juncture there is nothing in the statistical or laboratory data that can sufficiently clarify the situation and I doubt that there ever will be.
He has a followup to the above here.
… A basic methodological stricture is this: dramatic claims require dramatic and decisive evidence. In this case, Tabor and Jacobovici have strained the evidence far beyond the breaking point. As Eric Meyers said in his blog post: “we may regard this book as yet another in a long list of presentations that misuse not only the Bible but also archaeology.”
As well as: Reflections of an Epigrapher on Talpiyot Tombs A and B: A Detailed Response to the Claims of Professor James Tabor and Filmmaker Simcha Jacobovici here.
On the morning of Tuesday, June 29, 2010, outside the Old City of Jerusalem, we made an unprecedented archaeological discovery related to Jesus and early Christianity. This discovery adds significantly to our understanding of Jesus, his earliest followers, and the birth of Christianity. In this book we reveal reliable archaeological evidence that is directly connected to Jesus’ first followers, those who knew him personally and to Jesus himself. The discovery provides the earliest archaeological evidence of faith in Jesus’ resurrection from the dead, the first witness to a saying of Jesus that predates even the writing of our New Testament gospels, and the earliest example of Christian art, all found in a sealed tomb dated to the 1st century CE.
We refer to this tomb as the Patio tomb, since it is now located beneath an apartment patio, eight feet under the basement of a condominium complex. Such juxtapositions of modernity and antiquity are not unusual in Jerusalem, where construction must often be halted to rescue and excavate tombs from ancient times. The Patio tomb was first uncovered by construction work in 1981 in East Talpiot, a suburb of Jerusalem less than two miles south of the Old City.
Our discoveries also provide precious new evidence for evaluating the Jesus son of Joseph’s tomb, discovered a year earlier…
7. Gordon Franz:
Gordon Franz was at today’s press conference and has written a short piece on the experience and his amazement at some of the responses he has read. He writes:
I was at the press conference at Discovery Times Square on Tuesday, February 28, 2012 for the unveiling of the new book The Jesus Discovery by James Tabor and Simcha Jacobovici.
I am not a supporter of Simcha’s ideas, in fact, I have critiqued some of them on my website (see the Cracked Pot Archaeology section at www.lifeandland.org). But what I have found amusing is the misstatements and misunderstanding on some of the blogs by leading scholars. First of all, you should get the book and read it before you comment, or at least look at the pictures! It will save you some embarrassment.
Simcha had an exact replica of both ossuaries in question made by the museum staff at Discovery Times Square. This was accomplished by the measurements and photographs taken with the impressive robotic arm. I am grateful for Walter Klassmen for showing me how it worked. This tool will have many applications in the archaeology of Israel and Simcha should be commended for working closely with this expert to produce such a valuable tool.
The first thing that struck me on the ossuary is the orientation of the “fish.” On all the blogs and news articles I have read, the picture of the “fish” is facing the wrong way. Sometimes it is horizontal, either facing left or right, and made to look like a swimming fish. Or the “fish” has the round ball (Jonah, according to Simcha) facing upwards, thus making the “fish” look like a funerary monument. Usually pictures of Absalom’s Pillar are shown to bolster the case for this view. The fact of the matter is that the “fish” is facing down! So we should orient the picture correctly before we continue the discussion.
My initial impression is that the “fish” looks like an ornamental glass vessel, perhaps a pitcher or flask of some sort. The Ennion vessel found by Prof. Avigad in the Jewish Quarter comes to mind (page 108 in Discovering Jerusalem). Perhaps some glass expert might suggest a better parallel from this period than the Ennion vessel, but this is worthy of consideration.
Ossuary etching compared with Ennion pitcher, both from Jerusalem. Left image: Associated Producers Ltd./Haaretz; Right: Avigad, Discovering Jerusalem, p. 108.