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

Our team returned to the States a few days later and a precious sample of the cloth, hastily licensed for scientific export, was shipped off to the Accelerator Mass Spectrometry Laboratory at the University of Arizona in Tucson for carbon-14 dating. It was in this lab, back in 1988, that the "Shroud of Turin" had been dated to A.D. 1300, demonstrating it to be a medieval forgery. As fate would have it, the scientist I contacted in Tucson, Dr. Douglas Donahue, was the individual who supervised the C-14 tests on the Turin shroud. I did not tell Donahue anything about the provenance of our sample -- only that we knew it was not modern and we wanted it to be rushed if possible. As the days passed I found it hard to think of anything else or to concentrate on my other work.

Just after noon on August 9, Donahue reached me by phone at my office at the university. He had the results of the tests. His voice was matter-of-fact and subdued. He asked me if I was sitting down and as he began to read aloud his report I detected a hint of excitement. The Akeldama shroud had been scientifically dated to the first half of the 1st century A.D. -- precisely to the time of Jesus!

Donahue faxed me a copy of his report and I sent it immediately to Gibson in Jerusalem. In his cover letter Donahue closed with an interesting observation: "Our friends from Shroud of Turin days would certainly have appreciated a result like this. I will be interested to know the ramifications of this result." At the time we had just begun to study the tomb and what remained of its contents. None of us could have imagined the far-reaching ramifications that would come to light.

The tomb itself had been strewn with hundreds of fragments of broken ossuaries and scattered bones. Only one large heavy ossuary was left intact, but it had no inscription. What the tomb robbers typically do is remove only a few of the finest ossuaries, preferably some with clear or interesting inscriptions, so as not to flood the antiquities market where they hope to carry out clandestine illegal sales to collectors. They purposely break the rest and carry out only the pieces that have the inscriptions, since such fragments can be easily sold and draw little attention.

Gibson put together an impressive team of experts to begin scientific analysis of the remains of the Tomb of the Shroud, including forensic anthropologists, textile experts, DNA specialists, paleobiologists, and epigraphers. The fragmented ossuaries had to be restored, the cloth of the shroud analyzed, and DNA and other biological tests done on the skeletal remains. In the end twenty ossuaries were restored and three of them had inscriptions that had been missed by the thieves. The clearest one has the name "Maria" or Mary written in Aramaic. A second one possibly is the name "Salome."

The DNA tests done on the various bone samples were quite successful, even after two thousand years. We were able to establish a network of sibling and maternal links between the individuals buried in the tomb. Typically families and extended families used the same rock-hewn tomb over several generations. As for our shrouded individual, we were able to determine that "he" was indeed an adult male, probably of aristocratic birth, that he suffered from leprosy (Hanson's disease), and, microbiological tests indicated, that he most likely died of tuberculosis.

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