Saturday, April 14, 2012

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.

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