The tombs of Jesus … and Jonah

1 March 2012

At… — a  second tomb from first century AD Jerusalem is causing a bit of a stir. It has an engraving depicting Jonah and the Whale, it is claimed. It was found on an ossuary, a chest to contain human bones, in a rock cut tomb in Jerusalem dating between 20BC and 70AD. It also has a four line inscription that seems to refer to God 'raising up' somebody – Jesus perhaps, or the person in the ossuary. It seems the idea of life after death or resurrection was in the minds of some people at that period of time – see also (and a forthcoming book, The Jesus Discovery: the New Archaeological find that reveals the Birth of Christianity and a documentary in the offing by Discovery Channel). Scholars, however, are not so pleased as they are sceptical of an early Christian presence at such an early point in time – before 70AD. However, James Tabor, professor and chair of religious studies at the University of North Carolina, says context is important. The two tombs are less than 200 feet apart and appear to have belonged to a rich family of the time.

However, a more sceptic take can be found at… where the blog author is convinced this is all a load of bumpf. He says experts specialising in the subject are definitely not being taken in by the spin – zero chance of the theory being correct is the blunt statement from one of them, and Biblical scholars seem to be equally vociferous. Apparently, we are told by one nanny type, aghast that Joe Public is being hoodwinked, that 'professional' archaeologists (you know, the type you see on Time Team) do not actively seek out Noah's Ark, the Holy Grail or the Ark of the Covenant – they really are missing out on all the fun. Such expeditions are usually mounted by 'amateurs' – and for good reason if the professionals can't be bothered. One suspects that what he meant was 'non-specialists' which illustrates the differences between academic priorities, mainly secular, and those of others, which can be fanciful. He adds, archaeologists are scientists (and archaeology is a science) and by inference people should not be running robots with cameras into ancient tombs – why not? We are also told that just because ossuaries might be marked with the name of Jesus or those of his brothers and sisters, as mentioned in the Gospels, that doesn't mean they refer to the actual Biblical characters – which is a fair point (but intriguing all the same). One of the experts then added, which is even more intriguing, that the Pharisees also believed in a general resurrection – so we do actually have the idea around in the first century AD whether or not a link with actual Christianity stands or falls. That is in fact an important point that this investigation has driven into the public consciousness – Christianity has certain parallels with the Pharisees (and Jesus may have been a Pharisee, radical or otherwise). 

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