Question About the Talpiot Controversy

I started following the Talpiot tomb(s) controversy a few days ago.  I know, I’m late!  Sometimes, the biblioblogging controversies interest me.  Sometimes, they don’t.  And, sometimes, something is thrown in my face enough times that I just have to see what all the raucous is about.  The last is what happened to me in terms of the Talpiot tomb(s) controversy.

I’ll give you a little summary of the controversy, and then I’ll ask a question.  At Talpiot in Jerusalem, there is what James Tabor and Simcha Jacobivici believe is the family tomb of Jesus, for it contains a tomb of Jesus, the son of Joseph as well as a tomb of Maria.  There is also a son of Jesus among those tombs, and so there is a belief that Jesus had a son.  Detractors argue, however, that these names were so common in those days that we cannot say that this was Jesus of Nazareth’s tomb.

Elsewhere in Talpiot, there is an ossuary.  An ossuary is a chest for human bones.  On the ossuary in question, there is something, but there is debate about what that something is.  (Click here to see some images.)  Tabor says that it’s a fish spitting out a human being, and that we see on this ossuary an allusion to the story of Jonah, which Jesus likened to his own resurrection in Matthew 12:40.  For Tabor, this ossuary is talking about the resurrection of Jesus.  Others contend that it’s an image of something else, however—-a vase with handles, or a nephesh (which means “soul” in Hebrew, but I’m not sure what it means in terms of this ossuary).  Different sides have looked at other ossuaries and the decorations on them (i.e., vases) in making their arguments about this particular ossuary.  Personally, when I look at the ossuary, those “handles” look to me like they could easily be fins, but I’m far from being an expert on this topic, and I have only superficially looked at this debate.

But, if Jesus is in a tomb, does that mean he was not risen from the dead?  How could the early Christians believe in and proclaim Jesus’ resurrection, when their opponents could easily point out where Jesus’ tomb was?  These are not the questions I promised near the beginning of this post, for Tabor already addresses them.  For Tabor, there was an early Christian belief that Jesus’ resurrection was spiritual rather than physical (I Corinthians 15).  Consequently, Jesus’ bones could be in a tomb, and yet early Christians could proclaim that Jesus was risen, for their conception of Jesus’ resurrection was not physical.

Now for my question, which may be elementary, but I have not yet found anything that answers it: Where does Tabor believe that Jesus was buried?  Was it in the family tomb, or in the ossuary?  In news stories that I have read, Tabor says that Jesus was buried in the family tomb, and yet that Jesus’ resurrection was celebrated not far from that.  But an ossuary contains bones, right?

(UPDATE: I think I found my answer on wikipedia.  See here.  It says: “A body is first buried in a temporary grave, then after some years the skeletal remains are removed and placed in an ossuary…During the time of the Second Temple, Jewish burial customs included primary burials in burial caves, followed by secondary burials in ossuaries placed in smaller niches of the burial caves.”)

If you’d like to go deeper and read more about this controversy, James McGrath has some posts with links (see here, here, and here).  At many of these links, you can read Tabor interacting with his detractors.

About jamesbradfordpate

My name is James Pate. This blog is about my journey. I read books. I watch movies and TV shows. I go to church. I try to find meaning. And, when I can’t do that, I just talk about stuff that I find interesting. I have degrees in fields of religious studies. I have an M.Phil. in the History of Biblical Interpretation from Hebrew Union College in Cincinnati, Ohio. I also have an M.A. in Hebrew Bible from Jewish Theological Seminary, an M.Div. from Harvard Divinity School, and a B.A. from DePauw University.
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8 Responses to Question About the Talpiot Controversy

  1. James, I happened to see this pop in on Google. Glad to meet you here! It just so happens that I put up a blog post on this myself today, take a look, and let me know what you think:


  2. jamesbradfordpate says:

    Hi Dr. Tabor! Thank you for your response. I read that post this morning, and I really enjoyed it!

    I guess my question to you is about where you believe that Jesus was buried: the family tomb or the ossuary—-since both tombs and ossuaries contain bodies. Was one a memorial whereas the other was what contained the body? My impression is that you think that the tomb had Jesus’ body, whereas the ossuary was an object that was used to celebrate Jesus’ resurrection. But is there evidence that ossuaries were ever NOT used to hold bones?

    I hope I’m making my question clear.


  3. I think Jesus was put in the ossuary inscribed “Jesus son of Joseph,” in the first Talpiot tomb, the one with the other five names. Nearby is the tomb of the family, maybe Joseph of Arimathea, that had provided Jesus and his family with a burial place. The ossuary with the Jonah image is in that 2nd tomb, yes, and was a celebration of his “exaltation” to heaven.


  4. jamesbradfordpate says:

    That’s interesting. So, in this scenario, Jesus’ bones were moved to the family tomb of Joseph of Arimathea. I’m curious as to why this would have taken place, but I could probably find the answer in your book, as well as the documentaries. I don’t get cable, but I could find another way to watch them.

    Thanks for your response, Dr. Tabor!


  5. James,
    It depends on how you look at the world. If you think the Creator needs to step into His creation and do “miracles” or if you think He is perfect and made His creation that way. Perfect in the sense that everyone abides by the rules He made, physics, laws of nature, logic. If you ascribe to the latter then everyone is on the same playing field. If the former then if becomes a subjective game and that means the rules change with the participants, e.g. everyone is not equal. If you say He might do “miracles” then his original plan wasn’t perfect. It is grammar school discrete mathematical logic.

    Consider that for the sake of a level playing field that the man Yeshua (that was his name and it was found inscribed on his ossuary, not J*esus) was dead in the respect that many have been thought or even pronounced dead. The Roman soldiers would be the most surprised as to incomplete an execution could conceivably put their heads on the chopping block. So they thought he was dead. But human bodies can be very resilient. And after three days, though beat up real bad, he walks. Then after another 46 he finally dies of his wounds. That would again put us all on the same playing field. Man lives, man dies. His body is placed in the Talpiot Tomb (A) and then after a year they are placed in an ossuary with his name inscribed into it, Yeshua bar Yoseph.

    An very complete compilation of the Talpiot Tomb (A) is found in the Mashiach section of the History Museum at


  6. jamesbradfordpate says:

    Thanks for your thought-provoking comment, Elihu (is that your name?).


  7. אליהו קאן says:

    It it is spelled Eliyahu. Since I am living in Israel I use the Hebrew spelling, but I should have used the English here. Did you find the History Museum? Here is a link,


  8. jamesbradfordpate says:

    Thanks for the link!


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