God in a box?

by Stuart Starr, Figtree Anglican Church

The Israeli-born, Canadian-based filmmaker Simcha Jacobovici is reigniting claims, first made over a decade ago, that a burial cave uncovered 27 years ago in Talpiot, Jerusalem, is the tomb of Jesus of Nazareth and his family. The claim is that what has been discovered is in fact the family tomb of Jesus Christ. Here’s why that may be unlikely:

  1. One of the most famous people of all time bears the name ‘Jesus of … Nazareth’! Why bury him in Jerusalem if there was no family connection to city? Jesus often stayed in Bethany (Matt 21:17, Mark 11:11,12), yet if he had family in the city he would hardly have made the walk! If anything Joseph’s (and consequently Jesus’) hometown ties were in Bethlehem not Jerusalem (Luke 2:1-4).
  2. If the Josef in the tomb is Jesus’ ‘father’ (pure speculation as there is no chronology of when they were buried there) then it’s hard to imagine where Jesus and his mother got the money. They were clearly poor (check Lev 5:7 with Luke 2:22-24) yet a carved tomb was for the rich (Isa 53:9 and Matt 27:57-61).
  3. The name ‘Jesus son of Joseph’ appears on at least one other bone box that’s been uncovered in another tomb around Jerusalem…
  4. The inscription for Jesus – the linchpin of the whole argument - is the least well preserved and least legible! If it wasn’t so then why has it taken 27 years for this story to come to light? Jacobovici speculates that it says ‘Jesus son of Josef’, yet observes that it was ‘clumsily carved’ – hardly the sort of work that would accompany the life of the world’s greatest teacher. Similarly, ‘Jesus’s’ box is unadorned whilst two others - Judah and Maria - bear carved flowers and patterns. Would we expect this for the man who claimed to be God?
  5. Whilst we’re on the names.. The names on the bone boxes in the ‘family tomb’ are in different script. Maria is a Latin name transliterated to Hebrew and Mara is carved in Greek! Yet we’re to assume that they’re all from one family (presumably speaking one language and buried in the lifetimes of one another..) Never mind that Jesus apparently spoke Aramaic (see Mark 5:41 and 14:34)..!
  6. If it’s a family tomb then it would have had to be revisited regularly as the rest of the family died - meaning it was hardly a surprise where Jesus would have been buried. Yet we have no evidence that the site was ever venerated at any time in church history! Nor do we see the any Jewish disputation of the resurrection using this site. The fame of this site would have been sealed for everyone in the early church since they’d have been there to bury Mary (the mother of Jesus)… if it really was a family tomb.
  7. On a similar line is the simple question of when this information was lost? If this really was Jesus’ family tomb then who would have forgotten so that it could become a remarkable discovery in 1980?

All of these questions may be answered at some point – but for the moment perhaps the documentary makers need to do some more work before they place our God in a box. I’ve written these thoughts so you might have some response ready for your colleagues who are using it to say your faith is baseless!

Jesus is alive! Check out the eyewitness reports (1 Cor 15:1-8, John 20, Acts 1:1-9) at the heart of our message for the last 2000 years.

See you on the mission field.