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
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
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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