As followers of my blog know, I believe that a first century burial tomb discovered in 1980 in the Jerusalem suburb of Talpiot is the Jesus Family tomb (see my books “The Jesus Family Tomb” and “The Jesus Discovery”). I’m not alone in this belief. Professor James Tabor has also argued that this is Jesus’ tomb, Professor James Charlesworth believes that it belongs to Jesus’ family but not to Jesus, the late, legendary Professor Jane Schaberg believed that it belongs to Jesus’ followers and the list goes on.
Next to the Jesus Family tomb, which contained ossuaries (bone boxes) with inscribed names such as “Jesus, son of Joseph”, “Jose” (a brother of Jesus – Mark 6:3), and two “Marys”, another tomb was found in 1981. This tomb is sealed under a building now and has never been excavated. In 2010, working with Professor Rami Arav and Professor James Tabor, we designed a robotic arm which was inserted into the unexcavated tomb and discovered the earliest Christian signs found anywhere: a graffiti like picture of the prophet Jonah being spat out by a big fish, a cross and the only statement of resurrection faith found on an ossuary. The “Sign of Jonah” represented Jesus’ resurrection for his earliest followers (Matthew 16:4). So that there would be no doubt about the symbol, the people who drew the graffiti in the first century also wrote the Hebrew word “Yonah” i.e., “Jonah” in English, under it.
And yet, all the evidence has been mostly ignored. The names on the ossuaries are dismissed as “common” and of “no significance”, the symbol of the fish is dismissed as a “vase”, the word “Jonah” is dismissed as a bunch of scratches etc. etc. Leading the naysayers is Professor Amos Kloner, the Israeli archaeologist who, back in the 80’s, was district head of Jerusalem for the Israel Antiquities Authority. He has claimed on many occasions that when he climbed into the “Jonah” burial cave – also dubbed the “Patio tomb” because it’s still under an apartment patio – he saw “nothing unusual” about the cave or the ossuaries in it.
But yesterday there was divine intervention. As I was filming in Jerusalem for a new documentary, an elderly man and his wife passed by. When they saw me, they tried to talk to me. At first, I tried to wave them off because I was in the middle of an interview, but when they agreed to wait until I finished, I was eager to hear what they had to say.
Incredibly, this is what the gentleman told me: “My name is Avraham Leket. I saw your films on the Talpiot tombs (“The Lost Tomb of Jesus” and “The Resurrection Tomb Mystery”). And I want you to know that, at the time that Talpiot was being built up, I was working for the building company Shikun Ovdim, which was responsible for part of the site. The site supervisor was a man by the name of Eli Parsi. When he went on vacation, I filled in for him. As we were drilling, the drill went through the roof of a burial cave [i.e., the Patio tomb]. I realized we had hit an archaeological site and I called the Antiquities Authority. They sent over a young archaeologist by the name of Amos Kloner. He climbed into the tomb and came out literally shaking. I’ll never forget. I asked him what he saw and he repeatedly muttered ‘I never saw such a thing….I never saw such a tomb.’ He took out one ossuary that did not weigh much because it was small, belonging to a child. But then religious people got involved. They didn’t want the tomb disturbed. Things shut down for the Sabbath and after that Eli Parsi came back to work.” Mr. Leket said that he hoped the information was helpful. It’s very helpful, Mr. Leket.
For years now, Professor Kloner has been saying that “the Talpiot tombs are ordinary tombs of the first century. I’ve seen hundreds of them. There is nothing special about them.” Now we have an eyewitness report stating that, when Kloner first saw the “Patio tomb”, he came out shaking and repeatedly mumbling that he “never saw such a tomb”. Perhaps Professor Kloner’s memory is playing tricks on him now, or perhaps there are other reasons why someone would want to minimize the discovery at Talpiot. After all, there are a lot of people who would not want to find Jesus’ burial cave. Either way, we now know what Kloner first thought of the discovery – “I never saw such a tomb!” Of course you didn’t, Professor Kloner, there’s only one Jesus Family tomb.