Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Resurrection & The "Sign Of Jonah"

Matthew 12:38-4038-Then certain of the scribes and of the Pharisees answered, saying, Master, we would see a sign from thee. 39-But he answered and said unto them, An evil and adulterous generation seeketh after a sign; and there shall no sign be given to it, but the sign of the prophet Jonas: 40-For as Jonas was three days and three nights in the whale's belly; so shall the Son of man be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth.
The front facade Of Ossuary 6
"We are convinced that the best explanation for these unusual epigraphic features in the Talpiot 
“patio” tomb is its proximity to the Jesus family tomb less than 45 meters away. What we apparently
have is a family connected to the Jesus movement who reaches beyond the standard burial norms of the 
Jewish culture of the period to express itself individually in these unique ways."
Dr. James D. Tabor Professor University North Carolina, Charlotte

Replica of ossuary 6 on display at Discovery Time Square, NY.
Professor, and historian Dr. James D. Tabor, University Of North Caroline Charlotte, and a team of archaeologists discovered what is being hailed as the earliest extra-biblical evidence that there was a belief in a resurrection among the first century believers of Christianity consistent with the gospel teachings of the "sign of Jonah" referenced by Jesus in the narratives of the gospel writers. 

While this is no out of the ordinary statement of truth to those of us who believe the biblical narrative to be true, correct and accurate; among those who are critical of the bible, it is a point of much controversy and contention. So much contention until some critics have decided to dedicate the next month to finding ways to debunk the findings and continue to belittle those who have made assertions regarding 1st Century Christian belief. 

To be sure, Dr. Tabor is controversial. He and his associate filmmaker, Simcha Jacobovici, have managed to create enemies who claim that their only interest is popularity and money. I have featured Dr. Tabor on this blog as one of the "New Anti-Christ Advocates" due to his position on the historical Jesus outlined in his book, "The Jesus Family Dynasty" and specifically the views outlined regarding the Talipot Tomb, which is located less than 45 meters from the new discovery (Patio Tomb). In his Talipot discovery, Dr. Tabor claimed that not only did Jesus have a "bone box" or ossuary in which his bones were probably laid, but that he also was buried with his family, which included a wife, Mary Magdalene, and more than likely a son born to their union who was probably laid in a smaller ossuary. His theory quite naturally led to the thought that the gospel narratives were highly incomplete and that Jesus did not raise bodily, but only rose spiritually in some sense, nonetheless making him nothing more than a mere man. Quite naturally, if Jesus is only a mere man, then his is not and cannot be the savior according to the scriptures, thus the point of disagreement with his suggestions and mainstream Christianity and the source of my criticisms.   

Is There A Change And Why Is This Find So Controversial? 

In general my opinion of Dr. Tabor has a bit more context than it once had. Having an ossuary does not suggest that it was ever used, it only suggests that one was prepared. With that said, it seems that this discovery has caused Dr. Tabor to approach his research from a more broad perspective than he once had, causing him to rethink many of his previously adopted positions. So those things are positives that I will certainly to continue to make note of and follow as he continues to present his arguments. With that said, there is no compromise, in my position on the deity of Christ or the accuracy and full view that we find of Jesus contained within the gospel narratives.  

As it pertains to the claim that he and his associates are only trying to make money it should be noted that biblical critics of all types have set themselves to do that, many of them in a most irresponsible fashion making fantastic and sweeping claims against God and the bible ad nauseum. For many of them making money is their only motivation, even titling their books in similar fashion as to create name association and enhance sales. 

The real problem for the critic is that there is a disdain for anything that affirms the presence of Jesus or a resurrection associated with him at all. Great resources have been spent on the Jesus myth theories, which with every turn of the archaeologist spade seems more and more unlikely and unreasonable. Yet voluminous books are still being written contending that the Jesus of the bible never existed or that he was a third century myth or fairy tale creation. 

From a scholarly standpoint, the reason that this find is so controversial is because up until now, most evidence recognized by scholars, including Tabor himself,  that refer to the early Christian church, resurrection accounts, and beliefs of the Jesus followers, come from second and third century sources and copies of now lost manuscripts from an earlier date. Though there are some fragments (they are called fragments because in many cases they are not complete or entire books) from late first century and early second century there are no originals that have survived in so far as dating is concerned. This is problematic to many critics as they have traditionally viewed Christian beliefs as, loose, and varying in nature making the claim that certain beliefs and biblical teachings are simply anachronisms or beliefs that arose in a later period of time that were applied to an earlier period of time. 

Rethinking Previous Scholarship?

Though anything that affirms the bible or the biblical narrative and historical Jesus is bound to be minimized, and written off as fanaticism this discovery seems to blow the lid off of many contrary hypothesis and critical biblical theories. Clearly Jesus teaching of Jonah and the "sign" by which his actions would be identified are  rooted squarely with the gospel narratives.(Mt. 12:40, 16:4, Lk. 11:30). This seems to have been something that early followers of Jesus clearly related to. In addition, out of over 900 ossuaries uncovered in the area from 1st century, only a few have the markings that this ossuary appears to have and it is consistent with the thought that the tomb belonged to a wealthy individual such as that of Joseph of Aramethia, the wealthy member of the Sanhedrin, who asked to entomb the body of Jesus after the crucifixion.(Mk. 15:43, Jn. 19:38)

A second ossuary displays 4 inscriptions calling on what can be identified as YAHWEH to either "rise up" or raise up" which are both expectations of early Christian believers and of all them that died in the faith. now, immediately, we are aware that the Pharisees believe in a resurrection also. However, are we to assume that only a few Pharisees died and tombs have been found? The lack of inscriptions indicates the uniqueness of this particular belief and way it was posed. The Pharisees may have believed in a resurrection, but certainly had no hope in Jesus for it. Inscriptions and things of the sort were not done by ordinary Pharisaic leaders. There is no evidence that inscriptions such as those found here was such a practice among 1st century Jews.

Then there are other common criticisms which have been addressed as well:
"What we have interpreted as the Jonah image is as unprecedented as the inscription. Although we initially considered the possibility that the image might be a funerary nephesh or pillar, or perhaps a crudely drawn amphora, we soon realized that we were dealing here with something far different—never seen before on an ossuary. Our image, drawn as it is, with the prominent tail, fins, scales, eye, and stick figure, with the head coming out of the mouth, is no vase or column. The six smaller fish along the top of the ossuary as well as the “half fish” on the end, as if diving under water, along with the cross-like door or “bars” of death, all combine to tell a “resurrection” story." [A Preliminary Report of a  Robotic Camera Exploration of a Sealed 1st Century Tomb in East Talpiot, Jerusalem  Dr. James D. Tabor Pg. 23]
The picture of the fish takes care to indicate a kosher fish (with scales) delivering a man, or a man crawling out to get to the land. Once again, this is a unique combination of things. In general, the names around which this ossuary is centered, Jesus, Joseph, Mary etc, are not as popular as once thought and asserted by many critics. Out of over 900 finds there are none that have such a combination or cluster of names that coincide with biblical characters. Many ossuaries have no names at all. In addition, there are even a fewer number of markings on the ossuraies themselves. There are a few ossuraries with what has been considered to be circles on them with similar writing. It is now thought that those ossuraries could be indicating a similar expectation in a less artful manner or way. 


One thing is for sure, the critic will be all over this one claiming that there is nothing new to be found here. However, the proof is in the fact that "resurrection" for some was an expectation, and that expectation had it's roots in words and interpretation of scripture that Jesus used while he was alive, stating that he would rise similar to Jonah emerging out of the belly of the great fish three days later. When Paul says that Jesus was buried and arose on the third day "according to the scriptures" (1 Cor. 15:4) (which is an account generally agreed to have been written even prior to the gospels) it seems that he may have been communicating what was already understood and accepted by believers in Jesus at that time; that the "sign of Jonah" was the scripture(s) that were being referred to as it pertains to Jesus resurrection from the dead and for the believers expectation of resurrection from early first century on into the second, third and fourth centuries. In other words, belief in the resurrection was not anachronistic, it was fully consistent with early first century Christian belief.        

So far as archaeology is concerned, it is interesting that the more that is found, the more that is consistent with the biblical narrative. There have been well over 25,000 archaeological finds that touch on biblical data. Not ONE of them have ever overturned a biblical narrative and most of all of them only help us to understand biblical texts better. Many materialists demand that we believe what we find in the sand. So why is there such denial when what is found disagrees with what they believe? 

One thing I know, Jesus lives and he got up physically, bodily, out of the grave as the earnest of our inheritance. (Ephes.1:14) We too will rise again!



Huffington Post: Jesus Discovery

Tabor Blog

Inscriptions & Translations


  1. As I've followed this discussion, I will import a couple of comments that my readers may be interested in as they study this information:

    "When we identify Jesus' first-generation-followers as the earliest Judeo-Christians, we also point at the first "Christians". The interments in this tomb were Jews, undoubtedly. Yet normative Jews wouldn't inscribe any artistic figure in the second Temple era in general, nor would they in a tomb. When it comes to the explicit name of God, יהוה, the prohibition reaches its peak. So the Jews in this tomb were not normative Jews. This is not the only fish inscribed in a tomb; there is another one in the Galilee. The cross in this tomb is also not the only cross-in-a-tomb. This combination does exist in the Galilee as well. Yes, the patio tomb is the first (Judeo) Christian tomb we know. Maybe we have also to reassess the convention that the cross is a later symbol of Christianity."- Eldad Keynan

  2. Here is another that may interest you regarding some aspects of this finding:

    "This is a repetition of a comment that I made at ASORblog, but I believe it ought to be said here also.

    We are not qualified to comment on any of the new claims; however, we do take exception to claims that scholars continue to make regarding Talpiyot Tomb A.

    Rollston, on ASORblog, claims again that the names are common and that “Jesus son of Joseph”) is not unique because Sukenik found an ossuary inscribed similarly in 1931.

    If we take the word unique to mean literally a single occurrence, then yes, the combination "Jesus son of Joseph" is not unique. But "not unique" does not mean so common that the combination is without interest. In arguing for non-uniqueness as the equivalent of "common and not interesting", Rollston points to the only other documented occurrence of the combination of Yeshua/Jesus and Yehoseph/Joseph on an ossuary. When we use Ilan's compilation to expand inquiry on this question, a compilation that includes 231 examples of the name Joseph, we find only one more example; Joseph, Joshua's brother. The combination of these two names occurs with a frequency that is consistent with drawing two names independently and randomly from the distribution of names in First Century Palestine, which also leads one to believe the combination is not common in any sense of the word.

    Moreover, focusing on "Jesus son of Joseph" ignores that the collection of inscriptions also includes "Yoseh" and "Mary". To decide what the observation of additional known names from the family of Jesus might mean, we have reasoned as follows:

    If we assume that the Jerusalem area does contain a tomb of the Jesus Family, and considering that the inverse of the number of such tombs represents a neutral probability that the Talpiyot Tomb A is that of the Jesus Family, then we and other investigators place this a priori probability at about one in a thousand--a probability low enough to render most tombs as being uninteresting to the search for the Jesus Family Tomb. However, we view the combination of names as evidence about the family in the tomb. Likelihood ratio is a measure of power of evidence and the likelihood ratio of this name combination, relative to random occurrence in the population, is about 30, if one assumes that "Yoseh" is as common as the name "Joseph", or rises to 470 if one considers "Yoseh" as a rare name in its own right. Even a likelihood ratio of 30 is significant, but a ratio of 470 is very powerful evidence of rareness of such a combination of names, and evidence in favor of being able to identify the specific family in this tomb.

    Frankly, we do not expect to see such a combination of names in any other tomb, found or remaining to be found; a conservative estimate would be that one might see one other such combination of names in one-thousand tombs. If there truly is a Jesus Family Tomb, Talpiyot A is likely the best candidate. Of course this evidence may all be a coincidence, but Jacobovici and Tabor ought to be commended for bringing such an unusual find into public view, and for persevering to look for additional evidence by such extraordinary means."
    ~ Kevin Kilty. Mark Elliott

  3. Wow!!!

    I am excited about this information and it seems that it may take years to actually assess its impact in the scholarly community and to sort through the thousands of biblically critical assumptions that have been made for generations.

    Here is the latest. A portion from the filmaker Simcha Jacobovici:

    " The fact is that what we found is unprecedented whether you call our Jonah image a pillar, an amphora or a perfume bottle. In the words of Yuval Baruch, Jerusalem District Head of the Israel Antiquities Authority, “there’s nothing else like it on an ossuary”. We also found a statement of faith. But even if you say it’s not about resurrection, but some kind of exaltation or testament to an ascension of some kind, there is simply nothing like it on any of the thousands of ossuaries catalogued so far. Again, those are the words of Yuval Baruch. It doesn’t help to say that many Jews believed in resurrection. They didn’t record their statements on their ossuaries. The statement is unique. Furthermore, the archaeological context is attested. Like it or not, these two tombs are linked and set apart from the rest of the Talpiot necropolis. That’s not my opinion, that’s the opinion of Dr. Natalie Messika, an expert in archaeological mapping often under contract with the IAA. As for the linkage to early followers of Jesus, the fact is that whoever made those pictures and wrote that inscription was sectarian and not normative. Jews did not – and do not – write the Tetragrammaton on a bone box filled with “tumah” or impurity. I know that there is an attempt to re-read the second line in the inscription, but the reading was confirmed repeatedly by major scholars, including Prof. Rollston who is now revising his opinion. It’s OK to change one’s mind. All I’m saying is that the vast majority of scholars see the ineffable name inscribed in the second line."

  4. Both of these comments were 3/5/12. He also stated this:

    "Had we found a cross, we would have been told that the cross is not a Christian symbol in the 1st century. The fact is we found a 1st century cross! Had we found nothing else, we would have been told that we should have found a fish, if we thought the tomb was linked to the early Jesus movement. But we found a fish! If that’s all we had found, we would have been told that we should have found a “Jonah”. We found a Jonah! But for some, the iron rule is the golden rule. When it comes to Jesus; everyone is wrong about everything all the time. So the cross is not a cross, the fish is not a fish, the Jonah is not a Jonah and now even the “Jehovah” inscription doesn’t say “Jehovah”.

    For the record, we spent 5 years and a lot of money and effort to excavate this tomb. Never before have the IAA and the Haredi activists agreed to work together on the excavation of a 1st century Jerusalem tomb. We built a robotic arm that has pushed the envelope of Jerusalem based archaeology. We had absolutely no guarantee that we would find anything, but we did. And now it’s time for a reasoned and scholarly debate. Many top scholars have weighed in stating that this is a very significant find including Prof. James Charlesworth and Prof. John Dominic Crossan. If “scholars” stop attacking each other personally, more will go on record. Furthermore, it’s time to review, in light of the new findings, the archaeology previously dismissed. Maybe everyone’s not wrong about everything all the time. Maybe we actually found something significant this time. And maybe significant archaeology has been hiding, for decades, in plain sight."

    Simcha Jacobovici, filmmaker
    Professor, Religious Studies, Huntington University

  5. See the comments section of THIS POST for a response to the article Tabor wrote on my response to him and his work.


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