The Jesus (and Mary Magdalene) Tomb
I’ve been out of the loop for a long time. In 2007, James Cameron and a film crew produced a Discovery Channel documentary about a tomb discovered in south Jerusalem in 1980. Allegedly, the tomb contained the ossuaries of Jesus’ family, including his mother, brothers, and –you guessed it– presumed wife, Mary Magdalene. Not only that, but an ossuary for someone named Judah, or Judas, who is speculated at having been Jesus and Mary Magdalene’s son.
Before you get too excited, let me first recommend that you take their findings with a few grains (or piles) of salt. There are multiple ways to read the inscriptions on the ossuaries, and as it has been pointed out, we’re not talking about names that are very unique in 1st century Palestine. It’s not inconcievable that all these names could be found in multiple family tombs (the odds, as the Discovery Channel painstakingly points out on the site, are 600:1). And unfortunately, there is no inscription that actually includes an epithet that would seal the deal: “magdalene.”
(Personally, I believe that the name “magdalene” wasn’t used until the 2nd century, so even if it WAS Mary Magdalene’s tomb, it wouldn’t surprise me if the epithet was missing. But I digress.)
The filmmakers trot out a number of experts to support their controversial claims, and in the following years, a few other scholars have seen fit to offer alternative explanations. Since I just discovered this topic today, it might take me a little while to digest all of the material. I also have to acquire a copy of the DVD to hear how the material was presented on television.
A damning piece of evidence (to me) that there is more fire than heat here is a page entitled “Patina Analysis and the James Ossuary” in the “Supporting Evidence” section of the site. The thrust of the two paragraphs presented there is that the James Ossuary that generated such a buzz in 2002 was highly likely to have come from the same tomb in which the other ossuaries (presumed to belong to Jesus’ family) were found. The James Ossuary is highly controversial, and has been declared a forgery by the Israeli Antiquities Authority.
Here are a few related links:
The Lost Tomb of Jesus (at the Discovery Channel website)
Mary Magdalene is Now Missing, a paper by Dr. Stephen J. Pfann, disputing the interpretation of the inscriptions on the ossuary presumed to belong to Mary Magdalene.
A response to the “Mary Magdalene is Now Missing” paper, by Dr. James Tabor, the scholar responsible for the Jesus Tomb scholarship.
James Ossuary Wikipedia entry. Scroll down to see the Discovery Channel Documentaries section, particularly the portion about Ted Koppel’s “The Lost Tomb of Jesus – A Critical Look.” Apparently Koppel produced written denials from several of the experts consulted for the documentary, whose conclusions were misstated.