Well, you know how approximately 2 billion people believe that Jesus, a Jewish man, died and then was resurrected?
It seems that a little old lady has just given her husband a re-birth of sorts. And in the process, has brought back to life a little controversy about Jesus and his death.
The widow of the Israeli archeologist who led the excavation of a hugely controversial First-Century burial tomb in Jerusalem’s Talpiot neighborhood 28 years ago said on Wednesday that her late husband knew he had found the burial place of Jesus and was afraid the discovery would trigger a wave of anti-Semitism because of the apparent challenge to Christian beliefs.
Ruth Gat unleashed her archeological earthquake when accepting a lifetime achievement award on behalf of her late husband, Yosef Gat of the Department of Antiquities, at the conclusion of a four-day academic conference in Jerusalem, at which leading archaeologists, epigraphers, biblical experts, statisticians and other scholars gathered to evaluate “the Talpiot Tomb in context.”
A small-framed, frail-looking lady, Mrs. Gat told the scholars calmly that her husband knew he had found “the burial tomb of Jesus Christ,” and that he had “serious concerns and fears” over the consequences of his discovery. She noted that Yosef had been a child in Nazi-occupied Poland, and that with his bitter childhood memories still in mind, he had feared “a wave of anti-Semitism” might erupt as a result of the Talpiot find. She said she was relieved that the world had “changed for the better,” and that this feared reaction had not come to pass.
Speaking briefly to The Jerusalem Post after her address, Mrs. Gat said her husband had been “staggered” by the discovery, and that he had discussed it with her “at the kitchen table.”
Gat died soon after excavating the Talpiot tomb in 1980, and left only minimal notes of what had been found there.
So, like, Jesus was buried?
Well, that’s what Simcha Jacobovici and James Cameron claimed in their movie The Lost Tomb of Jesus. Now we don’t always see eye to eye with Mr. Jacobovici (see this and this). Also, we have deep suspicions about any amazing ancient discoveries because some fraudsters tricked the experts for many years.
However, we now have the wife of the Israeli archaeologist who excavated this tomb and who studied it (I’m assuming) at length claiming that her husband believed Jesus was buried in this little ossuary. Jacobovici was at the conference and was overjoyed to hear the news, I’m sure. Not so some of the people who studied the work of Yosef Gat.
The findings were only written up 16 years later by the former Jerusalem District archeologist Amos Kloner, who has consistently ridiculed the notion that the First-Century tomb was related to Jesus in any way. Kloner restated that position to the Post after Mrs. Gat spoke, and said the idea that Gat had believed he had found Jesus’s tomb was “absolutely not the case.”
Uh oh, now I’m really confused.
He’s not the only one to disagree.
At the concluding session of the symposium, following Mrs. Gat’s comments, two of the five panelists – Dr. Shimon Gibson, who was a young archeologist on the 1980 dig, and Eric Meyers, a professor of Judaic Studies at Duke University – indicated that they did not believe the tomb on East Talpiot’s Dov Gruner Street was linked to Jesus. Gibson also said Gat had never told him he believed the tomb was Jesus’s.
But, of course, there are those who agree…
Two others panelists – Israel Knohl, a professor of Bible at the Hebrew University, and James Tabor, chair of the Department of Religious Studies at the University of North Carolina – said it was very possible that this was the tomb of Jesus.
But another scholar disagreed…
The highly respected chairman of the symposium, James Charlesworth, professor of New Testament language and literature at Princeton Theological Seminary, rejected the idea that Jesus had been buried at the tomb, but said, “We have to be open to the possibility that [the tomb] is related to the Jesus clan.”
Among his objections to the notion that an ossuary from the Talpiot tomb bearing the apparent inscription “Yeshua son of Yehosef” was that of the founder of Christianity, Charlesworth said, was that the inscription was “graffiti, just scratching,” and that the ossuary was “lousy.” He found it unthinkable that the followers of Jesus would have put “the remains of ‘the messiah’ in such a horrible ossuary.”
Don’t you worry, dear readers, because we are never going to know.
Kloner also told the Post last year that when the ossuaries were found nearly three decades ago, most of the bones inside had been badly decomposed. Due to haredi pressures put on the Israeli government, no anthropological tests were ever carried out on the remains, he said, and the bones were transferred to the Religious Affairs Ministry for immediate reburial along with assorted other remains found in various construction projects and digs. The location of the bones, which were then interred by the Jewish burial society, is not known.
Dem old bones are gone for good and the site is sitting under two buildings.
This isn’t a bad thing because it keeps all these experts and filmmakers gainfully employed for years to come as they debate whether Jesus was buried there or wasn’t buried there and whether the tomb included his family or didn’t include his family. Somebody will come along and declare that even if it is Jesus, somehow the discovery doesn’t change anything about Christianity and then another somebody will come along and declare that it can’t be Jesus because, well, because there were no bones. And so on, and so forth.
And in the meantime Mrs. Ruth Gat will go home quietly, tend to her house and the memories of living with her husband Yosef…with perhaps a small smile on her face.
UPDATE: In comment #15 below, CrockonCrock copies what seems to be a letter from a number of scholars who claim the newspaper reports about Mrs. Gat distort the true conclusions of the scholars at this conference. The letter, which appears to be taken from a blog associated with a university where a couple of the signatories work, states that the scholarly consensus at the conference was that there isn’t any connection between this tomb and Jesus.
(image up top is from The Aramaic Blog, copyright 2007)