Excerpt: 'The Jesus Dynasty' by James D. Tabor

But it was the "almost" that interested the producers. And everyone did seem to acknowledge that this particular cluster of names, among the hundreds of ossuaries catalogued, was unparalleled, however common the individual names might have been. Joe Zias, curator at the Rockefeller Museum and perhaps as familiar with Jewish tombs in the area as anyone, seemed to be the only expert that thought the grouping might be statistically significant and at least deserved further investigation. He commented: "Had it not been found in a tomb I would have said 100 percent of what we are looking at are forgeries. But this came from a very good, undisturbed archaeological context. It is not something that was invented."19

The only way anything else could be done scientifically would be to carry out mitochondrial DNA tests on the bone samples to at least ascertain how the individuals buried there might be maternally related. Such tests, no matter what the results, could not "prove" that this particular Jesus was the one who became known as Christ, but they could show whether any of these individuals were offspring of either of the two Marys, or had a sibling relationship to one another.

If neither of the Marys turned out to be mother to this "Jesus," it would at least eliminate the possibility that this was the mother and son of Christian faith. But one of the Marys could also be a sister. Since Joseph was such a common male name we should not assume that the ossuary with the name "Joseph" was necessarily for the father of the one called "Jesus son of Joseph." He could easily be related in another way, or not at all. For example, Jesus of Nazareth also had a brother named Joseph.

Neil Silberman once quoted David Flusser, the late and great professor of ancient Judaism and early Christianity at Hebrew University, on this subject:

Many years ago a man from the BBC came to me and he asked me if the Dead Sea Scrolls will harm Christianity. I said to him that nothing can harm Christianity. The only thing which could be dangerous to Christianity would be to find a tomb with the sarcophagus or ossuary of Jesus -- still containing his bones. And then I said I surely hope that it will not be found in the territory of the State of Israel.20

This is the stuff of which novels are made and there have been several published about "finding the bones of Jesus," but in the real world of archaeology such things smack of sensationalism. Biblical scholar Father Jerome Murphy O'Connor of Jerusalem's Ecole Biblique commented that although there was no way to prove the ossuary inscribed "Jesus son of Joseph" had contained the bones of Christ, if such proof could be made "the consequences for the faith would be disastrous."21

The Israelis are very sensitive to the Christian world and maintain official diplomatic relations with the Vatican. They are pleased to fill the role of the welcoming custodians for Christian tourism of the Holy Land. The last thing in which they want to be involved is some archaeological find that would spark controversy or provoke Christian theological debates. A Jesus "family tomb" would be problem enough, but one that contained an ossuary marked "Jesus son of Joseph" would surely place them in the most delicate situation imaginable.

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