In January 2008, some of the world’s top scholars gathered at Mishkenot Sha’ananim in Jerusalem to consider the claims of my 2007 film and book “The Lost Tomb of Jesus” and “The Jesus Family Tomb”, where I argued that the tomb of Jesus and his family has been located in Talpiot, Jerusalem.
No PhD candidate has ever had to defend himself from over 70 world-class scholars. The idea was to tear apart my claims and to mock the thesis that Talpiot, not the tomb under the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, is the real resting place of Jesus of Nazareth.
Being a mere documentarian at the time (I have since also become an adjunct professor in the department of religion at Huntington University, Ontario) I was not even given a chance to speak at the conference so as to defend my point of view. Isn’t scholarship wonderful? Instead, the international assembly spent three days discussing my film and book and scrutinizing its every nuance, without once turning to me for a rebuttal. At the end of the day, the conference couldn’t find a single thing about my film and book that they could all agree to criticize – not the statistics, not the DNA, not the epigraphy…nada. The only resolution they passed as a conference was that the Talpiot tomb(s) need more investigation. Agreed.
The proceedings were supposed to be published right after the conference, but for 6 long years they have been languishing somewhere in Princeton. Finally, a few weeks ago, “The Tomb of Jesus and His Family?” was published by the prestigious William Eerdmans Publishing Company, edited by Professor James Charlesworth, one of the top New Testament scholars in the world. So…what’s the verdict? Is it Jesus’ tomb or not?
First, let me address the book’s tone. The text runs for nearly 600 pages but I am hardly mentioned by the scholars who gathered to review my work. It seems that my “sensationalist” claims are so unbecoming that I can only be mentioned in footnotes, if that. So…what about the conclusions?
Again, in the Soviet atmosphere of New Testament scholarship, anyone who has something positive to say about my thesis buries it in pages and pages of gobbledegook for fear that they too will be charged with “sensationalism”. You need to be a professional decrypter to figure out what my supporters are saying. For their part, the naysayers are very clear.
But what’s not clear is who is on my side. Luckily, I had the patience to read all the pages carefully and I can now report on the results: Out of the 28 scholars who contributed to the publication, no fewer than 12 support the real possibility that the bone box of Jesus, his mother Mary, his brother “Yose”, his wife Mary Magdalene and even their son Judah have been found. That’s 43% in favour! Wow! Here are 43% of the world’s top scholars saying that Jesus’ clan has been found and the story is no story, as far as the media is concerned. No one has taken notice of the recent publication of this esteemed gathering. By the way, out of the 16 scholars who don’t argue in favour of my thesis, half of them are totally non-committal.
In fairness, my supporters don’t shout their conclusions from the rooftops and they hedge their bets with words like “possibility” and nice “fit”. But here’s what they say if you have the patience to wade through the verbiage: James Charlesworth states that it is “conceivable” that Jesus’ ossuary has been found (p. 15). He goes on to ask; “is the Talpiot tomb related in some ways to Jesus’ clan or followers? I’m open to pondering this hypothesis and would urge those who continue the discussion to distinguish between ‘Jesus’ tomb’ and ‘a tomb perhaps related to his movement or extended clan’” (p. 26). Meaning, Professor Charlesworth thinks that this tomb may very well be related to Jesus’ clan, though he refuses to entertain the probability that it’s related to Jesus himself.
Professor James Tabor says; “I am convinced that there is a surprisingly close fit between what we might postulate as a hypothetical pre 70-CE Jesus family tomb [and] this particular tomb in Talpiot” (p. 249). The late Professor Jane Schaberg states that; “the Talpiot tomb…brings us in touch with physical evidence of…earliest Christianity” (p. 303). Charles Pellegrino not only believes that the Talpiot tomb is Jesus’ tomb, he brings compelling evidence that the controversial “James Ossuary” also originated in the Talpiot tomb. If he’s right, by adding James to the cluster of names already attested to in this tomb, the likelihood that the tomb belongs to Jesus would rise to the level of absolute certainty (p. 243).
Professors Amnon Rosenfeld, Howard Feldman and Wolfgang Krumbein agree with Pellegrino. They conclude that the James Ossuary may very well have originated in the Talpiot tomb and that adding this ossuary to the cluster of names found in the tomb “has a great statistical weight”. Meaning, their work on the James Ossuary gives the Talpiot tomb thesis “a compelling level of certitude that it is really the historic holy family tomb” (p. 347).
Professors Mark Elliott and Kevin Kilty state that if the name “Yose” inscribed on one of the ossuaries (which fits one of the brothers of Jesus) is given a meaning of “more than a variant of Joseph…then the probability that this tomb is that of the Jesus family is 47%” (p. 373).
Statistician Professor Camil Fuchs, often cited by naysayers, comments on the Talpiot thesis by stating; “certainly possible” (p. 395). Eldad Keynan concludes that “there is some likelihood that the Talpiot tomb is this site” i.e., the burial site of the Jesus family (p. 433). Professor Claude Cohen-Matlofsky asks whether the Talpiot tomb is the tomb of Jesus and his family and answers; “in my judgment…there is enough evidence to believe that it is” (p. 106).
Can you believe it? “There is enough evidence to believe that it is”, and yet no one is talking about it. 43% of the academics contributing to Charlesworth’s recently published book believe that the Talpiot tomb may be the Jesus family tomb, belonging to Jesus himself or to his extended family and/or clan. If there was a 43% chance that a cure for cancer has been found, that story would be screaming from every headline. And yet, in this instance, there is a 43% chance that the real tomb of Jesus has been found, and no one is talking about it. I think that what we’re dealing with is “paradigm collapse syndrome”. It works like this; when something is discovered that challenges your world view paradigm at its roots, you either change your opinion and allow your paradigm to collapse, or you ignore the unpleasant evidence. Trust scholars and Christian theologians to do the latter.
But ignored or not, the tomb that dare not speak its name is waiting for its day in Talpiot. One day, the Jesus Family tomb will be excavated and the Jesus of history, as opposed to theology, will be resurrected.
See also my book with Prof. James Tabor – “The Jesus Discovery“.