The Use of Literature by Archaeologists

Should archaeologists use ancient texts to help find or identify discoveries?

One of the debates within Archaeology today concerns the use of ancient texts to help understand archaeological finds. To many observers, the idea of archaeology existing without the use of ancient texts to understand the material finds seems pointless, but to a new generation of archaeologists, the use of texts is redundant and the finds stand on their own merit. 

James StrangeUniversity of South Floridadiscusses this issue in the accompanying video. Strange was recorded at the annual meeting of ASOR (American Schools of Oriental Research) in San Diego, November 2007.

Tags: bible, Archaeology, james strange, ASOR, Ancient texts

Archaeology the Bible and Charlatans

Eric Cline discusses why he wrote his latest book

Professor Eric Cline

How does one respond to the claims of individuals who profess to have found some major Biblical artifact? 

To answer this question, Eric Cline ofGeorge Washington University wrote a book entitled From Eden to Exile: Unraveling Mysteries of the Bible, in which he discussesresponsible ways for handling discoveries. 

In the video accompanying this post, Clinedevelops those ideas.  Cline was recorded at the annual meeting of ASOR (American Schools of Oriental Research) in San Diego, November 2007.

Tags: bible, Archaeology, ASOR, Eric Cline

Biblical Archaeology

Noted Professor discusses the relevance of the study

Professor Lawrence Stager

Biblical Archaeology as a field of study has suffered from two problems.  The first is the approach of trying to prove the veracity of the Bible through the discovery of archaeological finds without giving proper consideration to the finds and the context of the finds. The second is the movement to consider archaeology a study that does not need to relate to texts or historical documents.

Lawrence E. Stager, Dorot Professor of the Archaeology of Israel at Harvard University is one person who has vigorously defended the use of the term.  In the following video, Professor Stager briefly sets out his reason for so doing.

Tags: biblical archaeology, ASOR, Lawrence Stager

Talpiot Tomb and Jerusalem Conference # 2

Insights into different skills applied to the claim of Talpiot being Jesus' Family Tomb

Jim West hosts a guest posting from Christopher Rollston on his blog today.  Christopher's speciality is  prosopography and epigraphy which is the study of ancient inscriptions and writing, such as those found on the ossuaries in the Talpiot Tomb.

In his guest post, Christopher shows not only the dynamics of the debate in Jerusalem, but how he and others approached their aspect of the task.

Like the earlier post today from April DeConick, Christopher Rollston rejects the idea of the Talpiot Tomb being that of Jesus of Nazareth. He has already published an article on the subject in Near Eastern Archaeology, a publication of the American Schools of Oriental Research.

Christopher's analysis of the conference, tomb and details is worth a read. Christopher is Professor of Old Testament and Semitic Studies at Emmanuel School of Religion, Tennessee.

Tags: Jesus, Archaeology, Talpiot Tomb, Third Princeton Seminar, ASOR, Christopher Rollston, Jesus of Nazareth, NEA

Talpiot Tomb and Jerusalem Conference

Evaluation of Conference provided by Houston Professor

Professor April DeConick of Rice University provides an overview of the Conference and some of the dynamics that caused problems.  Like so many things in history, it depends on how you process information.  If you want to believe that this is the tomb of Jesus of Nazareth, you will find ways to justify same. If you don't, you will process the same information in a different manner.

The critical point appears to be the reading of Mariamenou kai Mara, which the film makers and those who want this to be the tomb of Jesus read as Mary Magdalene. See April's point 2. Interestingly, if the name of Mary Magdalene can't be drawn from the Greek, then all the numbers "are not statistically meaningful," i.e., they don't support the case.

April is to be commended for providing such a balanced summary of the event.

Tags: Talpiot, Archaeology, Jesus Tomb, Third Princeton Seminar, Mary Magdalene

Talpiot Tomb and Anti-Semitism

Jerusalem Post article explains all

A Jerusalem Post article explaining the concerns of the original archaeologist, Joseph Gat, as reported by his widow is here.

Heads up to Jim Davilla at PaleoJudaica

Tags: Archaeology, Talpiot Tomb, Third Princeton Seminar

Jerusalem Conference: Report

Overview and outcome of the Conference

Stephen Pfann, President of the University of the Holy Land and a presenter at the Conference, filed this report on the University's web site:

Throughout this conference, almost without exception, the archaeologists, scientists, epigraphers and textual scholars could find no compelling evidence that would support the claim that the Talpiot Tomb under discussion (one of many tombs in the Talpiot district of Jerusalem) was anything other than a first-century Jewish family tomb with no connection to any known historical family. There were a few scholars on hand, working in the literature and the social sciences, who would contend that there was some likelihood that the tomb was actually the tomb of Jesus of Nazareth and his family. The final panel comprised Shimon Gibson, one of the original excavators of the tomb; Eric Meyers, Professor of Archaeology at Duke University; Chairperson James Charlesworth of Princeton Theological Seminary; Israel Knohl, Professor of Jewish History and Literature at the Hebrew University; and James Tabor of the University of North Carolina at Charlotte. In his concluding statement, Shimon Gibson said no to the identification of the tomb as belonging to Jesus of Nazareth (preferring the traditional location at the Church of the Holy Sepulcher). Eric Meyers said that there was no compelling evidence to support the film’s identification with the tomb of Jesus and his family.

James Charlesworth said he did not believe it was the tomb of Jesus but that he would not rule out the possibility that it might be the tomb of other members of Jesus’ family. Israel Knohl stated publicly that although there is no compelling evidence to support it, it well could be the family tomb of Jesus. However, privately he stated that he feels there is only a 50-50 chance of it being so. James Tabor, as expected, feels that the likelihood is high to certain that it is the family tomb of Jesus.

To my ears, most of those in attendance, in good academic form, would not totally rule out the possibility that this is the tomb of Jesus, but would say that the possibility is highly unlikely to remote. This is far from being “50 of the top scholars in the world” now concluding that “the Talpiot tomb might very possibly be the tomb of the Holy family.” I would say that the participating scholars, equipped with improved methodologies and more knowledge than a year ago, would say that they are better equipped to judge, and that the tomb’s chances haven’t gotten any better (in fact, worse).

There was not a single archaeologist present who believed that it would be a responsible act to confirm that this was the family tomb of Jesus. However, mysteriously, almost from the grave, in the final session, the original excavator Joseph Gat, was said by his widow to have believed this. This seemed mysterious to the archaeologists present because it was understood that it took an epigrapher of the caliber of Joseph Naveh to actually decipher the inscription (which was only done after the death of Joseph Gat, by the way). Naveh concluded that, although it was difficult to read, the first name was most likely to be read as “Yeshua?” based in part on the fact that the name “Yeshua” shows up on another ossuary in the tomb. Because of this, he left the name “Yeshua?” with a question mark and all scholars since then, including Rachmani, left the question mark in because of the difficulty of the reading.

Stephen Pfann adds as a later PS to his posting:

Let’s not be duped. All attempts to hijack the conferance to say anything different does not change the facts on the ground.

Tags: jerusalem, Jesus, Talpiot Tomb, Third Princeton Conference

Jerusalem Conference: Talpiot Tomb

Day One
Google BlogSearch
Details: Jerusalem Conference: Talpiot Tomb
Talpiot Tomb

The Conference in Jerusalem discussing the Talpiot Tomb will probably be the center of discussion on many blogs this week. 

Day one has finished as I write, and I am led to understand that it has been at times a very heated day, and not because of the weather or the venue.  Rather, one presentation after another has shown the way in which the documentary makers of The Jesus Family Tomb have used information dishonestly or inappropriately.  The statement was made that archaeologists “get very heated over what we believe i[s] a dishonest attempt to fool the public at the expense of academia.”

Another documentary entitled Archaeological Minefields by Martin Himmel was shown highlighting the media problems involved and is recommended to all students of history and archaeology.  I’ll try and find a URL for the video so that it can be watched.

More will follow.

Tags: Archaeology, Talpiot Tomb, Jesus Family Tomb, Jewish Burial

Talpiot Tomb Conference, Jerusalem

Jewish Views of the After Life and Burial Practices in Second Temple Judaism: Evaluating the Talpiot Tomb in Context

Professor James Charlesworth of Princeton Theological Seminary has organised a conference in Jerusalem as The Third Princeton Symposium on Judaism and Christian Origins. This conference will address issues about the Talpiot Tomb. The conference started today, Sunday 13th and runs until 16th January.  Details of the conference outline and speakers scheduled are given on the University of the Holy Land web site.

Professor Charlesworth has assembled an impressive array of scholars to address the various aspects relating to the Conference purpose.

The Talpiot Tomb came to public notice in the last year being presented in a PBS Documentary as being the Jesus Family Tomb.  It had previously been referenced by JamesTabor in his book The Jesus Dynasty, published in 2006 and in a BBC documentary in the mid 90’s.

As details of the conference are given we will endeavour to post relevant details.

Jewish Views of the After Life and Burial Practices in Second Temple Judaism

Evaluating the Talpiot Tomb in Context

Jan 13-16, 2008 in Mishkenot Sha’ananimJerusalem

 The Third Princeton Symposium on Judaism and Christian Origins

 Steering Committee: J. Charlesworth, D. MendelsM. AviamG. MazorS. GibsonDanBah


Registration and check-in


1) Welcome

2) Opening Address “Jerusalem’s Tombs During the Time of Hillel and Jesus

James H. Charlesworth

7:30pm – 





Brief lectures of ten-twenty minutes each, followed by open discussions.


Panel Discussion: Ancient Beliefs About the Afterlife and Burial Customs: Session I

Presiding: Charlesworth

Choon-Leong Seow “Views of the Afterlife in Job”

F. W. Dobbs-Allsopp “Love as Strong as Death”: A Reading of Song 8:5-8,

with Special Attention to the Imagery of Death

and the Afterlife”

Geza Vermes “The Afterlife in Jewish Apocryphal Works and the

Dead Sea Scrolls”

• What were the major views of death and the afterlife among Hebrews, Israelites, Jews, or “Christians” in these periods?


Coffee Break


Panel Discussion: Ancient Beliefs About the Afterlife and Burial Customs: Session II

Presiding: Oded Newman

Casey Elledge “Views of the Afterlife and Post-70 Judaism: Josephus

Alan Segal “Views of the Afterlife and Post-70 Judaism: Rabbinics”

Israel Knohl “By Three Days, Alive: Messiahs, Resurrection, and Ascent

to Heaven in Hazon Gabriel

Arye Edrei* “Burial customs and Rabbinic Law”


 Amos Kloner, “The Characteristics of the Necropolis of Jerusalem in the Late Hellenistic and Early Roman period”


All participants will present a ten-minute overview of the question raised, the method used to answer it, and the most likely conclusion. When all panelists have presented succinctly their research, the panel will discuss among themselves and then the floor will be open for general discussion. Each participant is to prepare a one-page summary for 50 people.


Panel Discussion: Tombs, Ossuaries, and Burial Practices: The Archaeological Evidence

Presiding: Adolfo Roitman

Dan Bahat

Jodi Magness

Eric Meyers

Motti Aviam

• When, where, and why were ossuaries used in Jewish burials?

• To what degree are ossuary and cave burials a sign of wealth and status?

• How typical are ossuaries for the Jews in and near Jerusalem?

• What do we learn from the ossuaries: markings, decorations, inscriptions?

• What are the broad burial and cemetery patterns around Jerusalem?

• What was typical about burial customs in the Galilee?

• What were the different types of Jewish burial in the period?

• What does the Church of the Holy Sepulcher inform us about Jesus’ burial?



Panel Discussion: Burial Beliefs and Practices: The Architectural and Textual Evidence

Presiding: Choon-Leong Seow

Eldad Keynan

Rafi Lewis

Konstantinos Zarras

Eli Shai

Shimon Gibson

• Focus on ideology and texts

• How do texts inform our understanding of material evidence?

• How are Hellenistic burials related to views of the afterlife?

• What do we learn about Jewish burial customs from the classical Jewish sources and from the archaeology of the Shroud Tomb?

• To what extent are burial facades and monuments markers of political ideology, religious belief, and prestige?


Coffee Break


Panel Discussion: Onomastics and Prosopography in Second Temple Judaism

Presiding: Emanuel Tov

Christopher Rollston

Rachel Hachlili

André Lemaire

Claude Cohen-Matlofsky

• How and when can we match inscriptional names with known historical figures?

• How representative is our surviving onomastic data?

• Attempting prosopography with the Talpiot inscriptions? What are the issues and potential results?



Panel Discussion: The Talpiot Ossuaries and their Epigraphy

Presiding: F. W. Dobbs-Allsopp

Jonathan Price

Stephen Pfann*

Eldad Keynan

James Tabor

Claude Cohen-Matlofsky

• Reading the “Yeshua bar Yehosef” inscription.

• Issues related to the names: Yose, Mariah, Matya, and Judah bar Yeshua

• How is the Greek inscription (Mariamenou/Mara) to be read and understood?

• What is the significance of Greek inscriptions in Jewish tombs?


Coffee Break


Panel Discussion: Forensic Archaeology, Paleo-DNA and their Archaeological Applications

Presiding: John Hoffmann

Joe Zias

Mark Spigelman

Chuck Greenblatt

• What is the history of the use of DNA on skeletal remains from tombs?

• What are the value and limitations of Mitochondrial and Nuclear results?

• The results from the Akeldama “Tomb of the Shroud” as a test case

• What was learned from the tests on the “Yeshua” and “Mariamene” ossuary remains?




Panel Discussion: The Landscape of Tombs – New Methods of Research and Archaeological Applications


Boaz Zissu

Motti Aviam

Howard Feldman

Aryeh Shimron

Charles Pellegrino*

What are the scientific methods for the study of a necropolis?

• Patterns of tombs and their significance

• What can we learn from patina on stone surfaces?

• What do preliminary tests tell us about the patina of the Talpiot tomb ossuaries?

• What are future prospects for this area of research?


Coffee Break


Panel Discussion: The Talpiot Tomb in March 1980

Presiding: Gabi Mazor

Shimon Gibson “Intrepretation in Archaeology and the Talpiot Tomb”

Gabi Barkay “Reflections on the Talpiot Excavation”

• An overview of the March, 1980 excavation and its wider contexts

• A description of the tomb and its contents

• What records and photographs remain of the excavation?

• What do we know about the skeletal remains?

• How were skeletal remains typically studied and handled in 1980?

• How and when were the finds catalogued and studied?

• What do we not know that we wish we knew?

• What would be done differently today with more time and refined methods?


Panel Discussion: Mary Magdalene in Early Christian Tradition

Presiding: V. Hemingway

Ann Graham Brock

Jane Schaberg

April DeConick

• What do we know about the historical Mary Magdalene?

• How valuable historically are the later Coptic and other non-canonical traditions?

• What are the arguments pro and con regarding Jesus being married or having children?

• Would early Jesus’ followers have called Mary Magdalene “Master”?

• Was Mary Magdalene a woman of means with a Hellenistic cultural background?

• Does the presence of a “Judah son of Jesus” ossuary in the Talpiot tomb necessarily disqualify it as being the tomb of Jesus of Nazareth?



Panel Discussion: Relating Tomb Archaeology with Historical Figures: Possibilities and Problems Discoveries

Presiding: Moshe Zimmerman

Dino Politis “Relating sites to historical figures: Lot’s Cave”

Joe Fitzmyer* “The James Ossuary

Ehud Netzer “The Discovery of Herod’s Tomb”

André Lemaire “The Ossuary of Simon and Alexander

• What methodologies help us discern Herod’s Tomb at the Herodium?

• Evaluating the Caiaphus, Shimon bar Jonas, and Alexander/Simon of Cyreneinscriptions: What are the methods and presuppositions involved?


Coffee Break 


Panel Discussion: The Burial of Jesus, the Empty Tomb, and the Jesus Family

Presiding: Tom Oates

Petr Pokorný

James Tabor

Lee McDonald

• Exploring the Palestinian Jesus Movement and Jesus’ Clan

• A discussion of the family movement, from the Baptizer to James and beyond

• What are the basic theories on the Jesus family: brothers, sisters, paternity

• What is known of the death of Jesus’ brothers?

• The empty tomb and resurrection theology.

• What is our best historical evidence on Who’s Who and what happened in history? James, Shimon bar Clophas, the brothers Yose and Judah

• Are the roles of James and Jesus’ brothers crucial to understanding pre-70 CE Christianity?

• What were the major parties and politics involved: PeterPaulJames?




Panel Discussion: Statistics and the Talpiot tomb

Presiding: James Joyner

Andrey Feuerverger

Camil Fuchs

• What can statistics potentially tell us? What are the limitations involved?

• What are some of the different statistical models and methods that might be employed with relation to Talpiot?

• Evaluating Feuerverger’s results

• Statistical methods of evaluating the cluster of names in the Talpiot Tomb

• Are historical identifications crucial to historical analyses?


Coffee Break


How to prepare publishable papers: Charlesworth


Lifetime Achievement Award Joseph Gat

Panel Discussion: Summing Up – What Have We Learned?

Presiding: I. Gruenwald

Panel: James CharlesworthEric MeyersJames TaborIsrael Knohl, andShimon Gibson

Closing Reception

Sponsored through the generosity of many including George Blumenthal and the Foundation on Judaism and Christian Origins.

Tags: Archaeology, Talpiot Tomb, Jewish practices

New Module

Add content here.