Thursday, January 31, 2008

Tombs of Jesus, Real and Imagined

Michael Barber has posted on a recent conference whose proceedings are being used (with no small amount of spin) to support the claim that the tomb of the family of Jesus (the Talpiot Tomb) has been discovered (including ossuaries for Jesus, Joseph, Mary Magdalene, and a son Judah). This is not a new story, as National Geographic ran a show with archaeologist Simcha Jacobovici some time ago on the subject. The post includes a statement by a long list of the conference attendees, who say "Nothing further from the truth can be deduced from the discussion and presentations that took place on January 13-17, 2008."

I'm rather disappointed in Jacobovici, as I really enjoy his show The Naked Archaeologist. As it happens, I just visited the Basilica of the Holy Sepulchre and saw the traditional tomb of Christ. The first day I went to the Old City, just as Fr. Jacques (my guide that day) and I passed Simcha Jacobovici filming and interviewing a group of people who appeared to be debating the primacy of Peter. We had only a short time and didn't stay.

The following Friday, I took a day-long tour that also went to the Old City. The guide was a retired professor with PhDs in history and languages. That said, his understanding of the details of the eastern schism were flawed even by Orthodox standards. However, he made an interesting claim about the traditionl location for the tomb of Christ. He acknowledged the historicity of the location of the crucifixion (on historical, scriptural, and archaeological grounds), as well as the room of the last supper (on historical and scriptural grounds). In particular, he noted that the third wall, built at the time of Herod the Great, proved that the traditional location of the crucifixion was well outside the city wall.

However, our guide stressed that the large shrine (edicule) that is supposed to be the tomb of Christ is purely symbolic and that none of the "tombs" in the area of the basilica could possibly by the true tomb of Christ (or Joseph of Arimathea) because they would be within the "shabbat zone" of the city at the time of Christ. The shabbat zone is apparently an area around the city 630 steps or so away from the boundary in which no one can enter during shabbat, and no Jewish graves can be made. The edicule of the tomb was apparently built by crusaders, but it is very close to what appears to be a real tomb in a ssection controlled by the Armenian Church (which I assume to be the Turkisj Orthodox Church). In any case, this guide said that such a tomb could not be Jewish owned, being as it was well within the shabbat zone.

I'd love to hear anything my few faithful readers have to offer on this subject (Mike A.? You there?)

UPDATE: Oh, yeah. I forgot to mention that the same guide also claimed that the name Jesus wasn't actually his name but was given to him by Pontius Pilate at his sentencing (and written on the placard). His real name was Emmanuel.

All this despite what Matthew and Luke, likely the only actual, records of the events, clearly state.

Yes, in fact, I do wonder where he got that PhD in history.

UPDATE 2: So Marcus Magnus sent an email to Steve Ray to ask about this supposed restriction due to the techum shabbat (or shabbat zone). Mr. Ray commented that there was nothing whatsoever prohibiting graves within the technum shabbat in scripture or tradition and that there were thousands of tombs within this zone near the golden gate and the temple mount. After doing some searching, I have to accept this as a reasonable refutation of the claim. No where did I find any mention of the techum shabbat applying to graves. In addition, I just realized that the Tomb of King David seems like it must also fall into this zone, if not very close to it. In addition, there is a very large Jewish cemetery on the mount of Olives even closer to the temple mount than the Church of the Holy Sepulchre.

Oh, yeah. The tombs of Jehosaphat and Absalom are also located in this area. I'd say the debunking "proof" has been debunked.
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