Scholars highly skeptical of new findings linking James ossuary to supposed tomb of Jesus
A few weeks ago, an Israeli geologist met with a reporter from the New York Times in the lobby of Jerusalem’s King David Hotel. The geologist brought along evidence.
Just before Easter, the Times came out with his story.
The geologist, Aryeh Shimron, claims to have proof of a connection between a famous ossuary, or burial box for bones, and a tomb in the environs of Jerusalem that, he believes, was the final resting place for Jesus of Nazareth, his wife and his family.
If he were right, his theory would call into question the truth of the Resurrection. The Times explained:
Hailed by some as the most significant of all Christian relics but dismissed by skeptics amid accusations of forgery, misinterpretation and reckless speculation, two ancient artifacts found here have set off a fierce archaeological and theological debate in recent decades.
At the heart of the quarrel is an assortment of inscriptions that led some to suggest Jesus of Nazareth was married and fathered a child, and that the Resurrection could never have happened.
Now, the earth may have yielded new secrets about these disputed antiquities. A Jerusalem-based geologist believes he has established a common bond between them that strengthens the case for their authenticity and importance.
The story isn’t new. It features an ossuary bearing the Aramaic inscription “James son of Joseph brother of Jesus,” which was the subject of a forgery trial over a decade ago, and a local tomb made famous in a James Cameron documentary that aired in 2007, "The Lost Tomb of Jesus."
The burial chamber, which subsequently became known as the Talpiot Tomb, contained 10 ossuaries, some with inscriptions that have been interpreted as “Jesus son of Joseph,” “Mary” and other names associated with New Testament figures.
Granted, those and other names found in the tomb—Mary Magdalene, Matthew, and Judah—were very common in Jesus’ day. But Cameron, of Titanic fame, and fellow film-maker Simcha Jacobovici engaged the services of a statistician, who determined that the chance of finding all the names in one place were 1-in-600.
The James ossuary is owned by an Israeli collector and is kept in a secret location. If it could be proven that it came from the Talpiot tomb, the addition of the names it bears to the cluster of names in the tomb would bolster the view that the site was the burial place that belonged to the family of Jesus of Nazareth.
Shimron believes he is able to prove that theory through a geochemical match between "specific elements found in samples collected from the interiors of the Talpiot Tomb ossuaries and of the James ossuary," the Times reported on Holy Saturday.
When the Talpiot ossuaries were discovered, they were covered by a thick layer of a type of soil, Rendzina, that is characteristic of the hills of East Jerusalem and was apt to impose a unique geochemical signature on the ossuaries buried beneath it….
Dr. Shimron based his research on the theory that an earthquake that convulsed Jerusalem in A.D. 363 flooded the Talpiot Tomb with tons of soil and mud, dislodging its entrance stone and, unusually, covering the chalk ossuaries entirely.
“The soil created a kind of vacuum,” he said. “The composition of the tomb was simply frozen in time.”
For the last seven years, Dr. Shimron has been studying the chemistry of samples from chalk crust scraped from the underside of the Talpiot ossuaries and, more recently, from the James ossuary. He has also studied samples of soil and rubble from inside the ossuaries. In addition, for comparative purposes he has examined samples from ossuaries from about 15 other tombs.