The Tomb of Jesus and His Family? Exploring Ancient Jewish Tombs near Jerusalem's Walls. Edited by JAMES H. CHARLESWORTH. Grand Rapids, Mich.: WILLIAM B. EERDMANS PUBLISHING CO., 2013. Pp. XX + 585, illus. $48 (paper).
The book under review, edited by James Charlesworth of Princeton Theological Seminary, is the latest collection of studies to result from an international conference that he has convened. This collection focuses on a tomb in East Talpiot, south Jerusalem, accidentally uncovered and hastily excavated in 1980 and then brought to new prominence in 2007 by a television documentary and popular book in which it is argued that the tomb was the final resting place of Jesus, his mother Mary, his wife Mary Magdalene, their son Judah, and a number of other family members. Almost all historians and archaeologists reject these identifications. Nevertheless, Charlesworth in 2008 convened a conference in Jerusalem to explore and debate the matter further.
Although the rationale for the conference and the book is dubious, the actual results are for the most part helpful. The essays review the history of the find, a number of relevant sciences (such as petrology, DNA, prosopography, palaeography), and Jewish burial practices of late antiquity. One of the best essays in the volume is by Amos Kloner and Shimon Gibson, two of the three archaeologists who excavated the tomb. (The third and lead archaeologist was the late Joseph Gath.) They recount their work and carefully explain what was recovered. As have many, Kloner and Gibson conclude that "there is nothing to commend the Talpiot tomb as the family tomb of Jesus" (p. 51).
I have space to mention only a few other other contributions. Mordechai Aviam rightly underscores the importance of understanding the differences in Galilean burial practices. Given what we know of Galilean burials, he finds it difficult to believe that "the entire family [of Jesus], whose members probably died over the next thirty or forty years after Jesus, would also adopt the Judean practice of ossilegium and be brought to Jerusalem to be buried with Jesus" (p. 111).
Stephen Pfann correctly interprets the "Mary Magdalene" ossuary inscription to read, "Mariame and Mara" (pp. 190-99), not "Mary the Master" He also concludes that the name "Jesus" was not the original name inscribed on the "Jesus, son of Joseph" ossuary. It appears that another name, perhaps Yudan (short for Yehudah, or Judah), was partially...