But the official catalogue of ossuaries in the State of Israel collection, published by Rahmani in 1994, also includes just nine ossuaries from this tomb. And yet we know that the tenth was definitely given a catalogue number by the IAA: 80.509.
As we arrived at the Bet Shemesh warehouse the curator told us even before we were taken to the area where the Talpiot ossuaries were shelved that there was a minor problem -- one ossuary was missing. IAA 80.509, number ten in Kloner's report, was nowhere to be found. It had disappeared.
I have no idea what to make of this. In the vast collection of antiquities now held by the State of Israel things do get misplaced. But no one seems to have any explanation for this particular case and as far as I know we were the first to recognize the problem and inquire about it. Since the Talpiot tomb contained ten ossuaries, three with no inscriptions, but six with such an interesting cluster of names, one would surely like to confirm somehow whether the single-word description of "plain" is all that can be said of the missing tenth ossuary. If it could be located and it did have a name inscribed, it would be of the greatest interest to see what that name might be.
Just recently I noticed that the dimensions of the missing tenth ossuary are precisely the same, to the centimeter, to those of the James Ossuary. Is it remotely possible that Oded Golan did acquire his ossuary many years ago -- maybe not in the "mid-'70s" as he now says, but not that long thereafter -- in 1980 or thereabouts, when the Talpiot tomb was discovered? Was that tenth ossuary stolen after it was catalogued but before the excavation of the tomb was completed? Gibson did recall that when he arrived to do his drawings, some days after the excavation began, some but not all the ossuaries were in place. Several had been moved to facilitate the excavation work. He drew them in their original locations as the director of the excavation, Joseph Gath, indicated. Gibson told me that he is not sure if all ten were on site at that time or not.
For now, pending further evidence, whether through DNA tests or retrieval of the missing ossuary, this is where the Tale of Two Tombs must end. But it is where our story of the Jesus dynasty begins. These two rock-hewn family tombs located just outside the Old City of Jerusalem reveal more vividly than any scriptural source what family burial was like at the time of Jesus. And it is here that we begin to learn about Jesus' life and the dynasty that he established before his death, for his death was certainly not the end of his mission or his legacy. The gripping story of the Jesus dynasty that follows in no way depends on the authenticity of the James Ossuary inscription, nor whether either of these two tombs was indeed the Jesus family tomb. What we can say is that Mary, the mother of Jesus, was likely buried with her family in a tomb near the Old City of Jerusalem very much like one of these. There is something about a tomb of this type, with the ossuaries, preserved bones, and the inscribed names so familiar to us after two thousand years, that brings chills up the spine as we try to imagine and connect with the past. And what is most exciting is that we never know what new evidence might emerge at any point to allow us to put more pieces of our story together. After all, as we have seen, things that are least expected seem often to turn up and surprise us all.