The Tomb of Jesus?
Dr. Robert C. Newman
Emeritus Professor of New Testament & Christian Evidences
Biblical Theological Seminary
There has been a good deal of hype in the last few days regarding the discovery of the alleged tomb of Jesus. The tomb, excavated in Talpiot, a suburb of Jerusalem in 1980, included a number of ossuaries, several of which were inscribed with names that are suggestive of Jesus and his family. Here we wish to analyze various alternative explanations of the data.
1. Tomb of Jesus. The tomb really is the tomb of Jesus of Nazareth, the alleged Messiah. He died but did not rise from the grave.
Pro: The name fit is impressive. See the discussion by proponents of this view.
Con: Given the immediate belief in Jesus’ resurrection and the prominence of Jesus’ family in the early Christian movement, is it really believable that they would have a bone-box in their family tomb with his name on it? Their wealth and prominence would have been inextricably linked both to Jesus’ messianic claims and to belief in his resurrection! A first century fraud in which a Jesus-family tomb was invented by opponents of Christianity would make more sense. It should also be noted that deciphering the ossuary inscription as “Jesus” has been questioned, and that “Hanun” is a possibility.
2. Tomb of Jesus’ Family. The tomb is the tomb of some relatives of Jesus, but he was never buried there.
Pro: The name fit is equally impressive. Since Jesus had a brother named Jose(ph), it would require only that this brother named a son of his “Jesus” to explain all the ossuary inscriptions.
Con: We have no evidence that Jesus’ brother Jose(ph) named one of his sons “Jesus.”
3. Tomb of Some Other Family. The tomb has no connection with Jesus of Nazareth.
Pro: Though the name fit is impressive, the names are really rather common ones in the period. (The Loeb edition of the works of Josephus identifies 21 different individuals named Jesus in its indices.) There is no evidence in the tomb that tells us the relationship of the names on the various ossuaries; thus there is no reason to believe that the “Joseph” on one ossuary is the husband of the “Mary” on another, or that the “Mariamne” on one ossuary is the wife of the “Jesus son of Joseph” on another. Besides, Jesus adoptive father Joseph has apparently already died before Jesus’ ministry begins. Why would he be buried in Jerusalem when the family was living in Nazareth?
Con: Only the name fit can count against this, as there were many thousands of people who lived and died in Jerusalem during the several generations that bone boxes were used in Jewish burial procedures.
There is excellent evidence that Jesus’ resurrection was believed from the very beginning of the Christian church and that the opponents of Christianity had no better argument than that Jesus’ disciples stole his body from the tomb while the guards delegated by Roman and Jewish authority to keep any such thing from happening were asleep. See the various discussions by Gary R. Habermas, for instance. This would hardly be the case if Jesus’ family tomb included a bone-box with his name on it and his bones in it!
The fulfillment in Jesus of the biblical predictions concerning the Messiah is quite impressive. See my discussions in various PowerPoint talks on the IBRI website at www.ibri.org, and in the books Robert C. Newman, ed., The Evidence of Prophecy and John Warwick Montgomery, ed., Evidence for Faith: Deciding the God Question.