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The Jesus Family Tomb

Cover of The Jesus Family Tomb

The Jesus Family Tomb

The Discovery, the Investigation, and the Evidence That Could Change History
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The Jesus Family Tomb tells the story of what may very well be the greatest archaeological find of all time--the discovery of the family tomb of Jesus of Nazareth. Following the accidental bulldozing of a tomb during the building of a housing complex in suburban Jerusalem in 1980, archaeologists from the Israeli Antiquities Authority were immediately called to the scene. Inside, the archaeologists found ten ossuaries--limestone boxes that served as first-century coffins. Six had inscriptions, including Jesus, son of Joseph; two Marys; and Judah, son of Jesus. The team concluded that the unusual group of names was merely coincidence. After removing and cataloging the ossuaries, they left the tomb to the builders to finish what they had already started.

Twenty-five years later, Simcha Jacobovici, an Emmy award-winning journalist, tracked down the ossuaries in the Israeli Antiquities Authority's warehouse and decided to investigate this remarkable collection of names. Simcha mapped and then located the original tomb, which, to his surprise, was still intact. Granted unequaled access, he soon found that the archaeologists were unaware of key evidence that made this the discovery of a lifetime.

This is a story that is destined to grab international headlines and raise fundamental questions about the historical Jesus. Are the "Jesus" and "Mary" referred to in these inscriptions the Jesus and Mary Magdalene of the gospels? Readers are taken on a remarkable journey: from telling statistical analysis, to a time-bending trip across two millennia, and an investigation of the patinas and DNA of the tombs that makes an episode of CSI look mundane. The Jesus Family Tomb arrives at an extraordinary answer to an ancient mystery.

A riveting combination of history, archaeo-logy, and theology, this book will change the way we think about God, religion, and everything we have learned about the life and death of Jesus.

The Jesus Family Tomb tells the story of what may very well be the greatest archaeological find of all time--the discovery of the family tomb of Jesus of Nazareth. Following the accidental bulldozing of a tomb during the building of a housing complex in suburban Jerusalem in 1980, archaeologists from the Israeli Antiquities Authority were immediately called to the scene. Inside, the archaeologists found ten ossuaries--limestone boxes that served as first-century coffins. Six had inscriptions, including Jesus, son of Joseph; two Marys; and Judah, son of Jesus. The team concluded that the unusual group of names was merely coincidence. After removing and cataloging the ossuaries, they left the tomb to the builders to finish what they had already started.

Twenty-five years later, Simcha Jacobovici, an Emmy award-winning journalist, tracked down the ossuaries in the Israeli Antiquities Authority's warehouse and decided to investigate this remarkable collection of names. Simcha mapped and then located the original tomb, which, to his surprise, was still intact. Granted unequaled access, he soon found that the archaeologists were unaware of key evidence that made this the discovery of a lifetime.

This is a story that is destined to grab international headlines and raise fundamental questions about the historical Jesus. Are the "Jesus" and "Mary" referred to in these inscriptions the Jesus and Mary Magdalene of the gospels? Readers are taken on a remarkable journey: from telling statistical analysis, to a time-bending trip across two millennia, and an investigation of the patinas and DNA of the tombs that makes an episode of CSI look mundane. The Jesus Family Tomb arrives at an extraordinary answer to an ancient mystery.

A riveting combination of history, archaeo-logy, and theology, this book will change the way we think about God, religion, and everything we have learned about the life and death of Jesus.

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Excerpts-
  • Chapter One

    Vault of the Ages

    The most famous death in history was the Crucifixion of Jesus of Nazareth.

    Two millennia ago, in Jerusalem, Jesus was scourged and executed by Roman soldiers. The Gospels tell us that his body was taken down from the cross, shrouded in cloth, and placed in a family tomb belonging to one of his followers, Joseph of Arimathea.

    On the third day, Mary Magdalene, Jesus's trusted disciple, found the tomb empty—a moment that marks the origin of the Christian belief in the Resurrection.

    Out of all the millions of words and thoughts devoted to this event, how many people have ever asked why Jesus's body was placed in a tomb carved out of stone in the first place, and not simply buried in the ground?

    According to ancient Jewish laws still in effect today, bodies had to be interred in the ground before sundown on the day of death. Family tombs, cut into rock, qualified as "in the ground." In most places, the bedrock of Jerusalem lay barely more than a few inches below the ground surface. For this reason, the dead were placed in preexisting tunnels, dug into local hillsides. During much of the first century C.E., most of Jerusalem's tombs were man-made caves, hewn from solid rock and located just outside the city walls. Usually a tomb consisted of two chambers. In the outer chamber, the body was anointed with perfumes, spices, and oils, then shrouded in cloth. Archaeological evidence from hundreds of first-century tombs excavated in the Jerusalem hills is perfectly consistent with descriptions of Jesus's burial as described in the four Gospels. According to both archaeology and the Gospels, the tomb would have been sealed by rolling a large stone in front of its entrance. Behind the seal stone, lying in state in its white shroud, the body was ordinarily given a full year to decompose. After the flesh had vanished, the shrouded bones were collected from the outer, temporary burial chamber and placed in a small limestone box called an ossuary. Occasionally an occupant's name would be inscribed on one side of the ossuary, which was then placed for permanent burial in a small niche deep within the tomb. Eventually ossuaries representing three or more generations from the same family might be sealed, one after another, in a tomb's innermost niches.

    No one knows why the practice of using ossuaries began just prior to the birth of Jesus. Some archaeologists and theologians suspect that the Jewish belief in a bodily Resurrection led to the gathering of bones, to be preserved for the Day of Judgment.

    Regardless of the reason, the Gospels attest to great concern among Jesus's followers about shrouding his body and placing it in a tomb. Because he died late on a Friday afternoon, they needed to bring him to a tomb quickly, before the arrival of sunset and the holy Sabbath. Joseph of Arimathea's newly hewn family tomb was nearby, and it would serve Jesus's family until the body could be moved to a permanent resting place.

    The Gospels also say that on Sunday, before he could be moved, Jesus conquered death, left the tomb empty, and later, on several separate occasions and in several forms, appeared before his disciples.

    But the Gospels also hint at an alternative explanation for Jesus's empty tomb. Matthew says there was another story circulating in Jerusalem after the Crucifixion of Jesus. Although Matthew calls it a lie, according to the rumor, Jesus's disciples secretly came by night and stole away with their Master's body. As Matthew tells it, the story persisted among Jews for a very long time (Matthew 28:11–15).

    If the disciples took the body, there is only one thing they could have done with it. They would have reburied it.

    If Jesus was reburied, his...

About the Author-
  • Simcha Jacobovici is an Emmy-winning documentary director and producer and a widely published writer and lecturer. His articles have appeared around the globe in publications such as the New York Times and the Los Angeles Times. Currently the host of The Naked Archaeologist on the History Channel, Simcha Jacobovici lives in Toronto.

Reviews-
  • John Dominic Crossan, author of God & Empire

    "This discovery is potentially the last nail in the coffin of biblical literalism"

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  • Copyright Protection (DRM) required by the Publisher may be applied to this title to limit or prohibit printing or copying. File sharing or redistribution is prohibited. Your rights to access this material expire at the end of the lending period. Please see Important Notice about Copyrighted Materials for terms applicable to this content.

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The Jesus Family Tomb
The Jesus Family Tomb
The Discovery, the Investigation, and the Evidence That Could Change History
Simcha Jacobovici
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