Did James Cameron find Jesus?

It makes a great story for a TV film. But it's completely impossible. It's nonsense. There is no likelihood that Jesus and his relatives had a family tomb. They were a Galilee family with no ties in Jerusalem . The Talpiot tomb belonged to a middle class family from the 1st century CE.~ Amos Kloner     

Jesus' family, being poor, presumably could not afford a rock-cut tomb, as even the more "modest" ones were costly. And had Jesus' family owned a rock-cut tomb, it would have been located in their hometown of Nazareth , not in Jerusalem . For example, when Simon, the last of the Maccabean brothers and one of the Hasmonean rulers, built a large tomb or mausoleum for his family, he constructed it in their hometown of Modiin. In fact, the Gospel accounts clearly indicate that Jesus' family did not own a rock-cut tomb in Jerusalem -- for if they had, there would have been no need for Joseph of Arimathea to take Jesus' body and place it in his own family's rock-cut tomb! If Jesus' family did not own a rock-cut tomb, it means they also had no ossuaries. ~ Jodi Magness  † 

L. Y. Rahmani, an Israeli archaeologist who compiled a catalogue of all of the ossuaries in the collections of the state of Israel , observed that "In Jerusalem 's tombs, the deceased's place of origin was noted when someone from outside Jerusalem was interred in a local tomb." On ossuaries in rock-cut tombs that belonged to Judean families, it was customary to indicate the ancestry or lineage of the deceased by naming the father, as, for example, Judah son of John (Yohanan); Honya son of Alexa; and Martha daughter of Hananya. But in rock-cut tombs owned by non-Judean families (or which contained the remains of relatives from outside Judea ), it was customary to indicate the deceased's place of origin, as, for example, Simon of Ptolemais; Papias the Bethshanite (of Beth Shean); and Gaios son of Artemon from Berenike. Our historical and literary sources (such as the Gospels, Flavius Josephus, among others) often make the same distinctions between Judeans and non-Judeans (for example, Galileans, Idumaeans, Saul of Tarsus, Simon of Cyrene, and so on). If the Talpiyot tomb is indeed the tomb of Jesus and his family, we would expect at least some of the ossuary inscriptions to reflect their Galilean origins, by reading, for example, Jesus [son of Joseph] of Nazareth (or Jesus the Nazarene), Mary of Magdala, and so on. However, the inscriptions provide no indication that this is the tomb of a Galilean family and instead point to a Judean family. ~ Jodi Magness   

What in the world is the "Jesus Family" doing, having a burial plot in Jerusalem , of all places, the very city that crucified Jesus?  Galilee was their home.  In Galilee they could have had such a family plot, not Judea .  Besides all of which, church tradition -- and Eusebius -- are unanimous in reporting that Mary died in Ephesus. ~ Paul Maier  † 

How come there is no tradition whatever -- Christian, Jewish, or secular -- that any part of the Holy Family was buried at Jerusalem? ~ Paul Maier  † 

The only conclusions we made was that these two sets [DNA for Jesus and Mariamne] were not maternally related. To me it sounds like absolutely nothing. ~ Carney Matheson  † 

The versions of computations appearing in the media are only simplifications.  Furthermore, the results of any such computations depend heavily on the assumptions that go into it... It is not in the purview of statistics to conclude whether or not this tombsite is that of the New Testament family.  Any such conclusion much more rightfully belongs to the purview of biblical historical scholars who are in a much better position to assess the assumptions entering into the computations.  The role of statistics here is primarily to attempt to assess the odds of an equally (or more) `compelling' cluster of names arising purely by chance under certain random sampling assumptions and under certain historical assumptions. In this respect I now believe that I should not assert any conclusions connecting this tomb with any hypothetical one of the NT family. ~ Andre Feuerverger     (See also  Changes  Joe D'Mello Randy Ingermanson)

The mathematics needed to determine the probability that the Talpiot tomb could by chance have exhibited the pattern of New Testament names found inscribed on its ossuaries was entirely elementary, something a bright undergraduate with a semester of probability theory could in principle have figured out. Yet Andrey Feuerverger, acting as the statistical expert for the “Jesus Family Tomb” people, failed to figure it out. His math was not only wrong but also inadequately developed, leaving crucial elements unjustified. ~ William Dembski  † 

François Bovon of Harvard was brought in to make the critical link between the name Mariamne and Mary Magdalene. This link is made possible by the Acts of Philip and the Gospel of Mary Magdalene, as this is a variant Greek name for Mary. Now, in fat, things are more complicated. The inscription actually reads Mariaamnou, a diminutive of Mariamnon. It is the only inscription in Greek out of the six found in the cave. All he did was to verify that such a link exists between the fourth century text and Mary Magdalene. The way the special used experts was to ask them to verify points of fact to lay the ground work for the speculation but did not follow up to ask them what they thought of the actual hypothesis. ~ Darrell Bock  † 

Drama is powerful. It's a form of preaching and persuasion. If this really were an open ended historical inquiry and not an argument for a particular point of view, not a docu-drama, this sort of filming technique would not have been used. ~ Ben Witherington  †   

Perhaps the only redeeming factor in all of this is that Cameron/Simcha and Co. have somehow united the entire academic community in protest, this is nothing short of a miracle in a world where archaeology is akin sometimes to war, not to mention that religious and non-religious alike, Christian and Jew, including the media have somehow come together and condemned the film for what it is, a cheap attempt to make a fast buck at the expense of the profession and to offend each and all of us. ~ Joe Zias  † 

I've known about these ossuaries for many years and so have many other archaeologists, and none of us thought it was much of a story, because these are rather common Jewish names from that period. It's a publicity stunt, and it will make these guys very rich, and it will upset millions of innocent people because they don't know enough to separate fact from fiction. ~ William Dever  † 

Jesus † 

When the Gospels tell us that Joseph of Arimathea offered Jesus a spot in his tomb, it is because Jesus' family did not own a rock-cut tomb and there was no time to prepare a grave --  that is, there was no time to dig a grave, not hew a rock-cut tomb (!) -- before the Sabbath. ~ Jodi Magness  † 

No mention at all is made of the fact that though we only have a few hundred ossuaries with inscribed names, there is in fact another ossuary with the inscription 'Jesus son of Joseph'. Apparently this was not a rare combination of names at all, and in any case, as I have said Jesus of Nazareth is never called 'son of Joseph' by his family, or by his disciples. Notice how Luke pours cold water on that theory in Luke 3.21-- "Now Jesus himself was about 30 when he began his ministry, he was the son, so it was supposed/thought, of Joseph." Supposed by whom? Clearly not by Luke or the family whom Luke has just shown knew about the virginal conception of Jesus. Even the cousins knew about this miracle when Mary told Elizabeth. There can be no good reason Luke would put it this way if he knew the earliest followers of Jesus or members of his family had thought that Jesus was son of Joseph. ~ Ben Witherington  † 

Pfann is even unsure that the name "Jesus" on the caskets was read correctly. He thinks it's more likely the name "Hanun." Ancient Semitic script is notoriously difficult to decipher. † 

Surely Jesus' family and followers -- given the remarkable circumstances of the Christian movement and its continuing growth -- would not inscribe Jesus' ossuary simply as "Jesus, son of Joseph." We would expect "Messiah" or the Aramaic "Lord," or "Son of God."  ~ Craig Evans  † 

see also: Bodily Resurrection 


Identifying the Mariamne named on one of the ossuaries in the tomb as Mary Magdalene by interpreting the word Mara (which follows the name Mariamne) as the Aramaic term for "master" (arguing that Mariamne was a teacher and leader). To account for the fact that Mary/Mariamne's name is written in Greek, the filmmakers transform the small Jewish town of Migdal/Magdala/Tarichaea on the Sea of Galilee (Mary's hometown) into "an important trading center" where Greek was spoken. Instead, as in other Jewish towns of this period, generally only the upper classes knew Greek, whereas poorer Jews spoke Aramaic as their everyday language. ~ Jodi Magness  † 

Almost no one agrees that the name Mariamne refers to Mary Magdalene, or that Mara means "Lady" or "Master," as though it were a title of honor. It is, rather, an abbreviation of Martha, which is attested in other inscriptions. Given that the Greek form of Mariamne is in the genitive case (of the diminutive form shown below). The inscription could be interpreted "Mariamne's (daughter) Mara (or Martha)." ~ Craig Evans 

The so-called "Mariamene" ossuary contained the names and remains of two distinct individuals. The first name on the ossuary, "MARIAME" was written in the common Greek documentary script of the period on the occasion of the interment of the bones of this woman. The second and third words "KAI MARA" were added sometime later by a second scribe, when the bones of the second woman Mara were added to the ossuary. Stephen Pfann  † 

I do not believe that Mariamne is the real name of Mary of Magdalene. Mariamne is, besides Maria or Mariam, a possible Greek equivalent, attested by Josephus, Origen, and the Acts of Philip, for the Semitic Myriam. ~ François Bovon  † 

See also: Was Jesus Married?

Judah † 

James † 

Nothing has disappeared. The 10th ossuary was on my list. The measurements were not the same [as the James ossuary]. It was plain [without an inscription]. We had no room under our roofs for all the ossuaries, so unmarked ones were sometimes kept in the courtyard.~ Amos Kloner     

The claim that this ossuary contained the remains of James the Just is inconsistent with the archaeological and literary evidence. Not only did James come from a family of modest means, but he was known for his opposition to the accumulation of wealth and the lifestyle and values of the upper classes. James was executed by stoning on a charge of violating Jewish law and was apparently buried in a simple trench grave that would not have contained an ossuary. A second-century C.E. reference by Hegesippus to a tombstone marking the spot of James
's grave seems to preserve an accurate tradition concerning the manner of his burial. Therefore I conclude that even if the inscription on the "James ossuary" is authentic and is not a modern forgery, this stone box would not have contained the bones of James the Just, the brother of Jesus. ~ Jodi Magness  † 

I don't think the James Ossuary came from the same cave," said Dan Bahat, an archaeologist at Bar-Ilan University . "If it were found there, the man who made the forgery would have taken something better. He would have taken Jesus."



If Jose were the brother of this Jesus (Mark 6:2), then one must explain why Jesus was identified as "son of Joseph" but Jose was not. ~ Darrell Bock  † 


Darrell Bock ** Research Professor of New Testament Studies at Dallas Theological Seminary  Web 

François Bovon   Professor of the History of Religion at Harvard Divinity School  Web 

James Cameron  Film Maker  Web
"I'm not a theologist. I'm not an archaeologist. I'm a documentary film maker" † 

Frank Moore Cross Professor of Hebrew and Other Oriental Languages at Harvard  Web 
"I am skeptical about Jacobovici's claims" † 

John Domonic Crossan Founder of the Jesus Seminar  Web 

William Dever **  Professor of Near Eastern Archaeology and Anthropology at the University of Arizona  Web
"I'm not a Christian. I'm not a believer. I don't have a dog in this fight"† 

Craig Evans Professor of New Testament at Acadia Divinity College  Web

Andrey Feuerverger Professor of Statistics at the University of Toronto  Web  

Judy Frentress-Williams **  Assistant Professor of Old Testament at Virginia Theological Seminary  Web

Shimon Gibson * Editor of the Archaeological Encyclopedia of the Holy Land  Web
Surveyed the Talpiyot tomb when it was discovered in 1980

Oded Golan  Israeli Antiquities Dealer  Web

Tal Ilan *  Professor at Free University  Web 
"I think it's completely mishandled. I am angry."

Simcha Jacobovici * Film Maker  Web

Amos Kloner  Professor of Land of Israel Studies and Archaeology Bar-Ilan University Web
Oversaw the archeological work at the Talpiyot tomb when it was discovered in 1980.

Jodi Magness  Kenan Distinguished Professor for Teaching Excellence in Early Judaism at the University of North Carolina  Web 

Paul Maier  Professor of Ancient History at Western Michigan University Web

Carney Matheson *  Associate Professor of Bioanthropology at Lakehead University   Web

Stephen Pfann 
Chair of Qumran Studies at the University of the Holy Land  Web

Jonathan Reed * 
Professor of Religion at the University of La Verne  Web
It [Discovery special] is what I call 'Archaeo-Porn'

James Tabor Chair of the Department of Religious Studies at the University of North Carolina  Web

Ben Witherington  Professor of New Testament at Asbury Seminary  Web

Joe Zias  Senior Curator of Archaeology/Anthropology  Web

*  Appeared on The Lost Tomb of Jesus  
** Appeared on The Lost Tomb of Jesus: A Critical Look (hosted by Ted Koppel)

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