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.
At a press conference in New York on Monday, the two-time Emmy winner Jacobovici and his team – including Hollywood director James Cameron – will detail claims that of 10 ossuaries found in the cave when it was discovered in 1980, six bear inscriptions identifying them as those of Jesus, his mother Mary, a second Mary (possibly Mary Magdalene), and relatives Matthew, Josa and Judah (possibly Jesus’s son).
Their documentary will be screened this week in the US, UK, on Channel 8 in Israel and around the world. The producers are said to have worked on the project with world-renowned archeologists, statisticians and DNA specialists.
But Bar-Ilan University Prof. Amos Kloner, the Jerusalem District archeologist who officially oversaw the work at the tomb in 1980 and has published detailed findings on its contents, on Saturday night dismissed the claims. “It makes a great story for a TV film,” he told The Jerusalem Post. “But it’s impossible. It’s nonsense.”
Kloner, who said he was interviewed for the new film but has not seen it, said the names found on the ossuaries were common, and the fact that such apparently resonant names had been found together was of no significance. He added that “Jesus son of Joseph” inscriptions had been found on several other ossuaries over the years.
“There is no likelihood that Jesus and his relatives had a family tomb,” Kloner said. “They were a Galilee family with no ties in Jerusalem. The Talpiot tomb belonged to a middle-class family from the 1st century CE.”
A spokeswoman for the Israel Antiquities Authority had no comment herself on the documentary and referred inquiries to Kloner, who no longer works for the IAA.
The spokeswoman did say, however, that the IAA has loaned out two of the ossuaries that were found in the Talpiot tomb for display by the filmmakers at Monday’s New York press conference. She said it was a routine procedure to lend out such artifacts provided the borrowers complied with the necessary handling, transport and insurance requirements and that it did not signal any IAA authentication of claims made in the documentary.
Kloner said the IAA had been “very foolish” to agree to the loan. “The left hand there doesn’t know what the right hand is doing,” he said.
The Daily Telegraph reported this weekend that the 10 ossuaries removed from the tomb when it was first excavated “were taken initially to the Rockefeller Archaeological Museum outside the Old City of Jerusalem. Nine were catalogued and stored but the tenth was left outside in a courtyard. That ossuary has subsequently gone missing.”
But Kloner said the IAA routinely left ossuaries in the courtyard if they were not inscribed and were unremarkable, since it had no room for them all “under our roofs.” He added: “Nothing has disappeared.”
The Jacobovici documentary comes more than 10 years after similar speculation about the so-called Jesus family tomb made world headlines, prompting a London Sunday Times feature entitled “The Tomb that Dare Not Speak Its Name” and a BBC documentary.
The assertion that the ossuaries found in the Talpiot tomb were those of Jesus of Nazareth and family members was branded by The Sunday Times at the time as an archeological discovery “that challenges the very basis of Christianity.”
The makers of the documentary are refusing to discuss its content prior to their New York press conference.