Sunday, February 25, 2007

"The Tomb That Dare not speak its name"

That was the headline on the front page of The Sunday Times News Review in the UK, 31 March 1996. The story created a little stir, but it was only a little stir. The theme was the discovery of a family tomb in the Talpiot area of Jerusalem which apparently contained ossuaries which featured several names in common with characters from the Gospel story, Jesus son of Joseph and Mary among them, though rather less promisingly also a Judas son of Jesus and a Matthew. Some speculated that the The Sunday Times story was an April Fools joke, but it turned out that it was in fact advance publicity for an Easter day edition of Heart of the Matter on BBC1, presented by Joan Bakewell, and featuring a documentary about the resurrection, with a study of the tomb, and then a debate featuring Gerd Lüdemann, Michael Goulder and Tom Wright. None of those in the studio would give the idea that the tomb had anything to do with Jesus of Nazareth a moment's consideration. The story passed and few thought any more about it.

Now, over a decade later, the story has resurfaced and this time it is coming with a blaze of publicity. Several blogs have already commented and it is clear that we have not heard the last of this. What may make this media event more interesting in the blogosphere is that James Tabor of the Jesus Dynasty Blog is involved in the project but he is keeping mum until the news conference in New York tomorrow. Discovery Channel has a major website on the forthcoming television programme.

Update (Monday, 8.14): Leen Ritmeyer has the most vociferous take on it yet among the bloggers. It is an "archaeologist’s worst nightmare" and "It is possibly the most cynical claim yet to be made in the field of Biblical Archaeology and only serves to give the subject a bad name." Watch out for more of the same. Meanwhile James Tabor of the Jesus Dynasty Blog counsels caution ahead of the News Conference today, "Because of a non-disclosure agreement that protected all of us working on this research I have not written in any detail beyond what I cover in the Introduction to The Jesus Dynasty. Following the press conference tomorrow that all changes." His current post stresses the four years of research on the tomb. I'll be looking out for anything that changes my highly sceptical reaction to the claims made in 1996 (above). I am not optimistic but, as always, will aim to approach the news with an open and critical mind.


Anonymous said...

Yawn! It had to come. The other thing which 'has to come' is the inevitable riposte: 'Oh, you would say it's rubbish - after all, you're a Chrsitian.'

We have now reached the stage where one can walk into some branches of Waterstone's or Books etc and see nothing but this kind of tripe in the Christianity section.

The real villain is ideological pluralism. And single-minded integrity-free pursuit of money and publicity such as characterises Channel 4 (who - surprise, surprise - are going to be the ones to air the programme) and the publishers in question - that doesn't help either.

As has repeatedly been said: One fears not at all for NT scholarship, which will ignore this. One fears a great deal for Joe Public, who is not in a position to know better, and is being fed with husks without realising it.

Anonymous said...

And even worse, according to there's even a movie in the works to confuse Joe even more (if Hollywood says it, it must be true).

Sigh -- I know not which to lament more - the dearth of critical thinking OR the depth of Biblical ignorance.

Thanks for the link to the original news article as I suspect apologists will be needing all the ammunition they can find to debunk this latest "discovery."

-- Ishmael (I agree, too many anonymices confuse everyone) :-) said...

Tabor is at it again. It looks worse than his and Zias's ideas of Essene toilets at Qumran.

One might argue that a poor prophet would not have been buried in a rich man's grave, despite Joseph Arimathea.

The name of Jesus was probably common among wealthier priestly families who could afford ossuaries. After all, who were the real messianists, if they were not the priests? They reckoned on a priest-messiah and a Messiah of Israel.

Anonymous said...

I think both of your criticisms are valid, but I can't help but think your own immediate rejection of the discovery is in itself a reflection of an unwillingness to think critically. Don't you think it will be in MANY people's interest to discredit these findings? Don't you think it's first necessary to see what evidence they are providing? I checked out the site (Jesus Family Tomb) and I must say I was very impressed. You can see that Simcha and his team took the time to consult experts on all of the big questions. YES the names were common, but that CLUSTER of names is NOT.

Get the facts first, that's all I ask.

Anyway, check out the site at:

Anonymous said...

re: Anonymous wrote

Get the facts first, that's all I ask.

I've seen this character's exact post on at least one other blog expounding on this issue, and with the exact same wording.

Sounds like somebody's running a campaign to promote this garbage.

Anonymous said...

If I remember correctly, the author of the 1996 article says that the ossuaries were empty when they were found. All of the information I have been able to find now suggests that remains were in the ossuaries and were removed for burial. It just seems like a strange discrepancy.

Anonymous said...

In reference to my previous post, please see

Since all are being so glib, it may be profitable to simply say that only another empty tomb (the ossuary) has been found. Although it appears there were bones in the large tomb complex itself, it is still unclear to me whether remains were actually found in the ossuaries.

I am highly skeptical of the "DNA" evidence from such a source.