Ottawa Citizen

Discovery resurrects debate over ‘Jesus tomb’

U.S, archeologi­st claims his team found earliest known Christian image

- MICHAEL GORDON

Five years removed from his controvers­ial “Jesus Tomb” documentar­y, University of North Carolina Charlotte archeologi­st James Tabor announced Tuesday that he has helped uncover perhaps the earliest Christian image ever found.

The discovery, in Jerusalem, took place in 2010, Tabor said.

Using technology specially created for the task, Tabor and his team explored a first-century undergroun­d tomb less than three kilometres south of the old city walls. It’s 65 metres away from another burial site that Tabor, in 2007, said may have held the remains of Jesus and his family.

In the recent discovery, which relied on a remote-control camera mounted on a robotic arm, the team found seven bone boxes, known as “ossuaries.”

One of them is engraved with an image that Tabor says depicts “Jonah and the Whale.”

Another features a Greek inscriptio­n calling on God to “raise up” someone.

He and his team believe this is the earliest evidence ever found of belief in the Resurrecti­on, therefore making it Christian.

Both types of inscriptio­ns on Jewish ossuaries are almost unheard of, Tabor said from his hotel room in New York, where he and his partner, Canadian documentar­ian Simcha Jacobovici, are publicizin­g their discoverie­s.

Jonah, a lesser figure in Jewish spiritual culture, became a popular symbol of resurrecti­on and forgivenes­s with third-century Christians. To find Jonah in a much older burial site, Tabor said, is “the jackpot, truly amazing.”

In 2007, the head of UNCC’S Department of Religious Studies set off an academic and religious firestorm with his claims that a tomb on former farmland along the road to Bethlehem held bone boxes with the names of Jesus and his family, including a son.

‘As a scholar, I really don’t want to get lost in saying, ‘Oh come on, it’s off the wall’. Yeah, it’s off the wall, but look at the wall!’ JOHN DOMINIC CROSSAN Early Christiani­ty expert, Depaul University, Chicago

His assertions challenged the cornerston­e of Christiani­ty: that Jesus proved his divinity by rising from the dead, then ascending into heaven.

Tradition and most academic research place Christ’s tomb beneath what is now The Church of the Holy Sepulcher in old Jerusalem.

Tabor argues that the body could easily have been kept for a time near where Christ was crucified, then moved to a permanent grave.

Most of Tabor’s peers dismissed his “Jesus Tomb” hypothesis, saying it lacked proof.

That said, John Dominic Crossan, an expert in first-century Christiani­ty and professor emeritus at Depaul University in Chicago, called Tabor’s latest find “a stunning discovery,” which he hopes doesn’t get diminished by renewed debate over the “Jesus Tomb.”

“As a scholar, I really don’t want to get lost in saying, ‘ Oh come on, it’s off the wall,’ ” Crossan told MSNBC. “Yeah, it’s off the wall, but look at the wall!”

The research, and the stories behind it, are included in Tabor’s and Jacobovici’s new book, The Jesus Discovery.

A documentar­y will follow this spring.

Duke University archeologi­st Eric Meyers lacerated Tabor’s claims Tuesday on a blog for the American Schools of Oriental Research.

He called Tabor’s book sensationa­listic, predicting it may end up “on a long list of presentati­ons that misuse not only the Bible but also archeology.”

He even questioned Tabor’s central image, the whale, saying it may instead be a nephesh, a common symbol found on first-century tombs.

Tabor’s response: “Ridiculous.”

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