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London Times Tomb Story



I hope everyone is busy with Passover and Holy Week and does not mind being
bombarded with these news reports on the Jerusalem "tomb" with the first
century common names: I finally ran down the original story in the London
Sunday Times--it has a lot more information than all the clips I previously
sent out which I downloaded from Nexis--and which contain contradictions and
apparent errors.  If I need a Qumran connection here for the Orion
list...let's see, what about raising the following question: Given the text
James Strange recently found at the settlement, with both name of author and
date, what other personal NAMES of community members can we document in the
Scrolls now that all have been released?  Has anyone made or published such a
list yet?  
James Tabor
UNC-Charlotte

Story follows:

		The London Sunday Times
March 31, 1996

THE TOMB THAT DARE NOT SPEAK ITíS NAME

		Easter is a Christian mystery. The story of Jesus's crucifixion and
                  resurrection is the focus of Christian belief and hope of
eternal
                  life ≠ a spiritual mystery. This Easter, however, will be
different.
                  While the glorious Easter hymns echo round the cathedrals
and
                  parish churches of the land, a remarkable group of clay
caskets
                  brought to light in Jerusalem by the BBC will electrify the
                  centuries-old debate: did Jesus's body really rise from the
dead
                  on Easter morning? 

                  The caskets ≠ ossuaries in which the bones of the dead were
                  deposited in 1st-century Israel ≠ have lain on a warehouse
shelf in
                  a backwater of Jerusalem for 16 years. Israeli
archeologists saw
                  no significance in them and the tomb they were found in was
                  obliterated. Yet when they were placed in front of us, we
stood
                  dumbfounded. 

                  How, we wondered, would Christians respond when we told
them
                  of the discovery? Would they dismiss it out of hand as not
                  something devout believers could bring themselves to
consider?
                  Might some even find the nature of their faith shaken by
our
                  news? Or would they dismiss it as a hoax? 

                  We are no hoaxers; we did not create this remarkable
                  archeological evidence; we simply brought it out of
obscurity
                  after going to Israel with two questions in mind. What
happened
                  to the body of Jesus? ≠ a question you can only ask, of
course, if
                  you do not believe in His bodily resurrection ≠ and what
can we
                  now discover about the events of the time that can help
explain
                  the birth of a religion destined to transform the spiritual
life of the
                  whole world? 

                  IT WAS Barrie Allcott, director of CTVC, an independent
                  production company founded by J Arthur Rank to make
religious
                  programmes, who first had the idea for the programme to be
                  broadcast on Easter Sunday. Suppose, he said to Anne
Reevell,
                  editor of Heart of the Matter, that the body of Jesus were
found
                  in Jerusalem. How would this affect Christian faith? 

                  Ray Bruce, of CTVC, and Chris Mann, our director, flew to
                  Jerusalem for a "recce", intent on illustrating this
hypothesis with
                  the latest archeological research on crucifixion and burial
rites at
                  the time of Jesus's death. 

                  This was not as simple as it sounds. Archeology is a hot
topic in
                  Israel. It has often been alleged that Israeli
archeologists' priority
                  is to search out primarily Jewish history in this disputed
land in
                  order to reinforce today's political claims. Yet orthodox
Jews
                  harass the archeologists, daubing graffiti curses on their
sites.
                  Any human bones found must be handed over for immediate
                  reburial. Were the body of Jesus to be discovered today,
that
                  would be its fate. 

                  Israel is in a ferment of development, and wherever a
tractor goes
                  in there are likely to be interesting archeological finds.
The land is
                  eloquent with the traces of its history, but the Christian
legacy is
                  but one of many strands. What may strike Christians as
resonant
                  with meaning may be dismissed in the fervour of the
country's
                  Jewishness. 

                  That is why, perhaps, it needed outsiders to bring out from
dusty
                  archive shelves discoveries made a decade ago that compel
the
                  attention of all Christians. 

                  WHEN I joined Ray and Chris to work as the reporter on
their
                  film, things were tense in Israel. The suicide bombers had
recently
                  struck. Friends wondered why I was in pursuit of Jesus's
life
                  rather than the future of the peace process. I told them
mine was
                  the longer-running story. 

                  But I found that I also had an entirely personal problem.
In the
                  matter of Easter, you have either a Christian or a
non-Christian
                  viewpoint. There is no neutral ground outside the
resurrection
                  debate. Whatever you believe puts you somewhere within it.
Ray
                  and Chris are both professing Christians. I am not. 

                  I grew up within the mainstream Church of England belief
and
                  observation, baptised, con firmed and accepting readily the
                  Gospel story and Christianity's moral precepts. 

                  It so happens I was born on Easter Sunday. Samuel Beckett
did
                  nothing to deny the widely held belief that he was born on
Good
                  Friday, the 13th ≠ taking, I suspect, a wry pleasure in
such a
                  doom-laden start for a writer whose work was so depressing.
In
                  similar but opposite vein, I have always regarded my Easter
birth
                  as a personal blessing. The benison of a religion I was to
love
                  and to forsake. 

                  Throughout this assignment I was to find my journalist's
                  objectivity ≠ and my historian's scepticism ≠ warring with
a deep
                  current of ancient faith and a love that once held a
central place in
                  my life. 

                  I was working with tenacious individuals. Ray is a man of
restless
                  energy, with contacts across the Middle East. He hails
friends at
                  every turn. He knows how to open doors. Chris, after 17
years on
                  Songs of Praise and similar programmes, recently embarked
on a
                  series ≠ Ancient Voices ≠ involving the search for historic
truths.
                  In Israel, he had the air of somebody living on the edge of
                  volcanic excitement, only restrained by an almost military
                  discipline and impeccable manners. 

                  Chris had made the programme's crucial discovery before my
                  arrival. He and Ray first had examined the Catalogue of
Jewish
                  Ossuaries, published in 1994, listing all the ossuaries
discovered
                  in Jewish tombs bearing any kind of mark or inscrip tion.
They
                  were looking for ossuaries listed as bearing the name
Jesus, son
                  of Joseph. Their purpose was not to make any religious
claim.
                  They needed an ossuary simply as an example of what might
                  have happened to the body of the historic Jesus. 

                  Chris had learnt that two "Jesus, son of Joseph" ossuaries
from
                  the 1st century AD ≠ what Israeli archeologists call the
2nd
                  Temple Period ≠ were stored in the warehouse of the Israel
                  Archeological Authority, an old factory on a side street in
                  Romemma, a rundown suburb of Jerusalem. 

                  Baruk Brendel, one of the curators, had let him in, saying:
"If you
                  have the catalogue number, I'll get the yellow card out."
All good
                  archeological institutes are obsessed with accuracy and
                  cataloguing, and only slowly could Chris fire Baruk with
                  enthusiasm for his search. 

                  The first Jesus ossuary was little more than a broken
shard, with a
                  mark supposedly of a fish and an inscription. Chris knew a
6in
                  diameter piece of pottery makes an uninspiring picture. He
                  persisted in seeking out the second ossuary. 

                  More faded library numbers drawing-pinned to wooden
shelves;
                  up and down; more stacked shelves. Finally, he had exactly
what
                  he needed for filming: a clay box, 65cm by 25cm by 30cm,
                  inscribed in ragged Hebrew lettering with the words "Jesus,
son
                  of Joseph". 

                  Chris might well have been satisfied to find the single box
and
                  leave. Something made him pause. "Do the ossuaries on
adjacent
                  shelves," he inquired, "have any relationship to this one?"
"Oh
                  yes, they were all found in the same tomb." 

                  Slowly, matching catalogue numbers to library cards, the
name of
                  each ossuary found alongside "Jesus, son of Joseph" in the
tomb
                  was revealed to Chris. First Joseph, written in Hebrew.
Beside it,
                  in lettering of the same period, Mary. Then there was a
second
                  Mary, this time in Greek. Another bore the name Matthew.
And of
                  a different date, on an ossuary bearing a traditional
decorative
                  motif ≠ Juda, son of Jesus. Six ossuaries in all. 

                  "It felt like the balls of the national lottery coming up
one by one
                  and approaching the jackpot," said Chris. 

                  The second Mary was not a problem. There is, as Chris was
well
                  aware, a reference in the Gnostic gospel of Philip, a text
from the
                  beginning of the Christian era found in Egypt in 1945. It
reads:
                  "The companion of the Saviour is Mary Magdalene. But Christ
                  loved her more than all the disciples and used to kiss her
often on
                  the mouth." 

                  The speculation that flooded Chris's mind remains just that
≠
                  speculation. Yet the tug of famil iar names ≠ Mary, Joseph
and
                  their son, Jesus ≠ is hard to resist. Sunday school days
have
                  imprinted them on young minds. The canon of European art,
the
                  focus of worship in a million churches, have reinforced
their
                  impact. The names are icons of our culture. How could we
not
                  respond when Chris told us what he had found? We wanted to
                  film the ossuaries. 

                  We remained well aware that the names may indeed be no more
                  than a chance alignment. Indeed, Tal Ham, one of Israel's
                  foremost experts on Jewish and early Christian history,
left no
                  doubt. She has collected all the names that appear on
ossuaries,
                  on inscriptions on papyri and other written sources, from
about
                  the 2nd century BC to about the 2nd century AD. 

                  Her compilation has been nicknamed the telephone directory
of
                  the period. She told us: "Mary is the most common name for
                  women. Joseph is the second most common name for men, after
                  Simon. Jesus is also one of those very typical names. So I
would
                  say the chance that this is the cave tomb of Jesus of
Nazareth
                  and his family is not very likely." 

                  We heard her. We believed her. But what if Jesus had died,
there
                  had been no resurrection and he had been buried with his
                  parents? Their ossuaries would certainly read: Mary and
Joseph
                  and Jesus, son of Joseph. Wouldn't they? 

                  We made further inquiries and found that a blast of TNT had
                  apparently led to the discovery of the Jesus family tomb.
Clearing
                  the ground for the building of new apartments in East
Talpiot, a
                  suburb of south Jerusalem, workmen had broken through into
a
                  cave tomb of the 1st century AD. Whenever this happens,
                  archeologists are summoned instantly and the finds removed
and
                  recorded with speed. In this case, an archeologist called
Joseph
                  Gath had been called in. He had identified the find as a
Jewish
                  family tomb of the 2nd Temple Period and catalogued the six
                  ossuaries. 

                  There was a snag. The ossuaries were empty when they were
                  found. The bones of Joseph, Mary, Jesus son of Joseph, the
                  other Mary and the rest of the family had already been
                  vandalised, probably in antiquity. Dating the layers of
debris
                  lying above them, Gath had placed the damage well in the
past. 

                  There was another snag. Gath had made his findings in 1980
and
                  had since died of a heart attack. An apartment block now
stood
                  above the site of the tomb. 

                  DESPITE the snags, the ossuaries seemed sensational to us.
                  What did others think? We sought the advice of Amos Kloner,
a
                  distinguished Israeli archeologist. One morning, he took us
                  bowling along in the fresh spring air outside Jerusalem and
                  suddenly called a halt. On either side of the road were
fields of
                  grass speckled with flowers, rising on our right to a low
ridge with
                  trees. He explained: "I stop not for your filming, but
because I
                  want you to know this is the Vale of Elah where, according
to the
                  First Book of Samuel, chapter 17, David slew Goliath.
Goliath and
                  the Philistines came from the west over there." 

                  He stood there smiling in the shimmering morning and I knew
he
                  felt for his scripture as I feel for mine. But the Old
Testament of
                  battles and dynasties, of exile and captivity, leaves a
historical
                  trace. The Christian story is harder to pin down or
uncover. 

                  Kloner is a leading expert on 1st-century burial sites and
he was
                  taking us to a site called Kirbet Midras, one of the
grandest ≠ a
                  two-chamber tomb with a large round stone rolled away in
just
                  the way we imagine from the traditional Easter story. 

                  He explained that Jewish burial in the time of Christ
usually went
                  in two stages. Immediately after death the body ≠ washed,
                  cleansed with oil, perfumed with ointment and wrapped ≠
would
                  be laid full-length on a stone slab within the inner family
tomb. 

                  It would be left there ≠ its primary burial ≠ sealed for a
year, by
                  which time it would be not much more than bones. For the
                  secondary burial, these bones would be collected together,
                  placed in a stone ossuary and stored in a niche, a kokh
(plural
                  kokhim) within the tomb. 

                  However, according to Kloner ≠ who cited chapter 8 of The
                  Tractate Mahot, a Jewish commentary, as evidence ≠ families
                  regularly returned three days after the first burial to
check
                  whether the person might still be alive. He told of a case,
                  mentioned in 3rd-century Jewish writing, of a man restored
from
                  such a tomb to his family who went on to father more
children.
                  First-century Jewish customs allowed for the possibility
that
                  apparent death might not always be the real thing and
provided
                  for checks to be made on the third day. Thus, nothing in
the
                  Gospel account of Jesus's burial surprised Amos. "It is
exactly as
                  we would expect for a Jew in the 1st century AD," he said. 

                  He poured cold water, however, on our suggestion that the
six
                  ossuaries in the warehouse at Romemma could be those of the
                  Christian holy family. First, the names were just too
common. "It
                  is just a chance . . . I think the possibility of it being
Je sus's
                  family very close to zero." Second, "The family of Jesus
coming
                  from Nazareth is a family of limited generations. The cave
we are
                  talking about was used by a family, even a wealthy family,
for
                  several generations." Third, our attention had been drawn
to the
                  fact that after the name Jesus there appeared to be a cross
                  scratched in the stone. This he dismissed as nothing more
than a
                  mason's mark. In any case, he insisted, the cross did not
come
                  into use as a Christian symbol until the early part of the
4th
                  century. 

                  His fourth point was not so persuasive. Amos believes Jesus
was
                  not buried in a Jewish family tomb in what is now East
Talpiot,
                  some three miles from Jerusalem itself. 

                  He thinks ≠ as Christians do, and other Israeli
archeologists agree
                  ≠ that Jesus was buried in a new tomb given by Joseph of
                  Arimathea at a site where the Holy Sepulchre now is, near
the
                  Calvary hill. The area had been a soft limestone quarry and
was
                  used as a necropolis. 

                  We pointed out, however, that if Jesus's bones had indeed
rested
                  there in the first place, they would have been moved, as
early as
                  the 1st century, to another location. For although the
burial site
                  was originally outside Jerusalem's walls ≠ to conform with
Jewish
                  purity laws that burials were never allowed within the city
≠ in the
                  mid-1st century, at the time of Agrippa the Just, the city
was
                  extended and a third wall built. All tombs newly enclosed
within
                  the city walls were emptied and the bones moved elsewhere.
The
                  Jesus family tomb in East Talpiot dates from this period. 

                  Amos did not raise the challenge that others might: were
the
                  inscriptions on the Jesus family ossuaries simply a hoax?
We had
                  no way of authenticating them scientifically and we knew
that the
                  discovery in 1945 of a cave tomb of ossuaries bearing
                  Hebrew-Greek inscriptions, which were initially believed to
be
                  lamentations by Jewish disciples for the death of Christ,
were less
                  convincing once the translations were subjected to
scrutiny. 

                  The Jesus family ossuary inscriptions had all been formally
                  catalogued under numbers 701 to 706. Number 704 was
described
                  as "difficult to read, as the incisions are clumsily carved
and
                  badly scratched" but recorded as "Yeshua son of Yohosef" ≠
                  Jesus, son of Joseph. 

                  The possibility of a misreading, the frequency of all the
names,
                  mean the statistical probability of its being the holy
family is low.
                  But Joe Zias, an anthropological archeologist with the
Israel
                  Antiquities Authority, was intrigued. "The combination of
names
                  is really impressive," he said. "Had it not been found in a
tomb I
                  would have said 100% of what we're looking at were simply
                  forgeries. But this came from a very good, undisturbed
                  archeological context. It was found by archeologists, read
by
                  them, interpreted by them . . . a very, very good text.
It's not
                  something which was invented." 

                  Zias also confirmed that being subjected to public
humiliation
                  and the disgrace of crucifixion was no bar to the dignity
and
                  respect of individual burial. Excavations carried out by
the Israel
                  Antiquities Authority at Giv'at Ha-mivtar in north
Jerusalem after
                  the 1967 six-day war revealed the bones of a crucified man
                  deposited in his own individual ossuary. His name was
engraved
                  on its surface. The evidence was conclusive because the
heel
                  bone was pierced by a 10cm nail and traces of wood are
still
                  pinned between the nail head and the bone itself. 

                  Zias made other helpful points. "We know now it's
impossible to
                  crucify anybody through the palm of the hand. There are no
                  bones there, simply flesh. The best place to put the nail
is
                  between the ulna and the radius ≠ high up on the wrist.
When
                  you're looking at crucifixion scenes post-14th century, the
                  suffering Jesus, blood and tears, you're looking at
theology, not
                  history," he said. It was what he said about the process of
death,
                  however, that was most intriguing: "It was very difficult
in
                  antiquity telling when a person was dead." 

                  I mentioned that the Gospels speak of Christ being on the
cross
                  for three hours. "If he was up there for three hours at
least, then
                  Christ died of hypovolemic shock, not because he was
                  asphyxiated. What happens is that as the whole meta bolic
                  system gets weaker and weaker, the signs of life become
much
                  more difficult to detect. It's very risky in terms of
determining
                  death." 

                  So it is medically possible that Jesus could have been
taken down
                  from the cross, believed to be dead and actually still been
alive?
                  "Oh, sure, sure. There's textural evidence of people being
thought
                  to be dead and being found to be in a coma." 

                  There is a quandary in using the Gospel accounts as the
starting
                  point for an argument that Jesus lapsed into a coma
mistaken for
                  death, because it returns full circle to the reliability of
the Gospels
                  themselves. On the other hand, archeologists are turning up
                  artefacts that clearly reinforce the stories told in the
New
                  Testament. 

                  A few years ago Zvi Greenhut, of the Israel Museum, found
12
                  ossuaries in a cave tomb of the 2nd Temple Period breached
by a
                  bulldozer in south Jerusalem. The most elaborate, now on
display
                  in the museum, is an ossuary of elegant beauty, its formal
                  decoration of spirals and circles as sharp as if newly cut.


                  An inscription reads "Joseph, son of Caiaphas", which could
also
                  mean Joseph of the family of Caiaphas. It is the first time
the name
                  Caiaphas has appeared in archeological excavation, and
Greenhut
                  believes it could refer to Caiaphas, the Jewish high
priest, who
                  handed Jesus over for trial to the Romans. 

                  Another name involved in Christ's passion has also turned
up in
                  recent tomb excavations, that of Alexander, son of Simon of
                  Cyrene. The Gospels tell how Simon carried Jesus's cross
for part
                  of the way along Calvary. Tal Ham refers again to her
telephone
                  directory of Jewish names and comes up with a positive
                  identification. 

                  "There are 250 Simons. So if it just said Simon of Cyrene,
I would
                  probably say there was a surge of immigrants called Simon
from
                  Cyrene, in north Africa, to Jerusalem. But because we have
the
                  name Alexander and that is not such a popular name with
Jews ≠
                  only 20 in the directory ≠ and the biblical Simon of Cyrene
is said
                  to have sons Alexander and Rufus, then the chance that this
is
                  the ossuary of the son of Simon of Cyrene who carried
Jesus's
                  cross is very likely." 

                  Another small piece in place in the biblical story and
confirmed in
                  the historical record. Clearly, archeology is making
discoveries
                  that show the New Testament to be accurate in matters of
                  background, burial rites and mourning, and about certain
                  individuals. The central figure, however, and the
transcendental
                  moment of Easter continue to elude those who come seeking
                  proof and verification. 

                  When I flew out of Tel Aviv, President Bill Clinton was
also
                  leaving after a visit and security was fierce. Closely
questioned
                  about my visit, I explained about the search for Jesus and
the
                  finding of the ossuaries. "Do you have any proof of this?"
I was
                  asked. After producing programme notes, I was allowed
through.
                  But the question lingered: do you have any proof of this?
We
                  have proof of nothing more than the existence of ossuaries
with
                  names central to the Christian story. What Christian
believers and
                  experts and, indeed, non-believers, make of the find will
provide
                  abundant discussion for the debate. 

                  * Heart of the Matter: The Body in Question. Easter Sunday,
                  BBC1, 11pm 

                  Profile: Douglas Hogg