Jesus and Fakes, Forgeries and Loose and Imaginative Interpretations

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What was said to be a fragment of the Gospel of Jesus' Wife

In 2015, a business card-sized fragment written in Coptic— which contained a translated line that said "Jesus said to them, 'My wife …'" and also refered to a "Mary," possibly Mary Magdalene — was touted as part a long-lost, potentially earth-shattering gospel, dubbed the Gospel of Jesus's Wife, that appeared to imply that possibly Jesus was married. Karen King, a professor at Harvard Divinity School, first announced the discovery of the so-called Gospel of Jesus's Wife in September 2012. King said the papyrus didn’t prove that Jesus himself was actually married, but rather that some people, who lived after Jesus' time, believed he was. [Source: Owen Jarus, Live Science, October 5, 2015 /~/]

Owen Jarus wrote in Live Science, “Radiocarbon dating indicates that the papyrus dates to around A.D. 800, and tests on the papyrus's ink confirm that it could have been created at that time. Based on these findings, King and a few other scholars have argued that the text is authentic, as it could be a copy of a text written in earlier times. However, a number of scholars have noted peculiar features of the "gospel's" writing that suggest it is a modern forgery — one possibly based off a text that first appeared online in 1997. /~/

Ariel Sabar wrote in Smithsonian Magazine,“The papyrus was a stunner: the first and only known text from antiquity to depict a married Jesus... The words on the fragment, scattered across 14 incomplete lines, leave a good deal to interpretation. But in King’s analysis, the “wife” Jesus refers to is probably Mary Magdalene, and Jesus appears to be defending her against someone, perhaps one of the male disciples. The writing was in the ancient Egyptian language of Coptic, into which many early Christian texts were translated in the third and fourth centuries, when Alexandria vied with Rome as an incubator of Christian thought. But King made no claim for its usefulness as biography, saying instead the text was probably composed in Greek a century or so after the Crucifixion, then copied into Coptic two centuries later. As evidence that the real-life Jesus was married, it is scarcely more dispositive than Dan Brown’s controversial 2003 novel, The Da Vinci Code. [Source: Ariel Sabar, Smithsonian Magazine, November 2012 ***]

“What it does seem to reveal is more subtle and complex: that some group of early Christians drew spiritual strength from portraying the man whose teachings they followed as being married. All of this assumes, however, that the fragment is genuine, a question that as of press time was far from settled. That her announcement would be taken in part as a provocation was clear from the name she’d given the text: “The Gospel of Jesus’ Wife.” ***

Websites and Resources: Jesus and the Historical Jesus Britannica on Jesus Jesus-Christ ; Historical Jesus Theories ; PBS Frontline From Jesus to Christ ; Complete Works of Josephus at Christian Classics Ethereal Library (CCEL) Biblical History: Bible History Online ; Biblical Archaeology Society

Karen King Admits Gospel of Jesus's Wife “Probably a Forgery”

Karen King

In 2016, Harvard scholar Karen L. King admitted that the “Gospel of Jesus’s Wife” papyrus is probably a forgery. Ariel Sabar wrote in The Atlantic, For four years, King “has defended the so-called “Gospel of Jesus’s Wife” against scholars who argued it was a forgery. But Thursday, for the first time, King said the papyrus—which she introduced to the world in 2012—is a probable fake. She reached this conclusion, she said, after reading The Atlantic’s investigation into the papyrus’s origins, which appears in the magazine’s July/August issue and was posted to its website. “It tips the balance towards forgery,” she said. [Source: Ariel Sabar, The Atlantic, Jun 16, 2016 |+|]

“Critics had argued for years that errors in Coptic grammar, similarities with the Gospel of Thomas, and other problems pointed to forgery. But King had placed her faith in the opinions of expert papyrologists, along with a series of carbon-dating and other scientific tests, at MIT, Harvard, and Columbia, that had turned up no signs of modern tampering or forgery. When I called her in March while reporting my Atlantic story, she said she was not interested in commenting on—or even hearing about—my findings before publication. Thursday afternoon, however, she called me to say the story was “fascinating” and “very helpful.” |+|

“Although she had exchanged numerous emails with the owner and had met him in December 2011, she realized after reading the article that she knew next to nothing about him, she said. Walter Fritz had never mentioned his years at the Free University’s Egyptology institute, his formal study of Coptic, or his work as a pornographer whose star actress was his own wife—a woman who’d written a book of “universal truths” and claimed to channel the voices of angels. He had presented himself to her as a “family man” who enjoyed trips to Disney World and was independently wealthy. “I had no idea about this guy, obviously,” she said. “He lied to me.” I asked why she hadn’t undertaken an investigation of the papyrus’s origins and the owner’s background. “Your article has helped me see that provenance can be investigated,” she said. |+|

“King said she would need scientific proof—or a confession—to make a definitive finding of forgery. It’s theoretically possible that the papyrus itself is authentic, she said, even if its provenance story is bogus. But the preponderance of the evidence, she said, now “presses in the direction of forgery.” King hoped that Fritz would allow the scrap to remain at Harvard, so that scholars could continue to probe questions of authenticity. “I’m finding myself not even really angry” at him, she said. “I’m mostly just relieved. I think the truth always makes me calm.” “ |+|

Secret Gospel Of Mark

Debra Kelly wrote in Listverse: “The supposed Secret Gospel of Mark was discovered by an apparently reputable source: Columbia University professor Morton Smith. In 1973, Smith released two books claiming to have stumbled across a letter in the ancient monastery of Mar Saba (pictured). The letter was supposedly written by the early church father Clement of Alexandria and detailed the existence of a longer version of the Gospel of Mark, intended only for full initiates into the “mysteries” of Christianity. This long version apparently included Jesus raising a young man from his tomb, and a subsequent meeting between Christ and the recently raised boy. [Source: Debra Kelly, Listverse, May 9, 2016 ==]

“The sections summarized in the letter seem somewhat suggestive, featuring the youth visiting Jesus at night “wearing a linen cloth over his nakedness” to be “initiated into the mystery of the Kingdom of God.” The letter’s version of Clement evidently agreed, complaining that heretical sects obsessed with “carnal doctrine” were falsifying the text to support their own interpretation. The letter ends with Clement recommending that the very existence of the Secret Gospel should be denied at all costs.==

“So is the letter real or a forgery? Well, it’s hard to be sure, since nobody can actually find it and Morton Smith apparently had most of his papers burned when he died in 1991. Under these circumstances, the letter would usually be dismissed as a fake, but Morton Smith was a genuinely respected scholar and many experts are reluctant to regard him as a forger without firm evidence. Whole books have been written debunking the letter, while others argue that it is authentic. [Source: Debra Kelly, Listverse, May 9, 2016 ==]

“Almost nobody believes that the Secret Gospel alluded to in the letter was the original Gospel of Mark, cut down to produce the shorter version in the Bible. There just isn’t any other evidence for the existence of a longer gospel, even though it would doubtless have been a topic of hot debate at the time. That leaves the theory that Smith forged the whole thing, although it remains impossible to say for sure. Another possibility is that the letter is an ancient forgery, although the motive for that would be unclear.==

“Perhaps the most intriguing theory is that Clement did write the letter, but was wrong in his belief that Secret Mark was the original Mark. Clement was known to have a fascination with mystery rituals and might have been attracted to the idea of similar secret knowledge within Christianity. In fact, the dubious nature of some of Clement’s ideas caused the Catholic Church to drop his feast day in 1600, while the Eastern Orthodox Church is similarly reluctant to regard him as a full saint. But, again, there simply isn’t enough evidence to be sure.” ==

Newark Holy Stones

Decalogue (Newark) Holy Stone

Debra Kelly wrote in Listverse: “Beginning in 1860, a Newark, Ohio, man named David Wyrick supposedly discovered two pretty incredible artifacts. The first, dubbed the “Decalogue Stone,” was a piece of limestone carved with an image of Moses and the Ten Commandments. The second was “the Keystone,” a wedge-shaped stone carved on four sides with the phrases “Holy of Holies,” “King of the Earth,” “The Law of God,” and “The Word of God.” While the Decalogue Stone is inscribed with an odd version of Hebrew, the Keystone uses Hebrew letters that date back to the time of the Dead Sea Scrolls. [Source: Debra Kelly, Listverse, May 9, 2016 ==]

“The stones were initially touted as evidence of an ancient Jewish presence in North American, but experts now almost unanimously consider them to be hoaxes. Among other things, the Decalogue Stone is written in a garbled version of modern Hebrew and contains marks from a 19th century grinding stone. In fact, the biggest mystery surrounding the stones now seems to be the question of who forged them. Wyrick is the obvious suspect, but his sketches seem to indicate he lacked the artistic talent needed to carve the figure of Moses. So either someone else made the stones or Wyrick was particularly smart at hiding his con. ==

“Meanwhile, various conspiracy theorists (and the History Channel) continue to tout the stones as genuine artifacts covered up by a nefarious archeological conspiracy. In fact, the History Channel documentary featured above led archeologist Brad Lepper to pen an acerbic response: “The idea that my colleagues and I are hiding the supposed truth about the Decalogue Stone is the most absurd claim of all. If we had actual evidence to prove that Hebrews had traveled to ancient America, we would get our pictures on the cover of National Geographic magazine. Large grants would be lavished upon us and we would get to re-write the textbooks. Why would I choose to remain an underpaid museum archaeologist when “fortune and glory” were within my grasp?” ==

Jesus’s Brother James and His Tomb

Although initially skeptical of Jesus’s divinity James became a leader in the early Christian movement in the mid 1st century after the departure of the Apostle Peter to Rome. Thought to be the author of the “Epistle of James,” James went against Paul by arguing that the Torah should be upheld. The historian Josephus recorded that James was stoned to death in A.D. 62 at the instigation of the Jewish high priest Ananus.

In the early 2000s a 20-inch-long ossuary (a box for holding bones) was found in Israel and described as a possible ossuary of Jesus’s brother James. Heralded as the earliest known reference to Jesus outside the Bible, it was dated at A.D. 63 and was etched with an inscription in Aramaic, reading “James, son of Joseph, brother of Jesus.”

The ossuary was heralded as the first direct evidence of the existence of Jesus. Scholars who made the discovery said that Jesus, Joseph and James were all common names but it was unlikely they would all appear together in the same inscription, plus it was unusual to have a reference to an individual’s brother, meaning that the brother must have been someone important.

James the Less, maybe Jesus' brother

The ossuary was valued at $2 million by its owner. More than 100,000 people came to see it when it was displayed at a Canada museum and all the American television stations, newspapers and magazine reported the discover with great fanfare. There are also some evidence that this ossuary was found in same Talpiot tomb with others: the patina, or mineral crust found on the ossuaries, matched.

Nina Burleigh wrote in the Los Angeles Times: “The box was first brought to public attention in 2002. Tens of thousands lined up in freezing Canadian weather to see it go on exhibit — with a sly caveat about its authenticity — at the Royal Ontario Museum in January 2003. The box was seized on by believers as proof of the Bible. But Israeli authorities, who eventually found what appeared to be a forgery workshop in the apartment of the box's owner, Tel Aviv industrial designer and antiquities collector Oded Golan, called it a fraud. The workshop contained half-made "antiquities," plans for others and even labeled baggies of silt from different archaeological sites around the Holy Land. The state would later assert that the silt was used to create a paste to coat the objects and fool scholars.” [Source: Nina Burleigh, Los Angeles Times, March 25, 2012]

Debra Kelly wrote in Listverse: “The James Ossuary itself is the real thing, originating somewhere between the first century BC and 70 AD. It’s a rather unassuming-looking limestone box, one of a countless number of similar relics used to house the bones of the deceased. The controversy comes from a simple Aramaic inscription on the ossuary. If real, it could be the earliest known mention of Jesus Christ. The inscription reads “James, son of Joseph, brother of Jesus.” It was originally authenticated by scholars from the Hebrew University of Jerusalem. However, a later investigation by the Israel Antiquities Authority declared it was a fake. The ensuing hail of fire and brimstone resulted in one of the largest forgery trials in recent history. [Source: Debra Kelly, Listverse, May 9, 2016 ==]

Fraud and the Tomb of Jesus’s Brother James

The ossuary claimed to belong to Jesus’s brother James was later declared a forgery by the Israel Antiquities Authority. After a careful examination of the box, a group of scholars revealed that the inscriptions were forgeries (they were made in at least two different handwritings and the wording was strange) and there were chemical and geophysical inconsistencies with the patina. The ossuary likely did date back to the time of Jesus and was tampered with after it was found by looters in an undisclosed location.

James' Ossuary

The fraud was so well executed it fooled many experts and earned the forgers millions of dollars. Many of the object the group forged are believed to be in the collections of private collectors and still regarded as genuine. Among those charged were Israeli collector Oded Golan and Robert Deutsch, an inscriptions expert ay Haifa University.

On some of the dubious aspects of the find Debra Kelly wrote in Listverse: “For starters, nobody seems to know where the ossuary actually came from. Golan claims to have bought it in 1976, but has no idea where it was originally found. An intriguing possibility surfaced in 2015, when geologist Aryeh Shimron claimed to have linked chemical samples from the James Ossuary to the soil of the Talpiot Tomb. An archeological site in Jerusalem, the Talpiot Tomb contained 10 ossuaries with names like “Jesus, son of Joseph” and “Mary,” leading to speculation that it could be the family tomb of Jesus. Only nine of the ossuaries from the tomb are accounted for. Perhaps the James Ossuary is the 10th? [Source: Debra Kelly, Listverse, May 9, 2016 ==]

“The hypothesis is interesting, but there are three problems. Firstly, the Talpiot Tomb was excavated in 1980, four years after Golan says he bought the James Ossuary. However, it’s worth noting that artifacts bought after 1978 can be seized by the Israeli government, giving Golan good reason to claim an earlier date. The second problem is that the 10th ossuary from Talpiot didn’t just vanish—the archeologists who discovered it said it was so broken and uninteresting that they threw it out. Finally, even if the James Ossuary was from Talpiot, that doesn’t definitely connect it to Christ. Archeologists note that the name Jesus wasn’t uncommon at the time and generally reject a link between Talpiot and the Biblical figure.” ==

Book: “Unholy Business, A True Tale of Faith, Greed and Forgery in the Holy Land”by Nina Burleigh (Smithsonian/ Collins, 2008); Book: “The Brother of Jesus” by H. Shanks and B. Witherington III

James Ossuary: Poor Interpretation

Jarrett A. Lobell wrote in Archaeology, “Scholars often arrive at different interpretations of the same evidence. But few archaeological artifacts in recent memory have produced interpretations as radically divergent as those advanced in connection with two first-century A.D. ossuaries (boxes containing skeletal remains) in Jerusalem. Their discovery was announced in February, and when filmmaker Simcha Jacobovici and James Tabor, professor of religious studies at the University of North Carolina at Charlotte, released their book The Jesus Discovery that same day, it ignited a heated debate in the fields of archaeology, theology, linguistics, and biblical scholarship. [Source: Jarrett A. Lobell, Archaeology, Volume 65 Number 3, May/June 2012~~]

“The ossuaries are unremarkable. More than 2,000 of similar date and appearance have been found in Israel. Although the tomb in which they and five others were found was originally explored in 1981, it was not until Jacobovici and Tabor returned in 2010 that the ossuaries could be photographed on all sides inside the tomb.~~

Immaculate Concepcion
“In 1981, Orthodox religious leaders had chased away archaeologists trying to excavate the tomb, saying that they were disturbing the dead. Jacobovici and Tabor negotiated with the leaders and the owners of the apartment that sits on top of the tomb, and received permission to bore a hole through the tomb's roof and "excavate" it with a robotic arm that held a camera. Jacobovici and Tabor had chosen the tomb because of its proximity to what Jacobovici had identified four years earlier as "The Jesus Family Tomb" 200 feet away ("Hype in the Holy Land," May/June 2007). He and Tabor wanted to know if there was a relationship between the two tombs that would lend credence to their theory that this section of Jerusalem, known as Talpiyot, contains a cemetery filled with the burials of Jesus, his family, and his followers.~~

“When Jacobovici, Tabor, and project archaeologist Rami Arav of the University of Nebraska at Omaha looked closely at one of the ossuaries, they immediately interpreted the image on it as a fish spitting out a man—represented by a stick figure—and therefore concluded that it was a depiction of the story of Jonah and the whale. On a second ossuary in the tomb, they read a dual-language Greek and Hebrew inscription in several ways, including "O Divine Jehovah, raise up, raise up." Taking the image on one ossuary and the inscription on the other, they developed an interpretation of what the collection of ossuaries represents.~~

“According to Jacobovici and Tabor, the "Jonah" ossuary bears the earliest Christian symbols ever discovered, the first Christian symbol found in Jerusalem, and the earliest representation in Jewish art of a Biblical tale. Furthermore, they believe that the other ossuary's inscription is the earliest record of a teaching or saying of Jesus—perhaps recorded by someone who heard him say it.~~

“Immediately following the annoucement, scholars began presenting different interpretations, as well as harsh criticism of Jacobovici and Tabor's claims. The critics pointed out possible errors in the transcription and its translation. They also questioned the similarity of what Jacobovici and Tabor had identified as a fish to both depictions, and actual remains, of a funerary marker called a nephesh. Others referred to the image's strong resemblance to etched glass amphorae and ointment jars, both of which were commonly buried with the dead. A harsher reaction came from those who condemned not only Jacobovici and Tabor's interpretations, but also their motives. Chief among them was Eric Meyers, professor of religion at Duke University, who decried Jacobovici and Tabor's interpretation as "much ado about nothing and a sensationalist presentation of data that are familiar to anyone with knowledge of first-century Jerusalem." Meyers went on to say, "We may regard this book as yet another in a long list of presentations that misuse not only the Bible, but also archaeology." Interpretation in archaeology is about finding meaning in the past. And especially when archaeology and the worlds of religion and the Bible intersect, one thing is certain—the meanings scholars find in the artifacts will rarely, if ever, be the same.

James Ossuary Trial

In December 2004, four antiquities dealers, collectors and dealers were indicted on charges of fraud and forgery in connection with the forged treasures such as the James’ ossuary, the ivory pomegranate from Solomon’s temple and the Yoash stone (Jehoash Tablet), a stone tablet with inscription on running the First Temple of Jerusalem . According to the indictment the men charged took genuine artifacts and added inscriptions and painted the items with a special coating designed duplicate the patina found on very old objects and falsely increase their importance and value.

Kelly wrote: “The ossuary’s owner, Oded Golan, was charged with leading a gigantic criminal operation centered around forging valuable antiquities. The trial lasted 7 years and featured 400 exhibits and 12,000 pages of documents. It resulted in the accused being cleared of all forgery charges, but the debate around the relic’s authenticity remains. ==

Nina Burleigh wrote in Los Angeles Times, “On March 14, a Jerusalem judge acquitted a man accused of forging an inscription on a small stone coffin. The writing, on what's known as the James Ossuary, reads "James son of Joseph brother of Jesus." Its promoters claim that it's the first archaeological evidence of Jesus Christ's existence and that the box once held the bones of Jesus' brother James. Its detractors, including most scholars, say the last two words of the inscription are faked, modern additions to a genuinely ancient limestone casket.” [Source: Nina Burleigh, Los Angeles Times, March 25, 2012 *]

Oded Golan, the main figure behind the James Ossuary fraud

“The “trial commenced in 2005 against Golan, accused of "the fraud of the century" for creating objects meant to both make money and headlines. In effect, the lengthy trial put science in the dock. Science lost. Israeli prosecutors were badly underfunded (the nation has its eye on bigger problems than relic forgery), and its investigators never mounted the kind of international, follow-the-money detective work that would have bolstered their case by showing a pattern of criminality involving a number of lesser-known objects that were also part of the case — allegedly ancient lamps and Old Testament-era royal seal impressions that scientists said were fakes. *\

“Prosecutors relied on a parade of archaeologists and other scholars. These men and women were accustomed to addressing respectful colleagues and students. They had no experience defending their conclusions against the highest-paid lawyers in Tel Aviv. Like scholars and scientists everywhere, their work doesn't reach a level of precision that can withstand legal cross-examination. They acknowledge doubts. Their opinions don't always agree in the particulars, even when they arrive at a consensus. And while the scientists for the state conducted their investigations and testified for free, the defense paid for-hire scientists, who were willing to say the objects at issue were entirely authentic. *\

“In the end, the judge explicitly declined to rule on the authenticity of the objects. "The prosecution failed to prove beyond all reasonable doubt what was stated in the indictment: that the ossuary is a forgery and that Mr. Golan or someone acting on his behalf forged it," the judge stated. "This is not to say that the inscription on the ossuary is true and authentic and was written 2,000 years ago.... [T]here is nothing in these findings which necessarily proves that the items were authentic."

Book: Nina Burleigh is the author of "Unholy Business: A True Tale of Faith, Greed and Forgery in the Holy Land." She is working on an e-book on Islamists and women after the Arab Spring.

Decision of the James Ossuary Trial a Blow to Science

Nina Burleigh wrote in Los Angeles Times, “Supporters of the ossuary and the other objects that had been discredited by the state's investigation hailed the acquittal as a legal stamp of approval. The ossuary's loudest supporter is American lawyer and publisher Hershel Shanks, whose magazine Biblical Archaeology Review first revealed the object. Shanks has spent the last seven years attacking the "pack of scholars" at the Israel Antiquities Authority and one in particular, an archaeologist named Yuval Goren who found modern silicone glue in the carved ossuary inscription. [Source: Nina Burleigh, Los Angeles Times, March 25, 2012 *]

“Goren, a vice dean of the faculty of humanities at Tel Aviv University, is a mild-mannered expert in materials that ancient craftsmen used to make pottery and art. He testified that a simulated patina had been applied over the inscription, a substance containing powdered calcite and limestone, charcoal and corroded bronze particles and adhered with modern glue he dubbed "James Bond." That testimony was discredited partly because the test Goren carried out removed the substance from the surface of the box. *\

“Goren's findings were hardly the only evidence against Golan. Eventually an Israeli police officer tracked down an Egyptian who admitted having worked for Golan, creating objects that were meant to look ancient. The craftsman told police that he made objects under Golan's direction "with a hammer and chisel, following the sketch. He [Golan] printed out a sheet from the printer and gave it to me." Later the officer asked: "But it's clearly not ancient." The craftsman responded: "That's right, it's new." But thanks to the vicissitudes of Arab-Israeli relations, the Egyptian couldn't be forced to testify, so the interview couldn't be introduced in court. *\

“Despite widespread knowledge of that stunning transcript and the damning workroom evidence reported by police, Golan's supporters made Goren a whipping boy at the courthouse and in biblical archaeology websites. Because he dared to cast doubt on the ossuary — and therefore on the literal truth of the Bible — his professionalism was trashed and he was variously called a religion-hating atheist, a hater of Israel and a self-hating Jew. *\

“Attacking scientists is increasingly common as religious and ideological zealots flatly reject data that offend their creeds. Recently a pro-mining consortium threatened legal action against academic journals about to publish studies linking mining-related air pollution and lung cancer. Climate scientists whose work indicates that global warming is caused by humans' burning of fossil fuels now routinely receive hate mail and have had their emails systematically hacked by those who disagree, mostly on faith. The methods used to discredit the best archaeologists in Israel — by seizing on minor data points or a minority of dissenters who deviate from the consensus — is exactly what happens in the debate about climate science. The non-expert public is then forced to choose which view makes the most sense. *\

“For those who seek to prove that the Bible is literally true, the particulars of science matter little. They want tangible artifacts, and the details be damned. Israel Finkelstein, dean of archaeology at Tel Aviv University (whose work in Solomonic-era archaeology does not fit with Bible stories about Solomon) told me that if the state lost the ossuary case, we should expect a bumper crop of shady Bible-proving finds: "Inscriptions from the time of Solomon, from the time of David, the T-shirt of Moses, the crown of King Solomon, the sandals of Abraham. That's the future, if there is an acquittal." Fighting legitimate science to provide proof for religious faith is a relatively victimless pastime. A few scientists' reputations get burned and believers get another object for the reliquary. But when faith trumps reason as the whole world gets hotter, scientists aren't the only ones paying the price.” *\

Discovery of Jesus’s Tomb?

Talpiot Tomb of Jesus

The fate of Jesus’s body is unclear. The faithful believe it ascended to heaven. Many scholars think it was devoured by dogs. In 2007, the Discovery Channel, filmmaker Simcha Jacobovici and James Cameron, director of “Titanic” and “Avatar”, produced a documentary called “The Last Tomb of Jesus” in which they claim to have found the tombs of Jesus and his family.

The claim is based on the discovery of 10 bone boxes, or ossuaries, in a crypt that was unearthed by a construction crew in the Talpiot neighborhood in southern Jerusalem in 1980. Although they were dated to around the A.D. 1st century the boxes were largely ignored and sat in storeroom of the Israel Antiquities Authority until six names on the ossuaries were revealed. In addition to “Jesus Son of Joseph? there were there two Marys (Maria and Mariamene), a Matthew (a possible relative of Jesus’s mother), a Yose (the name by Jesus’s brother Joseph in the Gospel of Mark) and “Judah son of Jesus.” One historian calculated that the odds of so many names being associated with Jesus found in one place were 600 to 1.

Many scholars challenge the interpretations based on the fact that all the names involved where very common names at the time when Jesus lived and that 1st century ossuaries are so common in Jerusalem they are used in gardens as planters. A report by archaeologist Amos Kloner of 900 burial caves in the Talpiot (also spelled Talpiyot) area found the name Jesus 71 times, including one that said “Jesus son of Joseph.” The report also said in A.D. 1st century Jerusalem about 25 percent of women had some variation of the name Mary. Question were also riased about how the inscriptions were read, and in one case, if it could even be read.

The discovery also raised theological questions. If Jesus was resurrected why would he be buried with his family? And could this mean that Jesus had a wife and children, calling into question whether he was the Messiah as claimed. One of the inscriptions is written in Greek as “Mariamene e Mara,” which can be translated as “Mary, called the master.” According to some old Christian sources, including the second-century theologian Onigen and the fourth-century non-canonical Acts of Philip, Mary Magdalene is referred to a “Mariamene.”

Mitochndrial DNA collected from the boxes indicates that Jesus and Mariamene were not related, which the makers of the documentary take a huge leap and say suggest that Jesus and Mariame were married. On that and other findings the skeptical Christian scholar R. Joseph Hoffman told U.S. News and World Report, “Amazing, how everything falls into place when you begin was the conclusion — and a hammer.”

The same angle had been pursued before. In 1996, researchers for a BBC religious program found three A.D. first century caskets in Jerusalem with the names Joseph, Mary and Jesus, son of Joseph. Most archaeologists dismissed the finding as just a coincidence, for Joseph, Mary and Yehoshua (Hebrew for Jesus) were very common names in the A.D. first century. Moreover, scholars believe that Joseph probably died and was buried in Galilee. The caskets were small and contained only bones. They were excavated in 1980 from an ossuary and were stored in a warehouse, where the researchers found them.

Image Sources: Wikimedia Commons, King and Shaye, Harvard University, and Oded Golan, Associated Press

Text Sources: Internet Ancient History Sourcebook: Christian Origins “World Religions” edited by Geoffrey Parrinder (Facts on File); “ Encyclopedia of the World’s Religions” edited by R.C. Zaehner (Barnes & Noble Books, 1959); King James Version of the Bible,; New International Version (NIV) of The Bible,; Christian Classics Ethereal Library (CCEL) , Frontline, PBS, “Encyclopedia of the World Cultures” edited by David Levinson (G.K. Hall & Company, 1994); Wikipedia, BBC, National Geographic, New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, Smithsonian magazine, The New Yorker, Time, Live Science,, Archaeology magazine, Reuters, Associated Press, Business Insider, AFP, Library of Congress, Lonely Planet Guides, Compton’s Encyclopedia and various books and other publications.

Last updated March 2024

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