The tomb of Jesus and his family?
Reactions by theologians and others
Theologians' reactions to the tomb:
Most Christian theologians responded negatively to the suggestion that Jesus'
family tomb had been discovered. Many of them seemed to quite frightened by the
possibility of a surviving family tomb. A common argument is that the matches between
the names on the ossuaries and the names of Jesus and his family of origin is
coincidental. That is certainly possible. However, the chances are remote
according to a statistical calculation that
has been made.
Some specific criticisms are listed below. We have included duplicate
criticisms only once. We have not included personal criticisms. [Our comments
are added in brackets]:
||Amos Kloner is a professor at Israel's Bar-Ilan University. He
researched the tomb for the Israeli periodical Atiqot in 1996. He
told the Deutsche Presse-Agentur:
"It's a beautiful story but without any proof whatsoever." 1
[Few things from the first century CE and earlier
can be proven.]
||Andreas Kösstenberger of Biblical
Foundations, a fundamentalist Christian group, pointed out that:|
||According to Ben Witherington III, Simcha Jacobovici is a practicing
orthodox Jew. Kösstenberger wrote, in a
statement that some might consider anti-semitic: "To me, at least,
this one has the almighty dollar sign written all over it." [On the
other hand, if a fundamentalist Christian had produced the program, and
if the reviewer were religiously bigoted, the latter might suggest that
the producer was hopelessly biased in the opposite direction. Only an
Agnostic might appear to some to be relatively unbiased.]
||There is no real proof that the bones in the ossuary marked "Mariamne"
were from Mary Magdalene. [Again, there is merely a strong indication from the
names on the ossuaries,
||Confirmation that the bones were from Jesus' family would require an
independent control DNA sample from a member of his family. Without that
proof, the only indicator that this is Jesus' family tomb is the
coincidence of names. [That type of evidence would provide a proof or
disproof. But it is impossible to obtain]
||There is no historical evidence that Jesus had a child. [Of course,
there is no evidence whether Peter or the other apostles had children
either. Peter, who the Roman Catholic church
considers to be the first pope, was apparently married because there is
mention in the Bible of Peter's mother in law. We might assume that he
had children, because most couples did in those days; but there is no
||There is no historical evidence that Jesus was married. [There is no
evidence to indicate that any of his disciples were married either. We
can assume that most of them were married because there was intense
social pressure for people to marry in first century Palestine.] However, Mary
Magdalene's actions at Jesus' tomb would only be done by a wife. And there
is a passage in an non-canonical gospel of Jesus kissing Mary Magdelene -- an
activity that would have been socially unacceptable unless they were engaged or
||"... all the earliest accounts of Jesus’ death and burial
indicate that Jesus’ body could not be found and had not been moved."
[There is no indication in the writings of Paul that he knew of the
empty tomb or of the virgin birth; if he had
he certainly would have written about them if he was aware of them. Both are first mentioned in
Matthew, written circa 80 CE. Many liberal
theologians suggest that both are inventions of the early Christian
movement, and part of its growing folklore about Jesus.
||If Jesus had been buried, then all the early Christian martyrs
including the apostles knowingly died for a fraudulent religion. "...
this is highly implausible." [History is full of cases where religious
believers died for a religion based on beliefs of events that never happened.
Jesus' disciples appear to have believed that they saw Jesus in his
resurrected form. That would have been sufficiently convincing to
inspire the apostles to have a firm commitment to Jesus and
Christianity, even onto death.
||Kösstenberger suggests that
...highly suspect use of statistics and DNA 'evidence' " is
involved to support the case that the tomb belonged to Jesus and his
family. [Unfortunately, he does not give any indication of what the
||There is no evidence that Jesus' immediate relatives had a family
tomb. [Of course, there is no evidence that any of the other Apostles
had a family tomb either.] 2
||Ben Witherington III wrote in his blog that this "...is a story full of
holes, conjectures, and problems. It will make good TV
and involves a bad critical reading of history." His criticisms include:|
||Jesus' family members such as James would not have referred to Jesus
as "Jesus son of Joseph." [They might well have referred to Jesus
as "Jesus of Nazareth." James was a Jewish Christian who headed
the Jerusalem church. When the concept of the virgin birth came along
late in the first century CE, Jewish Christians rejected it. Jewish Christians,
like Muslims, also rejected Jesus' divinity. So, James
might well have referred to Jesus as "Jesus son of Joseph."
Besides, with an ossuary labelled "Jesus, son of Jose" in the
tomb, it would be logical for a Jewish Christian to refer to Jesus as "Jesus, son of Joseph"
in order to differentiate between the two]
||The Bible lists James, Joses, Jude and Simon as brothers of Jesus.
Matthew's name does not appear. [This is true. However, he might have
existed but not taken an active role in the early Christian movement.
Thus he might not have been mentioned in the Bible. Jesus had at least
two sisters, but their names are not mentioned either.]
||If Jesus family tomb existed with his ossuary in it, then one must
accuse James, Peter and John of committing a fraud and cover-up by
propagating the belief in Jesus' resurrection. [But Jesus' bones in a
tomb are compatible with his resurrection. They merely indicate that
sometime later in his life after his death and resurrection, he died for
the second time and was buried according to Jewish custom.]
||The James ossuary contained soil from Silwan, which is some distance
from Talpiot. The nine ossuaries from Talpiot did not have soil of any
type in them. [Someone could have dumped soil from Silwan into James
ossuary in order to increase its credibility as the actual ossuary of
||The first Christian historian, Eusebius, reports that the tomb marker for James was close to the
temple mount where he was martyred, not in Talpiot. [Many theologians do
not regard Eusebius' history of the early Christian movement to be
particularly reliable. He lived from circa 275 to 339
CE, centuries after James died circa 62 CE.] 3
||In an article for the Wall Street Journal, Ben
Witherington III suggested that:
||"we have a Matthew in the tomb, but Jesus had
no brothers named Matthew." 9 [This is a curious
comment. In fact, we don't know how many brothers Jesus had. The
Bible does mention four brothers by name as mentioned
above. But it does not mention the names of his two or more sisters,
and does not mention additional brothers who might have existed.
"Why would most the holy family from Galilee
be buried in a middle-class tomb several miles outside of Jerusalem
in some sheep pasture? They were, in fact, poor and could not afford
an ornamental tomb like this one. This family was from Nazareth,
too, with connections in Bethlehem. Why wouldn't its members be
buried in one of those places? 9
[There were many wealthy patrons who supported
the early Christian movement. Perhaps they purchased a tomb for Jesus
and his family because they felt that they deserved a high quality tomb
near the Jerusalem temple rather in the fields of the Galilee. Most
theologians regard the association of the holy family with Bethlehem to
be a myth.]
Reaction by non-theologians:
||James Tabor, an experienced archeologist, author of the book "The Jesus
Dynasty," and a professor at the University of North Carolina appears
in the documentary. He told the Toronto Star:
"To have a material link to Jesus ... is wonderful. It's an
archeological dream. ... There's a part of you that says, it's too
amazing. How can it be right? ...
This is archeology. We got the casket. We've got the bones. I think we
can say, in all probability, Jesus had this son, Jude, presumably
through Mary Magdalene." 4
[There is no proof that the tomb had anything to do
with Jesus. There is a strong statistical indicator that it is the family
tomb, but that is all]
||Archaeologist Shimon Gibson, a senior fellow at the W. F. Albright
Institute of Archaeological Research in Jerusalem said: "I would like
more information. I remain skeptical." 7
||Lawrence E. Stager, the Dorot professor of archaeology of Israel at
“This is exploiting the whole trend that caught on with ‘The Da Vinci
Code.’ One of the problems is there are so many biblically illiterate
people around the world that they don’t know what is real judicious
assessment and what is what some of us in the field call ‘fantastic
||Prof. Amos Kloner oversaw the excavation of the site in the 1980s as the
district archeologist of Jerusalem. Commenting on the movie, he said: "It
is not scholarly and not scientific. It's very amateur [sic]." 8
||Julie Stahl of Cybercast News Service™ posted a comment titled "Jesus
Tomb' Filmmakers Should Be Ashamed, Archeologist Says." She wrote:
"The assertions in the documentary fly in the face of Christianity
and the Bible, which says that Jesus was crucified and buried but rose
again from the dead after three days and later ascended into heaven.
According to the Bible, Jesus never married or had children."
[However, the ascension story in Luke has been interpreted as a spiritual
not a bodily ascension by some Christians. That would leave open the
probability that Jesus could have died many years later and been buried with
his immediate family. Also, the Bible does not say that Jesus never married
or had children; the Bible doesn't comment on his marital and parental
statuses or on most of the disciples'.] 8
||"The American Society for the Defense of
Tradition, Family and Property," a pro-Roman Catholic organization,
organized a protest against the Discovery Channel for scheduling the Jesus
Family Tomb documentary. They describe the movie with such terms as "One
more Gnostic onslaught," "Archeological fiction," "pseudo-scientific,"
"Gnostic propaganda," "Gnostic partisanship," Their article concludes:
"Facing this new onslaught, we must hold fast to our
Faith and deepen our knowledge of it. We must also manifest our
indignation against these public attacks on the adorable Person of Our
Lord Jesus Christ."
"Let us not forget we are members of the Church
Militant. By Baptism and Confirmation, we are made milites Christi,
soldiers of Christ. One only really loves that which he is willing to
defend. If we truly love Christ and his Church, we must oppose these
pernicious ideas." 10
Our own reactions:
It seems so unlikely that a finding so momentous could be found in the 21st
century after two millennia.
It seems very unlikely that Jesus' family remains would be in a tomb located
in Jerusalem, when their place of residence was at Nazareth in the Galilee.
However, the early Christian movement might conceivably have transferred their
bodies or ossuaries to the holy city.
The Roman method of execution was a carefully designed process intended to
terrorize the local population: The victim was hung naked on the cross. The
cross was located in a well-traveled location so that many people would view the
execution. The victim's body was not given a proper ritual burial. It was left
hanging on the cross to be eaten by scavengers. Afterwards, the remains were thrown in a
In his book "Who killed Jesus?" John Dominic Crossan wrote:
"First, the crucified one is especially a disobedient slave or anyone
considered an equivalent nobody, hence its designation as the slave penalty.
Second, the crucified one is left unburied on the cross as carrion."
All of this was designed to maximize the fear felt by the Jewish people. If
this was actually the fate of Jesus' body, as it was for many thousands of Jews
in the first century CE, then one would not expect his
bones to have been transferred to the family tomb.
It is vital that additional DNA testing be performed so that the
inter-relationships among the human remains is established. In the event that
the tomb is determined to be the family crypt of Joseph and Mary, DNA testing
would indicate whether Joseph was the father of Jesus. Both historical Christianity and
Islam teach that Mary was a virgin at the time of Jesus' birth. The
virgin birth -- actually virgin conception -- is
considered one of the cardinal beliefs of Christianity.
The following information sources were used to prepare and update the above
essay. The hyperlinks are not necessarily still active today.
Stuart Laidlaw, "Jesus tomb claim sparks furor," The Toronto Start,
Andreas Kösstenberger Biblical Foundations,
Ben Witherington, "The Jesus tomb? 'Titanic' Talipot tomb theory sunk from the
start," Blogspot, 2007-FEB-26, at
Jennifer Viegas, "Jesus Family Tomb Believed Found," Discovery News, at:
John Dominic Crossan, "Who Killed Jesus? Exposing the Roots of Anti-Semitism in
the Gospel Story of the Death of Jesus," HarperSanFrancisco, (1996).
reviews or order this book safely from Amazon.com online book store.
John Dominic Crossan, "Was Jesus Buried?," Beliefnet, at:
Laurie Goodstein, "Crypt Held Bodies of Jesus and Family, Film Says," New
York Times, 2007-FEB-27
Julie Stahl "'Jesus Tomb' Filmmakers Should Be Ashamed, Archeologist Says," CNS
News Service, 2007-MAR-01, at:
Ben Witherington III, "Tomb of the (still) unknown ancients: More Jesus hype of
the 'Da Vinci Code' type," Wall Street Journal Opinion Journal, 2007-MAR-02, at:
Luis Sergio Solimeo, "The 'Jesus Family Tomb:' One more Gnostic onslaught," TPF,
Copyright © 2007 by
Ontario Consultants on Religious Tolerance
Originally written: 2007-FEB-26
Latest update: 2007-AUG-08
Author: B.A. Robinson