Jesus Tomb: Conclusion

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The Jesus TombIt’s time to wrap up the matter of the “Jesus family tomb.” I conclude that this is a serious case of overreach. The book that in its subtitle claims that it contains “the evidence that could change history” and the sensationalist claim that it propagates are most likely going to be thrown into the trash heap of discarded theories in biblical archeology.

Let’s see if you agree that, soberly assessed, this is what we know of the “Jesus family tomb”:

1. The “Yeshua bar Yehosef” (if this is the correct reading) is almost certainly not the Jesus of the Bible. This man had a son named “Yose,” but there is complete silence in our historical sources that the Jesus of the Bible had a son, named “Yose” or otherwise.

2. The “Mariamenou-Mara,” alleged to be “Yeshua’s bar Yehosef’s” wife, Mary Magdalene, is almost certainly not Mary Magdalene, and may have been related to “Yeshua” (almost certainly not Jesus of the Bible) in any number of ways. There is no historical evidence whatsoever that Mary Magdalene was called “Mariamene” during her lifetime or at the time she was buried. Curiously, this is the only inscription in Greek (not explained by the makers of the “Jesus tomb” special).

3. The “Maria,” alleged to be Jesus’ mother, is one of a very large number of women bearing that name in first-century Palestine. There is no information regarding her family relationship to “Yeshua bar Yehosef” whatsoever.

4. Nothing is known about the person named “Matia” (the ninth-most common name in first-century Palestine).

5. “Yose” was a common abbreviated form of “Yehosef” (the name of “Yeshua’s” father).

6. “Yehuda bar Yeshua” was the son of the “Yeshua bar Yehosef.”

The only demonstrable family relationships are therefore as follows:


[father of]


[father of]


All three are exceedingly common names, with Yehosef being the second-most common name in first-century Palestine, Yeshua the sixth-most common, and Yehudah the fourth-most common name.

Beyond this, the fact is that we do not know how “Mariamenou-Mara,” “Maria,” “Yose,” and “Matia” were related to these people.

In this regard it is also very important to remember that even though we only have six persons named in ossuary inscriptions from that tomb, there may have been as many as 35 buried in this family tomb. This surely must have an important bearing on computing statistics but has thus far been largely overlooked.

Add to this the fact that the inscriptions are in Hebrew, Aramaic, and Greek, which may suggest that we have here a multi-generation tomb (noted by Witherington).

One final question: In light of the fact that “Mariamenou” is in the genitive case, and “Mara” was a common abbreviation for “Martha,” is it possible that the woman’s name was “Martha [daughter of] Mariamene [Mary]”?

To conclude, I believe the past week or ten days surrounding the airing of the “Jesus tomb” special have been highly instructive. They have been instructive with regard to the need to sift through evidence carefully before jumping to conclusions. They have shown the need for specialized expertise in biblical studies, archeology, statistics, and so on. They have also revealed massive ignorance with regard to the nature of Jesus’ resurrection and the way in which it is indispensable for the Christian faith.

Surely, as we prepare to celebrate Easter, we owe a debt of gratitude to God and the way in which he has used the makers of the “Jesus tomb” special to deepen our appreciation for Jesus’ death, burial, and resurrection—the Christian gospel—and the way these events are reliably portrayed in the New Testament. The myth propagated by the makers of the “Jesus family tomb” special cannot hold a candle to the reality of the resurrection of the Jesus of the Bible. Truly, what others meant for personal profit, God meant for our good and his greater glory.

SOURCES USED: For an excellent discussion of what we know about the six names in the ossuary inscriptions see Richard Bauckham’s “The alleged ‘Jesus family tomb.’” See also Craig Blomberg, “Did They Really Find Jesus’ Bones?” and several blogs by Ben Witherington.


  1. The statistics clearly show that the odds of a family having this specific grouping of names are at least 1 in 600. Therefore, Statistics is flawed and does not always reveal the Truth. ;)

  2. Before the Talpiot Tomb story disappears off the media radar screen, it’s important to realize it does raise one critically important question for every individual.
    How do you want this story to turn out?

    The serious and intensely relevant outcome of the Talpiot tombs tale we find in the response of each individual.
    In taking the outcomes of archeological research to their (impossible) extremes, everyone can ask which of two extreme discoveries they would cheer.
    On the one hand, archeologists could find an empty tomb with interior walls seared by an inexplicable blast of radiation, re-crystallized rock structures precisely dated by isotopic composition to 2007 years ago, and dried drops of blood with Deoxyribonucleic Acid (DNA) exactly matching that on the Shroud of Torino (Turin). Boom, the resurrection story is true!….and you better start thinking about how you will respond to it.
    In the other extreme, archeologists could find a sealed casket or ossuary complete with verifiably undisturbed contents, with dating incontrovertibly and accurately establishing by multiple techniques an age of 2007 years, and the box conveniently labeled with the name and history of their resident, one Yeshu bar Jehosef of Nazareth. That history, carved in authentic Greek or Aramaic of the period (definitely not Latin) would in a nutshell describe how Yeshu got crucified, put in this box, and obviously stayed there.
    Take your pick. Which happy ending do you want? I ask that with no facetiousness whatsoever. Either archeological outcome, taken to such impossible extremes, would inescapably force people to face up to some very personal issues.
    That question, which outcome do you want, forces a choice, doesn’t it? Or as I would say, it forces The Choice.
    To either of the two extreme options, many folks will respond with an enthusiastic “Whoo Hoo!”
    Some will celebrate “yes, eternal life! All the promises are true! We will live in His Kingdom, in peace, in continual worship, in selfless love!”
    To the other extreme discovery many people will celebrate “yes! No eternity to worry about! It was all an institutional scam! I don’t have to worry about ever facing that […], or that turning the other cheek stuff, or forgiving, or loving, or being called to judgment! Party on!”
    The present controversy over yet another P.T. Barnum style publicity stunt involving some illegible letters chiseled into old stone boxes will soon blow over, though not before some tidy little profits are tucked away in someone’s burgeoning investment portfolio.
    But that question, what outcome do you want, won’t go away. The individual’s response to that question defines their foundation for every choice through every day. Living for today versus eternity, living for the self or for others, living with hope or with money, living as part of God’s universe or as a Youniverse around which you expect everything else to orbit.
    Which outcome you really would like to see (were such a definable outcome possible) is the purest of all choices. There is no convincing, no arguing, no debating, no logic or rationale, no compilation of data, facts, or discoveries that ultimately compel the individual’s free Choice of desired outcome.
    Some dusty stone boxes and a shrewd entrepreneur simply pose one more phrasing of that age old Choice, the freest of Choices we each ever have to face: how do we want the story to end….how do we want our story to end……which is to say, what story will we write with our life today.
    Don Ray, (from


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