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

Gibson and I began to comb the ancient literature for evidence related to the use of burial shrouds and ossuaries among the Jews of Judea and Galilee in the Roman period. As it turns out, the references in the New Testament to the shrouded burial of Jesus provide us with some of our most valuable evidence related to the Jewish customs in use in the early 1st century A.D. in Jerusalem -- the very time of our man of the shroud. After all, Jesus' body was washed and wrapped in a two-piece linen shroud and laid out with spices on a stone shelf or slab in a rock-hewn family tomb just outside the walls of the Old City of Jerusalem. Our man of the shroud must have been similarly prepared for burial. We had no reason to speculate that our tomb was in any way connected with the one in which Jesus was initially taken, but as Gibson once remarked to me, our "man of the shroud" lived and died in Jerusalem in the time of Jesus and as a member of the upper classes, very likely might have observed the fateful events of that Passover weekend when Jesus was crucified.

The following year, in the summer of 2001, when I returned to Israel to continue our work at the "John the Baptist" cave, I still had the Tomb of the Shroud much on my mind. I began to make some discreet inquiries in the Old City of Jerusalem among some trusted contacts I had made in the antiquities business. I was able to determine that the missing inscribed fragments from our ossuaries had made it onto the illegal market and could possibly be recovered. At one point the principal person with whom I was dealing asked me if there would be a "bonus" payment if all the missing inscriptions were retrieved. I tried to be calm and matter of fact at this implied disclosure, excited to think that the stolen material from our shroud tomb might still be retrieved. On the other hand, I knew that making payments for stolen goods is something we could not do. I simply replied that we would discuss the matter further when I could see the fragments. I felt it was important to stress the scientific aspects of our quest. After all, my university would now be responsible for publishing the academic study of the shroud tomb and we were not collectors wanting to get hold of some new artifacts. I got the distinct impression that if no one would be prosecuted some type of "exchange" could be worked out. To recover these inscribed fragments would have been invaluable to our study of the Tomb of the Shroud because we would be able to assemble the names of the deceased and match them by DNA with the slight residue of human remains that still clung to the insides of our restored ossuaries. Gibson and I were exploring how that might legally be done when the Intifada or Palestinian uprising reached such a level that we felt it was too dangerous to carry out our plan. At one point that summer, after a series of three bombings over one weekend, we were told not even to go into the city of Jerusalem at all. We had set up our excavation at the "John the Baptizer" cave at Kibbutz Suba near the site, outside the dangerous areas.

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