Thursday, October 6

Has The Family Tomb of Jesus Been Found?

There is little doubt that Jesus of Nazareth (Yeshua Mi'Nazareth) is the most influential person in history. Born ca.7-2 BC, He grew up under the guidance of Mary and Joseph, along with several brothers and sisters, who were born after Him. At the age of thirty, He began a ministry, and though He never went farther than 200 miles from His hometown, Jesus left an impact which has rippled through time and is still going. Jesus made extraordinary claims, claims of deity, which the Jewish authorities considered blasphemy. As such, Jesus was crucified on the charge of blasphemy under Pontius Pilate, prefect of Judea under Emperor Trajan, c.30-33 AD. Three days later, and for the following forty days, His followers were absolutely convinced that they had seen the risen Jesus, and for the remainder of their lives, wrote letters, gospels, lived and died in His name. To this day, the life of Jesus sparks controversy all over the world, and in a recent book from Simcha Jacobovici and Charles Pellegrino, then adapted into a film joined by James Cameron, The Lost Tomb of Jesus, extraordinary claims were made that could they believed could redefine the entire faith. (Photo credit: Taken March 28, 1980 - Discovery Channel, IMJ)

In prior articles, it was established that Jesus existed as a historical figure, that Jesus truly died on the Roman cross, that the disciples did go to the right tomb, and that the resurrection appearances were not mere hallucinations. In this article, we will examine the extraordinary claims made by Jacobovici and Cameron, and determine if there is any validity to them. The claim is as follows. In 1980 in the suburb of Talpiot (Talpiyot) in Jerusalem, Israel, a construction crew "discovered" a rock hewn tomb that contained ten ossuaries and three skulls. An ossuary is a burial bone box. These and many other ossuaries have been discovered all throughout Jerusalem, and as such was not an unusual find. What made this particular discovery unusual was that these ossuaries had inscribed upon them the names Maria, Mariamene, Matthew, Judas son of Jesus, Jose (probably an abbreviation of Joseph), and lastly, Jesus son of Joseph. The clear implication of the book and documentary is evident: if the bones of Jesus have been found, then the physical resurrection never occurred, and Christianity is a hoax.

The claim further goes that the disciples stole the body of Jesus and placed it into this tomb, and that there is a possibility that one ossuary is missing, which, according to the documentary, is the ossuary of James brother of Jesus which was discovered in 2002. Is there any truth to these claims? First of all, the "credentials" of the filmmakers must be examined. Cameron and Jacobovici put out a film prior to this entitled The Exodus Decoded. No serious scholar or archaeologist has considered the "evidence" put forth in the film convincing. There is indeed evidence for the Exodus, albeit minor, however, the dating of the Exodus in the film is also based on an Egyptian chronology derived from Manetho and the "Sothic Cycle." In their book, Unwrapping the Pharaohs, David Down and John Ashton discuss the Egyptian chronology, and give a revised chronology, examining how these alleged dates which much of Egyptian dating comes from, is fallacious.

According to Ashton and Down, "Most of the early archaeological conclusions were based on the writings of Manetho, an Egyptian priest who wrote in the third century B.C. The history of the pharaohs had ended. Alexander occupied Egypt in 332 B.C. and that was the end of the Egyptian dynasties. They were followed by a line of Greek rulers known as the Ptolemies. It was Ptolemy II who asked Manetho to put together a history of Egypt for the library at Alexandria. No doubt, Manetho did his best. He undoubtedly could read the Egyptian hieroglyphs and had access to the many inscriptions and documents that existed in his day, but after all, that day was after Pharaonic history was ended. There is no guarantee that he wrote accurately or that his source materials were accurate. More troubling still is the fact that Manetho’s writings do not exist. They have been long since lost."

The Talpoit Tomb (1980, from Discovery Channel)
The authors continue, "The only source we have for what he wrote are the statements he made that have been quoted by subsequent historians. Josephus, the Jewish historian, writing in the first century A.D., quoted from Manetho. Bishop Eusebius writing in the fourth century A.D. quoted from him. However, there is a further problem in that we don’t have all the original writings of some of these authors, and, so, we have the Armenian version of Eusebius and quotations in the writings of Syncellus, A.D. 800, and Africanus, third century A.D. When we compare these sources, we find that they frequently disagree with each other. So, quite bluntly, we cannot be sure of what Manetho originally wrote." With this context in mind, the "evidence" provided by Cameron and Jacobovici in The Exodus Decoded to explain away the Exodus by natural phenomena holds up less than before.

Such claims are not new. Regarding the "lost family tomb," in 1996, BBC aired an Easter Special on television which featured this so-called lost tomb of Christ. As for Jacobovici, a Canadian film director, producer, free-lance journalist, and writer, he was involved in a 2010 documentary which claimed to have found Atlantis in Spain (Hartman), and in 2007 later announced in 2011, Jacobovici claimed to have found the nails which were used to nail Jesus to the cross. How did he find these nails? By discovering nails in an archaeological dig in Jerusalem, Jacobovici claimed that they must be the nails used for Jesus. However, there is no evidence to prove that these were the nails of Jesus, and the claims remain unsubstantiated. These claims among others may demonstrate to the reader that Jacobovici has found several "archaeological discoveries" that are not generally accepted by mainstream scholars, historians and archaeologists. In his television show, The Naked Archaeologist, he often examines different archaeology related to the Bible, but often attempts to find a natural explanation as opposed to a supernatural.

To be fair, Jacobovici has made a few interesting discoveries, particularly on The Naked Archaeologist, however, it is obvious of his bias against the physical resurrection of Jesus. It has been reported that he is known to be likeable, a trait one can pick up on by viewing the television show which he is featured in. By his own admission, though, he is not an archaeologist, but an investigative journalist. With this in mind, we can further investigate this alleged "lost family tomb of Jesus." In 1948, Israel was again unified as a nation, but was not truly reunified until 1968, when the Six Day War had ceased. Since that time, many archaeological discoveries have been made which have given further credence to both the Old and the New Testament, although sadly, some feel the need to forge certain findings, which the media tends to use to portray the Bible in a misleading light. There have been a myriad of discoveries that verified particular passages in Scripture, but we must be careful in that it does not prove the Bible, but gives further credibility to it.

Concerning the archaeological discoveries, an issue that has been known to occur on multiple occasions is that of construction. For construction crews, they know that if they are building over a site, and during the process of construction uncover something that archaeologists need to know about, that their operation would be immediately shut down as soon as archeologists are aware to allow the archaeologists entry to examine said site. This still occurs sometimes even today. The contractor, then, is faced with the decision of reporting the discovery or plowing, blowing up, or building upon the discovery, and leaving it unreported so as not to disrupt a schedule. Much to the chagrin, or rather, disappointment of archaeologists, some of these discoveries go unreported, and as such are destroyed by the construction crews.

"In March of 1980, a bulldozer exposed part of a Second Temple burial cave on Dov Gruner Street in the neighborhood of East Talpiyot, south of the Old City of Jerusalem. Fortunately, this one was reported to the Department of Antiquities and a salvage excavation took place. A double-chambered loculi and arcosolia tomb was excavated by Yosef Gath (permit number 938), with the help of Amos Kloner and Eliot Braun. Shimon Gibson drew the architectural plans of the burial cave. This excavation was conducted from March 28 to April 14, 1980. The reason for the lengthy excavation was that there was over a meter of terra rosa soil in the tomb. This burial cave contained ten ossuaries, six of which had inscriptions bearing the names of individuals on them, and pottery from the Herodian period" (Franz). The initial report was published in 1981 by Yosef Gath in the periodical of the Israel Antiquities Authority (IAA). The discovery of the ossuaries was published in English in 1994, which listed the nine ossuaries as 701 to 709, but the tenth ossuary was not published because it was broken.

Interestingly, according to Got Questions Ministries, "no influential archaeologist has come forward in agreement with the Jesus Family Tomb project. The curator for anthropology and archeology at the Rockefeller Museum in Jerusalem from 1972 to 1997, Joe Zias, states that the project 'makes a mockery of the archaeological profession.' Second, there is evidence that the tomb had been disturbed and vandalized. It cannot be verified what was, or what was not, vandalized or stolen. On an archaeological basis alone, there is serious reason to doubt the authenticity of the Jesus Family Tomb project." Also, of further note, according to The Jerusalem Post, Amos Kloner, who is the archeologist who officially oversaw the work at the tomb which began in 1980, who has also published in-depth findings on its contents, dismissed the claims: It makes a great story for a TV film, but it's impossible... There is no likelihood that Jesus and his relatives had a family tomb. They were a Galilee family with no ties in Jerusalem. The Talpiot tomb belonged to a middle-class family from the 1st century CE.

William Dever, ho is an expert on Near-Eastern archaeology as well as anthropology, and has worked with Israeli archeologists for five decades, conveyed that specialists have known about these ossuaries for years. The fact that it's been ignored tells you something. It would be amusing it it didn't mislead so many people. Stephen Pfann, a noted biblical scholar at the University of the Holy Land in Jerusalem, interviewed in the aforementioned documentary, told AP that this film's hypothesis does not hold water. Skeptics, in general, would like to see something that pokes holes into the story that so many people hold dear. But how possible is it? On a scale of one through 10 — 10 being completely possible — it's probably a one, maybe a one and a half.

Now, it is important to note that the inscriptions on the ossuaries (there are only six) did not say, "Jesus of Nazareth, who is the Christ," "Mary Magdalene, wife of Christ," "Judah, son of Jesus and Mary Magdalene," "Mary, mother of Jesus," the like. Not at all. On the contrary, the inscriptions are 1) "Mariamene, who is (also called) Mara," 2) ?Yehuda, son of Yeshua? on it. In English, it would read "Judah the son of Jesus," 3) "Matya," 4) see below, possibly "Jesus son of Joseph," 5) "Yose," and 6) "Marya." Now that we understand the inscriptions, what do these tell us? The first inscription, "Mariamene, who is (also called) Mara," is claimed in the documentary to be Mary Magdalene. This ossuary was decorated and the inscription was in Greek (Franz). The name is a variant of Maryam and Miriam. The name "Mara" is a contraction of Martha. In the Jewish female onomasticon, we find these names as "the most common feminine names of the Second Temple period” (Hachlili 189). Mariam was used eighty times during this time, with Mara recorded eight times (Ilan 242-248, 422).

Jacobovici argues that Mary Magdalene was this Mariamene, who was, in the 4th century Acts of Philip, Philip's sister. Dr. Richard Bauckham, a New Testament scholar, writes, "There is no reason at all to connect the woman in this ossuary with Mary Magdalene, and in fact the name usage is decisively against such a connection." Also, this book is generally dated by historians to ca.4th century. It could not have been written by an apostle, since it was written a couple centuries after all of the apostles had been either martyred, or in John's case, died peacefully. Shumel Kats, concerning the demographics of 1st century Judea, wrote, When Jewish independence came to an end in the year 70, the population numbered, at a conservative estimate, some 5 million people (By Josephus' figures, there were nearer 7 million.). Attempting to say that in a city with this many people, who had very similar names, a tomb was found which holds the actual Mary, Jesus, Joseph, and others is a lofty claim. There is also a chronological error which arises if this "Judah" were the son of Mary Magdalene and Jesus: the original claim (it must be noted that Jacobvici and the others have acknowledged this issue) was that Judah, a literal son of Jesus Christ and Mary, is called the "beloved disciple" in John's gospel.

If this is the case, as Answers in Genesis points out, according to the claim, "That son was the 'Beloved Disciple' at the Last Supper and the young boy who ran away naked from Gethsemane (Mark 14:51), who was about 10-13 years old. Assuming this is true for a minute, and assuming Jesus was crucified in AD 30, let’s crunch the numbers. Judah would have been born between AD 17 and AD 20. That would place the wedding of Jesus and Mary Magdalene between AD 16 and AD 19. Assuming Mary Magdalene was between 16 and 18 years of age when she got married, she would have been born between 1 BC and AD 4. Herein is the problem. According to the Acts of Philip (which the filmmakers believe is historically reliable), the event surrounding the martyrdom of Philip, the brother of Miriamne, takes place in the 8th year of Emperor Trajan. This would place the martyrdom about AD 104. Eusebius confirms the burial of Philip at Heirapolis and hints at a date around AD 100" (Franz).

"Yehuda bar Yeshua", or Judah, son of Jesus, is an issue for the filmmakers. As noted, the filmmakers later recognized this, and the fact remains that not a single ancient document, written by Christians, Gnostics, or others, claims that the Jesus of the Bible had a son. We are told of his brothers (such as James), his mother, his aunt and cousin, as well as his uncle, but we are never told that a son. Though the popular Da Vinci Code claims this, there is no weight to this. In Christian theology, for Christ to have married and had children, this would make no sense. Christians hold that Jesus is fully man as well as divine, and indeed is God and claimed to be God, but there is no evidence which supports the theory that Jesus had a son, or that He married Mary Magdalene. The Gnostic gospel of Philip makes mention of a kiss between Mary and Jesus, but given the context, it could simply mean a friendly kiss. Regardless, the Gospel of Philip itself was written, according to Bart D. Ehrman, "it was probably complied during the third century, although it draws on earlier sources [the Gospels]" (Ehrman 38).

The name of Judah, or Judas, is the third most popular name of that time, and in a study of 1,986 names of the Hellenistic and Roman period, conducted by Tal Ilan, 128 people were found to bear this name (Ilan 238). The list was later changed to 180 (112–125, 449). The third ossuary, which simply bore the inscription "Matya," on the outside of the ossuary and "Mat(y)a" scratched on the inside, is simply a variant of Matityahu (Matthew). Ilan identified forty-six males bearing the name Matthew (Ilan 238). Skipping ahead to the fifth ossuary to bear an inscription, "Yose," is, "a contraction of Yehosef (Joseph), the second most common name in the Second Temple period (Ilan 1987: 238; see Hachlili 1984: 188–190). Ilan has recorded 232 individuals with this name (2002: 150–168, 449). Some 35% of all known Jewish males of the Hellenistic and Roman periods in Eretz Israel bore ?Hasmonean? names: Matthew (Ossuary 3, above), John, Simon, Judas (Ossuaries 2 and 4, above), Eleazar, and Jonathan. Joseph was the sixth brother in the family (2 Maccabbees 8:22), and the similar popularity of this name may be explained by this fact (Ilan 1987: 2 40–241)" (Kloner 19).

The sixth inscription was simply "Marya," and as we have seen, this was a fairly common name of the time. Ossuary seven, eight and nine were not inscribed, and the tenth and final ossuary is simple labeled as "plain" and "broken" (Rahmani 222). Perhaps the most significant inscription of all of these, however, is the fourth inscription, which some believe is "Jesus son of Joseph." According to Answers in Genesis, it is "a plain limestone box with an Aramaic inscription, was the one that caused a sensation. Dr. Rahmani described it in these terms: 'The first name, preceded by a large cross-mark, is difficult to read, as the incisions are clumsily carved and badly scratched. There seems to be a vertical stroke representing a yod, followed by a shin; the vav merges with the right stroke of the ‘ayin. The reading ‘Yeshua’ is corroborated by the inscription on No. 702 referring to Yeshua, the father of Yehuda.' Kloner comments: 'The first name following the X mark is difficult to read. In contrast to other ossuaries in this tomb, the incisions are here superficial and cursorily carved. Each of the four letters suggesting ‘Yeshua’ is unclear, but the reading is corroborated by the inscription on Ossuary 2, above (Rahmani 1994: 223).' Both Rahmani and Kloner agree that the reading of this inscription is very difficult. In fact, both place a question mark after the translation of Yeshua. Others have suggested that the name be read Hanun. Interestingly, there was another ossuary in the State of Israel collection that has a clear inscription saying 'Jesus the son of Joseph.' This ossuary, however, was unprovenanced" (Franz).

The names "Joseph," "Jesus," "Mary," and "Judah," are all common names in the 1st century AD. The Talpiyot tomb contains the bones of a Jewish family, surely, but we should not simply jump to conclusions and assume that it is the tomb of the family of Christ. From what we know of Jesus' family, they were an extremely poor family who probably could not have afforded a rock hewn tomb (although if Joseph was also a stonemason they could have made a little more money). Also, if His family had a tomb, it would not be located in Jerusalem, but in Nazareth, where Jesus and His family lived. We have good evidence from wealthy families to show that people would be buried in the town they lived in. None of the six inscriptions mentions Nazareth, and had these been the ossuaries of the family of Jesus, it probably would contain "Nazareth," though there are other ossuaries that show that this is not always the case. In the program Decoding Biblical Relics from National Geographic, which mentions that "most archaeologists are very skeptical that this could really have been Jesus of Nazareth," and that the "coincidence of names, however striking, fails to impress specialists in this period of history," also includes a forensic study.

Example of an ossuary, this one is of the High Priest Caiaphas
In this American study, forensic specialists examined the "Jesus" ossuary. The IAA put a halt to the investigations, but from the short examination, the specialists remarked that it is difficult to read the name, and it may not actually say "Jesus." They also noted that it appeared the original name on the ossuary may be underneath this inscription, and that whatever name we see, possibly Yeshua or Hanun, is superinscribed over an earlier name. There is also a claim that the tenth ossuary, which the filmmakers claim was lost, "but as Stephen Goranson points out, the original documentation of the ossuaries, A Tomb with Inscribed Ossuaries in East Talpiot, 'Atiqot 29 (1996) plainly lists that (#10) ossuary as having 'No Inscription.' If it had no inscription in 1980 how can it be the anciently-inscribed 'James' ossuary today? Recently an Israeli police officer testified in court that he saw the James ossuary in the 1970s. His recollection is backed up by a photograph of the James ossuary from that time period. Clearly, then, an ossuary found in 1980 could not be this same James ossuary. This is merely one of the items in the documentary that do not add up " (Schlaepfer). Also, Oded Golan, who claims to have found the James ossuary, says that he had found it in the 1970's. Regardless of whether or not this is true, the fact remains that the tenth ossuary had no inscription, and was broken - this is nt the James ossuary.

What of the DNA "evidence?" The filmmakers claim that DNA testing shows no relation between the alleged Mary and the alleged Jesus. Whether or not this is a man named Jesus or Hanun, simply because there is no close relation between the two does not prove that they were married and had children. This Mary could have been married to Matthew, or Judah, and the like. Indeed, she may not have been married to any of them at all, but rather a family friend. She also could have been married to one of the people in the un-inscribed ossuaries, or one of the people whose skull is out in the open. Since there was no testing done aside from between this "Jesus" and "Mary," it does not prove a thing other than the fact that these two people had no relation. 

As pointed out by Gordon Franz, M.A., "I think it is fair to say they did not take the story far enough. They got the results they wanted so they could say Jesus and Mary were not related by blood, so this proved, in their minds at least, that they were married. For their scenario, no further testing was needed. Perhaps with further DNA testing it would have been shown that 'Judah, the son of Jesus” was not related to 'Mariamene,' or that 'Jesus, son of Joseph' was not related to “Maria.' The 'James the son of Joseph, brother of Jesus' was not related to 'Jesus, son of Joseph' or 'Jose.' These results would have been devastating for their scenario, so why test any further? Leave well enough alone. This 'smoking gun' fired a blank." Clearly, it is the intention of the authors and filmmakers to try to explain away the resurrection of Christ. There is an obvious bias against Jesus' claims, against His resurrection, and against the veracity of the New Testament. There are many archaeologists, scholars, and historians who strongly disagree with the supposed "evidence" in this book and documentary.

If the authors of the work wished to remain factual in their results, they ought to have investigated further. There are several "factual mistakes that would have been caught if the book had been peer-reviewed and also fact-checked by the publisher prior to publication. For example, Beth Shemesh was not the ancient home of Samson, it was Zorah (Judges 13:2; 16:31). It is not a legend that the Judeo-Christians fled to Pella, but an event based in historical reality. Pritz’s book is even quoted in the bibliography. John the Baptizer was not beheaded by Herod the Great, but rather, by his son Herod Antipas. The Aegean Islands do not spread “westward in long chains to the volcanic remnants of Thera” from Mt. Athos. Thera (Santorini) is to the south of Mt. Athos, and the only chain of islands are the Sporades and beyond them is the island of Evia and then the mainland of Greece" (Franz). 

There are eighteen non-Christian ancient documents which attest to the existence of Jesus outside of the New Testament, which in and of itself is another twenty-seven documents, along with the testimony of the early church fathers and others. There is no record of one who claimed that Jesus did not exist, but we have many which claim that Jesus did exist. Overall, it is quite clear that given what has been examined here and elsewhere, the lofty claims of the authors and filmmakers hold little weight.

The Truth Ministries would like to thank you for taking the time to read this article of "The Truth." Feel free to email us at or, visit our facebook page, or visit our ministry website.  It is the mission of this ministry to "demolish arguments and every pretension that sets itself up against the knowledge of God, and we take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ" (2nd Corinthians 10:5). We also understand that many will disagree with our position, our claims and our ministry, and we recognize the individual's right to believe what he or she wills, and that some will disagree on our position regarding this particular topic. However, we stand firm upon the Bible as God's Word and hold to our conviction that the conclusion was arrived at based on what His Word tells us. Take care, and God bless you reader. Troy Hillman


"What is the Jesus Family Tomb? Has the lost tomb of Jesus Christ been discovered?." Got Got Questions Network, n.d. Web. 6 Oct 2011.

Down, David, and John Ashton. Unwrapping the Pharaohs. Green Forest, Arkansas: Master Books, 2006. Web.

Ehrman, Bart D. Lost Scriptures. 1st ed. New York: Oxford University Press, 2003. 38. Print.

Franz, Gordon. "The So-Called Jesus Family Tomb." Answers In Genesis. Answers In Genesis, 4 April 2007. Web. 3 Oct 2011.

Hachlili, R., Names and Nicknames of Jews in Second Temple Times, in: Eretz Israel 17, 1984, p. 189

Hartman, Ben (20 March 2011). "The deepest Jewish encampment?". The Jerusalem Post. Retrieved 22 March 2011.

Ilan, Tal, Lexicon of Jewish Names in Antiquity. Part I: Palestine 330 BCE-200 CE, Tubingen: Mohr Siebeck, 2002, pp. 242–248, 422-423, 450.

Rahmani, Levi, "Jerusalem’s Tomb Monuments on Jewish Ossuaries," Israel Exploration Journal 184, 1994a, pp. 220–225

Richard Bauckham. (

Schlaepfer, René. "The Truth Behind the Lost Tomb of Jesus." The Lost Tomb of Jesus?. Twin Lakes Church, n.d. Web. 6 Oct 2011.

Thompson, Marshall. "Claims about Jesus’ ‘lost tomb’ stir up tempest ." MSNBC. MSNBC, 26 Feb 2007. Web. 3 Oct 2011. 

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