Friday, March 09, 2007

The "Jesus Family Tomb": Amy-Jill Levine comments

On the Discovery: Lost Tomb of Jesus Discussion Forum, Amy-Jill Levine now responds to several of those who have posed their questions on the forum:

Expert Q&A: Dr Amy-Jill Levine

Perhaps her most interesting answer is the last one:
According to Acts (see above, on Mary), at least part of the family relocated to Jerusalem. We do know -- not only from Acts and from Paul, but also from the first-century historian Josephus -- that James the 'brother of the Lord' (as he is called) was the leader of the Jerusalem church. Thus, it is by no means inconceivable that there would be a family tomb in the environs of Jerusalem. The Church presents itself in Acts as comprised not just of James, but of multiple members, some of whom are wealthy or at least of some means (e.g., Mary the mother of John Mark, who seems to be the patron of a house church in Jerusalem; Ananias and Sapphira, Barnabas....). Again, it would not be surprising to think that the followers of Jesus would have had sufficient funds to set up a burial site for his relatives, such as James. My point is not to argue for, or against, the Talpiot tomb's being connected to the family of Jesus; it is simply to note that the idea of a family tomb for James et al. is not inconceivable.
Contrast the slightly different assessment of Jodi Magness on the SBL Site in Has the Tomb of Jesus been Discovered?. I must admit to finding the claim about an expected Galilean burial one of the weaker arguments against the Discovery film, as I previously commented in response to Ben Witherington III's article:
The problem with the original formulation [of Ben Witherington III] was that there is no claim by the film-makers that Joseph was buried in this tomb. I must admit to being unconvinced also by the reformulation of the point, though. There is nothing intrinsically unlikely about members of Jesus' family being buried near Jerusalem since our sources all place them there the last time that we hear of them, Mary and the brothers in Acts 1, James in Acts 21. We have no evidence of a return to Nazareth. In fact, we don't have much evidence at all for the family's movements. This is not a major point, but as one who is critical of the claims of the film-makers, I think it important that the grounds for one's criticisms are solid (Ben Witherington III on the "Jesus Family Tomb")


Peter T Chattaway said...

FWIW, not only do the New Testament and Josephus tell us that James lived and died in Jerusalem, but I believe St. Jerome tells us that James was buried in Jerusalem, too. So the idea that at least some members of Jesus' family were buried in Jerusalem and not in Galilee is a rather ancient one.

Benjamin S. Lewis said...

Good point, Mark. There's no telling where Jesus' family members might be at the time of their deaths. And if we're actually going to accept the reliability of an actual New Testament document on this point, then there were probably those with sufficient means to buy the family a tomb. But if we open the door and welcome the contribution of the books of Acts on this point, on what basis do we slam the door shut and reject it as being a valid source of reliable information on other issues? Say, for example, what the core disciples and early church believed about the nature of Jesus' "Messiahship" (Acts 2:32ff, 3:14ff, etc.)

And how about this passage:

"And with great power the apostles gave their testimony to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus, and great grace was upon them all. There was not a needy person among them, for as many as were possessors of lands or houses sold them, and brought the proceeds of what was sold and laid it at the apostles' feet; and distribution was made to each as any had need" (Acts 4:33-35).

The same passge that suggests there were those with the means to buy Jesus a tomb clearly states that they believed he had no pressing need for one. To accept part of it and reject the rest seems arbitrary and capricious. And I'm not even talking about taking it as evidence that the resurrecion occurred. Whether or not he was in fact raised from the dead is one thing. Whether the early disciples believed and taught that he was raised from the dead is another. The books of Acts seems to suggest that the early church was united in a common belief in the resurrection. I just can't see an apostle saying, "Christ is risen! Hallelujah! Now we're going to pass the offering plate to buy him a tomb. And remember: The Lord loves a cheerful giver!"

That aside, I agree with Tabor and very much appreciate Mark's discretion in conceding valid arguments advanced by the Jesus Family Tomb advocates. We need that kind of hard-nosed integrity in this discussion. In the end, we as a Christian community will not benefit from wishful thinking and intellectual dishonesty.

Ben Lewis

Anonymous said...

Levine's comment still does not address a matter of dating brought up in Kloner's 1996 article that, I would think, precludes this being the tomb of the Jesus of the Gospels. Kloner describes the tomb as having been used "for three or four generations," with sherds allowing for a dating "from the end of the first century BCE or the beginning of the first century CE, until approximately 70 CE" (p. 21).

It sounds like the family tomb was put into use when Jesus and his family still resided in Nazareth.

Btw, does anyone have an estimate on the amount of time it would have taken a corpse in that region to become "ossuary-ready"?

Anonymous said...

I agree that it does not count as much of an argument against the documentary's conclusions that some think that a family tomb for Jesus' family should be in Gallilee and not Jerusalem. That said, I think that there is an additional consideration here. Given that the tomb for Jesus' family merely could be expected to be in Jerusalem, why does Dr Feuerverger divide his probability results by only 1000 (for all 1st century Jerusalem tombs)? That is, given that we do not have a reason to restrict a hypothetical Jesus-family-tomb to Jerusalem and its environs, the probability equation should not restrict itself to Jerusalem tombs. I do not know what the actual number of tombs used in the equation should have been, but if Dr Feuerverger is working from the assumption that there are ~1000 first century tombs in Jerusalem then it stands to reason that there are several times that many first century tombs in all of Israel, and his equation really ought to consider all of those tombs, not just the Jerusalem. Dividing by that larger number would considerably decrease the odds that this tomb is the tomb. said...

Is Dr.Amy-Jill Levine correct to say that Josephus has James as the leader of the Jerusalem church?