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The Talpiot Tomb (or Talpiyot Tomb) is a rock-cut tomb discovered in 1980 in the East Talpiot neighborhood, five kilometers south of the Old City in east Jerusalem. It contained ten ossuaries, six of them with epigraphs, including one with the inscription that has been interpreted as "Yeshua bar Yehosef" ("Jesus, son of Joseph"), though this text is disputed. The tomb also yielded various human remains and several carvings. The Talpiot find was first published in 1994 in "Catalogue of Jewish Ossuaries in the Collections of the State of Israel" numbers 701-709, and first discussed in the media in Britain during March/April 1996. Later in 1996, an article describing the find was published in volume 29 of Atiqot, the journal of the Israel Antiquities Authority. A controversial 2007 documentary film produced by Canadian film director James Cameron and investigative journalist Simcha Jacobovici titled The Lost Tomb of Jesus and a book written by Jacobovici, together with Charles Pellegrino, The Jesus Family Tomb present findings that the authors believe prove that the Talpiot Tomb was the burial place of Jesus of Nazareth, as well as several other figures from the New Testament. This claim is disputed by many archaeologists and theologians, as well as language and biblical scholars.
History and time period
The archaeological team that excavated the tomb in 1980 determined it to be from the Second Temple period, which lasted from about 538 B.C. to A.D. 70. Typical of the area, a tomb of this type would be assumed to have belonged to a wealthy Jewish family. About 900 similar tombs have been unearthed in the same area.
Discovery and excavation
The tomb was discovered on March 28, 1980, by construction workers laying the foundations for an apartment complex, when preparatory demolition work accidentally uncovered the tomb's entrance. The site was visited the next day by Amos Kloner, the area supervisor for the Israel Department of Antiquities (IDA, now the Israel Antiquities Authority, or IAA.) Kloner drew up a set of preliminary sketches and requested a permit for a salvage dig to be directed by Yosef Gat. The permit was issued Monday, March 31, but work actually began the day before. Although it has been said that the team was only given three days to complete the work, Gat's notes indicate that the work proceeded "intermittently" until its official end on April 11, with most of the work completed within the first two days. Construction of the apartment buildings was completed in 1982. The children of Tova Bracha, a local resident, managed to get into the tomb and play inside. Bracha notified the authorities, who sealed the entrance for safety reasons. The children found some discarded Jewish religious texts that had been placed in the tomb, which was being used as a genizah. Jacobovici and his film crew opened the tomb again in 2005. Their footage was incorporated into the 2007 documentary The Lost Tomb of Jesus. As Jacobovici and his crew had neglected to obtain permission from the Antiques Authority, an official ordered that the tomb be resealed. The tomb, which is not open to the public, is located in a courtyard on Dov Gruner Street, down a flight of stairs at the corner of Olei Hagardom and Avshalom Haviv Streets. On January 17, 2008, Ruth Gat, the widow of the archaeologist who discovered the tomb in Talpiot, claimed that Yosef Gat had kept the discovery a secret until mid-1990's because he was afraid a wave of antisemitism would ensue if he didn't do so.
The tomb is carved from the solid limestone bedrock.Within are six kokhim, or burial shafts and two arcosolia, or arched shelves where a body could be laid out for entombment. The ossuaries were found within the shafts.
Ossuaries: Ten lime stone ossuaries were found, with six of them bearing epigraphs although only four of them were recognized as such in the field. The archaeological team determined the ossuaries to be of little note, and delivered them to the Rockefeller Museum for analysis and storage. According to Jacobovici, Cameron, and religious studies professor James Tabor, one of the unmarked ossuaries later disappeared when it was stored in a courtyard outside the museum. This claim has been criticized by both Joe Zias, former curator of the museum, and Kloner. Names said to have been on the ossuaries were: Yeshua bar Yehosef Maria Yose Yehuda bar Yeshua Maramene e Mara Matya Each of the ten ossuaries contained human remains, said to be in an "advanced state of deterioration" by Amos Kloner.The tomb may have been multi-generational, with several generations of bones stored in each ossuary, but no record was kept of their contents and no analysis appears to have been done to determine how many individuals were represented by the bones found. In addition, three skulls were found on the floor of the tomb below the 0.5 meter fill layer, and crushed bones were found in the fill upon the arcosolia. The scattering of these bones below the fill indicated that the tomb had been disturbed in antiquity.All the bones were eventually turned over to religious authorities for burial. Symbols: Some of the walls have carvings on them, including several chevron symbols. A "chevron and circle" pattern is visible above the entrance of the tomb. Some believe this is a depiction of the Nicanor Gate of the Temple of Jerusalem, which appears on coins from this period.In the same way that the Nicanor gate marked the end of a pilgrimage, the entrance to the tomb may have marked the end of a pilgrimage. Some have noted that the chevron and circle look like the Greek letters Lambda and Omicron, respectively; others contend that the Paleo-Hebrew letters Dalet and Ayin would be more likely referents. Media coverage:
The BBC first aired a documentary on the Talpiot Tomb in 1996 as part of its Heart of the Matter news magazine. At that time, Amos Kloner, the first archaeologist to examine the site said the claims of a connection to Jesus did not hold up archaeologically, adding "They just want to get money for it.The tomb was featured on the Today Show on February 26, 2007, where it was mentioned that the ossuaries were sent to New York. 2008 Princeton Symposium: Following a symposium ("Third Princeton Theological Seminary Symposium on Jewish Views of the Afterlife and Burial Practices in Second Temple Judaism: Evaluating the Talpiot Tomb in Context") held in Jerusalem in January 2008, the media interest in the Talpiot tomb was reignited with most notably Time and CNN devoting extensive coverage, hailing the case as being reopened. In particular Simcha Jacobovici is reported to have issued statements to the press saying the symposium has reopened the case and that he felt "totally vindicated". Jacobovici has denied making any such press release. It was during this symposium that Ruth Gat, while accepting a posthumous award for Yosef Gat, announced: "My husband, the lead archaeologist of the East Talpiot tomb in southern Jerusalem, believed that the tomb he excavated in 1980 was, indeed, the tomb of Jesus of Nazareth and his family." Following the media's portrayal scholars present at the symposium accused Simcha Jacobovici and James Cameron of misleading the media in claiming the symposium reopened their theory as viable. Several scholars, including significantly all of the archaeologists and epigraphers, who had delivered papers at the symposium issued an open letter of complaint claiming misrepresentation, saying that Jacobovici and Cameron's claims of support from the symposium are "nothing further from the truth". The list of scholars who signed the open letter of criticism included: Professor Jodi Magness, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill Professor Eric M. Meyers, Duke University Choon-Leon Seow, Princeton Theological Seminary F.W. Dobbs-Allsopp, Princeton Theological Seminary Lee McDonald, Princeton Theological Seminary, visiting Rachel Hachlili, Haifa University Motti Aviam, University of Rochester Amos Kloner, Bar Ilan University Christopher Rollston, Emmanuel School of Religion Shimon Gibson, University of North Carolina at Charlotte Joe Zias, Science and Antiquity Group, Jerusalem Jonathan Price, Tel Aviv University C.D. Elledge, Gutavus Adolphus College Joe Zias, Senior Curator of Archaeology/Anthropology for the Israel Antiquities Authority 1972-1997, cited a leaked memo issued from James Tabor before the symposium as proof of "outside intervention by Simcha and Tabor in order to distort the agenda and skew the proceedings in a way that was favorable to their pre-conceived plan". Géza Vermes issued a statement saying that the arguments for the Talpiot tomb are not "just unconvincing but insignificant". That "Discounting a handful, headed by James Tabor and Simcha Jacobovici, the maker of the documentary, The Lost Tomb of Jesus, most of the fifty or so participants shared this opinion". Princeton Theological Seminary issued a letter following the controversy and reiterated concerns that: "the press following the symposium gave almost the exact opposite impression (of the symposium's results), stating, instead, that the conference proceedings gave credence to the identification of the Talpiot tomb with a putative family tomb of Jesus of Nazareth. As is abundantly clear from the statements to the contrary that have been issued since the symposium by many of the participants, such representations are patently false and blatantly misrepresent the spirit and scholarly content of the deliberations." The proceedings of the symposium will be edited by James Charlesworth and published. A recent edition of the scientific journal Near Eastern Archaeology (Vol. 69, Iss. 3/4, Sep-Dec 2006), published by The American Schools of Oriental Research contains several articles concerning the Talpiot Tomb, including an overview over the controversy. The Lost Tomb of Jesus and The Jesus Family Tomb: Main articles: The Lost Tomb of Jesus and The Jesus Family Tomb The Lost Tomb of Jesus premiered on The Discovery Channel on March 4, 2007, timed to coordinate with publication of Jacobovici's book The Jesus Family Tomb. Jacobovici argues that the bones of Jesus, Mary and Mary Magdalene, along with some of their relatives, were once entombed in this cave, working with statisticians, archaeologists, historians, DNA experts, robot-camera technicians, epigraphers and a forensic expert to argue his case. This claim is rejected by most biblical scholars of archaeology. Israeli archaeologist Amos Kloner, who was among the first to examine the tomb when it was first discovered, said the names marked on the coffins were very common at the time. "I don't accept the news that it was used by Jesus or his family," he told the BBC News website. "The documentary filmmakers are using it to sell their film." In 2011 Tabor and Jacobovici examined (although without fully excavating) the 1st century Jewish tomb next to the alleged 'Jesus Family tomb'. The results of that examination have not yet been released. Tabor has indicated that they will be released at a press conference in November 2011, and in a forthcoming book.