subscribe: Daily Newsletter

 

Geologist claims he’s found Jesus’ tomb

0 comments

A recently completed study by an Israeli geologist has greatly increased the probability that an ancient tomb on the outskirts of Jerusalem is the final resting place of Jesus of Nazareth and his family.

The new findings by Dr Aryeh Shimron have linked an ossuary, or bone box, inscribed with the phrase “James, son of Joseph, brother of Jesus” by its chemical “fingerprint” to a tomb encased in a rose garden between a group of nondescript apartments in Talpiot, a Jerusalem suburb.

The tomb, discovered during construction in 1980, housed a remarkable collection of ossuaries upon which were inscribed several names associated with the family of the New Testament Jesus.

Although the names in the Talpiot Tomb, (which included “Jesus, son of Joseph”, “Maria”, “Mariamene”, “Yose” and others) were common in first-century Jerusalem, a cluster of names associated with Jesus in one location is statistically compelling, and unique in the archaeological evidence of his life. If yet another name associated with the New Testament family can now be sited at Talpiot, it becomes a kind of statistical snowball and creates a near-certainty that the tomb of Jesus of Nazareth has been found.

“I think I’ve got really powerful, virtually unequivocal evidence that the James ossuary spent most of its lifetime, or death time, in the Talpiot Tomb,” Shimron told the New York Times.

Dr Shimron, a 25-year-veteran of the Israeli Geological Survey, believes that an earthquake in AD 363 flooded the Talpiot Tomb with a slurry of rendzina soil and mud that left the space “chemically frozen in time”. He says that the material embedded a unique geochemical “fingerprint” which, 1 652 years later, can be used for comparative analysis.

Shimron tested about 100 samples of scrapings and soil from ossuaries, supplied to him by the Israeli Antiquities Authority, from 15 tombs throughout the Jerusalem area, including Talpiot. (In the first century, some affluent families
stored the bones of departed family members in tombs carved out of the soft limestone that surrounds Jerusalem).

Last month, Shimron was granted access to the James ossuary by owner Oded Golan and was finally able to conclude his seven-year study. His findings were remarkable: of the 100 samples, only the nine from the Talpiot Tomb and the James ossuary had matching geochemical profiles, which included magnesium, silicon and iron. A sample from a tomb just 60m away from the Talpiot Tomb had a markedly different profile.

Shimron’s findings provide a rigorous confirmation of a 2006 geochemical survey of ossuary patinas undertaken by journalist Simcha Jacobovici and noted filmmaker James Cameron and incorporated into the 2007 documentary “The Lost Tomb of Jesus”, which Cameron produced. Relying on the names inscribed on the ossuaries, along with supporting evidence from scholars and the Gospels themselves, the film concludes that the Talpiot Tomb, largely overlooked by Israeli officials, is the tomb of Jesus and his family.

Artefact collector Golan, igniting a debate over its origins and authenticity, first brought the James ossuary to public attention in 2002. In 2004, Golan was arrested and accused of forging the latter part of the inscription on the ossuary: “Brother of Jesus”. In 2012, after years of litigation, a Jerusalem district judge found Golan innocent and the ossuary was returned to him — after Professor Wolfgang Krumbein, an international expert in ancient patina, testified that the entire inscription was authentic. Just how the James ossuary came into Golan’s possession remains unclear. If the Shimron study is correct, the ossuary was taken from the Talpiot Tomb at some point, either in recent history or antiquity, and ended up in Golan’s personal collection.

Experts say the cluster of New Testament names in the Talpiot Tomb is too remarkable to be a random occurrence or coincidence. In 2007, after extensive analysis of the occurrence of names in ancient Jerusalem, Andrey Feuerverger, professor of statistics at the University of Toronto, concluded that the odds of such a cluster of names – however common the individual names were – was highly unlikely unless they represented the family of Jesus of Nazareth. The film concludes that the odds of it not being the tomb of Jesus of Nazareth were only one in 600. Put another way, this is well over a 99% probability in favour of it being the tomb of the New Testament Jesus.

If Shimron has proven that the James ossuary came from the Talpiot Tomb, “the evidence can no longer be ignored”, argues Jacobovici. “The archaeology, the epigraphy, the statistics and, now, the hard chemical evidence all tell the same story. It’s arguably the most important archaeological find of all time.”