It’s been a tough month for the naysayers. In 1980, a 1st century tomb was found in Talpiot, Jerusalem (Tomb A) that had six inscribed ossuaries (bone boxes) in it – there were two “Marys”, a “Jose”, a “Matthew”, a “Judah, son of Jesus” and a man who was called “Jesus, son of Joseph”. In 2007, I made a film (The Lost Tomb of Jesus) and co-wrote a book (The Jesus Family Tomb) that argued that this tomb belonged to Jesus of Nazareth and his family. In 2012, I followed this up with another film (Resurrection Tomb: The Jesus Discovery) and co-wrote another book (The Jesus Discovery) bringing new evidence. Mainstream academia dove for shelter, while an army of theologically motivated academics and pseudo-academics filled the media and the internet with half-baked attacks on the thesis. The facts weren’t addressed but the naysayers managed to muddy the waters. The media’s attention went elsewhere and honest academics were browbeaten into silence. But this is now changing.
Just a few weeks ago, the noted epigrapher Father/Professor Emile Puech stated publicly that one of the ossuaries found in 1981 in a tomb (Tomb B) next to the Jesus Family Tomb had signs on it e.g., a cross, that he called “Judeo Christian”. More than this, the ossuary had the name “Yonah” inscribed on it, and a picture of a giant fish. The “Sign of Jonah” (Hebrew “Yonah”) is the earliest Biblical symbol of Jesus and his followers (Matthew 12:38 and Luke 11:30). Obviously, if the earliest signs of Christianity are next to the tomb of a man named “Jesus, son of Joseph”, this Jesus couldn’t be some other Jesus. It must be the Jesus. Despite efforts to get Professor Puech to recant, he has stuck by his statements concerning Jonah and the big fish.
Now, along comes Paris-based Professor Claude Cohen-Matlofsky with a peer-reviewed article on Bibleinterp.com. It’s called “Jesus the Patriarch and Talpiot Tomb A”. Her article is beautifully elaborated on by Professor James Tabor. In the article, Professor Cohen-Matlofsky, an expert on ossuary inscriptions, convincingly dismisses the idea that “Jesus, son of Joseph” was a common name. She also dismisses the idea that the “Jose” in the tomb is the same man as the Joseph mentioned on the “Jesus, son of Joseph” ossuary. If Joseph is the patriarch of the tomb, she asks, why isn’t his ossuary there? Also, the patriarch wouldn’t be called by two names in the same tomb i.e., “Joseph” and “Jose”. These must be separate people. As we all know, Jesus had a brother with the unusual nickname “Jose” or “Yose” in Hebrew (Mark 6:3). This particular version of the name appears only in this tomb and only on one ossuary in the entire collection of the Israel Antiquities Authority. So if Jose is not Joseph, where is Joseph, father of Jesus?
The pagan writer Celsus and the Rabbinic Talmud both suggest that Jesus was born of an adulterous relationship. In fact, the Gospels themselves state that, when he found out that she was pregnant, Joseph initially suspected Mary of adultery (Matthew 1:18-19). In 1st century Jerusalem, when an adulterous wife was rejected but not prosecuted, she ended up in her own tomb without her husband. The son, then, became the “patriarch” of the tomb. This is reflected in the inscriptions found in Talpiot Tomb A.
Until Professor Cohen-Matlofsky, no one (including me) noticed that the particular combination of names in the tomb is consistent with the tradition that Mary is the rejected wife of Joseph. In fact, no one ever noticed how rare are the father-son relationships in this tomb. Meaning, it’s not enough to look at how many Jewish males had the name “Jesus” in 1st century Judea and then compare these to males who had the name “Joseph”. Jesus was rare and the combination of Jesus and Joseph was rarer, but having “Joseph” as the father and “Jesus” as the son was even rarer. Put differently, out of the small group of Jerusalem residents who at the time of Jesus shared the names “Joseph” and “Jesus”, only a very small group of men named “Jesus” had a father named “Joseph”, as opposed to the men called “Joseph” who had fathers called “Jesus”.
Furthermore, for those who would argue that Professor Tal Ilan’s statistics of Jewish names in antiquity make the Jesus name common and not rare, Professor Cohen-Matlofsky has pointed out that Ilan looks at names across a 500 year span and ossuary use covered less than 100 years. Meaning, the name has been diluted by the naysayers so as to make it more “common” than it is. This was done so as to increase the possibility that the Jesus in the tomb is not the Jesus of the Gospels. Professor Cohen-Matlofsky effectively dismisses this argument.
Professor Cohen-Matlofsky concludes that, in light of her analysis, “one has to accept the very likely probability that Jesus was married, that he had a child, and that they all had a secondary burial in Jerusalem in the 1st century CE in a family rock cut tomb”. Maybe now the academics who have sat on the sidelines will weigh into this debate, and the world will recognize that the tomb of one of the most famous people in history has been found and ignored.